Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hairy Spiderwort - A 2011 GWA Treasure!

Back in the late summer of 2011, I attended the Garden Writers Association Annual Symposium, held in Indianapolis that year. As with all GWA symposiums, plants and design are front and center for most of the tours and this was no exception.

The original 1970 Robert Indiana "LOVE" sculpture stands in front of
the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

One of my favorite places was the Indianapolis Museum of Art. We had our breakfast there and then toured the gardens on the grounds. There wasn't nearly enough time for me to properly see everything that was there and I vowed to make a return trip soon. Regretfully, I've not yet done that.

The variety of plants and design at the White River Gardens was inspirational.

Same thing with the White River Gardens at the Indianapolis Zoo, which was an optional tour the day after the symposium officially ended. The grounds there were nothing short of amazing and as I've said before, some of the most attractive and interestingly designed gardens I'd ever seen for a space such as theirs. I also saw paw paw fruits on a tree for the first time and a staff member gave one to me to take home for tasting.

Whenever you get gardeners together like that, you know there will be plants going home with you. I don't remember each plant that Mom and I packed into the van as we headed home, but I do remember one, because it would require special care and I still have it.

Tradescantia sillamontana - August, 2011

While at the White River Gardens, we ate lunch and had plants for dessert. No, that's not quite right, but as we left the room where we ate, we each picked up a small Tradescantia sillamontana, commonly known as hairy spiderwort.

If you're familiar with spiderworts at all, you know that some of them are hardy to Zone 5 and some are not. I've got a couple hardy ones in my own garden...

Golden Spiderwort
Tradescantia x andersoniana 'Sweet Kate'

Dwarf Virginia Spiderwort
Tradescantia x andersoniana 'Bilberry Ice'

The one we received that day was not hardy, and some people passed on it because of that. Never one to pass on a plant with a coolness factor, I picked up my little hairy spiderwort and carried it home.

Tradescantia sillamontana is only hardy to Zone 10 (think southern Florida or Mexico, where it originates) so it's definitely a houseplant for me. In the time that I've gotten it, it has gotten quite a bit larger, partly because I've trimmed the ends and rooted them back in the pot, which is super easy to do.

Almost a succulent and xerophytic, hairy spiderwort needs the same growing conditions as plants that truly are both of these things. Well-draining soil, minimal watering (especially in winter), and a brightly lit location will keep it happy. I can't say that I haven't abused this plant, because I have. I very nearly had to dispose of it a couple of winters ago, because it got overwatered, but I cut back on the watering and it bounced right back.

Hairy spiderwort
(Tradescantia sillamontana)

This summer, for the first time since I got it, I put it outside. It was in a location that got very little direct sun (only a couple of hours in the morning) and it was rather protected from the west so there was little wind and only when we got heavy driving rains (or rains from the east) did it get much water. Because of the brighter light, its foliage color changed to a bit of a burgundy color which is quite attractive.

I love the "stacked" habit of the leaves and the burgundy color that it
takes on in the presence of brighter summer light.

Though our summer was cooler than normal, the plant thrived. It's been just beautiful all summer. Now that frost is coming soon, it's back in the conservatory for the winter. It will slow down its blooming and stop for most of the winter, but next spring it will start up again and be its beautiful hairy pinky-lavender self.

Though the foliage doesn't resemble my hardy spiderworts, its flower is a
dead giveaway to its genus, Tradescantia.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Grafted Tomato Experiment + A $50 Giveaway!

Earlier this year, Jung Seed Company contacted me about growing one of their grafted tomatoes. I'd first heard about grafted tomatoes just prior to and during the Garden Bloggers Fling in Seattle in 2011. I was somewhat fascinated with the science behind them, but since we are a family of two - only one of which likes raw tomatoes - I didn't give them much thought. We usually only grow two or three plants and two of them are cherry types.

Young 'Indigo Rose' fruits.
But this one that Jung wanted me to grow was different. First of all, it was GORGEOUS and I love growing beautiful edibles and beautiful plants for the sheer joy of looking at them. It went by the name of 'Indigo Rose' and not only was it a beautiful tomato, its reputation preceded it and I wanted it in my garden.

What's so special about 'Indigo Rose'?

Besides being dark purple, almost to the point of being black, 'Indigo Rose' is loaded with all the vitamins that any tomato is, PLUS it's very high in anthocyanins. These are what give it its purple color and anthycyanins are a type of antioxidant thought to fight disease in humans. 'Indigo Rose' has been called the healthiest tomato in the world because of this.

You have to eat the skins to gain the benefits of 'Indigo Rose' that makes them so good for you. The tomatoes were bred at Oregon State University and first introduced to the public in 2012. Breeding first began in the 1960s however, when cultivated tomatoes were crossed with wild tomatoes from Chile and Ecuador's Galapagos Islands.

Some of these wild tomatoes had anthocyanins in their fruit, but cultivated tomatoes had them only in their stems and leaves, which are inedible. The result of many crosses eventually yielded 'Indigo Rose', a 2-inch variety. Sold as both a grafted and seed-grown tomato, its beauty and health benefits are poised to make it a popular selection by home gardeners.

Here's the plan...

I had no intentions of eating this tomato - my husband would take care of that - but I wanted to do an experiment. I'd seen seed grown 'Indigo Rose' at our local Meijer store, and I thought it would be fun to grow the grafted and seed grown varieties of the same tomato side-by-side and do a comparison. Both the grafted tomato and the seed grown plants were nearly identical in size when I planted them.

Grafted version of 'Indigo Rose' on September 11, 2014

Why grafted?

Grafted tomatoes are supposed to have these advantages:

  • better disease resistance
  • increased vigor
  • higher yields

I wanted to see if this would prove to be true in my own garden.

My tomato experiment

I grew both the grafted and the seed-grown 'Indigo Rose' plants in the same location and treated them both exactly the same.  I didn't feed them and only twice did they receive any supplemental watering during the summer. We've had plenty of rain this summer and they didn't really need much extra watering. I pretty much planted them and then let them do whatever they wanted to do without any intervention.

Along with an abundance of rain, we had a cooler than usual summer, and we know that tomatoes prefer warmth. I think that's why these didn't start blooming and producing until later in the summer, but once they started, both of them really went to town. Both plants behaved nearly identical with neither one pulling ahead of the other, until late in the season.

'Indigo Rose' tomatoes are dark purple on the outside, but are
traditional red on the inside.

How do you know when they're ripe?

I began picking ripe fruits a little over a month ago. Deciding when they were ripe was sort of tricky until I knew what to look for. Since they're mostly purple, you really can't go by the color, although the shaded part of them - the bottoms - don't turn purple (because they're shaded from direct sun) so you can check that for the typical tomato red color. The purple parts also start out really shiny, but when they're ripe, the luster dulls. They also soften up a bit and a ripe fruit will come off the stem easily with a slight twist.

The results

Like I said, I couldn't tell much difference between the two plants in the early days of fruit production. But as time went on, the grafted tomato started pulling away from the seed grown one. Both continued to produce (and are still producing), but the number of fruits has differed. The grafted plant has been bearing more tomatoes in the last few weeks than the seed grown.

The grafted plant also looks healthier, with thicker foliage. Both plants were afflicted by late blight a bit, but not to the point of causing any real detriment to the plants. I had no issues with blossom end rot at all, and almost no splitting until just recently.


You can't trust my taste buds to judge a good tomato from a bad one, because I don't like fresh tomatoes. I can't help it - there's a scientific reason for this. But my husband loves them, so it was up to him to let me know how these tasted.

While 'Sungold' is his absolute favorite (even after growing 'Sun Sugar' this year, which is supposed to be an even sweeter variety), he did say he liked 'Indigo Rose'. He thought it tasted like a traditional heirloom tomato, although the flavor wasn't quite as intense. Some of the fruits had an abundance of seeds and some strangely didn't have any, but the seeds were very tiny, so they weren't objectionable.

FINAL VERDICT:  The grafted tomato performed better when it came to length of productivity and number of fruits on the plant. I'll grow it again, for both its beauty and its healthy fruit.


Want to grow a grafted 'Indigo Rose' of your own? Jung Seed Company has graciously provided a $50 gift certificate for me to give away that you can use to buy it! They've got much more than grafted tomatoes though, so you could use this gift certificate for any number of gardening goodies. They're shipping lots of items for fall planting right now.

To enter to win the $50 GC, just leave a comment here, telling me your favorite variety of tomato and why you like it so well. Then enter your information in the Rafflecopter form so that I'll be able to contact you should your entry be chosen as the winner. Do this by midnight EDT, Friday, October 3, 2014, and a winner will be chosen randomly by Rafflecopter, which I will announce on Saturday, October 4th. Best of luck to everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I was provided with a free grafted tomato plant from Jung Seed Company, as well as the $50 Gift Card for giveaway. I purchased the seed grown tomato plant myself for the purposes of this comparison test.

'Indigo Rose' Information Source: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/purple-tomato-debuts-indigo-rose

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Monarch Ecloses (feat. video)

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.
Rabindranath Tagore

A little over two weeks ago, I was walking through the garden and happened to notice that a large-sized monarch caterpillar was munching on the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). I decided to take it inside our house so we could watch it become an adult butterfly. 

We've done this several times before, but it had been a few years. If you're one of those people who thinks it's wrong to interfere with Mother Nature this way, consider this: fewer than 5% of monarchs ever survive from egg to adulthood. Predators abound at every step of the way and in most cases, bringing them in at any stage and giving them proper care increases their chance of survival. (Emphasis on "proper care.")
A couple of days after I brought the caterpillar in, it went into the "J" formation...

...and later in the day, shed its skin for the fifth and final time, becoming an emerald green chrysalis.

Day 12:  You can begin to see the monarch's wings through the chrysalis.

A monarch caterpillar can take anywhere from 9-14 days, on average, to metamorphose into an adult butterfly and eclose (emerge from its chrysalis). Though I've seen the process in person several times, it never fails to thrill me to watch it again and again. And this time, I was hoping to video the eclosure.

On Day 15, I knew that "birth" was imminent, because the chrysalis had become completely clear and I could see signs of the butterfly pulling away from the inner walls. And then I noticed a vertical crack...

The video has some blurry parts, but overall I'm happy to have been able to capture the first moments in this monarch's life as a butterfly.

Most monarchs eclose by noon, which gives them enough time for the wings to harden and for them to figure out whether they want to fly around or spend a cool night roosting in a shrub or tree. Since ours didn't eclose until 1:15, and it was to get down to 43° last night, we decided to keep Miss Monica in the upstairs bathroom until today.

It's a beautiful, calm, sunny 70° day here in northwest Ohio - much better for a fresh, young butterfly to take its first flight. Though there's enough time for her to mate and produce offspring that would migrate to Mexico - it takes 30 days from egg to adult - I think it's more likely that she will make the 2200-mile trip herself. 

Be well, Monica.  Safe travels.

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