Margaret Lauterbach: Jefferson was a pattypan fan. Plus, two garden pests.

Special to the Idaho StatesmanJune 27, 2014 

Thomas Jefferson, founding father and avid gardener, said, "No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest a continued one thro' the year. ... But tho' an old man, I am but a young gardener."

His vegetable garden at Monticello introduced 330 varieties of 99 species of vegetables and herbs, many of which were not grown in this country by other gardeners of that time. Some he grew are even rarely grown today: asparagus bean, sea kale, rutabagas, winter melons, serpentine cucumbers, orach, black salsify, "sprout kale" and others.

Today we know all except the "sprout kale," of which Jefferson was very fond. Some think it was broccoli raab, others a dwarf kale, but it also could have been an overwintered kale that's sprouting in spring, preparatory for setting seeds. The flowers and other sprouts at that time are especially delicious.

Jefferson's favorite squash was a cymling (pattypan). I wouldn't agree with him there. I prefer zucchini, Zephyr, Lebanese and especially Zapallito del Tronco summer squash to pattypans.

PESTS IN PEAR TREES

I thought I had eliminated the tiny creators of pear leaf blisters two years ago, but they are back. Now they've infested all four of my pear trees.

These pear leaf blister mites are too tiny to be seen with any but a 14X lens, and I have only the usual gardener's 10X hand lens. What they do to leaves is quite evident, though. The blisters are dark brown to black, and at least six to a leaf in rows, looking like tire tracks in a way.

These tiny mites feed under bud scales in winter, and may cause buds to dry and fall in spring instead of forming leaves or normal blossoms. In greater numbers, these mites can seriously damage leaf or blossom function on a tree. Pears with naturally russetted surfaces such as Bosc may not evidence the attack, but smoother-surfaced fruit may.

The best time to control these mites is after fruit is harvested. Recommended spraying is sulfur sprays and oil sprays, in October to November. Study labels for appropriate formulas and application times.

I confess I have not been doing any dormant spraying over the years because I have a good population of beneficial insects in my yard, and dormant spraying may harm that population by smothering eggs.

RUNAWAY RADISHES

In my ongoing war against squash bugs, I had my garden helper spray insecticide in the joints of my raised beds in February in case any squash bugs were wintering there, and I've planted marigolds and radishes in the squash beds.

I went overboard, I fear, in my winter squash bed, planting too many regular radishes plus Daikon, black winter radishes, and the Asian "watermelon" radishes with green skin and red interior. All have grown much larger and denser than I had planned on, barring sunlight from my winter squash plants.

We've had to remove leaves of radishes a few times, and most have gone to flower. The roots may not be palatable as a result of the flowering and subsequent set of seed, but honeybees are having a high time among the flowers. Since the nectar of these flowers is quite shallow, it could be feeding tiny beneficial wasps as well.

Also, seed pods of radish are good in stir fried foods, I've been told. I've eaten a few raw, and they're quite piquant. OK, hot.

Margaret Lauterbach: melauter@earthlink.net or write to Gardening, The Idaho Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707

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