New blueberry plant for home gardeners



The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was recently awarded a patent for ‘Nocturne,’ a blueberry cultivar developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. The new plant came from a blueberry cross made in 1993, and the plant was subsequently selected and evaluated from 1996 to 2011. ‘Nocturne,’ tested under the name “US 1056,” is a cross between ‘US 874’ (a mixed species hybrid) and ‘Premier’ (a commercial rabbiteye blueberry). This cross incorporates germplasm from three different blueberry species, including one with extreme cold-hardiness.

‘Nocturne’ is a vigorous, winter-hardy, black-fruited blueberry. “This variety is intended to be a specialty market plant for home, landscape, and ornamental use,” according to ARS plant geneticist Mark Ehlenfeldt, who hybridized the plant. It is especially notable for having winter hardiness comparable to northern highbush blueberry cultivars and for being slow to break dormancy in spring, making it unlike any other rabbiteye blueberry hybrids currently available.

In New Jersey, where ‘Nocturne’ was developed, the plant bears fruit reliably, averaging 12 pounds per plant. Unripe fruit is vivid and red-orange, providing attractive landscape interest. Ripe fruit is black, sweet and medium-sized, with a flavor atypical of either rabbiteye or highbush blueberries. Fruit ripens in late midseason to late season. The scar quality—how cleanly the fruit separates from the stem—is fair, and the fruit has only moderate firmness, so it is not recommended for storage or shipping by commercial growers. ‘Nocturne’ plants are expected to be available for retail purchase in 2017.

Shade garden expert to speak about hellebores & garden companions

hellebore-0915On Monday, October 5, 7:00 pm, the Great Lakes Chapter of the Hardy Plant Society presents “Hellebores & Garden Companions” by Gene Bush. A nationally-known shade garden speaker from Southern Indiana, Bush owned Munchkin Nursery & Gardens for 20-plus years, specializing in rare and unusual shade plants. His writing and photographs have appeared in Fine Gardening and The American Gardener.

Hellebores are among the most valuable perennials for the shade garden. They have reliably evergreen foliage and bloom in late winter and very early spring, providing color for up to three months. They also are animal-resistant. Few perennials can lay claim to all those features. This presentation seeks to dispel some of the myths surrounding hellebores and addresses growing them with excellent companions that bloom during the same period.

Reservations are required and are due September 28. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit For reservation questions, email Connie Manley.

Problems with coneflower blooms

I have six coneflowers in my butterfly garden. As the older blossoms are turning brown and starting to fall off (I assume going to seed), there are small worms under the buds. Are those worms invading my flowers or are they simply helping the garden out? A majority of the blossoms falling off have these worms under the them. If they are invading the flowers, how do I get rid of them without poisoning the plants, which would affect the caterpillars? C.H., Wayland

The sunflower moth is one of the most damaging pests of sunflowers and coneflowers, and we have seen its presence in our area. Adult sunflower moths are nocturnal, gray to tan in color, about 2/3 inch long, and rest with wings clasped tightly to the body. Flowers in the early stages of bloom are favored for egg laying at the base of the florets. The moths can complete a generation every 30 days, so several overlapping hatchings can occur. From hatching to full maturity is about 15 to 19 days. The half-inch caterpillar has light brown and white stripes along its length. They begin feeding on the pollen and florets, later boring into the head. The first indicator of trouble is a tangled mat of webbing and caterpillar frass that looks like fine sawdust. The top of the seed head looks deformed and bumpy, with the individual seeds pushed up and away from the flower base. The injury caused by the larval feeding provides infection sites for rhizopus head rot, which is what causes the blossoms to deform, turn brown and fall off.

Remove a coneflower head and cut into it to see if larvae are or were present. Take the sample to a knowledgeable nursery or the MSU Extension for positive identification. Begin with removal and disposal of infected flower heads and daily monitor newly emerging buds for fresh larvae activity. Handpick the newly hatched larvae from the coneflower heads. Many of the larvae pupate within the flower heads. However, others descend to the ground on silken threads to pupate in crevices or under leaf litter and ground debris. The key here is to remove any compromised seed heads before the larvae can pupate. You interrupt the repetition of the life cycle.

Secondly, cultivate and clean the area at the base of your coneflowers to a depth of 2 to 3 inches to prevent any overwintering. Sunflower moths do not attack coneflowers until the first flowers open since they are attracted to pollen and scent. So there is no point in scouting for moths until the flowers begin to open. Then it must be done frequently because migratory moths can appear in large numbers virtually overnight. Scouting should be conducted about an hour after sunset when moth activity begins to peak by using a flashlight. There are also pheromone traps that attract and capture male moths.

A preventive insecticide that contains organophosphate materials is best applied as blooms begin to open and has a somewhat greater residual activity than pyrethroids. The insecticide must be applied to the flower face to be effective. Controlling the moth larvae raises concerns about impacting pollinators such as bees. Applications should be made in early morning or late evening when pollinators are not flying. Evening is preferable if you have healthy bee activity, as this will allow some dissipation of material overnight before the bees are active again. Pyrethroids tend to be safer for bees because of their repellency. Dust and wettable powders tend to be more toxic formulations for bees than solutions or emulsions.

In short, it is preferable to trap the moths, handpick the larvae and sanitize the soil base before using an insecticide that could potentially harm an already stressed population of pollinators such as bees.


What’s the difference between a pressure canner, pressure cooker, electric canner?

MSU Extension:

Canning has been making a comeback in popularity the last few years. One just has to look at the aisles in the stores and see all of the different gadgets related to food preservation. But when do some of these gadgets become more than something the consumer needs to have? I was in a major kitchen store recently and saw a name brand pressure canner sitting on the shelf next to an electric canning device. As an Extension Educator, many questions have been asked in classes I teach, via e-mail, and over the phone about pressure canners and other cooking appliances.

Let’s begin with some simple facts. There is a difference between a pressure canner used for canning and a pressure cooker used to cook roasts and chicken dinners on the stove top. Often the two are talked about in the same conversation, and I want to be clear, they are not the same. A pressure canner is designed to can low acid foods (vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and wild game) they are designed to hold canning jars (upright) and process at a temperature higher than a water bath canner. A pressure cooker or pressure saucepan may not maintain adequate pressure; they heat and cool too quickly, which may not destroy microorganisms that can cause foodborne illness in home canned food. A pressure canner has either a dial or weighted gauge, and may hold multiple jars of canned food depending on its size. Pressure cookers are smaller and they may or may not have a way to regulate the pressure. The pressure cookers do not come with pressure gauges, and they cannot be safely used to process home canned foods.

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Boundless tomato harvests contain infinite possibilities

The Salt at

It’s that time of year when some gardeners and tomato-coveting shoppers face a vexing question: What on earth am I going to do with all these tomatoes I grew (or bought)?

A select few up to their elbows in tomatoes may have an additional quandary: How am I going to prepare different kinds of tomatoes to honor their unique qualities?

Chef Jamie Simpson of the Culinary Vegetable Institute faced a particularly challenging version of this last week: 100 pounds of 60 different kinds of tomatoes to transform into a seven-course dinner. Fortunately, it’s Simpson’s job to come up with creative solutions to such problems of abundance. And as Simpson deftly reminded us, the possibility of the tomato is pretty much infinite.

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