Monday, May 21, 2012

Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomato Varieties

When scanning a seed catalog, tomato varieties are listed as determinate or indeterminate.  The type to buy will depend on how the tomato will be used. 

Determinate varieties grow as a compact bush, often referred to as “bush tomatoes” and produce most of their crop at one time. The fruit will be harvested in two to five pickings; then the plants are pulled. Once the first flush of fruit has ripened, the plant will begin to diminish in vigor and set little to no new fruit. Determinate plants are often the choice of gardeners who want a large supply of ripe fruit at once for canning or other type of processing. Many paste tomatoes are determinate varieties.

With indeterminate varieties on the other hand, the vine continues growing throughout the season producing its fruit. These plants are also referred to as "vining" tomatoes and will require staking to support the large load. The majority of tomato varieties are indeterminate including most heirlooms and cherry types. Other indeterminate tomatoes include Beefsteak, Big Boy and Brandywine. 

For gardens in tropical climates, when purchasing tomato seeds, as well as other vegetable seeds, check out the University of Hawai`i Seed Program at
Seeds sold here are all grown in Hawai`i and are university varieties, well adapted for the region. Seed is sold by the pound, ounce or in home garden packets (HGP).  These packets cost between $1 and $3, shipping is free.
Email seed@ctahr.Hawai` 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Passion Vine Butterfly

The Passion vine butterfly is beautiful with its orange and black markings.  It is similar to the monarch and is one of several migratory butterflies. Its range extends from Argentina through Central America, Mexico, the West Indies and Hawai`i to the southern United States, and as far north as the San Francisco Bay Area on the West Coast. It is occasionally found further north. Its wingspan is 2.75 to 3.75"

The larvae are a combination of black, orange and white, depending on their stage, with conspicuous black spines. They are poisonous if eaten. If you see this butterfly, there must be a passion flower vine (Passiflora sp.) growing nearby. The caterpillar feeds exclusively on passion vines. They often occur in large numbers and can quickly defoliate a young or newly planted vine. Control measures may be needed. Once the plant becomes a large vine with many leaves, their feeding will generally not produce significant damage. In addition, this pest often becomes highly parasitized (under good biological control).
If you decide to spray, BT (Bacillus thuringiensis;Dipel) would be a good selection.  Even though the adults feed on the nectar of several different plants, they only lay their eggs on passion flower vines. Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), pentas (Pentas lanceolata), and lantana (Lantana camara) are all favorite nectar sources of the butterflies.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


 Mulch is simply a layer of material that is laid over the surface of the soil.  It may be classified as organic such as ground bark, straw, grass clippings, manure and compost, or inorganic (synthetic) like plastic sheeting, paper and rocks.   
Using mulch in the garden has many benefits. 

  •         Weed Control
One of the most important benefits is weed control.  Putting down a layer of mulch will prevent light from reaching the soil. Many weed seeds will not germinate, or if they do, there will not be enough sunlight for photosynthesis to occur.  When using materials like compost and wood chips, at least 3 inches of material is required for good weed control, and preferably 4 – 6 inches. Note: some vines and grasses, which have a well-established root system, will be able to grow through the layer of mulch to the surface. In addition, in areas of high rainfall, airborne seeds landing on the mulch will be able to germinate and grow when there is adequate moisture.  

  •      Water conservation
Water conservation is another benefit to mulching.  The mulch will actually reduce water evaporation from the soil.  Even in areas of high rainfall, the mulched plants will have a better chance of surviving during periods of drought.   In addition, mulches will also reduce runoff and erosion and increase the permeability of the soil surface.
Mulching may not be a good idea in heavy clay soils since they already hold soil moisture. Extending the period of moisture retention in a clay soil could lead to crown and root diseases. 

  •         Soil Fertility
Many of the common mulches like compost and wood products do not contain large amounts of nutrients, and therefore an occasional, small application of these products will not supply the plants with adequate nutrition.  However, applying mulch at a 6 – 12 inch thickness on a consistent basis, eventually will release macro and micro nutrients into the soil.  This may not replace any fertilization program but over time will substantially add to the fertility of the soil.  Mulches that have a high carbon to nitrogen ratio such as wood, sawdust and straw, may cause a short term, initial nitrogen depletion at or near the soil surface.  Simply apply a small amount of a high nitrogen fertilizer when using large amounts of wood/sawdust/straw mulch to flower beds and around other shallow rooted plants.

  •      Biological control
Large amounts of mulch (up to 24 inches) applied to the soil surface have the potential of controlling root rot diseases.  As the mulches breakdown, they create soil conditions which are deleterious to pathogenic soil organisms such as nematodes and root decaying fungi.  This has been especially true in the control of avocado root rot (Phytophthora cinnamomi).

As an alternative weed control, shredded paper can be used along pathways in the garden. Once wet, it will form a thick mat which most weeds will not penetrate. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cinnamon: Barking Up the Right Tree

 Cinnamon, the aromatic powder used to spice up rolls and cookies, is actually the ground bark of a laurel tree, Cinnamomum zeylanicum.  Today, however, much of the cinnamon found in the stores comes from another tree in the same family: Cinnamomum cassia. Although the average person may not be able to detect the difference, cinnamon from the C. zeylanicum tree is thought to be superior; it has a light, sweet flavor and is easier to grind into powder. Cinnamon trees can yield productive bark for about 45 years, and if given the chance, can grow to 65 feet.
Native to Sri Lanka, cinnamon is also cultivated in India, Sumatra, Java, Brazil, Vietnam, the West Indies, Egypt, Zanzibar, and Madagascar.

The process of creating the cinnamon spice is not an easy task. Trees are grown for two years and then cut down. The following year, the new shoots that appear are stripped of their bark; the bark is layered and rolled to form long canes (called quills) that are sun-dried. Cinnamon quills can be stored for long periods of time - hundreds of years in the right conditions. Ground cinnamon, however, will lose its flavor in a much shorter period of time. The flakes left over from quills are ground into cinnamon powder or distilled into cinnamon oil.

Recent studies show health benefits of this spice to include controlling blood sugar, improving colon and heart health and boosting brain power. Moreover cinnamon is considered a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. These benefits are attributed to 3 main essential oils - cinnamyl alcohol, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamaldehyde.

Another health benefit is the role of cinnamon in improving the insulin response of those with type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon may even help lower cholesterol levels. One study showed that simply smelling cinnamon or chewing cinnamon flavored gum, can improve one’s attention span and memory.