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Singing Gardener: Wild chokecherries — the new superfood?

Plus, info on the gladiolus thrip

So what’s on the page today? In a nutshell I’ve something to say about the goodness of wild chokecherries. For a lot of tomato growers the problem is early and late blight, so a plan of action to keep such leaf diseases at bay is included further along. Have you heard of an insect pest known as the gladiolus thrip? Let’s gather together for some good information about its destructive nature and controls. It’s all part and parcel of my flow of words.

So come along folks and listen to my tale and learn something new along the Grainews trail. Adding to all that is a great big western welcome that echoes like a yodel trill from one side of the mountain to the other. With a yodel dee-dee yi ho, yi ho — come a rudle liddle lay dee yi ho!

Chokecherries – lesser known as Ariona Berry

With black-fruited chokecherry bushes growing along the edge of my garden, I need not go searching for them in bluffs, woodlands or along riverbanks. I find these wild deciduous bushes or small trees to be as tough as nails, need no care and they pay me no mind. As a kid I recall how my mouth quickly became puckered after feasting on a handful or two of chokecherries straight from the bush. Of course, they do have interior pits and birds love ’em.

Interest in health benefits from chokecherries is in revival mode with some startling information provided by research scientists. Some go so far as to call dark-skinned chokecherries a completely amazing superfood and one of nature’s best health supplements offering even more protection than blackberries and cranberries.

The Singing Gardener picked eight litres of chokecherries in no time flat. The ripe drupes as they’re also called are eagerly sought after as food by black bears, raccoons and birds. On the negative side some folks don’t like the word “choke” and seeds are said to contain some cyanide.
photo: Ted Meseyton

What’s so special about chokecherries? First of all, chokecherry bushes are so Canadian, found growing hither-tither and oh so naturally throughout many rural areas of the Prairie provinces. The kernels inside these dark-pigmented berries contain significant quantities of oil, protein and even some cyanide, so we’re told. The entire berry is rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, flavonoids, anthocyanins and proanthocyanins, each said to possess a high-capacity value at fighting against allergies, viruses and cancer-causing elements. Chokecherries also contain a high dose of quinic acid which is known to prevent urinary tract infection. Continuing research says a lot more is being uncovered about quinic acid’s connection to circulation, stronger blood vessels, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The most popular ways to process chokecherries are via making jellies, juices, sauces, syrups and wine. The berries are not very sweet and instead hold a sharp, tart taste. Sugar can be added depending on the recipe and processing method. One approach for juicing is to purchase a double boiler-type steamer as a worthwhile investment. Because they’re slightly astringent in taste with low sugar content, researchers say the berries may also help prevent storing of fat around the abdomen of an overweight person. Growing chokecherry bushes is easy but they can become susceptible to black knot disease. Also, be aware of the following. Leaves of chokecherry bushes injured by frost or extreme drought are reported to be poisonous to sheep and cattle if eaten. Otherwise they’re very hardy and easy to grow in your yard with adequate space. Besides the common wild bush-type chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) check at your local-area nursery for hybrid Bailey Select and hybrid Midnight chokecherry cultivars. Both are ideal for planting in hardiness Zone 2 through to Zone 4.

Tomato blight disease prevention

Depending on your location, a lot of gardeners are just now setting out their tomato transplants. I figure it’s a good time to share the following method for preventing tomato blight and other foliage diseases. The main ingredient is powdered skim milk and it holds an amazing track record at preventing mentioned diseases. Urban and city folks with little or no garden space needn’t worry about crop rotation either as it won’t be necessary. The following technique is gentle and it works.

For four prepared tomato planting holes:

  • ¼ c. powdered non-fat skim milk
  • ¼ c. Epsom salts
  • One spade or shovelful of good-quality compost
  • A hand trowel

Mix skim milk, Epsom salts and compost together well, divide into four parts then add an equal amount into each planting hole prepared in advance. Set tomato plants in place and fill in each hole with good soil. Sprinkle an additional 2 tablespoons of powdered skim milk on soil surface around each plant and mix it in. Make a circular moat around each planted tomato and fill it in with water. Every two weeks thereafter, continue to add 2 tablespoons of powdered skim milk on soil top around each tomato plant during the active growing season. Make sure no bottom tomato leaves ever touch the soil. Prune them off so they’re at least six inches or higher above ground.

If you want to make a larger batch all at once — let’s say for two dozen plants, then multiply the previous stated quantity by six.

For 24 prepared tomato planting holes:

  • 1-½ c. powdered
    non-fat skim milk
  • 1-½ c. Epsom salts
  • 6 spades or shovelfuls of good-quality compost

Also consider placing mulch around each planted tomato. This helps retain moisture and provides a physical barrier between soil and plant surfaces by reducing the amount of disease spores that can be splashed onto stems, foliage and fruits during rainy periods or cool, dampish weather. Mulch material can consist of shredded moist paper, composted sawdust, oat straw, bark, pine tree and other evergreen needles and dry grass clippings that have not been sprayed with chemicals.

The gladiolus thrip

Some gardeners may have already planted their gladiolus corms. If you are yet to plant some, here’s a pre-planting treatment worthy of consideration with a bit of preamble first.

Have you grown gladiolus other years, only to find sections of some leaves have been sucked dry or streaked with white areas, or the flowers appear distorted without opening properly, or as though shredded by a pair of scissors? A very tiny insect, the gladiolus thrip is responsible for this damage. It rarely survives during winter in the Prairies but is more apt to overwinter in stored gladiolus corms. During growth these minute-winged culprits hide in the sheaths and crevices of flower spikes.

Ways to fight back – when to plant corms

Trip up thrips before planting corms. A gladiolus expert suggests terminating thrips by submerging large corms first in a hot water bath at 43.3 C (110 F) — no hotter — for 15 to 20 minutes — no longer. The eyes of large corms are very heat sensitive, so don’t exceed water temperature and time indicated. Small glad corms can remain soaking in water for about a half-hour at a slightly higher temperature up to 51.6 C (125 F). Using a thermometer is essential.

As a bonus, one option is to add two drops of insecticidal soap or a drop or two of Dettol antiseptic disinfectant into every four litres of temperature-controlled water used during the soak. This pre-planting treatment must be done while corms are still dormant and before any sign of sprouting is shown.

Monitor gladiolus while they grow

Visually inspect and monitor glads very closely for potential danger while growing. You can also attract and capture thrips using yellow or white sticky trap cards available at some garden centres. Gladiolus plants can withstand some water pressure and may be hosed with a forceful spray to knock off any thrips. Pay particular attention to the underside of leaves, but make sure the plants show no sign of displeasure from water hosing. The point to remember is thrips thrive in dry, hot conditions. Keeping plants well watered and regular misting of foliage can decrease their activity.

So when’s the best time to plant gladiolus corms outdoors in open soil? Experience says look at the lilac bushes. Once leaf buds on lilac bushes have begun to swell and burst open — that’s the cue. It’s OK to plant glads. Keep in mind there are early, mid-season and late-blooming gladiolus varieties.

Long-lasting gladioli are a gold standard in the florist trade. In the home garden, bulb-like corms are covered with a fibrous papery skin. Unlike spring bulbs, glad corms are sensitive to freezing temperatures and must be dug up each fall, cured and then stored until planting time the following spring.
photo: Ted Meseyton

About the author

Columnist

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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