In this bonus episode of Granite State Gardening, UNH Extension’s Becky Sideman, Emma Erler and Nate Bernitz continue their conversation from the last episode, getting into working with seed catalogs to understand the information and how it’s organized as well as how to make selections that will thrive in your garden. We get into the weeds of concepts including organic, seed treatments, GMOs, and disease resistance, as well as segments on selecting varieties for container gardening, staking tomatoes, and growing Malabar spinach (Basella alba). Part 1 of this conversation, titled Planning Spring Vegetable Gardens, Soil Temperature, Nasturtiums & Fencing
, was packed with experience and insights for garden planning, and we recommend listening to it before jumping into this episode.
Featured question: What are the best varieties for growing veggies in containers?
Featured plant segment: Malabar spinach (Basella alba)
Closing gardening tip: tomato staking
Transcription by Otter.ai
Nate Bernitz 00:01
Welcome to the Granite State Gardening podcast from UNH Cooperative Extension. On today's show, we continue our conversation with Becky Seidman: UNH Extension specialist, professor of sustainable agriculture and food systems, and researcher at the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. If you haven't listened to Part one yet, which was called "planting spring vegetable garden soil temperature nasturtiums and fencing", you'll want to check that out before listening to this episode. We'll talk about using the wealth of information provided on seed packets and in seed catalogs, not only to understand it, but how to use it to choose the right varieties and succeed with the varieties you choose. Greetings Granite State gardeners, I'm Nate Bernitz, joined as always by horticulturist and UNH extension field specialist, Emma Erler. And again by Becky Seidman. We pick up our conversation after talking about garden planning systems and strategies. Now, we'll get into talking about tips and solutions for working with seed catalogs, understanding the information provided for us and how it's organized. So rather than get overwhelmed, we can get informed and find varieties that help us bring our garden plans to life. Emma, let's jump back in with what you view as some of the most important sections to focus on when you're looking at a variety of listing and a seed catalog.
Emma E 01:35
I'd say one thing I'm looking at, which is always going to be on there is the days to maturity. So if this if I'm ordering from companies that are out of the Northeast, you should I can probably assume that what I'm going to grow as long as I am planting on time, I'm going to be able to get a harvest. But you know, depending on when you're going to be able to get things in the ground, let's say it might be important to know whether something whether it's going to develop really quickly or not, or whether it's early fruiting or not. So I don't I'm thinking, let's say maybe tomatoes, you know that you're gonna be gone by, let's say August 1. And so you want to make sure that you you've chosen a variety that fruits really early, I say you've started them indoors, get them outside in the garden, and hopefully you're getting a nice crop within, you know, let's say two months at the at the most. So that's important. And then another thing that I guess we've kind of touched on already is is whether there's any sort of pest resistance in a variety. So if I know let's say that I have been having issues with early blight on my tomatoes year after year, then I might be looking for a variety that is early blight resistant, etc. I guess the same could go for squashes or cucumbers with say powdery mildew. So if you've at least accurately identified what that problem is, you might be able to skirt it somewhat with rotation and choosing a variety that has resistance.
Nate Bernitz 03:09
There's a lot more information about disease resistance in the catalog than on a seed packet. The seed packet might say that it has disease resistance, but in the catalog, it might say what it's resistant to and its level of resistance, whether it's resistant, whether it's tolerant, how resistant is it, there's a lot of really nuanced information that you might be able to get from the catalog.
Becky Sideman 03:34
Definitely. And I would add to that that not related to diseases but relating to whether a crop does well. One of the things that you will often find in a catalog is descriptions about the seasons that crops do well in, I'm thinking about broccoli, for example, broccoli varieties vary enormously in their tolerance to the kind of mid summer heat that we experience. And so if you are a real broccoli afficionado and want to grow broccoli so that you can harvest it throughout your whole growing season, you would probably want to actually grow an early season broccoli that will do well in the spring before the summer heat, and maybe a main season broccoli that can have some heat tolerance, and then maybe even a third that goes really well into fall production. That might not make sense if you just care if you have a little bit of broccoli here and there. But if you're really focusing on any given crop, you'll realize that there's a lot of variability that you can choose from.
Nate Bernitz 04:43
And I guess that might be taking us back to where we started this conversation which is hybrids, because plant breeders are breeding crops for specific characteristics. So if you're that broccoli afficionado you're looking for broccolis for different Seasons that might be where you're really benefiting from some of these newer varieties,
Becky Sideman 05:05
that's for sure. And they, they may be newer varieties that are hybrids, but they may also be new, open pollinated varieties, the two are not necessarily at odds with each other.
Emma E 05:17
Yeah, it's a really where that comes in, I guess open pollinated or hybrid is whether you're intending to save seeds yourself or not. So if you're really hoping to just have this, this garden where you're saving seeds every year, which I think is really hard on the scale of a home grower, if you just have a few plants here and there. But it really doesn't matter if you're going to be starting things from from seed each year, and not trying to save the seeds, whether it's open pollinated, or hybrid.
Becky Sideman 05:46
No. And in fact, some people prefer open pollinated seeds for kind of exactly kind of the reason that you might also the opposite reason, but the exact same justification is why you might prefer prefer hybrids. So hybrids are super, super, super uniform and consistent, they are going to be the same as each other. And that's great if you want something that's really uniform, but open pollinated varieties tend to have more variability in them. And that can be nice if you actually enjoy that variability, or you want to see that, you know, a little more adaptation to a particular environment. So there the I think there's clearly room for both.
Nate Bernitz 06:32
That's a great point. And so one example of something that you might be looking at in the description of a particular variety is, like you said, whether it's early or late or something like that, what what else might you be looking at when you're looking at one of these really robust descriptions of a variety and a catalog? What are some of the traits that might be highlighted?
Becky Sideman 06:55
Well, I'm thinking about, it's really so crop specific, actually. And it's hard to get, I mean, it's easy to to dig into if you start talking about a given crop. But for example, we mentioned onions earlier. And a lot of catalogs, those will be sorted into short day, intermediate day and long day onions, which has to do with usually there'll be a helpful little chart to help you decide which one you want. But that has to do with what parts of the country they're going to do well in. And so you know, it makes sense to really read those descriptions and understand what, what they they mean. I think about the sweet corn section and the sweet corn varieties differ enormously, not only in like the color of the kernels and the timing of maturity of them, but also in the genetics behind their sweetness and whether they have to be isolated, or they can grow next to each other, and they have huge flavor differences. So there's just all these characteristics that when you start digging into any given crop, you'll realize that there's a ton of variability for most crops, actually,
Nate Bernitz 08:14
yeah, when I just open up a catalog, which I'm doing right now and I'm looking at the eggplant section, and I'm just perusing some of these different descriptions, and it's really bringing me back again to our garden planning discussion. One of the really big differences is from a sort of culinary and preservation perspective. What are you actually planning on doing what this vegetable once you harvested it for this eggplant? Are you planning on grilling it? Or are you planning on freezing it for later use it so that those actual desirable culinary characteristics are really relevant as well as you know if you're this is maybe a fruit but just what immediately comes to mind if you're growing apples? Are you planning on growing them to eat fresh? Are you planning on making cider or sauce and you're gonna just see that different varieties are best tailored to specific and uses flavor texture, it gets really specific and that's really one of the benefits of gardening is that you do get to grow exactly what you want you get so much selection whereas when you go to the grocery store, you might be buying a crop that is at the store because it has a really good shelf life and handles being shipped really well.
Emma Erler 09:31
Yeah, that's that's definitely something that I really appreciate. Just the the diversity of flavors of textures of colors that you can get when you're growing things yourself. I know particularly I think of zucchini, how in my mind just vanilla and rather boring the supermarket zucchini is but when you grow it yourself, there's actually you know, some real, some real different flavors things sometimes they can be kind of nutty. Maybe a little bit sweeter, all sorts of different colors, shapes, sizes. So you know, just a lot to play around with. But your point is well taken Nate that trying to grow things based on use is definitely going to be important.
Nate Bernitz 10:17
I think you're also going to see, you know, if you're talking about these cucurbits, like cucumbers, for example, that's what I'm looking at. Now, in this catalog I have open, and some of them their description, say that they actually are better for small spaces growing in containers growing vertically, right, so you're looking in that description. And going back to your garden planning, where as you were looking at the different crops you are wanting to grow and the space requirements, you have these characteristics that you're actually looking for. And I think that's going to make it less overwhelming when you actually open the catalog and see so many choices, and just aren't really sure how to choose. You go back to your plan and go back to your needs.
Emma E 11:00
Totally. Yeah, I think that's a good way of looking at it to break it down. I think too, if you're feeling overwhelmed, starting smaller is never a bad idea. So it's it's really easy, I think, to get carried away when you're looking at that catalog and trying to pick out what you want to grow. Because there's typically just so many things that look cool. And if you haven't tried out a bunch of them before, you might be thinking that it would be neat to order a whole bunch and try all these different things. But in order to keep yourself from potentially getting completely overwhelmed, it might be easier to say you're just going to grow these five or six crops, and you're just going to pick out one or two varieties of each. And once you've totally figured out how to grow those, you've had some success, then you can start maybe expanding that garden trying different things. But yeah, just trying trying to keep a lid on early efforts i think is important. This episode's featured question is which vegetable varieties are best for containers? This is actually a question we get fairly often, as many people are interested in growing their own fresh food and limited space. growing vegetables and containers can be quite easy and rewarding as long as you have a sunny spot outdoors where plants will receive at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. Outside of choosing the right varieties. In order to be successful, you need to choose containers that will hold enough soil for the crop you want to grow and have good drainage at the bottom. pots need to have at least one large hole at the bottom to allow excess water to escape. If necessary, you may be able to drill holes along the sides and bottoms of containers. five gallon five gallon plastic buckets are a really popular choice for this. It's also crucial to choose a quality potting mix. garden soil is too heavy for containers. So instead you should be looking for a quality soilless mix that contains peat moss, coir, perlite, vermiculite, etc. Quality mixes will become composed primarily of peat and coir. Cheap mixes will be filled with bark and won't hold soil moisture as well. As for varieties, you can grow just about any vegetable in a container. Although that being said, if you are growing what tend to be very large plants like cucumbers, summer squash or tomatoes, you'll want to look for varieties that are listed for use in containers that are described as miniature or bush type. Your favorite seed catalog is sure to have at least a few choices of bush tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and eggplants. I found that any type of pepper, green or root vegetable can be grown in containers and you don't need to get a special container variety. Personally, peppers are one of my favorites. They fit into containers nicely. And they're really beautiful to like any other aspect of gardening, you'll need to experiment with growing and containers to see what works best for you. Good luck.
Nate Bernitz 14:26
There's a minimum number of seeds you can buy, right, so maybe you're buying a seed packet with 50 seeds in it or more than that might be the smallest possible quantity you can get. And it has a germination rate of you know x percentage in those ideal conditions, which are might actually be getting in the packet right as opposed you might not be able to see the precise germination rate in the catalog. But in any case, at some point you know if you only have room to plant five seeds you know how many days different varieties are you going to buy your you can only do so much. And the seeds don't last forever, my understanding is some different vegetables, you know, maybe some my last one or two years, maybe some other vegetables, the seeds might last a little bit longer if if stored well, but they all have a pretty short shelf life.
Emma E 15:21
Yeah, that germination rate or percentage will definitely go down over time. I know for my own garden, I'll often use the same piece for a couple years just because I really only have room for a couple dozen plants and there's 100 seeds or so in that packet. But after after two years or so the germination rate goes way down, and I just don't find it worth my time anymore to be planting a whole bunch of seeds that are no longer coming up and I'm wasting time in my garden. So starting over again, is is important and for, there are lots of charts out there that show how long some seeds are, can be expected to last, you know, whether it's a year, three years under ideal storage conditions. So you can get an idea there, I mean, there's a chance you might be able to use the same seeds, multiple years in a row.
Becky Sideman 16:13
I always like to do a little germination test to confirm, especially for crops I really care about to make positive sure that the seeds still are viable. And because if I'm placing my orders now, for my seeds, I do not want to find come may 15, that something I was counting on didn't germinate. And then what am I gonna do? So, so there's kind of an element of managing risk there as well. Sometimes it's worth getting fresh. And not risking for too many years.
Nate Bernitz 16:55
I actually want to come back to something you said in the very beginning, the first thing you said about looking at a catalog is you're gonna see days to maturity. And I know you said it's important, but I was wondering, Becky, could you talk a little bit about how you actually interpret that days to maturity number. So if you're a grower in whatever town and whatever growing zone, why is the days to maturity particularly relevant?
Becky Sideman 17:25
Well, I would say that it is important, but I would also say to take it with a big grain of salt. Because sometimes it's actually you can play a little game, if you have lots of seed catalogs with the same variety and listed in them and compare days to maturity. And you'll find sometimes they are wildly different. And part of this is because sometimes they measure that from days to seeding from seeding to maturity, or from transplant to maturity, you really have to read and know what what you're talking about there. I use that information in two primary ways. One is within a given seed catalog, within a given crop, they will have a range of maturities. And you can be pretty sure that a 63 day corn is going to be considerably earlier than 89 day corn from the same catalog. So that's helpful information to know. The other big way I use this is for, cuz I'm always trying to go really weird stuff that should not grow here. Because that's what I like to do. And so I want to grow things that take a much longer growing season than we have. And I sort of figure Okay, I am pretty sure we're going to have 100 frost free days. It's possible I wouldn't, but I'm pretty sure we will, most years. And so if the days to maturity, in some listed in a catalog is up around 150 to 120 days, I start thinking I'm gonna have to start that really early, I'm gonna have to really, I'm not saying I won't grow it, mind you, I'm just thinking I'm gonna have to protect this and really get it going and like that it's going to be dicey, whether I make it or not. And so those are the two ways that I really use the days to maturity, I take it with a grain of salt. I use it as a rough guideline for what's earlier versus what's later. And I tried to use it to figure out whether I can possibly grow these things that aren't really well adapted here.
Nate Bernitz 19:42
So you're kind of saying that it's helping you determine your planting date because you're taking that days to maturity and sort of counting back the number of days from the frost date. And sort of seeing if those numbers all work or if that's just Too many days between what you would expect to be the last frost and expect to be the first frost, is that right?
Becky Sideman 20:07
Yeah, that is correct. But again, that's making it sound a little more scientific than how I actually do it, I really do use this one ballpark number, which is roughly 100 days, you know, days of frost free, I know that we most often have more than that. But I feel like when we start having a crop that's over 100 days to maturity, I have to really start thinking about ways I'm going to creatively lengthen the season for that crop. And that's it. I don't try to because I think that, like, if, you know, something says that it's, you know, 35 days to maturity, I you can't use those numbers religiously to say, Okay, well, I can if it's 35 days to maturity, if I start one on May 1, and then I start one on June 15. And then I started again on, like, it just doesn't work out like that, because in reality, we're assigning a number, but it's not a real number, because it's maybe 35 days on average. But like, early in the season, it takes longer than that, because it's cold in the middle of the season. It goes faster than that, because it's really hot. And so it's just like a ballpark number. I don't know if that's discouraging or not, but it's how I use these things.
Emma E 21:33
No, I think that's helpful. I guess my philosophy often is I because I do tend to be more of an ornamental or flower grower than vegetable growers. So when I have my vegetable garden, I just want to ensure that I am going to be getting some good produce, so that I can be screwing around with some of the other things that I like in the ornamental beds. So in that case, I'm often looking for some of those earlier maturing varieties that I'm like I should that definitely have plenty of time for this to fruit or fully mature and I will absolutely be getting whatever it is that I want I will be getting, let's say this, this squash, this winter squash should definitely produce something for me with the amount of time I can expect to have in the growing season. But I think you know, depending on on what your your your hobby is, what your interest is, like, Becky playing around with all that that stuff. That's, that's really cool.
Nate Bernitz 22:33
And you're really talking about these crops that you plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. Right that where you're pushing the envelope, I guess the other thing you could look at are cool season crops that maybe you're planting early in the spring. And you need to make sure that you can harvest them before the summer heat hits. Or maybe that you're planting in the late summer, early fall and need to make sure they're going to be harvestable. Before we get our first frost.
Becky Sideman 23:01
Yeah, that's right. And I think that that's when you really have to take those days to maturity with a grain of salt because they get again, they're measured in a certain condition. And if you're doing something, let's say a little different, like growing spinach in a high tunnel over the winter, or planting something really, really early under low tunnels outside or something like that, those numbers are going to not apply directly. Because it's going to be cooler, slower growing conditions. But yeah, yeah.
Nate Bernitz 23:50
I've seen this in catalogs and packets, I've seen some things labeled as treated seeds. I've also seen pelletized seeds, what are these terms actually mean? And then do I want something that's treated? Do I want something that's pelletized?
Emma E 24:06
I think sometimes with the the pelletized seeds, we're talking about seeds of plants that are very small and might be kind of difficult to plant because you can't actually pick them up with your fingers. So let's say beets. Now I know beets have a pretty good sized seed. Maybe something more like a carrot or maybe lettuces might might be actually rolled in some sort of some sort of aggregate that's making them a little bit bigger and easier to handle. I guess the challenge though, is that you still typically have to thin because a lot of times there's still more than one seed rolled up in that pellet. If there if there isn't, you know, it might be a bit easier to handle. So say you're gardening with kids, it might be a little bit easier for them to handle the pelletized seed than trying to gently sprinkle let's see lettuce seed or carrot seed that's very, very fine. So kind of preference are usually you pay extra for it. So it's not something I typically opt for, but definitely an option.
Becky Sideman 25:16
I'll jump in with that. The other thing with pelletized seed is that often that process of palletizing also involves priming the seeds so that it's ready or to germinate sort of it's kind of like getting it partially germinated, and then drying it down in the piloting process, so that they germinate quickly and uniformly etc. Unfortunately, the downside of that is that they don't, they've come partially out of dormancy, and so they don't store as well. So a palletized seed is easier to handle, like Emma said, and for that reason, in certain circumstances makes a lot of sense. But it's not going to last and the ideal storage conditions are not going to be, it's not going to last as well, even if you have those excellent storage conditions. So you'd want to use those seeds up.
Emma E 26:09
you definitely can find treated seeds as well that I believe are treated with fungicides, typically/
Becky Sideman 26:15
and in some cases, insecticides, depending depending on the situation.
Nate Bernitz 26:22
So you're not going to find something that's organic and treated at the same time?
Becky Sideman 26:27
there are organically compliant seed treatments as well, you'd want to unnecessary, you'd want to read the details of those seed treatments. And if you particularly if you are interested in organic gardening, you'd want to make sure it was an organic seed treatment, which many of them are not. Oftentimes, with a treated seed, either with insecticides or fungicides, it's going to germinate better in cold soils with pests, and if it's treated with insecticide, it won't get attacked by a seed, corn maggot or a root maggot perhaps when it's young, so you can get increased vigor from those. But the downside is they are pesticide treated seeds, and you need to handle them accordingly.
Emma Erler 27:18
I'm kind of curious, Becky, you know, back to the organic seed thing. If you are, you know, a home gardener is planning to grow your garden organically. Is it important to be getting organic seeds? Or can you just order the regular seeds? And, you know, be very careful with your practices so that your garden is indeed organic?
Becky Sideman 27:43
Well, it comes down to sort of there's two parts to that my answer? And one is there's a there is a philosophy, that there's a philosophical approach to that, which is that if you are truly organically inclined, you would want to be theoretically, supporting organic agriculture at all levels. And that includes when you purchase organic seeds, you're you're supporting that those plants that were raised to produce those seeds were raised organically. And so from that perspective, many organic producers do in fact, want organic seeds, and they want to sort of encourage that organic production at all at all steps of their of the food system. But on the other hand, there's the other part of that question. The other part of my answer has to do with like, are you actually following the rules, and the the organic regulation state that if something's available organically, you must purchase and use it organically. If it's not like if you want to grow a variety that you can't find organically, as an organic grower, you could use it. So I recognize that most home gardeners are not actually certified organic and paying attention to those rules. But it's sort of important to know like if it's out there as a possibility an organic grower would have to purchase and utilize that organic seed.
Nate Bernitz 29:26
That's really interesting. And I think the flip side of that coin, so there's our organic gardeners, but people are also concerned about GMOs, do you like can you even buy GMO seeds as a gardener? Is that something that would be labeled? What do you need to know about that when you're perusing your seed catalogs?
Becky Sideman 29:50
The last time I researched this from a home gardener perspective? Yes, you could, in theory gry genetically modified seeds, but it would be difficult to do so without knowing it. And because most companies would have disclaimers really clearly on them, and also, because they're not targeted for home gardeners, you would typically have to be buying them in lots of maybe 10,000 seeds or more, which most home gardeners are not going to do. So I would say probably a practical standpoint, it's very unlikely that you would, if you did, we're not looking for genetically modified seeds. If you're trying to not have them, it's very unlikely you would accidentally purchase them, probably practically impossible. That said, there's a bunch of seed companies that have GMO free pledges. And so they clearly state that in their catalogs, they don't sell genetically modified seeds, and they even test for the presence of trans genes. So if you if that's something you are looking to avoid, it should be pretty straightforward to do So.
Nate Bernitz 31:10
that might be a fun topic For a future episode, we'll see. I actually wanted to go back to disease resistance for a few more minutes. We mentioned that yes, in the catalog, you are seeing what something is resistant to through a, you know, some sort of key or legend. If you're someone that has dealt with a particular disease in the past, and you find a seed in this year's catalog that says that it's resistant to that disease, does that take the place of other management practices? Do you still have to rotate? Do you still need to potentially use some sort of product? Do you need to practice other cultural growing practices? What's your take on how significant disease resistance actually is?
Becky Sideman 31:57
My take is that it It varies with the disease and the crop. There are disease resistances that are pretty much absolute immunity conferring disease, resistances, that would pretty much entirely control the disease, an example would be leaf mold, and tomato, for example, which is very uncommon in outdoor gardening settings, but it's pretty common in in greenhouses. Another example would be bacterial leaf spot and pepper, which is a pretty devastating disease if you have it. And if you have resistance, it is just a non issue. But those are the rare exception. And most disease resistances are partial. And they should be what pathologists call protected by using all the other cultural practices in your arsenal as well. So rotate and do everything else you can to try to minimize that. Because if it's a partial resistance, you just aren't going to get complete control no matter what. And I would say it's probably safest to assume that resistances are going to be partial. And it never hurts to go ahead and rotate. Because even if it isn't necessary for that disease, it's probably necessary for something else
Nate Bernitz 33:29
that's really interesting. isn't actually going to say in the catalog one way or the other. Like if it's kind of a complete and total resistance or not, or are you just saying in general unless you specifically know that there's a resistance that's going to completely cover it, you should assume that it should just be part of your overall disease management approach?
Becky Sideman 33:53
Yeah, I think that most catalogs are not going to be very clearly overly promising immunity. They because well, who knows what happened? That seems dangerous to over promise, right? So I would say most are not going to tell you it's going to be complete immunity. So you might know it. But if you don't know what they're not going to tell you. They might tell you it's partial resistance or intermediate resistance, which is a great sign that it's not complete. And for that reason, I guess that's why I would even if they say resistant, I would interpret that as maybe not complete and you should protect it. So even if it is very high level of resistance. You know, pathogens evolve. And they evolve slowly over time by people putting them out, putting resistances out and challenges them. And so everything you can do to try to minimize that, and minimize the pathogens, chances of evolving resistance is good. So that's why I would err on the side of assuming it won't be complete.
Nate Bernitz 35:16
And, Becky, you really have some insider information on this whole disease resistance process, because as a researcher, you're actually evaluating disease resistance. Right? Can you share just a little bit about what actually goes into being able to say that variety x is resistant to disease y?
Becky Sideman 35:41
Yeah, well, there's different ways that that's done. But basically the way you in order to say that someone has done replicated experiments, when exposing those plants, to the pathogen, that may be that they may mean they've grown them in fields that are known to have that disease or an environment that have known had the disease, or maybe they've grown them in a setting and actually inoculated them with that pathogen. It can be a little tricky to get an accurate, it's it can be tricky to make proclamations that are broadly applicable. Like, even if we do a really great disease, inoculation and screen and identify resistant things. The reality of life is that there's variability and pathogens that are out there. And so it might be that there's different strains in other parts of the country, or even in different parts of the state, for example. And so that's part of the reason that you have to sort of view it with a little bit of like, healthy skepticism, I guess, because you often don't know, like, we might just have a new strain could show up of a particular pathogen. And so even though folks have done their best to to evaluate them, it is all like actual looking to see what their response is in some kind of setting.
Nate Bernitz 37:25
that is so interesting, and seems to have so many parallels to, you know, all the news coverage of development of vaccines and medications. It's really just as complex with crops, it seems.
Becky Sideman 37:38
It totally is. Yep, that's true.
Emma E 37:41
I guess, one follow up question I have is why you can find resistance to some diseases in crops and not others is that just because nobody's been doing breeding work for that crop? Like I'm thinking, if I'm looking at a catalog, I'll never see septoria leaf spot in tomatoes as something that plants resistant to?
Becky Sideman 38:03
Yeah, that's like a really deep question. Why is that? You know, is it because that pathogen is just really, really successful at colonizing that plant? And that it, it may target something specifically about the plant that it's really hard to not have the plant do for example, I don't know if that makes sense. But like, oftentimes, the way when you select resistant plants, they have lost whatever makes them susceptible to a particular pathogen, and maybe for septoria. And I agree, that's a particularly challenging one. And it's not that breeders haven't been trying because they've been trying really, really hard with that one. Is it just that septoria takes advantage of something in that plant that we just cannot do without? You know, that the tomato plant can't do without? That's it a deep question.
Nate Bernitz 39:10
We need a project warp speed for septoria leaf spot, clearly.
Becky Sideman 39:14
And if we did, it would likely be successful. Yeah.
Nate Bernitz 39:18
Are you familiar with instead of disease resistance, insect resistance? What are there any examples that come to mind? I'm just curious what insect pests a gardener might deal with where they actually might be able to find a variety that has some resistance to it?
Becky Sideman 39:36
Well, the best example that I can think of, well, actually, I can think of a few different varieties. So are a few different examples. So one example I can think of his striped cucumber beetle. So striped cucumber beetles, a pest that probably most gardeners are familiar with if they grow squash or cucumbers or melons, or anybody else. That family, it turns out that squash, cucumber beetles are really, really attracted to a certain class of compounds that cucurbits produce called cucurbitaceae. And that there are varieties and species of cucurbits that produce really high levels of cucurbitaceae that are crazily attractive to cucumber beetle. And on the flip side, there are ones that are much lower cucurbitaceae than producers and therefore less attractive. This is an example where even though there are studies that have shown this, and there are examples of more tolerant varieties that, you know, cucumber beetle avoids, it's been really difficult to get that sort of widespread in all our varieties. So even though it's out there, it's really not super widespread. There's other examples I can think of. Like some of the Harrier, tomatoes and potatoes are more resistant to certain insects that have difficulty actually feeding on the leaves, that results and some resistance the insects but also resistance to diseases that they transmit, for example.
Nate Bernitz 41:30
that is really fascinating and more complex again, than I would have thought it's not a direct resistance to the insect as much as some sort of environmental or kind of indirect resistance.
Becky Sideman 41:46
It is more complicated when you have an insect feeding on a crop than with a pathogen. It shows up there and lands on the crop. And either that works or it doesn't work. But with insects, they're actually actively choosing where they go. And so that brings a whole nother like, how does the crop look? Not only How does the crop taste and what are they attracted to versus not? And it's, it's very complicated, you should have Anna on for conversation about this.
Nate Bernitz 42:19
We sure are going to. the host of over informed on IPM, another UNH extension podcast. Absolutely.
Becky Sideman 42:27
She would over inform you on that for sure.
Nate Bernitz 42:31
So we've been talking a while I don't I don't want to go much longer. But I do want to ask lastly about local adaptation of buying locally, because you mentioned that there are some benefits to buying locally. But this idea of local adaptation, I am curious about what it means. I know that that's one reason why land grant universities extensions, Agricultural Experiment stations are actually doing work at the local level is to try and develop these locally adapted varieties. So what can you tell us about local adaptation,
Becky Sideman 43:12
it can mean any of a number of things. But at the most basic level, when you do Plant Breeding, and you develop varieties, you take these very diverse populations that are like variable for everything, they're segregating for all kinds of traits. And you go out and you look to see what are the most attractive, productive, best tasting fabulous things here, and you select those, and you go from that. And if that work happens only in let's take, for example, the Central Valley of California, you can imagine that you would select some really great varieties. But when you take those here, the whole and grow them here, you can imagine that our environmental conditions are just nothing like those environmental conditions. And there's this genetic gene by environment interaction that takes place where crops just may not perform the same way in different environments. And so, you know, to the extent that we can evaluate, select, and not just evaluate, but actually do selection and plant breeding in a wide variety of environments, we're more likely to result in some things that are actually going to perform really well consistently in those environments. If that makes sense.
Nate Bernitz 44:52
It does make a lot of sense. I'm really curious about what your role is, you know, how do you actually come up with recommendations for growers in New Hampshire.
Becky Sideman 45:03
There are heirloom varieties that were selected and grown for many years in this region that are well adapted to here because people farmers selected them and continued them, I can think of some older Flint corn varieties that fall into this category, for example. But the way hybrids are developed is that open pollinated lines are selected and bred in a given area, and then they're cross together and the hybrid suitability is evaluated. So the same exact processes apply. And locally adapted hybrids are just as much a thing as locally adapted open pollinated varieties. For example, a lot of Brent Loy's cucurbit varieties over the years are hybrids, and they're extremely well adapted to our conditions. Just because something was bred here doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be super well adapted here. But we'd like to think it is, and that there's a better chance probably, but I think there's also a role for continued evaluation. Many seed companies do this. Many researchers at Agricultural Experiment stations like myself do this, where we take a bunch of varieties that we think are gonna do well here. And we actually grow them over repeated seasons, and evaluate how they do actually in the face of environmental variability that that comes along. And that's usually pretty informative, because sometimes sometimes things perform as you'd expect, and sometimes they don't. And sometimes the weather conditions are just weird. And you get some you learn have weaknesses that you would not have necessarily predicted for a variety. So I think that variety, testing is also important, as well as variety development in a region. While I, I'm always really happy to share my results with farmers and gardeners in the state and in the region. I recognize that there's actually a lot of room for grower preference. And I actually think it's really, really, really important that you evaluate for yourself and compare for yourself a bunch of different varieties, especially if you you know, maybe it's not so important if you just want to go a little bit of something. But if you're a real broccoli aficionado, you should probably grow a bunch of varieties, because you'll certainly have preferences and they won't be the same as my preferences, and they won't be the same as seed catalog preferences. We always do this, when we have grower conferences, I asked what are people's favorite varieties? And you get this whole list? And then you say, what are people's least favorite varieties? And it's the exact same whole list, it's just different people have given the answers. So I think there's I do not think there are best varieties, only a few. I think that it depends on your own situation.
Nate Bernitz 48:21
Yeah, I guess there's a role for personal preference. There's also a role for personal experience, right? What actually does well in your garden, what does well in Durham, New Hampshire, you know, may or may not do well, where ever you are in your garden, maybe even What does well for someone on the other side of town, not necessarily do well in your garden. So the role of journaling, or, in your case spreadsheeting? That's not a verb. But we'll just roll with it. And just trialing you know, whether it's on the Research Farm or in your garden, Becky, I'm just curious, where can people go to learn more about you and your research? How can they do it?
Becky Sideman 49:07
Of course they do. So on UNH extensions website, there is a section called applied research. I should look that up and make sure that's really what it is called. I think it's called that and I applied vegetable and fruit research. And I publish all of my research reports, they're even before I publish them in manuscripts or anything like that, so that they're ready for for farmers and gardeners to read. And they're usually in the kind of dorky detail that you'd really want if you are an afficionado of crop X, Y or Z. So those have my contact info on them and people can always just reach out directly. And if you want to see what we're up to on the moment, you should follow UNH Sideman Lab on Instagram because We're always posting photogenic pictures of whatever crops were playing with at the moment.
Nate Bernitz 50:07
Can confirm - a great follow. Okay, closing question, Becky, what's one variety of something that you grew last year in your garden that you just can't wait to grow again, one single recommendation that you just can't wait to share?
Becky Sideman 50:26
I grew tetsuKabuto winter squash last year, on my mom's recommendation from the previous year, and it's a fabulous storage variety. It's a cross between a maxima and a moschata. So it's a really delicious, good storing winter squash variety. And we're really enjoying eating it right about now. And so I am looking forward to growing tetsuKabuto again, which for those that are curious, I did have to Google This means steel helmet, in Japanese.
Nate Bernitz 51:04
Hey, as long as you don't have to spell it right?
Becky Sideman 51:06
Nate Bernitz 51:08
Well, thanks for coming on Granite State gardening. Becky, you've been our first guest and an absolutely wonderful guests to have. It's been a real treat, getting to talk to you. I hope we'll have the opportunity to do so again.
Becky Sideman 51:23
This was a pleasure from my end as well. Thanks for having me.
Emma Erler 51:46
This episode's featured plant is Malabar spinach, Basella alba. Malabar spinach is an annual vine that is native to the East Indies. It can be grown as a vegetable plant or as an ornamental vine. As a vegetable. It has edible spinach like stems and leaves, and though it's entirely unrelated to spinach, the leaves have a very similar flavor and are packed with vitamins A and C and calcium and iron. The leaves and stems can be picked as needed for soup salad source stir fries. The leaves of the plant themselves are glossy green with smooth edges and the stems are deep burgundy read this lens the plant to ornamental uses as well on fence posts trellises or hanging baskets. A nice thing about Malabar spinach is that it really thrives in hot weather. Unlike spinach, it can be grown easily in any garden that has rich consistently moist soil and full sun. If you want to grow Malabar spinach, start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last spring frost date or so directly in the garden after the last spring frost date. As vines grow, train them on a trellis or other support to keep the foliage clean and ready for harvest. Malabar spinach climbs by twinning, so it will wrap around those structures. In conclusion, if you're looking to try something new and interesting in your garden this year, give Malabar spinach a try.
Emma E 53:24
I'd like to close this episode with a tip on staking tomato plants. I think most everyone knows that tomatoes require some type of support, but you may not be clear on what the best options are. Circular tomato cages are the most common, but they aren't my favorite. Though they do a good job of keeping the foliage and fruit off of the ground. tomato cages have a way of compressing stems and foliage together, reducing airflow through plants, raising humidity and prolonging leaf wetness. So if you've had issues with fungal diseases on tomatoes before, tomato cages probably aren't helping. Instead, I like to support individual plants with tall upright steaks, like four to five foot wooden stakes or rebar. As the plants grow, I use twine to tie one or two main stems to the support. To keep the tomato plant tidy. I remove all of the suckers, that is new stems that develop in the leaf axles so that I'm maintaining just one or two leaders. Another option is a basket weave system, where stakes are driven between plants and twine is woven between plants in the stakes in an S shaped pattern, like you would if you were actually weaving a basket. If you can't picture what I mean. Be sure to check out the UNH extension factsheet on pruning tomato plants. Now is a great time to plan ahead for your 2021 garden.
Nate Bernitz 55:02
Email us at GSG dot email@example.com to share your feedback suggest future episodes, and of course to ask gardening questions. If you're enjoying this podcast so far, consider giving us a five star review wherever you're listening. That's going to help other gardeners find this podcast. If you're not connected with us on social media yet, just search for ask UNH extension. We'd love to connect with you there. You can get regular content updates, we share interesting articles, gardening tips, and it's just a great community of gardeners. One last way you can connect with us is to subscribe to the Granite State gardening newsletter. All of these links are in the description of this podcast, along with some articles that relate to the topics we've discussed today. Definitely check out that description. Our next episode is on foliage house plants. Be sure to tune in. Thanks for tuning in to Granite State gardening a production of UNH Cooperative Extension until next time,
Becky Sideman 56:10
Keep on growing Granite State gardeners.
Nate Bernitz 56:15
Granite State gardening is a production of University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and equal opportunity educator and employer views expressed on this podcast are not necessarily those of the university's its trustees, or its volunteers. inclusion or exclusion of commercial products on this podcast does not imply endorsement. The University of New Hampshire US Department of Agriculture and New Hampshire County is cooperate to provide extension programming in the Granite State. Learn more at extension unh.edu