Interesting and Bizarre Gardening and Plant Facts

Today’s post is just for fun:

  • The word ‘cabbage’ occurs once in the works of Shakespeare, in Act I, scene i of The Merry Wives of Windsor, when Falstaff exclaims: “Good worts! good cabbage. Slender, I broke your head: what matter have you against me?” [Translated into modern English: Falstaff is making fun of Slender for saying worts instead of words. Worts was a type of vegetable, which is why he said cabbage.] Not sure the humor translates well to modern English.
  • One ounce of cress boiled down will produce enough cyanide to kill two mice.
  • The only natural habitat of the coco de mer tree is on Praslin in the Seychelles. The sex of the tree cannot be determined until it is twenty-five years old. More coconuts come from Indonesia than any other country.
  • The French for dandelion is pissenlit, of “piss-in-bed.” The English used to refer to the plant as pissabed too, referring to its known qualities as a diuretic. When apothecaries prescribed dandelion extract for that purpose, it was offered under the name Urinaria. The English word “dandelion” comes from the French dent de lion, or “lion’s tooth,” referring to the shape of the leaves.
  • Chinese gooseberries come from New Zealand.
  • The first recorded conviction for drunken driving while in charge of a lawnmower was in Norway in 1995. A 54-year old man had been cutting grass for the southwestern town of Haugesund when police caught him driving a small lawnmower from one garden to another. Police just stopped him as part of a spot check and found that his blood alcohol level was well over the limit for motorized vehicles. He was fined and sentenced to twenty-four days in jail, but the sentence was suspended on the grounds that the lawnmower’s top speed of about 10 mph was too slow to do any damage.
  • There are more than sixty species and 8,000 varieties of grapes, and they can all be used to make juice or wine. The wine business has made grape-growing the largest food industry in the world, with twenty-five million acres of grapes worldwide producing 72 million tons of grapes. The average person eats 8 pounds of grapes a year. Botanically, grapes are not fruit but berries.
  • On August 28, 1988, the Yantlee Polyclinic in Bangkok published a claim that you can get rid of hunger by pressing lettuce seeds into your ears ten times before meals. [Hope it doesn’t start growing!]
  • There are about 800 million olive trees in the world, of which about 20 million are in China. Olive oil is mentioned 140 times in the Bible.
  • In Japan, bathing in coffee grounds mixed with pineapple pulp is supposed to remove wrinkles.
  • Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable, but in 1947 the U.S. Customs Court ruled it to be a fruit, since that is how it is normally eaten. Rhubarb first became known in England in the 16th century for its medicinal properties. It did not begin to appear as an ingredient in cookery books until the beginning of the 19th century. On January 11, 1770, Benjamin Franklin sent a consignment of rhubarb from London to John Bartram in Philadelphia. This was the first rhubarb in the United States.
  • A gun-firing scarecrow was patented in 1913 by John Steinocher of West Texas “for scaring off birds, animals and such like as tend to prey upon or devastate crops, stock or like property.”
  • Slugs are hermaphrodites; vitamin B stunts their growth, shortens their lives, and inclines them toward cannibalism. The record speed for a slug is 0.2 mph. A slug can smell a mushroom up to 2 miles away.
  • There are nine main varieties of tomato: beefsteak, globe, plum, green, cherry, pear, currant, purple, and striped. The first tomatoes imported into Europe were golden in color, which led to them being nicknamed “golden apples.” The Italian for tomato is still pomodoro — “apple of gold.”
  • The first recorded watermelon harvest took place around 5000 years ago in Egypt. Pictures of the fruit have been found in paintings on the walls of ancient buildings. The seedless watermelon was developed in 1939. Cordele, Georgia claims to be the watermelon capital of the world. The average American eats over 17 pounds of watermelons per year.

The Humble Potato

Today is National Potato Day!
Until the late 18th century, the French generally believed that potatoes caused leprosy. The vegetables became more popular thanks to Marie Antoinette’s habit of wearing potato blossoms in her hair.
The potato, (Solanum tuberosum), is an annual plant in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), grown for its starchy edible tubers. The potato is native to the Peruvian-Bolivian Andes and is one of the world’s main food crops.
All potato types are high in carbohydrates and contain a moderate amount of calories as well as healthy amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals. The kind of potatoes that may be the healthiest are those with darker-colored flesh, such as the Purple Viking,Yukon Gold and Ruby Crescent.
In October, 1995, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space. This was part of a NASA and University of Wisconsin project to find ways to feed astronauts or space colonies. [Note: if you’ve not read ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir, or watched the movie made from the book, you should.]
Around the world, 727,000 tons of potatoes are harvested every day.
According to an old folk remedy, carrying potatoes in your pocket can cure or prevent rheumatism. It can also cure problems for film directors: in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, dried potato flakes were used to look like snowflakes.
Montana State University has compiled a list of Fun Facts about Potatoes:

Give this Vegetable some Love!

An analysis of whether young people liked or disliked Brussels sprouts was undertaken by John Trinkaus of New York and reported under the title “Taste Preference For Brussels Sprouts: An Informal Look” in the journal of Psychological Reports in December 1991. A survey of 442 business students revealed that about 50 percent reported a dislike of sprouts, 10 percent liked them, and 40 percent were indifferent. Older students were more likely to like them than younger ones.

Clearly none of these students had Brussels sprouts prepared properly because, when they’re done right, they’re delicious! The Brussels sprout is a member of the Gemmifera Group of cabbages, grown for its edible buds. The leaf vegetables are typically 1.5–4.0 cm in diameter and look like miniature cabbages. The Brussels sprout has long been popular in Brussels, Belgium, and may have gained its name there.

brussels-sprouts-annotation-728682fab93242ed8198fbf93499faeeIf you’re looking for an extremely nutrient-dense food that’s also tasty and easy to prepare, look no further than Brussels sprouts. … Plus, Brussels sprouts are a good source of fiber, manganese, potassium, choline, and B vitamins. They even contain protein.

This is a great addition to your late summer garden as the plants need cool weather. If you don’t have room for a big garden, they can be grown in pots.
Let’s look to the good old Farmer’s Almanac for instructions on how to grow and harvest this wonderfully nutritious vegetable.

Cool as a Cucumber

english-versus-regular-cucumbers-2355806-FINAL-5bc8a4eec9e77c0051c08105In September 1997, researchers threw five hundred cucumbers into the Irish Sea to gain information about the tidal currents. The cucumbers were painted five different colors for identification purposes. The reason for the research was to find out why sheep droppings were being washed up on English beaches. Cucumbers were selected for their hydrodynamic similarity to sheep droppings.

Cucumbers were known to the ancient Egyptians, who enjoyed a drink made from fermented cucumbers. The Roman emperor Tiberius also enjoyed cucumbers, which he grew in carts that slaves wheeled around so that the vegetables could catch the sun.

Cucumbers are about 95 percent water. The skin is the most nutritious part. The inside of a cucumber can be as much as 20ºF cooler than the outside temperature.

The word for “cucumber shaped” is “cucumiform,” not to be confused with “cuculliform,” which means “hood shaped.”

The world’s longest cucumber was grown by John Hammond of Clacton-on-Sea. It was 46 inches long. The world record for ‘Vegetable Cutting’ also featured a cucumber: in 1998 Professor Dr S. Ramesh Babu set a record by slicing an 11-inch cucumber into 120,060 pieces in two hours fifty-two minutes twenty-one seconds.

The cucumber is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with squash and different kinds of melon. Cucumbers are high in water and low in calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium. They have a mild, refreshing taste and a high water content. There are just 16 calories in a cup of cucumber with its peel (15 without). You will get about 4 percent of your daily potassium, 3 percent of your daily fiber and 4 percent of your daily vitamin C.

Grow your best batch of cucumbers by following some good growing tips:

Now we Reap…

80777823000000_169_1024It’s a cliche, but August really is the month of plenty. Almost everything you’ve sown, planted, and nurtured through the spring and early summer will be coming to fruition now. Daily harvests should include everything from peas beans, carrots, beets, corn, peppers, potatoes, onions, and salads to berries, currants, plums, peaches, figs, and perhaps even early apples and pears. And tomatoes!! Determinate varieties, also known as bush tomatoes, bear all their fruit within the space of two weeks, so August is the month to put up your tomato store for the entire winter — whether you can or freeze them, or make spaghetti sauce instead.

Top tasks for August

  • Harvest your last broad beans and your first corn, plus summer fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, chilies, and eggplants.
  • Check French beans, runner beans, and zucchinis every day, and harvest them regularly. They seem to double in size overnight.
  • Pick plums, greengages, and blackberries, and perhaps your first apples, pears, and figs.
  • Sow your last batch of carrots and turnips for this year, plus Japanese onion seeds and spring cabbages for next year.
  • Feed your pumpkins if you want to produce Halloween giants.
  • Dry out garlic, onions, and shallots so that they can be stored for the winter.
  • Check potatoes and tomatoes for signs of blight, and spray in warm, humid weather.

Sow or plant in August

There is not much you can still sow or plant now in time for harvesting this year. Perhaps a few lettuces and salad leaves, and some of the faster-growing roots and leaf vegetables. That’s about it. However, space on your plot should become vacant once broad beans, onions, and shallots are all finished, so you can begin to plant out overwintering crops such as brussels sprouts, spring cabbages, and winter cauliflowers.

August pests & diseases


  • Carrot flies are laying their eggs again this month. Protect crops with fleece or physical barriers.
  • Slugs and snails still need to be controlled, especially in wet summers and immediately after rain when the ground is damp.
  • Powdery mildews can be a problem in warm, dry summers, particularly on peas, zucchini, squashes, and cucumbers. Regular watering and a fungicide spray may help.
  • Spray potatoes and tomatoes against blight, especially if it’s very humid. If your crop is infected, cut down the foliage and destroy it. Lift potatoes at once — they may still be edible.
  • Water tomatoes regularly to prevent splitting and blossom end rot. Take care not to splash the fruits to avoid ghost spot.
  • Magnesium deficiency is often the cause of tomato or potato leaves tuning yellow between the veins. Spray with a solution of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate).
  • Check corn for smut and remove any affected cobs.
  • Inspect peas for caterpillars of the pea moth feeding inside the pods. They will have laid their eggs in June or July.
  • Check for blackfly on globe artichokes, beets, and broad, French, and runner beans.
  • Look under cabbage and other brassica leaves for the caterpillars of cabbage white butterflies. Pick them off and squash them by hand, or spray. Keep nets in place.


  • Look for brown rot on apples, pears, plums, and quinces. Remove and destroy infected fruits.
  • Apple bitter pit is caused by calcium deficiency. Watering regularly and spraying with calcium nitrate solution may help.
  • Pheromone traps in apple, pear, and plum trees may need their capsules to be replaced in order to continue being effective in attracting codling moths.
  • Spray plums, cherries, apricots, and peaches with Bordeaux mixture or other copper-based fungicide to treat outbreaks of bacterial canker. Spray after harvesting but before pruning, and spray again next month.
  • Check raspberries, blackberries, and hybrid berries for the small, yellow-brown larvae of raspberry beetles.

Veggies to sow in June

PUB0001716_457102The danger of frost should now be completely behind us and it should be possible to sow most seeds outside, even if some go into seed trays, modules, or pots for planting out later. If nights are still chilly, and if you’re concerned that temperatures may not be high enough for germination, you can always cover seeds or bring trays and pots indoors.

  • Beets:  You may have started these in May, but continue sowing beet seeds in June — perhaps a few at the beginning of the month and a few at the end so that in September and October you’ll have some to harvest that haven’t grown too large. They can be stored for the winter if necessary.
  • Broccoli: Sow late sprouting broccoli seeds either where you want to grow them or in a seedbed for transplanting later. Depending on the variety and your climate, you should be able to harvest them in autumn or overwinter them for picking early the following year. This late in the year, calabrese is better sown where it is going to stay as it is a crop that doesn’t like being moved once the weather is warm.
  • Carrots: This is the last chance to sow maincrop varieties that will be ready for harvesting in September or October.
  • Cucumbers – Outdoor cucumbers are usually started off earlier in the year in pots or under cover, but if you sow some seeds outside this month they should give you a crop in August or September.
  • Endive – Sow curly or broad-leaved varieties outside for a crop in autumn and early winter. Germination may be erratic in hot weather.
  • Herbs – June may be your last chance to sow seeds of herbs such as coriander, basel, chervil fennel, dill, and parsley before the weather becomes too warm for them to germinate reliably.
  • Peas – The beginning of June is probably your last chance to sow maincrop peas, snow peas, and snap peas. Toward the end of the month, switch to a fast-maturing early variety. These will be ready for harvesting in about September.
  • Pumpkins and winter squashes – These are usually started off earlier in the year in pots, but they can be planted straight into the ground in June. Prepare the soil by adding lots of well-rotted compost or manure.
  • Radishes – Sow a few salad radishes in small quantities throughout the month for a constantly replenishing crop.
  • Zucchini and summer squashes – If you don’t already have plants you’ve raised in pots, you can sow seeds directly outside now that the soil has warmed up thoroughly. Sow two seeds together and, once they’ve germinated, remove the weaker of the two. Make sure you leave plenty of space between plants because they spread widely and need a lot of room.

Some additional veggies that can be sown in June: Kale, Kohlrabi, Runner Beans, Rutabagas, Scallions, and Turnips.


Vegetables: Sweet Potatoes are Super Foods!

by Lisa Johnson, horticulture educator for Dane County UW-Extension

landscape-1506015991-baked-sweet-potatoes-1Did you know you could grow sweet potatoes in USDA Zone 5a, 5b, and 6 in Wisconsin? Sweet potatoes, or Ipomoea batatas, are tender, warm-weather plants related to morning glories. They come from Central and South America, and need a long, warm growing season. They grow on trailing vines, with bush-type varieties for smaller spaces.

Usually you buy what’s called sweet-potato slips, which are unrooted cuttings. They arrive by mail, 4-6 inches long, for planting in late May to early June. Soil temperatures should be a minimum of 55º F, 3 inches down for best rooting. Test this with a soil thermometer.

Strip off the bottom leaves, leaving one node (growing point) and a couple of leaves on top. Plant node-end up, 3 inches deep in mounded rows about 18-24 inches apart. Leave 36 inches between the center of each row, or plant in hills with three or four slips per mound.

If the soil is dry, water it before and after planting. Keep slips moist while rooting, but drier once established. Don’t water the last three to four weeks before harvest. Watch out for voles because they love the roots!

sweet-potatoes-freshly-dugHarvest sweet potatoes before danger of frost in late September or early October. Handle roots carefully; they bruise easily. Gently remove dirt clods without rubbing. Don’t wash them before curing.

Curing sets the skin, heals wounds, and converts starches to sugars. Curing allows the roots to store much longer than those uncured. Ideally, cure them in a warm area for 10 days at 80º to 85º F and high humidity (85 to 90 percent), or next to a running furnace for two to three weeks at 65º to 75º F. Once cured, store in a dark location at 55º to 60º F. Don’t refrigerate! Wrap cured sweet potatoes in newspaper and store in a cool closet or basement. Store properly, they can last six to 10 months!

Sweet Potatoes Recommended for the Lower Half of Wisconsin

Cultivar Name                 Days to Harvest                                   Root & Flesh Color

  • Beauregard                     100                                        light purple skin, dark orange flesh
  • Bush Porto Rico               110                                             copper skin, orange flesh
  • Centennial                      100                                                   orange skin, flesh
  • Jewell                             100                                                        orange flesh
  • Vardaman                       110                                              golden skin, orange flesh