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July 2009

Plum Problem--Scars on Fruit

PlumProblem72 copy Here is the photo that went with my SF Chronicle (and sfgate.com) column last Sunday. I'll bet it looks fine on the website, but in the paper it was in B&W and was printed so low contrast that you couldn't really see the damage on the plums. So for those who couldn't make it out, here it is. Those scars were caused by a leafroller, a caterpillar that is the larva of a moth.

     What was interesting to me is that when you see photos of the damage this caterpilar causes, you always see either the caterpilar or the damage it does to leaves, rather than fruit damage. It is the sleuth symptom, never considered important enough to show, so always a mystery to most of us.  

     I have seen damage like this for a long time, on various fruits, and nary a photo anywhere that was captioned to explain what did it. My dad called them "bee stings", though we both knew that wasn't right. Thank you to Anita Crotty, who took this photo and asked what caused the damage. And thank you to Dr. Paul Vossen, who filled me in on the cause of the scars.

     Apparently the caterpillar feeds on young leaves, making a bit of webbing to roll a leaf around it to hide from predators. If the leaf is next to some very young fruit, the caterpillar nibbles a bit of that too. If ignored, the problem can get worse every year. If you see these scars one year, you can prevent the insect from overwintering on your tree by using a dormant oil spray in January or February, before the buds begin to open, or, failing that, using some Bt spray when you see tiny caterpillars, about when the tree is in flower.

     


Magentaspreen: A Little-Known Crop

2008 Late June 040 copy Here's a leafy green crop that not everyone grows. It's a domestic relative of the weed lambsquarters that is usually classified as Chenopodium giganteum. It makes lots of nice tender leaves in the summer that are very good in Mexican vegetable dishes (with onion, jalepeno, a little tomato sauce) or steamed with a drizzle of olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice, Greek style. The tender, pink tips are also pretty and taste good in salads.

Kids call this plant "lipstick plant" because the magenta coloring on the top leaves is a mealy stuff that rubs off, to be applied to lips and eyelids. The plant entered the American gardener's seed sources after being introduced by Alan Kapular, a freelance plant breeder, who found it growing in a public demonstration garden in France. He called it magentaspreen, after thinking of magenta shoots, but "shoot" sounded kind of militaristic, he thought. So magentapreen it is. An original and stylish name.

If you grow it, keep pinching and using tender tips and keep an eye on the plants. If you turn your back on them for a couple of weeks they will grow 6 or 7 feet tall and drop tiny seeds in your garden. Nice to have the seedlings to transplant the following year, but you don't want too many of them. On the other hand, you will probably always have weeds, and you may as well have ones you can eat. Just pull out the plants at 4 or 5 inches tall and eat 'em up. Yum.

You can find seed at www.bountifulgardens.orgwww.jlhudsonseeds.net,  www.Johnnyseeds.com, www.nicholsgardennursery.com, or www.seedsofchange.com.

Years ago, people were growing a variety with a much larger splash of magenta at the top, several inches of bright magenta leaves instead of only a few of the young leaves. I haven't seen that one in a while, so if anyone has it, I would love to grow it and get it back into the trade.