Thursday, August 17, 2017

What the heck is a ground cherry?

Michele K.  Koskinen

What the heck is a ground cherry? The unique very old fruit, ground cherry  (Physalis pruinosa) was introduced as a new plant at this Spring's Master Gardener Plant Sale. Each year I try at least one new vegetable/fruit to grow. I either buy it or start it from seed, and research it before planting. This year for a variety of reasons I did not have the opportunity to do the research and just plopped it in my garden. And, surprise, surprise it is so much fun and the neighborhood children love it to the astonishment of their mothers.

To grow this plant in your garden it needs to be trained to grow in a tomato cage or other support or it needs a lot of room to roam.
The photo shows one plant and it is about 5ft  long tip to tip. 

Water regularly, fertilize when the flowers first appear, and watch the tiny little lanterns grow.

Everyone passing by my garden look at the little lanterns with curiousity. They are growing on an interesting vine inside paper husks. Light in your hand  it looks similar to a tiny tomatillo.
The flavor is curious a blend of  tomato with another flavor. So far the neighbor children have said cherry. Could it be the name? We adults think citrus.

A small fruit it tends to drop to the ground when ripe. I use salt hay as mulch so it lays gently on the hay until harvested every day. Slightly unripened fruit can be picked and will ripen on your counter in an open airy container.
I have read it can be dried and frozen also.

Ripened fruit ready to eat

So how do you use Ground Cherries besides popping them in your mouth and saying yum? Links for salsa, tomato and Cherry salads, pies, tarts with other fruit and a variety of other recipes can be found online. Below is a salsa recipe gleaned from a blog. Links to other recipes are also noted

From farmgirlsdabble blog


yield: 3 TO 4 CUPS OF SALSA


  • 2 c. quartered cherry tomatoes

  • 1 c. halved ground cherries

  • 1/3 c. finely chopped red onion

  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • 2 T. minced red chili

  • 1/2 c. finely chopped fresh cilantro

  • 3 T. fresh lime juice

  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 tsp. cumin

  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper


In a medium bowl, fold together cherry tomatoes, ground cherries, onion, garlic, chili, and cilantro. Drizzle the lime juice and olive oil over the top, folding a couple times to incorporate. Then sprinkle with cumin, salt, and pepper. Fold again to bring it all together. Enjoy immediately or refrigerate for an hour or two before serving.
Serve with tortilla chips, or over grilled fish or chicken.

Other recipe inks to explore:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Mad Hatter: A Hybrid Pepper

by Michelle L. Dauberman

Check out this fun 2017 AAS National winner called the mad hatter pepper (Capsicum baccatum).  First you'll notice its distinctive shape and then you'll be wowed and rewarded by its taste.  The consensus being that it's altogether sweet, citrusy and floral though there will be some mild heat as you nibble near the seeds.  This sounds perfectly divine to me if and when you are ready to take a break from the palate scorchers like the Bhut jolokia (aka, the ghost pepper).

These charming peppers were bred for varied North American conditions and the yields are high.  The habit of the plant itself is on the larger side and it is a vigorous grower.  You can expect a mounding, upright habit with a height of 36 – 48” and a width of 36 – 48.”  Like most other vegetables it likes to be exposed to full sun.

You can pick the peppers when they are a mature green or you can wait a bit and let them ripen to red.  If you wait you’ll be rewarded with a sweeter and richer flavor.  Generally speaking it takes 65  70 day to reach its mature green state and 85  90 days to reach its ripe red state.

Given this peppers unique shape and sweeter disposition it would be a fun addition to a children’s vegetable garden!

For more information on peppers check out these PSU Extension links:

Container Grown Peppers

Penn State Extension – Growing Peppers

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Bees & Germander

by Michelle L. Dauberman

The plight of the bee is getting more and more serious if you ask me.  I’ve been doing my best to support them in the vegetable garden and in the landscape by providing the plants, shrubs and trees that they love to visit but here’s a small shrubby plant/herb that I’ve overlooked:  Germander (Teucrium).

Germander is quite hardy and can handle a variety of garden/landscape situations including poor soils and drought like conditions.  It can tolerate part-sun but prefers full-sun.  The lavender flowers that the bees find so appealing form on spikes, July through September.  A bonus of this plant is that there are evergreen varieties so, if you’d rather use it in your landscape as a low laying hedge rather than in the herb or vegetable garden, have at it.  You’ll have something green to look at while everything else is dormant. 

These are tense days for the bees so think about using this non-native (yes, I said not native) small sub-shrub as a compliment to your other native pollinator friendly plants, shrubs and trees and bring on the bees!

If you’d like to take a look at this plant in action visit the PSU Edible Demonstration Garden at the Horticultural Center, in the beautiful Fairmont Park, right here in Philadelphia.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Harlequin Bug

By Stephanie Rukowicz

The harlequin bug is a type of stink bug, much more colorful than the brown ones you might find around your house. An invasive species, it is a common insect pest of crucifers in the southern part of the U.S. but in recent years has been reported in PA as well.

2016 brought my first encounter with harlequin bugs. First eggs were sighted on kale around the same time I was noticing leaf miner damage to spinach and beet leaves (early May). At the time, I wasn’t sure what had laid the eggs, but noted their distinguished geometrical grouping and pattern.
 Uncapped (already hatched) eggs.

Side view of eggs, note black striping along side.
As the season progressed,the harlequin bugs made themselves known. Mostly laying on and inhabiting my kale plants, I attempted hand control by picking eggs and both adult and baby bugs, which helped but did not eliminate the population. I noticed as I pulled and destroyed severely infested plants that bugs and eggs could also be found on closely neighboring tomato plants. The warmer winter of 2015/2016 may have played a role in my new familiarity with this insect pest. Also, two plots in our garden use a radish cover crop, possibly providing a nice winter home for adult bugs.
Harlequin bugs on the underside of a collard leaf. Adult top left, youth middle right.
Later this season, I also spotted Harlequin bugs in the Parks and Rec vegetable garden at Columbus Square Park. Is this a new issue for South Philly? I wonder what next year’s gardening season will be like and if we need a more concentrated effort to control this pest population.

Collard leaf with damage from harlequin bugs,
browning and spotting. Also showing
concurrent damage from cabbage lopers
(holes and munching around leaf margins).
“Early in the season populations and damage are often low and you may be tempted to ignore them. But, with two to three generations in a season, by the time fall crops begin to mature their numbers may be one hundred times as high, causing serious damage. Harlequin bugs reproduce quickly, developing from an egg to an adult in about 48 days. Adult males may live up to 25 days and females up to 41 days. During their adulthood they can mate repeatedly laying multiple egg masses of 12 eggs every 3 days. That means a single female can produce 164 eggs. My advice – don’t ignore harlequins bugs; put together a plan to keep their numbers low.”

“Host-free periods without brassicas can help limit the population. Remember brassica cover crops, like forage radish, are known hosts. Harlequin can also feed and reproduce on wild weedy mustards (Shepherd’s purse, wild mustard, pepperweed), pigweed (Amaranthus spp.), lambsquarter (Chenopodium spp.). Keeping these weeds under control in fields and on field edges will limit habitat. Leftover crop residue in the field provides a protected host area for over-wintering adult harlequins. Remove or disk in residue to destroy overwintering sites. Trap crops have been recommended, but I would suggest that you need to rapidly kill the bugs in the trap crop, or destroy the trap crop and follow it with a host-free period, for this to work well. Plant an early crop of horseradish, mustard or kale and try to kill the harlequin bugs concentrated on this favorite host. One grower has successfully controlled harlequin by frequent vacuuming.”

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Window Box Idea: Succulents!

By Stephanie Rukowicz

Unlike some other Master Gardeners, I have not yet developed a knack for ornamental containers. Philadelphia's hot summers, long dry periods, and our home's south facing location add up to annual die-off of most of my window box plantings. The shallow, narrow boxes just don't retain enough water to cope with the elements. Short of an auto-drip watering system, I was running out of ideas until I stumbled past this window box on one of my walks. 

Succulents! The perfect plant to withstand the urban summer elements. Now I just need to decide which varieties to try, as there are so many to choose from. 

This article from Penn State Extension is helpful in narrowing down the options. An excerpt:
"Besides their eye-catching appeal, succulents are relatively pest and maintenance free. They are easy to grow if their cultural needs are met. Their large, fleshy leaves store moisture, making them relatively drought tolerant. The larger the leaves on the plants the longer they can go without water. The most critical aspect of success with succulents is to plant them in a container mix that drains freely...Variegated and light green leaves can scorch in full sun. Darker green and burgundy leaves can generally tolerate more sun."