Archive for the ‘Pests and disease’ Category

Nan’s Garden Tip #101: Mulching Vegetable Gardens

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Want to make your vegetable garden more waterwise?  Here are two suggestions:

  • Switch to drip irrigation

Most vegetables dislike having wet leaves. In fact, wet leaves often become mildewed leaves.  Drip irrigation is far more efficient than overhead spray and it keeps leaves dry and mildew free.

  • Mulch with a three-inch thick layer of home-made compost.  If  you don’t have enough compost, use seedless straw.
  • Straw is the perfect vegetable mulch. It is lightweight, but keeps weeds down and soil moist

    Straw is the perfect vegetable mulch. It is lightweight, keeps weeds down and soil moist

Wood based mulches, stone and gravel mulches are fine for ornamental plants, but in the vegetable garden, home made compost and seedless straw are better choices.  Both insulate the soil from water loss and both are light enough for seeds to push through.

Zinnia seedlings poke up through the straw

Zinnia seedlings poke up through the straw

If you opt for straw, be sure you don‘t get hay or alfalfa or anything  that has lots of seeds.  Why?  Years ago, I mulched with straw and grew a lovely bed of wheat…. instead of tomatoes!

If you can get old straw, that’s even better.  As straw ages, the  fibers start breaking down and residual seeds begin to rot.   That’s a good thing.

And, old straw can’t be sold for animal bedding, so feed stores (the best places to get straw) often regard them as waste.  In fact, they may even give you the straw for free!

If you don’t have room to store an entire bale of straw, ask for a “flake.”  A flakes is simply a section of a bale.

This bale of straw will last me two or three seasons

This bale of straw will last me two or three seasons

On the radio this morning

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Had a great time doing my quarterly gardening radio gig on KPBS FM 89.5, Public Radio in San Diego. Host Maureen Cavanaugh is a blast to talk with, and the callers had great questions about tomatoes, how to water, the cool weather, and lots more.

Click here to listen!

What a Rat’s Nest!

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

My intent for tonight was to write about starting seeds for my summer garden.  The weather is nice and warm now, days in the 70s, nights in the 50s, just perfect for starting seeds outdoors, which is my preferred way to do it.

I have a potting shed  – well, not really where I pot.  As it turns out,  other areas of the garden are better for potting.  Instead, I use the shed   to store hand tools and start seeds.  The roof is clear corrugated fiberglass and one side wall is a big old salvaged window, making for plenty of light and just enough air circulation.

For the past five or six years, I’ve tested vegetable, flower, and herb seeds for Organic Gardening magazine.  Each spring, I get an envelope filled with all kinds of seeds.  Some years, there are themes, like the year we tested six kinds of eggplants.   There are always plenty of tomatoes, a couple kinds of peppers, cucumbers, squash, melons, and flowers.  That’s how I re-discovered my love of zinnias.  Have you seen zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Lime?’  It makes a prolific display of the most unexpected bright green flowers.  The plants bloom all summer.  ‘Benary’s Giant Coral’ is another of my favorite zinnias – – and honestly, I had give up on annuals!

Zinnia 'Benary's Giant Lime'

Zinnia 'Benary's Giant Lime'

I can’t tell you what I’m testing this year.  You’ll find out later by reading Organic Gardening.

But I digress.

This afternoon, I pulled out the year’s seeds, wrote out the labels, then went to the potting shed for planting containers.  Before I found the containers, though I found something amazing.  A rat’s nest.  Literally.

I haven’t been in that shed much in recent months, but clearly, someone else had.  The potting table was caked in  dried out red Eugenia berries surely put there for winter food storage.  When I was a kid, we’d pick the red berries to paint our faces.  These, however, looked more like dried cranberries than the plump juicy berries of my childhood.

The space beneath the potting bench was stuffed with pieces of mulch, leaves, shredded wood, and who-knew-what.

The big decision then, was whether to put off cleaning until another day, or go ahead and tackle it now.  I’d rather put it off, but where would I put my seeds to germinate? I needed the space, and I needed to make sure that the rats were no longer in that space.

So, gloves firmly in place, I went to work. The rats had pulled everything off the shelves, shredded it, and mixed it together  – hard plastic, string, jute, plastic bags, popsicle sticks used for plant labels, clothes pins that hold frost cloth, irrigation parts….  I pulled out a big funnel that  use to filter worm tea.  The rats had lined with shredded, dried sphagnum moss.  Quite honestly, it looked pretty cozy!

The rats pulled everything off the shelves to make their own brand of mulch

The rats pulled everything off the shelves to make their own brand of mulch

It was a stinky and messy job, but on the flip side, I cleaned out stuff shoved into the shed long ago.  There was a dried out 5-gallon can of wood preservative last used more than 10 years ago, I’m sure!    Old yogurt containers I use for scooping and storing stuff were brittle and crumbling.  They went into the recycling.  Out went broken plastic nursery containers and old green mesh strawberry baskets from a test I did years ago.  I turned the  baskets upside down over strawberry plants, then poked the developing berries up through the mesh.  That kept them off the ground and way from hungry slugs and sow bugs.

I was sad to find the rats had chewed up  the liner for an insulated seed starter kit that has a built in heat mat.  The brand label has long worn off but the heating element still works.  Maybe I’ll line it with heavy duty plastic now.

I filled one 30 gallon trash can and part of another.  By then it was dark and my husband was calling me for dinner.

Part way through cleaning

Part way through cleaning

Tomorrow, I’ll start my seeds.

Fall is for Fig – Pruning

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Thanksgiving leftovers are almost eaten, my guests have all gone home, and it rained last night.  It was the first rain of the year.  Granted it was only a tenth of an inch, but to my rain-deprived brain, it sounded like a deluge.

The skies have been gray all day, which, combined with sweatshirt temperatures, propelled me into the garden to prune.

I have a love-hate relationship with pruning.  I know, that if I want abundant crops of apples, nectarines, pluots, apricots, peaches, grapes, and figs, I have to prune.

Beautifully pruned grapes at Copia

Beautifully pruned grapes at Copia

While there is a certain satisfaction that comes from snipping and cutting and shaping trees, I have so many to do (about 20 at last count) that the prospect of  annual pruning is totally overwhelming.

And it isn’t just the pruning that’s the issue.  There’s the disinfecting too.

Peaches and their relatives in particular are very susceptible to pests and diseases.  If I’m not careful, my pruning tools can transmit them from one tree to another.  To avoid that kind of contamination, I disinfect my tools as I finish pruning each tree.  Tools get dipped in a 10% bleach solution or spritzed with spray or foaming bathroom disinfectant, then wiped with a dry towel.

The foaming disinfectant is definitely more fun.

Because pruning is such a huge task, I tend to take it in stages.  Figs are far and above the easiest trees to prune thanks to their soft wood.  I hardly ever need to use a saw, just pruning shears, a lopper, and my favorite pruning tool, a Fiskars pruning stick (no, they don’t pay me to say that).

Fiskars Pruning Stik - I love it!

Fiskars Pruning Stik - I love it!

There is another reason I like to start with figs; I want to prune them before they develop next year’s fruits.

Shortly after I pick the last, succulent fig of the year, tiny green orbs begin to form at the  tips of each fig branch.  Those orbs are next year’s fruits.  If I wait too long, I’ll prune off those developing fruits and voila!  No figs next year!

I learned this the hard way.

Today, I started my pruning with the ‘Brown Turkey’ fig that stands aside the stairs to my vegetable garden.

'Brown Turkey' Fig

'Brown Turkey' Fig

I first pruned off all the branches that were growing too tall. I cut off some dead wood and then I worked on the arch I’ve been directing over the stairs.

I started the arch several years ago.   It is slowly taking on the shape I want – one that will eventually allow me to reach up and pick figs as I walk down the stairs!

My post-pruned fig  doesn’t look beautiful now, but when the new leaves come out in the spring, my tree will be gorgeous!

'Brown Turkey' Fig Post-Pruning

'Brown Turkey' Fig Post-Pruning

In a future blog I’ll explain how to prune to control the direction of branches.  But before it gets dark, I have to head out to the garden and finish one more task.

Rather than composting the branches I pruned off my figs, I’ll cut them into 8″ long lengths and pot them up.  With a protective cover (i.e. a loosely tented clear plastic bag), they’ll root over the winter.

By next spring, I’ll have baby trees to share with my fig loving friends!