Become a Fan

Sign up for our newsletter

Twitter Feed

  • Could not connect to Twitter

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Peppers!

August 16th, 2011

Placer County Master Gardener, Judith Myrick, wrote an article in the Summer 2002 issue of The Curious Gardener that talks about everything summer pepper related! Click here to read the full article or continue on to see our summarized version.

Assortment of Bell Peppers

Planting Basics

Peppers need lots of sun, but too much will cause the fruit to suffer from sunscald, which is like a pepper sun burn, so shading your plant is very important. Shade can be created with good leaf cover or neighboring plants. For good leaf cover, an early supply of nitrogen to the young plants will encourage leafy growth before fruit development. Also plant peppers 12-15 inches apart and pinch out the tops of the young plants to increase shade to protect the fruit.

Jalapeno Pepper

Pepper Varieties

There are two types of peppers: mild flavored and hot chili. Some of the mild flavored peppers include bell, banana, pimento and sweet cherry, whereas the hot varieties are cayenne, celestial, large cherry, serrano, tabasco and jalapeno.

Growing Requirements

Growing requirements are the same for both types of peppers. They need daytime temperatures in the 70′s and 80′s. The pepper seeds will simply not germinate in temperatures below sixty degrees, so be patient when planting in the spring and wait for the right conditions. Cool nights and temperatures in the ninety’s can also cause problems, like blossom drop. If you are transplanting peppers, instead of seeding, a good rule of thumb is to wait until two weeks after planting tomatoes to transplant your peppers.

In hot and dry weather pay special attention to keeping the peppers well watered but avoid getting water on the fruit. Drip irrigation is the ideal kind of watering system for peppers.

It is also helpful to side dress with compost or a balanced fertilizer at fruit set to assure a good, healthy crop. When possible avoid planting peppers in the same area as previous family members, especially if there has been disease.

Stuffed Sweet Cherry Peppers


Chili peppers are higher in vitamin C than any other vegetable! Peppers are also a great source of potassium. Bell peppers, especially red and green, supply high amounts of vitamin B6, folic acid, and vitamin C.


In the proper growing conditions expect to harvest peppers about 85 days from seed or 65 days from transplanting. Also it is best to cut the peppers at the stem rather than pulling them off the plant.


Bring Honey Bees Home!

August 10th, 2011

The honey bee is the main pollinator of hundreds of food crops including nuts, vegetables, and fruits.

 Mary Gabbard, Solano County Master Gardener, wrote a great article in the Summer 2008 issue of Seeds for Thought, titled “Tips for a Bee-friendly Garden.” She was inspired to write this article because of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which is a mysterious phenomenon where adult bees are abandoning their hives, never to return. It has been estimated that one third of the honey bee colonies in the United States have disappeared.  Click here to read more about Colony Collapse Disorder from the UCD Department of Entomology.

Encourage our bees back to California with some of Mary’s tips:


Chemicals for lawn and garden use might be contributing to CCD; therefore try using integrated pest management (Click here for the UC Davis Integrated Pest Management website), or natural or organic fertilizers. If you do want to continue using pesticides, try spraying at night when bees are less active.


Use a variety of flowering plants with different colors, shapes and flowering times, which will help to attract many different varieties of bees. Planting flowers that will blossom at different times of the year is a clever technique to keep your garden bee happy over an extended period of time. Research shows gardens with ten or more bee-friendly plants support the most visitors and that bees are most attracted to blue, purple, yellow and white colored flowers, which makes pansies a great pick!


Use local or native plants as they are four times as likely to attract native bees back to your garden than exotic plants.

A native California Mining Bee


60-70 percent of California bees tunnel and live in the soil so leave some bare soil in your garden for bees and other useful organisms.

An easy way to make a wood nest


Building a wood nest will help encourage wood-nesting bees to visit your home gardens. To build a nest, drill holes about 5 inches deep in a non-pressure treated block of wood and hang it in a shady spot in your garden.

**Spencer Michels with PBS wrote a great article, in July of this year, on the progress California scientists have made since Colony Collapse Disorder was discovered almost five years ago. One of our very own UC Davis Entomologists, Eric Mussen, was interviewed for his insight into how “splitting” bee hives can helps us get ahead of CCD! Click here to find out more.


Controlling and Identifying Hornworms

August 9th, 2011

 Judy McFarland, Solano County Master Gardener, wrote an article in the Summer 2010 issue of Seeds for Thought, about how to identify and control pesky hornworms.

The tomato hornworm is closely related to the tobacco hornworm and both attack tomato plants. It is the larval (caterpillar) stage of the hornworm life cycle that does the damage. They are characterized by a large horn on the posterior end of the body. A tomato hornworm has seven white stripes, while the tobacco hornworm has eight white V-shaped marks, on their sides. These larvae reach about four inches in length.

Tobacco Hornworm Egg

The adult form is a large moth that lays her eggs on the tomato leaves (one egg per leaf), like the photo above. The moth generally flies after dusk and is therefore rarely seen.

Hornworm droppings

As soon as you see defoliation on your tomato plant, check the leaves and ground for small black droppings, similar to those in the picture above. If you find these you have active hornworms! To get rid of them cut them with garden shears or step on them, or have a little fun and toss them on your roof for the birds to eat! Beware that if you get rid of hornworms once, they will most likely come back again as they generally live two life cycles in one tomato growing season.

If you are unable to get rid of them by hand, you can try to gain control with Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt for short), which is a naturally occurring bacteria that causes disease in only the larva of moths and butterflies. That does mean if you use Bt, you will also put whatever butterflies come to your garden at risk.

Hornworm pupa

After tomato season, it is very helpful to dig up the soil around the plants to locate and dispose of any hornworm pupae which migrate underground only to reemerge the following summer as moths and start the cycle over again. The pupae are hard shelled, brown, and shiny and can be 2.5″ in length. They also have a curved appendage at one end that resembles that handle of a pitcher.


Getting Rid of Squash Bugs and Stink Bugs

August 8th, 2011

Stink and squash bugs can ruin a perfectly good summer crop, but we have tips on how to prevent that from happening. Elaine Haire, Placer County Master Gardener, wrote an article for the Summer 2001 issue of The Curious Gardener on how to prevent, identify, and remove the pesky critters from your vegetable garden. Click here to see the full article.


Consperse stink bug

Named for the strong odor they give off when disturbed. stink bugs are shield-shaped with a large triangle on their backs. Consperse stink bugs are speckled grey and brown and prefer fruits and vegetables. Infested pears or peaches will develop “dimples” or depressions around the feeding sites, while infested tomatoes will have a smooth skin but with green or yellow discolorations on the fruit.

Harlequin stink bug

The harlequin stink bug has very distinctive black and red markings and prefers broccoli, cabbage, or radishes. This bug will leave yellow or white blemishes on the leaves where they feed.

Photo of two-spotted stink bug.

One of the good guys! Two-spotted stink bug.

There are two stink bugs that are actually beneficial to your garden, so watch out for the two-spotted stink bug and the rough stink bug as you want to leave these guys alone!

Rough stink bug


Squash bug

These bugs are grey/brown with orange around the edge of their bodies. They feed on squash and pumpkins. The first sign of damage is small brown specks on the leaves, which left untreated will eventually cause the plant to turn yellow and die.


For the squash bug, try to plant resistant varieties of the crops they like, for example: the butternut, royal acorn and sweet cheese squashes are all squash bug resistant. Consider planting nasturtiums or marigolds as they will attract squash bugs away from your crops. For further prevention, apply and remove row covers before the first bloom. Also look for shiny brown egg masses on the underside of leaves and destroy them.

To control the stink bug, look on leaf surfaces for clusters of barrel-shaped eggs to smash. Take a second to inspect these egg masses for darker colored parasitized eggs. Be sure not to destroy them unless there is a jagged emergence hole. If they are not parasitized, go ahead and squash them. Pheromone traps are also available for the detection of stink bug migration.

For prevention of both bugs, consider planting insectary plants near the susceptible crops which will provide nectar and pollen to attract natural eneimes such as the tachinid fly to prey on squash bugs or the parasitic wasp to kill stink bugs. Attracting birds to your garden is another helpful way to get rid of both bugs. Garlic based materials can be used as repellents.

During the growing season, remove weeds, dead leaves and garden debris to deprive these bugs of a place to hide.

After the growing season, reduce overwintering hiding places by removing all debris, and destroying crop residue by disking or composting.


Fighting Pests with…Pests!

August 2nd, 2011

Thanks to an article written by Peggy Tharp, Nevada County Master Gardener, in the Summer 2003 issue of The Curious Gardener, we now know of two insects that are on our side! Both the lady bug and green lacewing help keep our gardens pest-free. Read on to find out why.


Adult Ladybug

More commonly known as ladybugs, coccinellids are shiny and often brightly colored, with black, red or orange markings. The ladybug larvae are alligator shaped, meaning broad in the middle and tapering to the tail. They are black or grey with red, orange, yellow or white spots and many have spines or are covered with wax.

Ladybug Larvae

No plant-feeding ladybugs are considered pests in California. The young larvae usually pierce and suck the contents of their victims, while the older larvae and adults chew and consume the entire prey. A ladybug’s insect of choice includes: aphids, mealy bugs, mites, scales, and whiteflies. Adult ladybugs can consume up to 100 aphids a day!

Fortunately many ladybugs can make it through the winter as adults by nesting in protected spots on or near the host plant. Plants that attract ladybugs are buckwheat, corriander, dill, fennel, marigold, sunflower, tansy, yarrow, and calendula.


Adult Green Lacewing

Lacewing have slender, green bodies, lacy wings and golden eyes. The adults are night flyer’s and attracted to light. Lacewings particularly love nectar and pollen but also feed on aphid honeydew. The larvae which are sometimes called aphid loins, gorge themselves on various small, soft-bodied insects such as aphids, scale crawlers, mealy bugs, whiteflies, leafhoppers, psyllids, small caterpillars and insect eggs.

Lacewing Larvae

The adult female lacewings make it through winter on leaf litter, while laying their eggs on slender white stalks on the leaves or twigs in the vicinity of the prey. The larvae then arrive in 3-6 days and are tapered at the tail and flattened with distinct legs and long mandibles used for snatching up prey.

Plants that attract lacewings are: angelica, caraway, coreopsis, cosmos, dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, sunflower, sweet alyssum and yarrow.


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

August 1st, 2011

Did you know that by mulching with yard waste, we can reduce about twenty percent of the solid waste in landfills?

Jackie Kneeland and Sue Borden, both Placer County Master Gardeners, wrote the article titled “Reuse What Grows in our Yards,” in the Summer 2003 issue of The Curious Gardener, which describes five different methods for the low maintenance gardener to create compost used for mulching. Click here to read the full article.

Compost is not a fertilizer, but rather a soil conditioner. Composting helps to prevent the nutrients from becoming chemically bound in the soil and not available to the roots of the plant. By grinding garden waste, leaves, and small branches into pieces and using them on top of the soil around the plants, we conserve water, suppress weeds and protect roots from extreme soil temperatures.

Here are five ways to compost with much less space and effort than traditional composting:


Open air composting consists of scattering small piles of yard waste around your garden. Make piles in the corner of your garden or near recently pruned shrubs. These small piles should not contain food scraps and will not decompose as fast as the larger traditional compost piles. Consider throwing alfalfa pellets or aged plant eater manure on the piles to supply them with the extra nitrogen that would come from the food scraps.


Closed air composting consists of composting in one small area of the yard. Use kitchen scraps and yard waste in a solid plastic container with a tight fitting lid, that is open on the bottom to the soil. You can even use an opened black plastic bag to tightly cover the pile (or better yet, just toss your scraps into a black plastic bag, cut a hole in the bottom and leave that in the sun). Do beware closed air composting is more likely to cause odor problems than some of the other options!

Meandering Trench Composting


  1. Post-hole Composting- Dig a hole with a shovel or post-hole digger, add kitchen scraps, and cover with at least eight inches of soil. These holes should be made in the garden in between plants or around the drip line of a tree. These composting holes hold moisture, which will eventually leach a weak compost tea into the soil.
  2. Meandering Trench- Dig a short one foot ditch, chop yard trimmings and food scraps, and mix them into the soil in the bottom four inches of the trench. Resume digging the trench until the materials are covered and a new trench is formed.
  3. Pit and Trench- A three season rotation of soil incorporation that includes:
  • 1st season: The garden includes a trench to fill with food scraps, a row for growing crops and a third row to use as a path.
  • 2nd season: Use the fertile soil in the former compost trench to grow crops, use the former crop row as a path and loosen the former path to use as a new trench.
  • Finally:  After three years the cycle starts again.
Trench Composting

When creating any kind of compost pile, avoid using material that re-sprouts, such as willow, alder, and Bermuda grass.


The Myths Your Mother Taught You

July 20th, 2011
In the summer 2010 issue of Seeds for Thought, Cheryl Potts, Solano County Master Gardener, debunks common garden myths. Click here to read the full article.
Myth 1: Organic pesticides/fertilizers are better for the environment because they are non-toxic.     

 Using organic pesticides and fertilizers does have its benefits, including minimal disturbances to animals, people and the environment, but many organic products are poisonous to people and pets if ingested. For example, cocoa mulch is becoming more and more popular but cocoa can kill dogs once ingested, and pyrethrum, used as an insecticide, is toxic to people and pets when used incorrectly.*  

*In an earlier post, Common Summer Vegetable Problems Solved!!, we suggested using pyrethrum sprays for squash bugs, so if you plan on using this please carefully read the labels, closely follow the instructions and always store properly!     

Myth 2: Nothing will grow under a spruce tree because the ground becomes too acidic due to the fallen needles.     

The soil under a spruce tree is the same as the soil in any other part of your yard. The reason nothing grows under the trees is because of the tree’s thick canopy which blocks any sunlight or water from getting to the ground directly below.     

Myth 3: Watering on a sunny day will burn the plant leaves, as the sun reflecting through the water acts like a magnifying glass.     

Leaves can dry out if there is a high amount of salt in the water and hot temperatures, but the burning does not actually have anything to do with the the water droplets themselves. The reason it is recommended to water in the morning is simply because higher sun causes more evaporation.      

Myth 4: Gravel at the bottom of a pot is necessary for drainage.     

Gravel is not necessary, nor is it a good idea, because it takes up room needed for soil and root growth and adds extra weight to the pot. Instead try placing a small piece of broken crockery over the drainage hole which will help hold the soil in but still allow for necessary drainage.     

Example of a beer trap for slugs


Myth 5 : Placing broken egg shells on top of the soil will prevent slugs from getting to your plants.     

Egg shells are unfortunately no match for slugs, as they can crawl right through them. Instead use a safe store-bought pellet or try the “beer method.” Slugs are attracted to the sweet scent of beer so bury a small wide jar (with the top off) full of beer in the edge of your garden. The slugs will inch toward this and eventually fall in and drown. See the photo to the left for an example of how to make a beer trap.     

Myth 6: Drought tolerant plants do not need water.     

Plants labeled “drought tolerant” are not actually drought tolerant during their first year and need just as much water and mulching as the next plant. It is only after the first year that the plant will start to fend for itself but a monthly watering should still be included.     

Myth 7: Drought tolerant and drought resistant are the same thing.     

Not quite. Drought tolerant plants can go for limited periods of time without any water, whereas drought resistant plants are naturally able to live and survive long periods without irrigation.     

Myth 8: You must stake a newly planted tree to ensure a strong trunk.     

Trees build their strength by flexing, so giving them artificial support does not give them a chance to strengthen on their own. Also the strapping can interrupt the sap flow which will cause problems.