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All Things Garlic

August 24th, 2011
 Thanks to Dorothy Volter, Nevada County Master Gardener, we are all about garlic! In the Fall 2003 issue of The Curious Gardener, Volter wrote an amazing article about why we should love garlic and how to grow it. Click here to read the full article.

For all those gardeners looking for a short gardening getaway from (hopefully) a robust summer season, garlic is the answer! Garlic doesn’t need to be planted until October or early November, while requiring little amounts of your time and it grows all winter. Because of this garlic is not for the instant gratification gardener but it is worth the wait.

Elephant Garlic

When choosing a garlic variety to plant, be sure to select one that is certified disease-resistant bulbs. To avoid contaiminating your garden with unwanted diseases, it is important that you rotate your garlic crop and avoid planting members of the Allium family in the same spot each year. When possible garlic prefers well-drained soil with a high organic content.

Dug up garlic bulbs
 

How to grow garlic:

  • Choose the variety you prefer and buy whole bulbs
  • Break bulbs into cloves before planting but do not peel them
  • Only plant the larger cloves as the small ones will only produce small bulbs
  • Plant cloves about 4 inches apart in rows, with the rows 1-2 feet apart, and two inches under the soil
  • Irrigate the crop (if it hasn’t started to rain yet) and continue to pay close attention the to moisture in the soil as you will need to irrigate again in the spring

 

Drying garlic

Starting in mid-June to early July you will see the leaves yellowing and beginning to dry. This means it is time to harvest! It is best to dig the bulbs out as compared to pulling them because pulling could separate the stalk from the bulb or split the bulbs apart which reduces storage life.

Leave the stalks on the garlic and allow them to dry before storing. Garlic can be dried in the sun or in a well-ventilated location indoors. If you choose to dry in the sun consider placing plant tops on top of the bulbs to protect them from sunburn.

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Herb Gardens

August 18th, 2011
 In the latest issue of the Placer County Master Gardener newsletter, The Curious Gardener, Johanne Ryker (Placer County Master Gardener) wrote a great article on integrating culinary herbs into the garden. Click here to read the full article.  
 

Culinary herbs are those whose fresh or dried leaves are used in cooking. This includes, but is not limited to: basil, parsley, French tarragon, chives, rosemary, and thyme.  

Tips for growing culinary herbs  

Many herbs flower and are a wonderful, colorful addition to your landscape!

Two important things to consider when planting culinary herbs:  

  1. Harvesting your herbs at full flavor
  2. Never using any fertilizer or pesticide that isn’t labeled for use on edible plants
Mint

Herbs that tend to spread like mint or oregano can be grown in containers, then sunk into the ground to incorporate them in a flower bed. (Be careful not to let the tips of the plants hang over and touch the ground or they will root, grow and spread.)  

Harvesting culinary herbs  

Pinch and use your herbs often!

Most annual herbs taste the best before they flower, because once the herbs flower their older leaves begin to decline and their new leaves are smaller and bitter tasting.

If your herbs begin to bloom quickly and vigorously, cut the whole plant back by one third and try to pinch more frequently. Young plants need to be pinched back to encourage them to branch out and become full. Annual herbs, such as basil, can be pinched as soon as they are 3-4 inches tall.  

Creativity Tips  

When selecting a planting location consider a southern and western exposure for both a sunny and warm location. A nice visual combination is to include both upright and trailing herbs such as creeping thyme and/or oregano.

Rosemary Skewers

Rosemary is a beautiful ornamental herb that is also deer resistant. This herb makes a great substitute for traditional barbecue skewers as it will enhance the flavor of your kabobs!

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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

Vitamins

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.

Harvesting

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.

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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.

STINK BUGS

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 BUGS

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.

CONTROL METHODS

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.

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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.

COCCINELLIDS

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.

LACEWING

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.

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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

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

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

SOIL INCORPORATION (3 Methods)

  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.

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composting is easy…no really, it is!

July 18th, 2011

Thanks to Christine Smith and the Placer County Master Gardener’s Summer 2005 issue of The Curious Gardener, we have great instructions on how to build and understand a compost pile!

There are four basic things needed for this kind of compost pile: browns, greens, air, and water. This means your pile should be located in a open area, near a water source, and should have equal parts green and brown.

“Brown” is something dry and high in carbon. There are lots of examples of brown; you can include dead leaves, cut brush, wood shavings, and straw. From inside the house you can use newspaper, paper egg cartons, junk mail (but only the non-slick or shiny paper), paper towels, as well as the paper towel tubes, and other forms of corrugated cardboard.

The “greens” will come from things that are moist and high in nitrogen. Grass clippings, or feces from animals that only eat plants, and from the kitchen you should save tea bags, citrus rinds, and fruit or vegetable trimmings.

Proper air and water balance within a pile is essential for rapid decomposition to occur. Turning, lifting and stirring are the most efficient ways to aerate a compost pile. The pile should be moist to the touch, but yield no liquid when squeezed, similar to a wrung-out sponge. Also the smaller the pieces, the faser the composting process, so pieces should be between 1/2″ to 1 and 1/2″ in size. To achieve this size, try shredding the compost ingredients before adding them to the pile or using a power lawn mower with a bag attachment to reduce the particle size and increase particle surface area. Altogether though, the pile should be about 3′x3′x3′ or one cubic yard.

Assembling the pile:

  1. Start with 4-6″ of brown
  2. Add 4-6″ of green
  3. Mix the layers using a spading fork or shovel
  4. Check pile for moisture- grab a clump of material and squeeze it, if it sticks together you’re good to go, if not sprinkle a little water on the pile and re-stir

Repeat steps 1-4 until the pile is 3′x3′x3′, always checking moisture content after each layer is added. After about 2 days the pile temperature will be between 110-140F , which could cause steam to come off the pile but this means that composting is happening! On day 3, turn the pile and check the moisture, and this is to be done every 3 days from this point forward. Temperature will continue to rise, which kills weed seeds, insect eggs and diseased organisms. Using a compost thermometer check the temperature and if it rises above 140F, cool it off by turning the pile. 

After 2 weeks the pile temperature will drop as composting slows and at this point the compost should be dark brown and crumbly with an earthy scent.

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