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Last chance FREE basil harvest!

September 28th, 2011

herb harvest flyer

Don’t miss the end of the season FREE basil herb harvest at the Good Life Garden!   Basil will be removed after this harvest to make room for our fall plants, so get your Ziploc bags ready!

WHEN: Friday, September 30
TIME: Anytime between 9 AM and 2 PM
WHERE: UC Davis Good Life Garden – in the courtyard of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.  click here for directions.

Please bring the following items:

  • scissors or pruning shears
  • a bag to hold your herbs
  • wet paper towels to put in the bag with the herbs (if you don’t have a refrigerator to keep them in for the day)


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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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How to Improve Your Soil Drainage

August 17th, 2011

In the most recent Placer County Master Gardener newsletter, The Curious Gardener, Charlotte Germane (Nevada County Master Gardener) wrote an amazing article about how to deal with poor soil drainage. Click here to read the full article or continue on to see our shortened version.

If your soil does not drain quickly enough your plants can drown, which is why proper soil drainage is so important. One problem that can cause poor soil drainage is “layered soil.” All soil transitions from one layer to another but layered soil refers to abruptly changing soil layers which makes it hard for water to move through easily.

Check for poor grading, over-irrigation, and thatched lawns

Before you decide your soil is the issue, walk through your garden and evaluate the grading. It is possible that at some point in your yards history the soil was graded so the water drained towards an area with no easy outlet. Therefore if you unknowingly have started your garden in that spot, your soil will be holding too much water. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, measure the output at each station as you may accidentally be providing your plants with too much water.

Heavily thatched lawns will not absorb a reasonable amount of water as thatch builds up over time creating a barrier which water cannot penetrate.

Try renting a dethatcher to help increase water absorption.

Test your soil’s drainage

  • Take your shovel, dig a hole one foot deep and fill the hole with water.
  • Allow the water to drain completely and then refill.
  • Measure the amount of water that drains in one hour.

If the amount of water that drains is less than two inches per hour, your soil has poor drainage. This could indicate your soil is clay soil which is great at holding on to water, so much so that it may not let the water drain away fast enough.

How to improve soil drainage

One major thing to understand is the difference between soil texture and soil structure. Soil texture refers to the proportions of sand, silt, and clay in the soil and cannot be altered, where as soil structure can be changed because it is how the particles in the soil aggregate.

  • Add organic material- You can improve tilth by adding finished compost to the soil, which helps to create larger pores in the soil giving both air and water more room to pass through. Try adding 2-3 inches of finished compost to your beds and incorporate with a fork or shovel.
Vetch Cover Crop

 

  • Plant cover crops- Considered a traditional method for soil enrichment, crops such as vetch or clover are not grown to maturity, but are planted and then tilled or dug back into the soil before the seeds set. These crops improve soil drainage by breaking up the soil with their roots and by acting as “green manure” when they are plowed back in.
A side yard French drain.
  • Build a French drain- Moving water downhill is key to improving soil drainage, thus finding a downward slope in your garden is well worth the effort. If you have a flat yard consider creating a trench with a 1-3 percent gradual slope and filling the bottom with rocks to assist in moving the water away from the problem area.
  • Dig or drill through a hardpan or clay pan layer- Hardpan can develop as a result of mining or construction activity. Hardpan less than two feet think can be double-dug during the dry season, then watered and allowed to settle. With hardpan over two feet think, you may need to do some deep ”ripping” or drilling.  
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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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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.

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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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A Week in Photos: 8/1/2011

August 3rd, 2011
The garden is in full bloom! Here are some of the most recent photos from this week:
Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth
A butterfly about to land!
Pomegranate
Okra
Rudbeckia
View from the balcony bridge in between the RMI buildings

To see more of this weeks photos, see our facebook page for the album titled Aug 2, 2011 or the photos will also be available on our flickr page in a photoset with the same title.

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