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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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Ready, Set, Grow

August 22nd, 2011

It may seems like months away but your winter vegetable garden needs attention now! In the Fall 2010 edition of The Yolo Gardener, Peg Smith, Yolo County Master Gardener, wrote a great article on getting ready for winter vegetable gardening. Click here to read the full article.

Although August is harvesting time for tomatoes and zucchinis, it is also the time to start planning for your winter vegetable garden.

READY- Soil Preparation

Anytime you remove a plant or prepare new soil for a vegetable bed, you have an opportunity to improve the tilth of your soil. Many parts of the Sacramento surrounding area deal with the good and the bad of clay soil.

Clay soils are nutrient rich but compact easily, acting like a bog when wet and cement when dry. Adding compost will improve a plants ability to survive in any soil condition.

SET- Right Plant, Right Time

The winter garden must-have is the Brassica family, which is the only vegetable family to have edible varieties developed from all plant parts.

  • Broccoli is considered a flower
  • Cabbage is considered leaves
  • Turnips/Radishes are considered roots
  • Rapeseed oil is derived from seeds

Use this chart to help you plant the Brassica family at the right times:

Interested in vegetables that aren’t in the Brassica family? Other vegetable varieties that will do well in the winter are fava beans and peas.

Both of which are legumes that have rhizobia bacteria in their root nodules. These bacteria are important because they produce nitrogen compounds essential for plant growth. When the plants die, the nitrogen is released which enriches the soil for subsequent plantings.

Consider rotating legumes around your garden to increase the health of the soil in various areas.

Use this chart to help you plant legumes and other winter vegetables at the right times:

GROW- Watering Wisely

Young transplants need a moist soil but not an over saturated soil. Also seedlings should never show signs of wilting because that means they are dried out. Young transplants will need some temporarily created shade if there is unseasonably warm weather. This can be as easy as using an old bed sheet pinned up to a fence.

As the seeds develop and mature, you can encourage strong root penetration by watering deeply and then allowing the surface soil to dry before deep soaking again.

Once the winter rain begins you will only need to water during the drier weeks of winter.

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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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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:

DONT USE PESTICIDES

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.

DIVERSIFY YOUR GARDEN

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!

GO NATIVE

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

GO BARE

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

BE A HIVE BUILDER

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.

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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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