Category Archives: organic gardening

Roses of Yesterday

rose_Kathleen_closeup 3Under blue skies on a perfect spring day I sat recently with Colly, my friend, fellow columnist and gardening enthusiast, surrounded by roses, roses and more roses. Next to an old apple tree and a gnarled cherimoya we enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch Colly brought while she shared stories about this rose nursery called Roses of Yesterday.

Back in the 1960's one of Colly's many jobs was to proof read the catalog for Roses of Yesterday and Today as it was then called so she is quite familiar with the history of this rose business located on Brown's Valley Rd. in Corralitos. It's not quite a grand as it was in the old days but the massive old roses growing in the ground were magnificent in size and we admired and rated each one on the fragrance scale.

Roses of Yesterday, one of the oldest antique rose nurseries in the U.S., was established in the 1930's. It has passed through several generations and owners since then. They still use the honor system to sell their old, selected modern, unusual and rare rose varieties. A young father, kids playing in the car, loaded up a collection of potted roses and deposited a check in the cash box before leaving.

Another sign advised that the nursery doesn't spray their roses with fungicides, insecticides, rose_Kathleen_bench 3herbicides or other chemicals and the rose petals can be used for salad, jams, spritzers and teas. I did notice some rose slug damage on some of the roses but it was minimal. We noted the Sally Holmes roses and the rugosa roses had the least pest problems.

The garden contains many huge old roses. The first mammoth plant we encountered, Newport Fairy, was over 15 feet tall and nearly as wide. Covered with hundreds of small pink flowers it provided cover for many small songbirds who hopped inside searching for insects. This hybrid multiflora rose was first bred in1908. Lots of Red Admiral butterflies and Swallowtails found the surroundings to their liking, too.

We walked under a Cecile Brunner– engulfed pergola and then we saw it. Against a fence in filtered light, a spectacular single white rose with stiff, butter yellow stamens shaded an old wooden bench. We searched for the name tag and found, buried among a groundcover of sweet violets, the name Kathleen. This unusual and unforgettable hybrid musk rose from 1922 blooms repeatedly with blossoms richly perfumed. The catalog states the flowers drop cleanly and orange rose hips form along with the new blooms.

Several English lavender plants grew between the rugosa roses. We especially liked a small double magenta one called Rugosa Magnifica as well as a lovely white variety named Rugosa Blanca. Rugosa roses are very old dating back to before 1799 and bloom repeatedly with a marvelous fragrance. Large orange rose hips will form when the disease and pest resistant foliage drops. These edible hips are very high in vitamin C and are also relished by wildlife.  I've been told the crinkly foliage of rugosa roses is deer resistant.
rose_Stretch_Johnson 3
Growing nearby, a burnt orange rose got our attention. This amazing rose with two tone reddish orange petals and a lighter orange to yellow reverse is similar to Hot Coca. Called Stretch Johnson the flowers have the classic fragrance of rose petals and the disease resistant dark green glossy foliage of this floribunda was lovely.

The garden contains roses of all types especially old fashioned single roses as well as ruffly cabbage varieties. One bright pink single rose was especially beautiful. We thought the name tag read Rosa Wichuraiana but it must have been referring to the white groundcover rose nearby. We also loved a bright pink rose called Marguerite Hillig with its sweet fragrance and graceful arching canes.

The 4 inch dusky pink blossoms of Dainty Bess, a hybrid tea climbing rose, decorated one of the fences. rose_Sally_Homes2 3I learned this is a classic variety among hybrid teas since 1925 from the online catalog. The non-stop blooms are exceptionally long lasting on the plant and in bouquets.

From Ballerina to Climbing New Dawn to a huge Heinrich Munch with double pink blossoms covering a rose bush 20 feet across with a foot wide trunk, I enjoyed every inch of this old rose garden and nursery and it was fun to hear personal anecdotes from Colly about Dorothy Stemler,  the rose aficionado who's touch can be still be seen in the gardens of Yesterday and Today.
 

Camp Joy, Boulder Creek

Camp_Joy_sign2If you've ever eaten a Camp Joy cherry tomato you'll know why I was excited to be given a tour of the new seedlings in the greenhouse by Jim Nelson, the creator of this beautiful, organic family farm. Since 1971 this non-profit farm has been providing educational, creative programs for kids and adults. It is an example of and encourages others who wish to begin their own sustainable farm.

It was a warm, spring day when I visited and Jim was gently watering the herb, vegetable and flower seedlings by hand using water from a large can that had warmed to room temperature and given off any chlorine that was present. Camp Joy has a spring plant sale coming up April 27th and 28th and another on Mother's Day weekend and Jim was pleased with the progress of the seedlings. They grow proven varieties that do well in our area. Group paintings done by charter school children decorated the wall of the greenhouse.

Outside we were accompanied by Jim's two dogs, Ruby and Rownya, as we admired the garlic crop that will rotated90.kids_painting_in_greenhousebe braided after harvest and offered for sale in the fall along with dried flower wreaths and onion braids.

The farm offers a Camp Joy Cooperative weekly for 3-5 yr olds encouraging them to explore their surroundings through all their senses. Garden tours for school age children or a group of any age are also offered. Everyone at the farm is happy to share what they've learned about growing and preparing food, saving seed, bees and other insects, goats and garden crafts. And there is always something to be picked, harvested, weeded or just enjoyed while having lunch in the gazebo.

Walking along a path bordered by phlox, aster, oregano, iris and nigella we admired a blooming Buff Beauty rose covering an arbor. Jim planted this as well as his favorite Madame Alfred Carrier 42 years ago when he first came to the property. His friend at UCSC, Alan Chadwick introduced him to it. The soft fragrance blended with the blooming lilacs and wisteria.

To maintain fertile soil, a cover crop of fava beans was just starting to bloom in a several areas. Ladybugs were plentiful on the flowers. The beans will be cut down, Jim explained, in about a month. Members of the farm will eat some of the beans while young and sweet and let some mature so they can save the seed. The goats also enjoy fava beans at the flowering stage. There is a fund-raising art program, called Kids for Kids, offered in May, the proceeds going to help improve the goat barn and yard.

lilac_wisteria-arborNext we visited the Kid's Garden. Art, cooking and gardening projects are ongoing in this area. Wholesome, healthy food and beautiful flowers are all part of the farm. The plot of godetia was setting bud and will be offered as cut flowers during the upcoming sales.

Everything is grown with care at Camp Joy. Jim explained that compost is regularly added back to the soil and used to start seedlings in a special blend of "real soil" allowing them to transplant and continue to do well in the garden. He sometimes used kelp and fish emulsion as fertilizer but mostly it's the compost that makes the seedlings so strong.

Camp Joy offers lots of classes for kids and adults alike. Family members and interns are passionate about the farm and enjoy sharing. On this beautiful day, we were greeted with a smile by the person spreading compost.  It was clear that there is a respect for the cycles of the earth and the changing seasons at the farm.

Take advantage of the Spring Plant Sale at Camp Joy. Bring the family and walk through the garden. Visit their website for more information about their events and classes.  http://www.campjoygardens.org 

 

Tips for Vegetables, Pests and Plants with Bad Behaviors

Summer is officially almost here although we all know it actually starts on Memorial Day weekend. What fun stuff should we be doing in the garden? What problems should I be on the lookout for? What troublemakers should I avoid planting?

June is a busy time for plants. Some are just finishing up early spring flowering like rhododendrons, azaleas. camellias, lilac and wisteria. Prune off spent flowers and shape plants if needed. Other plants are just beginning to flower and would like a dose of organic fertilizer to really perform well.

Plant corn, lettuce and basil continuously to keep a steady supply. Speaking of basil, if yours died recently showing brown spots or streaks up the stem,  fusarium wilt, caused by a fungus, is the culprit. Carried by either the soil that affected basil plants have been grown in or by seed from an infected basil plant it's a common problem. There is no remedy for fusarium wilt. Destroy infected plants and do not plant basil or other mint plants in that area for 2-3 years.

Night time temperatures should be consistently above 50 degrees for basil. As long as you provide it with a hot, sunny location and plenty of water, it's among the easiest of herbs to grow in the garden or in a container. Steady, slow growth is the key to good taste, so amend the soil with compost and forgo the fertilizer. Basil contains the most oils when harvested before the flowers occur. The best way to delay flowering, as well as to encourage branching and new growth, is to harvest regularly by snipping of the end of the branches.

The best time to harvest is midmorning, right after the dew has dried, but before the afternoon sun bakes out the oils. At some point later in the summer, flowering will begin in earnest. Then it's time to harvest the entire crop, as flavor will go downhill soon afterward.

Insects are having a field day at this time of year, too. Put out wet rolled newspaper at night to collect earwigs in the morning. If you see notches on your rose leaves, it's the work of leaf cutter bees. These guys are beneficial and will go away shortly.

If your rose leaves look like lace then you have the dreaded rose slug. I have a friend who's rose shrubs were really hit by these. It's discouraging when you had visions of huge fragrant bouquets on every table. What to do?

The rose slug is actually the larvae of a wasp called a sawfly. Because they may have 6 generations per year they can do a lot of damage to your roses. Early detection is key. Start scouting for sawfly larvae in early May when they can be hand picked or washed from the leaves with a strong spray. If needed, spray the leaves with neem oil while the larvae are still small. Conventional insecticides are toxic to bees and kill the good bugs too.

During the winter they pupate in the soil and removing a couple of inches will help with controlling their numbers. Even cultivating the soil at any time will break up the cocoons.

Finally, think twice before planting rampant growers that are hard to control unless you use a deep edging that will keep them confined where you want. There's nothing wrong with a plant that spreads out in the right places, but let it overgrow that area and it quickly wears out its welcome.

Plants like chameleon plant ( Houttunyia cordata) , lamium, it's close relative lamiastrum and hypericum are  great plants in areas that are not close to your other planting beds. The deceptively delicate looking and impossible to ever get rid of Japanese anemone falls into this category also. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Plan ahead.

Get out and enjoy your garden. The best way to nip problems in the bud is to walk around your garden with a beverage of some kind and just look.

 

Terra Sole Nursery Trials New Plants

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start your own little nursery on your property? What would you grow? How would you decide?  Over the years, I've been asked by home owners with a bit of extra property what would be good to grow. What is there a market for? So I decided to ask some friends who trial plants on their Watsonville property and operate a small nursery there how it all works.

Terra Sole Nurseries was founded in 2004 by John and Sherry Hall with the goal of experimenting and growing native, unusual and drought tolerant plants that are adapted to our dry summer climate. "We push the limits on water use in our test garden until we fall too much in love with a plant and can't bear to see it die with our tough love approach", Sherry said as we talked about the their operation.

Just back from attending the California Spring Trials,  Sherry and John were excited to share how they decide what to grow In their nursery. Their focus is to grow a large variety of native and unusual plants, some of which are old-fashioned, some are hot new introductions. What treasures did they find this year?

During the course of a week at the Spring Trials,  the world's prominent plant breeders, propagation specialists, growers, marketing professionals and plant enthusiasts share the latest and greatest at several open houses throughout California. The robust plant varieties of today are a direct result of the countless hours and decades of study from the dedicated professionals spending their time observing, testing and experimenting the new varieties that are more disease resistant, more floriferous, the best performers and are easy to grow in ordinary landscapes and gardens.  

How does a plant get from an idea in a breeder's mind to your local nursery? It all starts with the breeders who might cross pollinate thousands of plants to select maybe a hundred of the best ones. Then the growers buy an unrooted cutting or the seed or plugs of rooted plants and grow them onto a larger size. This is where the finish growers buy the plugs and liners to put into bigger pots growing them to retail or sellable size. Terra Sole Nurseries bought some of the newest plants on the market this year themselves.

What are some of the newest trends that we might see in our neighborhood nursery this year? The breeders of impatiens have developed a variety that appears to have a gingerbread man in the center. Called Patchwork this  impatien has a bigger flower and comes in six bi-colors.

Grafted vegetables, higher in antioxidants, are being developed. Non GMO vegetable varieties are grafted onto vigorous rootstalks to produce a plant disease resistant higher in nutrients. Tomatoes, basil, cucumbers. peppers and lettuce are just some of the vegetables being grown.

Biodegradable pots made from wheat are another of the new trends being offered for sale at the Spring Trials. The pots look like plastic yet breakdown after being used and can be recycled in your compost system. They hold up to the normal environmental pressures of heat, water and cold.

Sunset Western Gardening and HGTV are both offering their own branded plants that are available this year. Patented varieties coming out include a compact hardenbergia called Meena, two upright. compact nandinas- Flirt and Obsessive with bright red winter color and a compact mahonia called Soft Caress with non-prickly foliage. A cold hardy salvia named Amistad that has a very long bloom time will also be coming out soon.

To simplify choices for gardeners, better dahlias, calibrachoa, petunias and pansies are coming on the market this season. Several types are grown in the same pot so the buyer need only to plant one of these in a basket or container to get a combination that will look good and grow happily all season.

With so many plant choices which ones do Terra Sole Nurseries trial in their own garden and grow in their nursery? Next week I'll talk about what Sherry and John have their eye on, which plants they grow and the results of their own plant trials. You can find out more about the nursery at www.terrasolenurseries.com.

Bare Root for the Santa Cruz mountains – part deux

There are few things in life that are as optimistic as planting a fruit tree. Knowing your new apple tree might survive for 80 years and a pear tree up to 40 years makes your job as steward take on more importance. So it's a good idea to do some planning on where and how you plant your new addition.

First of all, consider how your soil drains. Many fruit trees are forgiving as long as they're not sitting for days at a time in water logged soil. Moist is fine but if you dig your hole, fill it with water and it doesn't drain in a day or less then consider planting on mounds. Cherries especially need good drainage with apricots being close behind.

Choose fruit trees that ripen at different times. You don't want so much fruit in July that you're begging people to take it or leaving it on their doorstep and running like the zucchini people. Some fruit trees need a pollenizer to bear fruit so keep this in mind and ask  when you buy your tee. These are just a few suggestions. Let your taste buds be your guide.  
 
Take a look around your property for spots where there is  enough sun in the growing season to make  your new plant  or tree happy. Don't worry if you don't have much sun in the winter time,  the plants are dormant then anyway. It's the growing season, from approximately April to September, when your site should get 5-6 hours minimum of sun.

How much space do you need? Trees come in different mature sizes. Room is not so much a factor as you can find dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties if need be. Nut trees are the exception and do require more space. There are fruit trees available also that have already been espaliered to grow flat against a fence or wall. Plus a fruit tree can serve double duty as a focal point or shade tree if it is limbed up enough to walk under.  Semi-Dwarf trees are 2/3 the size of a regular tree (15-20ft typically although you can prune a little in the summer to keep them shorter) .  This is the most popular size as pruning and harvesting are within reach of medium size ladders. There are many dwarf varieties of peaches, nectarines, apples, almonds, cherries also available that range in size from 6 ft. – 12 ft.

Selecting a more mature bareroot tree will give you fruit  sooner than one that has a trunk of only 1/2 inch across.  
Trunk caliper of 5/8 inch is a good size. If you are planting a home orchard it may be more economical to buy smaller sizes but you'll have to be patient for your first harvest. Dreaming about that row of flowering cherries or plums bordering the sides of your driveway?  You'll realize that vision sooner by going with the larger trees.
 
So you've chosen your dream tree, it's wrapped in a plastic bag to transport home without drying the roots, you've dug a hole large enough to accommodate the roots, amended the soil if necessary and pruned off any damaged roots. Now what? Find the graft at the tree's base and make sure when you fill in the hole with soil that the graft is above grade. Make a watering ring around the tree and flood it with water settling in the roots and eliminating air pockets. Don't water again until the soil is dry an inch or two down.  Winter rains may take care of this for you for a long time. Cherries and apricots need excellent drainage and may need to plant them on a mound to ensure this. If you can't plant your new tree, shrub, berry  or rose right away be sure to cover the roots with moist soil.

Only stake your new tree if you live in a windy area. A trunk will attain a larger diameter if it's allowed to move slighly in the wind. Usually it's not necessary to prune a young tree much while it is trying to grow new roots. Trimming a long branch or leader by a third is OK if necessary. You can start limbing up after a couple of years if you wish.

Add both edibles and ornamentals to your garden. You'll be investing in the future.  Blueberries offer more than yummy berries to eat.  They make beautiful hedges with gorgeous fall color.  Include two types for better production like a Berkeley, Bluecrop or Blueray.   Other edibles that are available now are asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, grapes, blackberries, boysenberries and raspberries.  

Plant something new while it's available bare root.  You won't be disappointed.
 

Lindencroft Farm- a CSA part 2

Lindencroft Farm is a great example of a local family doing what they love and making a living, too. You can see it in the new crop of Necores carrots just sprouting and being watched over by the family farm cat that was sitting on the edge of the retaining wall. Linda explained this is one of her favorite carrots because she doesn’t have trouble with it forking and it isn’t bothered by summer heat. Every  crop that is grown on the farm is researched for best flavor and vigor.

Linda Butler  starts all her vegetables from seed, and grows year-round. Some are started directly in the beds while others are started in flats and transplanted later. Cole crops, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, would get eaten by bugs and birds would eat them as fast as they germinated so these are started in flats.

Walking around, I saw many Italian names as she specializes in Italian peppers. She gets seed from organic seed companies in this country, Italy and France.  Some of her favorite vegetables are Rosa Bianca eggplant as it is almost never bitter. She also likes Red Russian and Lacinato or dinosaur kale.

Tat soy and bok choy are favorites in the CSA boxes. She grows beans of all types– french filet, romano, shelling. Golden beets ( my personal favorite ), all kinds of potatoes- fingerlings, Russian banana, red thumb, German butter, red lasoda and other heirlooms. The beds overflow with life.

I tasted the last of the cherry tomatoes. Rosalita, a red grape type, was good but the white cherry tomato was the best. Herbs grow in several boxes and the farm can’t seem to grow enough asparagus to satisfy the demand.

Insect control is easy,  Linda said. If fungal diseases persist she plants a crop of beans and that seems to solve it. Occasionally aphids or spider mites get the upper had, but rather than spray even with organic soap she finds she has better results by monitoring the plants often and spraying with a hard blast of water or cutting or pulling out infested plants. For fava beans that seem to always attract big black aphids, she harvest the beans and flowers while very young before aphids get a hold.

The farm is entirely powered by 78 solar panels. Recaptured rainwater is stored in a rainwater basin that holds a half a million gallons and is filtered twice before using. They collect this from just 2-3 good winter storms. Water from their own deep well is used in the beginning of the year with the rainwater used in the hot summer months.

I asked Linda if the cool spring this year impacted her plants and she said yes, ‘"Everything is three weeks late."  Our early October rains caused her tomatoes to get fungal diseased so they had to harvest them all, while some of the squash now has powdery mildew and has to be pulled up early. As we were talking she told some workers harvesting squash in another part of the farm to cut out the growing tips so the remaining squash would receive all the energy of the plant to ripen before the weather turns cold. The sunflowers being visited by a flock of chickadees was looking a bit bedraggled, too.

We watched some workers putting up frames for plastic hoop houses that will protect peppers crops from the rains and extend the harvest this year. Even potatoes benefit from this cover as overly wet soil contributes to fungal diseases. Lettuces, chard, kale and other leafy greens would get tattered by the rains if not covered.

Walking and talking, Linda would reach down and pick a sprig of bronze fennel or hyssop for me to enjoy. it’s clear that she is gentle on the earth and a good steward of the land. The entire farm is surrounded by redwood forest and oak meadowland, teaming with wildlife. Her philosophy of farming is to gently coax the best produce by creating as natural an environment as she can. Each year, the farm is healthier, most robust and more beautiful than the last.