Tag Archives: vegetables

Bees- Pollinators for a Bountiful Harvest

Pollination or the transfer of pollen in and between flowers of the same species leads to fertilization and successful seed and fruit production in plants. Pollen can be carried from flower to flower by pollinating animals such as birds, bees, bats, moths, beetles or by the wind but bees pollinate approximately 1000 plants worldwide including apples, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds and tequila. Clearly we need our bees- both native bees and honeybees.

pollinating_bee_African_Blue_basilhoney bee pollinating African blue basil- photo courtesy of Gaylon Morris

Honeybees aren’t native to the United States. The colonist brought them here in the 1600’s to pollinate apple trees and for their honey and wax for candles. They are loyal to the plants they feed on and that makes them valuable to farmers and orchard owners. It works this way. When a worker bee leaves a hive in search of food it will feed on on one type of flower- whichever type it tasted first on that trip. Unlike other insects that might go from a cucumber blossom to dandelion to squash flower the honeybee sticks to one thing. That way it picks up and deposits only one type of pollen making honeybees particularly efficient in pollinating crops.

We know that honeybees are having a hard time of it due to diseases, parasites and pesticides. Planting flowers that bees like can increase the chances of bees’ survival as will cultivating native plants, especially those that provide nectar and larval food for pollinators.

Bees eat two things: nectar which is loaded with sugar and is their main source of energy and pollen which provides proteins and fats. Some of the common native plants that are recommended for the ecological region of our California Coastal Chaparral, Forest and Shrub Province by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign to attract bees of all types include yarrow, columbine, California poppy, coral bells, silver lupine, penstemon, ceanothus, toyon, big leaf maple, mahonia, monkey flower, buckwheat, western azalea and purple sage.

bee_echium-wildpretiihoney bee on echium wildpretii

Common garden plants that can attract bees to your landscape and vegetable garden are herbs such as African blue basil, oregano, mint, catnip and cat mint, borage, rosemary, chives, hyssop, dill, comfrey and fennel. Edibles that attract bees are blueberry, pumpkin, squash, sunflower, blackberry, hazelnut, artichoke, beans, cucumber and peas. Crabapple, iris, lavender, salvia, sunflowers, monarda, aster, butterfly bush, sweet alyssum, alstroemeria, red hot poker, gloriosa daisy, scabiosa, coneflower and echium also attract bees of all types.

In your own garden an abundant and healthy population of pollinators can improve fruit set, quality and size. Crops raised in California depends on both domestic honeybees and native bees for pollination of almond, blackberry, cucumber and artichoke crops.

We can all help honeybees and other pollinating animals by being more mindful of the way we tend our yards. Reduce the amount of lawn you have and plant natives and flowers that will attract them. Use organic pesticides carefully and only if absolutely necessary. Buy local honey and support beekeepers. Honeybees and other pollinators need help to survive and we’re the ones to provide it.

A Walk on the Wildside: The Ongoing Saga of the Hillbilly Gardener

rose_Fourth_of_JulyFourth of July roses

Many years ago I was invited by a Scotts Valley resident to visit their garden. This was no ordinary garden I was to learn during my visit and each spring I look forward to seeing what’s new at Doc Hencke’s garden. From his roots in Oklahoma and Texas he describes himself as the “Hillbilly Gardener” but with his extensive knowledge of trees, vines and just about anything that grows he is one of the most successful and enthusiastic horticulturists I know. I wore my walking shoes and we started talking about what changes he’s noted in his landscape the past few years of drought coupled with this winter’s rains.

straw_bale_veggie_garden_Ghio_bearded_irisStraw bale veggie garden with Joe Ghio bearded iris

First stop- the straw bale veggie garden. The soil in this part of the garden is blue hard sub soil so this above-ground method of cultivation has been a real success. Richard told me that when the bales were first put in place a couple years ago he watered them thoroughly to start the fermentation process. Using a meat thermometer he determined by the internal temperature when fermentation was complete. He then soaked the bales with liquid organic fertilizer and applied some blood meal to augment nitrogen. The straw bales are decomposing each year but he’s going to use them once more this season. His crop of kale, lettuces and chard looked robust and happy.

Nearby a bed of Joe Ghio hybrid bearded iris were in full bloom. “It’s been a great year for iris”, Richard said. Not so good for peach leaf curl. The rains this winter set the perfect stage for the fungus to proliferate. He joked that the birds get the peaches anyway.

Richard is redoing his pond this year. He’s tired of fighting the raccoons and algae. Steeper sides will deter the raccoons and deeper water will help to prevent algae growth. He was forced to remove a curly willow that shed leaves into the pond as their natural salicylic acid was poisoning the pond.

succulent_collectionSucculent collection with blooming kangaroo paw

Last year a new succulent bed was planted along the back of the house and patio. His Sticks on Fire all died over the winter from the cold and rain but the aeonium ’Zwartkop’, echeveria ’Sunburst’, kangaroo paw and various sedums were filling in nicely.

weeping_leptospermumWeeping leptospermun

Below the patio the golden Mexican marigold and blue Pride of Madeira were in full bloom along with a gorgeous stand of Weeping Leptospermum. “Magnificent this year, just look at this plant. Can you imagine what it’s going to look like in another 15 years?”, he said. Pointing out the visual boundaries he creates with flowering vines growing up into the trees, Richard observed that some are going better than others. Sound familiar in your own garden? Even this expert propagator is sometimes stymied by Mother Nature.

Richard_and_the_giant_ China_DollRichard and his giant China Doll tree

I love to hear Doc Hencke’s stories as he shows me around. Stopping at a China Doll houseplant that has now grown into a tree he tells me he thinks it’s one of the tallest specimens ever. His giant bird of paradise flower pod opened last week. I’d never seen their enormous blue, prehistoric-looking flowers before.

Richard’s new desert garden along the driveway is growing in nicely with the aloe plicatilis blooming for the first time. Also the yucca he and his brother dug up inTexas is finally blooming. “I’ve only waited 52 years for it”, he laughs.

There are so many stories that come with each and every plant in Richard’s collection. It’s always a walk on the wild side.

2014 Gardener’s New Year Resolutions

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI plan to turn over a new leaf in 2014. I’m talking about gardening. The rest of my New Year’s resolutions are too numerous to list here!  I wish I could tell you that I’ll never put in another plant that might freeze during the winter. I wish I could tell you that I’ll really start that compost pile this year and duke it out with the raccoons. I wish I could tell you I’ll make more garden journal entries and not rely on sketchy memories. But the reality is gardening shouldn’t be so much about regrets. It’s about the delight we get from coaxing plants from the earth. A garden reflects our lives- always room for growth as well as reflection.

We gardeners are eternal optimists. Why else would we plant a tree or a seed or a garden? I have viola_Etaingrown wiser as the years go by and although a few things froze this month, most will grow back come spring. Some might require a little more patience than others but by April or May most will be looking great. If there are some new transplants, for instance, that suffered because they didn’t have time to establish a strong root system before the deep freeze, I’ll look at it at an opportunity to fill that space with something even better.

I was able to visit some very unique gardens this year and see beneficial insects and beneficial plants at work. When I design a garden I now include even more pollen producing flowering plants to attract beneficials.  This way I keep the good guys around longer to deal with the bad bugs and aid in pollination. Knowing what the good insects look like is important in helping me identify a problem that may be getting out of control.

I’ve kept a garden journal since 1994. In the spirit of full disclosure, some years I do pretty good with it. I add photos and seed packets and lots of info about the weather and how everything did. Other years I’m more hit and miss with my entries. But without the journal most of what happened would be forgotten if not for these scribbled notes. Reading them over returns me to the quiet pleasures of mornings in the garden, of first bloom and the wonder of a hummingbird hovering at eye level.

This year record what does well in your garden.  Were the fruit trees loaded with fruit as you’d hoped?  How many times did you fertilize them?  Did they flower well?   How many bees did you see pollinating them?  Should you add more plants to attract them?  Insect or disease problems?   Room for more?  What kinds would extend your harvest season?

Make notes of what other edibles you want to include in the garden this year.  Bare root season starts in January making it easy to plant grapes, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, artichokes and asparagus.

Make notes about how productive the tomatoes and other veggies did this year. Did you add enough compost to the beds to really feed the soil and the microorganisms?  Did you rotate your crops to prevent a build up of insect and fungal problems?

Think about how the perennials in your garden fared last year – the successes and not so great results.  Make a note if there are any higher water usage plants among the drought tolerant ones.  Come March, move them to a spot you’ve allocated a bit more water.

I wish I could tell you that I would die happy if I could grow a dry farmed Early Girl tomato next year that tastes like summer. That’s my fondest wish for 2014. Doesn’t sound impossible, does it? Enjoy your garden. Set realistic goals. After all, who cares if there are a few weeds here and there when you’re sitting under a shade tree with an ice tea next July. Enjoy a beverage of some kind often in your garden. That clean up or transplanting will be there tomorrow.

Happy New Year from The Mountain Gardener.

The Giants’ Garden

AT&T_Park 3A few Sundays ago I spent the afternoon at AT&T Park watching the Giants play baseball. It was kids day. Hundreds of Boy Scouts were attending the game in uniform. Kids were everywhere eating peanuts and wearing the orange and black team colors. Some were sitting with their grandparents, some very, very young fans in their parents arms being smeared with sun screen.  It was a beautiful day on the San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, the team didn't get the memo that we were supposed to get another win against the Diamondbacks. Oh well, there's always next year.

A friend forwarded an article he saw in the SF Chronicle by Janny Hu recently about the Giants plan to create an organic garden behind the center field wall. The Giants Garden would be created between the left and right field bleachers in an area that is now concrete and an adjacent area where replacement sod is grown.

Plans for the edible garden include hydroponic troughs, concrete planters and living green walls which would supply produce for some of the parks' concessions, serve as an open air dining area and a community classroom during the offseason. If you're hankering for a nice kale and strawberry salad next season while you watch the game you're in luck. The Giants hope to have the garden ready for Opening Day 2014.

If the Giants can do it, you can, too. We all want the area around our homes to be beautiful, welcoming, productive, useful.  In designing landscapes for people I strive to integrate vegetables, herbs and fruit trees with flowering shrubs and perennials to feed the family while attracting hummingbirds and other wildlife. Not everybody has room for a separate vegetable garden and companion planting is a good way to avoid problems with pests and diseases.

Plants when attacked by pests, exude chemicals and hormones that actually attract nearby beneficial insects. Perennials like agastache, coneflower, coreopsis, scabiosa and yarrow are rich in nectar and pollen and  irresistible to beneficials. Many herbs also attract beneficials.  Cilantro in bloom is one of the top insectary plants.  Caraway, chervil, dill, fennel, lovage and parsley flowers also attract beneficials and are easy to grow among your other plants. Allow your salad and cabbage crops to bloom.  Arugula and brassica flowers are much appreciated by beneficials.

Plants like lettuces, spinach and swiss chard look great in the flower bed and flowers make great companions in the vegetable garden.
Dahlias repel nematodes. Geraniums repel cabbage worms, corn ear worms and leaf hoppers.  Plant them by grapes, roses, corn and cabbage. Marigolds discourage beetles, whiteflies and nematodes. They act as trap plants for spider mites and slugs. A word of caution,  don't plant them by cabbage or beans. Nasturtiums act as a barrier trap around tomatoes, radishes, cabbage and fruit trees. They deter whiteflies, and squash bugs and are a good trap crop for black aphids.

Herbs that help deter pests. Catnip/catmint repels mice, flea beetles, aphids, squash bugs, ants and weevils. Chamomile improves the flavor of cabbage, onions and cucumbers. It also accumulates calcium, sulphur and potassium, returning them later to the soil. As a host for hoverflies and good wasps it increases productions of essential oils in herbs. Summer savory repels bean leaf beetles and improves the flavor of beans. All beans enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen.  They are good for planting with all of your vegetables except onions, garlic and leeks.

Dwarf fruit trees can also find a place in the smaller garden. They can be grown in large pots or half barrels on the deck, too. Dwarf Garden Delicious apple is self-fertile and bears at a young age. Compact Stella cherry is also self fertile and is a good pollinizer for all sweet cherries.

If it's almonds you crave, plant a Dwarf Garden Prince almond. This compact 10-12 ft tree blooms mid-season with beautiful pale pink blossoms. Dense attractive foliage and good quality sweet almonds make this tree a nice addition to any garden. A patio-sized peach for smaller yards is the Dwarf Southern Flame.  Large, yellow, aromatic freestone peaches are firm, crisp and melt in your mouth. Tree height is just 5 ft and the fruit ripens early to mid July.

Planting flowers and edibles together makes sense and good use of your garden space.
 

Fall Garden to-do’s for the Santa Cruz Mountains

Warm days, rainy days, short days, cold days- all in the fall of the year here in the Santa Cruz mountains. It's part of what makes our area so special to us. We are inspired by Mother Nature and our mountains. We feel a connection with nature as we enjoy our gardens. There are some easy things you can do at this time of year to extend that enjoyment. Gardening should be fun, too.

Taking cuttings of shrubs is a relatively easy and economical way to make new plants. Some plants that can be increased by hardwood cuttings include manzanita, coffeeberry, crape myrtle, pittosporum, euonymous, forsythia, spirea, viburnum and roses.  Edible plants like currants, figs, grapes and quinces also make good subjects.  

For deciduous plants it's best to take cuttings soon after the shrub drops leaves and the plant goes dormant. Evergreen shrub cuttings can be taken now. Start by taking cuttings of year old wood that's about a quarter inch in diameter.  Discard the top couple of inches of each stem since this unripened wood doesn't have enough stored nutrients to survive.  Cut the stems into 6-9 inch pieces.  Because a cutting won't grow if planted upside down, make the top cut at a slant, so you can keep track of it.  Then dip the bottom ends in rooting hormone and tap off any excess.  

You can store cuttings from dormant shrubs bundled and labeled in boxes of sand in the garage or outdoors in a well-drained trench. Each will form a callus at the base where roots will form next spring.  Come spring , plant the cuttings in good soil in shade with only the top bud exposed. Water as needed and once the new plants develop leaves and increase in size, start feeding them monthly with a balanced fertilizer. By next fall your new shrubs should be well established and ready to be moved to their permanent place in the landscape.

Some plants like abelia and spice bush are propagated by softwood cuttings in June. You can check the UC Davis website http://rooting,ucdavis.edu for information on specific plants you might be interested in.

Also you can simply pin down a stem of a plant like manzanita by putting a rock on it so the soil makes contact. After a year or so you will have a new plant that you can dig up and move.  Other natives like ceanothus can be propagated in a peat and grit mix and will root in about 50 days if given bottom heat. Take these cuttings in January.

Stake trees.  Trunks with leaning tops or those planted in very windy areas need support.  To determine how high to place ties, move your hand up the trunk until the treetops straightens.  I usually allow the stake to reach up into the canopy a bit so that a wind gust doesn't snap off the trunk right at the base of the canopy.  Tie the tree to the stake loosely in several places.  Trees in containers are tied tightly to the the stake but those in the ground should have some wiggle room to stimulate the trunk to be stronger.  This is a good time to check existing tree stakes to make sure the ties aren't digging into the trunk and the stakes are large enough to support your tree. Remember to keep your tree staked only as long as needed and then remove the supports.

Hummingbirds still need a nectar source.  Don't take down your feeder in the fall.  Anna's hummingbirds live and breed in this area all year long.  They need your nectar more in the winter, when very little is in bloom.  Even a species like the Rufous benefits from access to a large nectar supply to stock up on before a long migration.   Keep your feeders up year-round and keep them clean.  

The recent rains will allow weed seeds to sprout which is just what you want if you're planning a wildflower meadow.  The most common mistake when planting wildflower seeds is not getting rid of the existing weed and grass seeds that are in the soil and will germinate along with the wildflowers. These fast-growing weeds smother the slower growing wildflowers. Take time to eliminate the competition. Get rid of existing weeds when they sprout by cultivating the soil to a depth of not more than 1 inch. Deeper cultivation exposes more weed seeds that will germinate along with the wildflower seeds.

Pick last roses and add alfalfa meal or pellets which will soak into ground and prepare them for next spring. Don't prune until the end of January.
 
Groom strawberries and mulch to deter slugs in winter.

To help protect citrus from frost damage, pull mulch back from below the canopy.  This allows the ground to absorb heat during the day and release it at night.  
 

Backroads of Poland – part I

In Poland you greet someone by saying oziendobry which means hello or good day. You hear it at every restaurant and market and even high on a mountain trail. I had a hard time trying to pronounce their Slavic words with so many consonants but used this word daily. So began my adventures to visit the gardens and natural landscapes in Poland earlier this month.

The first thing you notice in Poland are the flowers. Although winters are harsh in this country spring starts suddenly in April after the snow melts. The climate in eastern Poland where I visited is influenced by the interior of the continent towards Russia and so receives summer rain. The wildflowers, vegetable gardens, perennial and annual flowers love the moisture and were in full bloom.

This part of Poland is protected from any industry and a primeval forest and several national parks are here. Agriculture makes up 50% of land use in this country. Even during the Communist control, a farmer was allowed to keep 3 hectares of land for himself. Land ownership provided some freedom and even to this day little land comes up for sale.

Driving north from Warsaw I saw miles of round hay bales in harvested fields of grain. Lots of farmers were out working their land, some on tractors, some raking the hay into rows by hand. A farmer behind a horse drawn plow worked one field along with his wife. Wheat, rye, barley, potatoes and sugar beets are grown as well as corn for winter silage for cows. Did you know that Belarus red cattle can graze in fields with low nutrient sedges as found in marshes but Dutch black and white ones won't survive on this type of diet?

I couldn't help but fall in love with the neat farm houses made of brick, local multi-colored granite, wood or brightly painted stucco most with a red roof and surrounded by a flower garden, a vegetable garden and always a fence. I've never seem so many kinds of fencing- ornamental iron, willow branches woven together, fancy picket fences or concrete cast to look like wooden bed posts.

The sandy soil here was deposited by glaciers, the last one only 10,000 years ago and is rich with sediment and nutrients. Sunflowers grow tall between fields. Rudbeckia or Black-eyed Susan grow wild covering the hillsides with gold and every garden had hydrangea, petunia, geranium, yellow mullein, scabiosa, canna lily, dahlia, chicory, apple and plum trees, grapes,hollyhock, marigold and sweet peas. I was amazed at the number of annuals that were grown. Marigolds and petunias of all colors and styles are very popular and probably started from seed as I never saw a nursery of any type even in the outdoor markets. Tender perennials are overwintered inside or cuttings taken in the fall.

A typical vegetable garden had rows of cabbage, of course, as well as red beets, several types of potatoes, lettuce, carrots, onion, cauliflower, cucumbers and leeks. Tomatoes are very popular but grown in greenhouses. Even short season, cold tolerant tomato like Early Girl or Stupice are grown inside.

The main difference from our gardens are the White storks that nest on roof tops and electrical poles. The power company has started to build platforms on top of the poles for the storks to build their nests. Prior to this, stork nests would short out the lines as they added to their heavy nest each year. Poland is home to 25% of the world's storks. These large birds winter in Africa and will leave at the end of August but for now I saw many hundred of the 40.000 pair that nest in Poland.

Next week I'll tell you about the gardens in southeastern Poland, what to grow around a castle and how to protect your vegetables from wild boar.