Thursday, September 18, 2014

Life and Death in the Garden

WARNING:  Images may not be suitable for the weak of heart.

Lots going on in the garden as preparations for fall/winter are in full swing.  All the raised beds have been planted.  Two beds are full of mustard to produce green manure for soil nourishment.  The other two now have a variety of lettuce, beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and peas.  The garlic just arrived in the mail today; so that will get planted soon.


My first pests in the garden are the mourning doves.  Those turkeys eat the seed, make filthy nests, and breed like rabbits.  As the sun rose this morning, I discovered the warm remains of one of those pests right in the middle of my young mustard.  Yeeeek!  I don't have garden kitties anymore; so what did the butchering?  Perhaps a bird of prey swooped in before sunset.  An owl?  We have those in the neighborhood.  Hawks hang out here too.  As I looked for clues, fresh kitty poop (warm like the dove bits) was discovered barely covered by the path gravel.  Filthy beast.


Bagrada bug was harmed in the production of this blog post.
Other pests have been discovered in the raised beds.  The University of California Cooperative Extension in Davis (The internet is a wonderful thing.) identified this wee beastie as a Bagrada bug and it doesn't have any predators (besides me).  Oh yes.  This bug thrives on mustard, broccoli, and cauliflower.  Great.  Just great.  This afternoon, there was a Bagrada bug orgy going on in the garden.  If they win, I may be kicking back this winter and buying expensive produce that doesn't taste as great as fresh from the garden.  Until then, I will remain vigilant/vigilante.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mustard Gas


Here's how the mustard plant works to fumigate nematodes according to Territorial Seed Co.:

Brassica juncea 80-90 days. This unique plant can be used as both a green manure and a natural soil fumigant to fight nematodes. An organic alternative to using chemical applications of Methyl Bromide. Columbia basin wheat growers use it to reduce the nematode populations between wheat crops. When worked into the soil, Mighty Mustard Kodiak releases high levels of glucosinolates, a natural chemical agent that makes some brassicas spicy. When soil pests come into contact with the decaying matter and the fumes of decomposition, they are unable to complete their lifecycle. For use as a fumigant, mow down and work into the soil immediately. As a fast growing cover crop, Mighty Mustard Kodiak can produce 4-5 tons of organic matter from 6 foot tall plants in just 80-90 days. To utilize as a cover crop, mow and leave it on the ground to dry down before working into the soil. Not only does this mustard recycle existing nitrogen from its long tap roots, the plant itself has a high protein and nitrogen content and will greatly increase the soil's fertility and tilth. The best practice with cover crop mustard is to mow while in flower and before seed-set to ensure it doesn't reseed itself. Unless of course, you would like to save some seed to create your very own savory Oriental mustard! Sow spring to summer at ¼ pound per 1000 square feet; 6-10 pounds per acre.

I believe mowing the plant before seeds are set should insure the mustard plant doesn't become a mess.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mustard Seeds

I took advantage of some very rare cloud cover this morning to take on some fall garden tasks. (Fall in spirit only because the temp today should be just under the 100 mark.). More experimentation regarding root knot nematode control by planting a cover crop of mustard got under way by cleaning and raking the soil. Two beds are being set aside for this green manure application. Once the mustard blooms, it needs to be cut down and turned under before seed is set.  The chemical formed is repulsive to root knot nematodes plus nutrients are added back into the soil.

One of the two beds was solarized for over 8 weeks this summer.  The other bed grew peppers and tomatoes without any signs of the pest. Tomato roots show now galls formed.  These tomatoes were not nematode resistant; so I'm feeling better that the pest is being eradicated. 

No rows were formed. I purchased the seed by weight to insure the bed will produce a full cover crop. As the temperatures cool, an application of beneficial nematodes will be introduced to all the beds. The beneficials will attack the bad bugs - including grubs. Earthworms are supposed to be safe from their attack.

 The current predator in the garden are the mourning doves feasting on my mustard seeds.  If they don't munch on my onion seeds, it's the mustard seeds.  Pinwheels from the 4th of July have been re-purposed as scarecrows.  So far so good.  But it's only been a few hours.  I'm a bit concerned if this mustard program goes biblical.

"He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”"  Matthew 13:31-32

Garden hopes are are high that a cover crop of mustard will be great green manure making the soil fertile for seeds to come.

Garden side note:
This morning, a bloom finally developed on a morning glory vine. For some reason, these plants have not been vigorous and will soon be replaced by peas. Flying Saucer morning glories were planted on June 19 and just now had a pitiful bloom.  Early Call morning glories were planted two days earlier on June 17. Only one vine germinated. Slug? Snails? I don't know. The 1st bloom on this puny vine occurred this morning. I would have to seriously consider ever planting morning glories again. Pitiful.

Wando Peas were planted this evening on the north side of the west bed where this morning glory remains

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Peaches!



O'Henry peaches are on the menu for fresh, local (my backyard) fruit.  There are blemishes, but it's the price you pay to have tasty peaches at your fingertips and taste buds.  Bird netting was draped over the tree as the fruit started to blush.  It's not tied down and blows in the Sahara-like breeze.  Sorry birds. You lose.  There are some blemishes; but that's the price you pay for delicious, nutritious fruit.


O'Henry Peach
This espalier tree got away from me last summer as I wanted to have a canopy to shade the trunk and avoid scald.  Pruning was very light last summer.  Fruit develops on the growth of the previous summer; so I only pruned lightly to encourage fruit development.  Now I have all this growth and can't decide how to handle the growth.

Leave it and enjoy the fruit. Prune it and enjoy the look. Hmmm. Now that I have those options before me the answer seems pretty obvious.

With this historic drought, has anyone adjusted fertilization along with irrigation?  I've heard both arguments -  Fertilize less to reduce production that need irrigation.  Fertilize well to support stressed vegetation.  I heard the second argument on a radio ad for ag fertilizer so...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Give a Flying Fig!

I'm considering a multi-trunk fig tree for my front yard whenever it gets re-landscaped; so I'm trying to learn the pros and cons of these trees.  Your fig comments are welcomed.  Fig trees grow easily here in Zone 8-9 of the southern San Joaquin Valley of California; but some people don't use the fruit.  In fact, when I made a fresh fig cake to take to work this week people were hesitant to sample the goody.  Once word spread, there were many converts.

A co-worker had brought the fig bounty that no one touched.  The entire treasure was brought to my kitchen for experimentation. It's a fig laced cake with fig jam as the topping. Next time, whipped cream will top off this desert.

Cake:
1/4 c butter - softened
1 c white sugar
1 egg
2 c flour
1/2 t salt
2 t baking powder
1c evaporated milk
1 t vanilla
1/4 t lemon extract
1 c fresh figs, chopped.

1.  Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 13X9 pan. (Adjust for round pans or muffins.)
2.  In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, & baking powder.  Set aside.
3.  In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with sugar.  Add egg and beat well.  Add flour mixture alternately with the evaporated milk. Fold in vanilla & lemon extract along with chopped figs.
4.  Bake until toothpick comes out clean from the center. (About 30 minutes.)
5.  In a saucepan combine the ingredients for the jam.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened.  Spread over cake or between layers.

Jam:
1/4 c brown sugar, packed
1/4 c water
2 c fresh figs, chopped
1 T lemon juice

This makes one batch. I doubled everything because it's delicious.  You can use the extra on toast or as a glaze for barbecued birds.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Solar Power Part II

Ajax Approved
Bed #2 was prepared for solarization today.  A deep soaking and 2 sacks of chicken fertilizer mixed into the soil before being covered.  The manure is supposed to release volatile compounds in the soil that kill pests and help stimulate the growth of beneficial soil organisms.  Note:  I believe the volatile compounds are released as soon as the bag is opened.  Pee EWE!  The 4ml plastic sheeting will be removed around September 6.  Bed #1 will be planted in lettuce for the winter.  Bed #2 will be the cabbage patch with broccoli and cauliflower.

Flying Saucer Morning Glories have been planted at the head of Bed #2.  Thyme and oregano frame the rest of the bed.  The morning glories should grow up to 15' and flower through the fall.  Pollinators should enjoy these purple and white flowers.  The plants enjoy dry heat.  Congratulations.  This is the place.
Ajax - December 2010
Bed #2 was last a successful cabbage patch in 2010.  Fingers crossed.  Let's hope for a healthy bed to be planted at the end of summer.  The soil solarization study by the University of California at Davis is fairly interesting and helpful if your garden is haunted with root knot nematodes.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Nothin' But Trash

Wisteria drapes over the pergola providing shade during the summer.  The blooms start in the spring prior to the leaves and continue throughout the summer months.  Perfect.  Some folks do not like the "mess" blossoms from blooming trees and vines make.  I'm not one of them.  Purple confetti piles up each day as the petals fall.  The original tag used as a bookmark for "wisteria" in my Western Garden Book reads:  Blue Wisteria.  Wow.  That's basic information.

Both vines receive very light pruning as the growth pours over the edges of the pergola.  That pruning is supposed to be responsible for the continuous blossoms according to an old, local nurseryman.  I don't feed it intentionally. However, its roots may have spread enough that it may feast on the fertilizer I provide to the neighboring roses.

Its fuzzy seed pods resemble a green version of something hanging from a Brahma bull.  Well, not really.  Perhaps the Grinch.  The seeds in the pod look like squished Milk Duds.  Those pods and seeds can be discarded or used for decoration when they dry.  The seeds would make dandy BINGO markers.  I do not encourage the seeds to germinate though.  Control of these vines is essential to prevent an invasion.

Honey bees and bumble bees love this stuff.  While taking this bee's portrait, I could hear bumble bees buzzing overhead.  No sweat.  Bees don't bother me cuz I don't bother them.  Until today.

My freshly shampooed hair (I used WEN Winter Cranberry Mint today.) must have attracted a big, fat bumble bee because it latched on to my hair and wouldn't let go.  Rather than risk a sting to the scalp, I leaned to keep the bee suspended away from my scalp until I could reach something to shoo it away.  I reached for Ajax's slobber cloth hanging on the patio.  Shoo.  Shoo.  Dang. Is that thing STILL hanging on?  I looked at my reflection in the glass to discover it was not a bumble bee.

It was a Japanese beetle the size of Godzilla.  These crazy things can't fly well at all; but their grip is strong.  I began hitting myself over the head with the slobber cloth.  Shoo.  Shoo.  Imagine what the neighbors must have thought.  Finally, the beast let go and fell to the patio floor only to fly at me again and again.  I wasn't having any of it.  I used that slobber cloth as if it was a Louisville Slugger.  Pop.  Pop.  Pop.  Slapping that towel as if I was in the basement of the Bakersfield High School gym.  Soon, I wore the creep down with an exceptional snap to send it on its way.  As it flew away I could feel every inch of me turn into one Godzilla sized goose pimple.

Dang those things are creepy.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Like Paint Drying


 Farmer MacGregor is a paint master.  No painted surface on our house or garden can be called "shabby chic". All - and I mean ALL - painted surfaces are well maintained to keep that Disneyland-like look.  Farmer MacGregor works hard to keep things just so.  His idea of a great summer outing with the garden gnomes was to take a ride down to the local paint and wallpaper store.  He was the only one convinced that was a great idea.  As summer began (Forget the calendar.  Summer started a long time ago here in Bakersfield.), the windows were washed then the trim was painted.  Next was painting the doors and shutters.  His day starts very early so that the bulk of work is finished before the heat hits.  He's allowed to go outside several times and admire his handiwork.  "Just look at that shine!"  Yup. 

The paint is not the only thing that thrives in this dry heat.  Some of the plants actually like it too.  Oh, they'll wither and poop out by summer's end; but for now summer is a good thing.  I only say that because the air conditioners are working beautifully.

Bougainvillea - Barbara Karst


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Solar Power

Nematodes have plagued the raised beds in the garden for some time now. So, two beds remain fallow this summer.  I'm following the directions from UC Davis for solarization one bed at a time. The soil must be turned, smoothed, and irrigated deeply.  An application of chicken manure is suggested to be successful.  While the bed is still moist, clear plastic is applied on top of the soil.  Thinner is better; but very thin may tear.  4 ml is being used. The plastic sheeting needs to be anchored down then left for 4 - 8 weeks.  The plastic builds up the soil temperature to kill pests and seeds.  

On about August 13 (8 weeks), the plastic can be removed from this bed and discarded.  It will be ready for planting a fall salad garden.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Boysenberries 2015


Thornless Boysenberry
Harvest of the Thornless boysenberries is complete.  Now it's time to get ready for the 2015 season.  Berries develop on the growth from this summer; so the canes that bore fruit in 2014 need to be removed.  I removed the bird netting then Farmer MacGregor got into the overgrown thicket and cut those canes to the ground.  He also removed any canes with thorns. So much for "thornless". Discarded canes should be burned; but the San Joaquin Valley has very limited times when you can burn.  So into the green waste can they go. That leaves canes that started sprouting this year.  From those, we select 5 canes on each of the 6 plants to be tied to the supports.  Think of fingers on your hand fanning out.

2015 Producing Canes
It's not a perfect science, but it helps to keep this part of the garden tidy.  Berries can really get away from you. If you're not careful, your berry patch will look more like a brier patch from Song of the South.  Any other canes that sprout are removed.  This is something that should be done at least once a week here.  We have found something that thrives in this spot of the garden.

2015 Thornless Boysenberry Patch
As these canes grow, they will be tied to the supports until they reach the top.  At that point, they will be pruned to keep at a manageable height.  Laterals will form and those will get tied up too.  Everything should stay within the support frame.  At least, that's the goal.  The berries will continue to be fertilized and irrigated throughout the summer.  Soil amendment is next on the "to do" list.

Now it's time to enjoy the harvest.