Sunday, May 31, 2009

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Today, my friend, John, asked me about growing tomatoes in containers. I thought others might also be interested.

This is a picture of one of my Roma tomatoes that I planted in a container that a fruit tree came in. I have found that it is too small for the tomato, although the plants (I have 4 such pots) are growing nicely, with one already to the top of our fence. I planted nasturtiums along the front of the pots so they would grow over the edge and shade it---they didn't make it!.

Tomato plants grow to different sizes and can be grown in many different kinds of containers. The smaller the tomato plant, the smaller the container. Just be sure that there are holes in the bottom of the container for drainage.

The smaller tomato plants are called patio or pixie and won't need staking. These tomatoes are made for growing in containers. They produce small to medium size fruits, depending on the plants you choose.

The medium size tomato plants are called determinant and need a larger container. Determinant plants grow to about 3-4' normally. Most of their fruit will ripen over a shorter period of time. This size may need a little support, just watch it as it grows.

The larger tomato plants are called indeterminate and can grow to 6' or more. Indeterminate means that it will keep growing and producing fruit. They defiantly need staking or a heavy wire cage; and require the largest size containers. Half of a whisky barrel would be big enough. Or, if the look of the container won't be a problem, a 5 gal. construction bucket from Lowe's or Home Depo would work.

There are also different kinds of self-watering containers that can be purchased. Google self-watering containers and it will show those that could be made at home.

Soil for tomato containers is fairly simple. You can go the MircleGro way, with the plant food and other stuff included. Or, you can go the organic route and use organic potting soil, plus a couple scoops of organic compost, and 1 tablespoon of lime (for calcium) per large container (or use egg shells). Either way, the containers will probably need to be watered every day. When the high heat of July hits, they will likely need to be watered twice a day. Drippers would take care of this chore easily. A layer of grass clippings over the top of the container soil would help keep the soil moist. Fertilizing would need to be done with light feedings every week or so. With this much watering, a lot of the nutrients are being washed away.

Make sure that the tomato plants have at least 6-8 hours of sun. The container might need shade from the sun, with either plants in front of it, or a board or something like that to keep the sun from cooking the roots. Light-colored containers won't have such a problem.

One more thing---when the daytime temperatures hit 95' the tomato blossoms will start to drop without being fertilized. The plants will begin to bloom again in August, and will produce a fall crop that might even extend until Thanksgiving (depending if we have an early frost or not).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Try Something New!

Every year try something new in your garden! Grow something you have never grown before and you might discover a vegetable that you really like. This year I am growing eggplant, something that I really don't like to eat, but I am growing it to increase my son, Bryce's, quantity of seed. New plants (to me) that I am also growing, that I will eat:
---Cosmic Purple Carrots
---Black Hungarian Peppers
---Kudzu (maybe I won't eat this, but it's really good used as a mulch)
---Painted Lady Pole Beans

For Mother's Day, I received several different kinds of grains to grow---and that will be very new for me! Besides harvesting the grain, the roots of the plants help improve the soil they are growing in. Some grains add nutrients, and some grains grow deep to break up heavy soils.

What's new in your garden this year? Let me know what it is!

Blossom End Rot

Blossom end rot is just what it says---the blossom end of the tomato, pepper or squash just rots. This is a common occurrence, especially for new gardeners. The symptoms can appear at any stage of growth. At first the blossom end of the tomato looks like a small, water-soaked spot, which gets bigger and darkens rapidly as the fruit develops. Sometimes it will only affect the bottom of the fruit, or it may eventually consume it entirely. These spots soon dry out and become flattened, black, and leathery in appearance and texture. This is not a disease and will not spread to other plants.

The cause of blossom end rot is usually uneven watering and inadequate calcium. Oftentimes, new gardeners don't know the right time to water their plants and the soil gets too dry. This interferes with the plants ability to take up calcium in the soil. Tomatoes planted too early in cold soil will often have blossom end rot on the first fruits, but the severity of the disease subsides on fruits set later. Another factor that can lead to blossom end rot is cultivating too close to the plant, which destroys the roots that take up the water and minerals.

The remedy is fairly simple. Use a thick layer of mulch to maintain more even moisture for the plants, and water regularly. With the mulch in place, there is no need for cultivation, and the valuable surface roots will remain in place. To maintain sufficient calcium in my garden, I use egg shells from my kitchen. I rinse the shells when I am through with the eggs, and let them dry. I put them in a plastic sandwich bag and crush them. When the a bag is half full, I put them in the garden. I haven't had blossom end rot for the last 30 years!

Friday, May 29, 2009

In The Garden

Here are three plants that are growing quite close together: spinach, zucchini, and chard. The spinach was planted a few months ago. I planted the zucchini near the spinach thinking that the spinach would soon be setting seed and be gone before the zucchini was spreading out. Wrong! The chard was from some that I direct-sowed when I planted the spinach. Most of the chard came up, I harvested some of it and then it bolted (went to seed) when the early hot weather hit. This chard plant was a surprise when it came up a couple of weeks ago. The zucchini and chard will be fighting it out, because the spinach is finally on it's way to set seed. At least they all look healthy and happy!

This is a picture of one of my Contender Bush Beans. I believe this damage is from leaf hoppers. There are only two of the bean plants that shows damage, so I won't do anything about it. Normally I don't think twice when I see something like this because the plants still look healthy and continue to grow, but I looked into it for your benefit. Yea, I know, what kind of Master Gardener am I?!? I don't think this is a serious problem and let nature take it's course.

This picture shows what happens when your mulch is too thin. To discourage weeds you need at least a couple of inches of mulch, covering the soil well (which I obviously didn't do!). Most of this bed is still weed-free.

OK, I found my weeding knife. I found it put away. I guess I was so tired from weeding the other night that I forgot that I put it away, and thought I had lost it!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Garden Checklist

From the Fresno Bee, May 28:

Garden Gains Worth Repeating—Elinor Teague

In this article, Elinor writes about her own garden, and the trials and errors she has experienced. She said that she repeats the successes and learns from the failures. Here she wanted to share with other gardeners "some successes and tried-and-true recommendations."

She had her first two cherry tomatoes of this season ripen last week, and that they were the earliest ever. She thought that the good health of the transplants were the reason. She bought three new kinds in mid-April, from Fresno State; all of the plants were dark green with sturdy stems.

Matt's Wild Cherry tomato has been prolific, even through the extreme weather changes we had this spring. Her Money Maker and Martian tomato plants are a little slower. Elinor has had the best luck with plant varieties that are considered Mediterranean, as that climate is similar to ours. These are the tomato plants she started indoors in late February—Carmello, Costoluto Genovese and Chianti Rose.

Her second sowing of Romano pole beans are coming up, and the first sowing looks really healthy.

She transplanted Beatrice, Nadia and Rose Bianca Eggplants (all Italian varieties) that she started indoors earlier in the spring.

Raven and Cocozelle zucchinis were direct seed- sown three weeks ago and are already showing their first flowers.

Elinor has her veggies on drip emitters. Her beans, peach tree, California Giant zinnias and sunflowers are watered by soaker hoses.

She feels that her tomatoes don't crack or wilt, and aren't stressed by the heat, because of the city's mandatory watering schedule that allows the soil surface to dry out between waterings and "forces the roots to grow deeper in search of moisture."

Elinor has been gardening organically for four years and has lots of bees, including several kinds of bees, pollinating the flowers in her yard.

She hasn't had any insect problems so far, but says that it's time for the tomato hornworm to show up. She uses Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) as a spray at the first sign of damage. This kills the worms, but doesn't harm the beneficial insects or birds and animals.

Garden Checklist:

Tasks: Mow lawns frequently, removing just 1/3 of the growth each mowing.

Pruning: Trim fast-growing hedges regularly.

Fertilizing: Apply a light feeding to summer flowers and vegetables; water well after each application.

Planting: Fill in bare spots from earlier plantings of annuals; clivia; yarrow (Achillea), lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus); bougainvillea, butterfly bush (Buddelia davidii); from seed---beans, cantaloupe.

Things to Ponder: Annual and vegetable plants that are set out now should not be planted in the heat of the day.

Happy Birds

Last week my friend, Kathy, mentioned how happy the birds sounded. This morning as I layed in bed trying to go back to sleep after one of my cats wanted out at 5:30, I could hear the birds singing and chirping, making a quite a lot of "happy" noise! Then, I remembered this little poem that came to me early one summer morning last year, just as the birds were waking up:

Morning Birds
Early, one lone bird
Sings, soon joined by another;
Then joyous riot!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mulching The Veggies

This picture shows one end of my main box garden. I have Roma tomatoes, Contender Bush Beans (lighter green), Bountiful Esther Dry Beans (darker green), Amish Melon (hard to see, it's planted between the tomato rows), and Sumter Pickling Cucumbers (there is a trellis in the upper left corner of the picture; the plants are about 6" tall and hard to see, too). You can see the mulch around the tomatoes (there is straw around the beans). This mulch started out like the weeds in the picture below. With our hot days coming on it doesn't take long for the weeds to become a nice mulch once they are pulled and layed on the soil. It takes just a few days and the weed/mulch turns from green to brown.

This picture shows what I did last night. The crabgrass, plus a few nutsedges, was about 18" high, the soil was moist (not wet), and so I used my trusty knife to get the weeds pulled. This is a mixed bed of flowers and vegetables---I couldn't wait for my new raised garden boxes and I just planted vegetables everywhere earlier this spring! I pulled the weeds and layed them down on the ground. It is hot enough that the weeds wither in a day or two and won't re-grow. I worked until it was so dark that I couldn't see the weeds anymore. When I stopped to go in the house, I realized that my knife was nowhere to be found! I suppose it is under the weeds somewhere!! I will look for it later today or tomorrow, and hopefully I will find it!

I bought these strawberries and boysenberries this morning. Guess what I am doing this afternoon?!? I am making my Berry Good Jam. I just use the pectin recipe for strawberry jam, but substitute boysenberries for half of the strawberries. It has a wonderful flavor and is very easy to make! I didn't have enough of this jam to last me through last year, so I am making sure I have plenty this year!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Vegetating in the Garden

Sometimes, especially at the end of working several hours in the garden, I just sit and look at what's growing.

It might be silly, but I enjoy just looking at my vegetables.

At this time my vegetables are still relatively small, because I got my garden in late. I had several broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts from early this spring that were still growing--they had gone in late, too!

But, I can at least admire my flowers. There are some that are pretty and some that smell good, I like them all.

They grow mostly on their own, without much help from me (except for a little fertilizer), because my focus is on the veggies. These pictures are a few of the flowers that are blooming in my backyard now.

Garden Tools

This is a picture of the three tools that I use the most in my garden. The knife is my weeder. If there is a particularly stubborn weed, especially if it is a larger weed, I will cut a circle about an inch or so in the ground around the stem to sever the lateral roots. Then it is easy to give the weed a twist and out it comes. Most of the time I can go under the nutsedge and loosen the ground, so that the sedge, and often the nut, will pull out. I also can go under and along bermuda grass stolons (runners under the ground), loosening the dirt and getting most of the grass roots. Notice on these I said "most" of the nuts and roots. It's tough to get it all out in one try, but you can make progress.

These are the pruners that I use constantly. I use them to deadhead flowers, prune shrubs and trees (at least the smaller branches--I have other pruners for larger branches, but don't use them as much); cut old vegetables off at the base (leaving the roots in place to decompose and feed the soil, worms and beneficial microbes); to cut grasshoppers and tomato worms in half (I knew you would like that one!--Sometimes I just get tired of having to deal with them); and cutting off grass seed heads that I don't have time to dig out.

I use the water meter to see if the soil is dry, moist or wet below the surface without having to dig a small hole to check or poking my finger in the soil. You just put the probe down in the soil and it will tell you if you need to water or not. I have used it on houseplants, garden soil (under mulch and around my new fruit trees) and in the plant starts that I seed in little 9-packs. It takes the guess-work out of watering, and reduces the death-rate of plants that may be getting too much water.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bad Bugs

Remember this bug from my May 2 post? It's a Harlequin bug. I had them on my stressed-out brussels sprouts. I removed the brussels sprouts after I removed the bugs! Done deal, or so I thought! A few days ago I found one Harlequin bug on the seed head of a dandelion. I picked the seed head with the bug and took it over to bare ground so I could squish it. Their mode of defense is to drop to the ground, but otherwise seemed pretty docile. That made it easy for me to hold a bottle with some soapy water in it underneath the bug, then it drops down---and no more bug! Well, I dropped this bug onto the ground (I didn't have the bottle with me) and it ran crazy-fast, like a roach! What a shock! But, I did finally squish him.

Yesterday evening, as I strolled out in the garden (a good thing to do daily, you can see problems when they first occur) I noticed a dark thing on my bok choi plants that I let go to flower. I saw that it was a bug that resembled the Harlequin, but it was a different color. It's hard to see, but it has a bright orange dot on it's back, and orange just peeking out from under it's wings. I got my bottle of soapy water and took care of it. Then I noticed more of them. I hope I got them all! They were also on my turnips that I had let go to flower.

I had another shock when I found the same kind of bug in green! Will it never end?!? Actually, I found two green bugs. They are all from the stink bug family and do about the same kind of damage. For this reason, I will get rid of everything I have growing in my yard that is from the cole family. Hopefully, that will be the end of that. They prefer the cole crops, but will go after other things such as tomatoes. They can hang around the garden and happily multiply all year long if not eliminated.

My To Do List . . .

This week I have a few things I would like to get done in the garden---what's on your list??

---fertilize my stone fruit trees, tomatoes, carrots, roses (done)
---finish pruning the hedges (9/10 done!)
---transplant my veggie starts into larger pots (done)
---take out anything that's left from the cole crops (turnips, bok choi, etc.) [see next post above]

I finally got all of the weeds pulled from my main vegetable box and layed them on top of the soil as a mulch. It was mostly crabgrass and I caught it before it went to seed. Soon I will cover them up with flakes of straw, when I get more straw.

I didn't get the bone meal to go after the pill bugs and ants, but I plan to this week.

Planting by the moon signs:

Monday-Tuesday: Taurus---#1 for planting root crops, including peanuts; good for transplanting everything, with it being 2nd best for transplanting above ground plants.

Wednesday: Gemini---2nd best for planting root crops, above ground crops and transplanting all crops.

Thursday-Friday: Cancer---#1 for planting root crops, above ground crops and transplants.

Saturday-Monday: Leo---not good for planting or transplanting; good for killing weeds, bushes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fake Wasp's Nests

A friend of mine, Jill, wrote about her and her husband's new fake wasp nests (this is a picture she took). They seem to get rid of wasps in the yard, taking 3-4 days to really work. They were having a lot of trouble with the wasps making several nests around their home. The wasps would swarm and were always hovering when anyone was working in the yard. There were the occasional stings, which would put a damper on enjoying the outdoors.

These fake nests work on the principle of competition. "If they see a wasp nest in yard they will go elsewhere to make a nest." After putting up four fake wasp nests, two in the front yard and two in the back yard, they are now wasp-free.

As Jill said:
---No chemicals
---Environmentally safe
---No maintenance
---No dead wasps

Just the way we like it!

She said that fake wasp nests can be found at home improvement stores, such as Lowe's. Her's are called "Bee Free Natural Wasp Deterrent," and come in packages of two for $8.99---a small price to pay for safety in the yard!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Potential Dangers in the Garden

From the Fresno Bee, May 23:

When considering a garden, make sure you know which plants are poisonous and which ones aren't, especially when you have children, visiting grandchildren, cats or dogs. Children and dogs are more likely to be poisoned.

Some plants cause skin reactions and some need to be taken internally to be toxic. One interesting thing to consider: a dog may be resistant to poison ivy, but could get it on it's coat and transfer it to a person.

Two websites that have lists of toxic and nontoxic plants:

Another problem to watch for is the use of chemicals used for lawn and plant care [ie--fertilizers, insecticides]. Read and follow package instructions carefully when you use these products. "If you apply liquids or granular products that are watered in, the lawn should be dry before animals are allowed on it." Any baits used for insects [ie--snail or ant bait] may be tempting, as well as toxic, to cats and dogs.
. . . . .

Gard'n Judy here---you can avoid the above chemical problems if you use organic products. Please read the package instructions, there may be specific ways to use the product. I know that Sluggo (bait for snails and slugs) won't harm children, pets, or the birds that eat the slugs that ate the Sluggo; and that the snails and slugs do, indeed, eat it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Breads and Biscuits

O, weary mothers mixing dough,
Don't you wish that food would grow?
Your lips would smile I know to see
A cookie bush or a pancake tree.

--from "Depression Era Recipes"

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Garden Checklist

From the Fresno Bee, May 21, 2009:

"Heat Works Against Powdery Mildew"
by Elinor Teague

Here in the valley, we have less fungal diseases, because our late spring and summer seasons are dryer than other areas (our main rainfall is in February and March). Although, these last few weeks we seem to be having more problems with powdery mildew, which attacks many different plants. [This picture shows powdery mildew on one of my crape myrtles].

The spores of powdery mildew are carried by the wind from plant to plant. "The first signs of powdery mildew generally appear as a white, powdery substance covering new leaves and shoots. The new leaves and shoots become stunted and distorted."

Powdery mildew can become a serious problem "to the health of woody plants and trees such as sycamores and crape myrtles." The trees' food supply is reduced when the infected leaves fall off, and the branches may be more exposed to sunburn. Smaller plants may be killed when badly infected with powdery mildew.

On the positive side, powdery mildew can't survive temperatures of 95' or more. Treatment can be as easy as spraying a strong spray of water from the hose on the infected areas. "Infected new growth on susceptible varieties of tender-stemmed plants such as begonias and roses can be trimmed back."

Another solution could be the use of horticultural oils, jojoba oil and neem oil, which are less toxic. These oils both prevent and eradicate powdery mildew. There are fungicides that prevent powdery mildew, but they are more toxic. They must be applied before signs of the fungus or at the very earliest stages, are not to be applied when temperatures are above 90', and several applications are needed.

The only sure solution is our summer heat, which will eliminate most of the powdery mildew.

. . . . .

Tasks: use a 3" layer of mulch around trees and shrubs to retain moisture, supress weeds and cool soil temperature.

Pruning: remove suckers on roses and fruit trees.

Fertilizing: a little used more often is better than a lot at one time.

Planting: Russian sage (Perovskai), gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia); fortnight lily (Dietes); potatoes, tomatoes; abutilon; plant from seed---petunia, marigold, black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata).

Miscellaneous: scale insects are easy to control with horticultural oil (insecticides work also, but I'd go the natural route with the horticultural oil), repeat in June

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Garden of the Sun

The Master Gardeners of Fresno County maintain a demonstration garden near the corner of McKinley on Winery, and is located south of the Discovery Center. This garden shows examples of growing many different plants, shrubs and trees for the home landscape. The picture above is of the "All America" Garden showing plants selected from this and past years. The All America selections are various new flower and vegetable seeds that have been grown in trials in various parts of the United States, and have been found to be easy to grow, pest- and disease-resistant, and can be grown in many different climates.

This is a picture of the Cottage Garden. There are many different kinds of flowers that can be included in such a garden, and they are easy to grow, too. There is quite a variety of flowers in this corner bed.

Here we see part of the Patio Pot (container) Garden, which showcases flowers. There are many different kinds of containers in various sizes---something for everyone!

This last picture is of part of the Perennial Garden. Perennials are those plants that die back each winter, and return to grow and bloom the next spring.

Lest you think all they have are flowers, that is not the case. They have quite a Vegetable Garden covering several raised beds. I didn't get a picture of that because they are newly planted with summer vegetables and weren't as showy as the flowers! Other gardens they showcase are:
---Small Space Garden
---No Barriers Garden
---Sun/Shade Garden
---Low Maintenance Garden
---Herb Garden
---Children's Garden (children can go through the maze; see, touch and smell plants)
---fruit trees are scattered all over the garden, plus in an orchard
---Berry Garden (boysenberries, raspberries, blueberries)

The Master Gardeners also hold classes here, with a minimum cost (twice a year there is a vegetable class that is free), on Wednesday and some Saturday mornings. To sign up to be on the mailing list for these classes go to . For more information or class registration, call UCCE at (559) 456-7285 or the Garden of the Sun at (559) 456-4151.

The Garden of the Sun is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 9 am - 1 pm, and is staffed by Master Gardener volunteers. There is no charge to walk through the garden. If you would like a tour, it is $2 per person. All you have to do is go through the front gate and a Master Gardener will give you a tour. Otherwise, you can wander on your own. The grounds are connected to the Discovery Center, but to use those facilities you need to go through the Discovery Center building and pay a slight fee (which also includes a visit to the Garden of the Sun).

The Garden of the Sun is located at 1944 N. Winery; phone (559) 456-4151; online at . Master Gardener Hotline: 559-456-7563.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Good Bugs . . .

The other night I noticed that the Green Lacewings were out. I usually can find them on the inside of our screens (besides out in the garden); I suppose they are attracted to the lights in our house. They are bright green and have sheer, lacy wings---hence their name---and they have bright yellow compound eyes. These insects come out at night and feed on pollen, nectar and aphid honeydew.

They lay 100-200 eggs on leaves that are close to aphid populations. They lay their eggs on many different garden plants, including corn, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, leafy greens, apples, strawberries and cole crops. I have seen them over the years in my garden. The eggs hatch in a few days and then the fun begins!

The larvae are also known as aphidlions. When they hatch they are voracious predators. They eat most insects, especially the soft bodied aphids, caterpillars and insect eggs. If there is a high population of aphidlions, they will even eat each other. When they find an insect, they grab it and inject their pray with a digestive secretion. This secretion can dissolve the organs of an aphid in 90 seconds! These larvae can eat 100-600 aphids each, but sometimes have trouble finding their pray on leaves that are hairy or sticky.

Do you have trouble with aphids? Now you know who to call! Green Lacewings can be purchased online, just like many other beneficial insects.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Carrots and Beans

I picked these carrots this morning and I will snack on them later today. They were planted a couple of months ago, but are still chugging along. As you can see, they are small. These are some that I thinned, so the others could grow larger. I planted the Orange Ball Carrots in a bag of topsoil. Their roots aren't very long so they can grow just fine in the bag. [See post 5/6/09]. The other carrots are my Cosmic Purple Carrots. I planted them in a self-watering grow box. They are growing nicely and I will keep thinning/harvesting as I go along.

I am making progress in my raised bed garden. Saturday evening I planted Contender Bush Beans and Bountiful Esther Dry Beans along the front of my garden. I then laid down thick pieces of wet newspaper and on top of that a flake of straw. Lastly, I put some unfinished compost that I have over the planting of beans, down the center of the straw. That will keep the beans moist and keep their paths to the sun easy to get through. You can see a plant right in the middle of the bean row---it's a Bright Lights Swiss Chard that I planted in the early spring that never came up, well at least not until now. I will leave it there and add it to the menu when it gets big enough!

I am working on this garden bed piece-by-piece until it gets done; and I will use the newspaper and straw method over the whole bed. It is difficult for me to cover the weeds now, because the praying mantis' have hatched. They are about 1/3" long and tend to like the crabgrass, where they feel protected and can find a good bug meal! I will pull out the grass and leave it in a pile near the garden for a few days, that way the spiders and mantis' can find a new home, instead of being covered up with no way out. Later I will put the weeds under wet newspaper in my new raised garden bed. With so much to do to tidy up the yard, I will have to divide my time over several projects---but it will get done!

My To-Do List . . .

My to-do list for this week:
---yes, those hedges still need pruning!
---deadheading will go on though the summer!
---weeding will go on till the end of the world!
---plant my cucumber and melon starts (done)

Things I have gotten done that were not on my list:
---laid out three 100' soaker hoses to water most of my new fruit trees and blueberry bushes
---still baby-ing my little plant starts

Moon signs:

Monday is Aquarius---very good for planting above ground plants, but not seeds (they will rot).

Tuesday-Thursday is Pisces---2nd best for planting root crops; #1 for planting above ground plants, trees, bushes and vines.

Friday-Saturday is Aries---very good for planting root crops; not good for planting above ground crops, or transplanting; good to kill weeds, bushes; barren time.

Sunday-Tuesday is Taurus---#1 for planting peanuts, root crops; very good for canning, making pickles, and transplanting all plants; 2nd best for transplanting above ground plants.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wind Chimes

I went out to work in the garden yesterday and ended up putting up my wind chimes! I have several, and most of them are fairly quiet. This one is one of my favorites. I love the blue and green colors. It is made of glass and has a nice sound.

Above are two that are made out of some kind of thin sea shells and have a pretty, soft sound.

This is my favorite---yes, it's a fish skeleton! I have had this one hanging in my garden for several years. It doesn't usually make any sound, unless the wind is really blowing, because it's made of a fairly heavy metal. I like it because it's different, kind of quirky.

This wind chime is just outside of my bedroom sliding door. When it gets warm, we leave our sliding glass door open, with the screen closed and locked. This lets in the breeze, which we get nearly every night in Fresno, and I can hear the quiet, peaceful wooden knock through the night.

I did do some gardening---I planted a row of Contender Bush Beans and a half of a row of Bountiful Esther Dry Beans. I do get distracted, but it's all good!!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Container Gardens

I have always been interested in container gardens, but have never found the combination of flowers that I liked. While visiting our local hardware store recently, I spied this Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera hybrida). It is a beautiful two-toned flower, with yellow outer petals and orange inner petals. It is sitting in a large aqua-green pot, waiting to be officially planted. This is the first thing I see each morning when I open the front door to get our morning newspaper. What a cheery sight!

Gerbera Daisies are suppose to be planted in full sun, but with our super-strong sunshine and high temperatures during the summer, they will do better with some shade, especially shade from the afternoon sun. They come in many gorgeous colors, grow 12"-18" high, and bloom from late spring to fall. For optimal flowering they need to be dead-headed regularly, and fertilized monthly. This Gerbera is located on my front porch, which faces the east, and gets early morning sun.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A New Garden Magazine

I just finished going through a fairly new garden magazine from Fine Gardening (Taunton Press) called "grow". It is beautifully put together with a lot of wonderful pictures. The articles may seem to be written for the beginning gardener, but they will not put off seasoned gardeners. The articles are written about individual kinds of vegetables and fruits, such as carrots, heirloom tomatoes, raspberries and strawberries. Following each article are tasty sounding recipes that use that particular vegetable or fruit. Don't hesitate to take a look at this magazine as it will inspire you to grow more food in your garden, and give you new ways of cooking it!

Love in the Garden

"I used to love my garden
But now my love is dead,
For I found a bachelor's button
In black-eyed Susan's bed."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Garden Checklist

From the Fresno Bee, May 14:

: check drip and sprinkler systems for clogs and leaks.

: remove spent lilac flower clusters just above points where leaf buds are forming.

Fertilizing: almond, apple, cherry and plum trees.

Planting: blue marguerite (Felicia), gazania, hemerocallis; dahlia; cucumber, eggplant, okra, parsley; hydrangea; impatiens from seed.

Things to ponder: This is the month to propagate geraniums and other soft wood perennials from cuttings. [Geraniums are easy---just break a stem off, and put it in the ground (or pot) with a few inches below- and a few inches above-ground level. It will root and thrive!].

. . . . .

"Consider Salt in Water When Leaves Yellow"---Elinor Teague

In the spring plants should be green with new growth. Plants that are under stress from cultural conditions, nutrient deficiency or poor soil conditions will begin to show "stunted growth, branch and twig dieback, and yellow leaves."

Over- or under-watering are cultural conditions that can cause problems. Iron chlorosis, which can cause yellow leaves, is most often caused by over-watering. This "interferes with the plant's ability to draw up iron from the soil." Iron chelated products won't help until the water situation is fixed. "In general, landscape plants, flowers and vegetables should be watered deeply when the top inch or two of soil has dried out. Larger trees and bushes need watering when the top three to four inches of soil is dry."

When plants absorb nutrients from the soil, they also draw up water, which leads to a build-up of salts on the soil surface. If your acid-loving plants are showing signs of yellow leaves and branch die-back, "let the hose drip slowly for a day or two several times a year, thoroughly irrigating the soil." The salts will be washed down below the root zone.

A crusty film on top of the soil is another indication of salt build-up. Mulching will help slow soil moisture evaporation, therefore slowing the build-up of salts.

High alkaline or pH levels will also affect the health of plants, and adding more iron and other minerals may not help. Lowering the pH level can be done by applying sulfur at the root zone, and may need to be repeated.

[For vegetables, soil pH should be close to neutral or 7 on the pH scale of 1-14. Below 7 indicates acidity, and above 7 indicates alkalinity. There are soil kits that can be purchased at the store, or a soil sample can be taken to the county extension office for them to test. Some plants, like azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, gardenias and blueberries, thrive in acid soil and will die in alkaline soils. Although they do like acid soils, they do not like salt buildup].

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bad Bugs

This is a picture of a sowbug, also known as a pill bug, or roly poly bug. They are a common garden bug that may eat your plants. Children love to play with them as they don't bite and will roll into a little ball when picked up. They are of the order of isopoda (which means "balanced foot"), and the family of Oniscida (I just knew you'd want to know that!). Over the years I have cut garden articles and hints out of newspapers and magazines, keeping them in a file (OK, several files!) and I go through them every so often. I came across a garden hint about getting rid of sowbugs and decided I will try it this week, and let you know if it works in my garden. It is simple and organic, and supposedly get rid of ants, too. The magic potion is to sprinkle the plants and soil with bonemeal. That's it! Bonemeal also slowly releases nutrients into the soil, which benefits the plants. If you try this, please let me know how it works for you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Seedlings plunging into
The air, a swan-dive into
Life, bathed in sunlight.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bryce's Garden, Then and Now!

This is a picture of my son, Bryce's, garden last November, in Bakersfield. That's him in the red shirt, and my grandkids Emily (standing), Christion (kneeling), and Sarah (in the hole!). Bryce has gardened organically in this spot for the last few years, getting better each year. He tried the lasagna method of improving his garden soil and found that it worked beautifully. He has tried self-watering grow-boxes (see in the bottom left of the picture) that he made, but the tomatoes sucked up water faster than he put it in the reservoir. He would love to have the whole back yard in vegetables, but the kids have to have someplace to play! This year he has made a box for his garden and has found great success, as you can see from the picture below (this was taken today).
This box garden is actually one box, although you can't tell because of all of the foliage. Bryce has added two pathways that go part way so he can reach all of the garden easily.

I also have found that garden boxes work well. You don't step on the planting soil and that helps the plants root systems to spread out and do their work of collecting water and nutrients. Your water and fertilizer goes just where the plants need it and not in the pathways. The soil stays nice, and the weeds stay out.

If you have a before and after picture of your garden and would like to have it on my blog, just email me with the pictures!

My To Do List . . .

Monday---Scorpio. #1 best to plant above ground plants, flowers; 2nd best to plant root crops; and good for transplanting flower bushes and vines.

Tuesday-Thursday---Sagittarius. Fairly good for planting cucumbers and onions. Not good for transplanting anything.

Friday-Sunday---Capricorn. #1 for planting root crops; 2nd best for planting flowers and above ground vegetables; and 2nd best for transplanting all crops.

My to-do list:
---weed (I think this is a year-round to-do!)
---dead-head, especially the roses and geraniums (done)
---trim front yard hedges (procrastinating!)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Citrus Trees

Do you have an orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, tangerine or kumquat tree? These are citrus trees. This picture is of my Valencia orange tree, which has ripe fruit from May through the first part of August.

Citrus trees need pruning and fertilizing, but their needs are different than other fruit trees, such as peaches or apples. Pruning citrus is more for shaping, and removing dead branches and twigs. Be careful when pruning so as not to expose the bark to direct sunlight, because it will easily sunburn. Not long after we moved into our present home (1985), before I knew how to properly care for citrus, I limbed-up this tree, to make it look more like a tree instead of a huge bush. I saw first-hand how bad sunburned bark can be, I thought I killed the tree. It took a couple of years for the bark to scar over, and as you can see, it is still very productive. Be careful and don't do what I did! I have two other citrus trees (see April 29th post) that I will be shaping this week.

Fertilizing citrus is done in late February and then repeated twice at six-week intervals. This is important to the health of the tree and its production of fruit.

Something that I learned this year about tangerines---if they are covered during blooming, so that the bees can't get to the blossoms, the fruit will not have any seeds. Commercially, the farmers are diligent in keeping beehives far away from their orchards, so that the tangerines that go to market are nearly seed-free. My tangerines have always been really seedy, so I will be covering my tree next spring!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My To-Do List . . .

Today we are in Libra, which is "very good" for above ground crops.

Sunday and Monday we will be in Scorpio---#1 for above ground crops and flowers, and second best for planting root crops. It is also good for setting out fruit trees, flower bushes and vines.

---trim front yard hedges
---weed (endless!)

*full moon tonight

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gardening Websites

"How does the meadow-flower its bloom unfold?
Because the lovely little flower is free
Down to its root, and in that freedom bold."

---William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
. . . . . .

This quote came from a gardening newsletter that I receive each week in my email. P. Allen Smith (maybe you have seen him on one of the TV garden programs) has a nice website and sends out a free newsletter. If you are interested in his newsletter, go to his website at , and then go across the top of the page and hit the newsletter button. Each week he spotlights a new flower or vegetable, shares a seasonal recipe, and sometimes a decorating idea. Keep in mind that he is in a different growing zone than we are, so if he says to plant something, the timing might be off (we have a longer growing season, both in the spring and fall).
. . . . . .

A website that I visit daily is . This is about a family in Pasadena, CA, that live on a typical home lot. The home is next to a freeway on one side and a church parking lot on another. Their gardens are inspiring to look at!---see above picture. They garden 1/10th of an acre and produce 3 TONS (6,000 pounds!) of food each year. They also have a few chickens, ducks, two small female goats, and a hive of bees. They started out with a fixer-upper and then spent the last 35 years improving the soil and food production, just one step at a time. If you go to the address above, then to May 7th, skip down to "Sustainable Sundays Presents" there is an hour long video of how this "homestead" came about, with the first 20 or so minutes on just the garden. It is very interesting.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Garden Checklist

From the Fresno Bee:

Pruning: shape spring-flowering shrubs after pruning

Fertilizing: feed vegetables and lawns

Planting: coneflowers (Echinacea), beard tongue (Penstemon), gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia)--plant these from seed; gladiolus corms; corn, pumpkin, spinach, squash, watermelon--plant from seed; globe amaranth (Gomphrena).

To cover 100 square feet of space with mulch 3" deep, you will need 1 cubic yard of trunk space.
. . . . . .
"Don't Plant Where Black Root Has Been"---Elinor Teague
Don't plant vinca where Pansies were growing, because pansies may carry black root rot. Black root rot is a "soil-born fungal disease that interferes with the plants' roots ability to absorb water and nutrients." Symptoms: appear slowly and worsen as temperatures rise; stunted growth; begin to wilt during the day and recover at night; and leaves eventually turn yellow. When affected plants are pulled out, what roots that are left are black and seem water-soaked. Other plants that may be affected: hybrid impatiens, cyclamen, strawberries and raspberries. Once the fungal disease is in the soil, it is difficult to control, as tools, shoes and gloves can transfer the disease to other parts of the yard.

"One of the best preventative measures that can be taken is to buy your bedding plants from a reputable nursery."

Verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt are two other pathogens that can live many seasons in the soil. The symptoms are similar and may affect tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. These diseases don't necessarily kill plants, but yield may be less and plants may be less vigorous. Hybrid vegetable plants' labels show a V and or F to indicate resistance. Many heirloom vegetables are not resistant to these two diseases.

Crop rotation, not planting the same crop in the same place two years in a row, can reduce fungal populations.

[I have never had a problem with V/F fungi wilts when growing heirloom and open-pollinated vegetables---Judy]

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

For the Bees

These pretty yellow flowers are really the blooms of Baby Bok Choi that is going to seed. I'm not saving this seed because I purchased it at the store and I don't remember if it is hybrid or not. I do let some vegetables and herbs go to seed just for the bees. The bees are having a rough time contending with two types of mites, which have cut their numbers down. Therefore, I try to help the bees all I can by providing flowers for them.

This year I experimented with planting in bags of garden soil. This bok choi has been growing in one of these bags. I found that I have to water them every day, and in the heat of summer they might need watering twice a day. It was fun to try and it has worked well. So, if you don't have your garden ready and are anxious to plant something to eat, try growing it in a bag of top soil. (See ).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Soon the first flush of rose blooms will be finished and then it will be time to feed the plants. The hardware/garden stores have a lot of different kinds of rose food, but, to me, the best ones are the natural/organic. Chemicals are harsh to plants and soil beneficials, but the natural fertilizers are gentle and slow release. Roses are fed after each flush of blooms, so that it can revive its energy for the next flush. As the season goes on the roses will get smaller, but will emerge with large blooms again the next spring.

When cutting roses for bouquets, remember to cut the stems just above a five-leaf cluster and the plant will create more flowers at that point. Roses grow well in our climate. The only bug problems that I have had are the Hoplia Beetles (they are here for just a short time) and aphids (usually on the new growth in early spring). I have never sprayed my roses with anything other than a stream of water, and they thrive!

Monday, May 4, 2009

My To-Do List . . .

According to the "Old Farmer's Almanac," today we are in Leo, and Tuesday through Friday we are in Virgo. Both of those signs are considered barren and the only things that are good to do is to weed, prune, and kill bushes. Saturday will pick up again with Libra, which is very good for planting/growing above ground crops. So, that means I will have plenty of time to tackle those weeds in my yard!

---weed (on-going)
---deadhead the flowers, especially roses (on-going)
---finish thinning my peaches (done)
---trim front yard hedges

Effortless Sweet Peas

The purple flowers in this picture are sweet peas that self-sow every year. I think I threw the first sweet peas into that garden six or seven years ago and they just keep on self-seeding! They do plant themselves all over, but are very easy to pull out or transplant. I get bouquets of fragrant flowers every year for no work! Besides that, they look especially pretty when my irises are blooming along side the sweet peas!

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Seeds are seeds--right? Not in today's world. Nature will naturally cross two or more corn plants, or two or more melon plants, and create a new corn or melon; but corn will not cross with melons. Scientists have cross-bred plants of two parents (ie-two corn, or two melons) to create a unique, super wonderful offspring, that has taste, color or growing patterns that are superior to either of the parents and are called hybrids [genetically they can cross corn with melons]. When you plant hybrid seeds, you get the exact plant that you expect. If you keep seed from the offspring and plant them the next year, the plants will revert back to one of the parent plants, and is not something you would want. To help keep seed cost down, purchase "open-pollinated" or "heirloom" seeds, so that you will have plants that produce seeds that you can use the following year. These seeds grow true to the parent plants (which is what you want). Heirloom seeds have been grown and used for at least 50 years, and with some going back 100 or more years. I grow Summerfelt beans that are descendents of seeds that were growing in Germany back in 1805! They are a tasty dry soup bean and still a strong grower. Besides that, Summerfelt is my father's mother's maiden name! So far I haven't made any connection of the bean to my specific family, but maybe someday!

Seed Starting List

Yesterday, I planted the following seeds in little six-packs:
---Sumter Cucumbers (pickling)--18 seeds
---California Wonder Bell Peppers--6
---Marconi Red Peppers--5
---Black Hungarian Peppers--5
---Utah Celery--8
---Russian Tarragon--6
---Kudzu (for bio-mass)--6
---Amish Melon--4
Some of the seed numbers are small, because that's all of the seed that I was given by my son, Bryce, who has purchased a huge (really huge!) number of vegetable and herb seeds (all open pollinated or heirloom seeds). Many of his seed packets have less than 10 seeds in them, and I am growing-out some plants to increase his stock of seeds.

True Confessions . . .

As you likely have noticed from pictures of my garden that I have posted, I do, indeed, have weeds in my yard. Is anyone's yard totally weed free? That's not likely unless they have a personal gardener or a yard maintenance crew. Yesterday the Fresno County Master Gardeners held their annual home garden tour. They feature five homes with different types of gardens, kind of something-for-everyone. You can take pictures, ask questions (MG are posted at each garden), and take away new ideas that you might incorporate into your own garden. To make these gardens look perfect takes many long man-hours, put in by a team in each garden, over the course of several weeks. They do a lot of WEEDING, pruning and planting to bring each yard up to perfection. With my yard, I have no personal gardener or yard maintenance crew. The last eight years I have been going to college (including several summers), which has taken all of my time. I was able to get out into my garden only a couple of times, literally, over the course of each semester. I would also work in my yard during the winter breaks, but spring (Easter) breaks were used to write reports. This spring I spent two weeks in Sandpoint, Idaho, visiting my parents, so seed-starting/planting was pushed back and the weeds got a foot-hold. I have been re-doing my "sewing" room, turning it into a food storage room. Everything has been removed so I could paint, and that "everything" sits in my living room, family room and dining room (what a mess!). So, you can see, my gardening has taken a back seat for some time. And, spring has gotten ahead of me! With our heatwave early this season, the weeds burst forth with a vengeance, especially the nut sedge (it's worse than Bermuda grass). I also, with the help of my husband, Dave, am trying to get a new vegetable garden in. This has taken several weeks as Dave is working on his Master's Degree through National Schools, so he has been intensively working on that the past four weeks. When the new boxes are in place and planted, I will be able to focus more on the rest of the yard. The front yard is nearly weed-free, and looks nice for the neighbors. My husband has also bought and planted numerous flowers in the front yard, because he "wants lots of color!" Now, I will focus more on the backyard, especially the veggie boxes, and get into a working routine.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

My To-Do List . . .

Cancer---this is #1 for growing all crops and transplanting into the garden; it is good for making seed beds.

Because today is a super-good day grow everything, I will start seeds for my new box gardens (which aren't in place yet, but will be soon!), and I will post a list of them tomorrow.

Yesterday we received 1/2" of rain!

Bad Bugs . . .

Back in my April 30th post, I mentioned the Hoplia Beetle attacking light-colored flowers, especially roses. I thought I would show you what they look like (see below). According to UC Davis, the hoplia beetles particularly like "white, yellow, apricot, and pink roses. Early buds and flowers of roses may be destroyed by chewing. The beetles do not feed on leaves. Hoplia beetles also feed on the flowers of calla, citrus, irises, lilies, magnolia, olive, peonies, poppies, and strawberries, and on the young leaves and fruit of grapes, peaches, and almonds. . . They develop slowly, remaining in the larval or pupal stage throughout the winter. In early spring they complete development and adult beetles emerge from the soil." Hand-picking (or knocking them off of the flowers into a container of soapy water) will reduce their numbers.

Another bug that I am trying to eradicate from my garden is the Harlequin Bug (see picture below). They were all over my Brussels sprouts. They are a sucking bug and damage mature plants, but may kill new or small plants by sucking them to death. The young bugs are more black and orange, and as they molt (five or six times during their lives), the orange color turns more red.
They lay their egg cases on the leaves, which I have found on both the tops and undersides of leaves. I couldn't find a picture of the type of egg cases I have found and I have destroyed all that I have found in my garden, so no pictures there. The egg cases I have found are laid in a bundle of long, thin tubes that are placed on top of each other like cord-wood. They have been white, and a few were yellow. Depending on the weather, they can hatch anywhere from four to twenty-nine days, and can mature and mate from four to nine weeks. They can also live year-round in our gardens because of our mild weather. "Plants commonly attacked by the harlequin bug include such crucifers as horseradish, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, mustard, Brussels sprouts, turnip, kohlrabi and radish. In the absence of these favorite hosts, tomato, potato, eggplant, okra, bean, asparagus, beet, weeds, fruit trees and field crops may be eaten" (from the University of Florida). They like a lot of different vegetables, so it is imperative to control them when you see them.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lettuce Soup

2 c. sliced scallions
2 tbsp. butter
8 c. lettuce, sliced into 1/2" cubes
5 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. uncooked rice
fresh ground pepper

Wilt, but not brown, scallions in butter.
Add the lettuce and cook until wilted.
Add the rest and simmer until the rice is done.

This is a really tasty soup!

My To-Do List . . .

---feed citrus trees, other fruit trees (done)
---feed asparagus, lettuce, spinach (done)
---plant cyclamen (done)
---weed box garden (done)
---hula hoe (done)
---thin peaches 15 minutes (done)
---start seeds for summer planting (done)

Last Wednesday I finished up pruning my new fruit trees, so that is done! It's amazing what I am completing since I started writing out my to-do list! It started raining about 3:30 today, so I had to come in. I also set out my rain gage so I would know how much rain my yard is getting.


I planted some lettuce seeds a bit late in the spring (that's why they look the way they do) to see what they would be like, and to create more seeds for future use in the garden. The one to the right is Wakefield and the one below is Austrian Yellow. It really is amazing what they taste like when you do a taste-test! I didn't realize how different they would taste from each other. The Austrian Yellow lettuce tasted "green" and the Wakefield lettuce tasted "sweet." One year I did a tasted test of five different kinds of tomatoes that I was growing, thinking they all tasted the same, but I found that they didn't, and that I really didn't like the taste of the Brandywine tomatoes at all. It was really interesting! Here in the valley we can
grow lettuces all winter long. They aren't affected by the frosts, and grow big, tender leaves. I grow leaf lettuce because I have found (for me personally) that head lettuce doesn't do so well (you could experiment and let me know how it works for you--seeds are cheap!). They get full of earwigs, slugs and other crawlies, and never really produce. The leaf lettuces, on the other hand, really go all out and are mostly bug free! If you want to grow leaf lettuce now, you need to find seeds that are specifically for summer planting, otherwise they will go to seed right away and you will get nothing to eat from them. I have purchased seeds of beautiful mixed summer lettuces from although there are many places to buy the seeds. The lettuces above are winter or early spring lettuces and I have them under a trellis to temper the sun's heat. Summer lettuces will need to be covered in some manner to reduce the heat and keep them happy. There are shade cloths to cover vegetables, lettuce can be grown in pots under trees, in the shade of taller garden plants, or they can be grown under a patio cover if there is bright light. Lettuce needs a bit of sun, just not too much. Deep mulch will also help to keep the lettuce cool.

Today is the first quarter of the moon.

Today and tomorrow we are in Cancer---this is #1 for growing all crops and transplanting into the garden; it is good for making seed beds.