Help and Advice from the Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
CCMG's Help Desk Response:
Thank you for contacting the Master Gardener Help Desk. Raccoons can certainly be a big problem in our gardens and yards. I'm sure that getting them out of your yard was very difficult.
You are correct that raccoons carry a parasite that can infect people and pets. This roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) is quite resistant to many of the usual controls and will live for many years in your soil, so it's wise to consider their latrine areas as contaminated.
The good news is that plants cannot become "infected" by the parasite--the almost invisible eggs can't be absorbed or otherwise enter plants. They can only contaminate the parts of the plant in direct contact with the soil. Because of this, I would avoid planting any kind of root crops (carrots, radishes, potatoes, etc.) in that area, unless you do so in a raised bed filled with soil you bring from another area. I might also avoid leafy green vegetables, especially those eaten raw (lettuce) because they are so close to the soil. Other crops such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants (and the plum tree) would be fine to grow there, though.
All soil, even areas away from a raccoon latrine, could potentially be contaminated with a variety of parasites and microorganisms, so you should always wash garden produce before you eat it, and wash your hands with soap and water after working in a garden, even if you wear gloves. This advice is especially true for young children.
Here is a link to information about raccoons in the garden from the University of California: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74116.html.
Please let us know if you have additional questions. Happy gardening…. Hopefully without raccoons!
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
Note: The Contra Costa Master Gardener Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: email@example.com, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us//span>/div>
This year, I decided to volunteer to help propagate tomato seedlings for the CCMG Great Tomato Sale. It's our biggest annual fundraiser. I've never propagated seeds before, but I thought it would be a fun way to earn some volunteer hours.
Upon arriving at Our Garden in Walnut Creek, I received instructions about: (1) the structure of the soil flats we would be planting, (2) the number of seeds to plant per row, (3) how deep to plant each seed, and (4) how to immediately place the identification markers to avoid confusion over varieties. My assigned tomato was "Black from Tula". It was fun to take a flat full of soil and draw a thin line for placing the seeds (about an inch apart in 5-6 long rows). It was also nice to hear from other volunteers what seeds they were propagating this year and what success they had with other varieties planted in previous years. When completed, the flats were recorded and placed in the greenhouse and gently watered.
More to come in the next several weeks . . .
Dear Diary: I'm back! Its been two weeks since the seedlings were planted, and I returned to help move the sprouted seedlings into their new home – each one gets a 4 x 4 inch plastic pot with its own label! It was tough to separate some of the closely rooted seedlings, but with gentle encouragement, teasing, and promises of greatness, they saw the light! A place of their own! I'm so excited! The sprouted seedlings were planted deep down below their cotyledon leaf and then gently watered in the greenhouse. Done for now. Back in two weeks.
Dear Diary: It's hard to believe another two weeks have passed. I am back to help with more transplanting - this time I was working with "Bloody Butcher". This tomato variety is quite large and has a long root system; so long, in fact, that it was recommended that we slightly bend up the roots in order to fit them in the new pots. Later in the day, I counted labels we removed from seedling pots that did not make it. "Wisconsin 55" was the worst with the most seedling failures. As a Milwaukee native, I took it little personally and was a bit disappointed.
Overall, Diary, this has been a great experience. I got to see former classmates and catch up, I learned the proper way to plant seeds and handle their resultant seedlings, and I especially enjoyed the community feeling while working in the garden. It was not only educational, but it was fun too!
Help and Advice from the Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
I've accumulated a considerable amount of wood ashes from the fireplace (or wood stove) over the winter, I've heard or read somewhere that wood ashes are good for the garden. Is this correct, and if so, how can I use wood ashes in the garden?
CCMG's Help Desk Response:
If you are thinking about using those wood ashes you have accumulated over the winter in your garden or compost pile, think again and proceed with caution. Generally, we don't recommend use of wood ashes in the garden and if used, only very limited quantities (e.g. 5 pounds per 100 sq ft once a year... and nowhere near seedlings or acid loving plants, e.g. azaleas, rhodedendrons).
Though many gardening books and websites encourage homeowners to add wood ashes to garden soil or compost, in Contra Costa County, there are several good reasons why doing this may not be advisable. Too many ashes can cause an excess of alkalinity and salinity. Most soils in Contra Costa County, and there are over 50 named series ranging from loamy sands to mucky clays, have a pH of 7.0 or greater. This is considered neutral (7.0) to alkaline (7+). Adding wood ashes which usually contain 25% calcium carbonate and as a result are very alkaline with a pH of 10 to 12, increases soil alkalinity which creates an adverse condition for growing plants. Many plants prefer a slightly acidic environment (<7.0) to absorb nutrients from the soil. When soil alkalinity increases and the pH rises, necessary minerals such as phosphorus, iron, boron, manganese, copper, zinc and potassium become chemically tied to the soil and are not available for plant use. In time, due to this change in the soil chemistry, plants will exhibit mineral deficiencies by producing abnormal leaves, stems and flowers. A common symptom of plants growing in alkaline soil is interveinal chlorosis, a yellowing of normally green tissue.
About 80 to 90 percent of the minerals in wood ash are water soluble. This means that when wetted these minerals wash out of the ash and into the soil in the form of salts, which are harmful to plants. This is especially true if ash is left in a lump as the leached salts are concentrated in one area. These salts typically contain less than 10% potash, 1% phosphate and trace amounts of micro-nutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc, but they can also contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, nickel and chromium, depending on the other material burned. Seedlings in particular are very sensitive to salt injury and their growth can be stunted and their foliage turn yellow. In broad leaf plants, necrosis (death and discoloration of tissue) and defoliation can occur. Excess salts can also cause medium to fine soils to lose their aggregated structure as soils become impervious to air and water. Also, if fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate, urea, or ammonium nitrate are combined with wood ash, they produce ammonia gas, a severe respiratory irritant detrimental to the health of the gardener.
For safety reasons, before disposing of wood ashes, wait until they and the hot coals buried under them are completely out and cold. This may take several days. You may need to pour cold water over the ashes. Do not transport or store ashes in plastic or paper bags. While working slowly and carefully, use a metal tool to scoop the ashes and a covered metal pail to remove them from a wood-burning stove or fireplace and store them away from flammable materials. Do not place cold ashes in the green re-cycling bin. Completely extinguished ashes can be disposed of in the trash bin and placed at curbside on garbage collection day.
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
(updated and edited version of CCMG article in CCTimes March 2010... we intend to update and publish some more of these articles; more articles such as the one above can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/Recent_Contra_Costa_Times_Articles/)
Note: The Contra Costa Master Gardener Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us//span>/span>
How Do You Decide in Only Five Minutes?
With nearly sixty heirloom tomato varieties in this year's Contra Costa Master Gardeners Great Tomato Plant Sale, where do you start? With so many one-of-a-kind heirloom tomatoes to choose from, how do you decide which variety to buy?
First, you need to decide which variety will grow well in your location. Do you live in cooler location in West Contra Costa? Or, in hot, dry East County? Do you have limited space and want to grow tomatoes that grow well in containers? Are you intrigued by some of the new varieties we are offering this year? Or, are you a dyed in-the-wool traditionalist and just want those large, juicy beefsteaks? Or, maybe you're a pasta fan and want a freezer-full of homemade pasta sauce next winter.
For a successful tomato plant that will produce lots of wonderful fruits throughout the season you need to think first about where you are planting it. Choose a variety that fits with your micro-climate and space requirements. Here are some varieties that fit the two major climate types in Contra Costa.;
For our Cooler Climes Buyers:
- Legend—blight-resistant, well- adapted to cooler climes, it will be the earliest-maturing slicer in your garden.
- Gold Nugget—developed at OSU–where else for cooler climes?—these ¾” golden cherries will mature in only 60 days, continue from early season ‘til frost and have a rich, sweet flavor.
- Sophie's Choice—in 65 days this slicer tomato is one of the earliest bearing varieties and produces large, flavorful fruits. It actually doesn't like heat.
- Stupice—a very cold-tolerant, disease-resistant and early tomato with delicious, 3-4 oz. fruits in clusters.
For Hot, Dry Climate Buyers, here are some varieties that need lots of heat:
- Boxcar Willie—10-to-16 oz. tomatoes with a rich, sweet flavor and just a touch of acid for tanginess.
- Hawaiian Pineapple—the name says it all, these large, yellow, 1-pound tomatoes are sweet and fruity.
- Kellogg's Breakfast—a classic, large orange beefsteak tomato weighing up to one pound.
- San Marzano Gigante—a prolific, classic pasta tomato with enormous, meaty fruits.
Now, there are other considerations when buying tomatoes. You'll want to think about what you want out of your tomato plant. Do you want a rich pasta sauce or a slicer for delicious BLTs or a ton of small cherries for the grandkids? To make your job a bit easier, we've made up a few shopping lists for different kinds of buyers: traditionalist, canning and sauce cooks, the avant-garde buyer and the gardener with little or no space. Here they are:
Traditionalist Buyers, here are some of our trusted and much-loved stand-bys:
- Bloody Butcher—with a name like that, you better be sensational and it is! High-yielding, dark red and delicious!
- Brandywine Pink—one of American Classics, some consider the best tasting tomato ever.
- Cherokee Purple—Pre-1890's heirloom with a delicious, old-timey flavor.
- Isis Candy—gorgeous bi-color cherry in heavy clusters, one of our personal favorites.
- Mortgage Lifter— the legendary large (1-2 pounds!), tasty beefsteak on very productive, disease-resistant plants.
- Sungold—positively luscious, apricot-orange cherries borne on beautiful, 15” long trusses. A visual eye-candy that you can actually eat in your garden!
- Amish Paste—one of the largest sauce tomatoes, excellent flavor and tolerates cooler climes.
- Opalka—a single tomato can make an entire rich tomato sauce, so meaty is its flesh.
- Pompeii—very productive Italian plum tomato with rich, meaty flesh.
- San Marzano—the most famous Italian sauce tomato with a thick, dry, almost seedless flesh.
For avant-garde Buyers looking for a new variety, here are some of the “New in 2015” varieties:
- Baylor Paste—so abundant that you'll have a tough time just keeping up with picking this delicious paste tomato.
- Czech's Bush—masses of 4-8 oz. fruit clusters, coming on early and bearing long.
- Sun Sugar—fruity-tasting orange cherry tomatoes which produce in beautiful clusters on vigorous vines.
- Pomodoro Canestrino di Lucca—direct from Italy a classic pasta tomato that is also great in salads.
For our Buyers with a postage-stamp size yards, here are some varieties that you can squeeze in any sunny spot:
- Lizzano—ideal for hanging baskets and containers, a cherry with a non-stop harvest of 1” fruits, perfect for snacks and salads.
- Nebraska Wedding—the best thing to come out of Nebraska since Dick Cavett, these 3-4” slicers are juicy with a well-balanced flavor.
- Red Robin—a lovely dwarf cherry that can even be grown indoors on a sunny windowsill.
- Superbush—bred specifically for small spaces, this tomato still has a big, old-fashioned tomato flavor.
Still having a hard time deciding? So many possibilities! Well, we'll have lots of knowledgeable Master Gardeners all-day at all of our Great Tomato Plant Sales to help you with your selections. We want to make sure that you take home tomato plants that will thrive in your garden and will also meet your personal preferences. There's literally something for everyone. For your convenience, we also have online shopping lists for you to mark up and bring to the Sale.
Visit our website at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/EdibleGardening/GreatTomatoPlantSale/.
See you at the Sale!
- Author: MaryJo Smith
You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto,
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
Lets call the whole thing off!
(Lyrics by George/Ira Gershwin)
Last year was the first year I grew potatoes. I was a little apprehensive about doing so, because I was concerned about verticillium wilt and blight, which could wreck my soil for future planting of other crops. I'm glad I didn't let my concerns stop me and call the whole thing off.
I decided to go ahead and plant potatoes, but instead of growing them in the ground, to allay my fears, I opted to grow my potatoes in a grow bag. The bags can be found in brick and mortar nurseries, but I ordered mine online. By doing so, I was able to choose colors and sizes.
The advantages of using a grow bag are:
- The bag provided me with the ability to move my crop around my garden;
- It allowed for good drainage while also preventing the roots from becoming root bound;
- It's easier to harvest the potatoes;
- I can control where the potatoes grow; and
- Growing in a bag prevented verticillium wilt from possibly contaminating into my soil.
When the leaves turned yellow and died back, that was the indicator to start checking for potatoes. Here is the first picking:
There were still smaller potatoes growing on the plants, which I let continue to grow and later harvested. I was so excited with my small success, and plan on adding two more grow bags for my planting this year.
Next up, the when, where and the how. . .