- Author: Shannon Wolfe
I love this time of year. Fall is just around the corner, and these shoulder seasons at the farmer's market are always a great time to buy a variety of fruits and vegetables. Nothing says fall to me like apples. Yes, I also love the falling leaves and pumpkins and the excitement in the neighborhood as Halloween approaches, but apples will always be the first signal of fall's approach for me. Well, apples and my birthday (which is on the fall equinox).
While a couple of my tomato plants and my strawberries are still producing, my baby apple tree (only planted a couple years ago) has already given me some tasty apples. At the farmer's markets you can get anything from watermelon and peppers to brussels sprouts (did you know the proper spelling is, in fact, "brussels sprouts," not "brussel sprouts," as the tiny cabbages are named after the city Brussels? You can learn a bit more on that topic here) to yes, you guessed it, apples.
In the United States around 2,500 varieties of apples can be grown, but only 100 of those varieties are produced commercially - so keep an eye out for some new varieties at your local farmer's markets. If 2,500 seems like a lot of types of apples you should know that throughout the world over 7,500 varieties of apples are grown! If you are interested in some more facts about apples, check out this website from the University of Illinois Extension.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to be on the East Coast during fall, and was taken by some friends to an apple orchard in Pennsylvania where we got to do our own picking. Needless to say our suitcases came home full of as many apples as we could fit. We also indulged in amazing apple cider, and apple cider donuts! If you ever get the chance to pick your own apples, I highly recommend it. Just be careful how crazy you go out in the orchard, because most orchards have a "you pick it, you bought it" rule!
Help for the Home Gardener from the
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
The client has put a lot of veggie pulp in their compost bin. They have also added a lot of orange peels. This has attracted a large number of fruit flies. The client has covered the compost with about six inches of pine needles and leaves but this has not gotten rid of the fruit flies. The client wants to know what more can be done.
Master Gardener Response:
These flies are not harmful, but can be quite a nuisance when you get clouds of them in your face on lifting the lid of the bin! Very often, even a well-managed bin will have a few of these creatures. One way to minimize them would be to build the pile all at once, then turn frequently so the process runs hotter. The compost will generate heat which will kill or reduce the numbers of fly maggots. Here is a UC link which explains this process. http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8037.pdf. You can also save your kitchen scraps in the freezer until you are ready to add them.
If regular turning of the bin is not something you want to do, you could start by protecting the kitchen waste container from flies, as they can lay their eggs there which are then transferred to the compost bin. One helpful tip is to line the waste container with newspaper. When you take the scraps out to the compost, wrap them up completely in the paper and bury them under the surface of the bin. Don't add a lot of pulp material at once, especially citrus, as this is more likely to attract the flies. Pine needles are fine in the compost, but I would be wary of adding large quantities, as they are quite acidic.
I would also advise checking the moisture level of your bin. If the compost is too wet, the flies are more likely to be attracted to the rotting material. If this is the case, you should add more browns such as shredded leaves, cardboard or newspaper.
I hope that this information will help you with your fruit fly problem. If you would like any further information on composting in general, or on worm bins, please do not hesitate to contact us again.
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
Editor's Note: The CCMG Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. (map) We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: email@example.com, and we are on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/. "Ask a Master Gardener" help tables are also present at many Farmers Markets as well as at the CCMG's "Our Garden" programs (map). See the CCMG web page for details/locations./span>/span>
- Author: MaryJo Smith
Every morning, I wander around my garden. Its quiet, and the heat of the day hasn't hit yet. The plants have been watered and I like the dewy, cool, smell of moist soil when it hits my nose. This is the time that I check the plants for any overnight pests, and look at how things are growing.
Tomato production is coming to an end; the Italian Heirloom and Juane Negib varieties purchased at the CCMG Annual Tomato Sale are spent, leaving only the Stupice cherry tomatoes to slowly ripen on the vines. In spite of nocturnal assailants helping themselves to my tomatoes, there was an ample harvest for the summer table, and for canning.
The eggplants, which up to this point, have been providing a small, but steady yield, are now heavy with fruit; too much to eat right now. They will be turned into Caponata or Ratatouille for wintertime noshing.
My green beans are still managing to produce, but the plants are growing tired. Now, I'm only getting a handful of beans every few days.
I finally cleared the zucchini plants from the bed this week. The powdery mildew popping up on the leaves was a telltale sign that the season was winding down. Had the mildew appeared earlier in the season, I would have treated the plants rather than pull them.
I probably could have coaxed a few more squashes from my plants, but I opted not to. The plants produced copious quantities of zucchini and, after making zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, chocolate-zucchini cupcakes, zucchini pasta, deep-fried zucchini, zucchini sticks, zucchini salads, zucchini [fill-in-the-blank], I gave zucchini to my neighbors and friends. Once I ran out of neighbors and friends who would take my zucchini, I blanched and froze the rest. I am ready to say good-bye to the zucchini plants.
I planted an artichoke this year, and it gave us about 6-7 chokes. I've let it go to flower now, and am enjoying the magnificent showy blooms.
The final harvest of the season was from the pear tree. Last year, one lone pear hung from the tree espaliered along my side fence. This year, just over three-dozen pears graced the trained branches; not bad, considering the reduced amount of watering done as a result of the drought. The last of the pears have been picked, chilled, and are now sitting on my counter to ripen.
There is an imperceptible shifting of seasons occurring in Central Contra Costa County. Although the days are still bright and hot, the sun rises a little bit later and sets a little bit earlier with each passing day. In fact, the garden is getting over one and a half hours less daylight than it did at the beginning of June. Like the shift of seasons, I too am shifting. My excitement over the emerging crops at the beginning of the season has been replaced with impatience as I wait for the few stragglers to finish.
As September begins, with shorter days and slowly dropping temperatures, I am ready to say good-bye to my warm season crops and move on to planning my winter garden. How fortunate that nature is so accommodating to my attention span.
Help for the Home Gardener from the
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
The client bought 8 different tomato plants from the CCMGs' "Great Tomato Plant Sale". They are withering and dying. The client had previously purchased tomato plants from Navlet's Nursery; she reported that those plants did pretty well. The client observed that the growing season last year and this year were quite different. Each plant was a different variety but each died in a similar way. The plants are in two raised beds, 4' x 8' x 12”. The plants were transplanted from the original containers into gallon pots for two weeks while the bed was being prepared. Each plant was mounded and a base formed around the plants. The tomatoes were watered twice per week, in addition the tomatoes were fed once. The plants did well at first and then one by one they withered and died. The client had recently read about black walnut trees affecting tomatoes adversely, and they wondered if Master Gardeners had more information on that issue. The client has two black walnut trees in close proximity to the raised beds. These trees are in the neighboring yard.
Master Gardener's Response:
The proximity of the black walnut trees to your yard could certainly be contributing to the distress of the tomatoes. However, if the black walnuts are the sole problem, it's hard to understand why you had better success with your tomatoes last year than you've experienced this year. So there may be some other factors at work. We'll first give you some information about how black walnuts affect tomatoes (and certain other plants) and then desccribe some other possible causes for the decline of your tomatoes.
Black Walnuts and Tomatoes: As you noted in your email, black walnut trees produce a substance (called juglone) that is toxic to some plants, including tomatoes. Most of the toxic chemicals accumulate within the drip line of the tree (the area measured from the trunk to the outer reaches of its branches), but some effects of the chemical can extend beyond the drip line to a distance of 50 to 80 feet from the tree. If your tomatoes were planted within the drip line of the walnut trees, the toxic effect of the juglone may be the cause of the decline of the tomatoes (or at least a contributing factor). If the trees are more distant from the tomatoes, it is less likely that juglone is the problem, unless the toxic substance has been introduced into your garden area in some other manner—for example, from the debris from the trees blowing into the garden area or composting tree debris and spreading it in the garden.
"Plants sensitive to juglone may be stunted, have yellow or brown, twisted leaves, exhibit wilting of some or all plant parts, and die over time. Often, the vascular (i.e., water-conducting) tissue of affected plants will be discolored. Symptoms may occur rapidly, even within a few days after sensitive species are transplanted into a walnut tree's root zone. Alternatively, some plants may survive for years near a young walnut tree, but will wilt and die as the tree increases in size."
You can find more information about black walnuts and how they affect tomatoes and other sensitive plants at the Wisconsin Cooperative Extension website cited above and in the Washington State University fact sheet at http://bit.ly/1mwaq3A
Other Possible Causes: If your tomatoes are outside the drip zone of the trees, and you aren't aware of other ways that the trees may have contaminated your garden area, you might want to consider other possible causes.
Given that you had better success last year with the tomatoes you purchased at Navlet's, the problem this year may be connected with the varieties of tomatoes you tried to grow. Most of the tomatoes sold at the CCMG tomato sale are heirloom variety tomatoes. The ones you purchased last year were likely hybrid varieties which are common in commercial nurseries. If successfully grown, heirloom tomatoes often give you a better flavor than many hybrid tomatoes. Also, if you save seeds from a heirloom variety, the seeds will produce the same variety of tomato plant while seeds saved from a hybrid will not reliably grow the same plant variety in future years. The downside is that many heirlooms have less disease resistance than hybrid tomatoes.
Some common plant diseases that affect non-resistant tomato varieties are caused by soil borne pathogens that build up over the years in the soil. To minimize the chances that such pathogens will be present, crop rotation is a must. If you planted your tomatoes in the same spot as last year, then such problems are more likely to occur. It is best to use at least a three-year crop rotation cycle and not plant tomatoes (or other members of the same plant family such as peppers, potatoes, and eggplant) more than two years consecutively in the same garden bed and not plant other solanaceae plants (egg plant, peppers, potatoes, etc.) in the other years.
If you plan to try growing tomatoes again in the same garden area, and you are unable to practice crop rotation, be sure you buy or grow tomatoes that have some disease resistance. As mentioned above, you are most likely to find disease resistance in hybrid varieties. The plant label or seed package of disease resistant varieties will be labeled with codes for the diseases for which some resistance exists. Here's a list of the Codes and the tomato disease represented by each of the code letters:
Tomato disease resistance codes:
|F||Fusarium Wilt||T||Tobacco Mosaic Virus|
|FF||Fusarium, races 1 and 2||St||Stemphylium
(Gray Leaf Spot)
races 1, 2, and 3
Most varieties will only be resistant to some of these diseases. Look particularly for resistance to verticillium and fusarium wilt which are common in our county. Nematodes can be a problem also. The UC publication at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/GARDEN/VEGES/tomato.html may possibly help you identify what disease could be affecting your tomatoes. Providing us with a sample and/or pictures would help us assist you.
If you suspect that soil borne diseases could have been the problem, perhaps next year you might try growing an heirloom tomato variety in a container, using a purchased soil mix which is unlikely to contain soil borne diseases. The purchased soil mixture in the container would also be unlikely to be contaminated with juglone, particularly if you position the container as far as possible away from the black walnut trees and keep any debris from the trees from falling into the container. If you decide to try growing a tomato in a container, use a container that is at least 16 inches deep. Cherry tomatoes or other varieties that produce smaller sized tomatoes usually do well in containers. “Determinate” varieties also do better than “indeterminate” varieties in containers. Look on the plant labels or seed packages to find determinate varieties. (We sell many determinate varieties at our annual tomato plant sale.)
Here's hoping that next year's varieties will prove fruitful and tasty tomatoes.
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
Editor's Note: The CCMG Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. (map) We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, and we are on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/. "Ask a Master Gardener" help tables are also present at many Farmers Markets as well as at the CCMG's "Our Garden" programs (map). See the CCMG web page for details/locations./span>
- Author: Shannon Wolfe
I learned a lot of new, interesting information during the Master Gardener program. One of the most interesting things that I learned, that I love to share with people, is that some figs could be considered carnivorous. Ok, maybe that is making things sound a little too much like "Little Shop of Horrors," but at the very least some of the figs you have eaten in your lifetime were not exactly vegan (yes, there is debate about this on internet forums).
As figs are starting to show up at local farmer's markets now, I thought this would be a great time to share this little tidbit with the blog, so that other people can use this information as fun garden party banter.
Around the world there are over 700 varieties of figs, but they all fall into four types:
Common: Common figs (such as the Brown Turkey) do not require pollination from another tree, or from a wasp. True to their name, common figs are most common in home gardens. Common figs are 100% vegan.
Caprifigs: Caprifigs produce small non-edible fruit (also called a male fruit because it contains male flowers). The purpose of the caprifig is to produce pollen that fertilizes the last two types of figs, Smyrna and San Pedro. The pollen produced by the caprifig is transported to the female fruit (which contains the female flowers) by the Blastophaga wasp.
Smyrna: Smyrna figs produce a large edible fruit, but the figs must be pollinated. If the figs are not pollinated they will shrivel and fall from the tree.
San Pedro: San Pedro figs produce two crops per season. The first crop, called the Breba, ripens in early spring on the previous season's growth and requires no pollination. The second crop, also called the main crop, happens later in summer, on the current season's growth, and requires pollination from a caprifig and Blastophaga wasp.
Now, a little more about the fig's friend, the Blastophaga wasp and how figs are pollinated. What we commonly think of as the fig "fruit" is actually an accumulation of tiny flowers all contained inside the "fruit." It is these flowers that need to be pollinated in Smyrna and San Pedro-type figs. The fruits produced by Smyrna and San Pedro-type figs have an opening on the end of the fruit, called the ostiole.
Female Blastophaga wasps will lay their eggs inside the male caprifigs. The male wasps emerge, wingless, from their eggs first and fertilize the female wasps before the females emerge from the flowers they were laid in. Most male Blastophaga die before exiting the fruit.
The female Blastophaga, thanks to her wings, can exit the caprifig to enter a female fruit where she will try to deposit her eggs. On her way out of the male caprifig she picks up pollen from the male flowers which she carries with her into the female fruit. Upon entering the female fruit her wings are ripped off. She has been tricked! Not only can she not lay her eggs in the female fruit (because the female flowers are not compatible with her egg-laying needs,) but she cannot escape! Thus, after pollinating the female fruit, the female Blastophaga dies inside the female fruit (yes, the edible fruit).
These tricky figs contain a specialized enzyme to break down the female Blastophaga wasp's body, but the moral of the story is that when you eat a Smyrna-type fig, or a late-harvest San Pedro-type fig, you are eating a carnivorous fruit!