- Author: Betty Homer
'I am a self-described lazy gardener who is always looking for edible plants which require little work but yield a delicious and fruitful harvest. Beauty is a welcomed bonus. One such variety of plant that I am growing is the artichoke, which grows quite well in Solano County, even though artichokes are usually found growing close to the coast (e.g., Monterey County). I currently grow 4 varieties of artichokes—the prolific 'Green Globe' which is commonly found in supermarkets, a beautiful, new-ish purplish variety called 'Opera', a smaller, Italian variety dating back hundreds of years known as 'Violetta Precoce', and the one that is the subject of this blog entry--Artichoke 'Carciofo Romanesco' aka the Artichoke of Rome.
I first became intrigued with 'Carciofo Romanesco' after I had learned that it had been in cultivation since the year 1400. It does not get much more sustainable than that. Think--the plant that could be in your garden, is the same one that someone else was cultivating approximately 615 years ago and that both of you are tasting the fruit fo the exact same plant! Remarkable--talk about living history.
From a practical standpoint, 'Carciofo Romanesco' is great in that unlike other varieties of artichokes (e.g., the other three types I grow) 'Carciofo Romanesco' is thorn-free. It is equally delicious as other artichokes and contains a large, nutty flavored “heart” that is "fuzz-free." Also, like other artichokes, 'Carciofo Romanesco' is a perennial which comes back each year to produce a reliable harvest of food.
'Carciofo Romanesco' is also handsome plant to look at, with silverish-green leaves and large globe-like buds streaked with purple. It is a plant that can be incorporated into flower beds to provide as a backdrop or to be at the center of attention. Also, the artichoke bud, which is the flower of the plant, is a huge attraction for our beleaguered bee population which can always use more help.
Artichokes are easy plants to grow in Solano County, but beware they do get big. Really big. As such, you should set aside a space where you have at least 3' in circumference, in an unsheltered, sunny spot with rich soil. Once the plant is established (beware that slugs and snails love devouring young artichoke plants--just pick them off), like other artichokes, 'Carciofo Romanesco' requires little up-keep.
For places to purchase 'Carciofo Romanesco', your best bet may be looking on-line for a source. Locally, I purchased my 'Carciofo Romanesco' from Annie's Annuals in Richmond, California.
- Author: Marian I Chmieleski
Walking out into the yard this morning was a sensual experience. The 'Eureka' lemon is dropping blossom petals like rain and the perfume wafts across the yard on a gentle breeze. The lilac (Syringa) adds its perfume and graceful blossoms, the floribunda roses (Rosa 'Iceberg') are budding, the Gerber daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) are smiling happily at me and the Freesias bow down as I pass.
The impetus for my walk this morning was to check those roses, which have attracted a bumper crop of aphids. I can't quite hear their munching and sucking, but I can see that they are at work trying to reshape my nascent blossoms. I wanted to see if my friends the lady beetles/lady bugs (family Coccinellidae) had arrived to begin their work. They have not. But I know that within the week they should be making their appearance along with the hover flies/syrphid flies (order Diptera) and perhaps a few green lacewings (Chrysoperla rufilabris), which, by the way, I have already seen inside the house.
All of the aforementioned critters will be delighted to dine on my aphids and yours. Can you recognize them all? I'm sure you know the lady beetles with their red spotted backs, but perhaps you haven't met the hover flies. They can look a bit like little bees with the yellow, black or white bands on their bodies. They are not bees, however, and they do not sting. They dart quickly from flower to flower, hovering in between like little helicopters, even at times flying backwards--one of only a few insects able to do so. The eggs they lay on around your flowers will become little maggots (green, yellow, brown, white or orange) that rise up on their hind legs to catch and eat aphids, mealybugs and others. And right along with them, both the green lacewings and the brown lacewings also lay tiny silken eggs that in their larval stage will feast on aphids. The lacewings have a very slender body about half-an-inch in length. Their transparent wings look like they might belong to a fairy. All these are very good workers to have in your garden!
There is one crew that is already madly at work at my house. That was the music I heard this morning. As mentioned, the lemon tree is in full production, and a critical part of that process is handled by the bees. They are swooping around, investigating every branch, crawling into open blossoms to sip the nectar and retrieve the pollen, which they will share with the other flowers into which they crawl doing their pollination dance. Because of them I have a tree full of lemons ripening for my lemonade, lemon water and lemon pies. Lovely.
In conclusion, I remind us all that these beneficial insects need our cooperation to continue in their work. They clean up our garden and make it possible for us to enjoy food crops that without their pollination would never bear fruit. Please include in your garden a little source of fresh water and avoid the use of pesticides. In my garden I have found that Nature balances everything out and a few misshapen roses are a small price to pay for the knowledge that the yard is clean and chemical-free for all to enjoy.
- Author: Patricia Brantley
I admit it. I'm a hacker. If there is something that I think can be made to be used in an easier way or a cheaper way, I'm in. I've hacked my t.v. remote so that the DVR button that used to jump 5 minutes ahead at a time now just goes forward 30 seconds, the time of an average commercial. I've hacked my spray jet mop so that I can use my own floor cleaner at pennies on the dollar so I'm not paying $5 a bottle. There is nothing illegal about my hacks. In fact, they are quite fun and make me feel quite rogue. So for my next series of blogs I'll be writing my garden hacks. All tried by my own experimentation and testing.
My first hack started out of the necessity to deter a persistent snail from continuing to munch on my lovely little Abutilon I keep in a large terra cotta pot, on a deck, off the ground. I at first didn't think it was a snail. Even sent pictures in to ask “What do you think is doing this?”
I thought it was a leaf miner, or a disease, or a flowering maple eating feral cat. But, one night after reviewing our video camera footage from that area of the house, I found it to be a snail. While fast-forwarding through the video one morning (I was actually looking for a skunk) I watched as this little shell crept out from underneath the deck, went STRAIGHT across the deck, up the side of the large terra cotta pot, ate his fill and then retraced his slimy “footprint” EXACTLY back under the deck right before sun up! Aargh!
Knowing that they sell those copper strips to put around plants instead of chemicals. I was eager to give that a try…until I saw how much 10 feet cost in the garden center! The big box store wanted $10 for 15 feet, the smaller hardware stores waned more. What to do…what to do? Then I remembered copper pipes from my irrigation class out at the college. What do you use to hold those to the underside or in the walls of your house? Copper strapping! Bingo! 10 feet, $4.97 at this store. And works like a dream.
Snip, with tin snips, or just bend a section back and forth and back and forth until it wears out and breaks (all though that takes a while). Wrap it around the base of your plant. I made a circle around the base of my young tree about 3 inches in diameter and about 1” away from the trunk. You could be really technical and solder or bolt it together through the holes but there really is no need.
I'm happy to report, that sinister little devil snail has left it alone and my maple is now recuperating nicely. Score one for the rogue garden warrior!
- Author: Mike Gunther
Gary and John are sadly missed
Life and nature rest
- Author: Diana Bryggman
Ever wondered about the importance of using botanical names to describe a plant? All three of the names above are acceptable variations of the native wildflower, Wyethia mollis. Seems enough of a reason to me to stick with the botanical name!
You have probably seen these herbaceous perennials in a Sierra meadow in June or July, a mass of yellow flowers cradled by huge green oval leaves. Much to my surprise a few are gallantly growing on a steep hillside near my home, flowering NOW in March, inspiring me to do a bit of research on them. I knew them as “Mules Ears”, having forgotten the “Woolly” part of the name. When I began to investigate, I found that there are several species native to different western states: Arizona, Utah and Colorado each has its own species.
California's version of Wyethia, Wyethia mollis, grows on both sides of the Sierra Nevada, from Fresno County north to Southeast Oregon. It is a member of the Asteraceae family and seems to thrive in rocky soil between trees, just as I found it on the Green Valley hillside. Research indicates it grows in the upper chapparal landscape, forest, juniper or sagebrush landscapes. In other words, it is widely distributed across the Northern California foothills and mountains.
The committed native gardener will be glad to know it is being commercially propagated by at least one nursery in California, and in the garden I imagine it would look a bit like its Asteraceae cousin, Gaillardia, but one whose leaves have been treated with steroids. It provides erosion control in the wild, thanks to its tough taproot. When I see it in a nursery, I intend to give some a try, so that, with any luck, my front yard will echo the native landscape just across the street.