- Author: Stan Zervas
Back in the end of October I planted my winter garden plot at the Avant Community Garden in downtown Benicia. Since I was a little late to the game I planted transplants of broccoli, collard greens, lettuce, Swiss chard, and direct seeded carrots and beets. I battled the slugs and weeds all winter and have eaten most of what was planted. I still have a few beets, carrots and Swiss chard to finish off before I can amend the soil and plant my spring/summer garden.
For broccoli this year I chose 'Green Comet'; (Brassica oleracea var. capitate) It is an early variety of broccoli that is known for producing numerous side shoots later in the season. As advertised I got nice moderate-sized heads of broccoli. And then it seems after every warm and wet period the plants produced a flush of small side shoots. I think I harvested 3 times. We will see if I can squeeze another round out of these plants, I bet I can get more if I control my urge to pull them out and plant warm-season veggies. Like most gardeners I tend to jump the gun and plant the summer garden too soon!
Benicia Community Gardens is now part of Sustainable Solano, more info about all their programs is at www.sustainablesolano.org
- Author: Launa Herrmann
Every gardener knows fauna comes with the flora. Depending upon where you live and the size of your garden, the wildlife population can vary. Over the years I have encountered many critters inhabiting my gardens — possums, raccoons, skunks, deer, along with more reptiles than I care to recall, and numerous birds. Generally, the wildlife in my backyard serenely blends with the foliage. Occasionally, one will prey on the other. And sometimes during car trips and walks I've witnessed the squished remains of these roadway victims.
Last year, while dodging a flock of wild turkeys strutting across a street, I light-heartedly joked with my grandson that they were heading for a nearby sandwich shop. Only recently after perusing an intriguing news article did I learn that “flattened fauna” is now purposely sought out and collected by retired scientists and dedicated hobbyists — and for good reason.
It seems that both fresh roadkill and decayed carcasses are forensic tools used in the study of traffic and migration patterns, habitats and genetics. Even the remains of a gopher snake aren't exempt from scrutiny but used to document this reptile's dietary changes in urban areas.
Frankly, I'm taking a second glance at the wildlife running amok in my backyard. I plan to think twice the next time I chase away that marauder that mangles my flower bed and the thief that strips bare the fruit tree. As I watch them scramble up the fence, I'll still mourn my harvest losses and hope like crazy that they can beat the traffic on the other side.
For more information on roadkill, visit www.wildlifecrossing.net/california — an online repository for the California Roadkill Observation System. Also, check out the Wall Street Journal article, “Roadkill: It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore,” A-1, January 17, 2017.
- Author: Michelle Davis
I just caught sight of my first lupine for this spring. It barely stood out from all the tall grasses shooting up around it. But there it was with its palmate leaves, hairy pods and of course, the beautiful purple flower spikes. Lupine is one of my favorite springtime wildflowers.
About three hundred types of this pea-type plant exist throughout the world. They are considered native to the Western and the Southern United States, Canada, Mediterranean countries and Africa but have now naturalized throughout most of our country and Europe.
Texans recognize it by the name “Bluebonnets”, a name given to them because they resemble hoods or bonnets. Wild lupines are usually purple, while cultivated lupines can produce white, yellow, pink, red and blue flowers. Plants can be anywhere from 1 foot to 5 feet tall, and blooms can last up to 4 weeks. They are biennial or perennial.
If you choose to have them in your garden, you will most likely need to grow them from seed. They do not transplant well due to the fragility of their long taproots. They like sunny spots with well-draining soil. In the wild, you can usually find them where the soil has been disturbed, say by road construction or grazing. Lupine seeds will germinate better with scarification. Nick the seeds with a knife or use sandpaper to scrape a small area of the seed. Alternatively, the seeds can be soaked in 180-degree water to break dormancy. Nature takes care of scarification by the sandy or gritty or gravelly areas that these plants are usually found. If planted in the summer and given irrigation, lupine will produce blooms and seeds the following spring. If planted in the fall, whether or not given irrigation, blooms and seeds often won't appear until the second year.
Lupine is a food source for hummingbirds, bumblebees, beneficial insects and butterflies providing pollen and nectar. Endangered Karner blue butterflies rely on wild blue lupine for its leaves which are the sole food for their caterpillars. Deer also will eat the leaves. The seeds are consumed by birds and small mammals. The plant provides cover for rabbits and birds.
Lupinus densiflorus var. aureus 'Ed Gedling' is the official flower for the city of Davis. It can be found in the springtime near the Interstate 80 entrance to the UC Davis campus. It has golden yellow blooms and is drought-tolerant. It is also a California native plant and pairs beautifully with California poppies, ceanothus and wild lupine.
The name “lupine” comes from the word lupinus which refers to wolves. It was originally thought that the plant scarfed down all the nutrients from the soil where it was growing. Lupines do like to grow in poor soil, but they definitely don't make the soil any worse than it already was. Later on this springtime beauty was absolved of blame, when it was discovered that, like most pea-type plants, lupines actually give nitrogen back to the soil.
- Author: Tina Saravia
On my recent trip to the Philippines, my brother asked me what I would like to do the most - visit a garden, of course, the Makiling Botanic Gardens, at the foot of Mt. Makiling, inside the campus of The University of the Philippines in the town of Los Baños, about an hour south of where he lives. He said he'll take me there.
It's good to note that my businessman brother is a good sport. Years ago, I was volunteering at Fort Funston in San Francisco. He joined me in collecting native seeds in the rains, sloshing in his expensive tennis shoes. I had no doubt he would tolerate this, as well.
The drive was very pleasant. I saw a lot of tropical plants we would not see here on the roadside and some we could only find indoors. As we got closer and started climbing the mountain, I noticed some "fog" at the top of the mountain. It must be cold up there - wrong. It was rain clouds; we found out about 10 minutes later when we got there. But it didn't detract us from hiking up and down the trails.
I don't remember what I was expecting but it sure was not like any botanical gardens I've visited. It was almost deserted, possibly because of the rain and the fact that it was the middle of the week. Like any botanical garden, the plants were nicely and clearly labeled with very good information, but it was certainly different. It was a tropical forest - with towering trees, bamboos, palms; humongous leaves of plants we typically find in homes and offices in this country and a lot of endemic plants only found in the area.
I very much enjoyed learning about new plants and seeing familiar plants in their native habitat. It was very much worth enduring the heat and humidity of the tropics. It was a gardener's paradise.
- Author: Sharon L. Rico
Many years ago, my husband and I went to the Napa Town and Country Fair. A vendor had a table display of miniature trees in shallow containers. Some were pruned into interesting shapes or wired to mimic windswept trees in nature. I had seen bonsai displays before and thought they were “interesting”. This display was intriguing because of the variety of plants, the unusual containers and the Asian miniatures placed in several small garden settings below the plant.
I found there was a Bonsai Club in Napa that welcomed novices to their meetings. They encouraged you to come and learn from the Masters. Members brought their own Bonsai plants and were coached on how to prune, wire and care for their miniature plants. I attended a meeting and met Steve, a firefighter, who was a bonsai instructor and lived in Vacaville. I had been given a bonsai, which consisted of three Gingko trees in a shallow blue container. Not knowing how to care for these tiny trees, I contacted Steve. He arrived at my home with his “tools”, wire and an assortment of bonsai paraphernalia. He placed bendable wire on each tree explaining the wire would guide the shape of each tree. He talked about repotting and the need to do this every 2-3 years.
Bonsai means, “tree in a tray” or “shallow pot”. It also refers to the art of training the tree to grow in a particular direction, like they would in nature. Bonsai need to be kept outdoors. They need daily attention (misting). There are four sizes of bonsai, which are miniatures, small, medium and large. Miniatures grow up to 2 inches; small to 6 inches; medium to 12 inches and anything taller are considered large. My Gingko trees were considered medium.
Centuries ago the Chinese started creating miniature landscapes. The Japanese overtook the Chinese with their mastery of this art. A great place to view amazing bonsai plants is at the San Francisco Flower Show in San Mateo. Several club members bring their ancient plants that have been passed down from generation to generation. You occasionally will see one or two that are in the 300 year old range.
I would like to encourage you (if you are interested) in creating these amazing trees for yourself. Bonsai is for everyone, from children to seniors and even those who are not mobile. Care and maintenance can be accomplished without needing to bend or kneel. Bonsai clubs are willing to help and guide you. The local libraries have books on the art of bonsai. Small trees or even seedlings are available at nurseries, plant exchanges or possibly your own garden. It's not difficult, so start planning today to learn more and create your own bonsai.
Napa Bonsai Club meets at the Napa Senior Center on Jefferson Street the first Saturday of the month from 10am to 2pm. Question? Contact John Holt @ (707)312-0887.