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Carnivorous Figs: The Relationship Between Wasps and Figs

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!

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Daily Life For Master Gardeners

Light Brown Apple Moth

By Andrea Peck

 

The news is full of bug sightings. Perhaps they are taking a summer vacation or perhaps we're getting better at trapping them. I've spotted my own – but I'll talk about that next week. Mine are bigger, furrier and accessorized with tails. The memories are still too painful and fresh. No, this week we will have to resign ourselves to a few small but devastating wranglers that seem to be on a roll here in San Luis Obispo County. I'm not going to talk about the single Asian citrus psyllid which was discovered cooling its heels in Cayucos recently (look to last week's post for information on that pest). This week I set my sights on a certain party of three light brown apple moths (Epiphyas postvittana) who were found and busted in Arroyo Grande. 

The light brown apple moth (LBAM) is a humble creature that is native to Australia. Despite its unimpressive appearance, this beast feeds on a wide range of plant species. During its caterpillar stage, it eats everything. Maybe it's myopic. Maybe it's just confused. These are possibilities. But, remember, this bugger is from Australia, where the men are brawny and the bugs are opportunists.  It's like the goat that started chewing on my green dress when I visited the zoo as a child. You might question its proclivities, but the reactive among us don't ask why, we just run.

The LBAM is a stealth rapscallion that varies in appearance and is difficult to identify. In fact, the only sure way to know that you have an LBAM is by inspecting its reproductive organs. In Australia the moth is considered a major pest of apples, oranges, pears and grapes. The term ‘apple moth' is deceptive, however. They prey on apples, but are polyphagous, meaning they dine on a wide variety of crops, plants and ornamentals. The LBAM prefers cooler climates with low rainfall and high humidity. Hot environments lower their survival rates and quell breeding. The LBAM is part of the leafroller family (Tortricidae). This family is distinguished by its ability to roll a leaf, sleeping-bag style, around its larvae, secure it with webbing, and then eat the leaf without leaving its cozy confines.

White or light green eggs are laid by adult moths and are typically found in masses of 20 to 50, but up to 170 eggs in a mass have been found. Eggs appear shingle-like or similar to the scales of a fish.

The caterpillar is medium green in color with whitish appearing hairs. The head is a yellow-brown. It is this stage of growth that the LBAM is most damaging.

Baciillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Bt) is one method of control. Others include: spinosad (Entrust and Success), spinetoram (Radiant), methoxyfenozide (Intrepid), tebufenozide (Confirm). Some organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates are reported to control LBAM. Pheromone mating disruption may be successful with chronic problems.  Where some damage can be tolerated, biological control, such as parasitoids may lower populations.

 

Currently there is a 9-mile quarantine area surrounding the homing location of the detected moths in Arroyo Grande. Management efforts continue extensively throughout the state.

 

 

 

Posted on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 8:45 PM

Tomato Extravaganza!!!

Tomato Extravaganza Is Coming!!

 

 
 
 

That's right! The UCCE San Luis Obispo Master Gardeners are holding their annual Tomato Extravaganza, Saturday September 6th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Come join us for a day of education and fun in our beautiful Garden Of The Seven Sisters.

 

Attend guest lectures.........

 

 
 
 
 
Enjoy our tomato and basil tasting.............
 
 
 
 

 

 

And as always meet many of our friendly and knowledgeable Master Gardeners!

 

 

 

 

So come on out and enjoy a day of sunshine, tasting, information, and fun. We look forward to seeing you in the garden! 

 

The Garden Of The Seven Sisters is located at 2156 Sierra Way, SLO.

 

 

Posted on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 7:35 PM

Caffeinating the Garden: Use Caution with Coffee in the Garden

Help for the Gardener from the
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk

Description of Client's Question:

A client wrote in saying that he had read some advice about using coffee grounds as a fertilizer. The advice apparently also noted that coffee grounds would be a deterrent to gophers and moles. About two years ago, the client applied about 500 pounds of coffee grounds in a small area, but stopped when his lawn and some native plants started to die. (But the client did note that the coffee grounds got rid of the gophers!).

The client said that even after he ceased using coffee grounds, the plants have not recovered and the lawn still looks dead. He thought that perhaps the soil had become too acidic and perhaps gypsum could be added to remedy the problem.

 

Here's the advice that Master Gardeners gave the client:

Soil acidity isn't the reason why nothing is able to grow in the areas where you applied coffee grounds, nitrogen depletion is. In fact, coffee grounds don't cause soils to become acidic. The acidity in coffee is water soluble and the acidity in the beans ends up in the coffee when the ground beans are brewed.

Oregon State University recently conducted a study on garden use of coffee grounds (http://extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/sites/default/files/documents/cffee07.pdf ). OSU found that large amounts of coffee grounds stimulate the development of soil microorganisms which in turn use the nitrogen in your soil to process the coffee grounds. The study also states that acidity of the resulting soil is not the major issue, but nitrogen depletion of the soil is a major concern.

I would try using a good organic nitrogen fertilizer and applying it to the area where growth has ceased. The organic fertilizers are slow release and will not burn your lawn or surrounding plants. It may take repeated applications over time to adjust the soil composition. If you have bare ground that is affected, you could also try covering the area with compost or leaves and let the natural composting process help to balance your soil.


Editor's Note: Each month the CCMG Help Desk's Quality Assurance Team selects responses to county residents' Help Desk questions that produced informative responses that are either unique or unusual, or provided updated information that would be informative to all gardeners, or are of general interest, especially of seasonal concerns. We are highlighting these responses in the HortCOCO blog so all interested Master Gardeners and the public may utilize the information.

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.  We can also be reached via telephone:  (925) 646-6586, email: ccmg@ucanr.edu, and we are on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/

 

Posted on Monday, August 25, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Garden Travels: UC Santa Cruz Farm = Sustainability

Travels with Teresa: A Trip to UC Santa Cruz's Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems

I am one of the newbie Master Gardeners, Class of 2014.  I have found a way to incorporate my gardening interest into travels with my husband.  Together, we choose sites to visit and create a win-win situation including trains, aquariums, nurseries, gardens, goat farms and so on.

Earlier this summer we traveled to Santa Cruz.  Our main stop was to the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) campus.  CASFS manages the internationally recognized UCSC Farm.  We spent a couple of hours on a self-guided tour of the "Farm".

The UCSC Farm - Where they grow farmers!

CASFS'S Mission is:  "To research, develop, and advance sustainable food and agricultural systems that are environmentally sound, economically viable, socially responsible, non-exploitative, and that serve as a foundation for future generations."

Healthy gardens and communities, sound familiar?

The farm is located on 30 acres near the entry to the campus.  This is where they grow farmers!  Apprentices work for six months to learn hands-on organic gardening and farming.  Topics taught include:  soil management, composting, pest control, crop planning, irrigation, farm equipment, marketing techniques, and Community Supported Agriculture.

2014-04-10 11.54.26

 The Tour

It was between terms so the campus and Center were quiet.  A few staff members were busy in the green house potting up plants and were happy to answer questions.  We strolled on our own through the barn which had a bat box mounted near the roof.  The cable structure supporting the kiwi vines (I learned kiwis grow on large vines and not trees) was impressive and somehow included an owl box.  I recalled a Wednesday morning at the Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Our Garden sitting under the oak tree; the topic was pest management and I shared the info with my hubby.

The Farm's greenhouses were modern, complete with an electric compost tea tank.  I didn't ask about that and remain curious about the controversy over using compost tea (feel free to post a comment with your thoughts on the subject).  The packing shed for their CSA program was well stocked with boxes.  We also inspected the herb garden, orchards and strawberry fields.  Part of the acreage includes 10 acres of tractor-cultivated field.  I loved the orange Kubota tractor and jumped in the seat for a photo op.

These tent cabins were near the strawberry fields.  They were empty so I was anxious to peek in the windows since I lived in a tent cabin while working in Yosemite one summer.  Simple living.  We strolled past a few yurts and a solar shower.  The apprentice-built Farm Center is used for meals and socializing.  The apprentices receive a full living and working experience. 

 
My favorite area at the Farm was the children's educational event section.  I saw my first human sundial designed with everything in place, save for the human, which I supplied.  The art and signage are so clever and well done.  This is where you will find the chickens, worms, compost and the "Pizza Bed".  I marveled at the pint-sized kitchen stocked with pots and pans for making dough and sauce for the pizzas.  Now you know what the pizza bed is for. 
 
 
There was so much to see we made a return visit and enjoyed seeing the change in growth from April to June.
 
For more information about the CASFS Farm at UC Santa Cruz, go to: http://casfs.ucsc.edu
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If you are interest is piqued and would like to see a demonstration garden a little closer to home, be sure to attend our own Contra Costa Master Gardener's 2nd Annual Sustainability Fair. The Sustainability Fair is free to the public, and will be held Saturday, September 6, from 10:00-3:00 at Our Garden, in Walnut Creek. The Sustainability Fair will be fun for the whole family - with a children's tent, plant sales and a day of presentations and demonstrations. We will even have food trucks this year!

For more information, including the schedule of presentations and demonstrations, please visit the Sustainability Fair's website: http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/SustainabilityFair/

Posted on Friday, August 22, 2014 at 12:23 PM

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