Master Gardener News Blog
Winterizing Garden Tools
By Jackie Woods
With the winter months looming ahead and the cooler temperatures already upon us, gardeners everywhere may wonder “now what?” Before settling in for the winter with a stack of seed catalogs to drool over, why not first gather up all the garden tools for some much-needed TLC? There will be no better feeling come next spring than opening up the tool shed to find clean, sanitized, sharpened tools that are ready to go.
Dirt and contaminants left on tools can contribute to the spread of plant disease. The first step is to thoroughly scrub each tool with a wire brush or steel wool to remove caked-on dirt from all metal surfaces. (Safety first, folks! Please wear eye protection!) Using rough sandpaper will help remove rust spots. Once cleaned, disinfect tools. There are several different agents readily available that would do the job (bleach, alcohol, Lysol) each with their own pro's and con's. Washington State University researcher Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott conducted a study on disinfectants and found Lysol to be the least corrosive to the tools with bleach being the most corrosive.
Once the tools are clean, they are ready to be sharpened. A hand file, belt sander or table grinder would work well on the big stuff (hoes, shovels etc.) otherwise a whetstone could be used to obtain the desired sharp edge on pruners and other bladed tools. The final touch for clean tools is to lubricate all metal parts. Wipe on a thin layer of boiled linseed oil on metal surfaces as well as on wooden handles.
Ok, so now where to put these shining beauties? Hanging racks work wonders in keeping tools organized and up out of the way. This in turn keeps the tools from being piled up in a corner somewhere waiting to attack us when we go to grab one of them. Keep hand tools in garden totes or buckets and store all tools in a dry environment to prevent rusting.
To achieve a shed full of clean, sharp and organized garden tools would be a great accomplishment. To not lose one's mind in pools of sheer happiness over all the incoming seed catalogs would be another./span>
A Fungus Among Us
By Andrea Peck
Most of us love our cup of Joe, but did you realize what a hot commodity it is? Financially speaking, coffee is the most prized agricultural product in international trade. Of course, it's not hard to stop and see the caffeine—it's literally brewing worldwide. Globally, coffee is a huge economic force that runs through the veins of every country and quickens the pulse of the citizens therein. Knowing the sheer power of the coffee bean, it's hard to believe that a business that serves over a billion cups of coffee per day could be thwarted by a fungus. But, make no mistake; a couple of lowly fungi continue to loiter amongst the coffee plant foliage, wreaking havoc for farmers and those who rely on the coffee industry for their livelihood.
Coffee rust is a disorder caused by a fungus. It is common to the coffee plant, particularly Coffea arabica (Arabica coffee) and coffea canephora (robust coffee). There are two pathogens. Hemileia vastatrix, is found worldwide, while H. coffeicola is primarily located in western and central Africa (the higher and cooler regions). Both fungi thrive in rainy weather—the drip, drop of water feeds the fungus, allowing it to proliferate. Wind helps to spread the pathogen to nearby and even faraway, leaves and plants. Latin America is perhaps the hardest hit; however, Central America, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Ecuador also find themselves battling this pervasive disorder.
While farmer's toil in desperation, clipping overhanging branches, cutting down and replacing affected coffee plants, applying fungicide and fertilizing, researchers may have found a glimmer of hope in the convenient shape of a hole-punched circle. It seems that among fungi there are those who work in the name of Evil, and there are those who work for the Side-of-Good. This insight may provide a possible future solution.
Researchers decided to take a long look at fungi, which we all know takes a very patient and diligent person--so, bravo to them. Utilizing a simple hand-held paper punch, they took leaf samples from various coffee plants—some were infected with coffee rust, some were not. The samples, a ¼” diameter in size, showed remarkable diversity. Approximately 300 species of fungi were found in a sampling area, including about 15 types of fungal parasites that lived adjacent to or within the various fungi. Each coffee rust infected (hole-punched) leaf sample had up to 62 varieties of fungus, while the non-infected (hole-punched) samples had more— up to 69 varieties. But, it was the presence of the fungal parasites, called mycoparasites, that caught the researcher's attention. In particular, a well-known mycoparasite called white halo fungus which attacks insects, such as the coffee green bug and helps minimize coffee rust fungus.
It is possible that while taking a needed break at the watercooler, one researcher mentioned to another researcher how many fungi they had on their little hole-punched circle. This of course, led to fungi envy which Freud discusses extensively in his unpublished works. When the tiny, hygienic swords were laid to rest, the researchers may have seen the possible solution on the tip of their metaphorical noses. Could fungi fight fungi?
The answer, of course, is somewhere out in the future. Though the novelty of such a finding is ample reason to jump for joy, researchers caution that the practical use may present problems that require further study. Nevertheless, the discovery is eye-opening and one which could finally put the amped-up coffee rust disorder to bed.
I'll gladly drink a cup of coffee to that.
Water Efficient Landscape And Succulents
By Leonard Cicerello UCCE Master Gardener
At this Saturday's UC Master Gardener Program's Advice to Grow By workshop, we'll focus on creating a water efficient landscape plan with an emphasis on succulents.
The City of San Luis Obispo has published guidelines for irrigation efficiency for many different outdoor spaces including recreation areas, commercial operations, developer installed landscaping for single family homes, rehabilitated landscapes, and new construction landscapes for homeowners. Depending on the size of the new landscape, the homeowner may need to submit a landscape design plan that includes an irrigation plan, a soils management report, the grading design plan, and a storm water management plan. These reports must also include a plan for soil conditioning and show that runoff and erosion will be minimized. The bottom line is that water efficiency is a must at every level.
The UC Master Gardener Program recognizes the urgency of water efficiency and is working to provide homeowners with options and advice for developing a water wise landscape. Therefore, we turn to succulents. Succulents are extremely economical in their use of water. They are also very appealing because they come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. Plus, many have interesting and showy flowers.
If you're designing a new landscape to include succulents, plan to grade the area to minimize runoff and erosion. Design the irrigation to service groups of plants that add visual interest and have similar irrigation needs. Be sure to also include a drainage system to divert water appropriately to avoid potential problems.
Evaluate the amount of sun and shade that will be received in different areas of the landscape. If trees are planted, estimate the amount of shade the canopies will create. Be judicious if planting close to a home. Consider the amount of light and heat that will be reflected off of windows, eaves, and walkways.
These are just a few tips to get you started towards a water efficient landscape. Join the UC Master Gardeners at the Advice to Grow By workshop to learn more about succulents. The workshop will be on Saturday, November 21ST, at the Garden of the Seven Sisters, 2156 Sierra Way, in San Luis Obispo, from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm./span>
The Dreamy Orb Weaver
By Andrea Peck
Every year, around this time, we swear that we will take “garden walks” after dark. And every year, without fail, we are thwarted. It's not the dark or cold, nor rain or sleet. No, it's those big, fat orange spiders that assume Reign over the garden. They are there during the day, but right around twilight, as the borders of large structures, such as trees and fence posts, become blurred, the spiders step out from their home and lie in wait. We capitulate, allowing them charge, by running stealthily back indoors, wringing our hands and opting instead for hot chocolate.
The orb weaver spider is one large Marge. This year I noticed a light orange one just on the outskirts of our patio hanging from a tree. The round web is a dead giveaway. It is the sort of web you construct on your own as a Halloween decoration—round and symmetrically formed from the center. This particular spider has a little sideways slant going on probably because the tree she has latched onto is losing its leaves and has a scattering of branches. When I go out at night to listen for rats in the same tree, which in and of itself, is a real treat, I visit my spider. She seems to be getting larger by the minute. It's as if she is coming closer and closer. Perspective, you know. No matter how prepared I am to see her with my flashlight in hand, she shocks me a little bit, sending chills into the chilly air.
I am pretty sure my spider is a ‘she' because the female has a large, should I say, imposing, abdomen. Probably she is gravid, which I just learned is the term for “with young.” I suppose I should get ready for the arrival of little friendly orb weavers. The male tends to be darker, though the color can range a bit, from yellow to beige. My girl is orangey, somewhat strawberry blonde in color. No wonder she is in the family way-- in the spider world she is likely quite the catch. This morning she was nowhere to be found. I looked around with some determination, despite the fear that she may be in my hair and finally found her in the alcove of a leaf. She had handily used her spinning skills to create a purse-shaped bed for herself. I threw a thin stick onto the web, surprisingly it stuck and she darted out quick as a whip. Mean, of me, I know. I'm sure Karma will come find me later. That is how I discovered her home.
Of course, spiders are nocturnal, so while I was wondering “where do spiders go during the day,” the entire lot is sleeping. Survival of the species would take a turn for the worst if they slept in the center of their webs, like sitting ducks, in the middle of the day. Apparently, these spiders build a ‘signal web' which alerts them to prey while they are off snoozing—hence the spider's rapid response to the stick.
The following facts might pique your interest…
- Orb spiders eat their web daily and then build another.
- Spiders hatch from eggs. They look pretty much like tiny spiders, although their color may change as they grow. They shed their exoskeleton each time they grow.
- Orb spiders live longer in tropical environments—they don't tolerate freezing weather. In warm environments they live a year or a bit longer.
- Despite the fact that they have 8 eyes, they do not see well. They communicate through touch, web vibrations and chemical signals.
- These spiders are low on the food chain. Though they are useful as pest control in the garden, they are also heavily predated on by predatory and parasitic wasps, other spiders, birds, and beetles (beetles forage on the eggs).
- Charlotte, the spider in Charlotte's web, was an orb weaver spider.
By Nancy Hartwick UCCE Master Gardener
A lot of rainwater goes into storm drains and is wasted. Is there a way to save and use it? Tom, Morro Bay
An average roof collects 600 gallons of water for every inch of rainfall. That is a lot of water to waste. An easy to build collection system will allow you capture a substantial portion of that water for use on your property. The simplest scheme requires only downspouts to collect the water that runs off your roof. Water from the downspout should be directed onto a lawn or ornamental landscaped area, rain barrel, rain garden, or gravel areas that can accept the water.
If downspouts are not sending the water to a desired area, simply redirect it using downspout elbows and extensions. If your house doesn't have gutters, hang rain chains from the eaves to guide rain water to areas where you want it to collect.
If you want to store water for future use, use a rain barrel. The barrel or other large container can be new or used. If it is used, make sure it was not used to store toxic substances. You will need to install a tap near the bottom of the barrel to facilitate drainage.
Fit gutters with mesh to prevent leaves and other debris from blocking drainage. Install insect proof screens or flap valves at end of all pipes entering the tank and overflow outlets to exclude mosquitos and other pests.
Place the rain barrel on a level surface; build a platform if necessary. If the tank is not resting on pavement, spread pea gravel around it to prevent water from draining toward homes or other structures. Install a tap near the bottom of the barrel and you are ready to irrigate.
Reducing the amount of rainwater that enters storm drains helps prevent pollution of creeks and streambeds. By capturing water that may otherwise flow across polluted surfaces and pick up dirt, oil, and other contaminants before moving to our creeks, streams, and ocean, you will be protecting our diverse ecosystems .