Master Gardener News Blog
By Linda Lewis Griffith UCCE Master Gardener
Halloween may be the last thing on your mind. But it's not too early to get your pumpkins in the ground. Pumpkins come in a wide array of sizes, shapes and uses. Tiny Jack-be-Littles fit in the palm of your hand and are perfect for toddlers or seasonal displays. Big Max grows up to 135 pounds. Cinderella Pumpkins are unique French heirlooms that were cultivated by the Pilgrims and served at the second Thanksgiving dinner. Luminas are a ghostly white color; they have a delicious flavor and are excellent for pies. Pumpkins grow best in fertile soil that has been enriched with well-rotted compost and manure. Mound soil into small hills spaced 8 to 10 feet apart. Plant 4 to 5 seeds per hill. Thin to the 2 strongest plants when the seedlings are 3 inches high. Plants are spreading and vinelike with wiry, curly tendrils. They can grow to more than 20 feet. Their leaves are large and shaped like a maple leaf.
Pumpkins have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers don't produce fruit; they supply the pollen that fertilizes female flowers. Pollen must be transferred to the female flowers by bees for fruit to develop. Male flowers develop first and can be identified by their long slender stems. Female flowers have a very short stem and miniature fruit at the base of the flower.
Soil should be free from weeds and kept moist throughout the growing season. Avoid getting water on the leaves as it may lead to powdery mildew. You can monogram a pumpkin by scratching a name into the fruit before the shell is hardened (usually in late August or early September). The inscription will callus over and become more obvious as the fruit matures.
Pumpkins are ready for harvest in approximately 100 days. Smaller varieties mature slightly earlier. Larger ones may take up to 120 days.
Cut pumpkins from the vines carefully, leaving 3 or 4 inches of the stem attached; pumpkins without stems may not keep as well.
Asian Longhorned Beetle
By Andrea Peck
Out west, we have drought, but on the east coast, there is this giant beetle. I guess, giant is probably an overstatement, but the female does grow to 1.5” in length and that's before she puts on her antennae. The Asian longhorned beetle is native to China and Korea. As bugs often will, it found its way to America. Probably, the Founding Father Bug was a stowaway inside a box of inexpensive children's toys. The beetle is black and white and polished to a high sheen, not unlike a small child's toy. Actually, a little rugged child would probably be more interested in this live plaything than a toy. Of course, the parents of that rapscallion likely disposed of Mr. Original Beetle in their compost—only a bug's jump away from the backyard maple tree.
The reason this dressed-up beetle is newsworthy is because it has an insidious propensity for hole-boring. The beetle begins its descent into the tree through the bark, deep into the wood and finally rests inside the center or hardwood. It loves the maple tree, but will settle for a whole host of others, such as elm, willow, mountain ash, birch, poplar, katsura, mimosa, hackberry, London plane tree and horse chestnut. You can imagine how Mr. Shiny Pants is breaking down the maple syrup industry. According to a Youtube video I watched, the dime-sized holes can fit your average pen – they are that large, and dare I say, handy.
Unfortunately, trees with holes eventually become structurally unsound. If there is someone in the forest, the tree falls with a loud bang. If no one is there, it still falls.
The USDA is quite concerned. According to their estimation, 30% (1.2 billion trees) of the trees in the U.S. could be lost if this creature is not corralled. Because the bug hides deep within the confines of the tree, eradication can be difficult. This great thing about this beetle –for the beetle, that is—is that it can fly. In fact, when it is searching for a new host, it is capable of flying over 3,000 feet (1000 meters). Beetles in search of a new home sometimes hitch a ride in infested packing material and firewood. Yet, one more reason not to move firewood! Currently, three states, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio are actively fighting the bug, while surrounding states are considered high risk. According to the USDA, the entire U.S. is susceptible to invasion.
We are pretty far away from the hullaballoo, but if you see a spiffy-looking beetle, let the authorities know.
The Asian longhorned beetle travels, after all.
Family Day in the Garden
By Kim McCue UCCE Master Gardener
Get the entire family excited about the science of gardening at our Family Day in the Garden workshop! There will be fun activities and demonstrations from Master Gardeners, Master Food Preservers, and 4-H SLO Scientists designed to feed the curiosity of the young and young at heart.
Studies show that children who are involved with growing their own food are likely to eat more fruits and vegetables, and a larger variety of each, than kids who do not garden at home. Debra Haire-Joshu, Ph.D., director of Saint Louis University's (SLU) Obesity Prevention Center states, "Whether a food is homegrown makes a difference. Garden produce creates what we call a 'positive food environment.'" In fact, Haire-Joshu's SLU study found preschoolers were more than twice as likely to get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily than their non-gardening peers.
Good nutrition is only one of the many benefits of gardening as a family. Gardening offers many lessons. There's the science of working with plants, soil and water and seeing firsthand how the seasons, weather, pests and beneficial insects play a role in plant development. Kids learn responsibility by caring for living plants, and patience waiting for seeds, flowers, and produce to develop. A successful garden creates confidence, while unsatisfactory results can provide a lesson in coping with disappointment and then problem solving to search for better gardening techniques.
Getting the family into the garden also provides a healthy dose of exercise by working the major muscle groups. For example, 30 minutes of raking leaves typically burns 162 calories, weeding or mowing with a power mower burns 182 calories, turning a compost pile burns 250 calories, and double-digging your garden soil burns 344 calories.
Bring your family to the Master Gardeners' Garden of the Seven Sisters, 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo, at 10:00 a.m. to learn about bugs, conserving water, and the science behind growing a fantastic plant! Children must be accompanied by an adult and please remember to bring sunscreen and water.
By Andrea Peck
Does anyone out there know how to grow big, fat onions?
So, what's the secret? I go to the local hardware store or nursery and I buy the little red onion sets and boom, year after year I get green onion tops and plum-sized onions. This year I did it all – I dug up that soil so that it was loose and looser. The soil is nice, well-composted, rich and loamy. They have their own designated spot, which the dog was using as a latrine for a while, but is now completely blocked off by free-pile finds and a window screen. Their plot is the most revered section of my garden. And they end up little more than green onions. What gives?
I decided to do some onion sleuthing. It turns out that the type of onion you choose, and the time of planting are crucial. San Luis County does best with “short-day” onions. “Intermediate day” onions are also a possibility. Apparently, where you live, and more specifically, the length of your day, affects the growth of the onion. The time of planting is an important element also. Onions should be planted 6 weeks before the estimated last spring frost. Your plant is affected by the weather, day length and season. Go figure.
It looks like I missed my window this year! But, that is okay – I am going to make a note in my calendar for December. Maybe I can ask for onion starts for Christmas. In the meantime, I can do a lot to prepare.
Onions thrive in a sunny location. Raised beds or raised rows are the very best way to plant onions. They require good drainage and prefer soil that hovers in the 6.2 – 6.8 pH range. If the soil is too acidic, you can add limestone. If it is overly alkaline, peat moss will balance it out. (Note to self: check soil pH.)
One method of planting involves a “fertilizer trench.” Basically you dig a center trench that is 4” wide and 4” deep. In this trench, sprinkle a half cup (per ten feet of row) of 10-20-10 fertilizer and cover that with 2” of soil. Do not plant in the trench. Instead, plant onions 6” away from the trench on both sides. Plant onions 1” deep. Don't make the mistake of planting onions too deeply, this inhibits growth. Leave a 2” space on the other side of the onion to allow enough built-up soil for the onion to grow and space onion plants 4” apart. If you are like me and like lots of onions, maybe another row is a good idea. Just be sure to place your next trench row far enough away. About 36” from the center of one trench to the next is recommended.
Now, for a sort of sore subject: watering. Onions love warm sun, but they also require adequate watering. They are not drought tolerant. So keep them moist the best way you can. Take less showers – whatever you have to do to pamper your plants. They deserve the sacrifice if you ask me.
For optimal growth, fertilizing is essential. Again, make sure your soil is at its best to begin with, but every two to three weeks feed your onions in the trench area. Ammonium sulfate 21-0-0 is recommended in alkaline soils. Calcium nitrate 15.5-0-0 is recommended in acid soils. Use ½ cup per ten feet of row and sprinkle this in the trench like before. Always water after fertilizing. When the onion grows large enough to start splitting the soil around it, fertilizer is no longer needed. Use a light covering of straw or similar mulch to keep weeds at bay and moisture in. Onions should have at least 13 leaves before harvesting. Brown, yellow and falling over leaves are an indicator that harvest is imminent.
So, those are some expert ideas that I am lucky to have gleaned. I am sure this is not the only way to grow large, spherical onions, but I guess I have plenty of time before planting to search for more methods and ideas. If you are an expert onion grower, I'd love to hear your tips, ideas and comments!
Edible Drought Gardens
By Jutta Thoerner UCCE Master Gardener
I am feeling guilty wanting to grow vegetables with the drought in its 4th year.
Janet. Paso Robles
We can grow our own vegetables, even this year. Consider the reduced carbon foot print when you shop in your backyard. Then there is your commitment to reuse water from your household that otherwise just goes down the drain, and your ability to apply garden techniques to reduce the amount of water needed. These are reasons for you to have a garden. Here are some tips that many of our Master Gardeners adopted last year in our demonstration garden.
Plant half of the area in your garden with almost the same amount of plants. How? By reducing the space between the rows and plants. Interplant, and then interplant again.
No tomato plant should be without basil nearby and radishes and carrots love growing together.
Any time you cut or pull a plant to harvest, replant in that spot.
Mulch heavily to keep soils cool and preserve water.
Never water any plant unless you have checked the soil moisture. Use a small shovel or the longest Phillip's head screwdriver you can find to dig down to 30 inches to check the soil moisture around the root zone.
The bucket in your shower is a reality, not just something you read about in the paper anymore.
Share your harvest with a gardening friend. Are you good at growing tomatoes, but cucumbers, not so much? Trading vegetables will ensure that nothing spoils in the garden.
Checking irrigation drippers and timers will prevent costly water leaks.
We as Master Gardeners will continue to work on reducing the water we apply in our gardens again this year, raising the question: How much water do we really need to grow food?