Master Gardener News Blog
By Nancy Hartwick UCCE Master Gardener
I would like to grow some of my own food, but do not have room in my yard for a vegetable garden. Jill, Los Osos
Consider working food plants into your regular landscaping, which can be challenging, but rewarding. The major needs of all plants: adequate sun, water and fertilizer may be different for food plants than for landscape plants.
So first, look around for areas in your yard with good sun exposure. A minimum of 6 hours per day is needed for vegetables. There may be a seasonal variation of shade and the sun's angle. But that's OK because most vegetables last only one season and you will be replanting at different times of year.
Bear in mind the water needs of your landscape plants. If they are drought tolerant, you will have to practice hydro-zoning and place your food plants so watering them will not harm other plants. If your yard has a slope, you can plant water-lovers at a lower elevation so the water will drain away from the water-haters.
Vegetables require more nutrients and richer soil. You can accomplish this by amending the soil by adding 3o% compost. Thoroughly mix to a depth of 6 inches to two feet. This will help retain both nutrients and moisture. Then add a nitrogen fertilizer, slow release is best.
Fruit trees grow well near a south facing wall. Smaller or dwarf varieties are available for some fruits. Plant them where fruit drop will not cause problems near driveways or walks and be mindful of how chemical sprays for the fruit tree may damage nearby plants.
You may also vary the location of your plantings by incorporating trellised vines, hanging baskets or other containers. This will minimize the amount of yard space required and give you more creative planting options.
Pest control can be more important with food plants than with landscape plants. The concern goes beyond esthetics here. You don't want worms eating your tomatoes, but you must avoid using toxic substances on food plants. Always read the labels and follow the instructions carefully.
And lastly, have fun by mixing textures and colors to create a visually pleasant effect.
Next week we will discuss planting spring vegetables.
By Andrea Peck
This week I decided to steer away from controversial topics and instead talk about celery. You may ask why. Why celery? I guess this is an ode to the celery in my garden. The other day I realized, while picking off two “petioles” (the official name for the edible portion of the celery plant) that I have not purchased celery in quite a while. With random luck, I have finally succeeded in growing this lovely green vegetable. I have two plants that sit in a long, thin bed alongside a fence near my chicken coop. Originally, this area was weedish lawn – the kind that turns into a long grassy mess and grows up the fence. It was a nightmare.
One day I got real and decided I needed more vegetable space. I took one look at that area of visual assault and decided it was a good location. Plus it was near my chicken coop, which is where I get my soil. I am a bit lazy about cleaning the coop, but this comes in handy when I need good soil. Amidst the digging, the girls come and peck at invisible stuff. Probably ghosts of worms past.
This time I took the easy route and smothered the ground with cardboard, placing landscape bricks around the perimeter. I shoveled chicken dirt into the wheelbarrow and dropped it into the new bed. This is a heavy and difficult job best done by someone else – preferably someone that you want to tire out, like your son or neighbor or both. Not to exclude women from the group – my exceptionally athletic 8-year-old niece, Alana, comes to mind.
I filled up this area and decided to lie down for a few days or a month or something. This was about two years ago and now I can see that those hens paid off, because everything grows in that shadowy area. Everything, including my celery. I currently have two plants. I do not, as others suggest, pull up the entire plant and store it in the refrigerator. I simply pull off stalks as I need them and then let the whole thing go to flower. All I can say is DO THIS. This year I noticed little celery starts in various parts of the yard. The wind must have blown the little seeds off the original plant. In addition, I try not to waste the leafy part of the celery – instead, I use this when making soups or broths and even chop it up in place of parsley.
I have read a little bit about reseeding plants. The thing that I have noticed in my own yard is that I generally have trouble growing in the beginning. I'm not sure why – I attribute it to my lack of a green thumb. Like I said, I can be lazy. In my experience the best gardeners are energetic and even border on OCD. Sadly, this is not me. But, I have seen that once a plant gets established, the next generation grows quite easily. When you allow a plant to “go to seed” you are doing something wonderful for your garden. First, the plant itself often sheds many thousands of seeds. Think about it – this is equivalent to a lot of seed packets (if your child is doing the new Common Core math, he or she should be able to figure out exactly how much “a lot” is). Also, the seeds are fresh. I often wonder how long those seeds in those paper packets have been sitting around (usually at room temperature which significantly lowers the viability of seed). Lastly, the seed that spreads from a plant in your own garden is already habituated to the microclimate and growing conditions that it will sprout in.
Lastly, I'd like to mention that using cardboard to smother weeds and grass does work. I've used this method twice and have had no problems. Just remember to use a thick enough layer of cardboard (about two boxes thick) and cover that with compost and soil at least 6-8 inches thick.
For more information on the celery plant see this link: http://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/celery.pdf
The Master Food Preserver Program Is Here!
By Andrea Peck UCCE Master Gardener and Christine Nelson UCCE Master Food Preserver Coordinator
Do you have an overabundance of fruits and vegetables?
If you're a regular reader of the Master Gardener's articles, you know we strive to help SLO County residents become more proficient gardeners. We are now pleased to introduce you to our sister program, the UCCE Master Food Preserver (MFP) program. The MFP program provides scientifically based, food safety and preservation information and techniques.
Master Gardeners will show you how to grow it and MFPs will teach you how to preserve it.
There has been a resurging public interest in food preservation, which has grown alongside "buy local," and "farm-to-table" movements. However, food preservation has also become something of a lost art and is not commonly practiced in the home. As residents have become more interested in home food preservation, the need for education on safe food preservation practices was evident. The MFP program in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties will teach community members how to reduce food waste, maximize their food resources, and create safe, consumable food products.
The MFP program offers a free helpline and will hold monthly workshops. The helpline is staffed by certified MFPs and is available to answer inquiries related to class schedules, freezing, canning, drying, food preservation recipes and resources, and how to become a Master Food Preserver. The helpline number is 805-781-1429 and is staffed on Wednesdays from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Workshops are scheduled for the 4th Saturday of each month from 10:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m. in the UCCE Auditorium located at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. The next workshop will be held on Saturday, February 28th and will focus on stretching your food budget. Participants will learn how to properly freeze food to prevent freezer burn, as well as make delicious dehydrated snacks. Registration is required.
For more information about the workshops or to register, please contact Christine Nelson at (805) 781-5944 or email@example.com.
For a fun and informative test of your canning skills, visit http://ucanr.edu/canningquiz.
Pump It Up … And Out and Over…
By Andrea Peck
This post is way behind. I mean, way, way behind. It took me a few years to get my husband to discover it even. It sat silent and small, right in front of our eyes. I'm sure we passed it millions of times in hardware stores and nurseries. We saw parts peeking out of landscapes on long walks that meander past posh homes.
We were blind.
Until one day. I think it was because my husband was talking to my neighbor. She is lovely and soft spoken. She mentioned drought. There was no way he could miss those words spoken in such a beguiling tone. They fell into his ear canal and made it up to the decision-making portion of his brain.
That night my husband lifted five-gallon buckets of water from the bathtub in a fury. More furious than I ever did –partially that is because I tend to do things very slowly and ploddingly. Sometimes I talk to myself in a Southern voice. Other times it is Australian. Those conversations usually end with a dingo and I usually trail off at that point.
But, never mind, thanks to my neighbor, my husband was able to experience the Parade of Nightly Buckets and that must have gotten him thinking. Or, at least, I assume that is how it happened because he is not a talker, certainly he would never discuss life with himself even in his own accent. The reason I think this line of reasoning is possible is because that week he came home with our handy-dandy submersible water pump.
Now, instead of having to use a pitcher to fill a five-gallon bucket and bring this water out to say, clean my patio or driveway, I am able to attach a hose to the pump, place the hose through the bathroom window and plug in the pump.
I will admit that the setup is a bit Hillbilly with the hose running out the window and the screen slightly askew, but frankly, I don't care. In fact, the first time I used this pump, I was amazed at how much water I had coming out of that hose -so much that the patio had a nice sheen on it instead of the normal dog detritus that I find so visually exasperating.
Though we have discussed drought ad infinitum, the topic does continue to plague me. I assume that many of you relate. I'm not sure that we are going to get large amounts of rain in the near or even far-off future. Even if we do, with the rise in population, water availability is going to continue to be an issue that requires great thought and innovation. We'd better continue to play our cards right and set up systems of rain catchment and graywater reuse before desperation sets in.
Keep in mind that using graywater is an important element towards water saving, but there are certain caveats to its use. You do not want to save the water for longer than 24 hours. Personally, I try to use it up pretty quickly. Once in a while, I'll save a bucket for use the next morning, but when I do I throw in a little bit of bleach to offset any bacterial growth. If you are like us, washing up smelly kids or showering after cleaning a chicken coop, then you are guaranteed some pretty fetid stuff that may last long enough in your saved water to breed and whatever else gooey microorganisms do in water. So, use it quickly.
Also, do not water your edibles with this. Now, you can water a tree or an artichoke plant or landscape shrubs that are ornamental, but don't put it on your lettuce, broccoli or any root vegetables. Remember not to overload one area of your landscape either. Water should percolate and dry quickly. We're not creating a cesspool here. Do not connect your hose to a sprinkler, either. Because of potential bacterial contamination, graywater should not be airborne.
When using your pump, don't place a huge load on the motor by having really long hoses attached that go uphill. Try to use gravity as much as possible. Having said that, I have attached this shorter 25' hose to a longer hose that runs on a slight downhill to another tree we have further out in the yard. I always try to assess the water before using. For example, I may have my kids take a shower with shampoo and soap really quickly (I let this water go down the drain) before they settle in for a bath. This lessens the bacteria level and soap amount in the water. When the water looks really grungy, I let that go. You don't want to gunk up the pump or use questionable water. You can also simply save the clean water you use while heating your shower in a bucket and then use the pump for that; the pump is small and would easily fit in a five-gallon bucket.
Finally, these pumps are cheap. I can't give you a price on ours, because my husband bought it and he's busy now, but it was definitely in the $25.00-$30.00 range.
Edible Landscaping Workshop
By Lee Oliphant UCCE Master Gardener
Q. I'd like to get started on growing vegetables in my garden. Where can I get information on how and what to plant this time of year? Marilyn, Cambria
Master Gardeners will present Planning Your Spring Vegetable Garden at the Advice to Grow by Workshop (ATGB) on Saturday, February 21, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m., in the auditorium adjacent to the parking lot across from the garden. The seminar will concentrate on ways to get the most from your garden by planting crops early, in succession, and year round. Vegetable seeds you plant now will be ready to harvest before summer vegetables are planted. Vegetables such as carrots, beets, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, and chard are known as cool-season vegetables. They begin their lives in the cool shortened days of fall or late winter and grow best with temperatures between 55⁰ and 75⁰F.
The San Luis Obispo Master Gardeners conducts ATGB workshops on topics of seasonal interest each month. The seminars are free, hands-on, and designed for beginning gardeners as well as experienced tillers. The workshops draw interested residents from various micro climates around the county. ATGB workshops are offered on the third Saturday of every month at the Garden of the Seven Sisters, 2156 Sierra Way in San Luis Obispo. The demonstration garden is a cooperative project between the County of San Luis Obispo and the University of California that offers the community a place to learn about sustainable gardening practices. A team of Master Gardener volunteers maintains the demonstration garden and welcomes the public to experience this garden in action.
Attend the Saturday seminar in February and visit the garden after the workshop. The garden will remain open after the workshop from noon to 1:00 p.m. and Master Gardener docents will be on hand to answer your gardening questions.