Master Gardener News Blog
Landscape Water Management
By Jutta Thoerner UCCE Master Gardener
I want to improve my irrigation practices this summer. Any tips?
My 1st tip: Add to your current water supply and make the most of your resources. For example, install a grey water system and add barrels to collect rainwater. If you have areas on your property that flood or have water runoff during a rain event, create soil swells and redirect the runoff water so it stays on your property.
Another tip: Mulch everywhere possible. Mulch suppresses weeds, cools the soil, soaks up excess water, and slows evaporation which reduces the amount of irrigation you need to apply.
March is a good month to install, update or repair existing irrigation systems.
Many different irrigation systems are available: drip tubes, soaker hoses, micro sprinklers, and drip tape are a few popular choices. These need to be checked for leaks, clogged emitters and uniformity when applying water. To find out how much water your system dispenses, set out several small empty cans or containers under the emitters or sprinklers. Set a timer for 60 seconds and turn on the water. Then, empty the cans to measure the water collected. Simple math will tell you how many gallons or ml per hour are dispensed.
To figure out how much water is needed and how often to apply it, several factors come into play. It starts with the soil and its ability to hold onto the water you apply. This is referred to as the Available Water Holding Capability or AWHC. While loamy soil holds onto water the longest, sandy soil has the lowest AWHC % with 3-6% due to its texture and hydraulic charge. If you have sandy soil, applying water more frequently for a shorter duration is important. Another factor to consider is evaporation or how hot is it on the day you irrigate. The measurements for evaporation (ET) may be estimated by current or historical weather data (ETo).
If you are interested in learning how to collect and apply irrigation data, join the Master Gardeners on March 21st, 10 am-12 pm, and learn about the scientific method of calculating how much and how often to irrigate. The workshop will be held in the auditorium across from the garden. Arrive early as seating is limited!/span>
A Peep Through The Keyhole…
By Andrea Peck
This year my garden is overgrown and wild. Today I saw new dandelions. They must have grown to eye-level during the night. I suppose that is their job. I did get in one good weeding session this weekend. My son and I cleared a pathway. Slowly we dug, snatching out recalcitrant grass and big-leafed, taprooted freeloaders, our gloved hands searching for the broken concrete edges that mark the beginning of a bed. I resist removing any greenery; the enhancement of green growth is so lovely, weeds or not. Now they have outgrown me. My hens, which have mutated from a group of 8 to 12 in the last half-year have been given free reign. They help by tugging grass tops and digging little hollows in the soil. Then they lie down and fluff themselves in the loosened dirt. Okay, they don't help that much.
Now that I have made a start, my motivation has skyrocketed and I've begun restructuring the garden in my mind. It is something I do that irritates my husband and makes little sense to stable people who prefer the status quo. Nevertheless, my imagination moves garden beds like little Lego buildings, as I mentally recreate my garden Nirvana. Between florid daydreams and reality, I happened upon the topic of keyhole gardens. I have seen the term bandied about here and there, but I had no idea what this type of gardening entailed. I soon found out that keyhole gardens are circular raised beds (about 6 feet in diameter). They have a break in one section that allows access to the center (hence, the name “keyhole”). Inside the center is the real genius: a compost bin. The compost bin is 1' – 1 ½' in diameter.
The structure of the keyhole garden is different from raised beds in that the soil is sloped slightly so that the center is highest. This allows moisture and nutrients from the compost bin to feed down into the soil. Greywater can be used to moisten the compost bin and indirectly irrigate the plants. The outside edges of the keyhole garden are made of anything that is solid enough to hold in the soil. Cinder blocks, broken concrete, wood, brick, even sandbags and straw are options. The hard, outside rim is higher than the soil in order to prevent runoff. Before planting, the interior of the keyhole garden is layered with cardboard, newspaper and compostable materials. Where soil is compacted, rocks may be used at the lowest level to create additional drainage. The top layer (approximately 6 inches) is filled with appropriate growing medium.
Initially, plants must be watered. But, as they become established, watering is done at the compost bin. This encourages roots to grow towards the compost bin and benefit from the nutrients in the compost.
The beauty of the system is in its functionality. Compost is immediately useable, greywater can be incorporated, the height is easily accessible and the quality of the soil allows you to grow more plants in a smaller space which creates a mulch-like effect that inhibits the growth of annoying weeds.
One word describes it: amazing.
If you'd like more information, plus a visual, check out the following videos:
PLANTING SPRING VEGETABLES
By Leonard Cicerello UCCE Master Gardener
Now is a good time to begin planning your spring vegetable garden. Plan it on paper before you begin. Select a site that receives at least 8 hours of full sun each day, is relatively level, well-drained, and close to a water source. Prepare the soil properly and amend and fertilize as needed.
For a spring garden, plant warm season vegetables that are recommended for your area. These vegetables grow best when average temperatures are 65⁰ to 95⁰F. Begin planting after the danger of frost has passed. For coastal areas like Pismo Beach, frost danger has typically passed by March 11; for San Luis Obispo, March 27; For Paso Robles, April 18. Try to plant your garden close to your home. You are likely to spend more time working in your garden if it is easily accessible. Plus, you will not have to carry tools very far.
A few interesting techniques to use in the garden include growing vertically, succession planting, companion planting and intercropping. Grow vertically, if you can, instead of horizontally. Staking and tying crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and pole beans will maximize your available garden space. Succession planting is sowing seeds of a given crop at 1-2 week intervals to produce a continuous supply of vegetables, such as beets, beans or radishes. Companion planting is planting two different crops in the same place at the same time. One crop matures and is harvested before the other. Radishes and carrots work well this way because radishes can be harvested long before the carrots are too large. Intercropping involves planting early maturing crops between rows of late maturing crops to increase production in small spaces. Beans, radishes, green onions, spinach, or leaf lettuce can be planted between rows of tomatoes, peppers, or corn. However, do not let one crop shade out another.
Cold Canyon Landfill
By Andrea Peck
This week I took a field trip to the Cold Canyon Landfill with my son's class. He is in third grade and while the busload of children probably did not comprehend the gravity of the day's visit, I certainly did.
We're in deep trouble people.
I can't be too negative, though - we have a great system. The first thing I learned on the trip was the difference between “landfill” and “dump.” A landfill prevents leakage of trash into the soil and waterways, while a dump does not. At Cold Canyon they start by excavating a large hole, placing black plastic inside this area and then layering clay and rock and dirt. They fill the hole with our trash and layer on more dirt. It is a continual process where large, smelly trucks dump trash and efficient tractors compact the trash, squishing it as far as possible to make room for … more. The end result is a mountain – a mountain where there was nothing but flat land.
I watched the trucks come in and out, paper flying, cardboard stacking up. At one point an employee extricated a long piece of copper pipe. The landfill had recyclable items.
I asked the guide were there any statistics on how much trash is actually made up of recyclables. He did not have numbers handy, but he did say that paper (about 40%, he later noted) is the most common recyclable item that ends up in the landfill.
Items in the landfill do not break down. So, for example, if you put a banana peel in the trash it does not turn into soil as it would in your compost. Compost is turned and moistened which fosters beneficial bacteria and decomposers. Food in the landfill produces methane gas. Normally, this is problematic, but Cold Canyon actually pipes the gas out of the landfill and uses it to provide electricity. Like I said, in SLO County we have it good.
We later visited the recycling center where pile upon pile of recycling waited to be organized by plastic type, glass or paper or turned away as trash. Recyclables are bound into giant bundles and sent away on trucks for processing. I imagined those sad cans and cardboard boxes being shuttled on, here, there and everywhere in an endless circle.
Even the recycling comes at a cost.
The best question of the day was from the teacher. He asked about plastic sandwich bags. These are not recyclable – better to use hard (recyclable) plastic containers for sandwiches.
After what I saw today, I know what I'll be using.
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.