Master Gardener News Blog
The Hungry Caterpillar
By Andrea Peck
The thing that's bugging me right now is the bug that continues to decimate my purple passion vine (Passiflora incarnata). It is a small nuisance of a caterpillar with a hello-I'm-here orange color that lies beneath medieval looking black spines. It has a name: The gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. I know what you are thinking: how threatening can a tiny caterpillar be? Truthfully, it is not. At least not always.
The gulf fritillary is a lovely little orange butterfly that flirts around like a copper-headed lass. It chops its wings in a quick and erratic motion as if it is making cutout snowflakes in the air. It's pretty. It's pretty common if I may run the risk of sounding snide. Or maybe it is just in my garden that it seems like there is an overabundance.
Her (or his) delicate dabbling amongst your plumage does nothing to illuminate the seething spawn that will eat your plant, leaves, flowers, fruit and all. Oh, wait. Where is my passion vine? Where has it gone? Has it been consumed by its own host?
Yes. It has. The guest has proliferated to the point of devouring the host. The sight before your gardening eyes is no less than the image of a Bosch painting brought to three dimensions. Your lovely vining plant has diminished to the point that survival seems unlikely. You are fearful, scared, anxious. Pick one.
The passion vine is what we call a host plant. It provides (free of charge, I might add) housing and sustenance to the gulf fritillary during its larval stage of growth. The leaves provide food for the caterpillars and a home for the chrysalis. Butterflies then visit to lay eggs and the process proceeds.
Normally this is a situation that does no harm to the passion vine. Provided the plant is healthy and well-established there should be no cause for concern. But, in my own case, the plant has not had time to gain ground. It is a new planting. Now it is a struggling new planting.
It needed help. First aid. Red Cross for plants.
So I jumped in like an Emergency Tech and grabbed (gently) about ten large offenders. I placed them in a bucket to be relocated to another, more established, passion vine that is at least 100 steps away. Once the pillagers were successfully relocated I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
So there you have it – you have been forewarned. Hosts are good. Visitors are good. But, once in a while you may need reinforcements to end the party before you get demolished.
Lessons from Beautiful Tuscany
By Steve McDermott UCCE Master Gardener
We live in one of the 5 Mediterranean climate regions of the world. The others include Western Australia, Chile, South Africa, the Mediterranean region, which includes Italy, and of course, coastal California. All 5 of these regions share a mild climate and a similar plant pallet. For instance, during a visit to the famous Chianti wine region of Tuscany in Italy, you'll find an environment similar to parts of San Luis Obispo County where the winters are clement, the sky is sunny, and the yearly rainfall is scant. There, the rolling hills of Tuscany are covered in ribbons of grapevines, interspersed with small farms that are planted with olive trees and aromatic lavender.
Some wonderful plants have adapted to these Mediterranean climates. Olives, lavender, and a long list of beautiful plants do well in climates that receive lower annual rainfall.
The next Advice to Grow By workshop - “Under the Tuscan Sun” - will feature presentations on cultivating and maintaining plants found in northern Italy, including fruiting olive trees and lavender. Useful parallels will be drawn from small farms and regional gardening in Tuscany.
The workshop will begin with the general concept of a Tuscan landscape and will then focus on the care of fruiting olive trees, specifically Tuscan cultivars as they are similar to our California Mission olive tree. We'll discuss irrigation techniques, fruit fly management, harvest procedures, and the techniques used for processing olives for extra virgin olive oil.
Join the Master Gardeners and a local olive grower for “Under the Tuscan Sun” on Saturday, September 20, 2014 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 am. We'll meet under the shaded pergola in the Garden of the Seven Sisters, 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. Seats fill up quickly so come early for a good seat! No pets please; service animals only. The garden will remain open to the public following the event from noon to 2:00 pm.
Please, Fence Me in
By Andrea Peck
I restore myself when I am alone…
They say a fence makes for a better neighbor.
Of course. We all know this. What if we were all fenceless, our homes adjoining with a useless strip of dried grass to separate us? Those of the hippy generation regarded walls as hostile barriers. But, the 2014 mode of operation is as distinct from commune-style living as a brownie is from 100% organic beef. Our lives, so open to others via social media and so accessible through cellphones, make us jumpy as a generation. We need our privacy.
The weird part is that when confronted with a lack of privacy, most of us lack the vital social skills required to respond appropriately.
Let's just say (for example) you walk into your backyard and you see your neighbor. You discover that he is having a festive conversation that involves firing an incalcitrant employee. Without a fence, you eyeball each other. This is not a straight on look – it's more of an ‘oops' sideways glance.
Pretend you are a slip of laundry hanging on the line?
Stymied, you continue wandering, coffee in hand, dressed to the nines in bleach stained pajamas and oversized holey socks. You survey the landscape and protest under your breath as the phone call ends and you are faced with the other. Your garden peace suddenly goes out of focus.
Without a barrier, you are defenseless. Social mores dictate that you are now required, though you may be lacking undergarments, to have a conversation.
Why? Why did you not put up a fence?
We need boundaries. We need doors. Walls. Marks in the sand. Some of us need this quiet more than others. I would jump to the conclusion that many gardeners love the solitude of nature. The silent sound of leaves exhaling.
And what do you do when there is a hole, large and gaping, in this Nirvana that you have created? What if your leaves are simply providing the oxygen that fuels a conversation that you are neither prepared nor dressed appropriately for?
A fence divides, but shrubbery is horticulturally versed in sound and sight prevention. Tow the line, says a fence. But a nice plant that grows large and lush fills a space – covers that line until you forgot it was there. A fitting plant has been trained in that which you have not – blind assertiveness. It does not apologize for taking up that space, nor will it. It is simply there, existing, and if you are lucky, it will contain you in its cover.
There are many privacy plants that serve a variety of purposes. Cactus (such as buckthorn cholla (Opuntia acanthocarpa) is the pit bull of all borders. It sends a loud message and it can be physical if provoked. There are other thorny bushes (such as the Wintergreen barberry (Berberis julianae) that will take you outside if you try to disturb the peace. Other, less jolting plants run the gamut from pretty to drought tolerant or fast growing. Below is a small list of largish plants that may make your home more hospitable. Once you've had your peace, you may just get lonely enough to invite someone over.
Ceanothus: Julia Phelps, Mountain Haze and Sierra Blue are good varieties.
Austin Griffin Manzanita
Island Mountain Mahogany
Learning In The Garden Of The Seven Sisters
By Christie Withers UCCE Master Gardener
If you haven't been to the UCCE Master Gardener's demonstration garden, Garden of the Seven Sisters, now is the time. This lovely garden was designed and developed by Master Gardeners of San Luis Obispo County. Over 15 years in the making, the purpose of the garden is to serve as an outdoor classroom to provide science-based horticultural education to our community of home gardeners. The garden has been the main location for the program's public workshops and events such as the monthly Advice to Grow By (ATGB) workshops, worm composting demonstrations, garden based learning workshops, the annual Tomato Extravaganza and plant sales. Over the years, the garden has welcomed more than 4,000 visitors!
The garden is now open to the public every third Saturday of the month, 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., immediately following the monthly ATGB workshop. Docents will be on hand to answer any questions about the garden or any other home gardening questions you may have.
The garden is divided into more than 20 plots, each with a different theme providing a host of ideas that can be applied to your home garden. The California native plot is a display of plants acclimated to our unique California climate. Once established, native plants require less supplemental watering than many non-native plants. The water retention plot demonstrates how to capture water, preventing runoff and erosion, while the rain barrel system shows you how to save water from your roof top and apply it to your non-edible landscape plants. The turf alternative plot has been experimenting with different plants and applying different mowing and irrigation practices to see how well these plants respond to different practices. Other garden plots include our composting corner, a fruit and nut orchard, kitchen garden, a cactus and succulent plot, wild life habitat, and a children's garden.
Private group tours are available upon request. Supervised children are welcome; service animals only, please. For more information, visit the UCCE Master Gardeners at http://ucanr.edu/sites/mgslo/Demonstration_Garden/. To request a private tour, please call (805)781-5939 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? It's a Bumblebee!
By Andrea Peck
They look like a blimp, fly like a helicopter and have a faster metabolic rate than a hummingbird. Did you know they can fly up to 10 miles per hour? How can this be? They look like they are perpetually late.
Everybody loves a bumblebee. With their rotund bodies and fuzzy pile (hair), they are the teddy bears of the insect world. Recently I found a few lingering near me in the garden. It took a minute of floundering investigation before I realized I was not being surrounded (though the thought of the Africanized bee did cross my mind.) In fact, they were circling downward towards their in-ground nest. The site of their humble abode lay in the soil near the corner of two connecting raised beds – a stylish spot with its own fenced yard that blots out high winds and acts as a warming element.
Bumblebees are social insects that live in a colony with one queen. Usually there are less than 50 occupants in a colony. The female bee travels up to two miles collecting honey to bring back to the nest. She may visit up to 100 flowers in an effort to fill her honeystomach.
You heard that right. The bumblebee doesn't mess around with proper sounding words like ‘honey bladder' or the like. Terminology is as colorful and fuzzy as the real article. It seems they have their own language, kind of like couples who wear matching outfits. It could be worse – consider ‘honeytummy.'
Despite the funny descriptors, bumblebees work really hard. It is estimated that a teaspoon of honey equates to approximately 80 foraging trips, 320 flight miles and 80,000 flowers. A moment of pause may be necessary before you take your afternoon tea with honey.
Pollen is collected in the pollen basket. Why not? I'd love to hear the jokes those researchers come up with when they are giddy from lack of sleep. The pollen basket is located on the hind legs of the females, since they are the ones who are collecting the pollen. Across all those miles. Single handedly. Ahem.
We won't broach that subject.
The wing of the bumblebee creates an electrical charge that pushes pollen from the flower onto the legs of the bee. The bee has three pairs of legs. On the back legs, hairs that act as combs brush pollen into the pollen baskets. These giant pockets make the females easy to spot. With pollen, the baskets look yellow, red or orange, depending on the pollen and without pollen, the baskets are a shiny black.
Despite what you may think, honeybees are not idling about in a bubble-headed manner. They are utilizing sophisticated bee tools to determine where they can get the best pollen (protein) and nectar (carbohydrates) combination plate. They use a variety of methods to this end. Flower color, fragrance, petal texture and air humidity are taken into consideration. They are like black and yellow tuning forks. Of late, another tool in their cadre has been discovered: electricity. It seems that the bumblebee is deciphering information (such as a recent visit by another bee) from the electrical charge present in the flower.
Do they sting? Female bumblebees do sting, but they don't show much interest in it. Their main defense is their aposematic or bright warning, coloring. Distinct from honey bees, the bumblebee is capable of pulling its stinger out and reusing it multiple times. A honey bee has a barbed stinger that when connected to our soft, stretchy skin makes a quick exit nearly impossible. The desire to leave the scene causes the honey bee to pull with such ferocity that the stinger, attached to the abdomen, comes off and the bee, when disengaged, flies off to die.
Bumblebee's flight muscles must be 86 ° Fahrenheit in order to fly. The bee is able to raise their temperature by shivering in a similar way that humans do. Bees that have adequate supplies of food in storage generally have no need to brave cold temperatures. If you find a downed bee, you can often help it by placing it in a warm spot.
Bumblebees are important agricultural and natural pollinators. Unfortunately, their numbers have been declining to the point that some experts believe they should be listed as endangered. Disease, habitat destruction and pesticides are some of the major causes. Researchers are aware that the honey bee has been subject to a number of devastating diseases; they are now finding that the native bumblebees may not be immune to these same confounding disorders.
Don't forget to welcome these pleasant creatures into your yard – they, along with all bees, are doing the arduous job of providing us with flowers, food and enjoyment.