Master Gardener News Blog
It's a Recluse?
By Andrea Peck
Spiders are sneakish creatures. They while away the time, creating great lacey homes. Their constructions are visually delicate, yet determinedly strong. They are unflappable, unmovable. Are they arrogant as they unapologetically flaunt the fact that they are not insects? As they drape their curtain home across your most-used pathway? Despite those leggy legs they resist running off in a tizzy when they see you. They have 8 eyes. You have been noticed. But, it is not becoming to rush off. My dear.
Myth and mystery surround them. Misconceptions.
The brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) is the master of deception. It holds the gold medal for least understood arachnid, particularly here in California. We all have a friend of a friend who has been bitten by one. We all know that the brown recluse is the worst, the most treacherous, of the spiky-limbed spider family.
The brown recluse does not live in California. It does not live here. At all. It has visited on occasion, mostly through media such as boxes which have been shipped here from another state where the shady lynx is actually commonplace. The reality is that there have been hardly a handful of incidents involving this notorious character in the last 40 years.
While most spiders have 8 eyes, set in 2 groups of 4, the brown recluse differs in this regard. It has 3 sets of eyes, two in each set (called a dyad), for a total of 6 eyes. The spider is brown with a visible violin shape on its cephalothorax, or the portion of the body where the legs attach. It's much bigger than I had ever heard described. It is as big as a quarter. Huge. Somehow I was under the impression that the vicious beast was almost microscopic.
Ninety percent of brown recluse bites are inconsequential and may even go unnoticed by the victim. Basic first aid which includes Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE therapy) often does the trick where the bite is significant. There are the cases where the bite does parlay into a major issue, involving necrotic tissue and/or secondary infection. These cases are those that give the little bugger its fearsome reputation and a visit to the emergency room becomes mandatory. Death, though rare, does indeed occur when the bite proves more than the victim can sustain. For the vast majority of us Californians, it is important to remember that the likelihood of being bitten on our own home turf is practically zero. If you find you have been diagnosed as having a brown recluse bite, you might consider that this is commonly misdiagnosed and that another disorder, such as Lyme disease or Staphylococcus or Streptococcus may be the real culprit. This is important to consider because experts (as in the very funny and highly informative attached link) assert that misdiagnosis is rampant.
Well, that is one spider you can cross off your list, unless, of course, you decide to visit a state where the brown recluse is so prevalent that the average homeowner runs across more spiders per hour than California does in 40 years. That is your choice, though and I'm not going to try to tell you not to visit Aunt Mabel.
I don't feel satisfied leaving spidey yet. Next week I will tackle a more potent threat that actually is alive and well in our state and county. Your job is to guess who she is.
Brown recluse spiders are established in 15 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.
Cool Season Vegetables
By Tami Reece UCCE Master Gardener
Fall is the perfect time to refresh your garden and keep it growing into the winter. You want to choose the right crops and the best location; choose cold weather protection best suited to your needs and know your frost dates.
Cool season crops thrive in cooler temperatures and several have shorter seasons than warm season crops. Cool season vegetables grow best between 45 and 55⁰F and 55 to 75⁰F and most mature cool season vegetables are frost tolerant. Winter crops can be planted from seed if there is sufficient time for the plant to become established before the first frost. Otherwise, it's best to consider using transplants. It's important to know the local frost dates and plan and plant accordingly. The approximate frost dates for San Luis Obispo County are:
Interior area First Frost: October 7 Last Frost: April 20
North County First Frost: November 7 Last Frost: April 17
Coast/SLO First Frost: December 31 Last Frost: February 15
Pick a location that will get full sun, but will be shielded from the wind or frost such as near a south facing wall or fence. If the best location for your winter garden is the same location as your spring and summer garden, it's important to regenerate the soil that provided your spring and summer crops. Work in several inches of compost throughout the planting area to replenish and rebuild the soil.
Choose the right form of weather protection based on your needs and available resources. Cloches make for a simple cold weather protectant. A cloche is something you put over an individual plant to protect it from frost or freeze. They can be plastic milk jugs, glass or plastic cloches, or even cardboard boxes. Row covers are permeable fabrics placed over plants or frames. Heavier fabrics can protect to 24 degrees. Cold frames are bottomless frames placed on the ground, with a hinged top that act like a mini greenhouse. Lastly, a good straw mulch of 6 to 10 inches loosely scattered can provide additional protect from frost.
With a little preparation, you can have fresh vegetables throughout the fall and winter seasons.
Are you interested in becoming a UCCE Master Gardener? Join us at our Informational Meeting, Monday, October 20 at 1:00 p.m. in our auditorium at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. For more information please visit: http://ucanr.edu/sites/mgslo/Master_Gardener_Training_Program/
By Andrea Peck
I've heard that fall is the time for planting ornamentals, but I must confess I have always wondered why. Logically, I'd assumed that the reason fall planting is best is to gain the benefit of rain. But, California, as a rule, does not weep measurable precipitation during those three grand months. Contrarily, the fall months are often some of our warmest and driest, particularly along the coast.
So what gives?
I decided to dig a bit deeper and I discovered that much of the interwebs is composed of forums that discuss the merits of vegetable planting during the fall. Brussels sprout and broccoli fans are consistently represented and there is a bit of showing off with the mention of exotica, such as watermelon radish and red perilla. There are fancy photos and book loads of recipes involving kohlrabi and spinach. Finally, I unearthed it: the reason we plant in fall.
And confound it; no matter the angle that I view gardening, it appears that the future-think approach is the one with the most rewards. If you dial back to spring, you will see what I mean. Planting in spring is notoriously popular – you can visualize the frenzy, as ladies and gentlemen fling themselves amongst the colorful spring flowers and vegetable starts.
Such a relief from the doldrums of winter!
But, tumble into this marketing ploy and you will come to learn that planting in spring lends little support for the average new ornamental. Think of summer - it's not hard with that dry desperate heat still smoldering around us. Now think of that poor plant that you stuck in the earth during the spring. You watered it for a bit, assuming it would soon root in and stand on its own. Then summer waltzes in with its water restrictions and phenomenal temperatures. If you are like me you see a number of dead “new” plants creating texture and sculptural interest in your landscape. Mine were even drought tolerant.
Planting during the fall is the opposite. Just as you are finished nurturing your little plant infant, the winter steps in to take over with the real irrigation manna.
But, hold fast! There are other reasons that make fall planting ideal. Apparently plant shoots require fewer nutrients as winter dormancy approaches. Also during the fall, carbohydrate “food” that is produced in the leaves is moved to the roots – this promotes growth and survival.
Autumn generally shows a temperature shift, as well. The temperature may continue to feel overwhelming, but the days are quickly becoming shorter and the nights cooler – a perfect combination for plant growth. Warm days keep soil temperatures elevated which encourages root growth, while the overall cooler temperatures lessen moisture loss through the leaves.
Winter brings changes which promote a hardy plant over time. Rain provides clean moisture and nitrogen. Colder temperatures slow top growth which allows rain and cool soil to focus on root growth. Warmer air temperatures arrive with spring. The fall plant, allowed the extra resources of initial warmer soils, cooler air and the subsequent winter rains and cool temperatures, is primed to support top growth. Root growth continues during the spring which allows the plant a better chance towards survival during the increased dryness and heat of summer.
Now, with all that nourishing and care – and planning - your little one is ready to show off a full flush of foliage.
The Weed in My Window
By Andrea Peck
But make no mistake: the weeds will win; nature bats last. ~Robert M. Pyle
Recently, my husband and I had our refrigerator repaired. It's a big black behemoth of a refrigerator. Just like many people in the county, we found our trade-up on Craigslist. When we bought it, I was quite pleased to replace my old, off-white version with this modern black beauty. Her original owners were a well-to-do couple who decided that because the ice machine was not producing sufficiently, the refrigerator needed replacing. My husband bought her on the spot and fixed the ice machine.
He's pretty handy.
But, when my ice cream began to melt and the temperature inside My Ebony began to climb, we declared a food emergency and called an expert.
The expert arrived and found his way around our dogs to our best-looking appliance. He set his tools down and turned to me.
Can I ask you a question? He said.
As the least mechanical of the trio, I wondered how I figured in this equation.
What kind of plant is that in your yard? He nodded towards the large weed outside my front window. I see this guy pulling the flowers off those plants on Los Osos Valley Road all the time, he continued.
My husband stood by. It was an odd question. My husband continually threatens to cut down the weed which is currently eight feet tall and has a tendency to loom. Now, just before us, someone was decrying that this plant had a purpose.
I couldn't remember the name of my odd weed, which of course, is not really a weed. I just know the anise smell. I looked it up- it has a name: fennel.
Fennel is a Mediterranean plant that grows without hesitation upon our poor dry soils. It requires little water or care. It is not really a weed because you can buy seeds of the various cultivars and plant them. You can purchase it from the grocery store and you can use it in a multitude of ways.
Once you establish that it is in fact useful, you can see that fennel is a great plant. It grows and grows and splays out once it passes a certain height. It blooms clusters of dusty yellow flowers in little groupings like high-up lily pads. In our home it sits outside our busy window - its lacy growth lets the light in but prevents street gawkers from visually invading our living room.
Fennel can be purchased in the grocery story. How many weeds can you say that about? The bulb is used in soups and salads. The feathery leaves are often paired with salmon. The seeds are used in baking muffins, breads and other assorted items such as sauces. If you take a long look in your health food store, you will find it in pill form – some say it aids in digestion. It has a strong anise taste and smell. Some chew it, make tea with it and call it a tonic for various ailments. The plant knows no bounds. In fact, it is hard to pin its culinary boundaries down.
The best part, however, is that it is a host plant for the swallowtail butterfly. In my own garden, I believe we have witnessed the anise swallowtail, but fennel in general, encourages all types of swallowtail butterflies.
So the lesson here today is: love your weeds for they may be more than they look and tell your spouse to put away the loppers already.
By Tami Reece UCCE Master Gardener
Pork and Beans, California Sunset, and Powder Puff are just some of the interesting names of succulents. Succulents are grown as ornamental plants because of their striking and unusual appearance. Many succulents come from desert or semi-desert areas where high temperatures and low precipitation force these plants to collect and store water to survive long dry periods.
Succulents have a waxy, hairy, or spiny outer surface that creates a humid micro-climate around the plant, which reduces air movement near the surface of the plant; thereby, reducing water loss and creating shade. Succulents have roots that sit very near the surface of the soil which enables them to take up moisture from very small showers or even from heavy dew. They also have the ability to remain plump and full of water even with high internal temperatures up to 126 °F.
Succulents should not be confused with cactus. Botanically cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Succulents are plants having some parts that are thickened and fleshy which function to retain water in arid climates or soil conditions. Succulent plants store water in various structures, such as leaves and stems.
The UCCE Master Gardeners Advice to Grow by Workshop on Saturday, October 18, 10:00 to 12:00, will be all about these sensational succulents. The program will begin in the auditorium with a presentation on succulent basics, water saving with succulents and succulent landscaping. Several local gardens will be showcased in this presentation. The workshop will then move to the garden where a Master Gardener will demonstrate how to propagate succulents and share other pertinent succulent information, including the effects of the on-going drought. A tour of the succulent plot will follow with a discussion of the many cacti and succulents varieties. There will be a limited supply of succulents given away after the class.
Please remember to bring a hat and sunscreen for the outdoor portion of the program. Hope to see you there!
Are you interested in becoming a UCCE Master Gardener? We are having an Informational Meeting on Monday, October 20, at 1:00. For more information visit: http://ucanr.edu/sites/mgslo/Master_Gardener_Training_Program/