Master Gardener News Blog
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 email@example.com.
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.
8th Annual Tomato Extravaganza and Plant Sale
By Tami Reece UCCE Master Gardener
This year's Tomato Extravaganza and Plant Sale will be on Saturday, September 6, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, at the Garden of the Seven Sisters, 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. The festival will include informative workshops, tomato and basil tastings, activities for kids and an opportunity to meet the UCCE Master Food Preservers of SLO County!
The workshops will begin at 10:00 with Managing Gophers and Squirrels. At 11:00, learn about Winter Vegetable Gardening. At noon, we'll discuss rain barrels and show you how to save water in the garden. The always popular tomato and basil tasting will feature over 20 varieties. You just might discover new favorites to plant next year!
The plant sale will showcase water-wise California natives and Mediterranean climate varieties that require less water once established. Basil, the same varieties as in the basil tasting and fruit trees will also be available for purchase. Master Gardeners and the California Rare Fruit Growers will be on hand to help you pick the right plant for the right place in your landscape.
This is a free event and is open to the public. The garden gates will open at 10:00 am sharp. For more information, contact the Master Gardeners' helpline at (805) 781-5939, visit our website - http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ - or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Garden of the Seven Sisters was developed and is maintained by UCCE Master Gardener volunteers as an educational demonstration garden. More than 20 different plots make up the garden, each with a different theme - native, home orchard, rain catchment, children's garden, kitchen garden, fire landscape, composting and many more. The garden is open to the public on the third Saturday of the month from noon to 2:00 pm after our monthly Advice To Grow By workshops. Docent led group tours are also available by request. Call 781-5939 for more information.
By Andrea Peck
If you are a Gambian pouched rat and you live in Belgium, you are treated with respect. You are given a stylish harness and instructed to find evidence of landmines and tuberculosis. You are employed. Your vision is poor, but this heightens your sense of smell and hearing. You get treats for doing what a rat does best. Ah, the life.
Not all rats are so lucky. Most rats are vilified as opportunistic scavengers. The average rat, though equipped with legendary acrobatic skills, is an untrained hooligan who leaves black rice-sized feces. Wild rats are described as sleaze bags that carry suitcases full of disease like a traveling salesman totes hardware.
Vermin! The word is not uttered – it is spit out in disgust.
The idea that rats are crafty and clever is generally included in any discussion regarding the animal. Whether they actually have a measurable “general intelligence” has been studied, but not consistently established, however. One study found that rats are pro-social by nature. (Check out the link below for an interesting and entertaining article that includes rats, cages and chocolate chips).
I address the subject because my own home was besieged during the course of one weekend with the capture of a juvenile rat on a sticky trap and two rat sightings which ended in one death and one escape.
You know, I am not scared of rats. The one I saw in my bathroom could have been the template for a stuffed animal or the main character in an animated movie. With that cute and fuzzy demeanor it seemed worthy of the bathroom. How adorable are those ears as it rounded the toilet paper basket and stood up on its hind legs in order to assess the human/house situation? It is the diseases that they have the potential of carrying that concerns me. Otherwise, I'd probably name them and feed them out of little bowls. I somewhat ignore them when they are in the garden. But, when they are using my 47-year-old Snoopy doll as a latrine I have to draw the line. In this story, Snoopy is hanging on the headboard of my 5-year-old daughter's bed. Death with a severe tone is imminent.
No, rats and mice are no laughing matter. They are able to transmit a number of very serious diseases through direct contact – either biting or scratching – or simply through contact with urine or feces. In San Luis Obispo County you are most likely to run into either the Norway rat, Rattus norvegicus or the roof rat, R. rattus. Both rats can cause quite a bit of damage if allowed to proliferate. The Norway rat tends to favor ground level areas, while roof rats prefer elevated locations such as roofs and attics. Both find food on the ground. The Norway rat often burrows in wood piles, deep shrubbery or ivy, or compost piles.
Interestingly, rats avoid new foods and traps. They didn't get their crafty reputation for naught. But, their intelligence is limited – if you think like them, low to the ground, myopic and desperate, you will eventually catch them eating the Havarti right out of your trap. Hopefully it's the last bite they eat.
The primary way to beat rodent infestations is sanitation. Your mom didn't appear shocked when she caught you eating a sandwich in bed for nothing. Rodents (and other pests) survive on our sloppiness. Dog food left sitting in bowls is an invitation for a rat feteʹ. Keep the dogs fed on a schedule and then lock and clean the kitchen. Any accessible food is problematic. Water is another resource these poor dried out beasts are looking for. Keep your compost contained if you can. Remember that even big rats can gain access into a quarter-sized hole. Don't forget their sizeable teeth – small holes can become bigger with a bit of gnawing. Clear out thick brush if you suspect your shrubs are serving as a rat housing project.
After you have dealt with the sanitation factor, your home will cease to be attractive to your whiskered friends. In the event that you continue to hear the pitter-patter of diminutive feet and see those unmistakable droppings, you can be assured that your guests do not know when to leave. In this case, it may be necessary to trap the buggers. Your best bet, according to the Master Gardeners and many, many experienced homeowners that I happened to speak with, is the snap trap. That old-fashioned goodie does work. Just remember to make that last meal worth the risk for Mr. or Ms. Rat.
Also, one tidbit from a good friend – don't reuse the traps right away. The rats are sometimes smart enough to smell the one that we'll call “Not-So-Lucky.”
For more information on rodents I've included the links to the Master Gardener website:
For information on rats:
For information on mice:
Last, but not least, fun reading on the wily rat: