- Author: Melissa Holmes Snyder
As we move into August, with its typical dog days of summer, we always need to make sure that the plants in our gardens, edible or ornamental, get the water they need. After back-to-back years of winter droughts in much of the west, it is more problematic this summer. Most California water districts, including EBMUD, have asked everyone to cut back on residential water use by at least 10%.
There are several things that a gardener can do that are fairly painless, and most are not too expensive, to help keep your plants, and your local water district, happy till the hoped-for rains begin later this Fall.
Saving Shower Water
Most home improvement/hardware stores carry five-gallon paint buckets. These work well when placed at the bottom of the shower, for collecting water as it is heating up for your shower.
- Bucket: You will likely go through the captured water in day or two, so you may not need more than a couple of buckets for storage.
- Trash Cans: For storing larger quantities of water, a clean 32-gallon trash with lid, is a good vessel for this. The lid is important because you don't want mosquitos to use your saved "still" water for laying larvae, and without that lid, they will. A new 32-gallon can with lid is available at home improvement stores for under $20.
- Wine Barrels: For more attractive water storage, though more expensive, buy a used wine barrel, which holds 55 gallons. You can by one on the internet or contact local wineries to purchase a barrel that they are "retiring". The wineries will usually sell a used barrel for around $40. You will need to get a plug for the bung hole, the big hole at the belly of the barrel which they use to fill and taste the wine (in the picture to the right you can see the bung hole on the right-side of the barrel). Alternatively you could make a lid out of one end if you cut the top of the barrel off. To make it even fancier, you could add a spigot near the bottom. Or put the barrel on its side, and use the bung hole to fill and syphon water, just keep the plug in to prevent mosquitos.
Drip Irrigation, particularly a with "Smart" Controller is ideal for conserving water for vegetable gardens, perennials, shrubs and young trees. But if the smart controller proves too costly, you can create a drip system that you use manually.
Fertilizers and Mulch
- Use organic fertilizers rather then synthetic fertilizer. It improves the quality of the soil, enabling the water to better move through it to the plants where it is needed.
- Adding mulch around shrubs and trees will help prevent evaporation of water from the soil, requiring less frequent watering.
- Author: Stephen I Morse
- Author: Eileen Linn
In celebration of the Contra Costa Master Gardeners' 30th Anniversary, we came up with 30 (plus 1) signs that you might be a gardener.
Hope you enjoy them!
- Argues constantly that compost smells sweet.
- Delays vacation travel until after the harvest.
- Dirt! In your house, in the trunk of your car, under your fingernails and on your shoes, even the good ones!
- Every vacation has a nursery and /or botanic garden involved.
- Favorite color is green.
- Gets at least a dozen catalogs in the mail - and they send you into a state not experienced since teenage dating.
- Gives zucchinis to friends and co-workers (and sometimes the postal deliverer and UPS driver).
- Home Depot and nursery's know you by your first name.
- Mountain of plastic pots squirrelled away.
- Own one too many floppy straw hats.
- People share all their plant problems with you.
- Pruning clippers in your back pocket.
- Seed collecting materials, plant holders and coffee grounds from the coffee shop in the car.
- The yard is in better shape than the inside of your house.
- There are plants waiting to be added to your garden.
- Trays of seedlings on top of your refrigerator/Cuttings in the refrigerator.
- Use Latin words in public.
- When you tour a garden you first look for their composting set up.
- Won't let anyone else prune the fruit trees.
- You drive by any lawn and think, that could be a garden.
- You have more pairs of gloves than earrings.
- You live in your Carhartts.
- You look at vehicles based on how many tools and how much soil/compost/amendments they'll hold.
- You stop talking mid-sentence when you see a plant you don't recognize.
- You try to save every puny little plant that should have gone into the compost.
- You wake up in the middle of a cold night and wonder if you should go out and cover your succulents.
- You water other people's plants when out for a walk from your own water bottle if they look thirsty.
- You'd give up a movie to trim and weed the garden.
- Your fingernails are the shortest they've been since birth.
- Your own garden book collection rivals Barnes & Nobles.
- You're in a national park and you have to resist the urge to pull weeds.
- Posted By: Molly Wahl
- Written by: Molly Wahl, Master Gardener
I love this time of year and all of the promise and excitement that it holds. Secret plans are being drawn up, lists are being made, and visions of plum tomatoes dance in my head. Is it the cold, wintery weather that’s got me in a tizzy? No. Is Christmas and New Year’s festivities that have my heart feeling exuberant? While I do love the holidays, that is not it either. All of you vegetable gardeners know, don’t you? Yes, it is the season of seed catalogs.
I received my first one in the mail about a week ago, and it is an old favorite- The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Catalog. Wanting to postpone the bittersweet excitement of opening it (and eventually finishing it), I have just laid it reverently on my bedside table. Every night my eyes gently caress the cover as I wonder about the untold delights between its covers. Occasionally I will flip it open to a random page and gaze agog at the endless collection of eggplant varieties, but for now, I am holding off on reading it from cover-to-cover. Before long, the catalogs from Baker Creek, Seed Savers Exchange, and the Trees of Antiquity will join the ranks on my bedside table. If you haven’t yet discovered the excitement of seed catalogs, then I suggest you treat yourself this season. I swear that wine writers have stolen a page from the folks who do the writing for these catalogs; each description contains such luscious descriptions and fascinating history that I am determined to try and grow the described variety (even if it requires climactic conditions quite outside the realm of possibility for the Richmond Hills.) Let me give you a taste! In the FIVE pages dedicated to different types of corn seeds, the writers describe the Floriani Red Flint variety of corn as follows: “[A] family heirloom from the Valsugana valley of Italy near Trento, via William Rubel. Originally brought to Italy from America, it evolved over hundreds of years to become the staple polenta corn of the valley….Cornmeal has a pink cast, and makes a polenta with a remarkably rich, complex flavor” (19).
The names alone of many of these varieties are enough to induce vegetable colored daydreams. Imagine being able to tell your gardener friends that you are not just growing garlic, but instead you have German Porcelain, Inchelium Red, and Nootka Rose varieties! And maybe you thought that bibb leaf and looseleaf lettuce were as much variety as you needed, but then when you flip to the lettuce section your mouth starts watering over the Yugoslavian Red Butterhead and the Drunken Woman varieties. Before you know it all of this dreaming leads to another favorite winter-time activity for gardeners everywhere- reimagining garden spaces.
Besides the seed catalogs that start to congregate on my bedside table, I also begin gathering graph paper, pencils and rulers at this time of year. As I think back over what did and didn’t work the previous year, and I drool over all the different plants I want to fit in the following year, I begin to plot out the new shape of my garden. Usually I am trying to squeeze just a little more planting space out of an area, or I am figuring out how to rotate my crops, but this year I am going for even larger revamping. I have drawn out a completely new bed configuration that will (hopefully) provide for greater ease of movement and more bed space. Now, I just need to get out there and move the soil around!
Happy Holidays to you and your garden!
- Posted By: Molly Wahl
- Written by: Molly Wahl, Master Gardener
In my little part of the county, winter weather is finally touching down. Just last week we started to drop into the lower 40’s at night and in the mornings everything is often covered with a heavy coat of dew. Rain is beginning to fall with more regularity, and the trees are becoming leafless skeletons against a backdrop of awesome October sunsets.
So, what’s a gardener to do? The soil it often too wet to be worked, and while the summer harvest is definitely over, the winter crops are still too young to bear much besides greens and baby lettuce. Might I suggest that you spend some time discovering a whole new kingdom of delights? May I introduce you to the exciting and colorful world of fungi?
This is the time of year to start learning about mushrooms. I am endlessly enchanted by Mother Nature’s sense of timing. Just when we are beginning to suffer from the ennui of late fall, she sends us something new and altogether different. Along with the first fall rains, mushrooms begin to fruit all across our lovely county. Amongst the eucalyptus stands, in the thick duff of bay and oak forests, and in mixed pine groves, mushrooms are poking their unique heads up from the ground. Most people are hanging up their hats and putting their hiking shoes in the closet at this time of year, but if you can withstand a bit of rain, there is a whole world out there that is just waiting to be discovered. And if you are a gardener, that whole world could be located within the confines of your own backyard.
Raising your own mushrooms is a trend that is spreading quickly amongst the urban homesteading, DIY folks. Fungi-philes order logs, boxes filled with chips, or sawdust that has been inoculated with mushroom spawn, and within a couple of months they often have their own edible mushrooms right at their fingertips. Last year at this time, I decided that I wanted to try growing mushrooms directly in my vegetable garden. From what I could tell, there were a couple of benefits to this idea. First, if it worked I could harvest edible mushrooms along with lettuce, greens, or whatever else I was growing at the time. Second, mushrooms help grow stronger plants. Fungi create large mycelial networks underground that help spread water and nutrients to their fruiting bodies (the actual mushrooms that we see.) Some of these mycelia form partnerships with the roots of plants thereby helping to secure additional nutrients for the plants.
So, I ordered three varieties: Stropharia rugoso-annulata (recently renamed Psilocybe ruguso-annulata), Hypsizygus ulmarius, and Coprinus comatus. Each of these three mushrooms needed a different type of strata. The Coprinus needed compost and manure, the Hypsizygus needed straw, and the Psilocybe needed hardwood chips. I got their respective beds prepared and mixed the mushroom spawn in. I allowed Mother Nature the honor of doing the watering over the winter and spring and then I sat back and waited. Sporadically, I received a few cute Psilocybe babies with their red wine colored caps, but besides that--nothing. I had hoped that this fall and winter I would be getting a lot more, but I suspect I will not. First of all I think that I did not keep the mushroom beds watered enough during the summer. I am really bad at watering things regularly especially when I can’t see that anything is happening (maybe this is why I have such a high seed failure rate!). Also, I realize now that two of my spots get too much sun. In general, mushrooms do best when they are part of an understory with shrubs and tree canopy above. I have very little shade in my yard, and so if I want to grow mushrooms, I will have to design a landscape that provides ample foliage cover. The last factor that I believe has contributed to the failure of my mushroom experiment is my chickens. I love them dearly, but with all of their hunting and scraping, they really disturb the top layer of the soil. Great for weeds and bugs, not so good for mycelial growth which typically happens, you got it, underground.
Nonetheless, it has still been a good year for mushrooms so far. A couple of our mushroom logs in the garage have started fruiting, and I am dreaming of homegrown shitake mushrooms as far as the eye can see. We have also had some luck with foraging mushrooms in the wild. While we haven’t found many chanterelles yet, we have harvested a number of King and Butter Boletes (Boletus edulis and Boletus appendiculatus respectively.) Boletes are commonly dried and known as porcini mushrooms for those of you who enjoy cooking with mushrooms.
As you can probably tell, I really enjoy mushrooms. I encourage you to start paying attention to the entire kingdom below your feet! If you are new to hunting mushrooms, you should be collecting them for identification purposes only, not for consumption. If you are interested in learning how to find edible mushrooms, you should take classes on mushroom identification though places like Merritt College or attend mushroom forays with the Mycological Society of San Francisco. Happy hunting!