Advice From the Help Desk
of the UC Master Gardener Program
Help Desk Response: Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardeners about your apricot trees and their problems fruiting this year when your other fruit trees are fruiting well. You also asked for advice on growing vegetables in your home orchard.
There are many reasons why fruit trees will fail to produce with only a light crop. The main problems in our area tend to be weather related, either too warm in the winter or rains or frost at the incorrect time. Other problems may be related to pruning, either timing and/or amount of pruning. Based on the research that we have done on temperatures last winter and the moderate pruning that your trees received, I don't believe that those would have been problems for your trees. Although there were some cool temperatures in February that may have impacted pollination. The more likely cause of your problem was the March rains that we experienced. Apricots bloom in February and early March and spring rains leave them at particular risk for pollination and fruit set problems.
There is one other factor that may have contributed to the problems with your apricot production. You had mentioned that your trees received little water last summer due to the drought. Apricot trees initiate fruiting in early August of the prior year. This is a bit later than for other fruit trees. It is possible that stress due to the lack of water last summer may have impacted your apricots selectively.
Below are some links to more information that you might find useful.
The above link provides a useful calendar for apricot management. It also mentions the spring rain problems encountered by apricots:
This link provides cultural tips as well as guidance on pest control.
Veggies and Fruit Trees: You had also asked about planting vegetables in your orchard. You do need to be careful planting vegetables with fruit trees. While not recommended for the several reasons below, with very careful planning, you might have success. In this case, success (e.g., quantity, quality, type, etc.) would be in the eye of the garden owner, you. For example, one problem is shade. Most summer vegetables need 6-8 hours full sun. If you are going to plant, you would need to make sure that the vegetables are on the south side of the fruit trees to avoid shade on the vegetable plants. Another problem is water. Trees do best with relatively infrequent and deep watering. Vegetables typically need more frequent watering. If you are setting up new irrigation, you should separate the vegetable irrigation system from the orchard system. Here is some information on irrigation: http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/221116.pdf.
I thought you might also be interested in some general information on setting up and managing a vegetable garden: http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8059.pdf.
Good luck with your trees and your vegetables. Please let us know if you have further questions.
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County (ECS)
Note: The UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: email@example.com, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/CCMGBlog/).
Advice from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County
Client's Requests:I'm a new veggie gardener in Contra Costa County (CCC). Would you please help me with some basic veggie growing information for CCC:
- Planting zone for my area
- Last frost date for my area.
- Best veggies to plant for my growing area
- List of germination times for various vegetables such as lettuce and radishes.
MGCC's Help Desk Response:
Thank you for contacting MGCC. We believe the information below should answer your questions about veggie gardening no matter where you live in CCC. We also believe all of the information you seek is readily available on the web either from interactive maps based upon government or authoritative information or downloadable from our own MGCC or other UC web sites.
The responses below are in the order of your request:
The US Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zones are used throughout the U.S. Here in CCC the majority of the residential part of CCC is divided into only two zones, either 9 (the majority) or some of the milder SF Bayside areas it would be Zone 10. Both zones can be further split (e.g. 9a and 9b) where the “a” zone is colder. (The colder the winter, the lower the USDA Zone designation). A web-based interactive map based upon the USDA Zones can be found at http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/InteractiveMap.aspx. This interactive map allows you to put in your zip code and get your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. There are some other interactive maps on the web as well that based upon USDA data. One that I like to compare data with can be found at http://www.plantmaps.com/interactive-california-usda-plant-zone-hardiness-map.php.
2. Last frost date: The Last Frost Date (LFD) is important as it is an indicator to determine when your tender transplants and/or your seeds can go in the ground without protection from the cold. (Note: Soil temperature is also a consideration and can be measured with a soil thermometer about 3” below ground surface. Soil temperature guidelines can be obtained from the reference in response 4. below). As with Plant Hardiness Zones, the LFD also varies considerably throughout CCC. As a rule-of-thumb, MGCC usually recommends that on average you protect your plants for frost (and even possible freezes) from at least mid-November to mid-March. But, “all weather is local” and frost dates are no exception. Micro-climates, can also be a consideration. Micro-climates are local effects on a small area that can be either natural or man-made, e.g. different temperatures leading to frosts if you are located on a hill or down in a valley, or in the garden if there is no cover. In my garden, the narrow area between the fence and house rarely sees frosts, while the open garden on the back hillside gets frost regularly during the winter. The MGCC last reviewed our LFD in 2010 and the results can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/51309.pdf. The summary results are shown below:
3. Best Veggies: MGCC has reviewed and recommended “best veggies” for planting in CCC several years ago. The results, with links below, are based upon SF Bayside veggie gardening vs. the remainder of the County (Inland):
* Contra Costa County Vegetable Planting Guide for Interior Regions http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/131284.pdf
* Contra Costa County Vegetable Planting Guide for Coastal Regions http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/131285.pdf
4. Vegetable germination times: Success in propagating veggie seeds is usually determined by noting if/when your seeds sprout and are on their way to becoming seedlings and eventually full-fledged veggies. Necessary soil temperatures and germination times for almost every home garden vegetable imaginable is found on the UCANR web siteUCANR document at http://ucanr.edu/sites/sacmg/files/164220.pdf.
Hopefully, the above answers your questions on getting started in your veggie garden this year. Please do not hesitate in contacting MGCC if you have further questions.
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County (SIM)
Note: The UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/blogroll.cfm).
- Author: Rebecca Suzanne
Recently, a friend forwarded me a New York Times article about the nationwide use of California water through the consumption of food produced in the Golden State. The article, based on data from the University of California at Davis and the Pacific Institute, states that the average U.S. resident uses 300 gallons of California water this way, every week.
In the face of the worst drought in California recorded history, my inclination has been to stop growing water-thirsty annuals of any kind, including fruits and vegetables. Yet the Times article gave me pause; I feel confident that I can grow an asparagus tip using less than their stated .22 gallons of water and I most assuredly can grow an onion slice using less than .7 gallons!
Gardeners far wiser than I figured this out a long time ago. The phenomenal Rosalind Creasy - long a proponent of sustainable gardening - wrote a 2014 post on just this topic: “When in Drought – Plant Vegetables”. In her post, Rosalind states that growing the average pound of lettuce commercially uses 15 gallons of water, a pound of tomatoes 22 gallons, and a pound of potatoes 30 gallons. Bio-intensive gardener John Jeavons, Director of Ecology Action and author of the best-selling How to Grow More Vegetables, has demonstrated through years of hands-on research, that organic home gardening uses up to 87% less water to grow vegetables as compared to commercial farming. Contra Costa Master Gardener and journalist Joan Morris offers these additional tips for growing vegetables in a drought:
- Don't spare the compost. Add 3 to 4 inches of compost to your garden beds and work it lightly into the soil. Healthy soil produces healthy plants, which need less water.
- Mulch. Add 3 to 5 inches of mulch on top of beds to help reduce water evaporation. Mulch can be almost anything including dried leaves, aged horse manure, extra compost or straw, not hay. Mulch also will repress weed growth.
- Install a drip irrigation system. Drip systems use much less water than any other form of irrigation, and the plants like it better, too.
- Be selective. Plant only what you like and only as much as you'll consume.
- Consider planting early maturing and short-season crops, which will use less water.
- Plant seedlings close together on an offset pattern, rather than in a row. This configuration uses less water and as the plants grow, they will shade the soil and reduce evaporation.
- Grow high-yield vegetables, such as beans, squash, egg plant, peppers and tomatoes. You'll get more for your water buck with these plants.
- Keep your beds weeded. Weeds not only are annoying, they compete with your plants for water and nutrients, and they are much better at grabbing them.
- When given a choice, plant determinate varieties. Determinate plants grow to a certain size and produce for a specific amount of time. Indeterminate varieties will continue to grow and produce until frost. The determinate types, with their shorter growing season, will use less water.
- Instead of planting seeds and watering the entire bed, start seeds in a tray and then transplant the seedlings into your garden.
- We typically do this with certain plants, such as tomatoes, in order to get a head start on the growing season, but consider doing it with the big seed plants such as pumpkins, corn and squash.
- Use shade cloth to help prevent soil evaporation and prevent sunburn.
- Try dry farming. Many plants, including tomatoes, can be dry farmed. Our Garden will have two demonstration beds this year, growing a number of different tomato varieties.
- For successful dry farming, you want to create a spongy growing medium that will hold water. The best way, Miller says, is to grow a cover crop over the winter and then cut the plants down and work them into the soil.
- If you didn't have a cover crop, then prepare the bed with lots of compost.
- Plant your tomatoes and water them as usual for the first few days to get them established, then water only once a week. Once the tomatoes flower and set fruit, cut off all water. The plants may not look great, but they will produce and some say the fruit will taste better.
So step aside, all you salvias and succulents – my vegetable garden is coming through! My rudimentary rainwater and graywater systems will do their best to keep those veggies hydrated, lots of nutrient-rich compost and a deep layer of mulch will keep them cool and moist, and long, deep sips from a drip irrigation system will fill in as needed.
For additional information on dry farming tomatoes, see http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/140321.pdf/span>