- Author: Lowell Cooper
At first, I thought that I would postpone this entry until I found and fixed an irrigation leak which was actually identified by the Benicia water company. It is not visible from the surface, so I was surprised. But I have been losing enough water that I have been concerned. So, I marched around my garden turning off irrigation zones, which is not too simple since there are 7 irrigation lines divided into 3 zones. All the main lines are underground though the emitters are drip and above ground. The system is about 20 years and, as I am sure you can imagine, a lot has gone on in this garden in 20 years where I have redirected lines and installed piping to cater to my changing plant tastes.
My first challenge was reading the ‘smart' meters so I could see how my fixes were going. That took a special appointment with the city meter reader to get a quick lesson on how to read it. Early on in the process, I turned off the irrigation and voila, no leak. I guess I could breathe a sigh of relief that there was no leak in or under the house or the concrete driveway.
Then I called a leak detection company. They came over and were willing to tackle the irrigation, though if truth be told, I don't think they had much experience with this kind of thing. They did guarantee that they would stick with the project until they found the leak and the person they sent was a really decent fellow. He took his probe in hand and off he went poking around. There were signs of water everywhere and he was running around alternatively poking, turning off pieces of the system, and reading the meter. A 2-hour appointment stretched into 4 hours and I was beginning to lose faith in the wisdom of their way. At some point, I called an old landscaper. Just my luck, she had had an accident and was unavailable. I was trapped with a nice but moderately incompetent guy.
Poking continued with a second block of a couple of hours of running around, poking and reading the meter. The choreography of this event must have looked like a timed Easter-egg hunt. To date, I have fixed a bunch of what looked like leaks but the water loss is still there. As I write this, I am preparing to embark on another explore to find the crucial leak. I assume that I eventually will. Does anyone know a leak specialist who specializes in irrigation? I have a lot of patience and will persist, but will I overcome?
- Author: Michelle Davis
What color do you think of when you hear the word October? It's a strange question, but I would guess what popped into your head is the word orange. Orange leaves, orange pumpkins, orange sweet potatoes, orange carrots, and orange persimmons.
Almost every late October a neighbor of my parents invites me to pick whatever I want from his large Hachiya persimmon tree. He likes to see the acorn-shaped fruit get eaten and not land on the ground where he has to pick it up and dump it in the green can. Years ago, his wife (now deceased), would pick the persimmons and sometimes bake cookies with them. Lucky neighbors would receive some of her labor. I usually pick about a dozen. I give some to my dad who likes to eat them just as they are. Although they are orange and look ripe, they are bitter and astringent when they are hard, so he sets them on the counter to get really soft and sweeten up. The way to tell they are ready to eat is to tug slightly on the stem/top and if it comes off easily, the fruit is ready. He then puts them in the fridge for a few hours to get really cold, peels them partially and scoops out the fruit with a spoon and eats it. They really are good this way. I also put them on the counter to ripen but my goal is to bake them into cookies. However, the softening process sometimes takes too long for the time when I want to make the cookies. My solution is to freeze the orange fruit in a plastic bag overnight, thaw it on the counter or in the fridge the next morning and voila – nearly instant, ripe and ready Hachiya persimmons. This method changes the texture and a little of the flavor, but for baking cookies, it's fine. At least, no one has complained yet.
The Otow Ranch in Granite Bay sells preserved Hachiya persimmons that have undergone the hoshigaki method. The English translation from Japanese “hoshi” means dried and “gaki” is from the word “kaki” or persimmon. Each persimmon has the skin removed and is strung by its stem and hung on a rack to dry with another persimmon hung on the opposite end of the string. The temperature has to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit or less so that the fruit doesn't mold. Every 3 to 5 days for weeks, the descendants of the original ranch owners gently massage each fruit and turn it. The fruit slowly dries and the sugar in the fruit comes to the surface, and the fruit flavor concentrates. The outside of the fruit turns white from its own sugar looking a bit like white mold. It's not moldy; it is purely the sugar from the fruit itself rising to its surface. The astringency of the fresh-picked, harder fruit is gone. The tannins that are in the fresh-picked fruit are water-soluble, so with drying they disappear. What's left is chewy, sugar-coated and delicious. Many Asian families buy hoshigaki for holiday gifts. If you are lucky enough to get them as a gift, eat them fairly quickly. If frozen individually they will last about two months. As they thaw in the fridge for 2 – 3 days, the sugar comes back to the surface again. They will last in the fridge about a month, but their scent will affect other foods in the fridge. I have seen them sold vacuum-packed elsewhere, but they still need to be frozen or refrigerated shortly after packing.
Fresh, dried or baked into a dessert, Hachiya persimmons are delicious. Just don't eat them while they are hard, or your mouth will dry and your lips will pucker!
- Author: Lanie Keystone
NATURE'S PALETTE: The Science of Plant Color
By: David Lee
I had just finished seeing the most delicious 18th art exhibit at the Norton Simon Museum in LA when I wandered into the museum shop. There, a curious book—for an art museum anyway—caught my eye…Nature's Palette: The Science of Plant Color by David Lee. To my way of thinking, the only relation to art is the notion of color in nature. Of course, now I became really curious. 15 minutes later, after being entirely fascinated, I decided to buy the book, take it home and become immersed in the wonderful world of nature's color.
The author, David Lee is a professor of Biological Science at Florida International University as well as Director of The Kampog of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami, FL. So, he comes with his own curiosity about what colors do for the growth of plants…and why they are swirling all about us. After he presents the basic courses in molecular chemistry, biology and optic operations, (yes, get over it and read it so you can enjoy the rest of the book!)—he's really off and running with a passion.
The chapter heads give some indication of the focus and diversity of the book with such topics as “Coloring Our Bodies With Plants; Light, Vision & Color; Leaves; Flowers; Stems & Roots; and Chlorophilia. It's in this final chapter, that he returns to his vision of a color-filled world swirling around all-around in nature—the very notion that started his journey.
Lee begins his book as a bit of an anthropologist—leading us all the way back to the times of Shanidar Neanderthal and King Tut and the influences of plants in early ceremonial lives. He demonstrates how plants and their colors have been used in commerce and trade since earliest times—from dyes and décor to today's cosmetics.
Much of Lee's scientific explorations lead him, as the Guardian states, “to describe the process as zillions of minute brews of organic dyes allowing preferred wavelengths to pass through them, strike the plant tissues, and be scattered and reflected back as colors.” In layman's terms, Lee compares the process to watercolor painting. What an elegant way to view a very complex but exquisite natural process.
- Author: Lowell Cooper
I read recently an article published by the American Rose Society entitled “Beetlemania”. I am a member of the ARS but this article came unsolicited about a couple of rose bugs. I have been trying to develop a way of thinking about the bug challenge in general because it is clear that at times the bugs have to be taken head-on or they win the battle and the flower, if not the whole plant. Beetles and thrips, the foci of the ARS article, are examples of bugs that take advantage of good opportunities for a good meal. Bugs, in general, are opportunists: they take advantage of weak plants and thus make them weaker – but there is little resistance. It seems to me these bugs go for new growth or can tell when there is no natural deterrent from the plant itself. Also, if the plant is exploding with growth and is very full, the bug senses a good meal. So it is not surprising to go out into my garden and find spider webs all over the place this time of year, making the plant look like a colorful Halloween mask.
I find that being out in my garden is the only way I can tell whether the plant needs my help to survive. Sometimes just leaving it alone with some beneficial (read, natural enemy) can be the best solution – as with aphids and ladybugs. It relieves me to believe that there is a middle ground of care when the plant is just doing ok – most of the time. The extremes deserve attention and can most often be encouraged back to the middle range; new growth is a sign of the bugs relenting.
So, what I have concluded is that watchful plant care helps me know when I need to intervene, it most often doesn't take much to get it back on track, and it is a wonderful reason to be outdoors. My limitations as a gardener are that I don't remember whether a particular bug is good or bad, and I feel humbled by the notion of the perfect plant. I am perhaps too cavalier about my roses, but I think that good care is good enough – I don't want to forget to smell the roses and take an afternoon nap.
- Author: Paula Pashby
When we moved into our home in Vacaville quite a few years ago, we discovered that the previous owner had done some amazing things with the landscaping. There were beautiful mature fruit trees, a gorgeous palm tree, and some lovely areas of the yard that had their own separate gardening areas.
One area that has always been a pleasure to see is a circular garden. It is located outside the kitchen area and is the first place you see when you enter the backyard. It isn't a huge space, approximately 8' in diameter, however, it does catch the eye at first glance.
Originally, there were plants in this garden that would provide blooms throughout most of the year. One beauty, in particular, is the light pink colored Peruvian Lily Alstroemeria aurantiaca, which resembles a small lily.
Throughout the years, we spent a lot of time focusing on different areas of the yard and did not touch the circular garden, which was okay because this little garden seemed to just take care of itself - just a little splash of water here and there, and it seemed to do just fine. We did, however, make one nice enhancement by adding a birdbath with a running water fountain.
We were still focusing on many other landscaping needs when I noticed that one of the plants, the Peruvian Lily, was slowly taking over the garden. The Peruvian Lily is not invasive by nature but was it happily expanding around the garden because the soil conditions had completely changed. Due to the light water splashing from the fountain, the soil became very moist in some areas and very soggy in others, forcing many of the original plants out. Even though the Peruvian Lily flowers are very pretty and seem to have a very long blooming season, we missed having a variety of blooms over the seasons.
So, I began researching the types of new plants I could put in this moist garden. There were so many things to consider when choosing the plants. Should they be perennials or annuals? What type of plants can tolerate very soggy soil? What is their bloom time? Could they be invasive? How tall could they grow? I really didn't want plants taking over the garden or growing so tall that they would block the view of the fountain.
I have come up with a game plan. The plants listed below are compatible with USDA Zone 9 requirements. Some of these plants should only be planted in spring or fall, so I may have to wait a while to begin. However, that works out fine because I will use annuals in pots to fill in where and when necessary.
The Peruvian Lily will stay around the outer edge of the garden. The next area toward the middle of the garden will be filled with perennials:
- Elephant Ears, Colocasia for beautiful foliage shape and color
- Horsetail, Equisetum for light, tall stalks – just make sure to keep in a container or sink barrier at least 12” into the ground so the rhizomes don't spread underground.
- Iris, Iris for a beautiful splash of purple color
- Leopard Lily, Lilium for a splash of orange color
- Crocus sativus for a splash of yellow color
The inside area of the garden will be filled in with annuals. To add more excitement and change to the garden, annuals can be placed in the garden in pots – no need to plant and pull them out when they are done blooming. There are so many eye-catching flowers to choose from – Pansies, Violets, Marigolds, Cosmos, Zinnias, Impatiens, Heather. The sky is the limit (or bloom time), just use the annual that is blooming at that time!
I am looking forward to watching the progress of the little circular garden and will share all that I have learned. Keep tuned in, there may be a perennial begging to leave the circular garden and looking for a new home!