- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
Fall is a well-named season. Downed leaves are filling rain gutters, carpeting lawns and blowing into the nooks and crannies of yards all over Solano County.
I’ve noticed something that accompanies all those leaves hitting the ground, and it’s just as annoying: leaf blowers.
(I promise this will not be a screed on blowers. They have their place in modern yard maintenance. But do we really have to fire up those blowers at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday? And, honestly, does anyone rake anymore?)
All of this begs the question: Do we really need to clean up and haul off all those fallen leaves, only to turn around and buy bags of mulch for our yards? What’s the research-based word on using our leaves as “free” mulch? The University of California Cooperative Extension Central Coast & South Region Center for Landscape and Urban Horticulture has created a list of the pros and cons of mulch that’s very helpful. Bottom line: It does indeed pay to use your own leaves as mulch. It helps to control weeds, conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature, enhance water absorption, prevent erosion, and enrich the soil.
The key is to use only healthy leaves. Don’t toss in the mildewed grape leaves or the rust-infested rose leaves. Do consider using those pecan or walnut shells as mulch.
Another suggestion I’ve seen in the quest for successful mulching is a leaf shredder. Or, if you don’t want to go out and pay for a shredder, use your lawn mower to chop up the leaves, gather them up and spread a 2- to 4-inch layer around your plants. Remember, mulch should be used as a top dressing only. Do not mix raw mulch in with your garden soil, as it will deplete the nitrogen level in your soil as it decomposes.
My husband rakes up the leaves on our property and tosses them into compost piles. We eventually get lovely shovelfuls of leaf mold, compost that uses only leaves. Here’s a link to another UCCE article on making leaf mold, which you can use as a soil amendment or mulch.
- Author: Edward Walbolt
It's that time of the year again when holiday tree lots begin to set up shop and artificial trees are placed out in the local retailers for sale. As a sustainable gardener I often find myself wondering the age old question, is an artificial tree more environmentally friendly than a real tree? The answer to this question will likely be the basis for my chosen display choice this year so I began to investigate the facts behind both options.
We have had a fake tree for the past 10 years and we are ready for a new one as it is worn out. Some of the issues with artificial trees are that about 95% of them are manufactured in China (including the one I have) and take large quantities of fossil fuel to transport from China to our market here. They are largely made of non-biodegradable plastic and studies show they need to be used at least 10 years to make them an environmentally friendly decision. Most are discarded after an average of only 6 years and then sit in landfills for decades because they don't decompose and cannot be recycled. In contrast, real trees help regulate carbon dioxide while they are being raised, emitting oxygen into our air. They are largely recycled after use creating secondary products like mulch and compost. Real tree farms employ hundreds of thousands of Americans who are dedicated to growing healthy beautiful trees for families to one day idolize, decorate and enjoy memories of. The fossil fuels needed to pick up a local real cut tree are minor compared to a trip over from China.
A downside to some tree farms is the usage of pesticides and fertilizers during production which can pollute ground water and soils of unscrupulous users. My conclusion is that a real tree may be the more green choice when deciding on what kind of holiday tree one displays this season. I will soon be getting in my eco station wagon to take the family down to the real tree lot this year, the first time in a decade, so we can get a real tree. It is always an "experience" and I'll feel better about the reason why I am there this year.
- Author: Edward Walbolt
I was talking with a few fellow gardeners recently and was asked for some suggestions on what gardeners can do to keep our garden space looking its best and in the best health during the taxing, hot, summer months. The first and maybe most important thing a gardener can do in mid-summer is to mulch the beds of the garden so that moisture levels are maintained in the soil during long hot days. This will prevent some of the extra watering the garden often needs of those 90+ degree days. In addition to adding mulch I also add compost to my flower and vegetable gardens to get some fresh nutrients to the plants which are often overdue to be replenished. Most of us compost the garden in early spring and after a few months all of the beneficial nutrients have been used up and need to be replaced. It is especially important for vegetables so that they have plenty of nutrients to complete bearing mature fruit. This is also a good time to stake the larger vegetable plants for reinforcement and continued healthy production. The vegetable plants will likely increase in size after the composting has been re-done and staking the plants in advance will enable continued plant growth. The middle of summer is an opportune time to dead head old blooms and make room for fresh new ones to begin developing. It is a little detail that makes a big difference if you have lost some color in your flower garden. Finally, this time of year is a great time to weed the garden carefully, remove the unwanted weeds and make some space for your favorite plants to stretch out and fill in.
- Author: Trisha Rose
Greetings, I spent this past Sunday as a docent for the annual Vallejo Garden Tour. I spent the day at an historic bungalow on Napa Street. The owner has converted her wrap around front and side yards into a successful edible garden. She and her "rent a husband" removed about a foot and a half of the existing clay soil and brought in garden soil. They built up mounds for raised beds and brought in many half barrels to house a variety of greens, herbs and vegetables of all sorts. Two existing trees, an ancient willow and a palm, were removed after failing simultaneously. Now citrus and fruit trees have found a place in this bountiful garden. The owner adds her compost to the soil twice a year and has established an elegant drip system that takes care to supply just enough water directly to each plant. This organic garden is maintained by feeding the soil rather than the plants. What a refreshingly beautiful result. It doesn't hurt that original art appears in the inner courtyard among the tall (yes already in May) stalks of corn and exuberant Yellow Fin Potatoes.
This home is located in a neighborhood of graceful homes mostly built in the 1800's. The overall garden isn't that large, but what this urban gardener has accomplished is truly inspiring with her wrap around space.
What I have found over the past three years viewing the many gardens on the Vallejo Garden Tour is a real sense of artistic endeavor coupled with ingenuity and effort to make a place of accomplishment. These results have expressed a desire to grow a healthy community and share a spirit of joy to all that care to take a look.
Next time you have a chance, spend some time in your local community gardens, you won't be disappointed.
- Author: Sharon L. Rico
Have you ever seen an onion so large that it looked like a melon? Our good friend, Evon, has mastered growing huge onions right here in Vacaville and has been doing this for 24 years. He appears at our front door in June or July, gifting us with the biggest onions ever! One onion will last us for weeks, often longer! He mails his onions to friends in New York, San Diego and Mexico, no small feat when they weigh up to 4 pounds each.
What is his secret? His onion sets are purchased in early November at a local nursery. He prefers the Stockton Red’s and yellow onions. They are planted deep and 8 inches apart, in a raised bed that has been filled with compost and steer manure. These amendments are rototilled together. The compost he uses is available from April 1st to October 1st at Vacaville landfill, (free, if you have Vacaville garbage service). When the top of the soil dries out, the onions need to be watered thoroughly. In about 8 months, the onion tops will fall over and at that point they are ready to pull from the soil and eat.
When our group of classmates get together to celebrate the 4th of July, the hot topic is Evon’s monstrous, trophy onions and what the biggest one weighed this year!