- Author: Dustin W Blakey
Like many of you, I have been a walking sneeze these past couple weeks. There is a fair chance that I'm single-handedly keeping the antihistamine industry afloat! We're past the elms, grasses and pine pollen season so what's going on?
Although in late summer we like to blame rabbitbrush and goldenrod for our allergy woes, the most likely culprit is ragweed. With all the rain this year, the ragweed is plentiful. It thrives on disturbed ground which flooding has created more of beyond the usual roads and trails that it's usually found near. I've seen it this year in places I seldom encounter any.
Ragweeds are found across the USA, but California has its own set of species. There are several species in Inyo and Mono counties, but the one I'm seeing most right now appears to be Ambrosia anthicarpa: annual bursage.
All ragweeds are prolific pollen producers. A quick brush against them near Horton Creek covered me (and my dog) in pollen. Sneezes soon followed.
At this point, ragweed isn't really controllable. It can be managed earlier in the season with herbicides, but the plants are too far developed for that option. Even if you did manage to control yours, the immense population this year will still release enough pollen to make life difficult for another month.
My advice now is to try to avoid getting close to it and try to keep your pets out of it if they're the type that likes to snuggle up to you. If you're out hiking around and see some growing, I'd suggest moving to another spot.
One of my neighbors in West Bishop noticed a pretty, white-flowered plant that had volunteered on the banks of a ditch that ran through the end of her garden. It had been identified as the extremely poisonous water hemlock, (Cicuta douglasii) and since I was unfamiliar with this particular plant I went to check it out. This is a different plant from poison hemlock (Conium) but it is just as dangerous!
The plants were about 3ft tall and the foliage was a lush green – a picture of health, and not so very different in appearance from celery, but eating this neurotoxin-loaded plant (described by the USDA as "the most violently toxic plant in North America") will cause seizures, convulsions and death as quickly as 15 minutes following consumption. Plant parts remain poisonous even when dried. This species is perennial and has large fleshy roots and although it does grow in the wild around West Bishop, and no doubt many other damp places in the area, it could pose a serious danger to children and pets if allowed to grow in our yards.
The small flowers are produced on umbel-shaped clusters (umbrella shaped), typical of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family of plants which is vast and varied, encompassing 434 genera and about 3,700 species and ranging from extremely poisonous plants such as hemlock to popular edibles such as carrots, celery and parsley.
If you see a plant that resembles a carrot that you can't be 100% sure you've identified it correctly, you should avoid eating it. (That is usually a good idea!)
In this case, the neighboring house also had a plant growing and the owners were unaware of it. Most likely the seed heads fall into the ditch and get distributed down-stream. This may result in it becoming more widely distributed and eventually spreading to pastureland, where it could pose a danger to livestock.
This article has information on management of water hemlock and has a convenient comparison between it and poison hemlock: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/crop-production/pastures-forages/poison-hemlock-western-waterhemlock-deadly-plants-may-be-growing .
And the fact sheet attached as a link below has extensive information about this toxic pest.
Although I'm familiar with bindweed from past experience, for some reason it had never put in an appearance in my West Bishop garden until three years ago. A year after removing a lawn and having some topsoil delivered I was upset to see a small, white, Morning Glory-like flower in a raised bed in the center of my new landscape!
How could I have missed its growth up to flowering point? I regularly inspect for all the other evil weeds such as spotted spurge, yellow oxalis, yellow clover and Russian thistle, so how had this specimen avoided detection? And where had it come from? It had grown up through a patch of gaura, winding itself around several stems and the flower that I saw was just the first of many waiting to bloom.
There are two types of bindweed. Field bindweed has smaller leaves and flowers which are pink or white while Hedge bindweed has larger white trumpet-shaped flowers more like ornamental Morning Glory.
Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) grows extremely fast. It has become a serious threat to agricultural crops in some areas of the country, and it is never good news in our gardens. It is a perennial weed with a very deep root system, able to penetrate as far as 16 feet below soil level! To make matters worse, the roots are soft and rather fragile. They merely break off if one tries to pull the plant up, leaving behind pieces that easily regrow. The leaves can vary from spade-shaped seed leaves to arrow-shaped on mature plants and the stems are from 1 to 4 feet in length, sprawling over flat surfaces but winding around any vertical stems or structures. The flowers produce copious amount of seed which has been known to stay viable for 50 years!
Realistically, is almost impossible to eradicate completely and the best one can hope for is to keep it under control. If seedlings are recognized and dug out before their roots have spread and before it has flowered one might eradicate it, but other methods of weed control seldom work. Covering a patch with plastic and solarizing will thwart it briefly, but will not kill deep roots, carefully hand digging out plants with as much root as possible will weaken it so long as this process is repeated whenever new growth appears. It is best to use a fork for removal because spades will inevitably cut through the roots making it difficult to get every last piece out. Likewise mechanical cultivators will chop up the roots and drag them to a new area, but for large agricultural areas there is little alternative, and so to address a heavy infestation this is done on a regular cycle as soon as any new growth emerges until the plants are weakened.
In my own garden I have removed any growth as soon as I see it. Nevertheless, shoots have appeared more than 10 feet away in two different directions from the original growth. The plant is established at the base of a young specimen maple tree, and the roots of the bindweed are beneath those of the tree, so consequently they are impossible to reach. I am sure that this is one gardening battle that I will never win, but currently I feel that I do have the upper hand.
Prevent spreading bindweed by inspecting any new plants brought in to the garden from other sources, and if you already have it don't be tempted to move plants around from one area to another, or share any garden plants with friends and spread it to their gardens! I saved a rather precious salvia by digging it up, washing and meticulously inspecting the roots for any scraps of bindweed, then planting it into a large pot where I kept it for several months before finally installing it in its new home.
For more detailed information regarding control of bindweed: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7462.html
Blessed with good soil, I usually grow all of my vegetables in the ground, but this year I was tempted to create a raised bed for strawberries with space for some vegetables too. I went to town on the soil preparation and during the winter dug in my precious supply of leaf mold and some horse manure from the local stables and then before planting hoed in some commercial soil amendment too.
I sowed ornamental blue wheat, spinach and cilantro all of which germinated well and I planted the strawberries in late March. As I was planting them I noticed a lot of tiny wriggling worms in the holes. I looked at them with a hand lens and saw that they were segmented and legless, whitish and almost transparent. I mistakenly assumed that they were baby earthworms.
While searching for the culprit, I found that the soil was very wet, and teaming with the tiny wriggling worms which after visiting our Farm Advisor, I learned were white worms in the family Enchytraeidae.
It's likely the chard actually was being eaten by roly-polies* or earwigs as these little worms wouldn't be able to eat foliage. Roly-polies also like moist conditions with plenty of organic material to consume so this seems like a reasonable pest.
Enchytraeid worms are sometimes found in flower pots, hence their common name of "pot worms." These are basically beneficial since they live on fungus and decaying organic matter which releases nutrients for plants and aerates soil.
Like earthworms, they are true worms (Annelids). These are often found in moist conditions with high organic matter and a fair amount of acidity. That usually describes the mix in flower pots. Their presence when you're trying to raise worms for vermicomposting can mean there is a problem, but in the garden they are harmless.
These little critters were a good reminder of the importance of proper irrigation. They are present because of all the moisture. It is obvious that I need to alter the irrigation amounts in this highly enriched area of the garden.
* Also called sowbugs or pillbugs. They're not really "bugs" but soil-dwelling crustaceans.
When we first moved to the Owens Valley 12 years ago we inherited a well-stocked garden, one feature of which was a border of raspberries. Sadly, I forgot to ask the previous homeowner which variety they were. I was amazed to think that one could grow these in a place which has such hot summers, since I had always been taught that raspberries grow in much more equable climates such as the Pacific Northwest.
However, these plants did not let me down and produced a crop on the one-year-old stems (floricanes) in late May/early June followed by a smaller crop in fall on the current season's growth (primocanes) in October. They are growing in front of an east-facing 6' high wooden fence so they get morning and early afternoon sun. They are drip irrigated with two parallel lines about 16 inches apart with in-line emitters every 12 inches.
The canes are sturdy, self-supporting, slightly spiny, 3'-4' high and do not need to be staked. The berries are not particularly large but are firm and hold up well in the freezer. The flavor is good but not exceptional.
However, in recent years the fall crop has failed. Although flowers appear in September and are worked enthusiastically by bees the young berries have been destroyed by an early frost (although after the damage was done the weather warmed up considerably for several days afterwards).
Then I made my big mistake! I came across a variety called 'Joan J' in a catalog and it was described as the earliest of the fall fruiting varieties. That would surely miss the frost and furthermore the stems are spineless, berries large and with very good flavor. Just what I needed – or so I thought.
I cleared some of my old canes and replaced as much of the soil as I could and planted in the spring. They grew extremely vigorously and before long I was hammering in stakes and stringing wires in order to keep up with them, but even so some of the canes did not get tied in and the lush green growth soon flopped over.
I was excited to see the first flowers appearing in late June—huge panicles of blooms on the tips of the new stems. And that was when the problem began! I had lost a tree that had provided some shade to the canes so the plants were getting too much sun right in the middle of summer when our temperatures were soaring well into the 100°F range. As a result the berries were either drying into a pippy mess or cooking in the hot sun which attracted a goodly number of green stink bugs. I had very few berries that were suitable for harvest but they did have a strong and wonderful flavor. Many of the tips had flopped over the supporting wire so that the stems were bent double and of course this resulted in the berries dying.
Another problem was that these plants did not stay put neatly in the row where they were planted and have spread themselves into adjoining crops of strawberries and rhubarb.
Rethinking the Problem
After a few disappointing seasons my choices appear to be:
- To abandon this variety altogether and choose a variety that will ripen in September
- To try and rig up some sort of shade cloth which will not take off in the wind
- Replant them in a more open area where perhaps they would get less reflected heat from the fence, but I would have to sacrifice some other crop to do that
- Concentrate on growing floricane fruiting varieties which give a single good crop in June before one gets busy dealing with tree fruits
Any suggestions that I haven't thought of? Feel free to leave your comments below.
To learn more about raising raspberries in our area see this link: https://ucanr.edu/sites/newinyomonomg/Eastern_Sierra_Gardening/Fruits/Raspberries//h3>