- Author: Dustin Blakey
I always like to grow some flowers in my garden. I usually grow cosmos, zinnias, or marigolds, all of which do great in the Owens Valley.
This year I had a great plan to try to have my garden mostly done by July. It didn't work out, but before I abandoned that goal, I planted bachelor's buttons. These annual plants flower quickly, and I had hoped they would be ready in time for graduation day in June. And they were. Sort of.
Bachelor's buttons—also called cornflowers—are in the same genus (Centuarea) as many thistles that do great in California. Some in fact are terrible weeds like yellow star-thistle: C. solstitialis.
I've never grown them here myself, but bachelor's buttons are about the world's easiest thing to grow. Just maybe not in the desert when it's blazing hot. (In my defense, I suspected they wouldn't like our summer. I was trying to finish up the garden before the heat was unbearable in my back yard.)
Some Centaureas do like our climate. Centuarea montana, a similar looking perennial plant, looks nice in the Owens Valley. Centuarea cyanus, at least when direct sown in the garden, was a disappointment for me.
Here is what the flowers look like in the seed catalog:
In my past experience growing them, that's a fairly accurate representation of what to expect.
Here is what I ended up with:
As you can see in the picture, the flowers don't look so good. What's happening? Well, my garden is too hot. As soon as the blossoms open, they immediately desiccate. I suppose if I wanted to dry them that would be fine.
Bachelor's buttons like cool weather, and I planted these in early March. I had no issues with germination. They quickly popped up just like the weeds they're related to. Everything worked as planned, and my first blooms began Memorial Day weekend. (Hooray for planning ahead!) But then they just fried on the stems.
It could just be this particular mix. I'm sure it did fine in Oregon where the seeds came from. In my garden every day, even with ample water, these plants get a bit wilted in the afternoon. Other cultivars may do better, but I don't think I'll experiment again to find out which those may be. (If you have good luck with one, post in comments.)
From this experience, I'd recommend one of these strategies if you want to grow bachelor's buttons:
- Plant the perennial relative C. montana
- Start the seeds indoors in February and transplant to finish sooner
- Pick a cooler part of the yard and not in a hot corner like I have, or use a light shade cloth to lower the temperature
Higher elevation gardeners would probably be much happier with bachelor's buttons than I was. For my part, rather than moving up the grade and trying again, I think I'll stick with zinnias next year.
- Author: Alison Collin
At this time of year it pays to check any cherry trees for infestations of black aphids, Myzus cerasi. These appear most usually on the tips of the terminal shoots, but also on the spurs and they tend to prefer sweet cherry varieties over the sour ones. Leaves will crinkle and curl over, and become sticky with aphid secretions which in turn encourage the development of sooty mold that in severe cases may render the fruit inedible.
These aphids are shiny black and about 1/8-inch long. They overwinter as eggs on the tree bark and emerge at bud break when they feed on tender shoots, injecting a toxin into the leaves which causes them to curl thus protecting the aphids' increasing numbers.
UC IPM recommends using dormant oil sprays in late winter, and hosing off with jets of water any aphids that are obvious before the leaves curl. As with all aphid infestations keep an eye open for ants traveling up the tree trunk – a sure sign that they have found a good supply of honeydew. Natural predators such as hover flies, lady beetles, and lacewings should be encouraged, but once the leaves curl over, these insects appear not to be so prevalent. At that point water jets really are not effective, either.
On a young tree I have used a bucket of soapy water and bent the stems into it so that the affected regions are well submerged, but this is not possible on a large tree. Sometimes leaves are so infested that ones best option is to simply prune off the infected twigs, placing them directly into a plastic bag, and disposing of it.
Other cultural measures which may help are avoiding lush growth in the spring by not over-watering or using high nitrogen fertilizers. The base of the tree should be kept clear of weeds or other plants that may act as summer hosts.
- Author: Alison Collin
In the last few years there has been an interest in “no till” methods of gardening that propose numerous benefits such as increased yields, less physical work, and much healthier soil cited as reasons we should stop digging our soils. However I wonder if this method of growing is really suited to the environs of desert areas? Here are some thoughts of mine on the issue.
Let's start with what “no till” growing is, and how does one go about doing it.
There is more than one way to accomplish a "no-till" garden but the most commonly advocated method is sheet mulching. (It goes by many names.) As the name suggests, the soil is not dug in preparation for growing food or ornamental plants but rather the top of the soil is regularly amended with organic matter which works its way down into the soil to feed the roots of the plants from above. To start a new growing bed using this method, a layer of cardboard is put over the surface of the ground in order to suppress existing weeds. Then a deep layer of well-rotted compost is laid over the top and crops are grown in this. Plants are mulched to retain moisture, and over time the cardboard rots and worms take the compost down into the native soil. This is considered to be closer to how plants and soils interact in the natural world.
By contrast, hand digging or rototilling disturbs the natural profile of the soil by destroying earthworm burrows and bringing the natural and beneficial mycorrhizae to the surface where ultraviolet light and drying conditions kill these fungi. It also interferes with the natural drainage of soil so dug soils drain poorly compared to the compost in no till beds and soil loss by wind erosion is increased.
There is a lot to be said in favor of the no till method. However, is a no-till method like sheet mulching suitable for desert situations with a very low natural rainfall? Most of those who advocate this method of growing and have the greatest success live in high rainfall areas where precipitation is regular throughout the year, and often the rainfall each month is as much as our desert area receives in a year! We also have very dry air with a relative humidity often less than 10%, with frequent, quite strong, drying winds. Our natural vegetation is sparse and prickly as a result of the climate, and things decompose very slowly.
Beneficial to the soil as “no till” might be, some arguments in favor do not hold up in our area. Supposedly it is less labor intensive since one does not dig, but to produce the amounts of compost needed in our area for this method to work, one either has to constantly turn compost heaps, or else buy compost in bulk (assuming that you can find a local source), pay for it to be delivered and then barrow it to the growing area! Our environment makes it hard to even acquire something to make compost from in sufficient amounts.
Then there is the tremendous water usage, both for keeping one's compost heap working and then keeping the applied compost damp enough for these benefits to occur in the garden. Everything dries quickly in our wind, sun, and heat.
Mulch such as wood chips takes a long time to rot down in the desert but without some protection our desert winds can certainly remove loose topsoil. In my experience they are equally efficient at removing the finer particles of mulch, leaving only the sticks behind. Often I have put a deep layer of shredded leaves around plants and on top of the drip irrigation tubing but this fine mulch, far from rotting down or being taken into the soil by accommodating earthworms has rapidly vanished into the next county during our high wind events. This does not happen so much if the mulch surface is kept wet, but can we afford to use that much water when facing a serious drought?
When digging I always incorporate generous amounts of compost or manure or any remaining surface mulch into the ground where it will not get blown away and will be in close proximity to the roots of my crops. I dig in winter when earthworms are very deep in the soil but by spring I have an extremely healthy population.
In many places in the desert where the soils are sandy and alkaline, earthworms are a rarity - if present at all, so in these cases the downward movement of organic matter placed on the surface is not likely to happen for several seasons, and indeed where I have raked several year's accumulation of leaves from under shrubs, even the bottom layer hardly shows any evidence of the leaves breaking down.
No till's proponents admit that slugs and snails are common problems in the compost-grown vegetables, although I doubt whether that would be much of a problem here, but I did mulch heavily with straw one year and consequently had the worst European earwig infestation that I have ever experienced.
Our desert soils certainly need a lot of help in the form of organic matter if they are to produce crops, but it is difficult to know which is the best way to achieve that. As with most horticultural endeavors there are pros and cons to both methods but it pays to think of different options, and perhaps do a trial bed before embarking either method on a large scale.
Editor's note: Another consideration is the population of weeds present. At least in the Owens Valley, our perennial weeds, especially Bermudagrass, emerge through the cardboard layer quickly since it is insufficient to stop them. A gardener would have to eliminate perennial weeds first. Our wind also brings in fresh seeds of wind-dispersed annual weeds that grow well in the rich, organic layer.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
There is a lot of variety in the job of a farm advisor. Some days I'm working with water quality. Other times I answering tree questions. Today I had an insect to identify.
It took a little work, but the insects were banded ash borers.
- obvious yellow stripes
- a slender form
- long antennae
- sturdy legs
- Author: Trina Tobey
It's spring again! Time to start preparing your garden for planting. Read on for some tips to make this year's garden your most successful yet.
The first step in planning a garden is to select a site and amend the soil. Pick a site with good drainage, full sun, access to water, and low traffic. Leave walking room between rows. Never walk on the soil in your garden beds.
Prepare your soil three weeks before you plan to plant. Weed your garden and turn under any cover crops, if you grew any. You will want to loosen the soil 10-12” deep and break up big clods of soil to make it easy for the roots to grow. Do not till very dry or wet soil; soil should be dryish but still able to loosely clump with some effort. You can learn how to double dig your soil by watching the video on YouTube made by our own Master Gardeners: https://youtu.be/KHvgDUd0VS8 .
Next, you can mix in amendments if needed. Soils throughout most of Inyo and Mono Counties are derived from sources in the Sierra. Most soils in our area are well-drained, do not have accumulated salts, and have a good pH for growing plants. However, some communities in our area, such as Chalfant, have soil that is derived from other mountain sources producing alkaline soils that require amending with sulfur before planting. See our local soils page for more information about your local soil.: https://ucanr.edu/sites/newinyomonomg/Eastern_Sierra_Gardening/Soil/Your_Local_Soil_487/
Garden beds should be amended with compost annually. That is especially true here because our desert soils drain water excessively and hold few nutrients. Organic matter, such as compost, improves both the fertility and the texture of the soil. Inorganic fertilizers aim to feed plants and do not affect tilth or the holding capacity of soil. Mix 1-2” of compost or high-quality organic material into the top 4” of your soil with a hoe or a spade. If using manure, make sure it is fully composted. After mixing in the compost, water the bed evenly. Then, let it rest until planting.
If you have terrible soil, you can make raised beds and bring in external soil. Soil in raised beds should be composed of about ½ topsoil and ½ organic matter (mostly compost) by volume. No need to be exact! For more information on raised gardens, visit our website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/newinyomonomg/Eastern_Sierra_Gardening/Vegetables/Raised_Beds/
For best results, many plants require an additional fertilizer. The three primary nutrients plants need are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Too much fertilizer can affect growth, so only add enough to meet the feeding needs of your plants so be sure to carefully follow directions for application.
Have an irrigation plan before planting. Soil needs to remain evenly moist during germination and throughout the growing season. Soil will dry out to a depth of a few inches in the sun. Below that, only plants can remove the moisture. Insert your finger into the soil to determine if the soil is moist or dry and adjust your watering accordingly. For water efficiency, irrigate at the base of the plants early in the morning or late in the evening. Drip irrigation is best. For information on irrigation, visit our website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/newinyomonomg/Eastern_Sierra_Gardening/Irrigation/
Remove weeds as they arise because they compete with your plants for resources. Usually, weeds can be easily controlled by pulling. If not, you can hoe or possibly use herbicides. Be extremely careful when spraying. Never spray when it is windy because most herbicides will kill your plants too. Always read the label and follow the directions when using herbicides. Most gardeners in our area are able to control their weeds with pulling and hoeing, however.
Now you are ready to plant!
Start warm season crops indoors six weeks before planting. You will want to plant as soon as possible for the longest growing season but after the danger of frost, since frost can kill your plants. As a general rule of thumb, transplant when the soil 4 inches deep is 60 degrees at 10 am.
In Bishop, the last frost occurs after May 5 50% of the time and after May 14 25% of the time. Most years the soil is warm enough to transplant well before the end of frost season.
If there is a frost after you plant, protect your plants by covering them. For more information on starting your vegetable garden, visit our website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/newinyomonomg/Eastern_Sierra_Gardening/Vegetables/Getting_Started/
Have fun with your new garden!