- Author: Alison Collin
Reading books about pioneer families I noticed that ground cherry pie often played an important role in fall festivities. Priding myself as a "fruitarian" I was surprised that here was a fruit I had never seen or tasted. That had to be rectified!
Ground cherries belong to the genus Physalis and are closely related to Cape gooseberries (Physalis peruviana) and tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa) which they resemble. Many Physalis species are described as ground cherries, but I chose to grow one particular variety — Physalis pubescens var 'Pineapple' — since it was said to have a superior flavor. Two other highly recommended varieties are “Aunt Mollie” and “Goldie” which are said to have good flavor and are a little larger than “Pineapple”.
I sowed the seeds indoors six weeks before the last expected frost and had no trouble germinating or transplanting them. The plants grew slowly at first but more rapidly once soil temperatures had warmed up. At this point the foliage became laced with tiny holes which looked consistent with flea beetle damage. I used some insecticidal soap with little affect before deciding to let them take their chance without any further intervention. The plants quickly developed into a lax, multi-branched, 18-inch high, sprawling shrub with many of the stems running along the ground. Numerous tiny yellow flowers developed into husk covered fruits. None of them approached the promised ½-inch diameter but were more like the size of a large green pea. Toward the end of the season the husks turned brown and the fruits inside became bright yellow/orange before dropping to the ground. Harvesting was accomplished by raking up the fallen fruits.
Unlike tomatillos, the bottom of the fruit does not protrude through the husk, so there is no way of telling if the fruit is ripe until the husk has been removed. Green fruits should not be eaten since they contain a toxic alkaloid. There are numerous very tiny seeds inside the fruit, and occasionally this can give the impression of eating grit! The flavor is hard to describe, but ripe fruits are sweet, pleasant to eat out of hand and add interest to fruit salads, but they really come into their own for making preserves since they produce a wonderful, unique-flavored jelly or jam. One great advantage of ground cherries is that they have a tremendous shelf life, and can hold for up to 3 months if left in their husks and stored in a cool place.
It was four years ago that I planted my first crop and although I was not smitten by this fruit and had no intention of growing it again, it has volunteered in my garden ever since, so I usually leave a couple of plants to mature and welcome the change of flavor from the eternal grapes and pears!
You can find ground cherry seeds in many gardening catalogues.
- Author: Carmen Kappos
While thinking about rounding up and checking all my own garden tools, I quickly found several good articles on tool care. The first article I came across is found in our own local garden guide “A Gardener's Companion” by Inyo - Mono Master Gardeners. The others I located on the Internet in university extension websites. For the complete articles, please check the references listed at the end. One of the articles has a good description of tool sharpening, as well as care of tools.
There are several good reasons to make tool maintenance a routine chore. The more important reasons include:
- Tools last longer when well cared for
- Sharp tools make better cuts on foliage, allowing the plant tissue to heal properly
- Clean tools help prevent the spread of plant diseases
- Tools are safer to use when they operate properly, you check for missing or broken parts, and you make handles secure and splinter free
In order to care for tools, many good tips were provided by the articles I found, such as:
- To disinfect pruning equipment both during use, and at seasons' end; spray or wipe with Lysol® disinfectant. The active ingredients in Lysol® are less corrosive to metal than a bleach solution and easier on your garden clothes as well. There are other brands as well.
- To protect metal tools from rust, clean, dry and give a light oil coating. During gardening season wipe off excess oil, or dirt will cling to the surface.
- Make an “oil sock” to rub metal parts and keep them clean. Stuff a sock with sand or wadded rags. Tie a knot and apply vegetable oil. Store the sock in a zip-lock plastic bag. Vegetable oils work and are less toxic than the engine oil that's often recommended
- A “dip bucket” of sand can clean shovels and trowels of clinging dirt. Master Gardener Alison Collin has observed that the older version dip bucket with oil in the sand is hard to dispose of since it is considered hazardous waste.
- Dedicate a plastic kitchen spatula to scrape off dirt and mud from tools after each use.
- Murphy's Oil Soap or a multi-purpose hand cleaner removes plant sap from tools, and as Alison also pointed out, is less toxic to use than turpentine which is recommended in older articles.
- Lubricate moving parts of tools, “3-in-1” oil is an effective joint lubricant.
- Use a wire brush, putty knife and /or steel wool to clean large amounts of dirt or rust from tools.
- Always wear safety goggles when cleaning and sharpening tools.
- A heavier coating of oil on tools not being used in winter protects the metal during storage.
- A tool storage rack will “help prevent mutinies in the garden shed,” by keeping tools organized, and may keep you safer from accidents.
- Use saw guards to keep saws sharp and yourself safe from accidental cuts.
- A bucket caddy corrals small hand tools.
- Drain hoses and allow to dry before hanging up at the season end.
- If you have multiple hoses, prior to storage, label where they are used in the garden.
- Before storing, check for and replace missing or worn washers from hose end couplings.
- Repair hose leaks with hose mending couplings.
Near the end of my garden season, I especially loved finding this quote from "Caring for Your Tools":
The most important tool in the garden is you. When you're feeling rusty and dull and not too sharp, you should take care of yourself. The same is true of your garden tools. They'll be more productive if they're well cared for [Jim Child (1999) Garden Gate, Issue 30.]
As I check over my tools for storage, and give them a little tender loving care: I've decided to do the same for myself with a little T.L.C., loafing in my yard and imagine what the next garden season will produce.
“A Gardener's Companion for the Eastern Sierra, Topaz to Tecopa,” Presented by the UCCE Master Gardeners of Inyo and Mono Counties. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Master Gardener Program.
“Take Good Care of Hard-working Garden Tools” http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/node/498 contains several good reminders on caring for garden tools.
“Caring for Your Tools” can be found at fyi.uwex.edu/cwas/files/2013/01/Caring_for_Your_Tools.pdf A detailed article including tool sharpening information.
“How disinfectants compare in preventing transmissions of fire blight”, Teviotdale, Beth L., Wiley, Monica F., Harper, Dennis H. (1991) California Agriculture. 45(4):21-23.
- Author: Harold McDonald
Gardeners know that the old saying “location, location, location” doesn't just apply to real estate. As the local Farm Advisor, Dustin Blakey always stresses, put the right plant in the right spot. But what if you live in Chalfant. It doesn't really seem to be the right spot for anything! Next time you're driving out Highway 6—maybe for a great burger at The Merc—notice the native vegetation. Not far past Laws the sagebrush disappears. By the time you're coming down the hill toward Chalfant, even the rabbitbrush has deserted you, and aside from the relative lushness of the occasional saltbush you're faced with a lot of things that pretty much look dead, so it's hard to say just what they are.
Last time I wrote about one of my top ten favorite shrubs, California coffeeberry (Frangula californica). When it comes to flowers, there is no contest for the winner in my neighborhood—the entire Salvia genus. If I were going for my yard's top ten flowers, maybe three of them would be salvias. I had two or three species when I lived in town, but I never really appreciated the diversity of the genus until I moved out here, where Salvias seem to succeed where others struggle. When I picture the star performers in Bishop, I'm thinking things like Rudbeckia and Echinacea. Why they thrive there, yet not here, I'm not sure, but salvias don't struggle, even in my yard, and nothing attracts more creatures. From before dawn until after sunset, from April through October, there are always hummingbirds in my yard.
Here in the Owens Valley, most of the salvias we are familiar with require relatively little water, so it is easy for us to forget that salvia is the largest genus of the mint family Lamiaceae—plants that normally like wet conditions. Salvias do vary with their water needs, and some are bog plants, but most are relatively un-thirsty and all require well-drained soil. Of more concern to us is cold tolerance. Nearly any salvia will grow well here in the summer, but many are tender perennials. Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage), for example, is one that is big and beautiful in summer, and though I had some success with them overwintering in Big Pine, Chalfant is a bit too rugged for that one. Like another beautiful sage that is widely available in our area, Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue,' it is rated zones 8-10, so if you're in the southern end of the valley, you might be able to count on a return performance next year; the farther north you travel, the more you'll have to be content with buying new plants every year. By the way, the American Horticulture Society has good gardening maps at http://www.ahs.org/gardening-resources/gardening-maps and our own website has great local info at http://ucanr.edu/sites/mginyomono/Resources/Climate/. As long as we're looking at external sources, here's another one of interest: a list of all the known species of Salvia!
Sage has one of the longest histories of any of the useful herbs, and the essential oils of another, clary sage (Salvia sclarea), are widely used in aromatherapy, perfumes and liqueurs. It's interesting and easy to grow from seed, but somewhat rank. Fortunately, there are lots more interesting choices and we'll get to them next time.
By Paula Sayer, Master Gardener Volunteer
Do you keep losing your pets in your leaf piles, but feel tired at the thought of all the work involved in chopping and turning a decent compost pile? Compost doesn't have to be a lot of work.
I'm briefly going to cover 3 types of composting. We'll call them rapid composting, general composting and building leaf mold. Composting can be done any time of the year but is somewhat dependent on the outside temperature with lower temperatures slowing the process. You don't need to add any worms or microorganisms- they are naturally present on plant materials.
Rapid composting takes planning in gathering the correct ratios, and work setting it up and maintaining it, however you can be rewarded with results in 2-3 weeks. Materials will need to be chopped into ½” to 1 1/2” - it's easiest to mow leaves. Soft tissues don't need to be so small, but woody tissues should be shredded or omitted. Combine equal parts of dry materials (leaves, straw, etc) and green plant material (grass clippings, prunings, fruit and vegetable waste) and mix thoroughly so there is no matting. Water the pile until it is moist not soggy. The pile should be at least 3 foot square to ensure adequate heat retention, and in most of our area, bins with covers may be needed to retain enough moisture.
Now the hard work. Every day for at least 2 weeks you need to turn the pile, moving the outer edges into the middle, where the temperature should me around 160°F. Hotter will kill the microorganisms making the compost, but cooler will slow the whole process down considerably. Don't add any more material to the pile unless the temperature doesn't rise within 48 hours, in which case check the moisture level, or add more nitrogen (green) material – grass clippings or ammonium sulfate. The pile should have a “pleasant” odor. A stink usually indicates too much water. Soon the volume and the heat of the pile will reduce and it will turn dark brown, then it's ready to use.
The advantage of rapid composting when done right, is it will kill many weed and seeds, insects and eggs plus many organisms that can cause disease in plants. And it is fast!
General composting is basically the same. One difference would be if you don't chop materials into small pieces they will take longer to decompose. The carbon/nitrogen ratio and the water requirements are the same, but another difference is the less frequently you turn the pile the longer it will take to compost. The temperature will not be so high so it will not kill many seeds or diseases (in fact, my pile has been known to grow some awesome potatoes).
But what if, like me, you have a lawn of Bermudagrass, you don't trust your composting abilities to kill those seeds, but you have heaps and heaps of leaves? No matter how you pile them and water them, at the end of the winter they're still going to be just a pile of leaves. If you're lazy you can use nature's process and let the leaves decay naturally into a leaf mold.
Leaf Mold Composting
You can successfully compost leaves without green material, by making leaf mold. This is a cold process – decomposition is done by fungi whereas compost relies on bacteria. Although the end result is not as high in nutrients as compost, it is an excellent soil conditioner. It can take a long time to complete.
Leaves lower in lignin decompose faster, so ash, cherry, maple, poplar and willow break down in about a year, while beech, birch, hornbeam, oak, sweet chestnut magnolia and holly will take 2 or more years. They all tend to mat together and form an impenetrable barrier to air and water, so shredding or mowing them can help speed up the process.
There are several options, depending on space. You can start with a really large wire-mesh bin (the leaves will shrink tremendously) Shredding will help reduce the initial volume. Water them well and cover them, increasing the amount of coverage if they dry out. Water them occasionally to keep them moist, fluff them up every year and after 2-3 years you'll have sweet smelling goodness. Personally I've had more success with stuffing leaves into old soil/compost/fertilizer bags. Pack them in, soak them, stab the bag with a fork a few times and stack them out of the way for a year or two, keeping them out of the sun or the bags may disintegrate before the leaves break down.
For more information about composting, visit this page on the web: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/Items.aspx?search=compost/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Dustin Blakey
In this case I was surprised to get a confirmation and an expected ship date of March 1. This is about 6 to 7 weeks earlier than I planned to plant. No worries, but it did cause me to think about yet another issue we have to deal with in the Eastern Sierra: our ZIP Code.
Most of the population in our "935" ZIP codes lives in warmer places. Even Disneyland thinks we're Southern California! When you place an order for plants online or through mail-order, know that they may ship your plants a bit sooner than you would like.
Many nurseries do offer the option to schedule a date for arrival. If you are purchasing live plants or sensitive materials like begonias, elephant ears or tropicals, you may want to use this option. If you do not let them know your preferred arrival date, odds are they will come earlier than you expect. Be ready to deal with them when they arrive.
If it is too early too plant, you will need to protect the plant from drying out and from getting too cold. That doesn't necessarily mean turn up the heat and force it to grow, either. If the plant breaks dormancy and begins to grow, you will have to be especially careful to protect from frosts. Most deciduous trees and shrubs lose their cold tolerance once they begin to grow.
If you do not see an explicit option to schedule delivery, just make a note in the "comments" section or order form that you live in the mountains and to ship at a time appropriate for Reno, NV and you should be fine.
This will be most important to sensitive plants. Most mail-order and online nurseries have instructions on what to do when your plants arrive. If not, contact them.
For seeds, you can disregard this advice entirely.