- Author: Jan Rhodes
I love apples…crisp and juicy, sweet and tart, green or red. I eat one daily, sometimes with peanut butter or almond butter… I even add a few raisins and some cinnamon now and then for a special treat. I have four lovely apple trees in my yard – Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, Arkansas Black and a Yellow Transparent Apple that someone was going to take to the dump because it wasn't what they wanted. I couldn't bear the thought of a perfectly good apple tree going to the dump, so I planted it and, I have to say, the apples are tasty and early.
With so many apple trees, you would think I could satisfy my apple appetite. And, though I have gotten a few over the years, mostly what I get is tasty chunks after I carve out the coddling moth damage. Ewwww. So, this season, I decided to take action, enough is enough. I water, prune, and dutifully spray these trees…I really should get something more in return.
My winter time research left me daunted – traps and pheromones, recording temperatures and sheesh – too much for someone who likes to keep it simple (you can translate that as “lazy”). So, I remembered my trip to Japan some years back where I paid $6 for an apple (I really wanted one) and realized why they were so expensive when I saw workers in the orchard lovingly placing bags on each apple to prevent insect damage. No wonder those apples looked so perfect and cost so much.
With that idea in mind, my Internet wanderings led me to apple bagging. I found a wealth of information, including video how tos. Seems I am not the only one who thought of this, in fact, lots of growers, backyard and commercial organic orchards are on board. There are even a number of sources for bagging materials of different kinds. There is even an added bonus for embracing this technique. Not only does bagging prevent coddling moth, it can help prevent other apple pests and problems … all without pesticides, fungicides, spraying and other rather bothersome tasks. This practice is most commonly used for apples and pears, and can help guard against such threats as codling moth, curculio, apple maggot, apple scab, and other impediments to a quality harvest. Bagging may even help deter birds and squirrels.
I decided to give it a try, however, since this was an experimental effort, I was determined to use what I had on hand and to try not to bag more than a dozen apples per tree. Why go all out if it might not work, right? The process begins with thinning your apple crop, that is, keeping one baby apple in each cluster. I always thin my apples (same for my grapes). The yield is less, but the apples are bigger and the tree is healthier. Per my research, I thinned my apples and when they reached about half an inch in diameter, I bagged them.
There are a good number of options for bagging – lots of bagging supplies to buy from Internet resources, including bonafide Japanese Apple Bags. And, there are lots of folks who use resealable plastic bags or nylon stockings (really!) I happened to have small (6”x8”) plastic bags (not zip lock) that I use for baked goods and backpacking. They seemed to be a good size for apples, so I used them and fastened them with a twist tie. It didn't take too long and kind of made me chuckle. A real conversation piece when company came by.
Over the summer, I kept my eye on them. With the heat, some moisture collected in the bag, and some articles suggested cutting the bottom corners to let the moisture drain. I decided I didn't want to risk insects getting in, so I opted not to do this. In the end, it did not seem to make a difference. The apples grew and matured as usual. Some articles suggested removing the bags some weeks prior to harvest, I opted not to do this, also – didn't seem to make a difference. I did have to wait a bit longer for the bagged apple to take on their color.
The proof of the pudding, so to speak, came a harvest time – though not all bagged apples escaped coddling moth – a few sneaked through the twist tie area (probably my bad) – I was excited to finally harvest and eat a good number of apples from my very own trees. In chatting with other Master Gardeners, I found that several had also tried this method, all with varying success. So, while it appears that this idea is not new in these parts, I found it to be worth the time and effort, and will definitely employ bagging next season. I do, however, intend to find biodegradable bags for the process.
I have included resources and photos here. Now, excuse me while I munch my home-grown apple!
FRUIT BAGGING OPTIONS
There is an array of options when it comes to bagging fruits. Plastic resealable bags and brown paper bags can be used to protect your fruit and are readily available. Additionally, there are specialized Japanese fruit bags that can be ordered online, or nylon mesh bags that may be better to use for softer fruits. In most cases, the bags can be reused the next year!
Some sources of commercial fruit bags I found:
- http://www.seattletreefruitsociety.com/maggot-barriersArticles about fruit bagging:
- Videos about apple bagging:
Inclusion does imply endorsement by the University. Other sources are available. These are a good place to start./h3>
National Pollinator Week is June 18 to 24,, 2018.
What better way to celebrate and support the importance of pollinators than to plant a pollinator garden? Even a few plants can help support pollinators such as butterflies, beetles, and bees.
Butterflies and other pollinators are very sensitive to pesticides so avoid using them in your garden. Insecticides kill insects, so if you want butterflies, don't use insecticides. If you do feel you have to use an insecticide, even an organic one, always use minimally. Do not apply when butterflies, bees or other pollinators are active and do not apply to open flowers.
To attract butterflies, provide good food, water and shelter all from a butterfly's point of view. Here are some tips to encourage butterflies to visit your garden.
Minimize pesticide use. Encouraging natural pest predators and using other alternative controls will make your garden safer for butterflies and their caterpillars.
Pick a sunny site. Butterflies generally feed in sunny locations. Choose a place in the garden that receives about six hours of sun each day. Gravel walkways and rocks for basking are good places to watch for butterflies warming up.
Plan the layout of your plants. Plant in groups of the same flowers rather than individual plants of the same kind scattered in the garden. This works because butterflies are near sighted and masses of flowers two or three feet across attract butterflies from a distance. Choosing plants of different heights adds interest to the garden and helps attract more pollinators.
Add native plants to your garden. Many native plants have good sources of nectar, and also are host plants that butterflies seek out to lay eggs. Research has shown that local native pollinators prefer local native plants. Please remember not to cut your garden back severely in the fall or you may lose overwintering eggs for the next season.
Provide shelter. On a rainy day or in high winds, butterflies wait out the bad weather on the undersides of leaves, in trees, shrubs, or vines. They also take butterfly breaks during their day; provide them places to hide with a combination of sites to roost and shelter.
For inspiration and information our local chapter of California Native Plant Society has created excellent resources for anyone to use. They have posted photos and lists of native plants with information, including a new two page Native Landscape Planting Guide. There is information on pollinators, water use, color descriptions and more.
Please remember it is both illegal and destructive to remove plants and flowers from their natural habitats but our local CNPS chapter has a plant sale every year and lots of great information on their website. Also, many nurseries are now carrying more native plants, be sure to ask.
References and further information:
CNPS Bristlecone chapter http://bristleconecnps.org
California Native Plant Society plant information www.Calscape.org
Art Shapiro's Butterfly Site http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu
National Wildlife Federation https://www.nwf.org
- Author: Alison Collin
In the constant search for green leafy vegetables that will do well in a hot climate I stumbled upon Brazilian Spinach (Alternanthera sissoo) and Okinawa Spinach (Gynura crepioides), and although a tropical plants I decided to give them a try in our dry high desert climate.
Brazilian Spinach: This plant forms a mat of bright green, crinkled leaves on stems about 1' long which flop and root wherever nodes touch the ground. It prefers part shade, and in many places it is grown as living mulch under fruit trees. It is not fussy about soil type, but does require warm temperatures, a fairly steady supply of water, plenty of organic matter and lots of nitrogen since it is a fast grower.
I acquired a couple of rooted pieces and planted them in pots indoors. They very quickly became established and once all danger of frost was past I planted one directly into the garden and the other remained in its pot but was also placed outside. The potted one grew vigorously all summer far outperforming the specimen that had been directly planted, and at the end of the year I once again brought it inside where it served as an edible houseplant. They may do well in planters with plenty of irrigation and shade from afternoon sun.
The leaves are crisp and mild and can be eaten raw in salads or added to other dishes, but if large quantities are to be consumed it is recommended that they first be cooked and strained because of the high levels of oxalate that they contain.
I found that the leaves are a little coarser than leaf lettuce and while not unpleasant they do not have a lot of flavor. I used them as an “emergency” lettuce when making sandwiches, and I certainly preferred them to Malabar spinach which I grew in previous years.
Okinawa Spinach: Is an attractive low-growing plant with purple tinged leaves. The cultural requirements are similar to Brazilian spinach. It can be eaten raw or cooked and young shoots are often used in stir fries or tempura dishes in Okinawa. It has a slightly nutty flavor with hints of pine in the younger shoots. If overcooked it has a tendency to become slimy.
- Author: Bobbie Stryffeler
|Ed. Note: Potatoes grow well in the Eastern Sierra. Usually we grow them in the ground, but some gardeners have alkaline soil or no soil at all! Gardeners like to try new things and this article has some fun ideas to try. You can find some UC info on potatoes here. Mention of products does not constitute endorsement.|
I told a friend I built a potato pen and they asked if I had a problem with my potatoes escaping the garden…well no, they don't escape but if they try I have it covered.
Truth is the potato is one of my favorite home grown vegetables, but over the years of gardening I hadn't given the process much thought. Last spring, moving my focus from tomatoes to potatoes, I decided to grow more, more variety, with hopes of plenty to enjoy throughout the winter months.
With a little research I found that the potato possibilities are endless! Grown by the acre or container. A mound of dirt, potato sack, wooden spud box, recycled plant containers, a laundry basket, or your own invention, are all suitable options for growing a tasty crop of taters!
Some suggest planting directly in the laundry baskets or cages. In dry regions like the Owens Valley it might be better to line the inside of the basket, cage, or pen with straw or newspaper to maintain soil structure and also create a ventilated barrier that retains some moisture and keeps the tubers cool. It is also important to note that potatoes that are exposed to light rapidly become green and poisonous.
Some common characteristics of these containers are depth (no digging just filling), well-drained, and ventilation to reduce chance of rotting seed potatoes. The biggest challenge in container planting is keeping the soil cool where a garden bed or larger space can maintain a more constant cool temperature.
Meet my invention, the Potato Pen (left). I wanted a minimal investment and these materials were extras from my garden shed. I didn't want to worry about the weed covered surface so I lined the floor of the pen with newspapers and cardboard. The chicken wire sidewalls were lined with a thick layer of straw to retain some moisture and keep the tubers cool. The pen provided depth for growth, room to add soil as the plants grew, supplying the root system with room for an abundant crop.
I first let the potatoes sprout in an open egg carton, cutting the larger potatoes in half or more. This also allowed for the cut potatoes to dry, reducing the chance of rotting. This process is called “chitting” your potatoes. It is thought that this encourages faster growth and an increased crop.
The sprouted seed potatoes were then started in about four inches of soil with sprouts facing up. As the sprouts grew I added more soil. The straw was probably not the best idea as it became a mega condo project for every earwig in my yard. At night they devoured my potato plant leaves. I filled shallow plastic cups with water and a splash of fish oil and strategically placed them around the potato plants. I was amazed at the numbers filling the cups overnight.
Overall the potato pen worked well. At season-end it was filled with an abundant crop of potatoes. Originally, I had planned on removing the stakes, pulling down the sidewalls of chicken wire and straw and harvesting all the potatoes at once, but I soon realized there were too many potatoes. So many that I left the majority in the cool soil of the potato pen (root cellar).
As I said at the start, the potato possibilities are endless. So why not grow your own? It's recommended that you buy your seed potatoes from a reliable source as potatoes are susceptible to disease and virus. Follow a few basic steps and prepare to enjoy the best tasting potatoes yet.
Potatoes are a cool season crop. Plant two or three weeks before the last spring frost or sooner if you plan to protect the plants. They can survive freeze damage but will most often have a reduced crop. As noted above, let your seed potatoes develop some sprouts before planting. I'm thinking the round cages will be easy to protect against unexpected spring frost.
Regardless of what container or bed you decide to plant them in make sure you use fertile, sandy loam that is well drained. They will grow in most soils but a good soil mix will improve the yield.
The UC Vegetable Research and Information Center provides a great leaflet (Growing Potatoes) that covers varieties, soil preparation, fertilization, planting methods, irrigation, cultivation, pest control, and harvesting. http://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/potato_growingpotatoes.pdf
If garden space is limited have some fun and try growing them in the laundry basket. It's cheap, lightweight, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. https://preparednessmama.com/grow-potatoes/
- Author: Jan Rhoades
It's that time of year again, when seed catalogs show up in the mailbox and the evening activity becomes sitting by the fire dreaming and planning next year's garden. It is the next best thing to actually working in the garden. Anyway, there are always a multitude of pages devoted to tomatoes. So many to try, so little time. Such an amazing array of sizes, colors, growth habits and juicy flavor notes just make my mouth water. I always have to try a few new varieties along with the old standbys (not to mention the orphans I adopt). Needless to say, my garden will often sport a dozen tomato plants, so I become the neighborhood supplier. Sheesh!
This last season, I decided I had to plant the tomato named 'Mortgage Lifter.' Somehow the moniker and lore of that plant had turned into a kind of garden earworm—not to be confused with tomato worm. I am a little skeptical about large tomatoes, and I certainly don't buy into the hype that surrounds some of them. But, this one, I was willing to give a shot. After all, this is a Tomato With History.
Right off the bat, I will tell you that at this point in my gardening career, I buy tomato plants from a reputable seed company. I am too old to mess around with starting plants indoors. I order for a late May delivery and plant them deep in fertile soil. I usually put cutworm collars around the seedlings and use homemade tomato cages. So, last spring, along with a few others, my Mortgage Lifter was planted and I was wowed right away. It grew strong and sturdy and big! It was my first producer – even before my early bearing varieties, and the tomatoes were, indeed, sizeable! Most were about the size of softball and, I have to say, they gave meaty slices that, to me, tasted just the way I imagine a tomato should taste, especially in the depths of winter. They are certainly not in the same league as Cherokee Purples (sigh) – but they are definitely right up there. Finally, they pumped out pounds of yummy tomatoes all season, right up to the first frost. I was most certainly impressed – the hype is true!
So, on to the history. 'Mortgage Lifter' is one of the most famous heirloom tomatoes around. A few different stories exist relating how they were developed and who they were developed by. One source claims that the cultivar was developed by William Esther of Barboursville, West Virginia in 1922 and that Esther registered the name in 1932. However, the best-known and best-loved story involves M.C. Byles of Logan, West Virginia, who developed this tomato in the 1930's. He was known to all as "Radiator Charlie" because he ran a radiator repair business at his home, which was situated at the bottom of a steep hill. When logging or mining trucks laden with goods labored up the hill, their radiators often boiled over and they rolled back down to Charlie's house for repairs.
Mr. Byles had no formal education, having worked in the cotton fields since he was 4 years old; however, he loved to garden and grow vegetables, especially tomatoes. As it was the Depression, he worried about the mortgage on his house. He decided to develop a tomato that he could sell. He wanted a large, beefsteak type tomato, so he decided to crossbreed four of the largest-fruited tomatoes he could find. He chose a 'German Johnson' to plant, and in a circle around it, he planted 3 other varieties: another beefsteak, an Italian variety, and an English variety. He hand pollinated the 'German Johnson' with a baby's ear syringe, and after 6 years of trials, he had what he felt was a stable plant that produced large, tasty tomatoes. In a Living Earth interview with M.C. recorded in 1985, he says that he sold plants for $1.00 apiece (pretty pricey for Depression time) and that people came from as far away as 200 miles to buy the plants. In six years, he made enough money to pay off his $6,000 mortgage, so he called the tomato 'Mortgage Lifter,' but tomato-loving folks called it Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter.
Now if that story doesn't inspire you to give it a try, here are the particulars. 'Mortgage Lifter' is a fairly disease-resistant (VFN) Beefsteak type tomato. It is indeterminate and bears one to two pound fruit (Burpee says up to 4 pounds!). It is a very productive tomato, often described as pink or red, and is very meaty with few seeds and great tomato flavor. It is not unheard of for the plant to reach 9 feet! There is even one company called Beakman's that sells Mortgage Lifter Heirloom Tomato Pasta Sauce. And, just to maintain the spirit of this legendary plant, they have an annual small farmer's competition in which payment of the farm mortgage is the grand prize. Seeds and plants for this variety can be found at just about every gardening source.
Just remember, though his mortgage was paid off, there's just two things that money can't buy: true love and homegrown tomatoes.
A bit of an aside. If you love vegetable history and lore, I came across this book, Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, which won the Garden Writers' Association Gold Award in 2016. It includes information about selecting and growing heirloom tomatoes as well as some of his favorite heirloom tomato stories. The central message of the author, Craig LeHoullier, is “Heirlooms are living things, and, unless they are grown and saved and shared and relished, they'll go extinct.” LeHoullier co-leads a tomato-breeding project that has succeeded in putting 70 new compact growing varieties in various seed catalogs. This will be the topic of his next book, which he plans to self-publish in the fall. Each of the following companies carry seeds of all these varieties and some seeds of LeHoullier's full-size heirloom tomatoes.
- Victory Seeds
- The Tomato Growers Supply Company
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
- Sample Seed
- Johnny's Selected Seeds
- Seed Savers Exchange
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Catalog
Gary Ibsen's Tomatofest Catalog