- (Public Value) UCANR: Safeguarding abundant and healthy food for all Californians
- Author: Sheri Pueblo
A Living Mulch vs a Traditional Mulch Approach
Adding mulch to a garden is an efficient and easy way to improve your garden's quality and drought tolerance in our dry hot summers with low precipitation. Benefits of mulch include helping to prevent excessive evaporation and dryness by holding and maintaining moisture, keeping the soil underneath cooler for beneficial organisms, and reducing weed growth.
When spreading mulch material such as straw or wood chips, use a depth of 2-3 inches over the soil but keep a clear perimeter of 4 inches around the base of the plant so that the mulch won't rot or mold at the crown and possibly introduce disease. You may want to compost or fertilize the soil with slow release nutrients per treatment recommendations and water in prior to mulching.
A “living mulch” involves growing “fill in” plants either as a ground cover, cover crop or low growing plants that provide several purposes. A mixture of plants can grow longer depending on seasonal and zone (USDA or Sunset™)appropriate plant choices which can promote the overall health of the soil.
Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis and small amounts of these exude from the roots back into the soil. This process draws and concentrates microbes around the roots providing better access to nutrition for the plant, and can also improve soil structure and ability for rain permeation, deeper root growth, better water holding capacity, nutrient forming capacity and hummus formation, all which contribute to overall healthier long term soil building.
Of course weeds are weeds and you may still have to do some pulling, especially before they go to seed. However there should be much less weeding and you will have a nice variety of plants, edibles, soil builders and color.
You can find out more on several You Tube videos about living mulches if you're interested, but remember to use plants appropriate for the Great Basin and not coastal California for the best success.
If you have questions about mulch, living or otherwise, please contact our helpline at email@example.com./h3>
- Author: Trina Tobey
When most people think of hydroponics, they think of growing…well, cannabis. However, hydroponics is a great method for growing all kinds of herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Hydroponics involves growing plants in a water and mineral nutrient solution without soil. The roots are held in place by an inert substance and grow into the water solution.
Hydroponic gardening has multiple advantages compared to growing in soil. For one, you do not have to deal with weeds, pests, and disease-infested soil when growing indoors. This means reduced need for pesticides or herbicides. It is easy to apply just the right amount of nutrients. The moisture level remains consistent making germination easy and preventing over and under watering. In fact, hydroponic gardening saves a significant amount of water compared to conventional gardening. You can place your hydroponic garden at counter level, so you do not have to bend over or kneel. Hydroponic systems can be programed to be low maintenance and take up less space than conventional gardening. Plus, you can grow fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.
My husband and I have owned an AeroGarden for over 10 years now. We are frequently asked if we grow marijuana in it. The answer is no, we haven't. We grow our family addiction…basil! We tried tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and lettuce over the years with poor results. I believe our AeroGarden pod is just too small. But basil grows great. Basil is expensive to buy in the store and has a very short shelf life but our whole family loves pesto. Hydroponics is the solution. Our family of five eats pesto about once a week year-round from the basil we grow indoors. The best thing about having a programmed hydroponic system is we can travel for a week or two without needing to tend to the plants. In fact, we only tend to them about once every two weeks when we are home.
If you want the benefits of growing fresh produce but not the hassle, you might consider growing plants using a hydroponic system. You can make your own system or buy a pre-made system online. All you need is a container, a light source, an inert substance to support the roots, water, and nutrients. There are multiple websites and YouTube videos that will guide you through the process. Not only will you have delicious fresh produce year-round, but you will help the earth by conserving water and decreasing pesticide use.
And your back and knees will thank you.
Brand names mentioned in the this article are provided as a convenience to readers. No endorsement by UC is implied or intended. Use at your own risk.
- Author: Alison Collin
Even in the best managed gardens, as soon as the soil warms up weed erupt and need to be controlled before they get the upper hand. Different soils and conditions produce differing unwanted species and it pays to be able to identify them in order to know what is growing in your garden and how to manage them.
It is best to deal with weeds as they germinate and before their roots get a hold, and certainly before they flower and seed or there will be an even worse problem the following year. The most efficient and least labor intensive way is to use a hoe.
I keep a hoe in readiness close to the vegetable plot and use it almost daily during the growing season as soon as I spot an invader. My personal favorite is the Hula hoe which is stirrup shaped with a blade sharpened on both sides so it can be used to cut through young weeds just below soil level on both the push and pull strokes. It is very efficient on cultivated soil so long as the plants are small. It will not work to remove weeds from turf, neither will it cope with thick clumps of established Bermuda grass or any woody plant that has a thickened base. It is not wise to hoe plants that increase by rhizomes such as nut sedge or bindweed since the hoe is liable to chop the roots into pieces that readily form new plants making the problem worse. Those plants are best dug out individually, getting as much of the root removed as possible.
A hoe will not remove a dandelion root in entirety but at least regular removal of leaves will prevent flowering and seeding until such time as it can be dug out.
For areas where the Hula hoe cannot reach, my favorite tool is a Japanese hand hoe which has a sharp triangular blade and very useful sharp corners. Plants with long tap roots such as dandelion and salsify can be removed with a forked device, the prongs of which are placed at the neck of the plant, while an angle in the handle increases leverage. However, for weeds growing very close to plant stems or in places where there are surface roots that may be damaged by hoeing one just has to get down on ones knees and hand weed.
Reduce the possible spread of seeds by immediately discarding any weeds that may have already set seeds. Spotted spurge is able to produce seeds on quite tiny plants and a mature specimen can shed thousands of them so it is important to put any removed plants directly into a container or bag, and don't be tempted to shake the soil from the roots since this will result in seeds being scattered far and wide! Don't leave piles of weeds in heaps waiting to be collected later, since dandelion seeds will quite cheerfully manage to blow off into other areas. The bottoms of lawnmowers can deposit grass seeds onto surfaces as they are moved from place to place and these can then be blown back onto the garden.
If you are not sure of the identification of a particular weed in your garden the following link should help you. Once you have identified the culprit select the page for a description of that particular plant and then go to the bottom of that page and select “Pest Management Guidelines” http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/weeds_intro.html
These are some common weeds in our area and links on how to identify and manage them:
Spotted spurge: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7445.html
Field bindweed: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7462.html
Russian Thistle (Tumbleweed): http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7486.html
- 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: Sue Weis
As I was browsing through a seed catalog a couple of years ago, I found something I'd often eaten and enjoyed, but had never seen growing, sesame. Out of curiosity I ordered a packet of seeds.
A little history and other information
Sesame is one of the earliest oilseed plants to be cultivated. According to the University of Wisconsin's Alternative Field Crops Manual (AFCM) it has been grown for at least 4000 years, and the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center reports that production records are known from 1600 BC from the Tigris and Euphrates valleys. Because it can grow in more dry and hot conditions that many crops, it is now cultivated widely in Asia and Africa. Thomas Jefferson was very enthusiastic about the oil and tried it in test plots, but never had a good yield. It had been introduced into Georgia by enslaved Africans and Jefferson knew it as Benne.
Because the pods shattered easily, it could not be harvested by machinery until the 1950s when non-shattering varieties were developed. Most sesame products used in the US are imported from Asia or Africa, but some oilseed crops are now produced mostly in Texas and Oklahoma.
Sesame is used in many cuisines, as whole seeds, crushed seeds (tahini), meal or flour, or oil. The oil may be made from raw seeds which produces a light cooking oil or toasted seeds which produces a darker oil used more for flavoring. The oil is high in polyunsaturated fats and has a longer storage life than many oils because of an antioxidant component called sesamol. Sesame oil is also used in paints, soaps, and other non-food products.
My sesame growing experience
The seed packet said ‘Sesame, common', but the seeds weren't the ‘normal' white sesame seeds. These were black sesame seeds that are more often used in Asian cuisine. They arrived with a brochure that seems to have been designed for growing a field of plants, rather than a few in the garden. While researching this blog post I found that the AFCM has a very good Cultural Practices section for more information. Too bad I didn't find it before I planted. Maybe I will have to try again.
I planted them in a raised bed that is about 10 inches deep, in full sun. They germinated in late June, 2-3 weeks after planting. The directions suggested not irrigating much after they became established, but I decided those directions had been written for places with summer rain. Sesame doesn't do well in waterlogged soil according to the AFCM, so the soil must be well-drained. I hand watered them every day after observing that they weren't going to survive on Owens Valley rainfall. The plants didn't reach the height of 2-3 feet described in the brochure either. Most were about a foot tall.
Blooms appeared in August with flowers resembling those of a desert willow or a relative of snapdragons.
For people like me who like to know how this species fits into the taxonomic scheme, the scientific name is Sesamum indicum L. and they are in the family Pedaliaceae, which is in the Order Scrophulariales. This means that sesame is in the same taxonomic order as snapdragons and desert willows. Yay, Cal Poly botany program!
The flowers developed seed capsules (pods) that grew pressed close to the stems. The capsules turned brown and were ready to harvest in about a month. Each one held at least 20 seeds in four rows. I harvested about 20 plants and got about 1/3 cup of seeds.
If the pods were entirely dry, the seeds would pour out of the openings at the top of the capsules, but for some I had to crush the capsule, which made separating the seeds from the chaff much more work. Must work on my winnowing skills.
I've used the seeds in several recipes, and they are just as delicious as I'd hoped. So far my favorite is a recipe for sesame crusted fish that highlights the sesame flavor.
- Agricultural Marketing Research Center. https://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/grains-oilseeds/sesame-profile
- The Jefferson Monticello. https://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/in-bloom/sesame
- University of Wisconsin Alternative Field Crop Manual