- Author: Cheryl Cozad
It's hot. Tomatoes like heat, right? Actually, tomatoes like warm weather, between 65 and 85 degrees. When temperatures soar past 95, tomatoes stop growing. In that kind of heat, their flowers fail to pollinate and instead they dry up and drop off, putting a pause on the production of new fruit. Tomatoes that have begun to color will halt at orange and fail to turn red.
If your tomato plant has good green leaf color, is flowering and has fruit developing, but its leaves are curling up, you are experiencing a common summer problem for tomatoes in our area. The culprit again is most likely heat. Tomato leaves transpire water from the undersides of their leaves. When a tomato plant can't take in as much water as it is losing, its leaves will curl up. This occurs when the soil is too dry, the temperature is too hot, or it's too windy. Check soil moisture by poking a finger an inch into the soil. If it's dry, it's time to water. Leaf curl is the tomato's way of reducing leaf surface area to reduce water loss. Curling up will not affect fruit production or the health of the plant.
There is one further thing to rule out before you rest in the tranquility that upward leaf curl requires no action on the gardener's part: pests. Check a few leaves to be sure the curl isn't harboring an insect or caterpillar cocoon. No caterpillar, no problem. Your tomatoes are fine in their self-protective upward curl.
A two- to three-inch layer of mulch around tomatoes will help the soil retain moisture and stay cooler. Straw, wood chips, chopped leaves, and grass clippings are all fine mulches for this purpose. Mulch also helps keep moisture around tomato plants more even; this can keep the fruit from cracking and help to prevent blossom drop.
Ever wondered how to encourage sweeter tomatoes? Here temperature and sun are your friends, to a point. Ninety degrees and lots of sun will give you a sweeter tomato. At 100 degrees, fruits develop color on the outside, but stay green on the inside: not tasty. So when temperatures soar, pick tomatoes that have begun to color and allow them to ripen indoors. Remember: never refrigerate a tomato.
For more information see ANR Publication on Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden.
The UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org (preferred) or call (530) 538-7201.
- Author: Laura Lukes
Continuing our focus on select species of Eriogonum (wild buckwheat), this week's discussion features California buckwheat (E. fasciculatum).
Species Focus - California Buckwheat
Eriogonum fasciculatum, best known as California buckwheat and sometimes called eastern Mojave buckwheat or flat-topped buckwheat, is found primarily on dry slopes and canyon washes in the American West, including Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, in addition to California and reaching as far as Mexico's northwest. In California it is the most widespread of the shrubby buckwheat species, found in abundance in the southern half of our state. It is less common in the Central Valley and northern reaches, although it has proven to be a successful a landscape plant in Butte County. Its adaptation to our Mediterranean climate allows it to survive on as little as seven inches of rain annually.
According to California Native Plants for the Garden (an excellent resource for gardeners looking to shift from traditional thirsty landscaping to a yard that conserves water and sustains pollinators), the hairs on E. fasciculatum's leaves contribute to its ability to withstand the dry and harsh conditions of the ecosystems it inhabits. Hairy leaves provide insulation from heat and protection from direct sunlight as well as a boundary air layer that reduces water loss.
Its genus name, fasciculatum, comes from the Latin word meaning “bundles,” used in botany to refer to the growth habit of plant leaves. It shares this genus name with many other plant species.
Native American peoples in the west and southwest used different parts of the California buckwheat for nutrition and medicine. The Cahuilla tribe of what is now the greater Palm Springs area used this plant in many ways: they treat headaches and stomach pains with tea made from its leaves; treated colds and sore throats with tea made by steeping its roots; and applied poultices made from pounded roots to wounds. Cahuilla peoples also treated heart problems with tea from the dried flowers and dried roots of E. fasciculatum. Modern science has verified that a chemical compound common to several plant species including Eriogonum can be beneficial to hearts (USDA Plant Profile).
If you plant E.fasciculatum in your yard, be sure to locate it away from regular irrigation sources and in soil that drains well. It will be happy if you give it problem soil (rocky, alkaline, etc.). Make sure it has room to expand or even take over, because it can become invasive. It is an attractive and valuable addition to any drought resistant, native pollinator garden.
For more information on E. fasciculatum, see the following sources:
Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O'Brien, California Native Plants for the Garden (Cachuma Press, 2005)
The UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system, serving our community in a variety of ways, including 4H, farm advisors, and nutrition and physical activity programs. Master Gardeners bring practical, scientifically-based knowledge directly to our community. For help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, call the Master Gardener Hotline at (530) 538-7201 or email email@example.com.
We often experience ants in our homes when weather conditions change. They are typically looking for food, water, warmth, and/or protection from extreme weather conditions. Ants belong to the insect order Hymenoptera and are close relatives of bees and wasps. The most common outdoor ant found in California is the Argentine worker ant. The Argentine worker ant is approximately 3mm long, dark colored and does not sting. They have no natural enemies. Their colonies have multiple queens and only the queens lay eggs. An ant's life cycle moves from egg to larva to pupa to adult. Their nests are normally found in moist soils, under debris or along sidewalks and driveways. Argentine ants are drawn to sweet foods but will also feed on protein (e.g. dead bugs). The Argentine ant will venture up to 100 feet away from the nest to find food, water and shelter inside buildings. Once inside, if ants find food, they will continue to invade until the food source is removed and/or the entryway sealed.
Minor Indoor Problem (small trail of ants observed infrequently). Prevent further intrusion by:
1) Identifying the location where the ants are getting into the house. Inspect baseboards, floors, electrical outlets, vents, pipes, drains and walls for any entryways and seal them off (caulk is good for this). Destroy any nesting sites found close to the house. Cut back trees, shrubs or wooded material touching the house and clear away mulch or debris that is next to the house.
2) Clean up food and water sources in the home. All sources of “attractive” food should be removed or securely sealed. Use soapy water to kill ants and eliminate their trails.
Moderate (trails of hundreds of ants) and Severe (several hundred to thousands of ants continue to invade for weeks or months). Supplement steps 1 and 2 above with the addition of bait stations as follows:
Following the 3-step approach above should correct home ant invasions. For more information see the UC IPM Pest Notes on ants.
The UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 538-7201.
Is there an area in your garden where you are battling noxious weeds or other invasive plants? If so, soil solarization is a solution that avoids the use of herbicides and saves you from the on-going work of pulling up the invaders. Our hot summer months are the ideal time to employ this method.
Solarization most effectively controls soil-borne fungal and bacterial plant pathogens such as those causing Phytophthora root rot, Southern blight, Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, damping off, crown gall, tomato canker and potato scab.
Nematodes can be controlled but not completely eliminated by solarization, because they are mobile and can move through the soil. Control is most effective in the top 12 inches of soil.
While solarization kills many soil pests, beneficial soil organisms either survive or recolonize the soil rather quickly. Earthworms can retreat to lower depths. Beneficial fungi such as mycorrhizal fungi and bacteria that parasitize plant pathogens quickly reestablish themselves.
Solarization is most effective when days are long, temperatures are hot, skies are clear, and winds are mild. June to August is therefore the most effective time in the Central Valley. Prepare the soil by removing weeds, rocks or other debris. Break up dirt clods and create a smooth soil surface.
Use clear plastic to snugly cover the smooth soil surface. Lay the plastic as close as possible to the soil surface so there are few air pockets. Thin clear plastic (1 millimeter) provides the greatest heating potential but is more susceptible to tearing. Slightly heavier plastic (1.5 to 4 millimeters) may be best. The type of drop cloths used in painting work well. The plastic sheeting should be slightly bigger than the area to be solarized. Dig a trench around the area. Cover one edge of the plastic with soil to hold it down. Pull the plastic tight across the soil and bury the opposite edge. Do the same with all sides. Keep the plastic as close to the soil surface as possible.
The UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, call the Hotline at (530) 538-7201 or email email@example.com.
- Author: Laura Lukes
If you seek a peaceful place to explore nature and local history on foot or by bicycle, it may be time to explore Verbena Fields. This 20-acre site was historically a floodplain for Lindo Channel and later became used as a gravel mine for road construction.
The area was restored in partnership with state and local agencies, including the California Water Resources Board (a major funder), the CSU, Chico Research Foundation, Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance, Streaminders, and the Mechoopda tribe. The restoration plan included input from neighbors, along with experts in wetland restoration, urban runoff mitigation, native plants, and local fauna. Together, these entities transformed a pile of rocks, broken asphalt, and noxious weeds into a natural refuge for humans, animals, and plants.
A wide, level path of crushed gravel (handicap accessible and suitable for small children and strollers) meanders along the perimeter of Verbena Fields. A second path bisects the site approximately at its midsection. We enter at the southwest corner, where Verbena Lane and East First Avenue intersect. Signage lets you know that your dog is welcome, on a leash, and at this corner there is a drinking fountain and a dog bag dispenser. To the left, a level strip of small trees, shrubs, and wildflowers borders the backyard fences that make up the western boundary of the site. To the right, desire lines (informal paths) lead from level ground to the Mechoopda Gathering Circle, a lowland area that features a beautiful tile mosaic depicting aspects of tribal life.
To the right is the open grassy area that comprises the bulk of the site and surrounds the wetland expansion portion of the project. The bisecting trail runs through the lupine and poppy (and also star thistle) that grow among the grasses. This middle trail affords access to a heavily shaded grove in which someone has fashioned a 10 to 12-foot- tall teepee from lumber scraps. An old rug has been placed inside, and it looks like a peaceful place to meditate, or the perfect place to play a game of fort.
Springtime at Verbena Fields is particularly beautiful: grasses are green and supple, redbuds, poppies, and lupines combine to make a palette of bright color, and fresh leaves bud from the limbs of the deciduous trees. Summer is dryer and crisper, but the shady groves of large trees and the low-lying cool spots offer respite from the heat. Fall brings the changing of colors when the grasses mellow to shades of heather, and in winter (if we are lucky with the rains) one can appreciate the value of the bioswales and wetlands features, as well as the view of the foothills to the east.
Whatever the season, Verbena Fields is a delightful place to visit. Just follow East First Avenue eastward, away from the busy bustle of traffic, to find it.