By Denise Seghesio Levine, U.C. Master Gardener of Napa County
Even if you are busy harvesting and giving away zucchini, picking tomatoes for salads and sauces and preserving summer's sweet fruits for winter treats, it is time to take a break and plan next year's garden. Note where you have your vegetables planted this year. Ponder where you might like new shrubs or trees. Imagine where a new patch of annuals or herbs or wildflowers might be nice.
Spring is when many of us, in a normal year at least, would be strolling garden centers for seeds and plants to provide summer color and crops. With all the weeding, watering, harvesting and preserving needed to maintain a summer garden, sometimes we forget that fall is actually a better time to plant many shrubs and seeds.
Most shrubs appreciate being relocated and planted in the fall. The temperatures are milder, and the danger of drought and heat stress is less. The new plants will appreciate having a month or two to get acclimated to a new spot and then a season of rain to help new roots stretch deep into the earth. Planting now gives new plantings a headstart in spring and usually results in healthier, stronger plants better equipped to withstand summer heat and water stress.
I have been musing on the best place for a new Philadelphus (mock orange) and some hostas a friend has offered me. And the north side of my house needs a forest of foxglove. So I have some planning to do.
Find a pad of paper or favorite notebook and a comfy spot in the garden where you can see your domain. Make a simple drawing or record of what vegetables and annual flowers you have planted now, and then figure out where you can plant those vegetables next year that is far from where they are planted now.
The point is to avoid planting the same vegetable or family of vegetables in the same place. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, different vegetables need different nutrients. Some plants seriously deplete the soil. These heavy feeders include melons, winter and summer squashes, corn, and cole crops such as cauliflower and cabbage.
You might have noticed the soil seems to kind of disappear by the end of a growing season in some beds. You are not imagining it. The nutrients in the soil must be replaced. Replenishing the soil with compost and other amendments and following a heavy feeder with a nitrogen-fixing crop like peas or fava beans will pay dividends in healthier plants and larger harvests.
Rotating crops also helps combat cucumber beetles and other pests that attack your vegetables, then overwinter in the soil and emerge again next year just about the time your vegetable seedlings are starting to produce. There are few controls for some of these pests apart from interrupting their food source.
Fall is also the perfect time to directly sow many annual seeds for next spring. Love-in-a-mist (Nigella), cosmos, calendula, poppies, lupine, sweet peas, sweet Williams and forget me nots can be sown September through December and will brighten the garden much earlier than if sown in the spring. If you do not have seeds yet, visit your favorite garden center or order seeds online. Many seed companies have restocked since the spring, when you may have had problems finding seeds.
More immediately, if you want to grow crops from seed this fall and winter, it is time to sow lettuce, spinach, peas, broccoli, cabbages and leafy greens. Planting seeds now will produce seedlings to set out in the garden in four to six weeks. Gardening year round in Napa is a luxury. Lots of variety with less watering is a winning combination.
One final August hint: If you are growing peppers, check the leaves. They should have dark green, smooth, glossy leaves. If the leaves are bumpy or curled, they are letting you know they need bone meal. A tablespoon or two scratched around each plant and watered in each week until the plants have nice smooth leaves again will pay off in healthier plants and more peppers. Feed them regularly, or at least at the first sign of those telltale bumpy leaves. You're welcome.
Food Growing Forum: Join Napa County Master Gardeners on Sunday, August 30, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., for a free Zoom discussion on “Growing Winter Vegetables.” This forum on food growing will continue monthly on the last Sunday of every month, with different topics every time. To receive the Zoom link for the August 30 forum, register at http://ucanr.edu/FoodGrowingForum2020.
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide University of California research-based information on home gardening. To find out more about home gardening, upcoming events or to submit gardening questions, visit the Master Gardener website (napamg.ucanr.edu). Our office is temporarily closed to walk-in questions but we are answering questions remotely and by phone or email. Submit your gardening questions through our website, by email email@example.com or leave a phone message at 707-253-4143. Master Gardeners will get back to you within a few days.
By Robert Williams, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
With consistently warmer weather at hand, our gardens are a flurry of activity. Bees and other pollinators are active, and many songbirds greet us with their chorus.
Napa Valley gardens will soon begin their most productive period, so now is a good time to review a few basics to ensure your success.
If you have not already done so, check your irrigation system. Young plants will fail without adequate water, so make it a priority to check timers, irrigation lines and emitters. Keep ahead of weeds and pests. Mulching with cloth, straw or wood chips can help reduce water use and weed growth. If you don't have one, designate a compost area for clippings and spent plants.
Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash are all heat-loving vegetables to plant now. Check local nurseries for unusual varieties. And if your summer garden is humming along, it's not too early to think about fall. Start seeds for cool-weather crops like broccoli in midsummer to ensure that seedlings are hardy and ready to plant in late summer. Thinking ahead allows you to plan for crop rotation and to order rare or unusual cultivars from a favorite catalog.
Deadhead roses to encourage them to bloom again; vigorous growers may need some summer pruning. Check container plants to make sure they're getting enough water on hot days; containers can dry out quickly. Keep your garden clean and tidy. By picking up and discarding diseased leaves, like rose leaves with blackspot, you can keep disease from spreading. Sanitizing equipment and practicing crop rotation will also help keep your garden healthy. While plants are growing rapidly, it's a good time to check on their fertilizer needs.
Make safety in the garden part of your everyday mindset. Safety goggles, gloves and closed-toed shoes offer an extra level of safety against accidents and unforeseen occurrences. If you use pesticides, review the labels to prevent poisoning humans, pets and the environment. If you have children in your garden, educate them about safe practices, too.
Keep garden tools sharp and in good working order. Sharp tools make garden jobs easier and alleviate fatigue. Before using electric tools, check cords for fraying or other safety issues. Also, make sure to use the correct tool for the job. Injuries are more likely when a tool is not meant for the task.
Working in the garden can be a relaxing and refreshing experience, but on warm days, be sure to stay hydrated. Protect your skin with sunscreen. A wide-brimmed hat and light-colored clothing can also help prevent sunburn. Even better, take frequent breaks and plan your garden activities in the cool mornings or late afternoon. Also on the safety checklist: use proper lifting techniques and wear adequate hearing protection when necessary.
As the summer season winds down, prepare for next year by saving seeds from the vegetables that performed best. (Save seeds from non-hybrids only; seeds from hybrids will not come true.) Consider letting some of your vegetables plants flower to support pollinators and beneficial insects. Compost unwanted plant material. Store tools properly when not in use.
By taking a comprehensive approach to summer gardening, you can look forward to a bountiful harvest.
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a workshop on “Rose Care” on Saturday, June 3, from 10 a.m. to noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. The first spring blooms have faded, and many roses are beginning to show stress in the form of black spot, rust, mildew and aphid infestation. U.C. research-based help is at hand. Bring your questions. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
As a gardener, I consider soil as the foundation for all I do. Like a friendship or marriage, it must be respected and nurtured if you want it to thrive and continue to be there for you. What soil isn't is dirt.
I recently read an article in The New York Times by Dan Barber, the chef and co-owner of the two Blue Hill restaurants in New York. In the article, he wrote about how much he liked a locally grown emmer,a wheat variety also known as farro. He had been extolling the virtues of this grain, but it wasn't until he visited the farm that he realized what made the emmer so delicious.
The farmer managed the soil not by adding chemicals but by rotating crops and including cover crops in the rotation. Crop rotation improves soil health which, in turn, affects the flavor of the food grown in it.
Crop rotation is another subject Master Gardeners learn about in training, and we preach it in the public workshops we offer. I thought I knew something about this subject, but after reading Dan Barber's article, I realized I had only scratched the surface in understanding its impact on soil. The article was about farming and not gardening but the same principles apply.
The practice of crop rotation has been around for centuries, and it takes many forms. It entails planting vegetable crops of the same family in different locations each year. What you plant, and the order in which you plant,makes a difference.
The reason for rotating crops is straightforward enough. Plants related to each other tend to be prone to the same diseases and insect pests. In my pre-Master Gardener days, I thought I was practicing good crop rotation when I planted tomatoes one summer, followed by potatoes in winter and chilies the following summer. But the chili plants were yellowish-green and produced scraggly, rumpled fruit, so I knew I had a problem.
These plants are all in the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family, so my crop-rotation plan was a failure. To correct my mistake, I had to take these beds out of production for a year and solarize the soil. In a nutshell, this technique involves removing all plant matter, wetting the soil, covering it with a plastic tarp and letting it bake for six to eight weeks in summer. Afterward, I planted a cover crop of fava beans.
Cover crops (also called green manure) are an integral part of crop rotation. They build productive soil, help control pests and diseases, attract beneficial insects, prevent erosion and suppress weeds.
Cover crops include grasses such as barley, oat, wheat and cereal rye; legumes like vetches, bell beans, field peas, clovers, cowpeas; and mustards of various types. All are low maintenance and require little water. To get the maximum benefit, cut the cover crop at the base when it flowers or when the seed heads emerge on grains. You can either incorporate the vegetation into the soil or allow it to decompose on the soil surface.
If growing a cover crop is not your thing, then follow another practice that Master Gardeners recommend: add compost. And we're not talking about just a little. Spreading several inches of compost on vegetable beds before planting should dramatically improve your harvest.
The next time you harvest a tasty ‘Early Girl', ‘Black Krim' or ‘Hawaiian Pineapple' tomato, remember that the soil contributed more to flavor than the variety did. On the other hand, if the tomato is tasteless and mealy, don't blame it solely on the variety. Think about how you managed the soil during the growing season.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will conduct a workshop on “Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs” on Sunday, June 22, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. Proper pruning enhances the beauty of landscape trees and shrubs while improper pruning can reduce their landscape potential. Learn guidelines for proper pruning. This workshop may include a field trip to observe pruning in a local garden. To register, call the Parks & Recreation Department at 707-944-8712 or visit its web site.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
Napa County Master Gardeners welcome the public to visit their demonstration garden at Connolly Ranch on Thursdays, from 10:00 a.m. until noon, except the last Thursday of the month. Connolly Ranch is at 3141 Browns Valley Road at Thompson Avenue in Napa. Enter on Thompson Avenue.
Probably I will repeat many of our favorites, but I will also try a few new ones. Which types to choose? There are so many factors to consider.
Do I want to try a new variety for cooking and preserving, or for eating fresh from the garden? I have plenty of room for another tomato plant, but those with more limited space should consider whether a variety is suited to small spaces or containers.
Tomatoes are classified as either determinate or indeterminate based on their growth habits. Determinate tomatoes tend to be bushy in appearance. They grow to a certain height, generally three to five feet, and bear most of their fruit within a four- to six-week period. Determinate tomatoes are often chosen for canning since they yield so much at once.
Indeterminate tomatoes grow and bear fruit all summer, until the arrival of frost. These types need the support of trellises, stakes or cages to keep them from sprawling on the ground, where the fruit tends to rot.
Another characteristic to consider is disease resistance. Many hybrid varieties have been bred to resist diseases that plague tomatoes. When shopping for tomatoes, you may notice that the plant label includes the letters V, F, N, T or A. This is a code that indicates whether the variety is resistant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus or alternaria stem canker. Keep in mind that resistance does not mean immunity. Home gardeners should still practice crop rotation and avoid planting tomatoes or other members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) in the same location for more than two consecutive years. That family includes eggplants, potatoes, peppers and petunias.
The popular heirloom tomatoes offer a wide range of flavors, colors, textures and shapes. While heirlooms may not be as productive as hybrids and tend to be more susceptible to disease, many home gardeners appreciate their variety. What’s more, heirloom seeds can be saved and replanted, and they will yield the same variety the following year. In contrast, plants from hybrid seeds don’t retain all the traits of the parent plants.
I generally grow a mix of heirlooms and hybrids so I have the best of both worlds. One of my favorite cherry tomatoes is ‘Sungold,’ an indeterminate hybrid that produces small golden-orange fruits with a tangy, sweet flavor. It is extremely productive. For a color contrast, I grow ‘Green Grape,’ an heirloom that is green on the inside and chartreuse outside when ripe. It is about the size of a large grape and has few seeds. It has a spicy sweet flavor and looks beautiful halved in salads.
‘Mamma Mia’ is my favorite variety for sauces, bruschetta and dried tomatoes. It’s the only variety that I grow in multiples because it is so versatile. It is meaty, ripens earlier than most plum tomatoes and lasts in my garden until the first frost.
For sheer beauty, I grow ‘Marvel Stripe’ every year. This indeterminate heirloom produces large multi-colored fruit with streaks of red, yellow and orange. It is a star in any caprese salad.
My best-tasting tomatoes are ‘Japanese Black Trifele’ and ‘Cherokee Purple.’ Both are indeterminate heirlooms with dark fruit and rich, complex flavor. ‘Cherokee Purple’ produces large tomatoes while the ‘Japanese Black Trifele’ is a medium-sized pear-shaped tomato.
Napa County Master Gardeners have compiled a list of 44 favorite tomatoes that grow well in the county. For more information about these varieties, visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/ucmgnapa/files/163307.pdf. No matter which tomatoes you choose to grow this summer, you will be in heaven with the first bite.
Tomato Plant Sale: Napa County Master Gardeners are hosting a tomato plant sale on Saturday, April 20, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Choose from 44 varieties that grow well in Napa County. Come early for best selection. Tomato experts will be on hand to answer questions. Location: Oxbow Public Market, south parking lot, 644 First Street, Napa. Plan your purchases with this Quick Guide to Tomato Varieties.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners (http://cenapa.ucdavis.edu) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions?