Reports of Africanized bees in Contra Costa County, which turned out to be ordinary European honeybees, has people thinking a lot about bees and their place in our gardens.
Bees are responsible for pollinating nearly 30 percent of all the food we eat. Their cross-pollination also is crucial for the survival of most of our native plants.
"The diversity and abundance of bees in your backyard varies greatly on the diversity of flowers available," says Robbin Thorp, entomology professor emeritus at UC Davis. "Help encourage bees into your backyard and garden with a variety that blooms all year long."
Thorp recommends growing lavenders, rosemary, salvias, ceanothus, ribes, lupines and California poppies. For pops of color add asters, sunflowers, cosmos, penstemon, cuphea and nepetas. Plant herbs that both you and your bees will enjoy such as parsley, chives, dill, basil, borage, mint and fennel.
Here are some of the more common bees you'll likely find in your yard.
Honeybees, which are ¾-inch and can vary in color from blonde to black, represent only a small fraction of the total bee population but they play a critical role in pollinating more than 40 varieties of fruit, nut, vegetable and seed crops valued at more than $1.5 billion per year.
Bumblebees are up to 1-inch long. They are more round, and are black or yellow with white or orange bands. Bumblebees are social and, although similar to honeybees, generally have much smaller colonies. They produce only enough honey to provide for themselves and are not used for commercial production.
Carpenter bees are shiny, black and as large as a bumblebee. They drill into wood, a trait that gives them their name, to create tunnels where they breed and raise their young. Although you might see carpenter bees drilling into the side of your home or other wood structure, they will seldom do significant damage. Make sure all surfaces and your siding are painted as they prefer untreated wood. However, if you suspect they are doing significant damage, you can treat the holes with insecticidal spray or dust. Wait two to three days, make sure the holes are empty, and then plug them with steel wool and caulking.
Leafcutter bees are small, smoke-colored bees with pale abdominal bands. They are productive pollinators, often doing 20 times more pollinating than honeybees. They are passive, solitary bees that need bare ground in order to nest and lay their eggs. For this reason, don't practice wall-to-wall mulching. Leave some bare spots for the bees.
While some may be upset by seeing a bee swarm, Elina Niño with the Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, urges people to remain calm.
"If you see a swarm or nest of bees, don't panic," she says. "Just move away as quickly as you can and call your local extension office or beekeeping association. Don't swat or try to kill them; a dead bee can release an alarm pheromone that could mark you as a potential threat to other honey bees."
This article first appeared in the May 29 issue of the San Jose Mercury News./h4>/h4>
Ornamental shrubs, trees, lawns, and countless unknown plants fill most landscapes. These plants provide shade, beauty, and erosion protection, but you can't eat them.
As older plants are replaced, or new areas are developed, consider adding edible plants to the landscape. Often more flavorful than grocery store produce, homegrown edibles come in all shapes and sizes, making it easy to match any landscape design. Gardens are not limited to traditional rows of tilled soil. Even if all you have is a balcony or a sunny window, you can grow edible plants!
What do these plants need?
Nutrient rich soil, adequate water, and 6-8 hours of direct sunlight are all that's needed by most plants. Our soil tends to be heavy clay, which holds more water than other soil types, but it can be a tough barrier for young roots. Adding compost and mulching your soil will make it more hospitable and productive. If you have shady areas, mint, blackberries, chives, spinach and parsley can be planted. Before planting, be sure to read and follow the directions for specific planting depth, sun and water needs, and spacing. Mature plant sizes should be kept in mind, too. Some of those tiny seeds turn in to really big plants!
Creative Planting 101: Towers, Containers & Raised Beds
Many edible plants can be grown in containers, towers, or repurposed pallets. While there are many vertical or container gardens for sale, a little creativity can go a long way to adding edibles to a landscape without spending a lot of money. Leaky buckets, broken down wheelbarrows, plastic coffee tubs, even old boots can be used as planting containers! Just make sure there is good drainage.
Raised beds are easy to make and they have the added benefit of being easier to weed and work than traditional garden beds. They also allow the soil to get and stay warm sooner, extending the growing season.
The Stuff of Salads
Lettuce, spinach, radishes, arugula, onions, garlic, fennel, cucumber, tomatoes and peppers can be added to most landscapes. Alternating green Romaine and red leaf lettuces make a lovely border. Repeat planting can provide many months of edible landscape. Cucumbers, squash and melons can be trained up a fence or trellis, providing beautiful greenery and blooms, plus a surprising bounty of food.
Herbs are very easy to grow and most of them require little to no care once they are established. Tender basil is an exception, but its favor more than makes up for the effort. Thyme, lavender, lemon balm, chives, lemon grass, parsley, cilantro, and sage all grow well from seed. Most of these plants are perennial, which means they will last for many years. Instead of traditional house plants, mint and oregano drape beautifully from a hanging planter and they add flavor to many favorite foods. They can be paired with a more upright plant, such as chives, to make the most of the space and provide twice as much food.
Fruits & Nuts
Fruit and nut trees, bramble fruits, and vines add value to property and they produce delicious edibles each year. Dwarf fruit trees can be grown on balconies, in containers. Bramble fruits, such as raspberry or blackberry, can be grown along a fence, providing extra protection along with luscious fruit. Instead of an ornamental trumpet vine over your pergola, why not plant grapes? Just picture those sweet clusters hanging above your head, only an arm's reach away.
You can learn more about edible gardening from your local UC Master Gardeners. Check out the Vegetable Planting Chart for Santa Clara County. Free talks are regularly offered to the public. For more information, check our events page. For gardening questions, ask online or call 408-282-3105 between 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
This article first appeared in the May 13, 2016 issue of the Morgan Hill Times.
Feed Your Plants What They Need
OK, who's hungry? Depending on when you're reading this article, your stomach might be growling for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Or my favorite, the late afternoon snack. Not that I always need those chips and salsa at 4:30 p.m., but there they are right there in the pantry, after all. Similarly, I have a garage shelf lined with a variety of fertilizers for my bursting backyard garden. There's the fish emulsion, “rose food,” and the more generic “plant & vegetable fertilizer,” among others. They are all labeled organic and are supposed to be good for something. But do my plants need any of it?
Truth be told, most of these fertilizers end up on my shelf because I am the neighbor that is willing to find a home for everything the other neighbors give away. Old patio umbrella? I'll reuse it. Bought a new gas grill? I'll take the old one to work. Can't take that box of flower fertilizer when you move? I might use it at some point. And so it goes until I have many boxes of many garden fertilizers. But when to use what? Just like us mere humans, plants aren't meant to eat just because there's something in the fridge (I mean garage.) Unlike us, they can't walk over and pick out whatever sounds good at the time. So here's how to give them a healthy serving of what they need at the right time. Also known as fertilizing your plants appropriately:
Let's take the long view here. Compost is a slow-release fertilizer, and slow-release fertilizers are best. It not only adds nutrients to the soil, it also helps to retain soil moisture.
More is not better! It is just more. Too much fertilizer can result in plant damage, excessive plant growth and additional water needs by the plant. And we all know there is no additional water these days. If you use a commercial organic fertilizer, follow the instructions on the box very carefully.
Most woody ornamentals (think nonflowering trees and shrubs) don't require fertilizer, even at planting times. This is also true for California native plants.
Does your plant look unhealthy? Give it some TLC! However, don't assume that it's fertilizer it needs. Unhealthy roots, poor soil conditions or improper care (gasp) are all potential culprits.
Not all plants have the same appetite. Follow plant care guidelines carefully to be sure that you are addressing the individual needs of your fruit trees, vegetables and flowering plants.
Don't – listen carefully here – please do not apply fertilizer directly on the trunk or crown of your trees and shrubs. It's the roots that need the food, and they can be quite a bit further out from the crown of the plant.
And I would be remiss to give fertilizer tips without mentioning the importance of appropriate irrigation. None of this plant-feeding business matters if they are not adequately hydrated. So please be a good garden host(ess) and offer a tall glass of water with that fertilizer.
- Landscape Plants: Fertilizing & Watering: UC IPM
- The California Backyard Orchard: University of California
- California Master Gardener Handbook: Fertilizers.
This article first appeared in the May 11, 2016 issue of the Morgan Hill Life./h4>/h3>/h4>
The UC Master Gardeners are creating a demonstration garden at the new Martial Cottle Park. UC Master Gardeners Pamela Roper, Nancy Creveling, and Elizabeth Evans wrote an article introducing us as a partner to the Martial Cottle community.
The following appeared in the Spring 2016 Martial Cottle Park Volunteer Newsletter. You can also view newsletters on the Martial Cottle Park website.
At Martial Cottle Park the UC Master Gardener Program is primarily focused on training and demonstration in the following areas:
• Establishment and care of residential/home gardens and orchards
• Creating and maintaining the 4 acres of garden, orchard, and growing grounds
• Adaptability of vegetable cultivars for Santa Clara Valley's home gardens.
• Working landscapes with low-water requirements and native plant species
• Training on the recycling of compost
So what does this all mean? In simple terms at the UC Master Gardener parcel you will learn how to:
• Grow your own food sustainably
• Water-wise garden during a drought
• Enrich your soil by composting
• Garden for wildlife
• Create and maintain your own home orchard
by UC Master Gardener Jenny R. Redfern
Do you have the right growing conditions?
All summer vegetables require these basics: good soil texture and nutrients; at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day; enough room to grow to full width and height; and consistent soil moisture.
Check your planting area early in the morning, midday, and late in the afternoon. How many hours of direct sunlight does it get? Avoid planting on the north side of fences, or near bushes and trees that will shade the plants.
Start with really good soil. Squeeze a handful of soil from where you intend to plant. Does it crumble easily (good), or does it stay in a wet lump (needs improvement)? Most of our Santa Clara County soils have a high clay content, meaning it drains poorly and retains little air. You may need to dig in a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost to improve texture and drainage. For a new raised bed, invest in good planting soil that includes organic compost and slow-release fertilizer.
Plants need elbow room to develop healthy root systems and branches. Shallow-rooted plants like lettuce, onions, and radishes can grow in 6 to 12 inches of soil, while beans, peppers, squash, and tomatoes can send roots down 1 foot or more. A 6-inch tomato seedling can grow into a 4-feet tall, 2-feet wide plant. Cucumbers and squash like to sprawl. Corn and sunflowers will cast shade on anything to their north. Read the backs of seed packets to learn the size of mature plants. Always plant the tallest at the north end of the garden.
Use this table to figure out how many of each plant will be right for your space and needs.
What do you like to eat?
Basic rule of thumb: no matter how attractive it is, if neither you nor your family will eat it, or you don't have the time or space for canning and freezing, don't plant it! Once you have a realistic idea of how much your garden will hold, choose what you enjoy eating, both fresh off the plant and out of a jar or freezer bag in the winter. Most popular vegetables are annuals, meaning you can plant and harvest is the same season or year, but a few, like asparagus, require two to three years of growth before harvest.
A kitchen garden provides a great opportunity to introduce children to the wonderful flavor of really fresh food. A young carrot straight from the garden or a sun-warmed cherry tomato can make even a picky eater smile.
How will you keep things growing?
Garden vegetables are not drought-tolerant – they need consistent water. Plan to drip irrigate or hand-water the garden one to three times a week, preferably early in the morning. Keep the soil moist just beyond the bottom of the root system, and spread mulch on the soil surface to slow down surface evaporation. The easiest test for soil moisture is to stick your finger or hand gently in the soil next to the plant.
Most California soils are naturally low in nitrogen. When the plants are about 4 inches tall, or have been in the soil for a couple of weeks, feed the soil with a nitrogen fertilizer, such as diluted fish emulsion, according to directions on the container. Each month, add a compost side dressing a few inches from the plant's stem, gently dig it into the soil, and then irrigate. Compost adds nutrients into soil while mulch on top of the soil can control weeds and conserve moisture. The California Garden Web offers reliable advice on organic v. inorganic fertilizers.
Keep an eye on good and bad garden visitors. Lady beetles are welcome guests that help keep aphids, unwanted sap-sucking pests, under control. Consult the University of California Integrated Pest Management site to identify pests and learn how to control them. You also can call or email the UC Master Gardener Program of Santa Clara County Hotline, M-F, 9:30am-12:30pm, 408-282-3105, https://www.mastergardeners.org/ask-a-question for help with your garden problems.