Each individual region has its own characteristics and Morgan Hill is no exception. While other parts of the country use autumn to prepare for harsh winters, putting up storm windows, we have the luxury of yet another growing season.
Your tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, summer squash and melons are probably in full swing in August, but many heat sensitive plants have long since bolted and gone to seed. If you leave some of these plants in place, not only will they provide seeds for a future crop, but they will also provide nectar and pollen for many beneficial insects. The insects feed on or parasitize common garden pests, such as aphids, hornworms, cutworms, and many more.
With the help of these beneficial insects, you can reduce or avoid using chemical pesticides altogether. Even if you do not actively collect seeds from the previous season's crop, you will probably discover next spring that you have many edibles throughout your landscape.
Plants to start in August
To get a jump-start on your autumn planting, this is a good time to start seeds for artichoke, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, cilantro, collards, fava beans, fennel, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce and spinach, peas, and turnips.
You can also direct seed arugula and beets in August, and this is the time to install Brussels sprouts and cabbage plants. Napa cabbage can be started now, as seeds or transplants.
With scorching hot days ahead, be sure to keep those seedlings watered and protected as they grow. They may need to be kept in a protected area, without too much direct sun.
As summer harvests reach their peak, you can help your plants stay healthy by removing dead and diseased plant materials.
In many cases, the more frequently you harvest, the more food a plant will produce. To feed and protect the current crop while preparing for your autumn garden, be sure to add aged compost and other mulch material to your growing beds. This will add organic matter for improved soil structure, and it will stabilize temperatures, and feed the worms and microorganisms that help your garden plants thrive. That way, as September rolls around, your garden beds will be prepared for carrots and all the seedlings you start now.
Staying one step ahead of the gardening game can make your landscape more productive.
You can learn more about garden design at the South County Teaching and Demo Garden, found at St. Louise Hospital, 9400 No Name Uno, in Gilroy. Classes are regularly offered to the public.
For more information, check our events page or call (408) 282-3105 between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
This article first appeared in the August 30 – September 12, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life./h3>/h3>/h3>
Unless you're using a syringe, you've never really fed or watered your plants. When you irrigate or fertilize your plants, what you are really doing is watering and feeding the soil. It is the soil that feeds and waters your garden and plants.
Creating healthy Morgan Hill soil is the best way to grow healthy plants that need less protection from pests and diseases, produce more flowers and food, and require less work. Let's learn more about growing great soil.
What is great soil?
What is in your soil?
The only way to really know what is in your soil is with a test from a reputable lab. The Olson test is better for the West Coast, while the Brays test is better on East Coast. In the Bay Area, we tend to have clay soil that is highly prone to compaction. Aeration is frequently needed. Clay soil tends to contain plenty of most of the necessary minerals, and too much salt and phosphorous. Iron and nitrogen deficiencies are common in the Bay Area. Your soil test results should include percentage ratings for each of the major plant nutrients. It may also tell you how much organic matter is in your soil.
Organic matter in soil
Organic matter is critical to soil health, and it can range from 1 to 8 percent. As living things die and begin to breakdown, they add nutrients and improve soil structure. They also alter the electrical charge of soil. Ensuring there is enough organic matter in the soil also improves porosity, aeration, and biological activity.
Soil is usually described as being sand, loam (silt) or clay. Sand is big. You can see individual particles. And water and nutrients can drain away quickly. Loam is made up of medium-sized particles that hold a good balance of gases, liquids, minerals and organic matter. Clay is made up of extremely tiny particles that can hold a lot of water and minerals. Organic particles surrounded by clay are protected from the microorganisms that break them down into nutrients that can be used by plants, creating an unattainable banquet. Each type of soil benefits from the following:
Sand — add organic matter to help it retain water and nutrients
Loam — add organic matter to help maintain the inorganic mineral and organic matter balance
Clay — add organic matter to improve soil structure and porosity, and to speed the breakdown of organic matter
Adding organic matter to soil is critical to plant health. A one percent increase in organic matter can make a profound difference in soil structure. This helps plant roots get to and absorb nutrients. You can add organic matter to your soil by:
• Mulching with untreated chipped wood
• Amending with composted kitchen and yard scraps
• Incorporating aged manure from local horse and cattle farms
• Raising chickens and composting their soiled bedding
• Protecting bare soil with ground cover crops
• Applying organic top dressings
Once you've increased the amount of organic matter, you will want to add nitrogen. Nitrogen levels are the single most limiting factor in most gardens, and organic matter can help plants access the nitrogen already present. Most soils contain less than 1 percent nitrogen, while 2 to 5 percent is ideal. Which form will you use? Inorganic nitrogen can be found as nitrites or ammonium. When roots take up nitrates, they increase the pH of the immediate area, making it more alkaline. The opposite is true when plants take up ammonium, making the soil more acidic. Organic sources of nitrogen include blood meal and cottonseed meal, both of which will acidify soil.
You can't know which form of nitrogen is right for your soil until you know its pH. Soil with a low pH makes it harder for plants to access some macronutrients. Soil with a high pH does the same thing. Most plants prefer a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 to thrive. Growing great soil means identifying and managing your soil's pH.
Creating healthy soil
Soil creation is called pedogenesis. You can create great soil in your garden and landscape when you:
1. Learn what you already have, with a reliable soil test.
2. Regularly incorporate organic matter with compost, mulch, and even coffee grounds.
3. Analyze your soil structure and aerate, as needed.
4. Only add needed amendments, and in the proper form for your soil.
5. Determine your soil's pH.
Other ways to improve your soil's health is by growing cover crops, using crop rotation, installing foot paths to reduce compaction, and avoiding irrigation run-off and urban drool.
For more information, visit UC Master Gardeners or call (408) 282-3105 between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
Image: Soil Textural Classes: California Master Gardener Handbook
This article first appeared in the June 21 — July 4, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life.
If, like me, you have only certain days and times that allow you to get out and enjoy your garden — you might decide to “dig-in” and carry out your plans even when weather conditions suggest doing otherwise.
Just brief periods of exposure to high temperatures can cause serious health issues, especially when you are exerting yourself. Make sure to increase your fluid intake — avoiding alcohol and/or sugary or carbonated drinks, since they can seriously heighten dehydration. Take shade-breaks often, to allow your body temperature to normalize.
Signs of heat-related illness include high body temperature, headaches, dizziness or confusion, nausea, rapid heartbeat and even loss of consciousness. Seniors, children and folks who are overweight or on certain medications (ask your doctor) need to be extra careful.
Don't cut safety measures when you are in a hurry or tired – accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, and the ramifications just aren't worth it! When using power tools, wear safely glasses, gloves, sturdy shoes and proper clothing to protect your body. If using loud equipment, protect your hearing with earplugs or headphones.
If using chemicals, please read and follow the directions! Applying too much, or even the right amount but in the wrong way can be dangerous to you, your pets and your plants and soil!
Be sure to protect yourself from mosquitoes and ticks, too. Use an insect repellent with DEET. Wear a long-sleeve shirt and long pants; tuck your pant legs inside your socks; and check your body thoroughly after gardening (and/or a hike). Make sure to dump any standing water around your garden or property, since mosquitoes can breed in just a capful of water.
And just as your Mom says, use your sunscreen! You need to reapply it often when working up a sweat outdoors. Also, wear sunglasses and a wide-brim hat to protect your eyes, face and neck.
Make sure to get regular medical checkups and a tetanus vaccination every 10 years. Tetanus, which lives in soil, can enter the body through a scratch from a thorn or a cut from garden shears or other tools.
Master Garden Bonnie Wagner recently sent out a list of other helpful tips: Make sure your tools are sharp so you don't have to put so much muscle into using them, and choose tools with long handles to avoid bending or kneeling whenever possible. If your task requires you to get up and down a lot, use a garden kneeler with handles, so both your legs and arms can help you change position.
Buy ergonomic tools that fit your hand and are designed to minimize strain. If you don't have the proper tool for the job, rent or borrow one. Don't try to make do with the wrong one. Use a wheel barrow or wagon to move around heavy or bulky items. Don't carry them with your arms extended in front of you, since that increases strain on your back. Consider hiring someone to do dangerous jobs such ladder work and or using power tools with which you aren't familiar. You'll find it to be money well-spent!
Gardening is an excellent way to stay healthy both physically and mentally, provided you take care of yourself and actually stop once in a while to smell the roses!
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the July 23 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
Benefits of seed starts
Some plants, such as lettuce, have tiny seeds that need light to germinate. Planting these directly in the ground often leads to losses due to wind dispersal or rotting under too much soil. Starting these plants in containers makes it easy to monitor them and keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout.
As seedlings grow, they can become root bound, which means the roots start wrapping around the inner wall of the container. Before this happens, you can up-pot or transplant those seedlings. Up-potting means moving a seedling from a small container to a slightly larger one. Transplanting means moving the plant to where it will live out its life.
When not to transplant
Plants that are fruiting, flowering, infested, or infected should generally not be transplanted. New transplants need to be able to focus on building strong root systems. Also, just as some people are more sensitive than others, some plants do not take kindly to being transplanted. The following plants should be sown directly into the ground whenever possible: artichoke, beans, beets, butternut squash, carrots, corn, cucumber, dill, melons, onions, peas, radishes, summer squash and zucchini.
How to transplant seedlings
For many vegetables, you can transplant seedlings with the first leaves below the soil line. Very often, these meristem tissues will transform into root tissues, adding nutrients to the plants. Once the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, prepare their new home, making sure the soil is loose.
The South Bay's heavy clay can form an impenetrable barrier to new roots if it is left smooth from a trowel or shovel. Be sure to rough up the edges of the planting hole. Then, follow these steps to successfully transplant the seedlings:
1. Place your hand over the container with the plant between your fingers.
2. Gently turn the pot on its side or upside down, tapping the bottom with your other hand to knock the soil loose.
3. Cup your first hand to hold onto as much of the soil as possible.
4. Examine the roots and spread them out if they have started wrapping around themselves.
5. Slowly turn your hand, allowing the root system to roll into the hole.
6. Ensure all roots are covered with soil. If peat pots were used, make sure all of the peat is covered, as well.
7. Gently pat the soil down to eliminate any big air pockets. (Most roots don't like being exposed to air.)
8. Water thoroughly.
Caring for new transplants
New transplants should be treated gently for a few days. To help a young seedling thrive in its new environment, in a process called ecesis, be sure to:
Harden off seedlings before transplanting; water regularly, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings; do not use insecticidal soap or other treatments right away; feed transplanted seedlings with fish emulsion or phosphorous a few days after their ordeal; protect seedlings against cutworm damage by inserting a paperboard ring a couple of inches into the soil; provide wind protection by cutting the bottom out of large plastic jugs and placing them over vulnerable plants.
Visit the South County Teaching and Demo Garden, at St. Louise Hospital, 9400 No Name Uno. For more information, visit Events and Classes or call (408) 282-3105 between 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
by UC Master Gardener Kate Russell
Photo: Copyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.
This article first appeared in the May 24 – June 6, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life.
Plus: Two native plant tours will show you what's possible in your own yard.
Area Master Gardeners have spent the last several months seeding, transplanting and nurturing tens of thousand of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Each variety and been trialed and selected based on its ability to do well in our various microclimates.
They also have tasted hundreds of tomatoes and peppers to ensure that each is worthy of a place in your garden. Not only will there be options you can't find anywhere else in the Bay Area, there will also be experts on hand and demonstrations on growing great tomatoes, pest management, sustainable gardening and more.
You will find tomatoes in almost every color of the rainbow –purple, green, orange, yellow, white, black, and of course, red. Pepper offerings include bells so sweet you can eat them like candy and super hot ones that might make you put your doctor on speed-dial. There will be traditional purple eggplant, but how about trying a white or rose-colored one as well?
If you aren't adding edible flowers to your salads, you are missing out. The sales will have a variety that will also encourage bees in your garden.
Santa Clara Master Gardeners‘ Garden Market is the oldest and largest in the Bay Area. There will be more than 20,000 plants, including 75 varieties of tomatoes and nearly 100 peppers; dozens of sunflowers, herbs and eggplants.
Ask about the Romanian Gogosari or the Cullarici, two unique peppers you won't find commercially available anywhere else in the country.
If you love succulents, you will be delighted with the array of choices — individual plants, sampler packs and beautiful arrangements, artfully potted in clever containers.
- 9 a.m. to 2p.m., April 8. History Park at Kelley Park, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose
San Mateo/San Francisco
Along with an array of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, the San Mateo and San Francisco Master Gardeners will be offering strawberries, herbs, microgreens and pumpkins. They will help you select varieties that do well in cooler climates as well as the small spaces of city-gardening.
Look for Patio Baby, a miniature eggplant that is perfect for containers, and other varieties developed for smaller gardens.
- 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 1, San Mateo County Event Center, Sequoia Hall, 2495 Delaware St., San Mateo
The Contra Costa Master Gardeners really want to get the East Bay gardening. This year they are hosting three markets on different days and locations to make it easy for folks to attend.
Beyond the most sought-after options, they will be offering unique selections such as the Pomodoro Canestrino di Lucca, a robust and flavorful roma tomato that produces prolific, deep orange fruit.
They are also will have tomatillos as well as peppers, eggplant and herbs.
- 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 1, Our Garden, 2405 Shadelands Drive, Walnut Creek.
- 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 8, Richmond Civic Center Public Library, 325 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond
- 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 22, Contra Costa County Fairgrounds, 1201 W. 10th St., Antioch
Native plants tours
If vegetable gardens aren't your only interest, check out the Going Native Garden Tour in the South Bay, and the Bringing Back the Natives tour in the East Bay.
Now in its 15th year, the Going Native Garden Tour showcases waterwise, low-maintenance plants that are attractive, require little care and encourage and support our native birds, bees and beneficial insects.
The tour includes a variety of designs and plant selections at homes in the South Bay and on the Peninsula. For more information and to register on the website.
- 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 22 and April 23
Registration is now open for the Bringing Back the Natives annual plant tour that offers visits to 45, mostly native gardens throughout the East Bay. The tour is designed to let gardeners see how they can incorporate native, low-water plants in there own gardens.
The tour is free although there is a $10 fee for a program. Register early.
- 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 7
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the March 23 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.