Even if you are not planning to plant many veggies and herbs this fall, you should definitely invest the time to plant a cover crop in both your garden and raised beds. Cover crops take very little effort. You plant them once, water initially to get them started, and then let Mother Nature take over — assuming we are blessed with another wet winter.
Here in the Bay Area, the primary need is to add nitrogen to our heavy clay soil in order to loosen it up and feed our plants. Excellent nitrogen-fixing crops include vetch, cowpeas, fava beans, and crimson clover. Buckwheat is a great choice if you want a quick fix. It germinates in about five days and is ready to be turned under in about a month. You can feed your soil now, and still get a great fall garden planted.
For information and cool-season crops, don't miss the upcoming Fall Garden Market at Martial Cottle Park's Harvest Festival Oct. 7. The festival celebrates the agricultural heritage of Santa Clara Valley. There will be food, entertainment, activities for the kids, park tours, and more.
You will find seedlings of many Asian and Italian greens such as Chinese broccoli, pak choi, tatsoi, chicory, escarole, and radicchio. There will be dozens of varieties of beets, cabbage, and cauliflower. Try growing a few leafy greens that are great in soups, stews, and stir-fry meals, such as chard, kale, and mustard. They are cut-and-come-again plants that will keep on giving through next spring. And, if like me, you can't live without a fresh salad, you will find a variable salad bar of lettuce, spinach, arugula, cress, and mache to grow; all you'll need for serving them is a little vinaigrette!
And yes, there will be peas, turnips, onions, and even kohlrabi, collards, and artichokes.
Don't miss out on the blooming beauties: Agrostemma, Clarkia, Delphinium, Larkspur, Linaria, Snapdragons, Sweet Peas. Flowers not only add beauty, but bring in the bees and beneficial insects necessary for pollination and fending off the “bad bugs” that can damage your garden.
Whether you are a seasoned-gardener or just starting out, you can pick up lots of tips from the festival's free educational talks — Amazing Succulents, Cool Season Vegetables, Glorious Garlic, and Native Plants.
Growing your own food, whether with your family or by yourself, is not only enjoyable but truly important! You will conserve water, waste less (no one wants to throw away what they have worked to grow), avoid using harmful chemicals, nurture your soil, and help support and feed our native birds, bees, and other insects. And most importantly, you will make a huge, positive impact on your children; kids actually will eat what they grow! So head on out to one of our upcoming Fall Markets, and dig in!
Upcoming Fall Fall Markets
There are three upcoming Santa Clara County Master Gardeners Fall markets The main event will be at San Jose's Martial Cottle Park (5283 Snell Ave.) on Oct. 7, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is free, but there is a $6 parking fee.
Other Master Gardener Fall Garden Markets will be presented Sept. 23, 10 a.m.-noon, Palo Alto Demo Garden, 851 Center Dr., Palo Alto; and Oct. 14, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Guglielmo Winery, 1480 E. Main Ave., Morgan Hill.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the September 17 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
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>
Soil temperatures might still be too cool
Like many of you, I bought my tomatoes and peppers at one of the Master Gardener's spring market sale. It was so cold and rainy that I wasn't overly enthusiastic to get out and work in the garden so I grouped my plants together, sat them next to the garden shed for a little warmth and protection and decided to let them be.
Then, ignoring what experience has taught me, I decided to put them in the ground. And I paid a price for my impatience.
Planting too early in cooler temperatures can cause stunted growth, wilting, surface pitting, foliage necrosis and increased susceptibility to disease. Low soil temperatures can stunt plant growth and prevent root development. Most summer vegetables like soil temperatures of between 55 and 65 degrees.
Because my plants had just come from a greenhouse, where they were pampered with lots of light, water and warmth, they really needed to be hardened off before planting. Hardening off means to keep your seedlings in protected area, such as a porch or garage, and gradually acclimate them to their new environment, placing them outdoors in a shady spot for a couple of hours and slowly increasing the time. Plants that aren't properly hardened off are much more susceptible to sun and windburn as well as breakage.
We also recommend planting your seedlings into larger containers as soon as you bring them home.
So what happened when I didn't follow the prudent planting process? Well, one of my tomatoes snapped in half and I have a couple of peppers that look very much like the sad little tree in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I'll be starting over with some new seedlings and a bit more patience.
Tips for planting
- Plant your tomatoes deep (up to leaves you didn't pinch off)
- Amend soil with a high-quality compost (if needed)
- If planting in containers or raised beds, add slow release, organic fertilizer and compost
- Add tomato cages when you plant, if you wait until they need the support you can damage the roots
- And remember, peppers and tomatoes need 6 to 8 hours of sun. They also like well-draining soil and a pH of 6.5-7.0.
- Mulch around plants to help retain moisture and cut down on weeds.
- To avoid fungal issues such as fusarium and verticillium wilt, don't plant in the same area for 3 years, if possible.
- To avoid blossom end rot, make sure to provide consistent and deep watering.
- One of the most common tomato ailments is tobacco mosaic virus so don't smoke in or near your garden.
- Look for plants that are labeled disease resistant.
- The rains are tapering off, so make sure to keep young plants well watered. Peppers like to be kept evenly moist, but once tomatoes and peppers start fruiting you can significantly cut back on their water.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
Photo: Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the April 30 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
Plants such as rhubarb and asparagus can be planted now through February
Bare root plants are plants that go dormant during the winter and can be dug up and stripped clean of all soil, leaving their roots completely bare. They can then easily be propagated and transplanted.
Many vegetables and berries do best when planted during the winter. Those include artichokes, asparagus, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and rhubarb. Fruit trees, including apples, apricots, cherries, figs, pears, nectarines, peaches and plums also do very well when planted in their bare root form.
The best time to plant is from late December through February.
I grew up in the Midwest where rhubarb seemed to grow wild around every corner. It came up every year around our chicken coop, along side of the garage, and even, much to my Mom's chagrin, throughout most of our flowerbeds.
There is truly nothing better than a homemade rhubarb pie, so I am going to give growing rhubarb a go this year.
Rhubarb grows best where winter temperatures drop below 40 degrees, and if recent temperatures are an indicator, this is my year.
Local favorites include Victoria, Crimson Cherry, Glaskin's Perpetual and MacDonald.
Mature plants can reach 4 feet in diameter; roots and leaves are toxic, so be sure to find a space out of reach of pets that love to chomp on plants. Plant rhubarb at 3 to 4 feet apart in an area that gets morning sun or partial shade.
Dig a large hole, place roots about 2 inches deep and tamp the soil down around roots. Keep it loose around the bud, however. Soil should be well-draining and amended with organic matter such as composted manure.
Don't harvest the first year, but do remove the flowering stalks in order to push energy to the roots. You can harvest sparingly in the spring of the second year and cut stalks to ground level.
Rhubarb is a heavy feeder so apply a high-nitrogen organic food such as worm castings, blood meal or grass clippings in June and keep the weeds away year-round.
I am also going to do my first-ever asparagus trial this year. Asparagus, once established, can keep on giving for up to 20 years. Avoid varieties that have been bred for the hot and humid summers and extremely cold winters of the East Coast such as Mary Washington and Jersey Giant.
UC Davis has developed several hybrids that work well in our mild climate: UC 157 F1, Atlas F1, Apollo, Grande and Purple Passion.
Asparagus needs full sun and well-draining soil that has been conditioned with peat moss, straw, green manures or leaf mold. Growing in raised areas or hillsides works great.
Overly wet areas will encourage disease and root rot. When planting, dig a trench 8 to 12 inches deep, mix fertilizer into the bottom and cover with 2 inches of soil. Plant asparagus crowns with the bud ends up, about 12 to 18 inches apart and cover with another 2 inches of soil. Gradually add more soil as the plants grow. Space rows 4 to 5 feet apart.
It is best to wait until the second year before harvesting. By the fourth year, plants should be in full production.
by UC Master Gardener Rebecca Jepsen
This article first appeared in the December 11 issue of the San Jose Mercury News.
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.