You have these kitchen scraps – potato peels, lettuce leaves, coffee grounds, etc. – and you really don't want to put them in the garbage where they go to the land fill. Or put them down the garbage disposal. You think it's too much of a hassle to put them in the backyard compost pile (if you have one) with the matching of green material with brown material, and turning it once a week. What can you do with them?
You can start a worm bin and “recycle” your scraps into incredibly rich worm castings that you can use in place of expensive fertilizers on both indoor and outdoor plants. You can make your own worm bin using old recycling containers, or old fence boards, or you can purchase a commercial bin through a garden supply catalog. The County will assist you in starting a worm bin.
Contrary to popular belief, worms are really quite clean and the castings they leave – worm poop – is virtually odorless. Worms breathe through their skin, so they have a light mucus on them to keep their skin moist. This mucus is not slimy or dirty. In fact, it will kill e coli bacteria on contact.
The worms used for vermiculture – composting with worms – are NOT earthworms. They do not live in the soil. They live in decaying organic matter such as leaves. The common one used is the red wiggler or manure worm, Latin name eisenia foetada.
Worms are hermaphroditic – they have both male and female sex organs, but it still takes two worms to reproduce. They form a self-regulating population adjusted by the size of the worm bin and the amount of food provided.
So let's set up the worm bin. As a general rule, for the average household a bin with a surface area of 2 to 4 square feet is appropriate. It should sit off the ground and have are holes on all sides. It should be situated out of direct sun. Ideal temperature range for the worms is 55 degrees and 77 degrees. They can handle hotter and colder temperatures for short time periods. A garage works fine. Next you put in bedding material, about 4 inches of it. The easiest material to use in shredded newspaper. The Bay Area newspapers use recycled paper and soy-based ink for their news print. Do not use the glossy magazine inserts. The shred should be between 1/8” and 3/8” in width. If you have a super-secure shredder that turns your paper to confetti, don't use it. It will form paper mache and smother the worms.
Now the food goes in. Worms will eat most of your kitchen scraps. Exceptions are no meat or dairy, no oils, no citrus, no leaves or yard clippings, no soil, and no strong aromatics like garlic and heavy spices and peppers. Their digestive tract is like that of a chicken – a crop and a gizzard. They have no teeth. Therefore, they need coarse material in the crop and gizzard to grind up the food. Coffee grounds and ground up egg shells work just fine. Cover the food with additional shredded newspaper and moisten. This keeps out fruit flies. Feed the worms about 1 lb of food per square foot of surface area per week.
When you have built up a reasonable amount of castings (bedding and food gone, rich brown material in its place – this will take a while), it's time to harvest. Keep the castings and return the worms to the bin.
A source of red wigglers is Jerry Gach in San Jose. He can be reached at www.thewormdude.com. For more information about vermicomposting, call Santa Clara County ROTLINE: 408-918-4640, or on-line at http://cesantaclara.ucanr.edu/Home_Composting_Education/. Morgan Hill offers composting workshops in May and September where vermicomposting is covered in detail.
This article first appeared in the March issue of Morgan Hill Life./h4>/h3>
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.
This article first appeared in the March 18, 2016 issue of the Morgan Hill Times./h4>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h4>
Get ready for the 22nd Spring Garden Market, brought to you by the UCCE Master Gardener Program of Santa Clara County. The event is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 16 at History San Jose, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose.
Admission is free, parking is $6.
Again this year we will have a mind-boggling selection of 80 varieties tomatoes and more than 100 types of peppers, which is what we have become known for. There will also be hundreds of herbs, eggplants and ornamentals to choose from. New this year will be decorative succulent arrangements, all potted up and ready to go.
70+ Tomato Varieties
There will be more than 10,000 tomato plants this year, including the always popular Sun Sugar cherry, the classic Cherokee Purple. There also will be paste tomatoes, which are great for sauces and canning.
In order to extend your harvesting season as long as possible, opt for a few of the earliest fruiting -- ripe in 50 to 60 days -- and some of the tomatoes that take 90 to 100 days to ripen.
If you are growing in containers, look for determinate varieties that only grow to about 4 feet high.
90+ Pepper Varieties
If you love making salsa, try Jersey Devil or Opalka. Pair them with some new offerings from our "chili heads," including Sweet Sunset, an early fruiting, very sweet, Italian variety that is great for frying. It is compact, and it's good for containers, too.
Tunisian Baklouti is a hot pepper that is great for couscous and North African dishes. Etiuda is an orange bell from Baker Creek that produces a half-pound fruit.
Holy Moly is a mild pepper that turns chocolate brown when ripe. It is great for mole sauce.
If you love fire-breathing-hot, don't miss out on Bhut Jolokia Ghost and Trinidad Scorpion. For great habanero flavor with a little less heat, try Aji Amarillo, Bulgarian or Martin's Carrot.
Sweet pepper options include Corno di Toro, Romanian Gogosari and Cuollarici.
More vegetables and herbs
If you haven't tried growing your own eggplant, give it a go. Not only are they easy to grow, they are beautiful plants as well. There will be nine varieties to choose from, including Little Prince, Nadia, Rosa Bianca and Long Purple. They are great in stir fry dishes, hummus and even on pizza.
We will have 17 varieties of basil, including the prized Tulsi (Holy Basil) from India. Other herbs include oregano, thyme, lemongrass and stevia.
And ornamentals and succulents
Although we are known for our incredible edibles, we also offer more than 20 types of ornamental plants and flowers, including amaranth, cosmos, Rudbeckia and about 20 types of zinnia and 13 varieties of sunflowers.
In additional to the succulent pots, there will be dozens of succulents to choose from including aloe, aeonium, agave, echeveria and many more. Sampler packs will be available as well.
Although the plants are what might draw you to the sale, don't miss out on the educational talks. You can learn about drought-tolerant plants, growing tomatoes, embracing your clay soil, composing and gardening with pests.
There will be information booths featuring Martial Cottle Park, UC Davis All-Stars plants, native plants and the master gardener help desk, and garden-based activities for the kids. More than 40 vendors will offer food, arts and crafts, tools, clothing, chicken coops and, of course, plants, plants, plants.
This article first appeared in the April 3 issue of the San Jose Mercury News./h4>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h4>
We all know we're in a state of drought. The trick is to remember that even if we get enough rain to ease water restrictions, California is a summer-dry state. That means that it's naturally dry for long periods of time. I'm a fan of Saxon Holt's blog summer-dry.com. It's a great garden photography resource for learning about plants that thrive in summer dry conditions with limited amounts of water.
What does limited amounts of water mean? Start with an understanding of where you live (Morgan Hill is mostly in Sunset zone 14), your soil type, and sun/shade aspect. If you read summer-dry.com, plant water needs are defined as moderate (every 7-10 days), occasional (deep soaking every 3-4 weeks), and infrequent (deep soaking 1-2 times during hottest months). If you read about UC Davis Arboretum Allstars, plant water needs (for watering deeply during the dry season) are defined as moderate (once a week), low (every 2 weeks), and very low (once a month). As we move forward with the likelihood of continuing restrictions on the use of water in our gardens, choosing plants that thrive in summer dry conditions with limited water is a good investment. There is a big difference between watering established plants once a week and 1-2 times during the summer.
My favorite resources for inspiration and information include "Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates" published by EBMUD, "Landscape Plants for California Gardens" by Bob Perry, "California Native Plants for the Garden" by Bornstein/Fross/O'Brien, UC Arboretum All-Stars, and the recent Sunset Western Garden Collection. WUCOLS IV (Water Use Classification of Landscape Species) is a good resource that lists water use requirements. As you read about plant choices, you'll learn there are a number of different terms used, from drought tolerant, to water wise, to summer dry. They don't all mean exactly the same thing. Do your homework and understand what your plants need to thrive.
Here are some of my favorite summer-dry, medium-large size shrubs that are mostly low water users. They are on my ‘go-to' list for evergreen plants that add structure to the garden, always look good, work well with different garden styles, and they aren't temperamental if you play by their rules.
Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn' This Manzanita (3'-5' x 6') is an elegant, native choice. A. ‘Sentinel' (6'-8' x5') can be pruned up as a small tree. For something smaller, consider A. ‘John Dourley' (3' x 6'), A. ‘Emerald Carpet' (12”-18” x 3'-6') or A. ‘Carmel Sur' (12” x 6').
Rhamnus californica ‘Leatherleaf' If you're interested in creating a feast for bees, plant this native Coffeeberry (typically 5-6 x 5'-6'').
Rhaphiolepis umbellata ‘Minor' This is one of my favorites on the smaller side (3'-4'x3'-4' and can get taller), but as I was driving down Santa Teresa Boulevard this week (past Christopher High School) I remembered how much I like Rhaphiolepis indica ‘Clara' (3'-5' x 3'-5') for it's small white flowers and lovely round shape. Pittosporum tobira variegata A long time favorite, with grey green variegated leaves (5'-10' x 5'-10') and I love the scent when it's small, creamy white flowers bloom. For a smaller version, check out P. ‘Wheelers Dwarf' (2'-3' x 4'-5').
Get smart about choosing plants that thrive where you live and garden. To learn more about the range of options available, check out the following online resources:
waterwonk.us (easily searchable WUCOLS list)
Janet Enright is a UC Master Gardener of Santa Clara County, Bay-Friendly Qualified Landscape Professional, and QWEL (Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper) certified professional.
This article originally appeared in Morgan Hill Life./h4>/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 the newsletter 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