- Author: Lanie Keystone
During the recent drought years, we've focused on filling our gardens with beautiful succulents. Even though they seem to be “the easy child” in the garden, they still need proper attention to grow and thrive in your home. So, here's a review of basic care techniques for these ancient and exotic plants when bringing them in to create your own desert landscape indoors.
Water Sparingly! A cautionary note to all of the doting moms and dads out there: with indoor cacti, it's better to under-water than over-water. About once a month! A cactus can survive without water for many, many months, but rot is an instant killer. Using a moisture meter eliminates the guesswork—or—just water when the soil is completely parched and dry.
Let Your Cactus “Play Outside! Leave your cacti outside during the growing months from March to September. Introduce them to their new outdoor conditions gradually to avoid sunburn. They will be so much happier and robust when you bring them back indoors for the fall and winter when they go dormant.
Choose the Right Pot! Make sure to use a pot with a drainage hole at the bottom. Also, include an inch of pumice or a small rock to aid in the drainage.
Soil Matters! Cacti do not like to sit in wet soil—so, no regular potting soil. Use only a specialized cactus mix and after repotting in the new soil, don't water for two weeks. (I know—it's against your parenting instincts!) Planting typically breaks a cactus's roots and you want to take care not to expose cut roots to water as it can create that deadly rot.
Watch for Warning Signs of Distress!
- Thinning of the top growth means not enough light
- Yellow scarring or splotches of extremities exposed to the bright sun can mean sunburn.
- Thinning of overall cactus ribs means under-watering
- White clumps or scale means insect infestation.
Did we say that cacti are the “easy children”? Well, they are. And just by a little observation and minimal care with the proper amount of light and water, they will grow and thrive in your home for years and years. Enjoy!
- Author: Martha White
I watched July and August out my bedroom window this summer, as I recovered from spine surgery. Friends tell me I missed scorching temperatures and smoky air! As fellow gardeners, we still keep track of what is going on outside, even when we can't be out there, don't we! A few days ago, I ventured out to the backyard, just to see what had been happening without me.
The plants that were correctly placed with my drip irrigation were thriving, which made my investment in drips well worth the money. I lost a few plants where the spray connectors didn't give them quite enough water. I decided that was a mixed blessing since it gave me permission to shop this fall for replacement plants (after those pesky spray connectors are replaced by drips!).
My happiest surprise came when I saw the large colorful zinnias! In the late spring, I tossed the seeds into a large planter barrel that holds my dwarf mandarin orange tree. The seeds were leftover from a planting project with my granddaughter. It is hard for me to throw away leftover seeds in a packet. Anyway, the zinnias thrived! I have never grown zinnias before, but I have definitely become a fan!
Zinnias are annuals, which means they grow for only one season. They are considered one of the easiest plants to grow and are often selected for children's projects for that reason. The brightly colored flowers attract butterflies. Plant seed after the last frost has passed, and give them as sunny a location as possible. Sow seeds only one-fourth of an inch deep. For most varieties, seedlings will sprout in 4 to 7 days. More information on types of zinnias is available online.
Next spring, I plan to experiment with planting several types of zinnia seeds. I love the bright colors attracting butterflies to my garden. And, I value how easily they grew this summer, completely without any interference from me!
- Author: Melinda Nestlerode
A few years ago, our cat disappeared during the night. We were devastated by the loss of our beloved Teddy and blamed the nocturnal coyotes who live in the open space near our home. However, during a visit to the Animal Shelter, we were told that opossums, raccoons, and birds of prey are capable of killing cats. We quickly turned our anger on the opossum (Didelphis virginiana) who ran along our fence at night and taunted the dog. It was easy to hate such an animal; with their rodent-like snouts, beady black eyes, and thick, hairless prehensile tails.
Last week, I attended an excellent presentation by the Suisun Wildlife Center. They brought owls, snakes, a turtle, and an opossum as demonstration animals. The opossum was tame, having been hand-raised by humans, and was (almost) cute. The presenters did not believe opossums were capable of killing cats and extolled their virtues, which include eating slugs and snails. Suddenly, I felt guilty for hating a harmless animal!
So, which is true? Is the opossum a vile cat-killing predator, or a docile, garden-pest-removing friend? The truth is, the opossum is neither of these.
The opossum is a native of the eastern United States, and the only marsupial indigenous to this country. They are nocturnal omnivores and eat fruits, nuts, green plants, insects, snails, snakes, frogs, birds, and their eggs, as well as small mammals such as meadow voles, mice, and rats. The opossum will eat fresh meat or carrion and is often seen feeding on road kill. Opossums do not prey on cats or other larger mammals but will attack them if cornered, or if competing for food.
Opossums cause loss to home gardens by eating nuts, berries, fruits, and grapes. They eat pet food left outside and may raid compost bins. The animals carry a variety of diseases, including leptospirosis, tuberculosis, relapsing fever, tularemia, spotted fever, toxoplasmosis, coccidiosis, trichomoniasis, and Chagas disease. They may also be infested with fleas, ticks, mites, and lice; and are hosts for cat and dog fleas, and flea-borne typhus.
There are several steps you can take to deter opossums from occupying your yard. Be aware that it is illegal to trap and relocate wild animals without permission from the State of California Department of Fish and Wildlife: https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=45902. Here's what you can do:
- Cut back overgrown shrubbery and trim back trees that overhang rooftops at least 5 feet from the roof edge
- Remove fallen fruit
- Stack firewood tightly, leaving no gaps suitable for a den; store scrap lumber and other items about 18 inches off the ground
- Ensure garbage cans have tight-fitting lids
- Do not place food items or table scraps in your compost bin
- Remove pet food placed outdoors by nightfall
- Block access to areas under stairs, porches, decks, and buildings with 1/4–inch mesh hardware cloth – BE SURE THAT THE ANIMAL HAS VACATED THE AREA FIRST
- Use poultry wire around gardens
- Use electrically-charged wire near the top of the fence. Visit the University of California's Pest Note regarding raccoons for more information: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74116.html
- Use a motion-activated sprinkler system
- Use light, and sound from a loud radio to annoy the animal at night
For more information about how to deter opossums from inhabiting your property, visit the University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources website at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74123.html
- Author: Kathy Low
With the annual Master Gardener's Wreath Making Workshop coming up on December 1, 2018 (see the flyer below), I thought it might be interesting to look into the history of wreaths. What I discovered were two different histories of the wreath.
The first history dates the wreath back to the 8th century BC. In ancient times wreaths made from laurel, ivy, olive leaves, oak, wheat, and vines were worn as crowns by Etruscan rulers. In ancient Rome and Greece, wreaths were used to represent a person's status or accomplishments. Roman magistrates and leaders wore golden wreaths to demonstrate their lineage back to Rome's early Etruscan rulers.
Wreaths made of different plants had different meanings. For example, according to mythology, Zeus made decisions while resting in an oak grove, so wreaths made of oak symbolize wisdom. Laurel wreaths are often associated with love because according to Ovid's Metamorphosis, the target of Apollo's love, the nymph Daphne escaped his pursuit by being transformed into a laurel tree. Since he couldn't have her, he cut off a branch and proclaimed that since he could not have her, he would always wear her on his hair. So he's often depicted wearing a laurel wreath as a symbol of his love for Daphne.
The ancient Greeks are also credited with introducing wreaths made of bay laurel (native to the Mediterranean region) as a symbolic award to victors of military, music, poetry and athletic competitions. Because wild olive trees grew in Olympia where the Olympic Games were held, olive wreaths were awarded to victors of athletic games.
The other history of wreaths dates back to 1000 BC. It's believed that Pagans created the wreaths as part of the solstice celebration as a symbol of perseverance through a harsh winter and hope for the coming spring. It's theorized that in the 16th century Lutherans, Protestants, and Catholics in Germany adopted the wreath to celebrate Advent. Advent wreaths have four white candles, with a candle in the center, which is lit on Christmas Day. Advent and Christmas wreaths are made of evergreens as a symbol of growth and eternal life. Wreaths made of holly branches are symbolic of the crown of thorns Jesus wore when he was crucified, and the red berries represent the blood he shed for us.
If you are interested in making a wreath for the holidays, consider registering for the Wreath Workshop on December 1st. The Master Gardeners will provide you with instruction on making a wreath, and all the supplies (frame, evergreens and other decorations) needed to make a wreath. See the flyer below for registration information.
- Author: Michelle Davis
After Labor Day, I automatically start thinking about apples. And each year, on an autumn weekday, my husband and I head to Apple Hill and visit some of the orchards on the Apple Hill map. We usually bring home frozen baked apple products and a few bags of different kinds of apples. We always stop and buy a caramel apple to split along the way, too, but this year was different.
While visiting Hendy Woods State Park on our way to Fort Bragg, we found a biodynamic (Demeter-certified) apple farm as we were leaving the park. The Apple Farm has a Philo address, but it is next to the California state park. We didn't see any baked goods, but we did buy the best apples I have ever tasted, apples I have not seen at Apple Hill. We brought home bags of Art's Apple and Sierra Beauty. There were at least 10 different types of apples and several pear varieties available for sale the Sunday we were there, but the orchard has over 75 varieties of apples grown on 1700 trees ranging in age from whips to 90 years old. Pears and quince are also grown on the farm. Everything grown or raised on the farm is organic. Some of it is sold at Oxbow Market in Napa and some at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market in San Francisco. At the farm stand, apples, pears, apple juice and cider, apple cider syrup, jams, and other comestibles were available for sale. It is all run on the honor system. Write on the log what you are buying and put the money in the box.
I was surprised to learn that the farm is Demeter certified. There are about 4500 farms worldwide that carry this certification, which has to be reviewed and renewed annually. Demeter agriculture is a comprehensive, organic method of farming that gives back to the soil and livestock that are being raised on the land. No chemicals are used. Pest, diseases, weeds are all addressed by taking care of the soil. Traditional farming tears down the soil, but this method gives back to the soil by treating it, the plants and the livestock on it as a working whole. The focus is on the health of the soil.
I had never heard of this form of biodynamic farming until I visited Benziger Winery last March. The winery tour explained exactly how all the components of the farm are linked together to give back to the soil. Flowers are planted next to the vines to attract pollinators and to repel pest invaders. Fertilizer is from the sheep that are eating the weeds. Compost and compost tea are made from the prunings. Everything gets used and recycled back into the system. These are just a few examples of how each part of the farm is integrally linked with the other components and with the whole closed system.
Having now tasted the best apples ever and sipped some excellent wine, I will definitely be looking for more biodynamic farm products to taste-test.