- Author: Paula Pashby
It is late summer now and moving quickly into fall. I am looking forward to this coming season because of the vibrant colors, cooler weather, hopefully, some rain, and the planning for the next crop of interesting plants.
I have three raised garden beds and am still getting harvest from one that has the late-blooming crops of eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. Originally, I was thinking about planting basic cover crops in the other two non-producing beds to replenish their nutrients. I hate to admit this because I am a passionate gardener, but I was frankly looking forward to taking a hiatus from planting to just take some time to relax in the garden.
However, my plan came to a quick halt after attending some inspiring Master Gardener events that focused on planting a winter vegetable garden. As many gardeners can attest to, once you get that notion and desire to do some planting, there is no going back! It was on a recent Saturday evening that I came to realize that I needed to plant a winter veggie garden as soon as possible.
So, how to plan out this new project? Things to consider for preparation:
- Pull out the depleted summer veggie plants,
- Add compost to the garden beds – do not till it in too much, just mix gently so the soil components (minerals, organic matter, water, and air) are not disrupted; and
- Identify plants to purchase, Yay!
Of course, all previous commitments went to the wayside. So, on Sunday I set out to a nursery to find my fall veggie seedlings but did not have much luck. Meanwhile, I heard of another nursery that had just placed many of their winter veggie seedlings out on the sales floor. BUT they aren't open Monday…oh, the patience to wait until Tuesday for my desperately needed veggie starts – and I had to work my regular job first thing Tuesday morning!
OK – new plan – get up extra early on Tuesday since I do not need to be available for work until 10:00. So, when does the nursery open? I had to get up early and be at the nursery at 9:00 in the morning, focus on the list of winter veggie plants and please do not let me stroll away to herbs and other native plants… Just stay focused on the winter veggie plants right now…stay focused!
On the way over there - I don't know how to explain it - but I almost felt like a little kid playing hooky – sneaking over to the nursery before work to snag the best plants...When I got there – WOW! I was overwhelmed! Not only did they have every plant on my list, but ‘then some'!
I found my plants - Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Spinach, Lettuces, Radish & Artichoke – and quickly headed back home with my treasures to be planted in a few days… and made it just in time for my online meeting with colleagues… mission accomplished!
Now for the fun part…as you can see with the photos!
- Author: Michelle Davis
Many years ago, as a student at CSU Fresno, I frequently drove the backroad off of Highway 99 into the campus. At that time the road had no traffic lights until really close to the school. I drove by what seemed like miles of fig orchards and then a shopping center appropriately called Fig Garden Village. I asked a friend a few years ago about her recent trip to the campus. She told me my old route was no longer miles of orchards, but now miles of traffic lights and businesses.
I didn't really appreciate the fig trees then, except as a peaceful last stretch into the campus. My only experience with figs to that point in time was eating Fig Newtons.
Figs are not technically a fruit, but a little bundle of tiny flowers inside a small, thin sac. There are basically 3 kinds of figs, but lots of varieties. Most figs grown in home gardens are called common figs. What's nice about these is that only takes one tree to get figs. Common figs are self-pollinators. Some varieties in this category are 'Brown Turkey' and 'Celeste'. The second kind is the 'Smyrna' fig requiring cross-pollination from a caprifig by a fig wasp carrying the pollen. No pollination equals no figs. The third type has two crops of figs. The first in the spring grows on the prior year's shoots and doesn't require pollination, but the second crop in the late summer/fall that grows on the current year's shoots does. This second crop is the main producer. The first crop usually produced in June is used commercially as fresh fruit. Shelf life is really short. The second crop is dried and used as fig paste.
If you like figs, these are great deciduous trees for the home garden. They can be grown in pots or in the ground. Potted figs need a sunny spot and consistent moisture and they can easily be grown in pots with reservoirs. Multi-stemmed plants are attractive in the home garden and can be put directly in the ground. All that's needed is sun and soil with good drainage year-round. Potted trees do need fertilizer, but the in-ground ones usually take care of themselves at the expense of nearby plants. Trees in the ground can grow to 30 feet tall and wide. Pruning them does not hurt them. Do it when the tree is dormant. Keep them smaller, so you can pick the fruit without getting on a ladder.
To harvest your fig crop, here's what to look for: The fruit changes color. When it starts to droop on the branch, and the fig neck gets soft and the skin cracks, pick it. Don't wait. The window is short. Other critters will get the fresh fruit before you do or it will land in a messy splat on the ground.
Long after my CSU Fresno commutes, and for many years, I helped an elderly British friend pick his crop. He and his wife would dry some of the fruit in their garage and would make jam out of the rest. He had one large, unpruned tree, so I was on a ladder with kitchen gloves in my nursing scrubs after my shift had ended. It was a messy job. The fuzzy leaves and the white milky sap from the stems made me incredibly itchy. The glove fingers would even stick together. Upon finishing, I would spend at least 10 minutes scrubbing any part of my arms not covered by my scrubs and the gloves trying to get rid of the itchiness.
And so that brings me to this final fig thought: Did Adam and Eve really wear fig leaves?
- Author: Lanie Keystone
Being an inveterate Children's Book lover, I'm always on the lookout for a new children's gardening book that really piques the imagination, engages the senses, offers solid information and just soars.
What's Inside A Flower, by veteran children's author, Rachel Ignotofsky was published this year and checks all those boxes and more.
Before I get to the “and more”, you might get a clue about the tone of the book from Ms. Ignotofsky's description of herself:
“Rachel grew up in New Jersey on a healthy diet of cartoons and pudding.”
Now for the “more”! The book is boldly illustrated by the author, whose background and training is in art. In fact, she was once a designer for Hallmark Cards. But the illustrations, as vital and elegant as they are, in a sense are the conduit for learning and understanding. For, the illustrations lead directly to and bolster that “solid information” that we hope to find in an important non-fiction book. One of Ms. Ignotofsky's primary goals in her work is to take complex scientific ideas and present them in exciting and understandable terms. As in her other books, she more than succeeds in helping readers of all ages understand. In this case, the knowledge is about the physiology, biology, and importance of plants and flowers and how they grow, flourish, exist, and co-exist in our world.
Learning about the development and growth of plants from seeds to roots to blooms gives children the foundation needed to build greater curiosity about science and inquiry right in their own backyard, down the block, or wherever one is lucky enough to find flowers blooming. This is a book that leads children, (and adults, as well), to ask more questions and confirm ideas already formed, because the author poses wonderful Socratic questions herself. Ignotofsky begins our exploration by telling us that, “Flowers grow everywhere….in cities, in jungles, soggy swamps, blistering deserts, on vegetables….” We follow her floral trail around the world which leads us to the heart of things—right “inside a flower!”
While “What's Inside A Flower?” is featured for children ages 4-8, older kids will grab onto the detailed information and be inspired to learn and journey even further into the wondrous world of flowers. This is a journey well worth sharing with the kids in your life, whether they be your in own family, your students, or the child within YOU!
You'll be engaged by the illustrations and nourished by the information—it's a winning combination.
- Author: Erin Mahaney
One danger with perusing seed catalogs in the winter is the inevitable, likely unwarranted, optimism that this year will be different. This will be the year that I can grow something completely new, something that I've failed at before, or, if I start early enough, I could grow something meant for warmer climates. I live in a Benicia microclimate where the cold and the gale-force winds make even growing tomatoes happenstance despite windscreens for the veggie beds. I know my yard's limits. But where's the fun in being practical all the time? For a few dollars, a little effort, and some guarded optimism, maybe this will be the year for success!
Really, I'm talking about warm weather vegetable and fruit crops. Anything that loves heat doesn't love my yard. I've tried growing a type of Spanish melon – just a small one – three years running. Each year, I've managed to eke out one, solitary, softball-sized melon that rots on the vine because I think that it will grow bigger. Each year, I swear it will be the last attempt. And in the winter, I look at the catalogs and decide to give it one more try, thinking that maybe a soil thermometer, a heating pad, or a grow light would help. Nope. Failure each time.
This year, in a triumph of hope over experience, I decided to try another type of melon, a watermelon. I've tried growing watermelons before but was wholly unsuccessful. But this time, I tried to be strategic. I selected the ‘Mini Love' variety because it has small fruit (5-7 lbs) and a shorter period to reach maturity (70 days). I didn't think I could plan on a long, warm growing period required for other larger varieties. There were lots of options from which to choose, so the description of ‘Mini Love' as holding well in the field weighed in its favor. We get busy in the summer, and the odds of missing the optimum harvesting window are high.
I experimented with starting some seeds early indoors and planting some directly outdoors. Naturally, I got the labels mixed up so now I'm not sure which is which. But they all seem to be growing at the same rate. I then made it more challenging by growing several plants on vertical trellises. I have some skepticism that the stems will hold a 7-lb watermelon, but my yard is small, and, well, why not give it a try? So far, so good, although I barely rescued one watermelon in time from growing between the trellis and the fence. That would have been a very skinny watermelon.
I've definitely made mistakes. Apparently, watermelons should not be watered the last week before they ripen because over-watering will result in bland fruit. Learning this information late in the summer raised two issues too late. First, I have no clue when the watermelons will ripen. Perhaps I should have counted out 70 days from when I planted the seeds, but I didn't. Even so, I would have assumed it might take watermelons a little longer to ripen in our cooler climate. In the future, it would be helpful to track planting information more carefully. Also, I planted the watermelons in a veggie bed on automatic drip irrigation with other vegetables. I now can't turn the irrigation off without harming the other plants. The plants will just all have to get along and hopefully, the dreaded watermelon blandness won't occur!
Another mistake involved determining when to harvest the watermelon. I interpreted “better field-holding ability” as “I can leave the watermelon on the vine and pick it later,” which then turned into too many days later. This meant that a small part of the watermelon was a bit mealy.
There are three ways to get tell when a watermelon is ripe. First, a watermelon is ripe when the tendril nearest the point on the vine where the stem attaches begins to brown or is dead. I waited for the entire vine to die, which was too long. Second, a watermelon is ripe when the spot where it rests on the ground is yellow. I am not sure how this will work with a hanging watermelon, so I'm going to keep watch on the vine instead. Third, there is the classic tapping method where the watermelon makes a hollow sound when tapped. Frankly, I've tried methods two and three in the grocery store without success. At least at home, I can keep an eye on the vine to evaluate when the watermelon is ripe.
After all this, did that optimism in winter pay off? Yes! It has been so much fun watching the vigorous watermelon vines grow, twining them up the trellis, and waiting for them to ripen. And that first taste of watermelon? Perfection.
- Author: Jenni Dodini