Harvest Day 2014

Fair Oaks Horticulture Center is a one-acre instructional facility in Sacramento maintained by the Sacramento County Master Gardeners. If you have never heard of FOHC, then the annual Harvest Day is a great time to visit! This educational event features garden-related workshops, tours, tastings, and, of course, plenty of knowledgeable Master Gardeners to answer your questions.

What: Harvest Day 2014
When: Saturday, August 2, 2014  8am-2pm
Where: Fair Oaks Horticulture Center
11549 Fair Oaks Boulevard
Fair Oaks, CA 95628
Admission and Parking:  Free!

Activities: There will be plenty of delicious fruits and vegetables to try, from tomatoes and squash to melons and tree fruit. Many of these are growing in the demo garden, along with California native and Mediterranean plants, which are great for our summer-dry climate. Master Gardeners will be available at the Plant Clinic to offer advice about your own garden and explain various techniques employed in the demo garden such as soil solarization, square-foot gardening, and espalier.

If you need a break, you can rest in the shade and listen to one of these expert speakers:
8:30-9:15Research Meets Reality: Fruit Tree Pest and Drought Challenges
Chuck Ingels, UC Extension Farm and Horticulture Advisor
Quentyn Young, manager, Fair Oaks Boulevard Nursery

9:45-10:30 – Lush and Colorful: Year-Round Beauty with Water-Wise Plants
Janet Sluis, curator, Sunset Western Garden Collection

11:30-12:14 – Going Organic
Patricia Boudier, Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply

12:45-1:30 – Cooking in Season
Rick Mahan, chef and owner, The Waterboy Restaurant and One Speed Pizza 

If you want to know even more, a wide variety of organizations and businesses are represented at the educational tables, from irrigation suppliers and nurseries to conservation non-profits.

Other activities include mini-workshops on composting and vermicomosting (composting with worms), and a silent auction with items donated by local garden-related businesses. If you get hungry you don’t need to leave; there will be food trucks for lunch and sorbet and gelato for dessert. It might be warm, so remember to bring your hat and sunscreen. Hope to see you there!

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

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Gardening with Drought

The drought is tenacious and even though the governor has set a goal of a 20 percent reduction in water use it hasn’t happened yet, so more stringent enforcement is coming. As gardeners what can we to conserve water?  I remember the last drought in 1976-77 and how poorly I handled it. In October 1976, I moved to the country so I could cheerfully garden after years of cramped gardening on city lots. A friend and I cleared a large plot of weeds and junk from an uncultivated wasteland for a garden in the spring of 1977. I planted lots of vegetables and wastefully watered using sprinklers. Wow, what a weed patch that was!

I learned quickly that the only sane way to grow vegetables was using drip irrigation. Drip irrigation has improved with better filters and emitters plus programmable controllers.  We also have landscape water controllers that when set properly automatically dispense the right amount of water depending on conditions. They can and should be manipulated seasonally to reduce irrigation in the fall and spring when water needs are less. A water audit to make sure you are putting on the right amount of water for your landscape is useful. For information on water auditing go here:

Conserve water during the drought by doing the following:

  • Take out some of your ever thirsty lawn and plant native plants or Mediterranean adapted plants which require less water once established.
  • When establishing new non-turf landscapes consider installing drip irrigation that puts the water at the plant.
  • Apply 2-4 inches of mulch to conserve moisture in the landscape or in the garden.
  • Pay attention to your controller settings and water only as needed.
  • If we reduce watering, lawns go dormant and they will often come back. However, landscape shrubs, perennials and trees need enough water to survive.  Methods for minimal watering for survival of your landscape can be found here:

About 70 percent of urban water use is for landscapes—conserving here is vital for getting through this drought.

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Conserving Green Wastes

A recent article in The Record discussed the mandatory new law and the need to reduce of materials going into landfills. One of the reasons we have a Master Gardener program in San Joaquin County is to help educate gardeners to reduce the amount of green wastes going to landfills. I am always amazed when I go to the North County Landfill, at how often I see people dumping large amounts of discarded landscape materials. Here are some of the things that you can do to reduce organic material from the landfill.  Right plant for the right space will reduce the amount of pruning that you do. Planting a plant that grows too large for the space allotted will result in a never ending job of size reduction by pruning and the creation of green wastes to get rid of. Lawn clippings and leaves are sources of landfill material that can be composted at home and thus avoid energy costs of their pickup and disposal. It also provides you with nutrients and mulching compost for your landscape plants or vegetable garden and thus conserves your soils fertility. Fertilizing, watering, mowing and culturing lawn and we don’t even eat it!  Hence, another possibility is to lose some of the lawn and plant Mediterranean plants, native plants or an edible garden that uses less water and fertilizer. Such landscapes can be watered using drip irrigation, thus putting water right where the plants need it and wasting none. Food prices are rising, so it makes sense to grow some of your own food where possible.

For those interested in composting I wrote an article, Composting 101, found on page 12 of our first MG Newsletters.  One thing not mentioned in that article, but important to know about is that you can make compost without turning the compost which is not a fun chore.  It takes a lot longer, but “let it rot” composting does work as long as there is moisture in the pile which is essential for any composting. Compost should be about as moist as a wrung out sponge. One new thing that is happening at the N. County landfill on Harney Lane is the diversion of green wastes for composting. I was not able to get details, but when I do, you will read it here.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

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It is Winter Garden Time

Packman Broccoli, an early variety

July 4th is celebrating time and it is also a reminder to me that it is time to start seeds for that winter garden.  If you like fresh broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts it is time to get the seeds started in flats or six packs. I always devote several flats to my brassicas as I enjoy more than one variety of each.  I usually transplant them  to the garden at the end of August. For an early producing broccoli that is ready in 50 days, I like Packman.  Other broccolis I plant are: Premium Crop, Waltham29, and heirlooms, Di Ciccio and Calabrese. 

For Brussels sprouts I have found out the Long Island Improved isn’t a reliable crop producer. Instead I plant the hybrid, Jade Cross, which is not available locally.  I get my seeds via mail from Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany, OR.  Brussels sprouts are so good when fresh from the garden compared with those from the supermarket and you can pick them over several weeks. 

For cabbage I plant Flat Dutch, Red Acre, Early Jersey Wakefield, and Alcosa, a savoy type with crinkled leaves. It is good to pay attention to the number of days until the vegetable is ready for picking.  This is usually indicated on the seed packet and is important to spread out your harvest by planting various varieties. There are lots of cultivars to choose from and of course we are lucky to have a local seed store, Lockhart’s which has lots of winter garden seeds to try. It is important to get them started now for a bountiful fall and winter of harvesting.

Red Drumhead Cabbage from Bountiful Gardens Catalogue

Flats with seedlings emerging for the winter garden

If you have a gardening related question, you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.



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Lettuce Seed Saving

Raised bed of mixed lettuce varieties.

My lettuce that I didn’t get to harvest is now bursting with blossoms and seeds.  I love lettuce and the salads made from it. Hence, I like to grow lots of different kinds and colors too: butter heads, leaf types, and cos (Romaine).  Lettuce seed is usually cheap to buy as seeds go. You will discover why when you first harvest your seeds, which in a lot of cases, is right about now.  Lettuce is a short lived annual so plant it in Feb-April and harvest seed in July or plant in August-September for a fall harvest. No need to wait two years like you do for seeds from biennials like fennel, carrots, onions and lots of others. The seeds are very abundant and the good news is that lettuce is self-pollinating.  That said, there is a chance of cross pollination by insects so if you want to keep your variety pure you can separate varieties by 10-20 feet. Even if there is cross pollination, you will still get lettuce and maybe something new and interesting.

Harvesting lettuce seed is easy to do. When the blooms turn brown and the flower fuzz turns white it is time. Cut the stem, invert in a clean 5 gallon bucket and shake and bash the plant against it sides. The seeds will drop to the bottom and now you need to separate the chaff from the seed. You can do this with a colander or screen and let the seed fall through or you can blow the chaff away by a little wind power, but not too much as the seed is fairly light in weight.  However, there is so much seed that a little loss is tolerable.  Lettuce seed should be labeled and stored in a dry, cool, dark environment-like in a jar or plastic bag in a refrigerator. It should remain viable for 3 years.

I will be teaching a workshop on seed saving at the Stockton Water Treatment Plant on Lower Sacramento Road on July 12 and at the Manteca Library on July 19th.  For more details go to this UC Master Gardener website.

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Rotten tomaotes, peppers and eggplant… Oh My!

There aren’t many things that frustrate me in the garden but going out to pick that ripe, red tomato only to find  there is a sunken rotten spot on the bottom of the fruit is on the top of my list. This is called blossom end rot and it can happen to your tomatoes, peppers, melons and eggplant.

Vegetables need calcium for healthy development. When tomatoes, peppers, melons, and eggplant can’t get enough from the soil, the tissues on the blossom end of the fruit break down. The calcium shortage may be because the soil lacks calcium, or calcium is present but is tied up in the soil chemistry because the pH is too low. Also, drought stress or moisture fluctuations can reduce its uptake into the plant. Another reason is that too much fertilizer causes the plant to grow so fast that the calcium can’t move into the plant quickly enough. Plants with blossom end rot show small, light brown spots at the blossom end of immature fruit. The affected area gradually expands into a sunken, leathery, brown or black lesion as the fruit ripens. Hard, brown areas may develop inside the fruit, either with or without external symptoms.

To reduce rot, avoid moisture stress. Use mulch to keep the soil evenly moist. Monitor soil moisture to make sure that the root zone neither dries out nor remains saturated.

Don’t over-fertilize. Too much nitrogen during early fruiting, especially with nitrogen made from ammonia, ties up calcium in the soil chemistry. Follow recommended rates for fertilizers.

Bonnie Plants

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Protect California’s Landscape this Camping Season, Don’t Move Firewood!

Originally published on: May 20, 2014
Author: Mary Louise Flint


Firewood for campfire
Firewood Task Force

Moving firewood is not usually something people think about as they are preparing to go on a camping trip but it is something important to keep in mind.  If you are preparing for an upcoming trip,  you can help protect California’s forests by buying firewood from a local source near the campsite rather than bringing it with you.When people move wood from place to place, they may also be moving invasive insects and diseases that threaten California’s landscape and wildland trees. The goldspotted oak borer, which is devastating native oaks in San Diego, was likely brought there from Arizona in firewood. The polyphagous shothole borer, walnut twig beetle and thousand cankers disease, and the pathogen causing sudden oak disease, all continue to spread to new areas on infested wood chips, plant debris, or wood moved for woodworking or firewood.

Over the past year, the California Firewood Task Force has asked the public to “buy it where you burn it”—that is, don’t bring wood from home when you camp, do use wood from local sources, and leave leftover wood at the campsite for the next camper.  Even if wood does not appear to have borer holes or other evidence of pests, don’t assume that the wood is pest free.  Be on the safe side and don’t move it.

The California Forest Pest Council established the Task Force in 2011 to educate Californians about what they can do to prevent movement of invasive pests in wood. The Task Force developed a Web site, put up billboards across California, sponsored children’s activities at parks and fairs, encouraged campgrounds to sell only local firewood, gave presentations across the state, and developed best management practices, posters, and other information to engage the public.

For more information visit www.firewood.ca.gov


Two walnut twig beetles (Photo credit - Larry Strand)
Two walnut twig beetles (Photo credit – Larry Strand)
Thousand cankers disease (Photo credit - Larry Strand)
Thousand cankers disease (Photo credit – Larry Strand)
The Polyphagous shot hole borer (Photo credit - Arakelian)
The Polyphagous shot hole borer (Photo credit – Arakelian)

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Carpenter Bees: Mostly Beneficial

Female mountain carpenter bee. [Photo by J.K. Clark]

Adult female mountain carpenter bee

Have you seen large black or golden-brown bees foraging in your garden? These could be carpenter bees. Carpenter bees bore into lumber or trees to make nests  for their brood and can damage structural wood or leave unsightly holes and stains. Multiple bees may use a common entry hole, tunneling several feet into wood to create chambers for their offspring, and the sound or sight of these large bees may be disturbing to some people. However, carpenter bees are considered mostly beneficial because of their role in pollination. Males can’t sting and females rarely do.

Prevention is the best approach for management. Use hardwoods in structures where possible and paint or varnish exposed surfaces. If you find carpenter bee holes and nests in your structure, wait for bees to emerge and fill the holes with steel wool or caulk to prevent their reuse. Pesticides should not usually be necessary. Read more about these insects in the newly revised Pest Note: Carpenter Bees.

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Green Carpet: A Concise History

“The central problem of planting turf in the United States (is that) [sic] you plant Arnold Schwarzenegger and five years from now it looks like Danny DeVito.”
(American Green, Ted Steinberg)

The “traditional American lawn” comes with expectations: anything less than a perfect carpet of green is anomalous and undesirable. This standard of impeccability is pervasive yet elusive, and it seems like things have always been this way. But this is not so.

Relative to our time on earth, lawns are brand new. Agriculture began around 10,000 years ago, but lawns as manicured, recreational spaces didn’t appear until the 18th century in England and France. The temperate, rainy climate of England kept lawns green. Sheep or cows served as mowers (and fertilizers) for the moderately wealthy, whereas the very wealthy could hire highly-skilled men with scythes.

Over in America, a few wealthy land owners returning from travels to Europe brought back the concept of lawns and it’s implications of affluence (using land for ornamental pruposes showed you didn’t need it for agriculture; you could buy food instead). For wealthy Americans stuck at home, paintings, indentured English gardeners, and stories from travelers served as inspiration.

What did not always serve so well were America’s less favorable climates. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a few elites had lawns, which were maintained by servants, children, and cheap labor. These were not always the perfect expanses of green carpet we think of as lawn today. Up until the 1940s, the vast majority needed their land for creating income and putting food on the table. They were too exhausted at the end of the day for something that didn’t provide sustenance, and certainly too poor to hire the necessary legions to attend it.

Many factors contributed to the post-WWII lawn boom, but the rise of suburbia in the 1950s and the architectural trend of extending indoor space into the outdoors were key. Other factors included new varieties of turf developed for America’s climates, the 40-hour work week allowing working-class men time to mow on weekends, and grocery stores eliminating the need to use one’s land for food production.

Even with liberated land and weekends, manicured lawns would have been impossible for the average howmeowner if not for the affordability of modern-day accoutrements that are de rigueur for modern-day lawn care:

Rotary lawn motors were put into mass production in 1933, making the uniform, short mowing height necessary for the carpet look possible for the masses, though not without many initial toe mutilations!

Irrigation systems, especially with automatic timers, made year-round green possible, something Californians depend upon for our turf fix.

Toxic chemicals should come second to healthy cultural practices, but the lawn care industry had a lot to gain from the difficulties experienced by a turf-addicted America, so the chemical infrastructure built for WWII was harnessed to create a barrage of toxic concoctions to kill (or grow) as necessary.

Without technology and free time, lawns might have been barely a blip on the American page of history. It’s easy to forget what that green carpet involves, that our climate and expectations of traditional uniformity make this toil necessary. A Danny DeVito lawn may not be the first choice in turf tradition, but it’s more American than Arnold Schwarzenegger anyway.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

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Harvesting Herbs

What are herbs?
The definition of herbs depends upon whether you are talking about culinary or medicinal use. For medicine, useable plants are broadly termed “herbs”. In the kitchen, herbs come from foliage, whereas spices come from seeds.

What makes them so good?
All plants engage in metabolic processes that create byproducts. These chemical compounds (essential oils) can be found in the leaves, functioning as attractants or repellants to other organisms.

Herb growing basics
Find a spot close to your kitchen for quick access and 6-8 hours of full sun a day. Research the watering and cultural requirements for your desired herbs and place them accordingly in your garden (or inside, if desired).

Herbs, in general, are low feeders, especially if they are planted in the ground. Ground-dwellers like an organic, low-nitrogen fertilizer once or twice in the growing season. Container-grown herbs need more frequent applications of fertilizer to replace nutrients leached by their heavier watering regime. For more on the basics, see this article by Sonoma County Master Gardener Rebecca Goodsell.

If you have a new plant, wait until it’s established and able to support full growth before snipping your first sprigs. Harvest perennials and evergreens lightly their first year.

Herbs like to be nibbled at during the growing season, although you can remove up to 75% of the current season’s growth at once. For established plants, clip from the top 1/3 of stem’s length, cutting about 1/16th to 1/8th inch above a leaf node to encourage low, bushy growth:

Clipping too close or too far from a node can result in a dead, withered stem that hogs nutrients or causes infection. An exception to this rule are plants like parsely or chives that send up shoots directly from the soil. These are harvested close to the ground. You can use scissors, knives, or pruners, but make sure your tools are clean and sharp to prevent bruising and crushing stems.

During a busy day of metabolic activity, a plant’s essential oil compounds become diluted. Harvesting in the morning after a night of rest concentrates these oils again. Herbs have a very high concentration of oils immediately before flower buds open, so remove them for best flavor. If you wish to collect seed, grow several plants and let one go to seed, removing flower buds on the others.

I snip some of my hardiest herbs such as rosemary year-round, but it’s best to stop the heavy harvesting a month before frost. Annuals, of, course, can be harvested up until the first frost.

There are a lot of great uses for herbs: young leaves have the greatest concentration of essential oils, but don’t stand up well to cooking so are best used in raw applications such as salads, dressings, or garnishes. Mature leaves are best used in cooking applications such as marinades or stews. For more on preservation methods, see this article.

Herbs such rosemary, sage, and thyme, appreciate pruning to prevent bare, woody branches. Prune back to the woody side branches, leaving 4-5 leaf nodes in place for healthy re-growth. Woody branches have little to no ability to sprout new stems, so leaving some leaf nodes is important. Herbs can be pruned back in either fall or spring, unless you are rejuvenating a rosemary, which should be done in the winter.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website.

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    Lee Miller

    Lee Miller is a University of Delaware graduate and retired fisheries biologist, he gardens on 10 acres and makes wine each year with the help of a cadre of friends. However, his first love is gardening and he grows various fruit trees, heirloom ... Read Full

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    Marcy Sousa is the San Joaquin County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator. She is a Stockton native and enjoys teaching others about gardening. She has her bachelors from Stanislaus State in Permaculture. She has been with the program since 2007. Read Full

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    Nadia Zane is a UC Master Gardener, a landscape designer and Stockton native. She has a fondness for California native plants and sustainable landscaping, which she utilizes in her work for Native Beauty Garden Design. She is a member of the CA ... Read Full
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