Often yanked out as a weed, purslane is decidedly edible.
Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) requires little or no care in our California gardens and landscape. Also known as pigweed, pursley, and fatweed, this prostrate spreading succulent is an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches, plus it makes for a refreshing snack as you work in the garden! The leaves and young stems are crisp, moist, and lemony, something akin to spinach and watercress. Common purslane is not to be confused with Winter purslane (Claytonia perfoliata), also known as Miner’s lettuce. The two plants are very different, aside from both being edible.
Purslane is filled with lots of good nutrients. It has especially high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. According to Mother Earth News, purslane contains, “six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots.“ Purslane provides high levels of antioxidants and vitamins A and C, along with potassium, iron, and magnesium.
Purslane also contains pectin, which allows it to be used in cooking as a thickener (and helps reduce cholesterol). When overcooked, it may become slimy, like okra, so crushing the leaves is a good idea when adding it to soups and stews. If cooked lightly, purslane can also be used in stir fry dishes. That being said, oxalates are also present, so purslane should not be eaten by people prone to kidney stones.
While purslane is an annual, it is well equipped to reproduce without human intervention. According to Sonoma Master Gardener Stephanie Wrightson, a single purslane plant can produce “240,000 seeds, which may germinate after 5 to 40 years” so it is a good idea to monitor the plants for seed production if you want to get rid of purslane and you’re in luck if you don’t! Purslane seeds love freshly turned soil, as it brings them closer to moisture and sunlight.
While common purslane grows in a horizontal mat, you can also buy seeds for garden purslane (Portulaca oleracea) or golden purslane (Portulaca sativa). These plants are more upright in their growth (up to 18 inches tall) and the leaves are larger and more tender.
To grow purslane seeds, plant them 4 to 6 inches apart, only about 1/4 inch deep. Keep them moist until they have germinated and put out some mature growth. Once established, the leaves and stems can be harvested at any time. Purslane can also be grown in containers, indoors or out, and it makes an attractive windowsill garden addition. Frost will kill the current generation.
While I have never seen any pests or diseases affecting the purslane in my yard, there is a weevil, (Hypurus bertrandi), also known as portulaca leafminer that is known to attack purslane in California. There is also a purslane sawfly (Schizocerella pilicornis) that is found in California.
An interesting note: purslane harvested in the morning is crisper, while the same plant harvested in the afternoon is sweeter. Purslane can handle dry and irrigated locations. Personally, I encourage it under my fruit trees. The plants cover the ground, protecting it from erosion, other weeds, and water loss, while the shallow roots do not seem to interfere with the trees. This living mulch serves me well in the garden and in the kitchen!
Do you have purslane in your garden? Have a nibble and let us know what you think in the comments!
One of my favorite sayings reminds us that, “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.” This is especially true when it comes to rain.
As most of us learned back in school, rain occurs when water evaporates from the Earth’s surface, condenses into clouds, and then falls back to Earth. In doing so, this water cycle moves minerals, chemicals, dust, seeds, plants, and even insects around.
Now, after years of drought, the Bay Area is happy to receive rain, any rain, all the rain it can get. Thirsty lawns, marginally watered ornamentals, and gardens of every size, shape, and style absorb the rain as fast as they can, except for when they can’t - and that can be a problem.
As rain falls on your garden and landscape, one of the first things that happens is the dust is washed off the leaves. This is good for the plants because it allows them to perform photosynthesis more efficiently and it makes the neighborhood less desirable to spider mites. That dust-filled water falls to the ground where it is probably absorbed right away. In some cases, the ground is so dry that it becomes hydrophobic. Hydrophobic soil actually repels water, causing run-off and erosion.
Assuming your soil can absorb the rain water, gravity and surface tension will pull the water deeper into the soil, hydrating roots at various soil levels, until it reaches bedrock or an underground waterway. If the water cannot keep moving away, it will pool, creating mud bogs that can drown your plants. If it can move away, it will leach nutrients and chemicals with it, which is why it is so important to avoid using excessive fertilizers and pesticides.
When really heavy rain hits many parts of California, we also have to watch out for flash floods. Creek beds that have been dry for so long that no one remembers when they were ever wet suddenly play host to a crashing, raging wall of water, seemingly out of nowhere. That’s not very likely, here in San Jose, but it can happen in flatlands surrounding the hills. More often, rain causes car accidents because so many people forget about the oil on the road (and their good manners), but I digress.
I collect rain water from the roof of my house with three rain barrels. Of course, these 65-gallon rain barrels fill up surprisingly fast, so I have to connect a hose to the spigot at the base and redirect the excess somewhere else, usually to the lawn or, if it’s been raining a lot, to a swale near my fence. I recently learned about rain gardens and I may install one someone in the landscape. You’ve already seen rain gardens, you probably just didn’t know it. Rain gardens are sunken areas with native perennials, shrubs and flowers planted around the depression. Most of the time, rain gardens are dry. When it rains heavily, the sunken area fills up with rain. Because there are so many plants in a rain garden, the water is usually gone within 12 to 48 hours, eliminating concerns about mosquitoes. According to The Groundwater Foundation, rain gardens allow 30% more water to soak into the ground, removing 90% of the nutrients and 80% of the sediments from the water, compared to a traditional lawn. [Looks like I’m going to have to do a bit more research on rain gardens!]
So, if you are dealing with rain, keep a look out for soggy areas that need better drainage and enjoy the time you would have spent watering by doing something relaxing indoors instead!
How do you handle too much rain in your garden?
Growing houseplants and herbs is a simple way to add beauty to the home and flavor to meals. Houseplants clean indoor air and add a touch of nature to the home or office. Herbs can be very expensive to buy and fresh herbs are often unavailable during certain months of the year. Houseplants and herbs are easy plants to grow with some simple maintenance, such as repotting. Repotting allows you to inspect the root system, refresh the soil, and clean the pots thoroughly.
Prepare for repotting
Healthy plants are far more likely to avoid shock from repotting than plants that are already stressed. To ensure the success of your repotting project, be sure to water any plants that are to be repotted thoroughly a day or two before repotting. You will also want to wash the new pots. Salts, petroleum products, and chemicals on new pots can kill freshly repotted plants. When selecting new containers for herbs, it is a good idea to use pots that are no more than 2" larger than the current one. If there is more space than that, your herbs will focus on root growth, rather than providing you with their delicious leaves, until the container is fully explored. You will also want to buy nutrient rich potting soil. To prepare the pots, fill the them halfway full with soil, tamping the soil into a cup-shaped space in the middle that is big enough to cradle the herb's current root system. Good drainage is critical for most herbs and houseplants, so make sure there is a drainage hole.
How to repot container plants
Repotting goes more smoothly if you have everything you might need already at hand. Sheets of newspaper can help keep the area clean. Scissors and pruning shears are handy tools for trimming dead roots, twigs, and leaves. It is a good idea to have your bag of potting soil already opened and conveniently at hand. Depending upon the size of the current container, it is easiest to dislodge the plant by placing your hand over the top of the dirt, with the plant stems between your fingers, and flip it upside down. To dislodge plants from larger containers, roll it on its side and gently rock it back and forth to loosen the root ball. If you are working with a really large container, you may want to lay a tarp on the lawn. If the roots have wedged the plant into the pot, you may need to use a soil knife or other serrated blade to cut around the edge.
It is important that as much of the dirt around the roots remains where it is to prevent shock. At the same time, this is an opportunity to inspect the root system. As plants grow, their roots continue to grow and spread. Eventually, a plant can become root bound. This occurs when the roots have filled all the available space in a container. If your plants are root bound, you can trim away some of the roots that are wrapping around the root ball before placing the plant in its new container. Next, place the root ball in the new pot and add potting soil around the sides, pressing down gently. Air pockets in the soil can dry out roots and cause wilt. Finally, water your newly repotted plants. As the soil settles, you may need to add more potting soil. It is a good idea to leave the soil ½" lower than the edge of the pot to facilitate future waterings.
Repotting can stress your herbs. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep plants out of direct sunlight for a few days after repotting and water frequently but not excessively. Your repotted houseplants and herbs will now thrive in their new home and you will be able to enjoy their fragrant beauty and delicious additions to meals for years to come!
Nothing compares with the sun-warmed sweetness of a raspberry freshly plucked and popped into your mouth. Mine aren't ready yet, but they will be soon!
Raspberries do not ship well, so the specimens we find at the grocery store, like most tomatoes, are simply not up to par with fresh from the garden varieties. The nice thing about raspberries is that that can grow in some unusual places. When I first moved into our San Jose home, I wasn’t sure where I wanted my container raspberries to end up, so I heeled them in (laid them down on the ground and covered the roots with some soil) in the unlikeliest of places - a 6 inch strip of soil next to a concrete slab, where the property line fence was installed. And then I forgot all about them.
Six months or so later, after unpacking, settling in, and beginning to work the garden and landscape, I came around the corner of my house and BAM! There, in the shade of my garage, the neglected raspberries had thrived and were climbing the fence! All in a 6 inch strip of what was probably construction soil.
What made that dubious location work was afternoon shade and a ready supply of water. It was winter in the Bay area and a rain gutter downspout pointed directly their way. You may not want to try growing your berries in such a questionable location, but it sure shows how tenacious these cane fruits can be. Once the plants are established, they can produce fruit for decades. In addition of the traditional red raspberry, you can also find cultivars that are golden, purple, and black.
How to grow raspberries
Raspberries love water. Sunburn is a common sign that your raspberries are not getting enough water. Our raspberries get nearly daily waterings from the bucket of water we collect in the shower as we wait for the water to heat up, at least when it’s not raining. At the same time, our heavy clay soil can also lead to drowning if there is too much water. Since raspberries have relatively shallow roots, regular light watering is better than less frequent deep watering.
Raspberries prefer cooler, damp weather, but you can recreate those conditions by adding them to a shade garden or growing them in containers under a pergola or on a shady balcony. The plants need lots of sun but they prefer a little shade in the heat of the afternoon. Raspberries grow best in soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.0. They love raised beds and fence lines provide the perfect medium for trellising. If the cane tips reach the ground, rather than producing fruit, new roots will form, so trellising is a good idea. That’s how bramble fruits spread in the wild. They also spread using underground stems called stolons.
While you can start raspberries from seed, it is much more satisfying to start with cuttings, dormant bare-root plants, or potted seedlings. Ideally, you will remove any damaged roots or stems before planting your raspberries in a shallow hole, making sure that the crown is slightly above soil level. Spreading the root mass out, covering with soil, and patting it down to eliminate air pockets will help your plants get a good start in their new location. Be sure to water well, to help the soil settle. Plants should be placed 2 to 3 feet apart and new plants should be trimmed down to be only 6 inches tall, to encourage strong root growth. Black and purple raspberries should be spaced 3 to 4 feet apart.
Raspberry plants have perennial roots and crowns that grow new canes each year. These new green canes are called primocanes. Then they turn brown and go dormant over the winter, to one degree or another. In spring, these now 2-year old canes are called floricanes. Flowers and fruit are only produced on floricanes, so you don’t want to prune them out.
Fruit production varies between everbearing and summer-bearing varieties. Summer-bearing raspberries bear one crop in summer on two-year old canes, while everbearing cultivars have two crops, one small crop in summer on new canes and one heavier crop in fall on two-year old canes. Everbearing cultivars are sometimes called fall-bearing. It is a good idea to check with your local Cooperative Extension Office to find the best cultivar for your location.
How to prune raspberries
Raspberry pruning methods will vary, depending on the cultivar. Fruit-producing canes of summer-bearing red and yellow raspberries should be cut to ground level after harvest and removed. Thin primocanes to no more than 4 or 5 per foot. Fall-bearing raspberries can be treated the same as everbearing varieties, if you want both the summer and fall crops. Otherwise, leave the canes in place for an extra year. If you are growing black or purple raspberries, you will need to pinch the canes when they reach 2 to 2-1/2 feet in height and then again two or three times during the summer. This will promote lateral cane growth for more fruit. Be sure to remove any dead or damaged canes whenever you are working your bramble fruits. Canes left to grow a third year may produce some fruit on the lower part of the canes but they should be pruned out after that to make room for new canes and to reduce the spread of disease.
Raspberries pests & diseases
Raspberry pests include borers, spider mites, aphids, and Fuller Rose Beetles. Fungal diseases and raspberry leaf curl can also be a problem. Healthy plants are far less likely to be vulnerable, so you will want to feed your raspberry plants each time they start a new bloom cycle. According to UC Davis, 3 to 6 pounds of blood meal, feather meal, or fish meal should be applied for every 100 feet of row. Most of us don’t have a 100 feet row of raspberry plants, so I did the math and it works out to approximately 1 to 2 ounces per plant.
Raspberries are self-fertile, which means you can get fruit from a single plant. If you really love raspberries, and have the room, you can grow a raspberry hedge as part of your edible landscape!
Note: If you have never grown raspberries before, you may be surprised to learn that they ripen unevenly. One part of a berry will look ripe days before the rest of it does. This is okay, simply wait (if you can!) for the entire berry to ripen before picking.
Maggots seemed like a good topic this close to Halloween, but knowing more about these garden pests can help you protect your plants.
You know that your garden has been infected with root maggots because the roots of many crops will show dark, rotted areas and tunneling. Above ground symptoms look a lot like damping-off disease, with wilting, chlorosis and stunting. Heavily infested plants can die.
There are many types of root maggots, but two in particular are frequent visitors to American gardens: the cabbage maggot and the onion maggot. Cabbage maggots (Delia radicum) attack cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, radishes, turnips, rutabagas and other cruciferous vegetables. Onion maggots (Delia antiqua) attack members of the Allium family, including onions, leeks, chives, and carrots.
Adult flies lay 50 to 200 white eggs next to host plants. When the eggs hatch, the little buggers burrow closer and start feeding on root hairs, small roots, and germinating seeds. The root maggots are yellowish-white and less than 1/4 inch in length.There can be several generations each year.
As we all know, flies are attracted to manure and rotting plant material. This causes problems for gardeners because manure and dead plants are what make up valuable, nutrient-rich compost and mulch. So what is a gardener to do? Well, if you have had problems with root maggots in the past, delay planting until the weather heats up a bit. Also, dig compost into the ground, rather than leaving it near the surface. Crop rotation can go a long way toward reducing the negative impact of root maggots. When starting a vulnerable crop in a new location, row covers can be used to prevent adults from laying eggs nearby.
Do not use row covers in areas that have already been infested because you will simply be creating a Club Med for garden pests, protecting the root maggots and flies from natural predators.
Your Caesar salad wouldn’t be the same without Romaine lettuce and this nutritional powerhouse should be part of every garden.
You can grow Romaine on a windowsill, in a container, on a balcony, in a traditional garden or sprinkle it around your landscape. Wherever and however you grow Romaine, you’ll be glad you did.
Romaine is high in folate, which have been shown to boost male fertility and reduce depression for everyone. The CDC ranks Romaine as the 9th healthiest food you can eat to prevent chronic disease. Hey, and it tastes pretty good on a burger, too!
How to grow Romaine lettuce
Plant Romaine seeds 1/2 inch deep and several inches apart (just picture how large a head of Romaine gets). Water thoroughly at first and then as needed to prevent wilting. One cool thing about Romaine, is that you can regrow a head from the stem at the base of the head. Simply place it in a container that can hold 1/2 inch of water, Pyrex baking pans work well and you can always find them at a thrift store for practically nothing. You will need to change out the water every day, but then you can use that water on houseplants, the lawn, or anywhere in the landscape. Once roots develop, move your lettuce into soil for the best growth. To harvest, simply break off outer leaves as you need them, or cut the whole head off and restart the base in water all over again!
Planting your Romaine near garlic and chives is said to reduce aphids. Earwigs, cutworms, evil rabbits, and uncaged chickens can also cause problems in your lettuce patch.
Watercress is one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and some people say it isn’t all that hard to grow. I'm feeling a bit challenged, but here's what I've learned so far.
We all know that watercress does not ship or store well, so growing your own is a great way to keep yourself supplied. While watercress prefers growing near slowly moving water, you can recreate these condition closely enough for a crop of watercress. Unlike most of the species we talk about at The Daily Garden, watercress is an aquatic or semi-aquatic plant. You do not need to create an entire hydroponic growing system, however, to grow your own watercress, you just need to keep the soil wet.
Experts tell us that people have been eating watercress longer than any other leafy vegetable. Ever. Despite its Latin name, watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is no cousin to the popular salad flower from nasturtium plants. Nasturtiums are Tropaeolum, a unique family, while watercress is a member of the cabbage family. This makes watercress a cousin to mustard, wasabi, radishes, broccoli, and horseradish. This also means that the dreaded, imported cabbageworm (Pieris rapae) will be a major pest of your watercress, should you decide to grow it outdoors.
Watercress may attract flea beetles and mustard beetles. Whiteflies, spider mites, and snails might also cause problems. On the other hand, if your watercress goes to flower, you will receive the added benefit of attracting hoverflies to your garden. Hoverflies love to eat aphids and thrips, so they are welcome any time! Unfortunately, once a plant flowers, much of the flavor is lost. You will get more seeds, however! By the way, if your watercress does become infested with any sort of pest, simply submerge the entire plant for about an hour.
Do not use composted manure from mammals to feed your watercress. It may contain liver flukes (Fasciola hepatica), which can lead to some really nasty digestive conditions. Manure from chickens and fish emulsion are fine to use on watercress.
How to grow watercress
One recommended way to grow watercress is in a fishbowl or other medium-sized glass container. [Check your local thrift store for something truly unique and inexpensive!] Put a 2 inches of pebbles or rocks in the bottom and fill with water. Sprinkle seeds on top of the water or float a few plants on the water surface. The roots will reach down into the rocks and the hollow stems will bring snip-able greens to the water surface. For extra interest, plant food, and glass cleaning, add an algae eater to the mix!
[Update: I tried using a fish tank and it didn't work as planned. I'm not sure if that's because I started with mature plants or just poor logic. Before the plants died completely, I put them in the wading pool outside that serves as a giant dog watering bowl. We'll see what happens.]
[Update.2: The wading pool didn't work, either, and now the algae eater has gone missing. Now my nearly dead watercress plants are in a container outdoors with some bog sage, which also likes lots of water. Fingers are crossed.]
Another suggested way to grow watercress is in aluminum or plastic takeout trays. You will need one tray that is larger than the other, to act as the base. This is the water storage area. The smaller tray is used to hold the plants, but be sure to poke some drainage holes in it before flipping it upside down and filling it 3/4 full of normal potting mix or soilless potting mix that contains perlite or vermiculite. Next, sprinkle watercress seeds on top. You can also use purchased watercress that has any sort of root growth. It grows very quickly. Seeds germinate best at 50 to 60°F.
If watercress is being grown in a container, it is important to change the water every few days. The standing water can be used to irrigate other plants. Also, watercress can tolerate morning sun, but it really prefers being in the shade. With all the water needed by watercress, you may want to plant it near the hose. It also makes an excellent windowsill garden plant.
While nutrient deficiencies are unusual for watercress planted in the ground, it is a good idea to have a basic understanding of what those deficiencies look like, so that they can be corrected:
Give your disease-fighting abilities a major boost with watercress! And if any of you have grown watercress successfully, please let me know how!
The name may be odd, but this nutritional powerhouse is easy to grow, even in heavy clay (though it prefers lighter soil).
Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris vulgaris) is actually a beet that doesn’t develop the fat round root. Both plants, beets and chard, evolved (with some help from humanity) from the sea beet (Beta vulgaris maritima). Swiss chard is also called chard, spinach beet, silver beet, mangold, seakale beet, and bright lights. The bright lights name is a reference to the brightly colored leafstalks (petioles), that can be red, yellow, orange, purple, pink, or white. They look as amazing in your salad bowl as they do in your garden!
One of the nicest things about growing chard is that outer leaves can be removed frequently and the plant simply produces more inner leaves, creating a long term supply of easy to grow, highly nutritious food. Chard is so nutritious that just under half a cup of fresh chard provides 122% of the Daily Value of Vitamin A, 1038% of Vitamin K, and 50% of Vitamin C, and all with only 19 calories! Research has also shown that Swiss chard provides tons of antioxidants and even type 2 diabetes protection. If that weren’t reason enough, the brightly colored petioles of Swiss chard make it a lovely addition to your edible landscape and these plants are relatively drought-resistant.
Like parsley, chard is a biennial plant. While it can tolerate light frost, exposure to too much cold will trick it into thinking it has experienced a winter and can cause bolting.
How to grow Swiss chard
Chard can be grown as a summer or winter crop. In areas with scorching hot summers, Swiss chard will perform better as part of your shade gardening plan. Chard seeds should be planted 1/2 to 1 inch deep when temperatures are between 40 F to 95 F. Mature plants can be spaced 6 to 12 inches apart, with rows 15 inches wide, but keep in mind that the plants will grow 1 to 3 feet tall, with a spread of 1/2 to 2 feet wide. Mulching around each plant with aged compost will help stabilize soil temperature and add nutrients to the soil.
How to harvest Swiss chard
Chard is a very satisfying plant to grow. Germination occurs in only 5 to 7 days and you can begin harvesting very early in the plant’s life. There are two approaches to harvesting chard: leaf-by-leaf or cut-and-come-again. The leaf-by-leaf method mentioned earlier simply means outer leaves are removed as needed. The cut-and-come-again method refers to cutting the plant down to just an inch or two above the soil line, avoiding the growing point in the middle. New leaves will emerge from this point.
Pests and diseases of Swiss chard
Swiss chard is a durable plant that has few pest or disease problems. You may find that an overabundance of harvestable chard is your bigger problem, but you can always cook and freeze or gift the extras. That being said, aphids, leaf miners, and flea beetles will cause the most leaf damage, while leaf spot, powdery mildew, downy mildews, and beet curly top can infect Swiss chard plants. Row covers can be used to block these pests and proper plant spacing, feeding and irrigation can reduce the likelihood of disease.
To keep yourself in year round chard, these plants can also be grown indoors in containers. Because chard has a taproot, a 5-gallon planter is recommended.
We’ve all heard the terms ‘hardwood’ and ‘softwood’, but what do they really mean? (Stop snickering, this turns out to be really interesting.) You may be surprised to learn that it really has little to do with the hardness or the denseness of the wood
While shopping to replace for my decades-old cutting board, I learned that there are some surprising differences between hardwoods and softwoods. Like most people, I thought I had it all figured out: hardwoods are hard and softwoods are soft, right? Well, not exactly. It ends up that hardwoods and softwoods are actually different types of plants.
When it comes to hardwoods and softwoods, we are looking at two distinctly different ways of being a tree. Hardwoods are angiosperms, which means they are members of the flowering plants family, and they are dicots. Dicotyledons feature two seed leaves (cotyledons). Most hardwoods are deciduous, with flat leaves. Softwoods are in the gymnosperm family. Gymnosperms have bare seeds that are found on leaves, scales, or in cones, like pine trees. Most softwoods are evergreen, with needlelike or scale leaves. But this is where it gets weird. My orange trees are evergreen with flat leaves. Are they hardwood or softwood? How can I tell? It ends up, you need to look inside the tree to find out.
Rings & rays
Everyone has seen the rings of a tree that has been cut. Those rings can be used to determine the age of a tree, as well as the amount of rainfall and other environmental conditions each year. Each ring is made from the light colored growth that occurs early in the growing season and a dark layer of late season growth. One light ring plus one dark ring equals one year. Hardwoods tend to have similarly sized rings, while softwoods can have a lot more variation.
Vessels, pores & tracheids
Within every plant is some type of mechanism to move water and nutrients around. Hardwoods use vascular tissue, in the form of vessels and pores. Softwoods use structures called medullary rays and tracheids to produce sap and transport water and nutrients. Tracheids are chains of plant cells found in the xylem. The medullary rays are channels that that go from the center of the tree to the outer edge. Both types of trees have medullary rays, but softwoods rely on them exclusively, while hardwoods do not. Also, the medullary rays of softwoods are always straight and narrow. In hardwoods, the rays can be a variety of lengths and widths, depending on the species of tree, and erratically placed.
These trees support themselves differently, as well. Hardwoods use short fibers (right), while softwoods use the same longitudinal tracheids (left) they use to transport water and nutrients. The tracheids used by softwoods are much longer than the fibers used by hardwoods. (This is what makes softwoods so popular for paper-making.)
Hardwood plant cells are vein-like tubes that connect the roots to the crown in an erratic arrangement with multiple paths, ensuring that the top of the tree will always be able to get water from the roots, regardless of disease or damage to one path.
Generally speaking, hardwood trees grow slower than softwoods. Softwood trees can be more of a fire hazard than the hardwoods. When selecting ornamental trees for your landscape, you will need to weigh the pros and cons of growth rate, flammability, leaf/needle drop mess, potential risks to nearby structures, and overall appearance.
Common softwood trees include redwood, spruce, yew, pine, Douglas fir and juniper. Popular hardwoods include beech, hickory, alder, maple, oak, teak, walnut, mahogany, and balsa. Yes, balsa.
Note: Rather than cutting down my precious citrus trees, I looked it up: orange trees are hardwoods.
As colder weather causes leaves to fall throughout the garden, applications of Bordeaux mixture can prevent many common fungal diseases later in the year.
Bordeaux mixture tends to stay on twigs and branches, even in rainy weather, providing long term protection. At the same time, it is not a good idea to apply Bordeaux mixture after trees break dormancy because it can damage the leaves. Also, it can stain painted surfaces, so you will want to keep it away from buildings.
How to make Bordeaux mixture
While you can certainly buy ready-made Bordeaux mixture, it is far more effective when mixed and used while fresh. Be sure to wear protective clothing and safety goggles when mixing because this stuff is corrosive.
To make your own Bordeaux mixture, you will need these ingredients, which can be found at most garden supply stores:
Lime is not as effective as it ages. Be careful when using slaked lime. As strange as it sounds, this stuff can heat water to boiling if it is added too quickly! To make your own slaked lime, slowly add one pound of quick lime to one gallon of water, using a wooden paddle to stir. The chemical reaction that will bring this solution to a milk-like consistency takes 1/2-2 hours to occur.
It is important to follow the correct procedure when making Bordeaux mixture.
Start by mixing one pound of copper sulfate into one gallon of warm water, in a plastic bucket. Next, use your slaked lime, from above, or mix one pound of fresh hydrated lime into one gallon of water in a separate plastic bucket. Allow this mixture to stand for a couple of hours. Both of these “stock” solutions can be stored indefinitely in sealed containers. Because they are corrosive, label the containers clearly and keep them away from children.
When you are ready to mix these two together, start with 2 gallons of water in a heavy duty bucket. Then, follow these steps in order, stirring constantly with a wooden paddle:
Now you are ready to apply your very own Bordeaux mixture! Complete coverage is needed and the mixture will need to be agitated frequently as you work.
I know this sounds like a lot of work (and maybe even a little scary), but people have been making and using Bordeaux mixture successfully for decades. It really works. If a particular winter is especially rainy (we can hope), the Bordeaux mixture may need to be reapplied later in the season.
Once buds start opening in spring, protection can be continued with a fixed copper spray.
While most plants are either annuals or perennials, a select few can claim biennial status.
Biennial plants take two years to complete their lifecycle from seed to flower and fruit, before dying. Not to be mistaken with biannual, which happens twice each year, biennial plants spread their growth and development out over two years, often taking advantage of a cooler dormant period.
During their first year of life, biennial plants focus their energies on growing vegetative structures, such as stems, leaves and roots. Very often, biennial plants are low growing, with a rosette shape, but not always. As temperatures drop, these plants enter a dormant period of vernalization that is necessary for them to flower the next spring. Some biennial plants, such as lettuce, spinach, and fennel, generally are not considered edible after they have gone to seed. Other biennial plants include radish, parsley, leeks, Black-eyed Susan, and carrots.
Unusual temperature changes can trick biennial plants into suddenly going to seed during their first year. This is called bolting. It may make the plant too woody or bitter to enjoy eating, but it has now become a source of seeds for next year’s crop.
Note: I generally let my lettuce go to seed (pictured) after harvesting as much as I can get from each plant. The result is that I now have lettuce popping up all over my yard, to be grown where it is or transplanted to a raised bed.
There is far more beets that the canned, pickled variety. These easy to grow, sweet tasting vegetables love the Bay area’s mild winters, making them an excellent autumn crop.
How to grow beets
Beets grow well in full sun or in shade gardens and they absolutely love raised beds. Beets can be sown directly into the ground as temperatures begin to cool. Seeds should be planted 1/2 inch deep and thinned to 12 inches apart. It is a good idea to top dress around the plants to help retain moisture and add important nutrients. Be sure to water regularly, allowing the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. Once you discover how delicious fresh beets really are, you will probably want to start planting them in succession, for a ready supply.
Beet pests and diseases
All of the usual pests will go after your beet plants: aphids, armyworms, cutworms, flea beetles, grasshoppers, leaf miners, leafhoppers, spider mites, whiteflies, and wireworms. Row covers can be used to protect young plants, but older plants seem to be well equipped to protect themselves. Diseases commonly occurring in beets include whitefly- and aphid-borne viral diseases, powdery mildew, curly top, and various root rots.
Perpetual beet harvest
Your beets can be harvested at any time, but most people wait until the beet root’s “shoulders” have pushed their way above ground. Before you pull up all of your beets, consider this: beets make a lovely foodscape plant. Rather than harvesting all of your beets, leave a strategic few in the ground. These plants will put out tall, feathery flowering stems. These stems will produce hundreds of seeds that you can allow to scatter naturally, or you can cut the stems and shake the seeds loose wherever you might want beets. Birds and other seed eaters will get most of your beet seeds, but, a lucky few, will , in time, germinate and produce new beets. It ends up, these seeds usually pick the best growing spots for beets. The greens of your seed-producing beets will continue to be edible for, well, I’m not sure how long. My two have been producing for nearly 3 years now. [So much for their classification as annuals...]
UPDATE: If a delicious, nutritious crop isn't reason enough to grow beets, cat owners have yet another reason: Research has just shown that adding beet pulp to your cat's food will help them poop out more hairballs, rather thank hacking them up.
Beans, beans, the magical fruit.
The more you eat, the more you…well, you know.
What you may not know about this nutritional powerhouse is that it is crazy easy to grow, germinates at lightening speed, adds nitrogen to the soil, and is just plain fun to watch grow.
Beans are the edible seeds of the legume family. Often, but not always, these seeds are kidney-shaped. There are over 40,000 different type of beans found in the world. Some of the more common varieties are:
How's that for a family tree?
How to grow beans
Growing most beans is really simple. Seeds can be planted 1/2 to 4 inches below soil level, watered a little at first, and then only occasionally afterward. Under ideal conditions, some beans can germinate within just 4 days, making them an excellent crop for children. Beans are not very competitive plants, so you can help your bean plants thrive by regularly weeding the area until they are firmly established. Because beans grow so fast, they can be a fun window sill garden addition.
If you have heavy clay soil, be sure you do not overwater. Clay soil can hold so much water that plants will rot or drown. Now, if you want to get really fancy, you can inoculate the seeds with a species-specific Rhizobium bacteria. This does not mean giving tiny shots to each and every seed (But it’s a funny image, right?) Beans can be dusted with, rolled in, or briefly soaked in the inoculant at planting time to help them get the most nitrogen out of the soil, for a better start. Personally, I’ve never used inoculants, but many gardeners and most farmers swear by them, especially in areas where beans have not been grown for a long time.
Bean growth habits
Generally, bean plants come in one of two growth habits: bush (determinate) or vine/pole (indeterminate). As with other crops, determinate types tend to flower and develop pods within a set time frame, whereas indeterminate types tend to continue on for longer periods of time, producing pods as they grow. Beans prefer plenty of sunlight, but they can be grown in partial shade, as well.
Nitrogen boosting beans
Many orchardists plant beans and other legumes among fruit trees as cover crops to improve soil structure and add nitrogen to the soil. You can do the same thing by intercropping beans with other garden crops. Adding beans to your garden or landscape can help fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, making it available to other plants (assuming you cut your beans down and let them decompose before they go to seed. Cowpea roots are pretty tough and deep, so they can also help improve soil structure and reduce compaction. Beans are also part of the Three Sisters method of growing used by Native Americans. The Three Sisters Method intercrops corn, squash, and beans to make the most of available growing space, soil nutrients, and water resources. The corn grows tall, the beans climb the corn, and the squash shades the ground and reduces weed competition with wide leaves.
Beans and crop rotation
If you grow beans regularly, it is a good idea to rotate the bean crop with sunflowers, tomatoes, or wheat, to interrupt the life cycle of some fungal pests, such as bean rust. Bean seedlings are susceptible to damping-off disease. UC Davis provides this extensive list of bean diseases:
Aphids, armyworms, cucumber beetles, cutworms, darkling beetles, leafhoppers, leaf miners, loopers, lygus bugs, spider mites, stink bugs, thrips, weevils, whiteflies, and wireworms are all attracted to bean plants. The corn maggot larvae (Delia platura) and some caterpillars may also gnaw on your planted beans, as well. It’s amazing we get any beans at all, with a list like that! The truth is, bean plants are very productive and these potential problems are all relatively manageable.
Bean seed sources
As tempting as it may be to plant beans that were bought at your local grocery store, this is a bad idea. Those beans can carry diseases that you may never be able to get out of your soil, once they arrive. These diseases are not harmful when eaten by people, but they can be devastating to baby bean plants. Instead, invest in certified bean seed, and then save seed from your harvest for next year’s planting!
As a food, beans are high in protein, fiber, iron, potassium, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folic acid, with no cholesterol. Wikipedia has an excellent graphic that shows the protein, finer, and iron content of various beans. [Spoiler alert - lentils and kidney beans top the chart!]
And if you want to avoid the undesirable side effects of eating beans, be sure to change the water a few times during soaking and/or cooking.
Finally, according to the Smithsonian, kidney bean leaves can be used to trap bedbugs!
Now you know.
Creeping woodsorrel is a common lawn weed.
Creeping woodsorrel is often mistaken for a type of clover, with its three heart-shaped leaves. These are actually leaflets, and they can be green to purple, or even red. Sometimes the leaves fold downward. The plants have small, 5-petaled yellow flowers, which tells us that this plant is a dicot. The seed pods tend to stick up, are cylindrical with tiny hairs. Each seed pod can hold 10 to 50 seeds, which translates into each plant producing over 5,000 seeds! If I actually liked these plants (which I don’t), I would be really impressed by the fact that seeds are ejected from the pods, sometimes landing as much as 10 feet away. Also, the seed hulls are rough, making them stick to socks, tools, pets, lawnmowers, pretty much anything. Clearly, these plants need to be dealt with sooner rather than later.
Creeping woodsorrel seeds prefer temperatures between 60° and 80°F, but they grow year round in the Bay Area. Temperatures over 97°F for 8 hours will halt this plant’s growth, but fall’s cooler weather is exactly what is needed for this plant to take over your lawn.
An ounce of prevention...
You should always check new, incoming plants for creeping woodsorrel infestation. Once it takes hold in your yard, you will have to be attentive year round. Hand weeding is the best control measure for creeping woodsorrel. New rhizomes are pink to bring red, making them easy to see. But if even one tiny bit of the root or stem is left behind, when you pull the plant from the ground, new plants will grow. This is one tough sucker to get rid of!
For severely infested areas, I have found that the best treatment is simply to dig it up. Each spadeful of soil is then crumbled by hand and every tiny bit of creeping woodsorrel is removed by hand. If this sounds like hard work, well, it is. At the same time, it is an amazing opportunity to see what is really going on underground! In the 3-foot by 4-foot space pictured, I came across 5 young grubs, what looked to be either cutworm or masked chafer pupa, and more earthworms than I’ve found on previous digs. I attribute to increased worm population to cooler temperatures, more frequent watering, and the addition of aged compost spread lightly on top of the lawn as food. I also found that the soil structure, while still compacted, is much better than it was three years ago. (These things take time…)
After breaking up the soil and fishing out the weeds, I mixed some aged compost into the pile and covered it with straw, leaving a bit of a trench around the edge (to prevent re-infestation). I will water the pile daily for a few days, just as I would with a new compost pile, to help break down the organic matter.
Next, I will use cardboard or some other temporary barrier to keep other plants from moving in and plant some oregano. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, I’ll have that much more organic material in the soil that will feed whatever grass seed I decide on. I have decided to combine ridding my yard of creeping woodsorrel with an experiment in unique ground cover/lawn replacement. I noticed that the oregano in my herb garden is delightfully low growing, soft to the touch, and it smells great when you step on it!
Be sure to check back and see how well it works!
UPDATE: One month has passed and the new grass is coming in very nicely, without any creeping woodsorrel. I do have some rogue curly lettuce (left) and the oregano planted on purpose (right), but the creeping woodsorrel is currently a minority in this patch of lawn!
Black-eyed peas are said to bring good luck when eaten on New Years’ Day, but don’t wait that long! Put them to work in the garden for better growing all year.
Green manures are crops that are cut and either dug back into the soil or allowed to decompose on top of the soil, before they go to seed. Cowpeas will keep adding nitrogen to the soil right up until they start producing baby cowpeas of their own. Then, that nitrogen is absorbed by the plant and put to use. The nice thing about edible cover crops is that, even if you miss the mark and the plant goes to seed, you still get food!
Cover crops are grown for several reasons. They prevent erosion, add organic matter and nitrogen to the soil, reduce weeds and deter some soil borne pests.
Cowpeas are drought tolerant, germinate rapidly, and don’t seem to be bothered by heavy clay soil. In fact, these garden workhorses can be used to break up compacted soil with little to no effort on your part! While these beans prefer sun, they can also be incorporated into shade gardens. Fusarium wilt, aphids, weevils, and pod borers are the most common pests.
Beans have long been used in companion planting or intercropping. Native Americans used the Three Sisters method of growing beans, squash and corn together. The squash shaded the ground, the beans climbed the corn and the corn soared skyward with the shaded ground and nitrogen-rich soil.
How to grow cowpeas
If you have areas of compacted or bare soil, it is simple enough to poke holes in the soil and drop in a cowpea. Cowpeas are not particular. The hole can be 1-4 inches deep. Plants should be spaced 2 to 3 inches apart and protected from birds until they sprout, which can happen in as little as 4 days!
If you are feeling particularly creative or ambitious, you can plant cowpeas into patterns around trees, walkways, or other landscape features. As the plants come up, they will add a new texture to the garden, along with improving the soil structure and nutrient content!
Have you ever tried eating an orange that looked ripe but ended up being very unripe?
Major pucker factor!
Citrus affected by the Alternaria citric fungus may look perfectly ripe and ready on the outside, at first. After fruit is harvested, the fungi continue breeding and feeding on the inside. By the time the infection is fully established, the stylar (flower) end of the fruit may show a dark brown or black area. Alternaria rot is also called Black Rot when it appears in Navel oranges. If you cut infected fruit in half, you will see the rotted area has spread into the core of the fruit.
There are several varieties of the Alternaria citric fungi. Most of them do not produce toxins (but you still won’t want to eat the fruit). So, how can you prevent or treat Alternaria rot?
First, healthy plants are better at protecting themselves. Navel orange trees experiencing Citrus Fruit Split and water stress are going to more vulnerable to infection that trees which have received regular irrigation. Fungicides are generally ineffective.
Remove infected or otherwise damaged fruit and delay harvesting for as long as possible. This will allow infected fruits to show themselves and be be disposed of, before harvesting the unaffected fruit.
Cutworms are not really worms. They are caterpillars and they will damage or kill pretty much anything in your garden.
Cutworm caterpillars are the larval stage of several different types of nocturnal moths. Most of them are members of the Noctuid family, but not all.
Cutworms get their name because of the way they chew through young plant stems, cutting them off just above or just below soil level. Some species burrow into fruit that is lying on the ground or growing low on the host plant, where they can feed in relative safety. Some species of cutworms are more aggressive, climbing up the nearest plant to feed on leaves, buds, and young shoots.
Cutworms will feed on whatever is nearby, but they show a strong preference for celery, tomatoes, peas, peppers, asparagus, beans, berries, melons and other cucurbits, cabbage, beets, rutabaga, lettuce, basil, potatoes, and grapes. Some cutworms will also feed on your lawn.
Symptoms of cutworm feeding can take many forms. In some cases, it will look a lot like damping-off disease, as seedlings are found in the morning, bent over and dying. On lettuce, holes in leaves and along the edges of leaves may look like slug or snail feeding. On other plants, the young caterpillars will skeletonize the underside of leaves before eating the entire leaf. The only way to be sure is to gently work the soil around damaged plants, looking for the little beasties.
The adult moths are usually mottled gray or brown and 1 inch long. Eggs are laid singly or in clusters in the soil or leaf litter, where they will be close to a food supply. The caterpillars can be 1 to 2 inches long and are usually dull brown or gray. Their skin is smooth and they tend to blend in with the local soil. Many varieties of cutworm curl up into a C-shape when frightened. Once they have eaten enough, the caterpillars pupate in the soil in a reddish brown casing (pictured below) that may be found when tilling the soil. There are three types of cutworm that are commonly found in the Bay Area: black, variegated, and granulate.
Cutworm damage can be controlled using these methods:
What would salsa or stir-fry be without cilantro?
Cilantro, also known as coriander or Chinese parsley, is an herb frequently used in Mexican and Chinese cooking. It is also found in Indian, Russian, and many other regional dishes. Cilantro has been popular for so long that a pint of cilantro seeds was found in King Tut’s tomb!
Some people call the leaves cilantro and the seeds coriander, but not always. Whatever you call it, if you have a space in the yard or garden to dedicate to cilantro, you and your family can enjoy many years of leaves and seeds. All parts of the plant are edible and cilantro self-seeds readily. It’s deep taproot also helps break up compacted, clay soil and the umbel-shaped flowers (think umbrellas) are a big favorite of beneficial pollinators and parasitic wasps.
How to grow cilantro
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) prefers moist, well-drained soil, with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. In temperate areas, your cilantro patch may grow year round, as it can tolerate a light frost. In areas with lots of scorching hot sun, cilantro can be part of your shade gardening plan. If cooler weather is the norm, cilantro can be planted out in the open. If plants receive too much sun and heat, they will bolt (go to seed). Since the seeds are also edible, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will really slow down leaf production. At first, it is a good idea to start new plants every 3 to 4 weeks. After a while, the plants will develop an ongoing cycle. Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep and 6 to 8 inches apart. Keep the soil moist until plants are 2 inches tall and then water as needed, depending on weather, soil, and growth needs. Mature plants tend to be about 20 inches tall.
Young cilantro plants can be pinched back for bushier growth and more foliage, or they can be allowed to run wild. It’s your call. Personally, I prefer the running wild version. I believe that this allows the 'survival of the fittest' to create a forever patch of cilantro in my yard with minimal effort on my part.
Cilantro pests and diseases
Cilantro plants may have trouble with mildew, leaf spot, aphids, whitefly or wilt. The insects can be managed with insecticidal soap. If wilt, leaf spot, or mildew are seen, make a point of removing diseased plants and keeping the area clean for a season or two, to dry things out.
Many beneficial insects, both pollinators and predators, are attracted to cilantro’s umbels-shaped flowers. The USDA Extension reports that California growers have discovered that planting cilantro, along with Alyssum plants, in their lettuce crops attracts predatory hoverflies, whose larvae can eat 150 aphids a day!
While coriander seeds can be stored for a good long while, cilantro leaves do not dry well. Unlike many other herbs, which get a stronger flavor when dried, cilantro leaves tend to lose most of their flavor. To make the most of your cilantro crop, trying canning some salsa or cilantro pesto.
Something weird about cilantro - not everyone tastes it the same way. To some people, cilantro is the perfect addition to guacamole, Indian dal, and salsa. To others, cilantro tastes soapy or rotten. Weird, right? Taste studies have found that identical twins agreed on the flavor of cilantro 80% of the time, while fraternal twins only agreed 50%.
Popular culture claims that eating cilantro can help remove heavy metals from your system. Unfortunately, scientific studies report that it only worked as well as a placebo. Cilantro may have the ability to reduce the formation of gastric ulcers and stabilize blood sugar, but more research is needed. Until scientists sort all that out, go out and put some coriander seeds in your yard and enjoy the flavor!
Your lovely citrus trees have gone from blossom, to green fruit, to nearly done when - oh, no! - a significant number of fruits crack and split open just before they are ripe enough to eat.
It is frustrating to the home gardener to have put so much effort into caring for fruit trees only to lose most or all of a crop, but this particular problem is preventable.
Citrus fruit split is not caused by pests or disease. Instead, it is believed to be a watering issue that commonly occurs from September through November. The exact cause is still not yet understood, but botanists believe that citrus splitting is related to extreme fluctuations of humidity, soil moisture, temperature, and fertilizer levels. Fruit split can also occur in tomatoes and pomegranates.
When a citrus tree becomes drought-stressed, it will pull moisture from its own fruit and the leaves will appear cupped. If the tree is then heavily irrigated in an attempt to “make up” for the water that wasn’t provided earlier, the fruits then swell so fast that the skins crack. These cracks normally begin at the navel, or stylar, end, where the rind is weakest. Navel oranges are the most likely to develop citrus fruit split.
Rather than compounding the problem of insufficient water during hot, windy weather, water the tree lightly for a few days, slowly building up to normal moisture levels. The same is true for fertilizer. If your citrus trees are experiencing drought, rather than feeding large amounts in April, June, and August, you may want to feed lighter amounts during the growing season, February through May.
While split oranges are technically edible, most of them are not ripe enough to taste very good. Since these fruits are susceptible to diseases, such as Alternaria rot, as well as fungal and bacterial diseases, insects. and other pests, it is a good idea to discard these fruit or put them in the bottom of your compost pile.
The more you know about the structure of your soil, the better you can help it support your plants.
Soil doesn’t exist in isolation. Except for sand, soil is a combination of minerals, air, water, microbes, earthworms, and more. Soil structure refers to the particular arrangement of these combined particles. These clumps of different particles are called soil aggregates. Aggregates contain solids and spaces and are held together by organic matter in various stages of decomposition, earthworm and insect poop, and chemical excretions of nearby plant roots.
While soil types may not look terribly different to the naked eye, at the microscopic level, where root hairs, microorganisms, water and plant nutrients are moving around, the soil structure is really important. Soil structure should not be confused with soil texture, which is based on the percentage of silt, clay, and sand. Soil structure is about how everything is arranged into clumps, or aggregates. Soil structure is caused by several factors:
Types of soil structure
The fundamental components of soil, sand, silt or clay, have a lot to do with the overall structure of your soil. Obviously, clay is far more likely to become compacted than sand. The clumps of material that make up soil are called aggregates. Soil aggregates are categorized by their size, shape, and stability. There are eight soil structure types:
The large and small spaces between soil aggregates, called macropores and micropores, respectively, determine soil porosity, permeability, and water-holding capacity. Soil structure can be damaged by digging, rainfall, and heavy traffic, which all destroy those important spaces, causing compaction. Instead of loose collections of many different sized aggregates, crusts form along cut edges or on top of the soil, blocking the flow of water, air, and nutrients, and making it difficult for seedling roots to take hold. It’s not very fun to work with, either. Good soil structure can help move water away from roots when over-watering occurs and it allows plant roots to go where they need to go, for food and water.
How to build good soil structure
Nature has been making good soil for a really long time. Plants, insects and animals die, and then their bodies break down into nutrients that are watered into the soil. Then microorganisms and soil-dwelling animals, insects and worms eat those nutrients and poop out the stuff that hold soil particles into various sized aggregates. Because many of us live in homes where construction soil is common, we must recreate the natural cycles needed to maintain healthy soil structure. To maintain good spacing between aggregates, especially for clay soil, use these tips:
Healthy soil produces healthy plants that are better able to fight off pests and diseases on their own.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!