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Archive for February, 2011

Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California


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At first light Sunday morning as I sat reading the paper, I was startled by Emmie’s fearsome barking. All I could see were some crows pecking at the neighbor’s roof, and while she hates the resident murder of crows (yes, that’s really what a group of crows is called), Emmie usually doesn’t get that worked up about them.

Still her hysterical barking persisted. I was tempted to open the door and let her have at it, but something stopped me. Good thing as the cause finally revealed itself.

Awww! Kind of cute, right? Not really.

I don’t know if it was a she or a he — let’s call it Mama Possum for the heck of it. Mama P was completely unfazed by Emmie’s threats from behind the glass. She sat on the fence for a while watching us and gently rocking from side to side. Then she slowly turned around to make her way back to wherever she came from. That’s when I saw her fangs, and said a silent thank you for the second thought that stopped me from opening the door. I don’t think it would have gone well if Emmie and Mama Possum had gotten into a tussle.

All I really need to worry about now is where the touch-up paint is for the door. It didn’t fare so well in Emmie’s attempts to dig through it to reach Mama P.

Protecting my house is exhausting!

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Note: This week’s tips are aimed at our home communities of central Orange County, CA and Durango, CO, though if you are in another location you might glean some ideas about where to look in your own area.

The UCCE Orange County Master Gardeners have a great hotline (714-708-1646 or hotline@uccemg.com) that’s available to OC residents to ask any kind of gardening, horticulture or pest-related questions. Once the question is phoned or emailed in, our Master Gardeners consult with each other, research the literature, and make sure that any answers they give are based on University of California research, so it’s all very correct and scientific — as opposed to that great tip that your grandma gave you that may or may not be good for your garden.

This past week a question came in about where to find soil, amendments, etc. in Orange County. In Southern California it’s time to think about beefing up the soil so we’ll have a successful growing season and the rest of the county isn’t that far behind. So here are some ideas about where you’ll find what you need to get your garden ready for planting.

This first set of suggestions was complied by OC Master Gardener and workshop presenter extraordinaire, Kay Havens. Kay is a terrific presenter and she’ll be speaking at the one of the spring workshops at the Great Park Food and Farm Lab on March 19th. Don’t miss it!. (The complete schedule is over to the right.)

During talks Kay encourages gardeners to…

Ask pros at “better nurseries” in their area which products will produce the end result you desire. A potted tomato needs an entirely different product than a reseeded lawn. A list of “better nurseries” in Orange County would begin with; Green Thumb, Plant Depot, Rogers Gardens, Armstrong Garden Centers, and Village Nurseries.These “one stop” shops stock plants, bagged soil materials, and tools. For many gardeners knowledgeable assistance and a variety of healthy plant materials is worth paying a little more for. Big boxes such as Lowe’s and Home Depot are economical alternatives.

There are some specialty businesses. Orange County Farm Supply is the most quixotic — geared towards the more advanced gardener who knows what they need. If you need something special, like Citrus Leaf Miner pheromone traps, it is often a good idea to call before going to be sure it is in stock. Their stock is geared towards gardeners and small orchards. They have specialty tools and a very wide range of bagged goods, including bagged pumice. They do stock plants, but the inventory is ever-changing. If you want a 40# bag of Cottonseed meal, an avocado picker, or Texas tomato cage this is the place for you. They give everyone a discount — not just MG’s. Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) will stock some of the same things.

“Bulk” amendments are most cost effective with a pickup truck load costing less than $30 at some locations. Most bulk distributors such as Tierra Verde Industries (TVI) and Aguinaga sell a range of soil amendments. The problem is you do need a pick up truck and some way to cover and secure the load for the drive home. You’ll also need wheelbarrows and shovels to move the materials when you get there, and a big clean up after. Materials are priced and loaded by the tractor scoop ONLY, and that is how it is. No, they don’t have a smaller pricing structure. They don’t want homeowners taking up space in their yard shoveling into buckets.

Most homeowners will find it easier to use bagged goods… so it is worth knowing that some of the local “Big Box” Scotts products use local TVI goods. Serrano Creek Amendments is another place to know about. It sells only composted horse manure, which is available bagged.

For those of you in Durango Mary Beth says:

Native Roots Garden Center and Durango Nursery and Supplies are the two nurseries I visit the most in Durango. Between the two you will find everything you need to get you started off on the right foot this season. They both have friendly knowledgeable staff who can answer all your gardening questions and they have a huge selection of perennials, trees and shrubs that will survive in this tough climate.

Native Roots has some great gardening hand tools (Cape Cod weeders!) and seeds. They both carry several different kinds of mulch; shredded cedar, pine bark, spruce bark, chipped aspen, and recycled pallets (oak) in both bags and bulk. They have samples for you to look at at the checkout desks. Both nurseries carry the Soil Menders line. Yum Yum Mix and Back To Earth are two products I use every year in my gardens to improve the soil.

In Bayfield, I love to visit Bayfield Gardens. It has a wonderful lush indoor nursery that has a large selection of perennials, annuals, vegetables, and beautiful hanging baskets and containers packed with great color combinations. They also carry bagged soil amendments and fertilizers.

The “Big Box” stores and hardware stores in town and in Bayfield carry bagged soil, mulch  and a variety of plants. Home Depot has a large variety of tools, hoses and pond kits.

If you’re looking for soil to be delivered to your gardens, Soiled Rotten Topsoil (love the name!) will deliver. I hear they have custom mixes to suit your gardening and landscaping needs.

If it’s beautiful colorful pots of all shapes and sizes you want, go to Dietz Market. It’s always a fun place to visit. In the spring it’s overflowing with colorful, unique home and garden accessories that will pick you up out of the winter doldrums.

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California


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At the very beginning of the year I read an article in the Sunday New York Times that is part of a “series in which writers from around the world describe the view from their window” accompanied by an illustration of that view.

In this piece called “Mr. Borges’s Garden,” Maria Kodama, wife of the late writer Jorge Luis Borges, looks out her library window and writes that the urban courtyard garden is a type known in Buenos Aires as a “pulmón de manzana.” This is translated literally as the “lung of the block.”

I was so struck by this phrase — lung of the block. It’s remarkable because it’s an acknowledgement of the important way in which the trees, shrubs and plants that we care for repay us.

We depend on each other in a beautifully reciprocal arrangement. Our plants take in the carbon dioxide of our exhalations and return to us some of the oxygen that is so essential to our existence. We need each other and here is a culture so aware of that relationship that it has a phrase that describes it in a few short words.

I can think of no similar phrase in the English language. Can you?

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California


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We’ve written a lot about Colony Collapse Disorder and the nearly overwhelming problems that affect honey bees, but things are at least as dire for our native bees, most notably the lovely bumble bee.

Bumbles are the stuff of our childhood memories. Who, when remembering walks through wildflower fields, doesn’t see in their mind’s eye fuzzy, funny bumble bees drifting from flower to flower? These pollinators were plentiful years ago, but now, like many plants and animals, bumbles are suffering from loss of habitat, pesticide poisoning, changing climates, and diseases that were introduced along with non-native bees.

There are almost 50 bumble bee species native to North America and many of them are threatened not with just a serious decline in numbers, but with extinction. In a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a study done over the last three years shows a widespread pattern of decline in bumble bee populations. The western bumble bee, the rusty-patched bumble bee and yellow-banded bumble bee used to be very common, but their numbers have decreased by 96 percent and their range shrunk by as much as 87 percent. (This is video Native Bumblebees features an interview with Scott Black of the Xerces Society who’s been tracking the disappearance of the western bumble bees in Oregon.) Franklin’s bumble bee, found in a relatively small area covering southern Oregon and northern California, is now thought to be extinct.

Many other bumble bee species have also experienced serious declines in their numbers and ranges which is a big problem because bumbles are an important pollinator for high-value crops such as cranberries, blueberries and clover. They are also important elements in many ecosystems, pollinating wildflowers and plants that produce seeds and fruits that feed everything from songbirds to bears.

Bumble bees are unique in that they are able to fly in colder weather than other bee species and this makes them key pollinators for native plants in the tundra, prairie and  higher elevation climates. In fact bumble bees are the most effective pollinators for certain plants and seem to have evolved along with particular species of plants — the length of their tongues is exactly what is required to pollinate them. So if that particular pollinator is in decline you can reasonably expect that the plant that depends on it will decline as well. And that’s exactly what appears to have happened in parts of Britain and the Netherlands where native insect-pollinated plants have declined along with bee populations.

There are many ways you can help bumbles survive and perhaps thrive. The most important is DON’T USE PESTICIDES in your gardens. The stuff on the shelf at your local big box stores and nurseries is dangerous to man and beast. Really, this stuff will poison you, your kids, the dog, the cat, the chickens, and any other creatures that happen to be in the vicinity. Make a resolution to forego poisons in your garden this year. (We’ll write a post or two about organic alternatives and how to safely use them in your garden soon.)

Other ways to help the bumble bees:

  • Plant natives in your garden and plan for a succession of pollen and nectar-bearing blooms throughout the season.
  • Bumbles like asters, bee balm, blueberries, borage, clovers, lupines, mints, and rhododendrons to name a few.
  • Bumbles will nest lots of different places like logs, trees, old mouse burrows and grass tussocks. Leave a bit of your land wild if you can.
  • Bumbles are very gentle and won’t act in a threatening manner. If you find a nest move away slowly and walk softly and they’ll leave you alone.
  • Learn to identify the different types of bumble bees. Free I.D. guides can be downloaded here.
  • You can participate in studies that are tracking bumble bees. Athena Anderson at the University of Georgia has developed a nest site survey to learn more about nest site and habitat features for bumble bees throughout North America and make this information available to anyone at no cost. If you find a bumble bee nest, please click on this link to fill out the survey and increase our knowledge of the range of native bumble bees: Bumble Bee Nest Survey
  • The Xerces Society has asked that folks send them photos of yellow-banded and rusty-patched bumble bees and the locations where they were spotted. Email to bumblebees@xerces.org

May the bumbles be with you! Mary Beth and Barbara

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