Archive for July, 2011

Durango, Colorado

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden


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Mary Beth: This was my project last weekend for my raised vegetable beds.

I got this idea from the Sunset web site and it worked amazingly well. Ray and I modified the design a bit based on how I made the beds which are on a slope and are very irregularly shaped. When I made them I used rocks for the sides of the beds instead of lumber, but it actually turned out to be a perfect way to protect my crops.

Ray used 2 foot pieces of rebar for the stakes. We hammered the bars into the ground along the long sides of the tomato and squash beds and slipped the PVC pipe on each opposite pair creating a half hoop. Then I covered the hoops with plastic.

The plants seem to be responding well. I think the plastic covers over the squash and tomatoes are keeping them warm at night when our mountain temps get down to the low 50’s. Cool nights will slow them down, but by using hoops to retain the warmth it should extend the season so I can have veggies well into October and maybe even November.

I also put hoops on my cool-weather plant beds, but I covered these with netting to protect those crops from the birds.

This is one of those “Why did I take so long to do this?!”  projects.

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How annoying is powdery mildew? Very! It always seems that the minute we have every other pest and scourge finally under control, back comes the powdery mildew. Unless you have a really extensive outbreak, it’s relatively harmless, but make sure  you take action at the first sign of it. If you don’t you’ll have some ugly deformed plants and a severe case will kill them.

As for the conditions that promote powdery mildew, here’s a passage from the Perdue University Department of Botany web page: “High relative humidity at night and low relative humidity during the day with temperatures of 70 – 80F (conditions that prevail in spring and fall) favor powdery mildew. Maintaining conditions that favor rapid drying of foliage will help reduce disease incidence. Locate susceptible plants in open areas where they will not be crowded. Plants in shade are more prone to mildew than are those growing in sunlight. Prune to thin out any dense foliage; this will increase air movement and favor rapid drying of foliage. Avoid nightly sprinkling during August and September; instead, soak the soil as needed.”

Organically grown plants tend to be much more resistant to fungus diseases than those grow with synthetic chemicals and fertilizers because the soil they are planted in is full of beneficial fungi that counteract the harmful stuff. However, excessive nitrogen will promote lush, tender green growth that is very susceptible to powdery mildew, so this late in the season use a more balanced fertilizer on your plants.

There are lots of organic treatments for powdery mildew. You can buy commercially prepared products of which there are many — look for the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) label, or you can mix your own.

A very simple treatment can be mixed using 1 oz. of milk to 9 oz. of water. Spray at the first signs of mildew and every week after for about 3 – 4 weeks. You can keep spraying as a preventative weekly if you like.

Another remedy suggested in the  Sunset Western Garden book uses garlic: mix 3 oz. of minced garlic with 1 oz. of vegetable  oil and let soak for 24 hours. Strain, stir in 1 tablespoon of liquid castile soap and store in a sealed container. It will keep at room temperature for several months. To use, mix 2 tablespoons of the garlic mixture in 1 pint of water. Spray every week for 3 – 4 weeks.

These treatments can be used on ornamental plants and food crops, though I would wash any edibles before eating.

If you notice that particular plants get a bad case of powdery mildew it might be time to consider replacing them with something that is more resistant.

For instance this rose — Brass Band I think — always had a bad case of mildew, which is a sign that it’s not suited to the conditions in my yard or area. I’m close enough to the ocean to be affected by the marine layer that creeps in every night carrying a lot of moisture with it. It’s out of here next year, to be replaced by a rose that is more resistant.

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Durango, Colorado

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

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Even though Mary Beth and I are Master Gardeners with many years experience we are often vexed by gardening questions we can’t answer or situations where we’ve tried everything we know and problems are still not resolved. Other times we’re pretty sure we know what we’re talking about, but we want to be damn sure we are giving the most accurate information to our clients and readers.

So where do we go when we need answers? We have a few tried and true suggestions. Certainly the following list is not comprehensive, but we think you will find them to be very reliable sources of information that will provide answers to most of your questions.

University cooperative extensions are a source for the most up-to-date, researched-based information on plants, plant diseases and treatments, and insects — good and bad. The scientists at the extensions also track new plant diseases and  invasive insect species. (BTW, here in California where university budgets are being slashed, the extensions are taking a huge hit which impacts, if not cripples, their ability to track and stop invasive species and new plant diseases. If things continue this way, there will soon come a day when all we can do is watch while some of our food crops and ornamentals are decimated by insects or diseases that no one has the funds or know-how to stop. This is what smaller government will get you. Scary and depressing.)

UC IPM — University fo California’s Integrated Pest Management website has pretty much everything you want to know about insects, pests, and diseases in the home garden. IPM is the practice of using the least toxic methods first. We, of course, recommend that you never go past the organic line.

Colorado State University Extension — visit PlantTalk for everything garden-related in Colorado (in English and Spanish).

Other state universities have extensions too if you’re looking for information specific to your area.

Sunset’s Western Garden book is one of the first places we look for information on individual plants and their cultural requirements. Sunset Magazine’s website is also a great place for plant information as well as landscaping and design ideas, garden projects, and more.

Garden Design Magazine and website —  we used to find this a little out of our league (well, more than a little) with all its high-end furniture and design ideas, but they revamped it a few months ago and it’s much more down to earth with a lot of great garden design ideas, outdoor entertaining, and information on new plants and products.

Organic Gardening Magazine and website — we love this magazine. We read cover to cover as soon as we get it.

Dave Wilson Nursery — this website is loaded with great information about Backyard Orchard Culture. Check out Fruit Tube, DWN’s You Tube videos with demos on planting, pruning and caring for fruit trees.

And if you can’t find the answer in any of these places, send us an email (barbara@beesandchicks.com) with your gardening question and we’ll be happy to help you.

Happy gardening!

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California

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MB: Barbara and I always talk about things we’ve found, or rediscovered, that we are in love with. So we decided to create a page where we can share and discuss with you the things that have helped us with our gardening. It might be garden photography tips, tools, design ideas, books, new plants — anything that makes us stop for a moment and say, “How did I ever live without this?”  We are happy to share the love.

Fertilizer Siphon

I just ordered a fertilizer siphon that I’ve always wanted and I’m pretty sure it will be worth recommending. The siphon attaches to a hose and pulls fertilizer out of a container, mixing it with water running through the hose and onto the soil. I finally broke down and ordered it because I’m so tired of replacing clogged sprayer ends. I inevitably end up with stinky fish emulsion splattered all over me and I just couldn’t stand getting that messy and smelly any more. It should be delivered this week and I’ll let you know how it works. I’m sure I’m going to love it.


Barbara recently planted an Earthbox and she’s really loving it. I’m going to let her tell you about it.

B: I’ve been thinking about getting an Earthbox for a while because I keep hearing great things about how well they work for growing vegetables, especially tomatoes.

I’ve had miserable luck growing tomatoes in my yard. The plants that I put in the ground really couldn’t compete with the tree roots and our clay soil is just too dense. Those plants never even got started before they gave up. Then I planted in pots for a couple of years, but they dried out so quickly that I missed a couple of crucial waterings and the plants failed again.

The Earthbox seemed like a great solution for my situation. Planting in the box provides the tomatoes with the loose, rich soil they love. The Earthbox has a water well in the bottom that keeps the soil consistently moist and it has wheels that let me roll it around so the plants get enough sun. (I don’t have to go far which is good because with soil and water combined it’s about 80 pounds.)

My tomato plants are going like gangbusters. The plants are growing really fast and there are many more blossoms than I’ve ever had. I’m happily anticipating quite a crop this year. Finally!

We’ll be posting more reviews, thoughts, information, etc under the new tab “We Love This!” at the top of the page. Please visit often for ideas and products that can help you become a happier, more productive organic gardener.

We also want to share what you are loving these days. It can be anything garden-related —  tools, recipes, growing or photography tips. Please share it with us and the rest of our Bees and Chicks community.

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