Archive for the ‘Garden Journal’ Category

We are finally (almost, sort of) back after a hiatus for a hurricane, a wedding, and new job schedule adjustments. The “almost, sort of” refers to a horrible cold that I acquired in my travels that has laid me low for the past few days, but while I may be sick, I’m happy as can be.

Hurricane Irene wasn’t much of a hurricane and, aside from a mad dash to get to New York before her, she did nothing to affect our plans. My daughter and new son-in-law’s wedding in Prospect Park was just perfect — perfect weather, perfect heartfelt ceremony, perfect company. And our family has expanded to include the aforementioned all-round great guy, a new step-granddaughter, and lots of great relatives from the groom’s side. We had a fantastic time and I can’t stop grinning whenever I think about it. Al di là!

MB loves her new job and has just about mastered juggling her garden, her photography, and her work schedule. As a bonus, the job will provide her with some new tips that she’ll be sharing in the weeks to come.

Now, to get back on track, here’s the scoop on some important dates for gardening workshops and such.

Are you interested in becoming a Master Gardener? In Orange County, CA you’ll need to attend one of the MG Information Day meetings. Two are scheduled — one is this morning (sorry for the late notice) and the other is October 6th, 9:00 to 10:30. Please note that you MUST attend to receive an application and be considered for a spot in the 2012 class which starts in January. Click here for more information.

If you live in the Durango, CO area, you’ll need to contact the local extension office for information on the class that starts in January. Click here for more information and contacts. Do it now. I’m not clear on the deadlines, but I’m sure they are sometime this month.

For both locations classes are in the daytime on Thursdays and run through the spring. As a Master Gardener you will be expected to do a significant amount of volunteer work each year. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more than you thought possible, meet great people, and get out in your community and make a difference.

Southern California garden workshops for cool season gardening are starting this Saturday. Here’s the info for a really terrific series of five Saturday morning workshops which are presented by the Great Park and organized by the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Orange County. All workshops run from 10:00 am to 11:00 am and are free to the public.

Garden Workshop Schedule
September 17, 2011 — The Edible Landscape
Nicholas Staddon, director of New Plants Introduction at Monrovia Nursery, will show how to incorporate blueberries and other culinary delights into your landscape.

October 8, 2011 – Wicked Bugs
Author Amy Stewart (Wicked Bugs) will discuss bugs gone wild. It’s an A – Z of insect enemies, interspersed with stories that explore bugs’ sometimes odd behavior and our sometimes irrational responses to bugs.

October 15, 2011 –The Salad Bowl Garden
Master Gardener Kay Havens will demonstrate how to make beautiful salad blends. Her seminar will include Asian greens as well as how to make garden additions for flavor and color.

October 29, 2011 — Designing with California Friendly Plants
Wendy Proud, landscape designer and horticulturist, will share her expertise on designing your landscape with California friendly plants. Great tips on creating beautiful natural settings that use less water.

November 5, 2011 – Gifts from the Garden
Join UCCE Master Gardeners for a presentation about herbs. Each attendee will assemble a three-plant herb pot which can be inserted into a pumpkin or basket to give as a holiday or hostess gift.

The Orange County Great Park is located at Sand Canyon and Marine Way, and can easily be reached by the 5 or 405 freeways. For more information, visit http://www.ocgp.org/events or call (866) 829-3829.

That’s it. Please visit us again for Sunday Zen, featuring beautiful photos of our garden blooms and Tuesday’s Tips, an assemblage of tips and recommendations to help you become a more effective and productive gardener.


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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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Watching our baby hummingbirds grow these past few weeks has been so fascinating. I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a close-up view of this little miracle.

By the beginning of last week the babies were hard pressed to fit their almost adult-sized bodies into the nest and I had no doubt that they’d be ready to leave the nest soon.

Though I never saw these two move much, I’ve read that baby hummingbirds will hold onto the nest with their feet while flapping their wings to prepare for their first flight, so when I saw them perching on the edge of the nest on Thursday I knew that they were almost ready to fly.

I also knew that this was a vulnerable time for them and was really worried when I saw our pesky crows nearby. They were clearly plotting a raid on the nest. We ran out a dozen times a day to chase them whenever they got too close. My little JRT, Emmie, was delighted with this activity — no doubt she thought that we had finally come to our senses about our live and let live policy.

Crows are very skittish creatures and they can be brutal. (If you’ve never seen a crow devour a fledgling, consider yourself lucky.) So I was REALLY worried when I saw just one baby in the nest on Saturday.

All day Saturday the remaining baby perched on the edge of its nest. Come evening it fluffed up its feathers and looked rather pathetic all by its lonesome. I fretted about the crows, the cold and every other thing my imagination could conjure up. First thing on Sunday morning I went to the window and was so relieved to see Mama Bird sitting on the branch just above her baby. Then I noticed the missing baby in the tree above. Hallelujah, the crows didn’t eat it after all!

I realized that this might be my last chance to take a picture of the reluctant little hummingbird, because Mama was trying to get her late bloomer to leave the nest.

As soon as I clicked the shutter, it flew off. Aside for a glimpse or two on Sunday I haven’t seen the babies, but I’m sure they are around here somewhere.

I really miss going to the window to check on them. Curiously it looks like someone has been doing renovations to the nest. That means we might have another clutch of eggs this spring. Wouldn’t that be terrific!

P.S. Type “hummingbirds” into the search box and take a look at earlier pics of the eggs and little hatchlings. To find out how to attract hummingbird to your garden click here.

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My how our babies have grown! It’s been nine days since I last shared photos with you and I think you too will be amazed at the changes.

Here’s how the little ones looked on April 8th when they were about 8 or 9 days old. They are getting their pin feathers and their beaks have begun to darken.

They are sleepy little things. I check on the countless times a day (it’s bordering on obsession) and I always see them resting peacefully under their leafy canopy. Rarely does Mama Bird sit on her nest. She seems to be out and about most of the day, coming home to keep her chicks warm only when the sun is setting.

I’m not really able to take any pics of her feeding the chicks. I read that she feeds them a regurgitated mixture of bugs and nectar every 20 minutes or so. I have managed to get  a glimpse of her feeding them once or twice but, while she usually doesn’t get too bothered by me looking at her babies or taking pictures, she completely freaks if I’m anywhere near while she’s trying to feed them. I took this shot on April 11th when they were 12 or 13 days old.

Our babies have gotten a lot more feathers which is a good thing, because they can no longer snuggle deep into the beautiful nest their Mama built them. As a matter of fact by about 9 days they have enough feathers to regulate their own body temperature.

This next picture is from today. They are about 16 days old and starting to look like hummingbirds — if you look closely at the feathers on their rumps you can see that they are beginning to get a little color.

In a few more days, when they are around three weeks old, they will try their wings. Can’t wait!

Some of you have asked me to take a shot that shows just how little everything is. So here’s your picture. Look at that tiny, tiny wing!

I think that our babies need names, but I’m so lame when it comes to coming up with cute names. So how about some help naming our little birds. Anybody have suggestions — other than Sleepy and Dopey?

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I completed my March gardening to do list in the final days of the month. I collected all my tools, cleaned them up, and sharpened and oiled my pruners. All the garden beds are cleaned and ready to go, and I pruned the winter damage to my shrubs and trees.

I planted cool weather veggies in new beds that I prepared last fall. The soil was beautiful and it felt good to sink my hands into it! I put in snap peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, radishes, golden beets, and Swiss chard. I also planted some open seed packages of flowers along the borders ’cause I love flowers in my veggie garden. With luck I’ll have white cosmos, borage, marigolds, and sweet peas. It was a good thing I finished when I did because the snow started to fall a few hours later.

I planted garlic last October and I’m very pleased with its progress. The spring-green tops are starting to appear above the pine needle mulch and I think the plants are really happy in the beds I made them.

And finally, I took soil samples that I sent off on Monday. Barb and I will share our results when they come in.

As you read this I will be on the last leg of my drive to the East Coast (with my husband, our 2 dogs — Kea and Sage, and our maniac cat, Joker). We’ll be staying on Block Island for a few weeks so my Colorado gardens will have to fend for themselves while I am gone. That’s a real bummer, but the Island is beautiful in the spring and I can help with the gardens while I’m there. I’m really anxious about my Island bees and hope they survived the harsh winter. We’ll see…

Spring is ramping up, so stretch your gardening muscles and get ready for April’s to do list!

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Last week I was watering a plant on my windowsill when a flash of movement caught my eye. A hummingbird!

She hovered on the other side of the glass and I couldn’t figure out why she was looking at me through this window. The hummers in my garden are always checking out what I’m doing, but this window is facing the innermost corner of a little walled garden — not the birds’ usual haunt. In a moment the mystery was solved as I watched her flit past the Heavenly Bamboo’s leafy cover and settle into her tiny, tiny nest.

Hardly able to contain my excitement (I at least had the presence of mind to move away), I literally jumped up and did a happy dance. What an honor to be able to see this little miracle unfold!

This is precisely why I have been gardening organically and why I’ve done my best to make my property a creature-friendly habitat. It’s so obviously paid off. I have many more birds, lizards and beneficial insects in my garden, especially this year.

My beds need to be cleaned and my shrubs could use a trim, but I had a feeling that with all this activity there must be a nest or two hidden from view. So I decided to hold off on that work and I’ve made a real effort to keep Miss Emmie on a short leash for the nesting season. Good thing, because the hummingbird’s nest is so tiny — the size of a golf ball — that I never would have seen it before the loppers dropped the branch, nest and all, to the ground.

The nest is hidden in the leafy branches on the far lower right part of the shrub.

Mama Bird has been a real trooper. She’s endured several storms the past few days, one of which had 50 – 60 mph winds. She just hunkers down in her nest while the shrub sways in the wind. She chose a good place to build her nest though. The little garden is walled in on three side and the fourth side has only a four-foot opening.

Her nest is a marvelous structure. It’s cantilevered out from a fork in the branches and she’s constructed it from the materials at hand; I recognize birch bark, dried leaf pieces, skinny twigs, and lots and lots of cobwebs to hold it all together.

Mama Bird has only one egg in her nest, though hummingbirds often lay two. She has a regular schedule leaving her nest for about 20 minutes at a time, but most of the day she sits quietly on her egg. I’ve been watching her for a week, so it should be just  another week or so till baby emerges from its egg.

Here she sits for the most part unperturbed by my nosey camera. I haven’t wanted to scare her so I’ve taken these pics with available light, through a dirty pane of glass, which is why the last two are grainy and not very sharp. I’d love some better shots, but the important thing is to make sure that I don’t disturb her, not the quality of the pictures.

I can’t wait to see our little baby hummingbird! Of course, I’ll be taking as many pictures as Mama will allow and sharing them here with you.

Happy Spring!!!

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Tuesday we talked about when you can start working your soil. (Click here for more on that topic.) Today we’re going to talk about the different types of soils and the kinds of amendments you can use to improve soil structure. In our next post we’ll finish up the topic by telling you what amendments to use to improve fertility.

First, why should you use amendments and how do you know if your soil needs them? Amendments help soil retain the right amount of moisture and provide a good flow of nutrients and air to the plant’s roots. If your plants don’t thrive, or the soil is always wet, or always seems dry, you should think about adding amendments.

Next you’ll need to identify the type of soil you have. The Sunset Western Garden Book suggests thoroughly wetting a patch of soil, then letting it dry out for a day. Then grab a handful and squeeze it. If it feels gritty and falls apart, it’s sandy soil. If the soil has formed a tight ball and feels a bit slippery, it is mostly clay. If it kind of holds together, yet is crumbly, it’s probably loam.

While sandy soil has good drainage, it won’t hold water or nutrients long enough for plants to take them up. This type of soil needs lots of organic matter.

Clay soil is the most difficult to work with. It bakes hard in the heat and holds too much moisture when it’s wet. The one virtue of clay, or heavy soils, is that they are very mineral rich. These soils need lots of organic matter to open them up. One thing to note is that there are times when it’s just too hard to fix this type of soil. In this situation the best you can do is to build some raised beds, fill them with nice loamy soil and take it from there.

Loamy soil is the best type of soil for growing healthy plants and it’s the soil structure we’re aiming for when we add amendments. It has a good balance of sand, silt and clay — the three main elements of soil. Loamy soil doesn’t need much in the way of amendments for improving structure, but might need amendments for fertility.

Here’s a list of organic amendments for improving soil structure:

  • Compost
  • Composted wood shavings
  • Commercial amendments
  • Kelp and seaweed
  • Lawn clippings
  • Peat moss (some controversy as to whether or not this is a renewable resource)
  • Sawdust (you’ll need to add a high nitrogen fertilizer such as aged horse manure)
  • Straw (don’t use hay, it will give you lots of weeds)
  • Leaves

You can use any one of these or a combination. Some people recommend amending with sand, but we don’t think it’s such a good idea, especially with heavy, clay soils where you could end up with something resembling cement.

When amending poor soil for the first time, you can use as much as 30% by volume of any of the above. Soil should be neither too wet, nor too dry when working it. Dump the amendments on top of the soil and dig in to a depth of 12″ to 18″.

Some final notes:

  • Be sure to ask for organic amendments.
  • Don’t use sewage sludge-based or “biosolids” amendments. They claim to use “natural, organic” ingredients and they’ll say “natural organic fertilizer” on the package, but they are NOT what any organic gardener would consider to be truly organic. Worst of all they contain heavy metals which are toxic even in very small amounts. Absolutely NEVER use them in a vegetable garden.
  • If you use horse manure make sure it’s well-aged, at least three months. Otherwise it can be too “hot” and burn your plants, plus it might contain live seeds if it’s not aged properly.

If you are still unsure of what kind of soil you have, call your local Cooperative Extension or go to your local nursery — you might even bring a small baggie of your soil with you. The folks there will know about the soil in your area and will be able to recommend the appropriate amendments.

There are lots of other amendments out there; things like rice hulls, bean straw, coir, apple and grape pomace, and they are all good but less readily available. If the local experts recommend something that works in your area and it’s easy to get ahold of, use it.

Good soil texture, or structure, is just half of the equation. You’ll also want to add amendments to improve fertility and we’ll talk about that next week.

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