Posts Tagged ‘California’

Pink Dahlia 2

Well that’s a long title! I started out with a question about storing dahlia tubers in our warm climate in SoCal and ended up with a whole mish-mash of advice. Here goes…

It’s time for fall garden care and clean up. If your garden is anything like mine, it has been totally fried by the drought and relentless summer heat. I vacillated between trying to get my very-thirsty plants enough water and feeling guilty about using precious water when we are experiencing the worst drought ever. Hearing the messages that we need to dramatically reduce our water use and that we can’t expect much if any rain this winter made me feel very self-indulgent about watering my garden. So I watered, then I didn’t, then I panicked when my plants started wilting, and watered again until I felt too guilty. Needless to say, my garden looks awful. My container plants suffered the worst – many will need to be replanted or, better yet, retired.

Clearly I need to completely rethink the whole garden and start replanting with drought-tolerant plants. That will be a slow process. This is not cheap as you all know!

And because no one really knows what the hell will happen next and solid advice for our new reality is slow in coming, that’s probably a good thing. It will be a little while before the experts figure out the best way for us to deal with it. In the meantime, pray, chant, dance for rain; whatever you think might work, but do it because things are looking really bad.

The best I can tell you right now is to cut back your damaged plants, but not too much. They don’t need more stress. Clean up fallen garden debris thoroughly and mulch like crazy – 3″ at least, keeping it a little bit away from the crown of your plants and at least 5″ away from tree trunks.

As for dahlia tubers, in our warm climate you can leave them in the ground to overwinter. After they have died back, cut the stems back to between 1″ and 4″, clean up the surrounding area, and put down 3″ of dry mulch. They will re-emerge in the spring when the ground warms up again. One caveat is if you live in an area near the canyons or in the foothills where you get more than a light dusting of frost. In that case read this post that Mary Beth did a while back about digging up and storing your dahlia tubers.

That’s it for now. I’m out to the garden to start triaging my sad-looking plants.


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Irvine, California

The second pair of hummingbird babies that our Mama Bird has hatched this year.

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Block Island, Rhode Island

Irvine, California

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I know, I know, strawberry season is over for most folks, but one of the big perks of living in Southern California is that we enjoy fresh fruit almost year round — even strawberries. The development of the newer day-neutral varieties means that strawberry season has been extended well into the fall in warmer climates such as ours. (Click here for more info on California strawberry varieties and seasons.)

I made a small batch of strawberry jam yesterday and though it sometimes seems like a lot of mess for so few jars — 4 full half pints + 1 almost-full jar, small batch preserving is a great way to do a little experimenting.

Also, keep in mind that just because the season is over that doesn’t mean you can’t whip up some jam if you have a craving. You can always pull some frozen fruit out of your freezer if you’ve stored some of your summer bounty there, or get yourself down to the frozen food section your local grocery and buy some unsweetened frozen berries.

I needed to find a recipe that didn’t use pectin, not because I have anything against it, but because I didn’t have any in the pantry and I was too lazy to go get some. I had strawberries, sugar and lemons. That was it and that was going to have to do. I also wanted to use less sugar than is normally called for.

Since strawberries are low in acid and in pectin you can’t just use the fruit and sugar and call it a day. This why many recipes tell you that you have to use pectin to get the mixture to jell. This is simply not true. So far this season I haven’t used any pectin, only lemon juice which contains a fair amount of pectin and I haven’t had any problems getting my preserves to set. (Another thing you should know is that your preserves will thicken up a bit in the jar.)

Not using pectin does mean that the mixture will need to cook for longer to set, which unfortunately results in cooking out some of the flavor. But I found a great blog post by Stephanie Rosenbaum of Bay Area Bites to help me solve that problem. She suggests cooking the fruit, sugar, lemon juice mixture for a bit then removing the fruit and cooking down only the liquid. It worked like a charm!

Even so, I didn’t follow her recipe exactly. Her’s calls for letting the fruit sit for long periods of time and I wanted to just get it over with. So I compressed some of the steps.

But I do have to add a caveat here. Because I used less sugar (a preservative), I can’t say that this strawberry jam will last as long on your shelf as traditional strawberry jam. As I said this is an experiment, but with the small batch method it doesn’t really matter — this jam will be gone in a flash.

Another important thing to note is that with less sugar in the recipe, I was extra careful to make sure that my jars were sterile, boiling them in water for 10 minutes and keeping them hot until I ladled the jam into them. I’ve used the dishwasher to “sterilize” my jars before, but I don’t think you can be sure that works. Better to be safe than sorry.

Next time I’m going try adding some vanilla bean and using honey as a sweetener. And don’t just use your jam as a spread; add it to yogurt, or use it as a filling in cakes, cookies, or bars. It’s part of the fun of preserving.

Strawberry Jam

4 – 5 pint boxes of strawberries

3 cups of sugar

5 tbs of lemon juice

5 – 6 half-pint jars, lid, and rings – this recipe made a little more than 2 pints.

  1. Wash jars, lids, and rings in hot soapy water. Rinse well. Place clean jars in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Keep them hot while you prepare the jam.
  2. Simmer the lids until ready to use (for Ball lids, otherwise follow package directions). Set clean rings aside.
  3. Put 3 small plates in the freezer. You’ll use these to help you determine if the jam is properly thickened.
  4. Rinse, drain and hull strawberries. Cut them in half.
  5. Place in a non-reactive bowl with 1 cup of the sugar. Mash them up a bit leaving about half of the pieces whole. Let sit for 15 minutes.
  6. Put the strawberries in a low, wide pan (this type of pan help cook off the liquid quicker) with the rest of the sugar and lemon juice.
  7. Boil over medium heat for about 10 – 15 minutes until the liquid is released, skimming off foam.
  8. Either scoop out the fruit pieces or put a colander in a bowl and drain the liquid — be careful, it’s hot! Put the liquid back into the pan.

    Liquid looks like this at first.

  9. Cook at a boil over medium heat until it begins to get thick — about 10 – 15 minutes.
  10. When the jam has started to thicken, put the fruit back in the pan and cook a little while longer until it begins to get thick and glossy looking.
  11. From this point on you will need to PAY ATTENTION! Keep stirring to prevent it from seizing.

    When it bubbles thick and glossy like this it's time to test it.

  12. As jam thickens, test by taking one of the plates out of the freezer and putting a teaspoon of the liquid on the plate. Take the jam off the heat to prevent it from overcooking and put the plate back in the freezer for 3 minutes.
  13. Take the plate out and draw your finger through the middle of the jam puddle. If the liquid runs together, cook for a few more minutes and test again. If the sides don’t flow back together, you’re almost done.
  14. Reheat to boiling and ladle into the hot jars. Draw a knife through the jar to release any big air bubbles. Wipe rims and threads to remove any traces of jam, place lids and rings on and tighten with fingertips. Don’t over tighten or any air trapped in the jars won’t be able to escape in the processing.
  15. Boil in a hot water bath for 10 minutes (more if you’re at a higher elevation — 5 minutes for every 1,000 ft above sea level).
  16. Remove from water, place on a towel or rack and leave undisturbed for 24 hours.
  17. Remove rings, check seal and store. If your seal didn’t take, you can store the jar in the fridge for 2 – 3 weeks.

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Mary Beth: I just returned from the East Coast where I witnessed the destructive power of Japanese Beetles. They feed on everything in their paths, chewing up flowers, cratering fruit, and skeletonizing foliage of more than 500 species of plants. They’ve just started their ravenous attack on every plant in our Block Island garden, so I thought I’d do a few tips on what to do to control these horrible little buggers.

Japanese Beetles are a problem mostly on the East Coast. They were first detected in the United States in 1916 in a nursery near Riverton, New Jersey. This voracious pest has infested 22 states east of the Mississippi River and is spreading west (hitching rides on airplanes) with isolated infestations in California, Wisconsin and Oregon. The California Drug and Food Administration inspects planes for Japanese Beetles from May to June in their efforts to try to stop them from spreading further west where the California climate and abundant food supply would be perfect for them.

Japanese Beetles mating

Japanese Beetles mate soon after they emerge from the ground, laying their eggs in the soil. The eggs hatch in about two weeks at which point the grubs start feeding on nearby roots. It is during this period that the grubs cause the most damage to turf grass. The grubs feed all summer then burrow further down in the soil in the fall to overwinter and reemerge in the spring, feeding some more before pupating and turning into adult beetles. The adult beetles live about 30 – 50 days.

When you have Japanese Beetle grubs munching your turf roots the grass dies in big swaths that you can literally roll back like carpet. Crows are sometimes blamed for this damaged grass because they can be seen ripping up tufts to get to the grubs. They are actually helping to eliminate these pests. The grass has been long dead by the time they start looking for a tasty snack of plump white grubs, yum yum!

So what to do?

  • Handpicking is effective in smaller gardens. Carry a small bucket of soapy water and knock them off the plants into your bucket as you go along. The beetles are less active in the morning and the evening so it’s easier to pick them off plants then.
  • Japanese Beetle Traps — Studies have found that traps, which use a pheromone to lure the beetles, are very effective. In fact they are so effective that studies show that many of the 1000’s of beetles you will capture have come from neighboring gardens. (One step forward two steps back!) Be sure you place your traps away from your plants.
  • Spraying Milky Spore on your grass is an effective long-term control and although it will not help get rid of this year’s beetles, it will kill grubs over the next two to four years. Milky Spore (bacillus popillae) is a bacterium that is ingested by Japanese Beetle grubs. The spores germinate inside the grub and multiply, killing the grubs. Over time milky spore builds up in the turf and the process is repeated over a number of years.
  • Spraying with harmful chemicals is definitely not recommended. This treatment last only about 3 days and then you will have to re-spray for the next wave of beetles that are emerging, as they will continue to do for two more months. Spraying pesticides kills the good bugs (who were probably busy eating some other pesky bug) along with the bad, eventually sending something else out of whack in your garden. It also affects you, your pets, the bees that are pollinating your garden plants, and the birds that are helping to keep other bad bugs in check (birds don’t like to eat Japanese Beetles though). Worse still, it seeps toxic chemicals into the groundwater adding to the chemical load in our drinking water and in the food we eat.

There is hope for a future without Japanese Beetles. The folks at the University of California, Davis are working on developing a pheromone-degrading enzyme that could help control the beetles by interrupting their reproductive cycle. Interesting stuff — read more about it here. Let’s hope they succeed.

Rose damaged by Japanese Beetles

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Here again is a grab bag of tips. In some ways I like these posts the best because this is pretty much the state of my brain at any given moment — a jumble of random stuff. Drives me crazy sometimes, but on the other hand it’s always interesting.

Putting a little focus on it, here are some tips on what you should be doing in your summer garden in Southern California in the next few weeks. Next week Mary Beth will provide garden tips for mountain dwellers whose gardens are just coming into their full spring bloom.

Tip #1 — Feed plants each time you water your containers.

These plants are wholly dependent on you for their nourishment so don’t neglect to feed them often during the growing season. Use enough fish emulsion to color the water and your plants will be healthier and your blooms more colorful. (Thanks to locally famous rosarian Bea Grow for this tip.)

Tip #2— Deadhead flowers.

This is one of the garden chores that I really enjoy. Wandering through my garden with a pair of snips and clipping off dead flowers is contemplative and will encourage your plants to create more blooms than they would if left to their own devices.

Tip #3 — Strip diseased leaves.

As you are deadheading, keep an eye out for diseased leaves. Strip them off the plant and throw them away. Doing this will go a long way to preventing a full-blown problem down the road. And while you’re at it, give those plants a good spray from the hose. This will wash off bugs and spores. Doing these two things might be all you need to keep your garden relatively disease free.

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