Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Planting For Pollinators

Seed World magazine ran an article last December that contained some pretty startling statistics. The author, Shannon Shindel, stated the facts, “at LEAST 80% of the worlds crop species require pollination with an estimated one out of every three bites of food coming to us through the work of animal pollinators which includes birds, bees, butterflies, bats and beetles that transfer pollen between plants... the declines in health and population of pollinators in North America and globally pose a significant threat to biodiversity, the food chain and human health”.

What Can We Do?

We can try to provide food, shelter and a water source for these hard workers and eliminate pesticide use if at all possible. In our garden we haven’t put one drop of chemical in or around our garden and yes there are pest galore but also an amazing amount of Beneficial’s that are helping to maintain a balance.

The Pollinator Partnership with NAPPC have a wonderful website that gives great tips and if you enter your zip code it provides you with your own personal full color guide specifically tailored to your region. Some of the many plants they suggest for San Diego’s Coastal Chaparral include; Yarrow, Milkweed, California Poppy, Sunflowers, Roses, Lavender, Blueberry, Eggplant, Strawberry, Geranium, Watermelon, Squash and Tomatoes. Also check out UC Berkley's easy to read and understand guide to the Urban Bee Garden.

San Diego Lawn Mower Trade in 2010

The annual lawnmower trade in is back for the 11th year in a row. My sister and I participated 4 years ago and we love our Black & Decker battery rechargeable mower. On May 1st take your old, gas powered lawn mower in working condition down to the County building on 1600 Pacific Highway. Turn in your mower and get a brand new zero emission model for $99.99! They start at 8am but we got there at 7:30 and there was over 250 people already in line around the block. Four years ago they only had 350 available but I hear they will have more this year.

Call 619-531-5544 for more info.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ECOLIFE Foundation

Ecolife is a local foundation that is truly inspiring. They will be featured on the CBS evening news tonight.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Ocean Friendly Gardening

The San Diego Surfrider chapter is sponsoring an ocean friendly garden course just in time for spring planting. Their main focus is conservation, retention and permeability. The course consists of three components; the basic course which is on 4/7/10 from 6-9pm, a hands on workshop and the garden assistance program. The retention part seems particularly interesting as rainwater capture has been a to-do list item for years. All three classes and an ofg book is only $25.00, pretty amazing!

Monday, March 29, 2010


Our dislike for the effects of sow bugs, cutworms and caterpillars on our garden is being severely tested against my love for bees and their pollinating abilities. We have been recommended Spinosad left, right and center to tackle our common pest problems and when I see a list of all the pests it eradicates I must admit I get very excited. Unfortunately the product container fails to mention it's disastrous effect on bees. We have been told probably like everyone else to avoid the flowers, standing water and use the pellet formulation and the bees will be fine.

If anyone has read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson then you probably know that it's very rare that any form of pesticide doesn't have far reaching effects. We cannot, attempting to be truly organic gardeners, fool ourselves into believing that Spinosad absorbed into the soil, through the roots and into the plant is not going to negatively effect the bees. For now we will have to put all our faith into the toilet paper roll jackets that are surrounding each seedling.  

Where are your seeds coming from?

As the planting season ramps up this spring I have been very excited to purchase all my seeds, some varieties that have worked well in the past and others that I have never tried. Trying to be a truly organic, self-sufficient gardener can be exhausting as there is so much research to be done and the amounts of information can be overwhelming. Despite this, if it's important to you to know where your food comes from then you logically you would start with the origin of your seeds. Take time to research the different seed companies, you may need to order via catalog or online but I know the satisfaction I feel when I'm informed makes all the little hassles worth it. Here is a select few out of thousands:

Seeds of Change = owned by Mars Inc.
Johnny's = Privately owned, fazing out seeds provided by Monsanto owned company
High Mowing Seeds = Privately owned, organic, gmo free
Victory Seed Company = Privately owned, non-hybrid, no chemicals, gmo free
Territorial Seeds = Privately owned, fazing out Monsanto influence
Fedco Seeds = Dropped all ties to Monsanto
Seed Savers Exchange =  Non-profit seed bank
Botanical Interest = Privately owned

This is not to say that any of the above mentioned companies are bad or good, it's just a reminder to choose seeds and seedlings from like minded companies.

To Cut or Not To Cut?

The Desiree Red Potatoes were ready to be planted today after sitting out for two weeks and we labored over whether to cut the larger potatoes before planting. Many garden books advise you to cut the potatoes and roll them in root tone or soil sulfur and then plant. This way you get more out of what you plant even though some research indicates bigger harvest when they aren't cut.

I talked to the professionals at two different local nurseries and both advised against the cut. They explained that San Diego soil already has high alkalinity and you're inviting mildew and fungus when you cut. We decided not to cut and 5 went in the ground today. Seed Savers recommended digging a 6" trench and burying them sprout up under 4" of soil. As the plants grow they recommend covering them with soil until you have a mound. As soon as I have mounds I will post a new picture.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bee Problem????

If you're one of the few that actually have a bee problem or troublesome hive please contact Malaki -
or Paul Maschka - 760.419.9453 as an alternative to extermination.

From the soil to the sky

I realized today that we really had a problem when it dawned on me that I was so familiar with these pest that I no longer had issues with picking them up with my bare hands. These beetle larvae better known to us as White Grubs can be found in every one of our raised beds. I have attempted to thwart them with the equally as gross Predatory Nematodes, however I'm now ready to relinquish my false sense of having the upper hand.

Although research is still being done to determine levels of effectiveness, Pat Welsh recommended Milky Spore Disease at yesterdays seminar. I did a little bit of research and came across an article where Dr. Klein, Adjunct Professor of Entomology enlightened me about "Milky Disease" a natural occurring organism found in soil. For Milky Disease to be effective in getting rid of the White Grubs your soil needs to be above 65 degrees and the grub has to be actively feeding in order to ingest it. Which is why Dr. Klein recommends that you apply it in the summer or early fall. Also Milky Disease only needs to be applied once and don't worry it only effects the White Grubs. For those of you eager to get rid of the Spring grubs you're supporting keep in mind that they are entering the last stages of metamorphosis and will be taking flight soon in order to initiate airborne attacks.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Open Bar

For the first time I have spotted slugs in the raised beds. I'm eager to get rid of them before they manage to reproduce thousands of organic veggie lovers. Experts advise that you bury a yogurt container with holes poked into the sides, then fill it up with beer right up to the holes. Considering no one can resist an open bar I'm hoping these slugs can think of nothing they would rather do on a Thursday night then take an ice cold Pacifico bath.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

San Diego Master Gardeners Classes This Weekend!

The San Diego Master Gardeners Home Gardening Seminar is this Saturday the 27th at USD. I'm surprised to see there are alot of good classes still open. Josh and I will be attending "Growing Summer Vegetables the Organic Way" taught by Pat Welsh. As a newbie to this whole world I'm excited to get some expert, easy to understand advice.

Some of the gardeners will also be selling vegetable seedlings of which you will find a list here (on the left side of the page) that would make great additions to any garden.

Rookie mistake

I have discovered, a little late, when purchasing blueberry plants you always need to buy at least two because even though they are self-pollinating apparently you will get better yields if the bush is planted with another variety. Pat Welsh recommends Rabbiteye and Southern Highbush varieties for the San Diego climate. I could only find the Southern Highbush, so I went with Jubilee and Sunshine Blue. Sunshine Blue is great for an urban yard because it's semi-dwarf and it only gets 3-4ft. The Jubilee variety is an evergreen, upright bush, that gets 4-5ft tall and will give you berries late summer through fall.

This is a great reminder to study and research what you are looking for before you go shopping for plants. You can't always expect a knowledgeable staff person to be on hand. Don't end up with an impulse buy plant, like the outfit from the mall you never wear, that just isn't right for you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Invasion of the body snatchers

I'm getting serious now.

The nematodes arrived and have been hanging out next to the orange juice in the fridge. Tonight I decided to woman up and release them into the boxes. These microscopic predators attack and kill most insects in your soil (except my booming earthworm population) but leave the plants alone. The million come on a little blue sponge that you squeeze out into a gallon of water. They say you can spray them but at their price I decide I will pour. It's slightly creepy to deal with microscopic predators that invade the bodies of insects but I'm confident they will focus on the task at hand and not my flesh. I carried the milky pitcher of water out to the garden, still not convinced there was actually anything in the water and poured it into the boxes. Now I can fall asleep to dreams of my cutworm and white grub population losing the war. Or just having milky water poured on them.

So the battle begins

The battle royale of farmer vs. pest has officially begun and we are determined to keep things organic. This year we started early by laying out the worm castings in February (they take about a month to kick in) to help with the ant population among others. They also help with the health of the soil, this brand had ash and kelp added in. I put the stuff directly into the soil but also around the edge of the hibiscus which was a white fly hotel last year. Also we released ladybugs at night to take care of our leaf dwellers and enlisted the help of the chickens before planting, their favorite treat is the white grub, and this method brings us the most satisfaction. The chickens get their protein and we get rid of our pests.

I'm also going to try and enlist the help of some of our fellow urbanites, the city birds. Although I have yet to see one in the yard, I'm confident my homemade bird feeder of black oil sunflower seeds will attract these grasshopper hunters. Just hours ago a sparrow landed on the boundary fence near the seeds so I know it's only a matter of time!

My Bee Attractor!

Did you know every third bite of food you consume is brought to you by a honeybees pollinating prowess? We recently purchased this fountain on Craigslist to add beauty and the tranquil sounds of flowing water to the backyard. Well I wanted it for the bees! Bees love flowing water and I was surprised how quickly we were running a little bee pit stop. These bees will now stop off for a cool drink on the way to pollinating the tomatoes, cucumber, squash, watermelon, pumpkin and strawberries. Thanks Bees! Now the only trick is keeping he dogs from using it as their 24 hour water fountain.

What the heck happened to our Artichoke???

We have been growing this artichoke for almost a year and it has grown tremendously in that time. Recently in the last two days the plant looked like it was in need of some serious water during the heat of the day. We didn't think much of it because it would always perk right up in the evening. Well two days ago it never perked back up. I did a little research and learned about all different kinds of rots and diseases. I went down to check under the leaves and this is what happened. The roots were non-existent, all that was left in its place was a dark hole! You can see all the critters on the stalks; pill bugs and slugs! (the first I have ever seen here.) Any advice on possible perpetrators of this act are welcome!

And so it begins....

The first of the spring garden has been planted in our raised beds. Josh just built the perfect shade contraptions which you can see on the boxes. He made these out of an old outdoor umbrella! I hope this relief from the sun will give some of the more sensitive seedlings a chance.