- Author: Cheryl A Potts
In my last blog, I talked about my struggle with the chemistry, the science of gardening, the bones that make it all work--not my forte. However, I decided to face it as a mature gardening adult, and learn, for starters, my N-P-Ks, those three mysterious numbers found on boxes of fertilizers and bottles of plant food. As I mentioned in my last blog (May 1), the first number listed stands for nitrogen, "N", which is essential for for healthy leaf growth. I discussed what your plants might look like if they were nitrogen deficient, and some suggestions to solve the problem.
Now we come to the second number, which informs the user of the percentage of phosphorus, "P", contained in the product inside.
I have been told (by a former science teacher, no less) that phosphorus has been used since WWI up through present day wars as a smoke tracer, an explosive, a poison and nerve gas, and has been called "the Devil's element". So why would I want this destroyer of life in my benign veggie garden? Well, it turns out that phosphorus comes in many forms and colors. It actually takes up 1 % of each one of our body weights, and is found in each cell of the human body without smoking or poisoning. It's primary use in our body, unlike in Vietnam, is the formation of bones and teeth. And just to prove to you phosphorus' versatility, it is the primary ingredient found on the head of a safety match. Believe me, this is all very confusing to a science dropout.
Phosphorus was actually discovered by a man from Munich, Germany named Hennig Brand in 1669, who found it while experimenting with urine, producing a product that actually gave off a pale green glow. He kept his method secret, as he, along with all alchemists of the day, was planning on turning his discovery into gold. He finally agreed to share his formula, and gardening has never been the same since.
But back to the question as to why any of us would want phosphorus in our gardens. Phosphorus is actually a mineral that is essential to metabolism. It is the principal element in the structure of the nucleus and cytoplasm of all tissue cells. Without it, as with nitrogen, plants do not thrive. Phosphorus is instrumental in aiding a plant convert needed nutrients into the useable building blocks that it needs to grow. If your plants are spindly, stunted in growth, have leaves that are blue/green with a purplish tinge, produce small fruit with an acid taste, or set very little fruit at all, you most likely have a phosphorus deficiency. Plants that are especially susceptible to this deficiency are carrots, lettuce, spinach, apples, currents, and gooseberries. The purplish tinge seen on the underside of tomato leaves indicates a "P" problem.
These deficiencies occur primarily in areas where there is a high level of rainfall, especially if the soil is acidic, clay, or poor chalk. Cold weather can also be a factor in the poor absorption of phosphorus.
The remedy is simple. Add organic material such as fish fertilizer as a soil drench, bone meal, colloidal phosphate or compost (food wastes are quite high in phosphorous). Also, the addition of rock phosphate is highly recommended. Edward C. Smith, author of The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, states that as phosphorus is most likely to be the nutrient missing from the soil, adding rock phosphate whenever you start a new garden is a wise move. He recommends 10 pounds per 100 square feet. Be forewarned, however. Plants that naturally adapt to low levels of available phosphate are more likely to suffer from phosphate poisoning. Aha! Back to a war reference.
Mr. Smith also makes another interesting point; do not be misled when you read numbers on the package of rock phosphate (0-4-0) that its phosphate contents is only 4%. That 4% represents the immediate available phosphorus. The product actually is about 30% phosphorus with more than 25% of it in a slow release that will become available over time.
We have one more letter to explore in our nutrient alphabet, and in my next blog I will discuss that third label number. Mmmmmm. Could "K" stand for "Kompost"?
- Author: Libbey McKendry
Lately I have been enjoying learning about edible flowers. It started about six weeks ago when two different customers (I am the seed buyer at “Orchard Nursery and Florist” in Lafayette) asked me about seeds for edible flowers. I knew a few of them such as nasturtiums, pansies and chives, but I needed to know more. Fortunately one of the other nurserymen was scheduled to give a class to our customers on the subject which added more to my list. Then there was a great article in the Contra Costa Times on Saturday March 9th, http://www.mercurynews.com/home-garden/ci_22739632/more-homes-flowers-are-moving-from-table-centerpiece and then on April 4th an article was published in the weekly Orchard Nursery Newsletter. Suddenly my “plate” was overflowing with edible flowers!
I looked around my garden and found a number of the listed flowers, so I started using them in salads and as decorations to our dinner plates. First I picked some calendulas and added them to salads. They don’t have much of a taste but they add great color. Then I put a pansy on each plate when I was entertaining friends. The little pansy-faces brightened up the rice dish and added to our conversation. The ones I served had a slight sweet taste, but some are very mild and benefit from salad dressing. Next I used nasturtiums that had over-wintered. They were great in the salad and added a different texture and a peppery taste. I realized I have already been using the flowers of rosemary with a pine-like flavor and thyme which has a lemony flavor, as I combine the two herbs for a meat rub, and sometimes the flowers get mixed in with the leaves.
I’ve heard about using zucchini blossoms and I mistakenly thought if I cut off the blossoms I would be sacrificing the number of zucchini. Not so because the plant produces more male flowers than it needs and it is not hard to identify them with their long stalk winding throughout the plant. The female blossoms, on the other hand, usually grow close to the center and have a stubby stalk that, when fertilized, swells into a mini squash. Some recipes call for using the small squash while the flower is still attached.
As I plant my edible garden this year with tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and squash I will be adding some edible flowers not just for the garden but for our dinner plates. Some easy ones are: Chives with an onion flavor, basil with a lemony minty flavor and borage with a sweet cucumber flavor. I’ll only pick flowers from plants that I know have been grown with no sprays, harmful chemicals, or where dogs or cats run free. Picking flowers for dinner in public areas is not advisable as you have no idea how they were grown and what is on them.
Growing flowers is one thing and knowing how to use them in recipes is another. There are a number of books out, but I find it easier to use the web. A good site with great pictures is http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/edible-flowers-anise-hyssop
Do you have a favorite edible flower and recipe?
- Author: Teresa Lavell
Below you will see my beautiful blooming Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii Variegata’! Beautiful blooms this year anyway. For the last few years it was merely an interesting shrub with lovely variegated foliage. Now don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with lovely variegated foliage. But one does not simply plant a Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii Variegata’ for lovely foliage. One wants blooms and preferably lots of them!
Well, let this be a lesson for you on the proper timing for pruning. Many things can benefit from pruning in the dormant season but that doesn’t mean everything needs to be pruned at that time. I live with a pruner, an industrious pruner, in fact I would go so far as to say a pruner of Olympian status. She believes there is no plant problem that a good pruning won’t solve. In the case of the before mentioned hydrangea, however, timing was way off. In addition to pruning out frost-damaged portions of the plant, my happy pruner was cutting out the dormant buds for the upcoming blooms.
This type of hydrangea blooms on ‘old wood,’ in other words stems from the previous year’s growth. If that is all pruned out you are left with lovely variegated foliage but no blooms. This past year I was able to distract attention from the hydrangea with some unruly roses and now – blooms! If pruning is needed to maintain shape or size, the proper time is right after the bloom so that the plant can continue to grow through the summer and early fall producing flower buds for the next spring.
- Author: Susan Croissant
In September 2012, I wrote about our Passion Flower vine (Passiflora caerulea 'Blue Crown'). I referenced the Agraulis vanillae (Gulf fritillary) butterfly, which has no native host in California and is entirely dependent on the genus Passiflora. Last year we had 4 butterflies. This year we already have 8, and more are on the way. It is awesomely- exciting to discover multiple pupa/cocoons and caterpillars. Here are several photos as well as the fritillary mating on Borage (Borago officinalis).
As I wrote in September, Art Shapiro (butterfly expert and professor of ecology and evolution at UC Davis), says the Gulf frit was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908 and became "established" here in the 1950s. http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/node/448
- Author: Marian I Chmieleski
Have you ever been out on a sunny day, walking barefoot happily through the clover when suddenly you yelp and begin to jump around trying to ease the sudden stinging pain in your foot? Yes, so have I. Well, the culprit is most likely the gentle little honeybee, one of nature's hardest working and least aggressive little beings. However, if a giant were going to step on me I'd use all my weapons to protect myself, too! Thus, the sad, negative reputation of the honeybee (Apis mellifera).
However, the honeybee is not only our friend, but also a very important part of our symbiotic natural family. According to National Geographic's most recent article (May 10, 2013), "About a third of our foods (some 100 key crops) rely on these insects, including apples, nuts, all the favorite summer fruits (like blueberries and strawberries), alfalfa (which cows eat), and guar bean (used in all kinds of products). In total, bees contribute more than $15 billion to U.S. crop production, hardly small potatoes." That's what makes the staggering disappearance of so many bees in the last few years such a troubling problem.
As you may have heard, during the winter of 2007 many beekeepers across the USA reported unusually large honeybee losses. The puzzling thing was that there were no piles of dead bees near the hives as happens if the bees are directly exposed to pesticides. It seems that the worker bees just began disappearing, leaving the queen and the young bees alone in the colony. However, the colony needs the worker bees to bring home the food and without them the hive and all the bees therein eventually dies. This is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Over the years since that time studies have failed to conclusively identify the cause, but the result is that about 47% of the honeybees across the USA have been lost. (Figures from winter 2012-2013.) The EPA reports that several contributing factors are suspected:
- increased losses due to the invasive varroa mite (a pest of honeybees);
- new or emerging diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema;
- pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops bee management stress;
- foraging habitat modification
- inadequate forage/poor nutrition and
- potential immune-suppressing stress on bees caused by one or a combination of factors identified above.
What can we as gardeners do to help? We can, of course, avoid using pesticides in our gardens--especially neonicotinoids (approved for use in the US, but recently banned in the European Union). We can also provide a healthy and attractive habitat for honeybees. Enter the Yellow Dot Project (yellowdotproject.org). They not only publish a very extensive list of plants that are good food for honeybees, but also have connected with several nurseries in our area to identify for us exactly which plants on their shelves are best for the bees. Fantastic! All we have to do is look for the yellow dot on the plant i.d. marker. What could be easier?
I learned of the Yellow Dot Project on my visit to Annie's Annuals in Richmond last Saturday. Check out the website to see which plants in your garden are already at work helping the honeybees or just to find a "Yellow Dot" nursery to visit.