Monday, June 30, 2014

Plumeria "Delightful" - I Think I'm in Love

It was love at first sight. All plumeria flowers are pretty but this one captivated me. Its name is "Delightful" and it is. Darker pink buds unwind to reveal petals rimmed in pink which fade to white with yellow centers.
And the fragrance is heavenly; sweet and spicy with a hint of lemon. The scent runs away from you. It's strong at first but quickly fades as you sniff the aroma. It leaves you wanting more. Like eating potato chips, you can't have just one. So you remain, taking sniff after sniff.
Plumeria are tropical trees with thick stems, large leaves and clusters of waxy fragrant flowers. They are common in Hawaii and their flowers are often used in leis. In the right environment the trees can grow to 30 ft tall but some varieties are smaller. In my Southern California area they are deciduous, losing their leaves in the winter. They prefer full sun but can take some shade. Well drained soil is important. Water deeply then let the soil dry out a bit between waterings. They do not like soggy soil. Decrease your watering frequency during fall, and stop watering them in winter. Then in the spring when the new growth appears, resume watering. In the spring give them a high nitrogen fertilizer then switch to fertilizer that is high in phosphate. Feed them every few weeks then stop giving fertilizer in Sept as the plant prepares to go dormant.

The best way to propagate plumeria is through cuttings. I visited a woman last week who has a jungle of white plumeria trees in her backyard. She started with one tree and each time she pruned it, she stuck the clippings in the ground. She said she watered them every few days and about 2/3's of the cuttings took root and grew. Her advise was, "Stick it in the ground and leave it alone." She does not fertilize hers and they are gorgeous. I guess her soil already has whatever it is that the plants need because stepping into her yard is like going to Hawaii without the crowded airport hassle.

I have wanted to add a plumeria to my garden for years. They can be very expensive especially for a mature, multi trunk tree. Knowing that young trees may not bloom for a couple of years, I was looking for a plant with multiple branches, and one that was in bloom.
My "Delightful" plumeria replaced my milkweed which became an aphid apartment building.
Then I found my little one which has my favorite flower colors, pink and yellow. One sniff and I was in love. Lucky for me, it was on sale so it was meant to be. She is delightful.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Build a Raised Bed - Andie's Way

My garden has 4 raised beds which I made myself. Luckily for me I spent many, many, many hours of my youth helping my dad as he worked in the garage fixing things or making things like family rooms and such. He taught me to use tools and so much more about life. I'm a lucky one.

This blog is geared toward the beginner with tips I've learned along the way, so parts may seem very basic to those who are experienced with tools. You veterans can skip those parts.

When I decided to put in my garden as a way of dealing with kids who grew up, I just jumped in and figured it out. After some internet research and planning I designed my garden with four beds that are 12 ft long by 4 ft wide. I chose those dimensions because I wanted to maximize my garden space and minimize the space used for paths. Having the beds 4 ft wide enables me to reach the bed from both sides so I don't need to step on the garden soil while working in the bed.

My beds are made of 2 x 6's so they are 6 inches deep. I used 2 x 4's for the posts which are long enough to extend 10 inches into the ground for stability.

Here is what you will need to make one raised bed that is 12 ft long x 4 ft wide x 6 inches deep.

Lumber: Use untreated lumber as treated lumber has chemicals that can leach into the soil.
(2) 2 x 6's 12 ft long
(2) 2 x 6's 4 ft long
(4) 2 x 4's 16 inches long for the posts

(16) Wood screws
Drill with drill bit and screwdriver attachment
Carpenter's square
I didn't take any photos when I made my beds so these pictures are a "reenactment" and I didn't have any 2 x 6's to use. In these photos I used 2 x 4's instead.

On a level area arrange the 2 x 6's. Use the carpenter's square to make sure the wood is at a 90 degree angle. Try to keep the dog out of the way.
Add the post. You are building the bed upside down. That post will be underground when placed in the garden. 
Now drill pilot holes for the screws. Hold the post steady so it doesn't move when you drill the holes. Try to keep the drill bit level so it goes straight into the wood, not at an angle. Drill 2 holes in each 2 x 6.
Drill 2 holes on the first side.
When you drill the holes on the second side, remember to off-set the holes because you don't want to run into the screws from first side.
Drill 2 holes in the second side.
Now remove the drill bit and put on the screwdriver attachment.
Use the drill to screw in the 4 screws. Take care to keep the corner square using the carpenter's square. You will need to really push hard on the drill to push the screw into the wood. If you don't push hard enough the drill bit will slip in the head of the screw and it will strip the grooves in the head of the screw and you won't be able to get the screw in or out. My method is to go slowly and push really hard. If the drill starts to slip then I switch to a screwdriver to finish.

After you have finished the 4 screws you are ready to repeat this at the other 3 corners.

Once the bed is put together you will want to level the area where the bed will be placed. My dad taught me to check if a large area is level you can lay a long 2 x 4 on the ground and place the level on top.

Next ask a friend to help you to lift the raised bed onto the area and lay it right side up. The posts will make a mark where the holes need to be dug. After the holes are dug, use the level again to be sure the bed is level. This is important so water does not run downhill.
Once it is level, fill in the holes and you are ready for your soil.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Case of the Mystery Seeds

These seeds are suddenly all over our yard. They are in the garden, on the paths, on the driveway and on the furniture. They are scattered about, never in clusters. I've never noticed them before and now there are dozens. 
Today's collection of mystery seeds.
They must be from a tall tree nearby but I keep researching different trees that are close and haven't found the source. 

If anyone recognized these seeds, please solve my mystery.

Either that or I may have to plant a couple just to see what I have. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Gardening Despite Back Pain

Being a physical therapist has its advantages. I know a thing or two about managing chronic pain. Today I want to share some thoughts about gardening with back pain.

I've learned about managing pain from practicing my profession for 27 years, and from living with chronic pain most of my adult life. My spinal problems are chronic but I do my best to not let them stop me. I think most people who know me don't know of my pain. I strive to keep it to myself. My family is in on the situation but mostly I really work on the whole grin and bear it model of coping.

Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.

I don't know who said it first, but this statement reminds me that although my pain will not go away, it will also not change me and I will not spread it around.

Being active is essential for me. If I stop moving I hurt more. The problem is, if I overdo activity I hurt more. Over time I have learned my limitations. I have learned to respect my body's ability, but to have realistic expectations of it.

If I pay attention to the cues given by my body I can get lots of work done without more pain. The key is to listen and rest when my body asks for it. When working in the garden I stop and stretch often. Sometimes just getting up and walking around the garden helps to loosen things. Being in one position for too long is not good for me, so I switch it up. For example, I'll kneel to weed for a while then I'll stand and do some pruning then go back to kneeling for more weeding.

Using proper bodymechanics is one of the things I do to protect my back. It means moving in ways that protect my joints, like bending my knees when I pick up something from the floor.

Yesterday I sprayed my melon patch with neem oil. My sprayer has a wand that is about 16 inches long. In order to avoid bending over, I sat upon a low stool. Sitting up straight I extended my arm and sprayed as far as I could reach without bending over. Then I moved the stool and sprayed some more of the vines.

Using a slow forward and backward motion I sprayed one small area at a time to be sure I covered all the leaves, including both the tops and bottoms of the leaves. Moving slowly is much less work than using a quick forward/backward motion. It uses much less energy and is less wear and tear on the joints. The same is true when vacuuming. If you move the vacuum slowly it is able to pick up more dirt than if you move fast. Going slowly you only need to go over it once or twice, not several times. It's more efficient, same with spraying the garden.

If I had stood instead of using the stool, it would have meant squatting and bending over for at least twenty minutes. That would equal pain in my world.

I finished my little garden chore and my back is happy.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Unwinding in the Garden with the Birds and My Pal

Traffic. Rude drivers. Slow drivers. Pot holes. Did I say traffic? Living in the Los Angeles area can take its toll especially when your job entails driving around all day. I'm a patient person, except around 4 pm when driving home through LA traffic. I don't go all road rage and honk (unless it's necessary). I don't yell (usually). I definitely don't flip people off (I'm not crazy). Luckily I have my garden and my dog to help me unwind.

When I get home, my dog has a plan. It's ball time. Bessie is my dog, my friend and enthusiastic ball catcher.

Unfortunately she has a knee problem so she can't play ball the way she would like...leaping and catching the ball high in the air is her favorite thing in the world. Trying to throw the ball lower so she won't jump is my tactic but the problem is, she has only one speed. She goes all out as fast as she can and if she misses the ball she scrambles after it, often skidding sideways. Not great for her knees either, so ball time is short. And her smile says it all. A little catch is better than no catch.

Only after I have satisfied her ball obsession can I sit and relax. Ten minutes sitting in the shade listening to the birds and looking at the garden is all I need to let go of that traffic stress. I can just feel it melt away. Managing my stress is something I take seriously. And reconnecting with nature is my quick fix.

Who needs fancy candles and perfumes when you have roses, gardenias and plumeria in the garden? Often I will pick a flower and just sit and sniff it.

Aroma therapy in its simplest form.

Breathe in the fragrance, breathe out the stress. Works for me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Powdery Mildew Is Not My Friend

Tomato leaf with powdery mildew
It seemed to happen so quickly. The powdery mildew enveloped my tomatillo and started to spread onto my tomatoes. UGH!
Tomatillo leaf with powdery mildew
The tomatillo had been doing beautifully, full of ripening tomatillos. It broke my heart but the plant was so covered with mildew that it had to be pulled. We did gather a couple of dozen tomatillos so it wasn't a complete waste. The bad part is, the tomatoes are starting to get it too.

There's no mistaking the look of mildew on a tomato leaf. The dark area with yellow around it tells the tale. 

On some leaves the white mildew is more obvious.
In addition to the mildew, I have spider mites, those tiny littles pests that want to take over everything in my garden. You can see this poor leaf has both mildew and spider mites. See the tiny white dots in a cluster near the stem? That's the spider mites at work.

So I am learning from my mistakes. I should have cleared away the leaves from the bottom of the tomato plants to provide more air circulation. That would discourage the mildew. I should have pruned the tomatoes instead of just planting them and letting them go crazy. That would have resulted in a more open habit also allowing better air flow. I should not have let the tomatillo grow so close to the tomato for the same reason. I should have been inspecting my leaves more closely for signs of problems, at least 2 times per week. It really pays to get down close to the plants, to look closely. I've learned my lesson.

This is my second year with a vegetable garden and I have so much to learn. Last year I had no problems with my tomatoes. I did have mildew on my melons though. So here's what I did today in the garden to try to get control of this mildew.

I pruned all the affected leaves from the tomatoes and removed all the low level leaves too. Then I removed all the dead leaves and stuff from the ground too. I discarded all this in the garbage, not my compost pile because I don't want those tiny spores infesting my compost. 

Then I sprayed with Neem oil. This is something that is new to me but has been recommended as an organic insecticide and fungicide so it should help with both the mites and the mildew. It is made from the neem tree, and has been used in India for thousands of years. In addition to being used in the garden, it is also used to treat skin disorders like acne and eczema, it is used in toothpaste and shampoo, and for many other uses. It is not toxic to animals, earthworms or bees. 

The next thing on my agenda is spraying the melons with a combination of 1 tbsp baking soda and 1 tsp of dish soap in a gallon of water. I am told that this changes the ph on the leaves which inhibits the mildew from growing. There is no sign of mildew on the melons yet so this is a preventative measure I'm trying.

Hopefully removing the infected leaves, clearing the debris and opening up the bases of the tomatoes, along with the neem oil will keep the mildew in check.

The good news is, I picked 18 ripe tomatoes today! Oh, boy are they tasty.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Garden Foes - Aphids, Spider Mites

Spider mites and aphids...OH MY! The garden foes are alive and well, attacking my innocent plants. 

For the past two years the spider mites have been such a nuisance. They seem to be everywhere, on everything.  The mint plant pictured above is so infested it was pulled out and thrown in the garbage. So sad as it was a new addition which I potted for my husband for his birthday. He loves mint in his tea but the spider mites love it too.

The first sign of spider mites is tiny white spots on the leaves.
If you have great vision, you can see tiny webs created by the bugs. 

I'm told spider mites like hot dry conditions. My Southern California garden is apparently the perfect host as they are thriving. I hose off my plants weekly to try to discourage them as that is what I've read should be done. Is it helping? Hard to tell. I've been reading that rosemary oil will also kill the spider mites but will not kill their natural predators so I may try that as well.

From afar, the melons look amazing, spreading outward with lots of small melons hiding beneath the leaves.
But a closer look shows the truth...aphids galore.
Oh those aphids are such a frustration, aren't they?

Out came the spray bottle. Squirt into it a small amount of dish soap, fill it with water and attack those little garden foes. Soapy water will kill soft bodied pests like aphids and spider mites. The tricky part is the bugs are on the underneath side of the leaves, so you must turn the leaves over to get to them. It turns out killing aphids is a good forearm work out using a squirt bottle. 

It's war!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dream Big - Extending My Tomato Trellis

Trellis needs to be taller.
The time has come to extend my tomato trellis. The vines are 6 feet tall and it's only June. These are indeterminate tomatoes and their trellis is a simple one, but it needs to be taller. I'm dreamin' big.
Extended trellis gives room to grow.
I started my trellis by simply pounding 4 stakes in the ground and adding rows of wire spaced approximately every 6 inches. I use 7 ft metal garden stakes with the "T" at the bottom for stability. They have knobs spaced 6 inches apart and I wrap the wire tightly enough that the knobs prevent the wire from sliding down the stake. I was careful to make the tops of the stakes level so the wire is level which makes it look nicer.

Early in the season I start at the bottom and add a few rows of wire, then as the vines grow, I add more wire. I find spacing the wire 6 inches apart allows great support but also easy access to those huge tomatoes I plan to be picking. 
April 2014
At each end of the trellis, two stakes are placed about 12 inches apart so that after the wire is placed, there is a long cage one foot deep. In this space are two tomato plants. The trellis is about 5 feet long. 

For added stability I tie guide wires from the stakes to the raised beds.

Every few days I go along and push the new growth under the wire to keep it controlled.
Vines poking out
Vines controlled.
That's a fun little chore because it's amazing to see how fast they grow!

The problem with this trellis is that it is too short. It is not as tall as my other tomato and bean trellis which is made of wood. We are at the point in the season where I need to add extensions. Last year my tomato vines grew to 9 ft tall.
Summer 2013, with my tomatoes and sunflowers
This year I decided that I would extend the trellis to around 9 ft high. To do this I added some round garden poles which are 8 ft long. To make them the same height, I marked each pole 3 ft from the top. This mark will line up with the top of the metal stakes.

I wrapped wire tightly around the stake and pole to hold them together. 

Next I will string the wire at 6 inch intervals. Now they have room to grow.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Stevia Reboudiana - Sweetness from the Garden

Who knew I could grow stevia in my Southern California garden? To my surprise, there it was, tucked behind the parsley at my local nursery. I was intrigued to see it growing, having only seen it as a sugar substitute processed into a powder.

Stevia leaves are very sweet, containing glucosides which are 200-300 times more sweet by weight than sugar. The beauty is it has no calories and does not alter blood sugar levels, so it can be used by diabetics and those on a candida diet.

The plant, commonly known as sweetleaf, is a tender perennial which grows in subtropical zones 10 and 11. It prefers full sun or partial shade and grows to 1-2 feet high and wide.

I plan to use it to sweeten tea, or maybe I'll put a leaf in my morning fruit shake. It will be fun to experiment with it to see what other uses I find for this new addition to my garden.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Milkweed Update

What once was covered in pretty yellow flowers...
is now covered with ugly yellow aphids.
And lots and lots of seed pods.
This is my first experience with milkweed. I've been cautioned by my father that it will pop up everywhere if it goes to seed. Weeding is not my favorite chore, so those seed pods will be removed in the next couple of days to prevent them from taking over the garden. 

For curiosity's sake, I tore one open to reveal a load of immature seeds. 
Now I see how it could be a problem. That's a lot of seeds. 

Wanting to attract bees and butterflies, I took a chance and planted the milkweed even though it attracts aphids and can easily spread. 

And it worked! 
The butterflies are all over the plant,

 fluttering around my garden, doing their good work,
and making me smile.

So the milkweed stays, aphids and all.