Thursday, October 30, 2014

Joshua Trees Against Blue Sky

Joshua Trees against blue sky are rugged beauty. They offer tranquil shade in the harsh climate of the Southern California high desert. Here the dry desert air is stifling in summer. However this time of year, the warm dry air is peaceful yet it's powerful enough to remove loads from shoulders. Sitting in the quiet is a welcome relief from the steady noisy hustle of city life. Listening to the silence out in the desert is a fabulous stress reliever. The Joshua trees thrive here, like characters out of a Dr. Seuss book, they stand in frozen poses. 
This is the view from Dad's back porch. Who can blame my parents for moving from the city to this picturesque desert?
This territory has been made famous by Joshua Tree National Park which attracts visitors interested in rock climbing, hiking, and camping. It is home to my father, a Nebraska farm boy turned high school teacher/football coach. Sadly, my mother passed away several years ago but she enjoyed many years of leisure in their desert sanctuary, creating quilts and growing roses despite the harsh climate. I recently visited my father and took some photos of their property and the interesting plants to share with you.
Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia
This beauty is in my parents' front yard. Joshua trees do not have growth rings like other trees so their age is estimated by their height. They are said to grow roughly 1/2 inch per year, and this one is probably 25 ft tall so it's around 50 years old.

They grow from a seed but perfectly timed rains are required for germination and many years can go by without the right conditions, so they grow sparsely.
This is a Joshua tree forrest.
Joshua trees have tough spiky leaves which are as sharp as they appear.
Their leaves were used by Native Americans for weaving baskets and making sandals. If the conditions are just right, blossoms will appear. They are white and grouped in clusters. The dried flowers are seen at the top of this plant.
Because of their unique climate requirements, there are few places where Joshua trees are seen. They grow in Western Arizona's Sonora Desert, and in Southern California in the Mojave Desert and the San Bernardino Mountains.

Here are some of the other interesting plants in my parents' "yard".
Desert bird of paradise with her false eyelashes.
"Touch me, I dare you!"
Dainty wildflower
Tiny wildflowers reminiscent of marigolds
Notice the red rose growing next to the Joshua tree? That is my mother. She's with me as I take these pictures, in my heart as always. She was many many things, in fact she was everything to me, and she was a lover of roses. She planted them, nurtured them and cut them as soon as they bloomed. They were spread throughout the house and brought her such joy. We used to laugh that no rose was left alone outside in her garden. Look at these beautiful roses blooming in late October.
What a treat it was to time my visit when the roses were blooming. It was a wonderful weekend spent with my dear dad as he prepared for his trip.

Dad is taking off to hunt ducks and catch fish, leaving the Joshua trees behind. He does get some strange looks driving down the road with the boat on top of the truck. 
Happy travels, Dad!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to Divide Perennials

Dividing perennials allows you to separate one plant into two or more smaller plants. It's a great way to propagate new plants from the existing ones in your garden. It's also useful in rehabilitating a clump which is too crowded, or a clump which has an unhealthy center. Not all plants can be divided, but this works well with plants whose roots form "offsets", or smaller plants growing at the base of the larger plant. 
You can see in the picture above that this coreopsis clump is actually made up of many smaller plants. The roots may be connected, but the plants can be pulled apart and transplanted. The list of plants which can be propagated this way is very long and includes asters, violets, coneflower, hostas, yarrow and daisies. 

My coreopsis was planted in the corners of some of my vegetable beds to attract bees and other pollinators.
Clearing my beds to make room for my winter garden meant that the coreopsis had to be moved. The clump had suffered toward the end of summer and was not looking very happy with its dry leaves.
To divide the plant, first dig it up and gently loosen and untangle the roots.
Using my fingers, I tenderly pulled apart the plant into 4 pieces, each with at least 3 growth buds and roots attached.
My soil is light and these plants came apart easily. If your soil is more compact or if the plant is large, you may not be able to separate the clump by hand. In that case, use a trowel or shovel to slice the clump into sections.

These four coreopsis plants were transplanted into our empty area next to the fence. 
I sowed wildflower seeds in the empty area and sweet peas near the fence too, so this spring it should look lovely.
When transplanting, dig a hole big enough to allow the roots to be spread out. Bury the plant to the same depth it was growing before. It should end up with the crown even with the surface of the soil.
If the plant will be hand watered (as opposed to a soaker hose), I find it is helpful to create a raised mound around the plant. This keeps the water from running off, and directs the water to the roots.
Fall is the ideal time to divide and transplant perennials because the soil is still warm but the nights are cool. This encourages the plant to put effort into growing roots instead of leaves. The plant will rest over the winter, then when spring comes, the plant will already have a strong root system. It will be ready to grow and flower, attracting those busy bees.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Replacing Clogged Soaker Hoses

Just when I thought I was ready to plant the seeds for our winter vegetables, garden karma said, "Not so fast." The debris was removed, the soil was amended,
and carefully leveled, tenderly smoothed. It was ready for seeds.
The final task before planting seeds was to test the automatic soaker hose system.


Our hard water clogs the tiny pores of the soaker hose, so after 5 minutes there were only a few drops leaking slowly out of the hose. At this rate, the stations would have to run 12 hours to soak a few inches of soil. There are places where the water seeps through and areas where it is dry.
This has been an ongoing saga in my garden. Our water is hard. When it dries, the water leaves hard deposits on everything from dishes in the dishwasher to car windows, and it ruins my soaker hoses. Because this keeps happening, I keep replacing the hoses. Every season I buy new ones and so today I decided to try something else. 

In one bed, I replaced the porous 1/2 inch soaker hose with 1/4 inch drilled tubing. This tubing has holes drilled every 6 inches along one side of the tubing.
The drilled holes are larger so hopefully they will not clog as quickly as those tiny pores of the other hoses. The problem with this type of hose is that the water comes out with some force, a tiny stream.
Because of this, it's important to have the holes pointing down so the water does not spray up into the air and onto the pathways and pavement. This was tricky because the tubing comes coiled and it wants to stay coiled.
The stakes were helpful to keep the tube straight and the holes pointing down.
In order to attach this 1/4 inch tubing to my garden hose, I used a swivel adapter (the white piece) and a 4 port manifold.
The 4 port manifold comes with small black caps that you twist off to attach the 1/4 inch tubing.
This will allow me to run 4 lines off of the one garden hose. According to the packaging, each line should be no longer than 15 ft in order to have enough pressure to function correctly, so I needed 4 lines to cover my bed.
At the end of each line is an end plug which creates the pressure needed to force the water out of the holes in the tubing.
Be sure when attaching the tubing to the manifold that the arrows printed on the tubing point in the direction that the water flows. 
It will be interesting to see how this new drilled tubing works in the garden beds. After running the water for a few minutes, it is clear that this tubing put out a lot more water than the previous porous soaker hoses. The soil under the surface is more evenly moist, but the surface is not moist between the holes.
It seems that I will need to hand water the seeds to keep them moist until they germinate and establish their root systems. For those seeds that should be sowed every 6 inches, I planted them in the moist zones. 

Like any garden project, this is an experiment. I can foresee problems with this system including the tiny streams of water creating holes in the soil or disturbing tender seedlings, or shooting into the air wasting precious water. Time will tell.

I'm curious if any of you have this problem with soaker hoses becoming clogged, and what solutions you have for this issue. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Growing Ginger - My First Time

The ginger in my pantry has started to sprout, so I guess it's finally time to plant some ginger in the garden. I mean, if this rhizome is this determined to grow, it deserves to be planted. 
Ginger is one of my favorite flavors. I love it in Thai vegetable soup, with stir fry vegetables, in carrot juice, and my guilty pleasure is my husband's homemade ginger ice cream. Ginger is something we always have in the pantry since it keeps well when stored in a dry place. 

The health benefits of ginger have been well-studied and include soothing gastrointestinal distress (nausea and gas), boosting immunity, relieving motion sickness and morning sickness, reducing inflammation and fighting cancer. Being a person who lives with chronic joint and muscle pain, I feel that controlling the inflammation in my system helps me manage my pain. Anti-inflammatory medications upset my sensitive stomach, so I choose the natural route to wellness. I prefer delicious ginger over a pill any day.

Ginger tea is my favorite go-to remedy for an upset stomach. Simply peel and slice some ginger and steep it in hot water for a few minutes, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice if you want. There you have it, stomach relief the natural way.

This is my first time planting ginger in the garden, and although early spring is the ideal time to plant it, my nurseryman said it's fine to plant it now in my Los Angeles area garden. I figured it's worth a try since my rhizome is already sprouting, so I did some research and this is what I have learned about growing ginger. 

It grows in tropical zones (USDA Hardiness Zones 7 and higher). In cooler climates it can be grown indoors. You can purchase ginger root in the grocery store. Technically it is not a ginger root that we eat, but rather a rhizome. People refer to it as ginger root, and I'll use both terms. Look for plump roots with multiple "fingers". If there are green tips at the end of the fingers, that is good because those are the growth buds. 
To plant the root, choose a sheltered area. Dappled sunlight is ideal, or plant in partial shade. The plants are sensitive to frost and wind so I chose an area next to a covered brick patio where it will be tucked behind a rose bush and underneath our tangelo tree. 
Ginger was planted where you can see the blue tape covering the hose end toward the left.  My dog approves, Sweet Bessie May.
This is the bed where I recently transplanted some strawberries. Read about transplanting strawberries here.

Ginger prefers rich, light and well-drained soil. It prefers to be evenly moist, and likes humidity. This bed was basically sand, so I added plenty of organic compost. The soil ended up being one part sand and one part compost. This organic compost had chicken manure added so hopefully it will be rich enough. I will continue to mulch the area with homemade compost as needed.

Break apart the ginger into 1-2 inch pieces, each with growth buds. 
After you break it apart, leave the pieces exposed to the air for at least one day. This allows the cut ends to harden so they won't rot.

Planting depth is something that I've found varies by author. Some say to plant no deeper than one inch, some say to plant the rhizomes 3-5 inches deep. I decided to plant mine 2 inches deep.  I spaced the pieces 4-5 inches apart in a clump.
The rhizomes will develop and spread out to create a clump. Apparently they do not mind being a bit crowded so I decided to grow one clump instead of spreading the pieces out more. Being my first experience, I'm looking at this as a bit of an experiment. Maybe I will regret planting them so close together. I've also read that the rhizomes may even push toward the surface of the soil and become exposed which is said to be no problem. 

The foliage grows to 4 ft high and will die back in all zones except zone 10. Since I live in zone 10, I'm hoping for green leaves all year, but we will just have to wait to see.

It takes several months for the roots to grow enough to be harvested. It can be harvested all at once in late summer/early fall once the leaves have turned brown. Simply dig up the clump, remove the foliage, rinse then dry the rhizomes. As you harvest the clump, you can simply break apart some of the fingers and replant them to grow your next crop.

If you are like me, waiting nearly a year to harvest the mature roots will be difficult. The young rhizomes can also be harvested before then if you gently remove some smaller outer pieces without disturbing the plant. These younger parts are less potent, with a more delicate flavor than the fully mature root.

I'm hoping for good ginger growing karma in my little garden! 

p.s. Read an update on how the ginger is growing here.