Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mystery Solved

In June these seeds appeared scattered throughout my property. I mean they were everywhere and I did not know what they were. I posted about it, you can read that post here. I asked for help in solving my mystery and one reader, Michael, suggested they were palm seeds.

Indeed, they are palm seeds. And now I know that November is palm seed germination month in Los Angeles. 
Palm germinating next to rose bush.
They are everywhere, popping up in pots, beds, pathways, cement cracks, and window boxes.

The thing about them is, you have to pull them when they are young or they are a bear to remove. 
My relationship with palms goes way back. I grew up in the Palm Springs area which is famous for its date palms, so you would think I would know a palm seed when I saw one. I guess I never noticed the seeds before.

To me palms are iconic California and make a lovely silhouette against the sky but like jacaranda trees, they are not something I want growing on my property. 
We are finally getting some rain!
They are messy and dangerous. Have you ever heard a palm frond crashing to the ground? It will dent a car, so it would not feel good coming down on your head.  

As in many cities in Southern California, there are palms planted on the parkway in our neighborhood. The nearest palm to me is across the street and yet we must all deal with the mess. These palms are at least 100 ft tall so they are able to spread their stuff all over. Here's our tree so beautifully adorned with palm fronds after recent winds.
And across the street is the mess maker.
Here's a nice collection on the corner of our lawn.
I guess I could gather some more and make a cabana, except I don't want one.

And look anywhere on our property and you will find palms sprouting up. 

Free palm trees at my house! (And every other house in our neighborhood.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Making Bigger Cabbage Row Covers

Want to keep cabbage worms from eating holes in your plants? Me too. I've tried checking the plants daily and removing the worms as they hatch, but miss a few and the next day the plants are half eaten. This year I'm covering the plants with tulle to keep their butterflies from laying eggs on the leaves. No eggs means no worms to destroy the cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower. 
Cabbage worm eggs on the underside of my cabbage leaf. The butterflies are creamy-white with one or two black dots on the wings.
My first attempt at making a cabbage row cover uses bamboo poles and it works well, but it is small. Read about it here.
Arch-shaped cover made of bamboo poles and tulle.
I realized after it was made it that the arched shape reduces the space inside for the plants to grow. What was needed was a cube-shaped cover, and this is the design that came to me early one morning while enjoying my coffee and pondering the plight of my kale. 
The box shape will give my plants more room to grow. Why not dream big?

It's made of metal poles, 20 gauge wire, tulle and small hinged hair clips.
The hair clip secures the tulle to the wire "frame".
The idea is you pound stakes in the corners, then you make the cube-shaped "frame" by wrapping the wire around the bottom very close to the ground. Pull the wire tightly so the frame is not floppy. It helps to wrap the wire tightly around each post to keep the wire from being too loose.
Then wrap wire around the top. I also did a diagonal piece across the top to keep the tulle from sagging.
Here's another example in another bed.
Take care to tuck under the ends of the wire to avoid snagging the tulle.
Arrange the tulle over the "frame". 
Cut the tulle long enough that you have a couple of inches to fold over the wire and secure it with the clips.
The fabric was wide enough to cover three sides and the top, but this side was not covered so I cut another piece to fit with edges overlapping a few inches.
Here's the finished cover. It's tall because I have high hopes for tall kale plants.
You can water right through the tulle or unclip the fabric from the bottom for (relatively) easy access. 

If you decide to make this type of cover, here are some considerations:

Tulle is sold by the yard at most fabric stores and it is usually 54 inches wide. I got mine for less than one dollar per yard. There are two types of tulle; matte and shiny. I chose matte because I didn't want the covers to by shiny. There is no particular reason I chose these colors except I like them.

Measuring your space in advance will help you to decide how to arrange the tulle and how much fabric you will need. It will also help to consider the width of the fabric when designing your frame. 

Try to arrange the tulle so that there are as few cuts as possible to minimize the gaps where insects can get inside.

Tulle is relatively delicate, so avoid draping the tulle over sharp sticks or rough posts which can tear it. Draping it over the wire instead of the posts will make it less likely to tear. In some places you may need to cut holes into the tulle and poked the post through the hole.
The hair clips were purchased at the dollar store, 30 clips for one dollar was a bargain.

I will be interested to see how these hold up in a wind storm. As I was making them I just kept reminding myself that they only have to keep out butterflies, not lions. 

So far, so good. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Making Cabbage Row Covers

Those pesky white cabbage butterflies are fluttering around laying eggs on my cabbages. If left unchecked they will mature into cabbage worms (Pieris rapae) which will eat the leaves. Try as I did I was unable to get a photo of the butterfly but certainly you've seen them, they are everywhere. A small butterfly, they are creamy white with one or two small black dots on the wings. The butterflies lay single eggs on the under side of the leaves. A quick inspection revealed the eggs on the underneath surface of my cabbage leaves.
One way to control this pest is to cover the plants to prevent the butterflies from landing on the leaves and laying eggs. So after carefully removing all the eggs I could find, I made a cover out of tulle and bamboo poles. The tulle was on sale for 89 cents/yard so it was inexpensive. I bought 54 inch wide fabric which turned out to be the perfect width for my bed. These dimensions are what worked for me but obviously you could change the size for your needs. My cover is around 20 inches high and wide. 

I have plenty of bamboo poles because we have it growing in barrels to camouflage an ugly fence. First I removed the side branches.
Because the poles are wider and stiffer at the bottom, they did not want to bend into a symmetric arch. To make a more symmetric arch I decided to use two poles and overlapped the narrow ends about a foot then wrapped wire around to tie them together. This wired section is the top of the arch.
I made 4 of these bamboo poles and trimmed them to around 6 ft long. Next I poked the ends into the soil, spacing the supports about 16 inches apart.
Then I placed the tulle over the supports leaving enough fabric hanging over the ends to gather and secure with wire.
It was my lucky day because the fabric was exactly the right width so I didn't have to trim it. I placed another bamboo pole along the edge to secure the fabric to the ground. I tied the horizontal pole to the vertical supports with wire.
I'm kind of regretting planting garlic around the edges of this bed. I wasn't thinking about cabbage covers when I planted it. See the garlic sprouting?
I'm hopeful that the covers will work and my cabbages can grow without being nibbled by cabbage worms. We'll see. Tomorrow I'll make covers for my broccoli and cauliflower plants too so they will be protected from those fluttering pests.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Planting Bulbs - A Fall Chore for Spring Blooms

Bulbs are wonderful. You plant them once, and they just keep coming back year after year bringing their joy to the garden. With very little care, they will multiply and spread. Over the years as they multiply, you can dig some up and plant them in other areas. This year I've decided to plant more flowers near the vegetable garden. I sowed wildflower seeds in an empty area next to one bed. Sweet peas are popping up in a few places, and today I planted these bulbs. By the time I finally got to the nursery to buy some bulbs, there was only a small selection left. Luckily these pink freesia, white narcissus and yellow Dutch iris are a lovely combination. 

I wanted to plant some bulbs in front of my plumeria since it will be dormant for a period. 
We will have to wait to see if the bulbs bloom while the plumeria is dormant or not. I planted the three types of bulbs together, and grouped them in several places around the backyard. I'm excited to see the pop of color here and there around the yard. 

Here are some tips for planting bulbs.

Dig up the soil to loosen it, add some compost.
Adding bulb food will help to produce the best blooms.
Arrange the bulbs taking care to plant them the depth recommended on the planting instructions. I made an effort to scatter the bulbs randomly rather than spacing them equally. 
This will make the flowers look more natural. Don't crowd the bulbs. Leave space between them because after the bulb blooms, it will produce more bulbs so you want to leave space for the new bulbs. Cover the bulbs with dirt and water them. 

For years to come, I hope to enjoy the combination of pink, yellow and white flowers each spring.
For now, I'll just have to use my imagination.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Growing Garlic

Fall is the perfect time of year to plant garlic. The bulbs will grow roots now. If planted early they will sprout before the frost, then rest during winter. If planted later, they will sprout in spring, and then next summer the garlic will be ready for harvest. It's simple, quick and easy. With little effort, I will have enough garlic to satisfy my garlic-loving family and we won't have any kitchen emergencies where the garlic is gone and the pasta is boring.

It is best to purchase heads of garlic from your local nursery instead of planting what you buy in the grocery store. Grocery store garlic may have been sprayed to keep it from sprouting. Another reason is that there are so many varieties of garlic and you will be most likely to get the cultivars that grow best in your location if you purchase them at your local nursery. Ordering online works too, just be sure to select cultivars that favor the conditions in your garden.

Garlic comes in packages like this, with planting instructions included.
Inspect the bulbs to be sure that the roots have not started to grow from the bottom, 
and the bulbs have not yet sprouted green growth from the top. 
The bulbs should be firm and plump indicating they are fresh. You don't want to buy bulbs that have dried out, and are shriveled and loose inside the white skins.

Each head of garlic has several garlic cloves. 
When you plant the garlic, you break apart the head and separate each clove and plant them individually. Take care to keep the tough outer protective skins intact. Each separate clove will produce one head of garlic. Choose the largest cloves to plant because they will produce the biggest heads of garlic for harvest.

Choose a sunny location with well-drained soil, amended with organic matter. Garlic prefers to be on the drier side rather than in wet soil where it may rot. I'm planting mine along the edges of my raised beds. I've read that planting garlic around the edges will deter critters, and we all want to deter critters. The edges of my beds tend to dry out fastest because I use soaker hoses, so garlic grows well there. 

Don't plant garlic where you have grown plants from the onion family in the past 3 years. Years ago I printed out a couple of lists of companion plants which I keep handy as a reference. Both lists indicate that garlic should not be planted near beans or peas. I usually comply with the list even though I've not really read any studies to see if science confirms the importance of it. I'm not an expert on that subject, but I avoided planting the garlic where my peas are growing. Who wants to tempt bad garden karma?

Dig the area to loosen the soil. Remove any weeds. 
A little bone meal is a good idea. I sprinkle it, then mix it in with the trowel.

Plant individual cloves so the flat root side is pointing down and the tip pointing up.

Plant the cloves 4-6 inches apart, with the tops 2 inches below the surface. Rows should be spaced 10-14 inches. 

Cover them with soil.

Water them and cover them with mulch. Straw works well. Mulching is important to control the weeds as garlic does not produce well if it is competing with weeds. Thick mulch (6 inches of straw) is important in cold weather climates to protect the plants that may sprout before the freezing temperatures halt their growth. In spring, remove the mulch or most of it. Leaving some mulch will help control weeds. Here in my Zone 10 garden, thick mulch is not needed to protect from frost so I just covered mine with compost.

Next spring when the green tops start to grow, fertilize with fish emulsion or bloodmeal or pelleted chicken manure. Eventually woody flower stalks (called scapes) may grow from the largest bulbs. Remove the scapes to encourage the plant to produce larger bulbs. I have read that scapes can be used in cooking although I have not tried it. 

Water garlic deeply as their roots can grow more than 12 inches down. Cut back on the watering in June or when the plants start to turn yellow. This allows the garlic bulbs to firm up before being harvested.

 Start checking for mature heads of garlic in June as the green tops start to turn yellow. Harvest the garlic when the bulbs have formed individual cloves and the outer skin is tough, white and papery. Harvest the bulbs by digging them up instead of grabbing the tops and pulling them up. Pulling them up can damage the protective layers which can cause the bulb to rot. 

Dry the garlic in a well-ventilated, warm, dry place for a few days then gently brush off the dirt and remove the stems and roots. Store in a dark, dry, well ventilated space. If you want to braid the garlic, harvest the plants before the tops dry out.