Garden Compass

compassI have a new job, and I love it. It involves identifying plants and finding out what ails them, quite a bit similar to what a master gardener does. Sure there are frustrations…

What plant is this? I stare at the green blob in the photo, frustrated that the cell phone camera focused on the fence in back rather than the leaves in front. Is it a shrub or a tree? How can I possibly identify it if I can’t even see it?

What will this seedling grow into? Is it a weed? There are two cotyledons and two true leaves, and they look like every other seedling in my book.

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In With the Old?

Lettuce @BF 2008may30 LAH 003
Heirloom ‘Freckles’ Lettuce

“Heirloom seeds are better, right?” It’s a question I hear a lot when I’m teaching classes on growing your own veggies. Just the term “heirloom” makes us think of precious family treasures, fine antiques. “Heirloom seeds” is a phrase that sells and many seed companies take full advantage of it.

Heirloom vegetables (or flowers) are varieties that have been in cultivation a long time—decades, if not centuries—and are still being grown today. They’re what your great grandmother would have sown in her garden. They’re the antiques of the gardening world.

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IPM: Resistant Varieties

dbg_lah_6794Is your garden being bugged? While 95% of all insects are either beneficial or benign, that last 5% can eat us out of house and home—or at least out of cabbage and broccoli. If insect invaders are on the attack, sometimes you just have to fight back.

Pests may be persistent, but we gardeners are not helpless. I like to remind myself that I am smarter than an aphid and more cunning than a flea beetle. When it comes down to a battle for the harvest, there are lots of tools at our disposal. As a master gardener, I was taught the principles of Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. Rather than just reaching for a spray can, this approach is multifaceted. There are many ways to outwit a weevil.

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Ick—Ticks

no-ticksOne lovely afternoon many years ago, Pete and I were enjoying an outing to the slough at the mouth of the Salinas River, in central California. The trail was somewhat overgrown, and we were pushing through tall weeds looking for birds and other wildlife, when I suddenly realized there was a large, red tick crawling up his shirt.

Knowing that ticks are arachnids (fascinating creatures that nonetheless give me the willies), and having heard about all the diseases they carry, I calmly alerted shrieked at my husband and started flailing at his back. As that tick was dislodged, I noticed another one on his thigh… and another, and another…  when I suddenly realized that if he was covered with ticks, then I was probably covered with ticks….

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Pestilence

cucumber-diseased-leaves_blkforest-co_lah_6767-1My cucumbers are sick. As far as I can tell (although I’m not 100% certain), they’re suffering from something called Alternaria Leaf Blight. But no matter what the particular fungus is, the leaves have expanding brown spots and are beginning to yellow and die, starting from the roots and working their way upward. New fruit is being aborted. It’s sad—very, very sad.

I don’t often have to contend with diseases in my garden. Good horticultural practices lead to healthy plants, and healthy plants resist disease. However, given our erratic weather and cold nights, I grow my cukes in my little greenhouse. Because options are so limited, I plant them in the same spot year after year. Even though I renew the nutrients in the soil, fungal spores accumulate, and now I’m dealing with the unhappy result.

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Green Solutions to Garden Pests

grasshopper-bf-lah-007Oh no! My organic garden is being consumed by organic bugs! Now what do I do?

Green is definitely the color of the decade, and more and more gardeners are turning to organic gardening principles for their landscapes and kitchen gardens. But what do you do when the hordes attack? Just because your harvest is in danger of premature consumption, doesn’t mean you have to abandon all your “green” principles. You are not defenseless!

Before reaching for the sprayer, consider all aspects of the problem. Chemicals, even organic ones, are only one weapon in your arsenal.

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