Time and Temp


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• African daisies
• California Poppy
• Calendula
• Calla Lily
• Narcissus
• Lavander
• Ivy geranium
• Mexican Sage
• Pride of Madera
• Lantana
• Society garlic
• Wild geranium


• Baby arugula
• Onion and garlic greens
• Thyme
• Rhubarb
• Parsley
• Strawberries


Ants in the house, ants in the garden.

Argentine ants. Photo provided by California ANR.

Argentine ants. Photo provided by California ANR.

Those pesky little black ants have been around the house and in the garden, kitchen, and bathroom all summer. They’re looking for sweets and water. They come in when it’s hot; they come in when it’s wet. They crawl up the stems of plants to care for their “herd” of aphids. They use the aphids to provide food  for their young.

There are hundreds of different varieties of ants that hang out in and around our homes. Most varieties are quite harmless and even considered beneficial because they feed on fleas, termites, and other soft-bodied insects. The Argentine ant first invaded North America as a “stowaway” on coffee boats from South America.

The Argentine ant is the common variety that you see walking in a line, carrying bits of food that will help sustain its colony. If you’ve flooded an area that houses an underground ant nest, you’ll see them carrying small white eggs to safety. The Argentine ant loves sweets and sometimes proteins, lives in nests underground, is about 1/8 inch long and brown in color.

Argentine ants ten aphids. Photo by California University at Davis.

Argentine ants ten aphids. Photo by California University at Davis.

The Argentine ant is NOT native and is not considered beneficial. It protects plant pests like aphids, a “plant sucking” insect. They harvest the aphid “honeydew” (a sweet name for excrement) for food supply. Honeydew often leads to ugly sooty mold you find on plants and even on outdoor furniture. Get rid of the Argentine ants and you get rid of “sooty mold”.

Trails of ants traveling up the stems of shrubs, tree trunks, and hummingbird feeders, can be treated safely with a product such as “Tanglefoot”. It’s a sticky substance applied to the stem or trunk of a tree or shrub that ants will not cross.

There are no magic tricks for removing Argentine ants from your property. You probably shouldn’t even try to eliminate them from your entire outdoor area. You’ll want to keep them out of the house for sanitary reasons and for your peace of mind. Exclude them by caulking holes and cracks in the foundation and wooden structures. Store food, especially sweets and protein like dog food in airtight containers. Do not use insect sprays near food items. Wipe ants up with soapy water or diluted vinegar.

Ant stakes containing poison can be placed around garden plants. Photo courtesy of UC Davis.

Ant stakes containing poison can be placed around garden plants. Photo courtesy of UC Davis.

For reducing the number of outdoor Argentine ant colonies, use “baits”. Baits are the only tools recommended by Master Gardeners for managing ants. Bait contains poisons that are mixed with a bit of food that is taken back to the colony to be fed to larvae, and to the queen. According to UC Pest Notes, “Several refillable bait stations are available including the Ant Café, Antopia, Ant-No-More, and KM AntPro. The University of California research with the KM AntPro dispenser has shown that it can be effective when properly installed and maintained outside the home.”

With a little effort we can keep critters, both large and small, at bay and enjoy our gardens and out-of-doors this summer. Keeping tiny pests like ants out of your home and off your plants will take a bit of patience and persistence, but it will make your summer so much happier.

Home-made formula for getting rid of ants outdoors:

Boric acid is a great, natural ant killer. It poisons them from the inside in much the same way that diatomaceous earth does.

Most ants will take some of the boric acid-laced bait back to their colonies where other ants will ingest it and die, allowing you to effectively kill off whole colonies without much effort on your part.

The only downside is that while boric acid is not toxic – it can be harmful if consumed or inhaled by pets so avoid using boric acid-based ant traps in places that your pets can reach.

Now that you know what’s up – here’s how to make a simple boric acid and sugar homemade ant trap, courtesy of CreekLineHouse.com.

Simply mix 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of water and 1 Tablespoon of Borax. Place the solution in an old plastic container and poke holes in the lid so the ants can get or use an empty soda can.

Be sure that wherever you place the poisons and bait, it is cannot be reached by pets who may have a sweet tooth.


The Making of a Mini-Orchard

A vacant lot overlooking the ocean. Soon to be an apple orchard. Small black labradoodle is searching for gophers.

A vacant lot overlooking the ocean. Soon to be an apple orchard. Small black labradoodle is searching for gophers.

We’re starting a mini-orchard on our property in Cambria, California. I promised to buy only 4-5 small apple trees to fill the space. Apples trees with “low chill requirements”  grow well in our cool climate and need little care except for pruning and watering.

We had three ancient apple trees here when we bought the lot and built the house, but they were infected with the bacterial disease, “fire blight”. The leaves of trees infected with fire blight (Erwinia amylovora) have a burnt appearance, The limbs die back and have to removed. Care has to be taken when pruning because the disease enters where the cut is made and travels down the stem and finally into the roots.  Two of the old trees have passed away now and we only have an old Granny Smith and a young “Anna” apple.

We just recently were lucky enough to purchase a small lot next door to our home for a mini-orchard. We’ve been wanting to buy that lot for years because if it were purchased and built upon by others, we would lose our view of the ocean. What a tragedy that would be!

My husband has now put a 6 foot fence around the triangular lot and is building a smaller fence on one side to separate our landscape area. I’ve promised to make this a simple orchard; JUST TREES. No flower beds, no patios, no sitting areas, no chickens, no vegetables boxes, no NOTHING! JUST APPLE TREES! We have over a half-acre of garden now, That’s enough!

May in a Cambria Garden

Simple arbor supports fast-growing coral passion vine.

Simple arbor supports fast-growing coral passion vine.

For many of us in Cambria and along the Central Coast, the most difficult gardening chores like weeding, fertilizing, and planting are finished. Your garden is clean and plants are growing and maturing. Leaves are healthy, the vegetables are blossoming, and summer flowers are beginning to spread their petals.

Vines are climbing and spreading. My husband built (in an afternoon) a small arbor to go over a gate that opens to the open space behind us. He made it out of scrap wood and attached it to the fence posts. He didn’t worry too much about perfection because the Passiflora ‘Coral Seas” (Jamesonii) or Coral Pink Passion Flower Vine will soon cover it.

Look around. Are you missing anything? Does your garden have some sweet-smelling blossoms like heliotrope, jasmine, or tuberose? Are there splashes of vivid color from bougainvillea or coral passion flowers? There’s still time to add a few blasts of color to lift your spirits when “June gloom” hangs heavy. Plant them in the ground or in pots scattered among shrubs.

Plant a few six-packs of Celosia (woolflower or cockscomb), dianthus, lobelia, marigold, petunia, verbena or zinnia, to brighten your summer beds. Try a new variety of an old standby. Remember, part of the fascination of gardening is the element of surprise!

In the warmer interior like Paso Robles, Atascadero, Templeton and the East Bay

*sow beans and cucumber
*set out basil, oregano, parsley, cilantro, and other potted herbs
*pinch back herbs as they grow, especially basil.

Along the coast like Morro Bay, Los Oso, and San Francisco:
*It’s not too late to plant corn, snow peas, and green beans.
*Put in tomatoes now. Plant as deeply as possible in rich soil.                  *Plant greens every few weeks to keep your supply going.

We’ve had late rain so only my seedlings and newly planted shrubs need water. But you’ll want to reset your automatic watering system so that the soil remains moist a few inches below the surface.

In both the interior and along the cool coast:
Feed actively growing plants now if you haven’t earlier in the spring.

Withhold food and water from mature Mediterranean and native plants like lavender. They are going dormant. Thin fruit as it forms to increase size and health.

Conserve water and suppress weeds with mulch. Remember to keep mulch away from the trunks and stems of plants.

Now, stop and smell the roses. Begin harvesting early vegetables like greens and fruits like strawberries and berries. Enjoy the abundance of summer and the beauty you’ve created!

Putting together a new flock

A speckled Sussex hen. One years old.

A speckled Sussex hen. One years old.

Putting together a new flock is not easy and requires patience. We bought two young hens (less than a year old) on a Thursday, and two more hens (10 months old) on a Monday. By then, the first set of two had decided that the coop was THEIRS!!!!!! They did not want any more flock mates. Period!

We bought the first two from a lady that had hand raised them. One, a speckled Sussex was quite striking and the other, a barred rock a nice, healthy hen. Barred rocks are great layers. She wanted them to stay together as they were very bonded.

We brought the two hens home and put them in their new pen. They were a happy pair, scratching in the dirt, dust bathing, and laying in their new nest boxes. Sadly, during those few days, they became very territorial over their new abode.

On the Monday of the next week, we bought two more pretty hens, also 10 months old. This was from a lady who had a chicken-and-egg farm in the south side of the county. I bought a Buff Orpington (love that breed) and a black Easter Egger with the most striking coloring. They were a bit smaller than the first hens I had bought and appeared less mature.

On the first evening, we put Team #2, the Buff Orpington and the Easter Egger, on the roost after dark. In the morning, there was chaos. Chasing, pecking, squawking! In the past week, there were times during the day when things seemed quiet, but yesterday I watched on the hencam as Zelda (the Easter Egger) was literally dragged from the nest box when she was trying to lay her pretty blue-green egg.  I am “chicken savvy” enough to know that they are establishing their “pecking order”. But I’ve also had the experience of dealing with hens that are quite vicious. It may or may not work with these four pretty girls.

Wildflower show in Cambria, Saturday and Sunday

You’ll soon get to see close-up, the wonderful wildflowers that are blooming on the hills and in the valleys, at the Annual Wildflower Show in the coastal town of Cambria. I’ve been amazed in the past years how volunteers can gather fresh sprigs of these delicate flowers, put them in water, and present them to the public for inspection. Not to be missed!
See you there!



Wake up to roosters crowing

Gophers Live Underground

Gophers live underground in tunnels and runs.

Gophers live underground in tunnels and runs.

Ever wonder where pocket gophers go when they burrow underground? They have quite a complicated system of tunnels, runways, a nest for babies, a pantry for storing food, and even a toilet area for waste. Pretty civilized, if you ask me.

We normally don’t see the actual gopher, only the dirt mounds of soil that has been pushed up above the surface and an occasional hole which serves as their escape route. But as you can see from the diagram below, the pocket gopher has a pretty cozy abode.

Where do gophers go when it rains? In heavy flooding, they drown. On an ordinary rainy day, they simply hunker down and tolerate it.

Cambria’s Art and Wine Festival 2017

Friday, January 27, Saturday the 28, and Sunday January 29, 2017 

This year is the 15th Annual Cambria Art & Wine Festival sponsored by the Cambria Chamber of Commerce & Allied Arts Association.

Cambria Art and Wine Festival 2017 - Winning poster by Michael Ackerman

Cambria Art and Wine Festival 2017 – Winning poster by Michael Ackerman

Friday – January 27

The fun begins on Friday at 10:00 am with Special Shopping Deals and Entertainment throughout the Village.The “Art, Wine & All That Jazz”

Kick Off Party on Friday night from 6-10pm includes the Art Show Preview, Wine & food Pairing and Entertainment.

Saturday – January 28

More shopping deals, demonstrating artists throughout the village.

The Veterans’ Hall is open from 10am-4pm for the Art Show/Silent Auction.

Central Coast wine tasting for The Main Event is on Saturday from 1-4:30pm and includes the Art Show/Silent Auction (Veteran’s Hall), Wine Tasting, Gourmet Food and Demonstrating Artists at the Veterans’ Hall (West Village), the Cambria Historical Museum (East Village), and the Cambria Center for the Arts (mid-town).

Sunday – January 29

On Sunday, the shopping specials continue throughout the village. Enjoy the Artists’ Faire, Barbeque & Raffle Drawings at the Veterans’ Hall. Meet the Artists and enjoy their work/reproductions as you sip yet more wine from our local vineyards.

Tickets for the event are available at the Cambria Chamber, 767 Main Street. Visit http://www.CambriaArtWine.org for more information and to purchase tickets

Contact: Cambria Chamber of Commerce Phone: 927-3624 www.cambriaartwine.com


2017 Art & Wine Festival Poster Image Winner:


“I began painting as therapy. I call painting ‘suiting up and going in.’ I make things for one purpose. To be alive. I don’t care about the form or the line or the color. I want it raw like it really is. It’s a constant struggle to get out of the way. All of today’s accomplishments are tomorrow’s uselessness – for practical reasons, for political/social reasons, for spiritual reasons.”

Michael Ackerman





Aphids pesky suckers on plants


Aphid appear on a yellow dahlia in mid winter along the coast. More will appear in early spring.

Aphid appear on a yellow dahlia in mid winter along the coast. More will appear in early spring.

Wandering around the garden this morning in “after-rain moisture”, I found aphids on yellow dahlia blossoms that are already leafed out and blooming. They are confused by the rather warm winter we are having after a five-year drought and are at it early this year. Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects with long, slender mouthparts that pierce stems and leaves, sucking out plant juices. Aphids come in green, yellow, brown, red, or black depending on their species and food source. Some appear waxy or wooly. There are dozens of different kinds of aphids in California. Some have adapted to only one species of plant and are found only on that particular vegetation. They often leave behind curled, distorted leaves and sticky “honeydew” (or poop). Don’t let the name fool you. Honeydew is a “sweet” name for excrement.

Is this an early sign that we are going to have a lot of aphids in the spring? Best be prepared. Control of aphids can be difficult, partly because the females can give birth to up to 12 offspring a day without mating (don’t ask me how they do it!)  Some species of aphids mate and lay eggs in the fall and overwinter, attacking in the early spring. Biological control (letting predators like ladybugs control them) is best because insecticides wipe out natural predators such as parasitic wasps that lay eggs inside an adult aphid and leave their young to feast on aphid “innards”. If you spray and kill all the good bugs, you have nothing to fight the bad bugs when the insecticide no longer works. Insecticides last only a few weeks and I don’t believe in systemic insecticide as the soil becomes contaminated. The best plan of attack is to hose (gentle squirt) aphids off as soon as you see aphids and keep at it once a week. Insecticidal soap or a spray bottle filled with 1/8 cup of canola oil) can be helpful in reducing aphid population.This is my favorite home-made recipe for an insecticide.

If you look closely, you’ll see tiny ants around the aphids. The ants are gathering the “honeydew” from the aphids, eating it, and taking it back to their nests for food for their young. Ants take care of the aphids, moving them when necessary for fresh food. Try to reduce your ant population and you’ll reduce you aphid population.

If you are intent on reducing your aphid population with a commercial insecticide, then be wise about what you use and read my blog entry on Good bugs and Bad buds (beneficial insects). Insecticidal soaps and oils are the best choices for most situations. Oils may include petroleum-based horticultural oils or plant-derived oils such as neem or canola oil. These products kill primarily by smothering the aphid, so thorough coverage of infested foliage is required. Apply these materials with a high volume of water. Soaps, neem oil, and horticultural oil kill only aphids present on the day they are sprayed, so applications may need to be repeated. Although these materials can kill some natural enemies that are present on the plant and hit by the spray, they leave no toxic residue. They don’t kill natural enemies that migrate in after the spray so don’t significantly effect the natural balance of your garden.

A daily walk through your garden allows you to stay on top of insect infestations.  The best defense against insect pests is to keep a garden free of ants that nurture and protect these sucking insects. Gardens need to be kept in balance with good bugs controlling bad bugs. Encourage birds, frogs, spiders and beneficial insects. Healthy plants can tolerate a moderate number of sucking insects. Water plants appropriately and feed minimally as new, tender growth attract sucking insects. For more information on controlling aphids in your garden go to: UC Integrated Pest Management Website IPM. You’ll find out more than you ever wanted to know!


Resolutions to make gardening easier

Planting native plants that reseed themselves and are drought tolerant make gardening easier.

Planting native plants that reseed themselves and are drought tolerant make gardening easier.

Winter chores are nearly done. While you and your garden are at rest, you can take a break and think of the many ways to make gardening easier and more enjoyable in the coming year.

I’ve planned some changes. I’ve removed some plants that are high maintenance and always thirsty and I’m happy with the results. There are some other ways to simplify garden routines, making it easier on our bodies and less demanding on our time.

Here are a dozen resolutions that will make gardening easier and be kinder and gentler to the earth:

1. I will not be seduced into buying pretty plants that need constant deadheading. I WILL keep African daisies, that bloom year around, and lavender, which I love, and use hedge clippers to keep them shapely and in bloom.
2. I will divide and replant plants that give color with little care and water, like society garlic, coastal irises, and daylilies,


Drought tolerant plants save water and time to make gardening easier. Australian plants like the Kangaroo Paw are drought tolerant.

Drought tolerant plants save water and time to make gardening easier. Australian plants like the Kangaroo Paw are drought tolerant.

3. I will be more practical in growing edible plants. I’ll plant edible greens on a staggered schedule in my vegetable boxes, planting a small area each month. After all, how much lettuce, arugula, and spinach can two people eat?
4. I’ll NOT grow organic vegetables that I can buy at a reasonable price.
5. I’ll sprinkle wildflower seeds before each rainstorm. What am I saving them for?
6. When I feel the need for an upper body workout, I’ll get out my hula hoe and remove those tiny weeds in the pathways and beds before they get too big to pull.
7. I’ll remember that disturbing the soil when it is wet creates an unnatural environment for micro-organisms that are necessary for healthy plants.


8. I will mix compost into any soil in which I am working at a rate of 50/50. Native plants are best planted in native soil with no soil amendment.
9. I will not use fertilizer unless needed. Over-fertilizing is unhealthy for plants and the environment. I will establish a schedule for fertilizing and stick to it.
10. I’ll use minimal insecticides knowing that sprays and systemic insecticides impact the natural balance of my garden, and often kill as many beneficial insects as they do pests.


Wildflowers reseed themselves each year saving time and making gardening easier.

Wildflowers reseed themselves each year saving time and making gardening easier.

11. I will not buy plants solely because they are challenging to grow. I don’t need any more challenges, thank you!
12. I will leave deciduous leaves and pine needles that have fallen from trees to decompose and nourish the soil. I’ll clean up diseased leaves as soon as possible.

I’ve resolved to relax and enjoy the garden that I have. I’ll spend time each day appreciating my natural surroundings. I’ll resist the urge to pull weeds and be content during this down time to breathe in the fragrance and moist air.

Here’s wishing you all a lush and abundant coming year.