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Milkweed for Monarchs – Native or tropical?

Pink blossoms of the "Showy" milkweed, native to California.

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) flowers.

Much of the monarchs butterflys’ food source is being destroyed by drought and spraying along roadways here in California and along the Central Coast. Gardeners want to help by planting milkweed (the host plant of the monarch) in their gardens. Before you plant milkweed seeds or seedlings, know which variety is best to feed monarchs. There are varying opinions on this subject. Native milkweed is considered invasive in some areas. But contained in our gardens, native milkweed is not likely to present an “invasion” problem.

Showy milkweed plant

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) plant, is a native to California.

Some scientists recommend planting only native milkweed in California gardens like; Asclepias californica (California milkweed), Asclepias cordifolia (purple or heartleaf milkweed), Asclepias fascicularis (narrow-leaved milkweed), and Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed). They believe exotic (non-native) milkweeds may cause some monarchs to loiter and avoid migrating and become infected with harmful parasites. Because non-native milkweeds are perennial and don’t die back, they tend to pass parasites on to monarchs more readily.

Monarch on milkweed bloom.

A monarch getting nectar from a “showy” milkweed flower.

The loveliest of the California native milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is call ‘Showy’. Its blossoms are carnation-scented, a rosy mauve. Monarchs, however, seem to prefer “showy’s” homelier stepsister, the narrow-leafed milkweed (fascicularis). Hide its rather plain looks behind native irises or shrubs in your garden.

If you have planted a non-native species of perennial milkweed and REALLY want to keep it, cut it to the ground several times a year. This keeps it healthy and helps to kill the parasites that infect the monarch. “Going native”, of course, is always safer.

For information and pictures of the California milkweed, go the Xeres website. You’ll be inspired!

Gardening in February along the Central Coast

Pink coral flower of Passiflora jamesonii.

Passion flower ‘Coral Seas’. Attractive to hummingbirds.

February is here and it’s time to begin gardening along the coast. We’ve had a bit of welcome rain and I can’t stop digging around in that blessed moist earth, planting some of my favorites. Don’t be afraid to plant in the month of February near the ocean, inland you must wait until all chances of frost are over. Until then, you might satisfy yourself by putting in some bare root roses or fruit trees that will not be harmed by late frost.

Along the coast it’s full speed ahead! As I browse through the nursery, I can’t resist a lovely Cecile Brunner rose. I lost a potato vine; one that nearly covered our chicken coop and run. I’m going to replace it with a Brunner rose. I have found the Cecile Brunner climbing rose to be nearly indestructable. By the way, Cecille Brunner was a woman. It can survive nearly any condition as long as you are up to keeping it contained so it doesn’t crawl through the shakes of your house and join you for dinner.

I also bought two Passion Flower vines, Passiflora ‘Coral Seas” (jamesonii), for the back fence. I’ve never gotten any vine to survive on that fence due to gophers and lack of water but I don’t want to give up. We have a passion flower along our fence out on the road and while the deer stop to nibble it occasionally, it grows beautifully along the top with lovely striking flowers that bloom nearly year-around. We’ll give it a try along the back fence. Learning from our previous lesson, the vines are being planted in “gopher baskets” (or some kind of pest management) this time around. For ideas see Pest Control Tips. And of course, I’m replacing some lavender plants. Six tiny plants to fill in where others that have died. The trouble with lavender is, it only “lives well” for about six years, then declines. I love lavender, though, it’s drought-tolerant and will only need a bit of water the first summer.

February along the central coast means that some chores that are done now will save you time later. Keep after those pesky weeds. They’re easy to pull when small and while the soil is moist. Prune hydrangeas and fuchsias before they produce new leaves.

Pink coral passion vine need little water once established .

Passion Vine, Pasiflora ‘Coral Seas” (jamesonii). Droughr-tolerent, fast growing. Good on fences.

Fertilize plants with slow release fertilizers like bonemeal, cottonseed meal, and well-composted manure. Save the chemical fertilizers for later if you must. Feeding plants too heavily, too early, may shock them into leafing out or flowering before “it is their time”. Fruit trees, however, appreciate a feeding with a balanced commercial fertilizer (like 12-12-12). Do not feed Mediterranean plants. They are not hungry! Cut back perennial grasses as they die down. Shear down to about 4″ to 6″ or dig up and divide.

You can plant now along the coast and in some inland areas. Prepare your soil, then put in seeds of beets, carrots, lettuce, and snow peas. You can plant seeds of parsley, leek, turnips, garlic, shallots, and bulb onion sets.

You can begin planting spring bulbs in February. Calla lilys, cannas, dahlia, daylily, bearded and Dutch iris, and gladiolus are available and ready to be put out.

I’ve been rushing out to plant between our lovely light rains. I just hope it continues. Gardeners are such optimists!

To see and read about passion flowers and fruits go to R.S.Landscape Design at http://rslandscapedesign.blogspot.com/2011/04/passiflora.html.

 

 

Cambria’s Art and Wine Festival 2016

Come join us in Cambria for three days of wine tasting events.

Come join us in Cambria for three days of wine tasting events.

 

I know some of you come to my Central Coast Gardening blog to see what events are coming up in Cambria. Just letting you know that Cambria’s Art and Wine Festival is happening this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, January 29 – 31 in our little “Village by the Sea”.

 

For $30 you will be able to stroll and taste all three days and participate in three main pours in the Veterans Memorial Building, Cambria’s Center for the Arts, as well as the Saturday art show and Artist’s Faire. Sound like a nice weekend? What an excuse to come and enjoy Cambria.

 

While you’re here, drive around and take a look at the green hills and gardens.  Find out more about this upcoming event at:

Cambria Art & Wine Festival
January 29, 30 & 31
Cambria, California
CambriaArtWine.org
http://CambriaArtWine.org

 

 

 

 

Preparing fresh pumpkins after a “bumper crop”

A neighbor admires a big white pumpkin.

A neighbor admires a big white pumpkin.

We had a “bumper crop” of pumpkins this year. Not wanting to waste these nutritious vegetables and needing to include more vegetables in our diets, I’ve been experimenting with produce (such as the orange and white pumpkins) from the garden. I’ve come up with some great recipes (other than pumpkin pie) for both humans and dogs. But before you use pumpkin, a little preparation know-how is involved. Preparation is really quite simple and worth the effort. You’ll get many delicious meals from this beautiful vegetable.

Pumpkin halves ready for cutting into cube and roasting.

Pumpkin halves ready for cutting into cube and roasting.

Before you comment that the pumpkin is really a fruit, squash, or a gourd, I checked it out. Using Webster’s Dictionary, the correct answer is-all of them; fruit, vegetable, squash, and gourd. Technically, all of the descriptions fit the pumpkin in some way.

Getting back to preparing the pumpkin, the easiest way to cook a pumpkin is to first wash it well. Lay the pumpkin on its side and cut it across. Scoop out the seeds. I use an ice cream scooper to do this. Lay the half-pumpkin cut side down on a piece of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350º for about an hour or until it is tender when pierced with a fork.

Bake pumpkins in the oven then scoop out contents.

Bake pumpkins in the oven then scoop out contents.

Let cool a few minutes then scoop our the “meat” of the pumpkin, leaving the shell for the compost bin. Mash the pumpkin, adding a little salt and pepper and butter if you wish. It is really delicious like this; similar to baked hubbard squash. A great winter side-dish.

Another easy-to-prepare roasted pumpkin dish requires peeling it first. Now this is no easy task. You need a good, sharp, vegetable peeler. I didn’t have one. So I went looking. On Amazon, I found a peeler/julienne that I also use for zucchini spaghetti, that easily tackles this chore. It’s called Firstchefpro Ultra Sharp Dual Julienne Peeler & Vegetable Peeler, Stainless Steel. This little guy is extremely sharp and works well on any kind of squash. It take off the tough peel of a pumpkin in a jiffy, and that was what I was looking for.

Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake.

Pumpkin chunks can be roasted in the oven.

After peeling the pumpkin cut into 1 – 1 ½ inch pieces. Put in bowl.

Add:
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
Mix thoroughly.
Spread out on a foil lined cookie sheet and roast for 1 hr. at 350º.

Sprinkled with pepper and a few herbs or even cinnamon, this makes a lovely side dish. It is also easy to freeze and can be brought out and warmed as needed. You can also puree these chunks in a blender or food processor and use the puree in pie or custard.

Don’t throw those unwanted pumpkins away. They can provide yellow vegetables for you and your family year-around.

 

Japanese Tendergreen Mustard Spinach “Komatsuna”

Gathering large mature leaves of Komatsuma for salad or soups.

As it turns out, tendergreen mustard spinach, also referred to as “Japanese mustard spinach” and “komatsuna”, is actually not a spinach but in the Brassica family. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale are also in the brassica family and are often called cruciferous (think crunchy) vegetables. They’re low in calories and fat and full of fiber and vitamins.

I’m a huge fan of komatsuna or Japanese mustard spinach, as well as “red” or purple komatsuna (which has a slighter “hotter” spicy taste, because it’s easy-to-grow in any garden or pot. It does not rush to go to seed. It can be planted year-around and I can harvest for months from my beds or pots, particularly in the winter. You can harvest it one leaf at a time to add to your lettuce salads.

 

 

Labradoodle "Tillie" loves greens from the garden.

Labradoodle “Tillie” loves greens from the garden.

 

 

 

Tendergreen mustard grows to maturity in less than 40 days, requires little care, can take cold weather as well as heat (although it WILL bolt in hot weather and go to seed). It’s drought tolerant and can be sown and grown year-around in mild climates.

 

 

 

Husband Don and I are trying to eat more vegetables. We’ve been buying and eating root vegetables from the Cambria Farmers Market. But a daily salad is a must for us so I’ve been harvesting tendergreen mustard and purple Japanese mustard, planted in the same bed and adding it to our nightly salad.

 

Penelope takes a bite or two of the tendergreen spinach.

Penelope takes a bite or two of the tendergreen spinach.

Tendergreen mustard is a Japanese green that can be eaten raw or cooked. It has thick, smooth, glossy green leaves, oblong in shape. The Japanese purple mustard is widely used in Asian countries both in stir-fry and in salads and soups, adding color to your salads. Its tender leaves, as well as its flowering stems, are used raw or cooked and have a flavor between mustard greens and cabbage. It can be harvested at any stage of growth.

 

Tendergreen mustard (Komatsuna) can be grown in the ground or in pots, in full sun to light shade. Tendergreen mustard requires nitrogen so prepare the soil with compost and use nitrogen fertilizer as the plant matures. It prefers moisture-retentive, well-drained soil. Plant small areas in succession throughout the year to keep your supply constant.

“Good” Bugs Control “Bad” Bugs

A syrphid fly looks like a small bee and eats pollen. Its larva eat tiny sucking insects Photo by UC IPM, by Jack Kelly Clark.

A syrphid fly looks like a small bee and eats pollen. Its larva eat tiny sucking insects. Photo for UC IPM, Jack Kelly Clark.

Get to know beneficial insects and their larva (good bugs) that live in your garden. Become familiar with their appearance and what flowers and plants they find attractive. “Good bugs” do not eat flowers and leaves, they prey on destructive insects, considered “bad buds”, and their larvae, and they will help to keep your garden in balance without the use of insecticides.

An important beneficial insect is the syrphid fly. It resembles a bee  and is sometimes called a sweat bee or hover fly. It darts about sipping nectar from garden flowers. Its larvae are important predators of thrips, mites, scales, and aphids.

 

Tiny parasitic wasps lay their eggs on insects in the garden. The larvae from the eggs feed on the insect, destroying it. These tiny wasps don't sting and are very beneficial.

Tiny parasitic wasps lay their eggs on insects in the garden. The larvae from the eggs feed on the insect, destroying it. These tiny wasps don’t sting and are very beneficial. Photo from UM extension.

 

Parasitic wasps comprise many species from nearly microscopic to 3/4 inches long. Parasitoids are insects that kill their hosts by laying eggs on their host. The larvae then feed on it, killing it. The braconid wasp lays eggs on tomato hornworms, as well as on, or in, the bodies of aphids, cabbage loopers, and whitefly larvae. Look closely at the hornworm on the left and you’ll find a tiny wasp emerging from eggs that are living on the worm.

 

 

 

 

A lacewing larva is sometimes called the "aphid lion". It has a voracious appetite for aphids and soft bodied insects.

A lacewing larva is sometimes called the “aphid lion”. It has a voracious appetite for aphids and soft bodied insects. Photo from UNebraska

 

Lacewings, tiny flying insects with white “lacy” wings, and lady beetles are two easily identified examples of beneficial insects that control “bad bugs” while in the larval stage, and to some degree in the adult stage. Lacewing larvae eat aphids, thrips, mites, mealybugs, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects. The convergent lady beetle (commonly called ladybugs) has a voracious appetite for aphids, especially in the larval stage of development. In their lifespan of about a year, ladybugs can eat 5,000 aphids. Their larvae resemble a ½ inch spiny black “alligator” and they can attack and devour aphids at a remarkable rate.

 

The ladybug larva looks nothing like the "lady". He devours aphids and their larvae in astonishing quantities. He is considered very beneficial.

The ladybug larva looks nothing like the “lady”. He devours aphids and their larvae in astonishing quantities. He is considered very beneficial. Photo from UC.

 

There are many other beneficial insects, called parastoids, that prey on bugs. The minute pirate bug, spiders, fungus gnat predator, and beneficial nematodes play large parts in keeping your garden in balance. Encourage these “good guys” by planting plants that will attract them – trees, shrubs, and especially flowers.

 

 

The Minute Pirate Beetle eats small insects he finds among and on plants in the garden. He's considered very beneficial.

The Minute Pirate Beetle eats small insects he finds among and on plants in the garden. He’s considered very beneficial. Photo from UC.

 

Plant flowers that allow easy access to nectar. Generally, the same plants that attract parasitoids will nourish lacewings and ladybugs as well. Plant sweet alyssum, cilantro flowers, yarrow, carrot, celery, chervil, dill, fennel, lovage, parsley, as well as sunflowers, marigolds, zinnia, aster, and daisies. Attract beneficial insects to your garden and perhaps they’ll stay for lunch!

For a complete list of of predator bugs, parastoids and insects they control go to the UC Davis website

 

Pinedorado Parade Winner, Cambria Garden Club

The Cambria Garden Club "floats" by becoming the 2015 Pinederado Sweepstakes winner.

The Cambria Garden Club “floats” by becoming the 2015 Pinederado Sweepstakes winner.

The Cambria Garden Club is a 50 year old organization of plant and garden lovers. These 25 women contribute to the community with beautification projects, financial support to the Lions Club, and student scholarships to kids going off to colleges. Each year they propagate plants to sell in the “plant booth” on the Pinedorado grounds, and plan an overnight trip (on a bus) to tour gardens in California. A little time for “shopping” is thrown in. The public is invited on this trip and it’s loads of fun.

 

Cambria Garden Club members wear hand-painted coveralls.

Cambria Garden Club members wear hand-painted coveralls.

This year, The Cambria Garden Club CGC created, designed, and constructed a float for the annual “Pinedorado Parade”; the theme being “Our Kind of Town”. Pinedorado, held on all three days of Labor Day weekend, is a big “happening” in the town of Cambria.

"Deer Away" on hand-painted overalls.

“Deer Away” on hand-painted overalls.

Nearly every organization participates. The public come from miles around to eat grilled steak and chicken, play carnival games, and let their children ride in little metal cars and a train like the ones had in the 40’s. Locals all turn out with our chairs and dogs to socialize and watch as the  high school bands march and hand-made displays “float” by. This year there were over 40 entrants in the parade and the women of The Cambria Garden Club took home the “Sweepstakes”. This is real small-town, funky, old-fashioned fun. It happens every year on Labor Day Weekend.

 

Succulents planted in driftwood.

Succulents planted in driftwood.

 

Propagated succulent potted by Cambria Garden Club.

Propagated succulent potted by Cambria Garden Club.

 

Succulents propagated on driftwood.

Succulents propagated on driftwood.

 

 

Australian Labradoodle Happenings

Five Australian labradoodles visiting for a playdate. From left: Mattie, Madelyn, Chloe, Tillie, Cocoa.

Five Australian labradoodles visiting for a playdate. From left: Mattie, Madelyn, Chloe, Tillie, Cocoa.

Our Australian labradoodles are very social. They have friends just as we do. They have their “walking” buddies that they greet each morning as we take our walk on the ranch trail overlooking the ocean, and they also have labradoodle friends that they enjoy having a playdate with every few months. We’ve also kept in contact with the two puppies from our litters that are residents of our little town of Cambria.

 

 

"Treats everyone!"

“Treats everyone!”

Chloe tells "Mom" a secret.

Chloe tells “Mom” a secret.

We had a gathering of humans and labradoodles at our house recently. There is alway the usual frantic display of excitement as each pooch arrives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They start their socializing out on the deck and do some exploration of the garden.
The chickens are a bit of a distraction. We lock the hens in their outdoor coop when visiting dogs are here to keep them safe.

Once they’ve checked out the garden and run full speed in circles around its perimeter to burn off some energy, they usually settle down on the deck with the humans. It always amazes me how they get along with each other, enjoy each other’s company, and how attached they are to their owners.

"Who's missing. Come on Madelyn, were getting our pictures taken!"

“Who’s missing. Come on Madelyn, were getting our pictures taken!”

Feeding a Citrus Tree

 

A young lime tree needing nitrogen.

A young lime tree needing nitrogen.

Citrus trees grow well in parts of San Luis Obispo County. In some of these areas, oranges and grapefruit are downright sweet! But my experience growing citrus in Cambria, so close to the ocean, tells me that it doesn’t get hot enough here to sweeten citrus fruit. Lemons and limes, however, don’t need to sweeten and do well in cool climates.

I had a lovely little lime tree that I lost to the drought last summer. I was known for making delicious Margaritas with our fresh limes. But alas, with the restriction on watering our landscape, the little tree declined and we finally removed it.

Don brought home a “pretty little lime tree” in the back of his pickup truck that he just “happened to see” when doing the Costco shopping. I’m a little skeptical about keeping the lime tree alive and flourishing with our restricted water, but I’m going to “do my best” to put limes back on our table and in our Margaritas.

Citrus are heavy drinkers and eaters too. They need to be fed regularly (at least twice a year). When young, small doses of nitrogen, every few months will keep them green. Once mature, a citrus in the home garden needs about 1 pound of nitrogen (I use fish emulsion) per year and some trace minerals.

Nitrogen deficiency shows up as pale leaves, not the dark green that you’d expect from a citrus tree. Compost is a great, slow release fertilizer. Apply compost (high in nitrogen) around the base of the tree (a few inches away from the trunk) twice a year. That will provide the tree with nitrogen all year around.

 

 

Leaves show dark green veins.

Leaves show dark green veins.

Leaf shows magnesium deficiency.

Leaf shows magnesium deficiency.

Zinc deficiencies turn citrus a mottled green and yellow.

Zinc deficiencies turn citrus a mottled green and yellow.

Phosphorous and potassium should be applied occasionally during the year. They can be applied when watering the soil or applied as a foliage spray to leaves.

Deficiencies of minerals show up in changes in the leaves. Look at leaves carefully to determine nutrient needs. The photos of single leaves with nutrient deficiencies are posted on the UC Davis website (photos by Jack Kelly Clark) to help gardeners determine what nutrients may be lacking in their soil.

 

In general, the best advice for new gardeners on providing appropriate food for citrus trees is to buy a balanced citrus food in pellet form. Follow package instructions and sprinkle it evenly around the root line before you water. Hopefully, your leaves will remain green year around, you’ll have fragrant blossoms, and your tree will reward you with sweet delicious fruit.

 

 

 

Tulips in Amsterdam

Pink Tulip in Amsterdam

Pink Tulip in Amsterdam

 

The brilliant blooms of tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils mark the beginning of spring around the world. Nowhere can you see so many blooms as in Holland. We’ve wanted to travel there for years to see the famous flowers in April. It is a phenomenon I didn’t want to miss. Husband Don and I packed up our camera, reserved a suite on a riverboat from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland, and took a trip to be remembered.

Before going, I read every book I could on the history of tulips in the Netherlands. Netherland, meaning “low land” is a country with 50% of its soil below sea level. Had it not been for the industrious and ingenious people of the Netherlands,their willingness to dig canals, install windmills, drive pilings by hand and build dikes to hold back the ocean, the land would have been reclaimed by the sea long ago. Now, this valuable soil produces the most beautiful flowers in the world for us to enjoy.

Display of blooming bulbs in Keuckenhoff Park outside of Amsterdam, Holland

Display of blooming bulbs in Keuckenhoff Park outside of Amsterdam, Holland

 

Tulips originated in Central Asia 1,000 years ago. Tulips were smaller than the modern varieties of today, growing only a few inches in height. Popular in Turkey, they became its botanical symbol. Introduced to Europe in the mid-16th century, tulips found the soil in the Netherlands, a mixture of peat and sand, to be a perfect growing medium.

Dutch botanist Carolus Clusis was largely responsibility for the success of tulips in the Netherlands. He developed many new strains and colors and discovered that “broken tulips”, the flower with streaks of brilliant color on pure white, popular in the 1600’s, was caused by a viral infection. Today’s “streaking” on petals are produced through purposeful breeding.

 

 

Tulips blooming outside of residences in Amsterdam.

Tulips blooming outside of residences in Amsterdam.

 

In 1636, investment speculation called “Tulip Mania” turned the tulip market up-side-down. Amateur florists became obsessed with growing, selling, and trading tulip bulbs. The Netherlands experienced an economic bubble in the trading of tulips. Tulip auctions were held and the “fever” to buy and trade new and unusual varieties broke out. The cost of a rare and sought after bulb could match that a canal-front home in Amsterdam. Some speculators mortgaged their properties to buy bulbs to resell. When the bubble broke due to lack of new and exciting varieties, many tulip enthusiasts were left bankrupt.

 

Rows of pink and lavender tulips growing outside of Amsterdam.

Rows of pink and lavender tulips growing outside of Amsterdam.

The Netherlands is still one of the largest producers of bulbs and cut flowers in the world. Most of the cut flowers are produced in greenhouses. People from all over the world come to see the tulips at Keukenhof in Lisse, South Holland. The garden is the world’s largest (79 acres) open-air flower showcase for the Dutch floricultural sector featuring 7 million flowering bulbs. The visit to this “living catalogue” was one of the highlights of our trip. Open from March to May each year, flower enthusiasts can get their fill of the color and fragrance of spring flowers.