There’s a new Sunset Western Garden Book out and I had to buy it. Sunset Western Garden Books and I go way back. When I was young I used to leaf through my mother’s old “First Edition” 1954 publication. I knew nothing about gardening, but in the sandy soils of Orange County, you could put a sunflower seed in the ground and grow a 10-foot behemoth.
Of the newer Sunset Western Garden Books in my library, the 2001 seventh edition was my bible during Master Gardener training. I didn’t think the 2007 edition had enough new material, so I passed on that one. But what gardener can resist the newly released ninth edition?
Here’s my rationale for buying it. This edition is the first to feature plant photos exclusively. Not that I didn’t enjoy the illustrations of the older versions, but a color photo is irresistible. Color is all-important in gardening. The plant encyclopedia of the new 2012 edition has been updated and includes 1,000 more entries. There is a “Gardening, Start to Finish” section for beginning gardeners. Information is based on steps in the creation of a garden rather than in alphabetical order; planning comes first, then planting, growing, and dealing with problems. I like that. There’s a guide for growing vegetables called “What Edibles to Plant When”.
I like the green “tip” boxes included in the plant encyclopedia. They cover subjects entitled “Paw Power”, information on using kangaroo paws in the landscape. They’re entertaining and informational. There is a digital component to the New Sunset Western Garden Book. You get the free mobile edition of the “Plant Finder” for your smartphone. There’s a companion online Plant Finder that lists plants as you browse by color, height, spread and special needs. There is no ebook edition. You can go to the Sunset web site for a video on a topic when you see the little camera icon at the bottom of a page. I’ll admit, sometimes a video is worth a thousand words.
Assortment of Sunset Garden Books to Look At
The Sunset Western Garden Book has improved over the years, but it’s not perfect. For example, why don’t they include the pronunciation of the plant under the titles of the entries in the Plant Encyclopedia rather than in a separate section in the back of the book? Then there are the thin pages that are already rippling in our damp climate.
Like many of my gardening books, The New Sunset Western Garden Book is practical, inspirational and informational. My list of gardening “things to do” grows longer with each page. On days I can’t get the energy up to “dig and plant”, I’ll just sit with my new book and dream. I really don’t need another garden book but this one is hard to resist.
There are several events here in Cambria this weekend that should be of great interest to gardeners and appreciators of the beauty of flowers. At the annual wildflower show in the Vet’s Hall at 1000 Main Street, you’ll find hundreds of freshly picked wildflowers for viewing and smelling (if you dare). Wildflowers are picked before the event from the Monterey County line to the Morro Bay Estuary and from the coastal bluffs to the Santa Lucia Mountains. If you’ve ever wondered what the names of wildflowers are, this is the perfect event for you. Noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, and 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. Cost is $3.00.
The 18th annual Faerie Festival, with storytelling with Susan Pendergast, crafts, food, and music is taking place at Heart’s Ease Herb Shop and Gardens at 4101 Burton Drive. Time 11:00-2:00 on Saturday, April 28. Free.
Across the street from Heart’s Ease, on Saturday, April 28, there will be a plant sale at the Cambria Historical Museum on Burton Street. You’ll see maypole dancing at 1:00, 2:00, and 3:00 p.m. and you can buy root beer floats to refresh you.
If you still have energy, take a walk on the Fiscalini Ranch trails overlooking the ocean and breathe the spring air. Delicious!
Tulip, the Ameraucana, also called an Easter Egger because she lays green eggs, has been sick for six months now and passed away yesterday afternoon. She had what is called egg yolk peritonitis, also called “internal laying”. It is something that backyard hen owners struggle with because our hens provide us with eggs but are also our pets and live longer than commercial egg producers so are susceptible to organ malfunction.
Egg peritonitis is the result of an egg yolk initially moving into the abdomen rather than being “captured” by the fimbrae at the top of the oviduct. In a normal egg cycle, the ovary releases a single ovum (yolk) which is picked up by the fimbrae at the top of the oviduct. Birds have only one oviduct. The egg passes down through the oviduct picking up albumin (egg white), the egg membrane, and then the egg shell, before being passed out through the cloaca. The cloaca also has the ureters from the kidneys and the rectum passing urine and feces through the same exit point.
We knew Tulip had problems when she began laying those huge rubber eggs (shell-less eggs) several months ago. She was treated with antibiotics but showed no improvement. Oh, it was hard to watch.
Husband Don and I made a “no vet” agreement when I got the chicks but I broke down and made an appointment to see one. We never got there. Because prognosis for this disease in chickens is poor, I pretty much knew that Tulip would be euthanized. There was the possibility that the vet might suggest major surgery to remove her “egg maker” but I don’t think I would have agreed to that.
Yesterday, she stayed inside the little coop until late morning, then joined the others who were scratching around in the garden. She stretched out on her side, absorbing the sun. When I locked the other hens back in the run, I put Tulip in a little crate in the garden shed with food and water. She lay down, and never got up. By nightfall, she was dead.
We buried Tulip near Rosie who passed away two winters ago. She is no longer in pain but Husband Don and I are sad. I didn’t sleep well last night. Our original flock of six is down to three. Three really wonderful hens that are now over three years old. There will be decisions to make but I’m not in the mood to make them. Loving and caring for animals is both joyful and heartbreaking. I’m experiencing the latter now.
A colony of pocket gophers has set up residence in our yard, and Maddie, the labradoodle decided to expose them. She dug a hole, five feet in length and two feet wide in the soft soil between the roses. The pretty California poppies went flying but she did her job; she let us know that gophers had invaded our garden and we must get off our duffs and get to work to rid ourselves of these pests.
As soon as the soil dampens with winter rain, gophers become active. You will know they arrive when you find piles of earth in your beloved beds. These burrowing rodents are called “pocket gophers” because of their large external cheek pouches used for carrying food and nesting materials. They have powerful forequarters, large claws on their front paws, short fur, small eyes, and sensitive facial whiskers for maneuvering in close, dark quarters. Their lips, which close behind four large incisor teeth, keep dirt out of their mouths when using teeth for digging. Practical I’m sure, but hard to visualize!
We’ve had both moles and gophers this year. If you aren’t sure of the difference, see the post I wrote a couple of years ago. The smaller moles burrow close to the surface of the earth. They do not eat plants but dine on grubs and earthworms just below the surface. While they can disrupt newly planted annuals, they are far less harmful to your plants than the notorious pocket gopher. A little tolerance of this smaller cousin is encouraged.
The story goes that the “bull” gopher (a male gopher of breeding age) stakes out his territory and creates a maze of tunnels that he hopes will attract females seeking the “good life”. Sex always makes a story more interesting. If all goes well for the bull, the area is soon populated with young. Perhaps this maze is what Maddie found in her digging.
Black Box Gopher Trap is set in place.
Gophers feed on a variety of plants using their sense of smell to locate food. Most folks, who’ve gardened for any length of time, will have a horror story to tell of watching a plant slowly being pulled underground if front of their eyes. A few years ago I observed a six-foot hollyhock list slowly to the side until it lay prone; its roots devoured by a subterranean pest. I found a prized seven-foot butterfly bush lying wilted and prostrate on the earth. The trunk appeared to have been eaten by a beaver. My guess is the culprit was a gopher who had left his run and “taken down” the shrub at ground level. I cut some of its branches and made some nice plants with the cuttings that still live in my garden today.
Old Macabee Traps need to be put in tunnels
My husband uses a metal trap, called a Macabee, to keep down the gopher population. The trap requires brute strength to set. Then there is the problem of removing the dead gopher after it has been squeezed between the “pinchers”. I have neither the hand strength nor the stomach for this type of entrapment. We’ve also used the “Black Box” trap which is easier on the hands. In areas where the dog and chickens are excluded, I use the sissy method of gopher annihilation. I insert pellets of poison using a probe that puts it directly into the burrows. One must be extremely careful that none of the poison is spilled on the ground where birds can ingest it or pets come into contact with it. As I was taking pictures of the excavation and traps this morning, that little gopher had the nerve to stick her head out of the hole and look at me. The audacity!
The audacity! A gopher looks up at us as we prepare traps!
There is no easy solution to the gopher problem. Some people in the area plant new plants in wire baskets. I’ve done this with expensive new plants that I think are vulnerable and it seems to work until the plant is mature and doesn’t need root protection.
Our property adjoins open space on one side and a vacant lot on the other. I’m realistic enough to know that we will have to deal with these underground critters one on one, and, at best, keep them under control. As for Maddie, the Australian Labradoodle, a little more training is in order.
Our hens needed a manicure. We have to clip the nails of our two labradoodles nearly every month. But with our hens, once a year does it. Living in the wild, chickens wear down their nails scratching in coarse dirt and even rocky soil. But our pampered hens scratch around in a run where most rocks have been removed and the soil is raked once a month to keep it clean.
The hens all needed to have their nails clipped this spring. We’ve only done this twice in their three years and it always makes me a bit nervous. Just like the dogs, if you cut a nail too short it bleeds. I took the nail clippers and some styptic powder (a blood stopper for dogs, cats, and birds) out to the coop and picked up Sweetpea who seemed to have the longest nails. Her nails were so long her toes were turning to the side.
I’m not very brave about clipping the nails of animals. I’m afraid of hurting them. Taking one toe at a time, while Don held the hens on his lap, we cut about 1/4″ off the ends of the nails on each hen. I did make one of Sweetpea’s bleed but it stopped with a little powder pressed on the blunt end of the nail and she forgave me. Sweetpea and the others were out scratching around in a few minutes.
Clip only the dark part of the nail.
These hens are relatively easy to handle. They squawk a little when we pick them up but usually settle right down when we put them on our laps. We’ve had to handle them quite a bit in their lives; giving them medicine, cutting off poop that has become hardened around their vents. We had to give Daisy a dose of mineral oil into her vent to remove a broken egg then let her soak in a warm tub. We turn them upside down occasionally to check for problems “down south”. Chickens are no different than any other bird. Stuff goes in and stuff comes out. Feathers fall out and feathers grow in. Hormones go crazy and make them cranky and broody. Clipping their nails is just a little thing we can do occasionally to keep them healthy and is relatively easy. Chickens who are kept in cages don’t live long enough to have this pesky problem!.
Cymbidium orchid from the garden of Carol Frane, Cambria
Cymbidiums orchids do well in our coastal climate, and just about anywhere else in San Luis Obispo County, if given filtered sunlight, water, and lots of food. Shade cloth or an open tree can provide filtered shade. Cymbidiums can tolerate morning sun in cooler climates and I’ve seen cymbidiums growing in full sun in coastal Cambria.
What you do with your cymbidiums orchids in the spring will affect how your cymbidiums produce next winter. After your blooms have faded, begin a fertilizing routine to stimulate growth. Fertilizing is important to orchids because they are “hungry” plants. A complete fertilizer high in nitrogen, 30-10-10, and applied once a month, should do the trick. I also use worm compost tea for watering in the spring and summer as it is high in nitrogen and is not as high in salts as commercial fertilizer. During the summer, the fertilizer should be changed to a balanced 18:18:18 feed and then, in the fall, to a bloom booster like 10:30:20. If you don’t have time for this kind of routine, a handful of slow release fertilizer like Osmocote, once a month, will work.
Divide your cymbidiums if they have become too crowded in the pots or when the planting mix has broken down. If you wait until summer to divide, it may affect their blooms next year. Healthy cymbidiums need to be repotted about every few years after blooms have fallen off. Divide plants by breaking apart at the natural divisions. Clean the old potting mix from the roots and cut off any dead or damaged roots. Place a mound of moist potting mix in the center of the pot and spread the roots over the mound of mix. Fill in around the bulb until the lower 1/3 of it is covered. Lightly tap in soil so it is tight and not too loose.
Cymbidiums like a slightly acid potting mix that provides good drainage. You can buy this mix or use fine orchid bark with perlite, shavings, and coarse peat moss added for water retention. Larger bark will require more frequent watering.
Speaking of watering, you should water your cymbidiums often enough to keep them moist. They should never be allowed to dry out. This could be twice a week in the growing season and less, of course, in the winter.
Another Cymbidium from Carol's garden.
Pests can be a problem to cymbidium plants and flowers. Red spider mites and scale are the two most persistent cymbidium plant pests with snails and slugs being the primary threat to the delicate blooms. Spider mites are a problem inland where the humidity is lower. Try misting your orchids in the warm, dry season to keep them moist and use a miticide if all else fails. Aphids like the buds and flowers and should be washed off with water when first noticed. Hand-picking at night or a safe, granular form of bait should control snails and slugs.
Cymbidiums are also subject to bacterial, fungal and viral diseases that are often associated with being too wet. Like roses, they can be victims of these diseases. Watering early enough in the day so that the plants can dry out before dark is the best prevention. Cymbidiums are also susceptible to the common orchid viruses. Transmission with contaminated tools or hands during dividing and repotting can be a problem.
I’m not always successful at growing these beautiful Asian terrestrial orchids; I’ve certainly had my failures. But I know people who have beautiful healthy orchids growing in pots under the pines. It requires consistency in watering and fertilizing and cleanliness in handling and repotting. Now, all I have to do is put my knowledge into practice!
We’ve been letting the hens out in the late mornings to scratch around and clean up snails and bugs. This is a good time of day for them to forage and free-range. After a morning run, the labradoodles sleep inside the house for a couple of hours and the hens can have the run of the yard, sans canines.
I don’t know if the labradoodles would really harm the hens but I’m not taking any chances. I heard, through a friend, that a husband let her dogs out when her hens were in the garden. The dogs made short order of the “girls”. Needless to say, the woman didn’t know who to be madder at, the husband or the dogs. I know whom I’d blame!
So we are careful. Labradoodles are inside in their crates when the hens are loose in the garden. And the “ladies” are lovin’ it! They’re finding lots of snails and slugs. They grab them in their beaks and run. The others will join in the chase unless they see something better to eat. They’re finding lots of sow bugs and earwigs. They are unafraid of us humans and our weed diggers and hoes. They stay underfoot, ready to pounce on whatever we uncover for them. I’ve stepped on toes more than once.
Pulling Weeds with the Hens
We’ve been clearing the rose bed of alyssum “Carpet of Snow”. I shouldn’t have let in go crazy this winter but it provides a little color and covers the bare ground around the roses throughout the winter. Now, I need to remove it. Don has been helping me for an hour or two a day this week and we’ve just about finished. The hens have kept us company. I find their little clucks soothing as they go about their foraging. Such a sweet sound.
If you are at all curious about our Australian Labradoodles, I have an article on them HERE.
It’s decision time for most of us on the Central Coast. We need to plan what and how many vegetable seeds to plant. I’ve simplified my planting over the years. I’m not into preserving like I used to be. Our offspring are grown and gone. I still freeze vegetables, but canning is not how I want to spend my retirement. Then again, I still make applesauce in the fall. Oh yes, and then there’s the berry jam and orange marmalade. Anyway, let’s say, I don’t “put up” like I used to.
It’s important for me to plant just enough vegetables for us to use so that our produce is fresh and I don’t have to beg visitors to “please take some home with you.”
Here’s how it breaks down for a small family of 2-4 members.
Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower usually ripen over a 2-3 week period. So 3 plants of each kind should be enough for a good harvest.
Beets need to be planted about 4 inches apart. I plant them in the fall in a 3’ x 3’ space.
Carrots can be planted nearly year around along the cooler coast. I plant twice a year in a two 4 foot square areas. I can pull them up as I need them.
Cucumbers grow better in warmer parts of the county than in our coastal town. Two to three plants will do unless you are planning on canning cucumber pickles.
Corn also grows well inland. Remember that corn is pollinated by the wind so it’s best planted in short rows so it can pollinate itself. About 20 plants will give you plenty of sweet fresh ears in late summer.
Beans, green and yellow, need a fence or trellis. Plant 3 seeds at the base of a tepee. Pole beans can produce over a long period of time if you pick daily. Bush beans produce one crop.
Snow peas can also be planted at the bottom of a three-legged tepee or in an 8 foot row. Three plants on each leg will be enough as snow peas are best eaten fresh.
In a small garden, you need to plant lettuce and spinach every month for several months to keep a good supply over spring and summer, and yes, winter. Plant 2-3 foot rows of each kind.
Chard is a real winner in my garden. I plant about 12 plants and keep harvesting off of the sides for 6 months out of the year.
Peppers of several varieties can be grown in warm regions. Four to six plants is plenty unless you are into drying some for chili.
Potatoes can be grown in mounds of about 20 plants. You’ll be able to enjoy them over a few months time.
Tomatoes are a big challenge for those of us close to the ocean. Four to six plants will give you enough to have fresh summer tomatoes and some extra to make sauces and freeze.
Summer squash and zucchini will give you vegetables if all else fails! Two plants of three varieties (six in all) will give you enough for a small family and enough to give away.
It’s easy to plant more vegetables than you need, so be careful. You’ll find out through trial and error what works best for your family. I’m going out right now and get to work!
Have you noticed that Tulip, the Ameraucana (Easter Egger), has not been laying? We tally the number of eggs laid on the white board inside the coop at the end of each day. Tulip molted in October and never “started up” her laying routine again.
Tulip’s shell-less (or “rubber”) egg
Now she’s begun laying soft-shelled eggs commonly called “rubber eggs”. Not a good sign. A hen will often lay a few shell-less egg over the period of her lifetime, but it usually not a constant thing unless there is something wrong inside her. The hens body does not go through the last step of egg production where the shell covers the membrane with another layer that hardens into the outer shell. This used to happen to Petunia (our little Golden Laced Wyandotte). It would take her by surprise and she would squat and out would come a soft-shelled egg bouncing on the dirt. Rosie, our little glutton, would run over and peck at it and the other hens would gather around and eat the egg’s contents as it spilled out.
Big, beautiful, Tulip has had problems with laying on occasion so this is not a surprise. Last June she was so sick, I had to remove her from the flock for two weeks, keeping her in a cage in the garden shed. See “Tulip is Ill”. Now she again has a problem in her “egg maker”. Her eggs not only have a soft shell, they are not being expelled, and are “stacking up” inside her.
I went to the run the other morning and Tulip was in the corner, head down. Not a good sign for a hen. There, beside her was the most disgusting blob I’d ever seen. Well, almost the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen, after all, I raised boys. Kind of a greenish mass. I was tempted to run but I am a responsible poultry owner and am level-headed and quite mature (at least I’d like to think so). I picked the “thing” up. Yes, in my bare hands. I didn’t want to leave the hens alone with it because they have the philosophy, “If you don’t know what it is, eat it!”
Shell-less egg within and egg, etc. next to a normal egg
Don helped me dissect “the thing”. It was a shell-less egg, within an egg, within an egg, within an egg, within an egg. Five eggs, one inside another. It weighed 8 ounces. Oh, that poor girl. She must have been forming it and carried it around for a month. Within a few hours, she was running around with the other hens, scratching and dust bathing. What a relief she must have felt!.
But I feel no such relief. I know that when things go wrong with the “egg maker” inside a hen, it usually does not correct itself. But there’s always hope. Look at Daisy. She’s had lots of problems over time and is laying lovely eggs now, nearly every day of the week. So, I’m keeping an eye on Tulip. I’ve reduced their “treats” and provided lots of calcium in their diet. Hopefully, she’ll get back to her old self again and give us those big, beautiful, green eggs to enjoy.
February is normally a time to rev your motors and resume gardening on the Central Coast. That is, if you ever slowed down. We’ve had such strange weather this winter, that I’m not sure where to start. The soil is moist so weeds can be easily pulled. Hoe annuals, cutting them off at ground level. Scrap them off before they go to seed. Depriving their roots of the nourishment provided by the sun (photosynthesis), the little plants should not survive (but there are no absolutes in gardening). Pull up oxalis before it flowers. You’ll find the little bulbs beginning to form along the roots. These are the reasons that oxalis is so hard to get rid of.
In many areas of the county, you can sow seeds of flowers, yarrow, aster, calendula, coreopsis, cosmos, marigold, rudbeckia and poppies. Vegetables seeds such as beets, carrots, lettuce, and snowpeas can be planted now. In colder areas, start seeds indoors or in a coldframe.
Plant spring and summer bulbs such as calla lily, cannas, dahlia, bearded Dutch iris, and gladiolus. Plant bareroot roses, fruit trees, berries and grapes early this month.
Finish pruning dormant trees and shrubs that bloom in summer and fall. Shape fuchsias, and cut back perennial grasses like Calamagrostris (Feather Reed Grass). Prune Mediterranean plants as they finish blooming. Dig up perennial weeds.
Lightly fertilize citrus trees. Wait to fertilize fruit trees until there is 4 to 6 inches of new shoot growth. Feed with a balanced fertilizer. Dig in well-composted manure around perennials and cover with mulch.
Wonder if the last frost is over in your area? Check out the publication at Frost Dates and Temperature Data for SLO County. The data was prepared for home gardeners by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE). The summary provides average dates for the first and last frosts, chill hours, average growing season, lowest record temperatures, and growing degree days for grapes. Not all communities in SLO County are represented on the chart but you can consult it for similar coastal or inland areas. This information will be helpful for developing a planting schedule.