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Thinning fruit; growing peppers

Sonoma County iGrow Blog - June 12, 2016 - 8:47pm

Summer is almost officially here!  It seems that as the climate warms, more people are getting a jump start on the season much earlier. I saw lots of summer squash already at the farmers market last week and some people are picking cherry tomatoes already! But I was happy with my harvest a few days ago of several small cabbages, (which went into a batch of sauerkraut).  I love to watch how fast the warm season crops grow now and trust that they will be giving crops soon.

Many fruit trees are loaded this year. We had close to “normal” winter chill and some much-needed rain, resulting in good fruit set. Unfortunately, this can lead to breaking branches and stressed trees too. Thinning crops – whether on trees or in the ground – is one of the hardest tasks for gardeners. You invest in a crop, so may feel that you deserve all the fruit.  Or it may seem like the fruit/plants are your babies that you cannot bear to eliminate before they are mature. But too much fruit on a tree, (or plants too close together), can actually be harmful.

Broken branches can destroy the tree’s structure, expose the bark and fruit to sunburn, and make it more vulnerable to pests and diseases. It can take years to repair this damage. And even if branches don’t break, when branches are bent with heavy fruit for too long, they can stay in that position and start to look more like a weeping than an upright tree. This is especially problematic with younger trees that have not reached full height. The strongest angle for main tree branches is around 45 degrees, so if a branch becomes more horizontal, it becomes more vulnerable to breaking.

In addition, it takes a lot of the tree’s energy to ripen fruit. If too much fruit is on a tree it will have less energy for growth. And, if energy is limited, the tree won’t have reserves to have much fruit next year. Fruit bud potential for many trees is determined the prior June, so now is the time to make sure your trees are not stressed or overloaded with fruit.

How much is too much fruit? Like the answers to most gardening questions, it depends on many factors, including the overall health of the tree and your goals eg, growth vs. fruit production, or total yield vs. larger size individual fruit.  But some general guidelines include:

Apples – No more than 2 per spur; one per spur if total load is high and more growth is needed.

Pears – As per apples if heavy load; can be 3 per spur if light load and plenty of vigor.

Peaches & nectarines – Should not be touching when full size; a hand span apart is best.

Plums – Can be closer than peaches but reduce crowding to lighten load and increase fruit size.

Persimmons – Take off every other fruit if heavy load; lighten branch ends.

Even if fruit is thinned, you may need to prop branches for support. Use 2×2 or 2×4 lumber, old broom handles or other sturdy supports and pad the spot that meets the tree with rags, old sponges, etc. Lift the branch gently to position the support and make sure that it won’t trip someone or get bumped by machinery.

A very different crop that may need some extra attention at this time is peppers. I like to grow plenty of peppers so I can preserve some to add color and that special flavor to winter and spring greens.  I’ve found that peppers do not do well unless temperatures are warm and there are plenty of nutrients and moisture in the soil, especially when plants are young. I often add a little extra organic nitrogen-containing fertilizer when peppers are planted and/or water with diluted fish emulsion a few times. Especially for types with larger size fruit, it’s important to build a large plant with big leaves to support the peppers and shade them from sunburn. All peppers will ripen to red, orange or yellow, but leaving them on the plants long enough to ripen often leads to sunburn. Since ripe peppers taste so much better and are higher in nutrients, I let my peppers turn color before picking.

May your gardens thrive this summer!


Reluctance = Resistance by Lucky

Elders Salon Blog - June 1, 2016 - 4:20pm
I’ve been going through something lately. Something big. Its beating me up, and teaching me a great deal. I’m not really going to describe the details, but I am going to dwell on the process. I’ve found that as I get older that the process of integration, that is happening, brings me up against some of my life-long patterns. When that happens I usually don’t respond very well. I am reluctant to let myself feel the conflict, disappointment, and grief within. I guess it is only natural. I’m human, and much of what confronts me, are patterns of belief and behavior that have clearly defined me in the past.
Life doesn’t seem to care. At least in no way that I have considered caring. What I’m finding is that Life is impeccably ruthless. It rubs my face in the messes I have indulged in making. There is some kind of impersonal and highly idiosyncratic love at work. I’m being shaped up despite myself. The process is reliable, painful, and grace-filled. Life seems to know how to evolve a better me, and very slowly I’m learning how to trust that process and cooperate with it.
I think it was the developmentalist Robert Kegan that first impressed me with the realization that resisting Life is painful. I do it all of the time. And, I am paying for it. But, as I get older, I’m more prone to notice what is at stake, and to suffer more honestly. That means I am more likely to admit to myself, and others, that I have succeeded again in getting in my own way, and making it hard to change. I would rather fight anything than fight myself. Despite my resolve, Life keeps finding the blemishes in my character that need attention, and calling my attention to them.
Right now, I’m being faced with my own well-designed falseness. I’ve lived out a kind of arrogant stance that I know has hurt me, and especially those I professed to care for. That’s a hard awareness to be confronted by. And I’m really grateful that I’m being confronted by it right now, when I can still do something about it, rather than in my last moments of life. Life seems to have a bucket list for me, that if I handle some of these items, I’m going to rest easier when I die. That seems like a kind of compassionate justice I could never imagine.
The problem of the moment is that I have such a reluctance to face the music. It is humiliating, admitting one’s shortcomings; facing how unloving, and self-protective, one is (I’m not past anything yet). I’m not collapsing into shame, although I can feel the temptation. I am standing forlornly in front of my own humanity. I can see that my own reluctance to see what a schlemiel I am capable of being has been a form of resistance. I didn’t want to know myself that well.
This kind of self-knowing is a painful gift. Life cares about me enough to make me really uncomfortable with what I am capable of. And, it’s giving me a chance to find out where integrity lays in my life. In some kind of strange twist of fate, my gratitude grows as I open up to the hurt I have participated in perpetuating.
With all of that kind of awareness cascading into my life like an avalanche of wakefulness, I am enlivened and chagrined. My reluctance before awareness is clearly putting off the inevitability of the gift. Am I resisting, or merely crouching in anticipation of the loving blow? I really can’t say. I know that I have resisted, and that my reluctance has abetted my resistance. I am that human, stubbornly determined to have things my way. But, lately, aging has softened me up, and provided more perspective. I now walk towards what diminishes me, in an effort to cooperate more with the wholing process I now perceive.
Reluctance is turning out to be a faithful scout, a little scraggly, deceptively anxious, but unerring in noticing that something is coming. And, I’m finding that even a broken life is an incredible gift. 0 0 1 671 3830 AFI 31 8 4493 14.0 Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";}

Escape Velocity by Lucky

Elders Salon Blog - June 1, 2016 - 4:03pm
I realized something this week. It has to do with freedom, and is so contrary to the usual way I think about the advantages of aging that I just had to explore this thought. It has to do with overcoming the siren call of cultural manipulation, the normal associations which have so much to do with limiting our imaginations and choices. As I’ve grown older, and been exposed to so much ageism, I’ve been radicalized, to the point where I now consider myself a greying freedom fighter.Anyway, I’ve been thinking about one of the most important features of centenarians. People over 100 years of age are the fastest growing demographic group anywhere on the planet. They are the embodiment of the longevity revolution. They are a pretty interesting group. Each of them has idiosyncrasies that make them compelling, but what strikes me is the features they have in common. One in particular captures my attention. They have managed to escape the gravitational pull of mass mind. By that, I mean that they are no longer captive of the need to live up to any of the standards of the societies they are embedded within. They have achieved a degree of freedom that is unprecedented.For a while now, I’ve known of this. Sometimes I even talk about it with friends and other older folks. When I do, I usually refer to these folks as ones who have achieved a kind of “escape velocity” of their own, which has allowed them to acquire an orbit of their own. They become totally unique. They are not governed from anywhere but inside.Knowing of this facet of long life has amazed and beguiled me.  Recently, however, I began to re-think the notion of escape velocity. The usual association with gaining the velocity that defies gravitational pull has to do with speed. The assumption that prevails is that only by going fast enough one reaches escape velocity. In the paradoxical realm that accompanies old age it is a different speed that allows escape from the most egregious components of the cultural trance. Nature has already implemented this change of speed, but by and large we, like good automatons, resist it. I realized this week that the actual way of achieving escape velocity, and getting away from the gravitational pull of cultural hypnosis, is to go slower. Escape velocity at this age means slowing down.I’ve written before about how speed kills, and how speeding along allows one to miss so much. These are definitely poignant inconveniences, but they have never been significant enough to slow anyone down. Now it seems that there is an aspect of nature’s design that slows us down. Aging seems to have its own kind of gravity. The upshot is that as people get older they get slower. In our culture that is something to resist— a sign of a turn for the worst— the beginning of a downhill slide. But, in fact, it’s the beginning of a time when one, at last, gets to be themselves. Slowing down is a hallmark, a land mark of age, the beginning of a frontier of freedom. To ignore, and try to resist this inexorable force is dangerous. One’s internal integrity is at stake. So is the sense of belonging here in the Universe.I remember a time, early on, when I was struggling with my own identity, being freshly disabled. Then a friend confronted me with a difficult question. She asked, “Are you a disabled person, or a person with disabilities?”  That question helped me re-orient myself. I was a disabled person, but I knew, that if I was going to live fully, and actualize my self, then I had to become a person who merely had some disabilities.This situation is like that. This is a choice point. Are you a citizen of your culture, or are you a citizen of this life? Slowing down can help you make a real decision. It is a fundamental choice, one that has important ramifications for you, and your off spring. Cultural time would have you go fast and barely pay any attention to what is at stake at this point in your life, but nature is going to slow you, and give you the chance, if you want it, to decide for yourself who you want to be.I hope you can find the internal wherewithal to make a good decision for yourself. And remember, escape velocity is actually slower than most of us believe (and frequently go).

Sinking In by Lucky

Elders Salon Blog - June 1, 2016 - 3:56pm
As I’ve gotten older, particularly here in the later years of my life, I’ve noticed a kind of movement happening. I’m not referring to anything political or anything that one might consider a form of action. This undertaking seems to be occurring unbidden, rather naturally.  It is subtle, but never-the-less quite powerful. I have associated it with aging, because it doesn’t seem personal and as far as I know, I haven’t done anything that would bring this on. What I’m referring too is that I seem to be sinking down more into my own skin. My life is taking on more and more an inner dimension.
I think of it now like one of the old Tarzan TV programs I used to watch as a kid. Folks were always getting stuck in quicksand. I think I am stuck and being pulled in. It just occurred to me that one of the features of old age that I have been talking about lately is gravity. It doesn’t seem to be my friend. As I grow older I am shrinking. This feels a lot like that. I am being turned inward as my life experience increases. I am sinking in, pulled by some natural phenomenon, into unknown depths.
My early experiences with dreams and psychedelics make this a fairly non-threatening experience. I have generally liked the sense of direction that has come with having a more luminous inner life. This movement, appearing within me now, does seem rather odd though. I don’t know how else to relate to it. Just when my dreams have lost their intensity and regularity, this something else seems to be pitching in to captivate me. I’m dreaming less and imagining more.
I would say that whatever creative impulses I feel now all come to me in this same kind of unbidden way. My thoughts kind of loosely wander into strange places where, for some unknown reason, formerly separate things combine into unusual ideas. Yesterday, for instance, one of my brothers came into my mind and I imagined him doing something I’ve never seen him do. This kind of thing happens regularly now. I’m not about to report some weird form of precognition or even weirder synchronicity, but just the simple recognition that the thought of this brother doing that activity strikes me as endearing, and that tells me I want to see him sometime soon.
More commonly I find myself thinking of the past, envisioning an interaction, and remembering a specific person, place, or time in my life. Suddenly a realization involving my experience with that person, or with that time of my life, will come into my mind. All at once, I see that I was doing something other than what I thought I was doing at the time. Unbidden, my life (or another’s) will be revealed to me, in a light I’ve never seen before.
I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but what is happening is interesting, different, and sometimes illuminating. It happens often enough now where I’ve learned to trust it, and to pay attention. My life seems to be richer for it.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t wish for this kind of development. Like some kind of alter-me, this gift of weird awareness just snuck into the house of my being. It was never a guest I invited. As I’ve paid a lot more attention to getting older (I’m not trying to, but its occurring anyway) I’ve read that this happens. As people get into their later years they become more and more turned inward. Well, I guess the gravity of aging is pulling me in.
As this has been unfolding I’ve begun to wonder about what’s going on, and why it might be happening with me? Why this particular development? Maybe it’s a movement towards a more balanced being. I’ve never focused much upon being internally aware. That seems plausible. I’ve never placed much emphasis upon inner life. I never meditated, prayed, or been particularly contemplative. Maybe, this is a skill I always had, that maybe I inherited from a relative. Could be, I guess, though no one comes to mind. I come from a line of very pragmatic farmers.
I’ve settled on the idea that this turn inward is a species thing more than a personal thing. I kind of like the idea that evolution has got my back. I think this is a widespread phenomenon that helps each of us become more of what we are meant to be. Just as I am going to die inevitably, I’m going to have some internal capacity to look at my life, with internal eyes, eyes that see things differently, and aid me in seeing more of the mystery of what’s going on here.
I now believe that nature endows us with an innate capacity for an internal awareness that comes on-line later in our lives, to assist us with integrating the experience we are having here. I’m sinking inwards as I age because that helps me become myself, more unique and free. It also increases the likelihood that I can make an original contribution to my community and to this existence.
The quicksand is life taking me inexorably home. An aspect of that movement, like tidal action, is inward. So, I’m slowly sinking in. 0 0 1 828 4723 AFI 39 11 5540 14.0 Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";}

Cool weather challenges; weeds-into-gold

Sonoma County iGrow Blog - May 11, 2016 - 2:39pm

Our weather turned cool this May, which has been wonderful in some ways. The rush to get warm season crops in the ground is less pressing and watering is less critical. But the cool weather is presenting its own challenges too. Small amounts of rain like we’ve had can help keep seed beds moist but doesn’t really soak in. The strong winds in late April and early May pulled a lot of water out of the ground. I was surprised at how dry the soil my garden beds was when I planted my tomatoes last week, though mulched perennial beds are still moist.

Cool weather also means that warm season crops germinate and grow slowly. Seeds can rot in the soil if it is not warm enough and slow growth gives pests and diseases an advantage. Earwigs, slugs, snails, and birds can be devastating at this time. Some gardeners feel that this is the one time that bare soil in a garden with newly planted annuals is a good thing. Bare soil absorbs heat from the sun much better than mulched soil and does not provide as much hiding space for leaf eating critters.

I often put green strawberry baskets upside down over newly planted or emerging seedlings to keep birds off. Small chicken wire “hoods” can work well too. Floating row cover protects seedlings from all of these pests plus aphids and the flies whose larvae become leaf miners, but you can’t see your plants through them!  Some farmers are starting to use a product for pest exclusion called ProtekNet that you can see through and lasts much longer than row cover. I hope that it becomes available in garden size quantities at some point.

SluggoPlus is a product that helps control slugs, snails, earwigs and pill bugs, but it is expensive. Snails can be controlled by nightly patrols with a flashlight. You can stomp on them or collect in a bucket, (with tight fitting lid), and give to someone who has chickens. Same with slugs, though you will need a tweezers or clippers…. And look closely in dense foliage like agapanthus, ivy and rosemary shrubs, as snails often live in these. Or make traps with shallow dishes of beer or other fermented liquid.  These critters also like to hide out between nested nursery flats or pots, so you can put those in the garden, but make sure to check them daily, shaking the pests into buckets.

Weeds are loving this cool, moist weather too. Can you use weeds “harvested” now as “straw” mulch next month?  Many of us are thinking about how to close, or at least reduce, our organic material import/export cycle these days. Weeds that have not yet gone to seed and won’t root and grow again, (like Bermuda grass would), can be skimmed off just below the soil surface, or mowed or weed whacked. Leave to dry for a couple of days then rake up and store to use as mulch.

This material would also be great to layer with kitchen waste in your compost. If you like the idea of making your own compost but are having trouble integrating it into your life, it may be helpful to create better systems that make composting easy. Some people find it helpful to have 2 lidded buckets or bins just outside near the kitchen. One has dry organic material like weeds, leaves, straw, etc. You put a layer of this material in the collecting bucket, then every time you dump some non-animal kitchen waste into the collecting bucket you add a layer of the dry material. This should prevent the kitchen waste from getting slimy and stinky. When the collecting bucket is full you add it to your in-process compost. When your in-process compost has enough materials collected to make a pile at least 3’ x 3’ in size, add  water, as needed, (should be like a wrung-out sponge), and let it “cook”. A second pile then becomes your in-process pile.

Participating in this waste-into-gold process can be very gratifying! For more information on composting, the Master Gardeners are holding a series of workshops this summer. See www.ucanr.edu/compostworkshop..

May your garden grow well!


Bursting spring; planting potatoes in limited space; spring pests.

Sonoma County iGrow Blog - April 2, 2016 - 9:05am

Wow, what a powerfully beautiful spring we are having! With the blessing of water in the ground and adequate winter chill, fruit trees, roses and other plants that go winter dormant are bursting into bloom and new growth. Although there are still puddles and very wet soil in some places, the soil in my garden is perfect for working  and raised beds may even be getting dry. I’m finding big variations in soil moisture. Remember that you cannot tell how moist soil is a few inches down by looking at the surface, so keep a small shovel or hand trowel handy to dig down and check.

Sometimes we get what we ask for. We are lucky to have gotten the rain we’ve been praying for, and some plants that I’ve been encouraging have now “naturalized” in my garden. The “cover crop” in much of my garden this winter was mache (aka.“corn salad”), Miners lettuce and parsley. I’ve been enjoying, (and sharing), these along with my over-wintered lettuce, escarole and endives. Since these are all starting to bolt, (go to seed), now, I have been clearing out areas by cutting roots off just below soil surface. Those beautiful greens are too good to waste, so I’m laying them down in thick layers around paths and perennials to act as a mulch. Many weeds that have not gone to seed can be used as mulch too. Alternately, they would be great to use in compost.

Last year I got to expand my garden and build a new bed, which I promptly planted to potatoes. Since it’s important

Seed potatoes in a trench.

to not grow potatoes in the same spot 2 years in a row, I was trying to figure out how to squeeze in a row of them in the last couple of weeks without taking out plants I’m still harvesting from. Potatoes are tubers – modified stems – that grow above the “seed” potato. Any part of the stem that is buried will make potatoes, and the parts above soil level make green leaves. I like to plant potatoes in a trench that is 4-8” deep, then as the stems grow, I gradually cover with soil, always leaving a couple inches of leaves exposed to keep growing. Since I did have space on the edge of a bed, I realized that I could put the soil from the trench in buckets or old potting soil bags instead of piling it on the edge of the trench.

After taking the photo to the right, I planted each seed potato in place covered by about an inch of soil. No need to water the seed potatoes at this point; I check expectantly for new shoots to emerge and when they are clearly growing, I will start watering my potatoes.

Unfortunately, spring pests burst forth with the warm weather we had some days in March too. We have not seen many slugs or snails the last couple of years due to the drought, but they are around and breeding now. Cleaning out those over-wintered plants and weeds exposes the slugs, and I check carefully in established plants for snails. Leaf miners exploded in the leaves of my chard and beets, so I check those carefully too and destroy the leaves or parts of leaves with leaf miners in them. And I saw one harlequin beetle in a tree collard, so am keeping a close eye on them too. Rodents have gotten active as well; moles, voles and gophers are tunneling and breeding, so trap them if you can. Mowing the grass and weeds reduces hiding places for these rodents and makes it easier for predators, (eg. hawks, owls, coyotes, and hunting cats), to catch them.

I just read an article about the importance of systematic “monitoring” for pests on farms. The author recommended walking the farm on the same day each week with a clipboard and chart to record numbers of certain pests or disease symptoms on certain crops to help determine patterns and when it could be necessary to implement controls. A key point was to be aware of a potential problem and take action before a full “infestation” occurs. When doing this on a garden scale, it can just be about slowing down and paying attention in the garden. Look to really see what is going on, and be patient. This is also how one develops a deeper relationship with your garden and the process becomes more satisfying over time.

Wildflowers are popping too, so since it’s still too early for the main summer plantings, take a break from your garden and get out for a hike where you can enjoy nature’s glory.

Happy spring!




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