Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Big Bad Bugs

Just as I thought the garden would descend quietly into winter, I took a look under the leaves, on woody stems, and in the nooks and crannies of the garden and found the dreaded pests! Those obnoxious eaters of garden vegetables, decimators of lovely limbs and beautiful flowers - they are everywhere it would seem! 

First, I noticed caterpillars in the butterfly garden. Now, this in itself is not a big concern. It is a butterfly bed, for crying out loud. So, I should expect (and hope for no less) some caterpillars to overwinter and gestate the designated spot I created for them. The are only holing up in my butterfly bush (how appropriate) and not eating any of my winter vegetables or annual and perennial flowers. This I can grudgingly accept, although I doubt the birds will extend them the same courtesy.

Next I noticed my blue hibiscus, normally so hardy and healthy, dropping yellow and brown leaves into my lavender. I peered deeper into the heart of the plant only to discover ugly, beetle-like, unmoving bugs covering the woody branches and trunk of the shrub. Quel horreur! It looked like these disgusting things were sucking the poor plant dry. Ants also covered the affected branches. I did my due diligence research and found them to be lecanium scale. I removed the damaged branches forcibly with my handy pruners and scraped the evil things off the trunk with a gloved hand. I will need to follow up with an insecticidal oil soap soon to root out any hangers on and prevent a re-infestation. 

Slugs are the bane of every gardener, especially the vegetable gardener. My defense so far has been no defense; I expect a few casualties now and again. It is the price to pay when you attempt (semi) organic gardening. I am debating trying out the beer trick; supposedly if you place a shallow dish of beer in your vegetable beds, the slugs will be attracted to it, then fall into the dish and die an inebriated (and hopefully happy) death. This sounds like an old wives tale to me, but I may have to try it. I am tired of them eating my Swiss chard (pictured), lettuces, cabbage, radishes, and flowers.

My poor roses are infected with orange rust yet again! Time to remove foliage and spray. I can complete a drastic prune as the season turns to winter, but I do not want to lose my gorgeous blooms until the plants go into semi-dormancy. This would not be such a problem if my infuriating neighbor took care of his roses - they keep re-infecting mine! Since the are growing onto my property, I will give them a good whack this weekend - Hah!

On a happier note, Hubby and I are endeavoring to continue cooking with ingredients from the garden. To that end, I have been researching new recipes to utilize what we have on-hand. Below is a cannellini bean soup made with home grown Swiss chard, basil, and sage. Delicious! 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Companion Plants for Roses (October Bloomday)

Roses are such a romantic addition to a garden; they remind me of a more genteel and gracious time. But the question becomes, what the heck can I plant along side them? Most tradition rose gardens are strictly roses, with no other ground covers, companion plants or other color around them. While allowing the roses to take center stage, this can create a stark effect in private gardens, especially during roses' dormant winter period.

I have discovered that the best plants to intersperse among the roses are hardy perennials and annuals that can take full sun to partly filtered shade. My favorite rose companions are the following:
  1. Catmint - Not to be mistaken for catnip - they are in in the same mint family, but are entirely different species; catmint is a perennial ornamental while catnip is edible for humans and their feline companions. Catmint has mint-like leaves and has lovely purple flowers that attract beneficial bugs.
  2. Nasturtiums - These annuals do well in the shadier parts of a rose bed. Seeds germinate without much attention other than watering and will continue to germinate year after year if you let them go to seed. They will need to be trimmed to keep them off the rose bushes. At the end of last spring, my nasturtiums were eaten by aphids, but I count my blessings the bugs did not attack the roses.
  3. Pansies  - I love to mix warm and cool colors in my garden, and blue and purple pansies help provide the cool colors I love, especially in the cooler months. The do well in filtered sunlight as well. Keep in mind, they will last up to 2 seasons at the most.
  4. Alyssum - Once established, this hardy annual does well in both cool and warm weather. These small, white (other colors available) flowers act as a ground cover and is another enticement to beneficial bugs. It does not create too thick of a ground cover, making it easy to remove rose debris such as petals and leaves from the rose bed.
A word of warning about placing edibles near roses - roses have a tendency to develop blights such as mildew and gold rust infestations and consequently, they will need to be sprayed to ensure their health. Chemical pesticide sprays and edible plants do not mix and for safety's sake, I recommend separating roses and edibles. I did plant lettuce in my rose bed last winter, but I was not able to eat the lettuce due to spraying my roses for orange rust. Orange rust spreads on the wind, so in the event of an infestation, keep the rose bed clear of rose debris, mainly infested leaves. I have trimmed back my companion plants to make this process easier. Companion plants should never grow so think around the rose bush that the rose bush is stifled. Airflow through the rose bush is necessary for good health. Be wary of over large and invasive root structures, since those can stifle the rose bush as well (all of the above plants have not invasive root systems).
Roses at the Inez Grant Parker Rose Garden in Balboa Park. Notice there are no companion plants.
My double delight roses back in April with nasturtium and alyssum.
Rose bed in September before clean up. Catmint is in the bottom right corner.
Rose beds in September after clean-up of dead leaves and fallen petals. New nasturtium growth and experiment in  planting annual dianthus & impatiens. Note the thinner ground cover; this makes it easier to remove rose debris.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Preserving the Pomegranate Harvest

Autumn is the end of one harvest (tomatoes) and the beginning of another: pomegranates! I thought they were fairly traditional autumn eats, but evidently they are harder to procure, sometimes even at a steep price. I pulled four fruits off my double tree to take as a hostess gift to Hubby's aunt as a thank you for hosting Rosh Hashanah.  Her eyes lit up in amazement and thanks, "How did you ever find them?" "Um, I grew them." 

Southern California is ideal for growing pomegranates. Once established, they tend to be hardy and prolific. Plant in full sun in soil with decent drainage. Although pomegranates are self-pollinating, many experts recommend planting two young trees together to ensure the mingling of male and female parts. I subscribe to this method, especially after such a prolific harvest! The two saplings will need to be staked together, fertilized and watered about once a week during the dry season.  I place mulch around the base of the tree to help maintain moisture and reduce the amount of watering needed to sustain the plants. I fertilize over time with a fertilizer stake - stake it and forget about it! The weight of branches and fruit tends to pull the tree down, so be prepared to remove fruit and lash branches to the support stake as needed. After the fall harvest (September - October), the leaves will turn from green to golden and will drop leaves as the air grows colder. Post-harvest is a good time to trim back and reshape the tree as desired. The tree will then remain dormant until spring. Do not trim the tree after it begins producing flowers in spring, for you will seriously reduce your autumn harvest!

Have you ever wondered why pomegranate juice is so incredibly expensive? In a word - extraction. Extracting juice from citrus and apples is so easy in comparison. But the pomegranate has a devious, permeating rind that intersects the entire fruit; it is a bitter pith that must be removed before the juice covered seeds can be pressed into tart culinary gold. After removing the pith, small fruit covered seeds need to be juiced rather than a whole piece of fruit. Consequently, making juice of the "blood stone" takes a long time, is tediously boring, and incredibly messy. Juicing this fruit is not for the faint of heart!

Cut the skin of the fruit as if you were quartering it. Do not cut through the fruit, only the skin!
Open the fruit under water in a large colander like a salad spinner.
Separate the pith from the fruit covered seeds. This is tedious and takes a very long time, hence the high price of juice.
Add the fruit covered seeds to your juicer. The juicer must have a very fine mesh filter to separate the seed from the fruit.
You can either store in a plastic container for further use or freeze in ice cube trays for later use.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

'Straight From the Farmers Mouth'

Kris Vester is a farmer from the Calgary area. He was kind enough to sit down with me and share his perspectives on the current state of food in our region. Please keep in mind that this is only 5 minutes of a 45 minute interview. I should have the unedited version available soon.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Julian Apple Days

If you are from my neck of Southern California, an autumn trip to Julian is a necessary seasonal rite of passage. Just as the morning air turns crisp, and the sunlight fades from brilliant to golden, natives know it is time to make the annual trek northeast through the Cuyamaca Mountains to the apple capital of SoCal. Last weekend, the Menghini Winery hosted Julian Apple Days with apple picking, an arts and crafts sale, and fabulous varieties of made-with-apples foods. We checked out the vendors stands, chatted with the owner/ brewer of the Julian Hard Cider, and watched the young children rock out to old-timey banjo classics. We picked a large bag of apples to turn into a delicious pastry later on this week. Lastly, no one can leave Julian without eating a slice of that famous apple pie from Julian Apple Pie Company or Mom's Pies (if you prefer).

The fruit of the vine
The author hiding in the apple grove
Apple picking is a family affair
Hubby and I liked the macabre artwork
Sometimes you got to climb to reach the best apples
Apple corer - looks icky to me!
Photo courtesy of Hubby and his penchant for old cars