Saturday, April 28, 2012

Our 2012 Tomato, Pepper Garden

First of all, 2011 doesn't count. The unusually cool, wet spring and nearly non-existent summer here in the Sacramento area last year played havoc with just about all the tomato varieties: low production, late production, no production! The peppers, too, were late to ripen. 

Lemon Boy,  center
Probably the best performing tomato last year was Lemon Boy, which is a solid producer, year after year here. But again, we won't consider last year's results in this year's trials. 

Late April 2012 is becoming more typical of our mid-spring weather here: nighttime temperatures over 50, soil temperatures over 60. And today, April 28 is Official Tomato Planting Day here in California; and the weather is ideal: clear, high near 80, overnight low near 52...and sunny, warmer days in the seven-day forecast.

The rain and cool days may have ended, if you want to believe the National Weather Service's Long Range Forecast for interior California.

So, fingers crossed, here are the tomatoes and peppers we have in the ground this April:

Isis Candy
Big Beef (300 g)
Solid Gold grape tomato
Early Girl (110-140 g)
Celebrity (226 g)
Bloody Butcher
Sweet Million
Mandarin Cross
Dr. Wyche’s Yellow
Sungold (14 g)
Lemon Boy VFNASt
German Giant

New Hybrids for us:
Poseidon 43: pink low acid tomato. Globe, 78 days, 225 g

Tye-Dye: bright yellow-orange red. Round, Indeterminate 195 grams, 78 days

Caramba: red, 75 days, flat, indeterminate, 250-300g

Amsterdam: grape/plum tomato. highest brix of all tomatoes tested. 68 days, 22 grams.

Yaqui: red blocky saladette, 85-105 grams, 75 days, determinate vigorous

Serrano Tampiqueno
NuMex Joe E. Parker
Jimmy Nardello
Bhut Jolokia  (Ghost Pepper)
Cayennetta F1 (AAS winner)

Giant Marconi
And a new introduction, Sweet Orange Blaze: an AAS winner. Orange skin, small - 125g. Plant 30" tall.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Peach Leaf Curl Returns in 2012

Another cool, wet spring has arrived in Northern California... 

...And with it, the return of peach leaf curl.

 Peach leaf curl causes leaves of peaches and nectarines to discolor, thicken, pucker, curl, distort and eventually fall off. The fungus overwinters in these trees as spores, usually in the new buds. The rains of late winter and early spring - or in the case of 2012, the above average rainfall of March (and now, April!) - splashed these spores onto the emerging leaves, causing more problems. Emerging shoots can die; fruit production can be reduced in severe infestations. Only rarely do reddish, wrinkled areas develop on fruit surfaces; later in the season these infected areas become corky and tend to crack.
         The good news is that a second set of leaves soon emerges and can develop normally when the rains cease and daytime temperatures steadily reach into the 80's. The bad news: too many years in a row (perhaps 3) of a serious peach leaf curl infestation can kill peach and nectarine trees.


 Studies at UC Davis have shown that nipping off infected leaves of peach and nectarine trees doesn't do much good this time of year.

If your peach and nectarine trees are showing signs of peach leaf curl now, the best thing you can do is to assist those trees through this stressful period. 

• Rake up any fallen leaves and pull weeds that are growing beneath the drip line of the trees.

• Fertilize the area thoroughly, if you haven't yet done so. 

• Before the weather heats up into the 90's, spread four inches of fresh organic mulch beneath those fruit trees. Organic mulches, such as compost, shredded branches or the fallen leaves of healthy shrubs and trees will help conserve soil moisture, hold down weeds and add nutrients to the soil as that mulch breaks down.

• If a tree is severely affected with peach leaf curl, stunted growth may result; consider thinning fruit later in the season. 

• Pruning in fall prior to applying any fungicides can reduce spore numbers overwintering on the tree and reduce the amount of fungicide needed. 

• If leaf curl symptoms occurred on your trees in spring, be sure to treat the following fall and/or winter to prevent more serious losses the following year.
         The experts at UC Davis advise pruning infected peach trees in the fall before spraying with a copper ammonium complex product with 1% horticultural spray oil added to the mix.

    In the good old days of fruit tree sprays (2009), 50% copper concentrates were the recommended course of action. Not any more. Copper sprays, such as Liquicop available currently are weaker (about 8% concentration). Lime sulfur has been removed from the market. Bordeaux mixtures are expensive and wasteful...and potentially caustic.

And to add insult to injury: recent tests conducted this winter at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center by Chuck Ingels, UC Farm Advisor, show that the older, stronger copper sprays that are no longer available (Microcop, for example), along with lime sulfur, did provide the best control.

This recent trial involved treating (or not treating) individual branches on 10 different peach and nectarine trees

Still, that study did provide some good news about the future of peach leaf curl control:

The future of peach leaf curl control?
"Compared to untreated branches, Liquicop-treated branches averaged about 70% control," says Ingels. "Copper soap was slightly better at 80% control, Agribon (row cover material)  by itself was less effective at just under 60% control, and both Agribon + Liquicop and lime sulfur (late fall) followed by Microcop (late winter) resulted in nearly complete control.  Maxicrop (sea kelp) did not work at all and seemed to increase the severity on some of the branches."

The UC Davis Integrated Pest Management information on controlling peach leaf curl says, "Fixed copper products include tribasic or basic copper sulfate, cupric hydroxide, and copper oxychloride sulfate (C-O-C-S), but currently only liquid products containing copper ammonium complex products with 8% MCE (e.g., Kop R Spray Concentrate [Lilly Miller brands] and Liqui-Cop [Monterey Lawn and Garden]) are available to consumers. The most effective copper product, 90% tribasic copper sulfate with a 50% MCE (Microcop) is no longer available to retail outlets, because the manufacturer withdrew the product in 2010, although remaining supplies still can be sold."  

One of the reasons for that removal: repeated annual use of copper products over many seasons can result in a buildup of copper in the soil, which eventually can become toxic to soil organisms, and if it moves into waterways, can harm some aquatic species.

The removal of lime sulfur products was prompted by a rash of self-inflicted deaths in Japan in 2008 called "Detergent Suicides", which has since spread to the United States.

Bordeaux mixtures, a combination of copper sulfate, hydrated lime and water, are effective in controlling peach leaf curl, but come with their own set of warnings. According to the UC IPM Guideline entitled "Bordeaux Mixture":  "When applying Bordeaux, be sure to wear protective clothing, including goggles, because the spray deposit is corrosive, can permanently stain clothing, and is difficult to wash off." They also recommend wearing a dust and mist-filtering respirator when mixing in the hydrated lime. And that mixture can discolor anything it touches, including buildings and fences.

Although you can purchase pre-packaged Bordeaux Mixtures, they are not as effective as the mixture made from the individual components, reports that UC IPM Guideline. And that brings up the cost and waste involved: copper sulfate and hydrated lime are usually sold in large quantities, much more than the average homeowner needs for the backyard peach and nectarine trees. Storage involves mixing the leftover individual ingredients separately in water and storing in their own sealed jars. That UC IPM Bordeaux Mixture Guideline warns: "Be sure to clearly label both stock solutions and store them where children can’t get into them, since these materials, especially the copper sulfate, are very toxic and corrosive."

The synthetic fungicide chlorothalonil is the only non-copper fungicide available for managing peach leaf curl in the backyard orchard. Although one fall application may help prevent a spring outbreak of peach leaf curl, a second application in January or February, as the buds begin to swell, can be beneficial, as well.

But be sure to read and follow all label directions if you choose to use chlorothalonil, including this
"This product is toxic to aquatic invertebrates and wildlife. Do not apply directly to water or to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark. Drift and runoff from treated areas may be hazardous to aquatic organisms in neighboring areas."

Or this:  "May be fatal if inhaled. Harmful if swallowed or absorbed through skin. Causes moderate eye irritation. Avoid contact with eyes, skin or clothing. Do not breathe spray mist.

Or this: "This product contains chlorothalonil which is a
chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer."

No matter which spray method you choose, several days of dry weather must follow for the products to work. And that was the frustrating part of the winter of 2011-2012: the weather was comparatively dry during December, January and February...perfect for spray applications. The wet March (and now April) was the perfect vector for peach leaf curl, splashing spores of the disease to those branches that were unsprayed or incompletely sprayed.
         There are peach varieties that are more resistant to peach leaf curl. The downside: they may not be as flavorful as you might like. Peach varieties reported to be more leaf curl resistant include Frost, Indian Free, Q-1-8 and Muir; among nectarines, only the Kreibich variety is resistant, says UC Davis.

And for those who want to provide a helping hand next fall and winter to their suffering peach and nectarine trees: there's always spraying Liquicop combined with a spreader-sticker, followed by covering the trees with a row cover such as Agribon or other row cover fabric during rainy weather. Be sure to remove any covers during sunny weather to avoid overheating problems.

And it might not hurt to cover your peach trees during a rainy April, too.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Random Garden Thoughts and Pictures

Cottony Cushion Scale on a Mandarin tree
A favorite pest of citrus, pittorsporum and nandina here in California: cottony cushion scale. This sucking insect protects itself from most predators with a cottony covering. Also guarding the scale: ants, which harvest the secretions of the scale for food. Control the ants with ant bait; control the scale with either a blast of water from the hose or an application of horticultural oil. Avoid harsh chemical insecticides which may deter one of the few beneficial insects that feeds on this scale: the vedalia beetle.

According to  the UC Davis Integrated Pest Management website: do not apply imidacloprid (Merit or Bayer Advanced Citrus Fruit and Vegetables) for cottony cushion scale control. Although imidacloprid has scale insects listed on the label, it doesn’t kill cottony cushion scale. 

The Tumbling Event at the Scale Olympics
To make matters worse, imidacloprid is very toxic to vedalia beetles. The beetles are poisoned when they feed on cottony cushion scale that have ingested imidacloprid. Cottony cushion scale outbreaks have been observed following use of this insecticide because the vedalia beetles were removed and the insecticide didn’t control the pest.


Magic Kingdom Beehives?

Seen at Disneyland. Clever use of alyssum in the shape of a lantern or beehive.


Easy source of baby greens? Start them from seed in smallish containers (3" pots, perhaps). Keep them on an outside table near the kitchen window for an easy meal reminder. Snip 'em as you need 'em!


As seen at the National Heirloom Exposition, Sept. 2011:

The National Heirloom Exposition and Pure Food Fair in Santa Rosa last September was Disneyland for Grow-it-Yourselfers. Here, the Redwood Empire Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers had this beautiful pear on display, the Conseiller de la Cour.

From the book, "The Fruit Manual: Containing The Descriptions And Synonyms Of The Fruits And Fruit Trees Of Great Britain" comes this description of the Conseiller de la Cour: "Fruit, large, sometimes very large, being near four inches and a half long, and three inches and three-quarters wide; oblong pyriform, pretty even in its outline, but slightly undulating. Skin, thickly covered with cinnamon-coloured russet, so much so as to be encrusted with it, and permitting only very little of the pale yellow ground to show through it. Eye, large and open, with long, stout, and somewhat woody segments, set in a moderate depression. Stalk, from an inch to an inch and a quarter long, inserted on the wide, blunt apex of the fruit without depression. Flesh, yellowish, very tender, melting, and buttery, with an abundant richly flavoured juice, which is sweet, sprightly, and with a fine perfume.This is one of the finest pears in cultivation, and ripens about the end of October and beginning of November. The tree is hardy, vigorous, and an abundant bearer, forming fine pyramids and standards. Mr. R. D. Blackmore says it is 'a very fine pear. Coarse from a wall. I have grown it to weigh 18 oz.'"


 Also from the National Heirloom Exposition at Santa Rosa last September: this first place winning tomato, Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye. Annie's Annuals describes it: "With metallic green stripes this port-wine colored beefsteak (avg size: 8-12 oz) boasts an excellent sweet, rich, dark tomato flavor. Rated higher than ‘Cherokee Purple’ for taste & HIGHLY RECOMMENDED  FOR THOSE OF US WITH COOL SUMMERS. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse calls them 'Tomatoes you’ll never forget!'”


Here's a red meat watermelon radish, from Heirloom Organic Gardens in San Benito County. It was a crowd stopper at the National Heirloom Exposition. They sell their fresh produce at Farmers Markets in the Bay Area.

All gardening is local; so, be wary of falling in love with a plant when you're on vacation. This stunner is the Pink Rice Flower (Pimelea ferruginea), an Australian native plant as seen at Cambria Nursery and Florist, in Cambria, CA. Cambria is located in California's Garden of Eden, also known as the Central Coast, near Morro Bay. Frosts seldom happen there. Unlike here, in the Sacramento area.

From the online plant description: "The Pimelea ferruginea needs a minimum temperature superior to 15°C." 
For us Fahrenheit heads, that translates to 59 degrees F. Considering that our average nighttime low temperature is below 59 for 8 MONTHS A YEAR, this would not be a good choice as a perennial for Sacramento. Summer annual, perhaps.


Pictures do not do justice to the brilliant hues of red-orange on this Chinese Pistache, "Keith Davey". On a clear, fall day, you can see this tree a mile away.


I was impressed with the performance in 2011 of the Shock Wave Coral Crush Petunia. A great cascading plant with no insect problems (at least here!) with an extended bloom season. Even better, the petunia plant in that container with the Kumquat tree survived our freezing winter, and is greening up again.


Garden quiz time. 
The reason winegrape growers place rose bushes at the end of their vineyard rows:
a) To alert them to a powdery mildew outbreak;
b) To alert them to an insect infestation;
c) Red roses mark the rows of red winegrapes; white, the white wine.
d) They're pretty.

 d) is correct. Different strains of powdery mildew attack roses. Insects that bother both would attack the grapes first. And if the color of the rose indicated the varietal, then an apricot colored rose would mean that they are growing Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill wine!

Sacramento County Farm Advisor and Viticulture specialist Chuck Ingels says the practice may have been tried in France a long time ago to detect powdery mildew early, but it doesn't work because the mildew of grape is a completely different species from that of the rose and they have different temperature requirements.  And roses get aphids but grapes don't.

Powdery mildew on grapes: Erisiphe necator.
Powdery mildew on rose: Sphaerotheca pannosa
Downy Mildew On grapes: Plasmopara viticola
Downy mildew of roses—Peronospora sparsa

Viticulture instructor Andy Walker at UC Davis says that roses are planted strictly for aesthetics.

One blogger took a trip to the vineyards of Italy where the winemaker discussed the issue:

"Singore Razzi explained how they grow the grapes for their wine. We wondered why there were rose bushes at the end of  each row of grapes and found out that very sophisticated tests were done by scientists on the soil and after those tests the rose bushes were  planted to tell the wine master how the soil is doing. If the roses stay fresh and perfect they know the grapes are doing just as well...when a bush is 'sick' they know those grapes growing in that row are 'sick" also.'
No winemaker is going to rely on roses to tell them about the quality of the wine. But it certainly impresses visitors; and, they probably bought more wine because of their sophistication!"


Old broccoli that should be pulled? A closer look...

Bees in Flowering Broccoli

This is why I take my time before yanking out spent winter vegetables that have bolted. The flowers attract beneficial insects, such as honeybees and bumblebees. And that flowering broccoli comes at a time (early spring) when you want a lot of bees in your yard for pollinating fruit trees.
Here's more on attracting beneficials to your yard.