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February 2009
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April 2009

Subscribing to this blog: Notifixious

The other day I added a feature that lets you subscribe to this blog. Scroll down and look on the right to find it. You can subscribe by email or several other systems. Let me know how it works for you.

Also, hope you noticed the Lijit search feature that's been in place for a long time. You can use it look for particular topics in my blog. I often blog about the same plants or plant pests over time, so this lets you pull all the posts on one subject together and read through them. 

I have to work in my garden this week. So much to do. Spray the apple tree with canola oil dormant oil again to combat woolly apple aphid, prune the hedge, plant some tigridia bulbs, repair the brick patio where the fence builders damaged it. A little sunshine, the cold wind has let up, so it's time to go at it! Hope you have time to work on your garden, and have a garden to work on. (Or, if not, consider volunteering on Alcatraz. The gardens there are glorious, and it is a spectacular place to be gardening. You can find out how at Or look for a community garden. You can find a list through the web site of SFGRO, that tells you where they are and whether they have room.

Incidentally, there will be an event to celebrate the publication of the book Cracks in the Asphalt, a photo-illustrated guide to selected community gardens in San Francisco, on Thursday evening, March 26, 7 pm, at Get Lost Travel Books,1825 Market (between Valencia and Guerrero, corner of Pearl). Author Alex Hatch will be there, and Jude Kosky of SFGRO. It is a nice, small book, with maps and interesting facts about the neighborhoods around the gardens. A tour guide, if you will.

A Tree Story and a New Salad Crop

First a story about my apple tree. When we moved in it was a sad little tree, pruned so badly that it wasn't bearing any apples. Now, over 20 years later, it is a fine-looking tree, with many apples every year. But recently it has had some problems with scab, rosy apple aphid, and with the dread woolly apple aphid, a pest that lives in the roots as well as on the branches.

2009 February-March 007 copy  So I was digging out the soil around the tree, since one thing I wanted to try is to dig just to expose the top roots and then pour diluted horticultural oil over the soil and water it in. (The oil I use is made from canola oil, and I diluted it as if for a spray, so the drench is mostly water.) In any case, I was digging away while my friend Lisa, who is an arborist, was doing a little pruning, when I suddenly stopped and called her over. Here is what I saw. The trunk had no roots for the first foot or so, and then I came to the place where the trunk flared out a little bit. This is where the soil should have been all along! It is clear that the people who sold us the house had piled soil aroung the trunk, burying it. This is very bad for a tree, and may have made it more susceptible to the pest that has been bothering it. Look at the right side of the base of the trunk for that little bit of flare. That's the bottom. If you look closely, you can see the change of color on the trunk, from the dirty, previously buried part to the cleaner, not ever buried part. It is right at the top of the last wet streak. Mind you, other arborists have looked at this tree and not noticed. Lisa had said "That trunk bothers me. It doesn't have much flare." Boy was she right!

So I kept on digging. It looks like someone just dumped a bunch of soil at the bottom of the garden, ignoring the tree. Not a good idea. Gardeners out there: Don't bury the trunk of your trees. Not even a little bit. That trunk base needs air, and you will at best make the tree susuceptilble to diseases and pests, or, at worst, kill the tree.

2009 February-March 013 copy

As I dug, I suddenly saw what I should have seen years ago, but didn't: The bottom stair leading down to the tree was also buried. Look at that! The top one is normal height, but the bottom one is very shallow. I have been excavating since this photo and we have had to haul out some of this extra soil. When I get it down to the right level, I will add some mulch, but not right up against the trunk, since that would also limit its ability to breath. I'm glad my soil is kind of high in sand. If it had been clay, I might have a dead apple tree at this point!

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Meanwhile, in the vegetable garden, I've been trying out some new "greens." This one, as you can see, is really red, or purple. It is the same species as the big purple-leaved, spicy mustard that is rather common. But this little plant is only about 8 inches tall, and is rather mild. It is called 'Ruby Streaks'. Territorial Seeds has it as does Nichols Garden Nursery and Johhny's Select Seeds. There is a lime green version as well. So far, the purple one has grown faster in the cold spring and has a milder flavor than the green one. But both are really striking in a salad. I think they'd be pest harvested at 4-5 inches long for that purpose. Both "streaks" are growing faster than the mizuna mustard we planted. It's a different species, Brassica rapa, while the "streaks" are B. juncea.

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And, just because it's spring, here are some daffodils I shot last week. Happy spring!

Tomato Trial On the Way

Someone asked for the list of tomatoes we are trialing to see if any resist late blight.

Once more with feeling: Below is the list of tomato varieties that anecdotal evidence suggests might resiste tomato late blight, and therefore the ones we are growing for our trial. Actually, we have changed the red cherry to white cherry, do to an ordering error, but that should be resistant too if the red currant is.

We will be growing: 'Legend' (medium-sized fruit, bred for resistance, but may not resist the strain we have, from Territorial Seed Co.), 'Koralik' (cherry-sized, from Territorial Seed Co.) 'Tommy Toe' (cherry tomato, from Totally Tomatoes), 'Juliet' (grape-shaped tomato, from Totally Tomatoes), 'Matt's Wild Cherry', from Seeds of Change), red currant (wild variety, tiny fruit, from Totally Tomatoes, I think, but available several places).

All of the tomato seeds have been sown now, in a greenhouse, so we are on the way. We will be offering some of these plants for sale at the City College of SF Horticulture Department plant sale on May 7th, details to follow. If you want to plant all of the possibly resistant ones and a control, and report your results, you can register ahead of time through this blog to do so. We have one site offered, in the East Bay, but would like several, in different places. The criteria are 1. that you definitely have had late blight problems in the past and 2. are willing to grow the plants and report the results accurately. (and I guess 3. That you can pick up the plants at City College on May 7th or thereabouts.) (And, I suppose, assuming our seedlings all grow. I'll keep you posted.)

Tomato Seeding Day Is Tuesday

Tuesday, March 16th is seeding day for my tomato trial. A class at City College of San Francisco will be sowing seeds for the reportedly late blight resistant tomato varieties along with a bunch more to sell at our spring plant sale and for use in a trial to try to find something that will resist tomato late blight. Scroll down to see a complete list of the varieties we are growing. As the date of the sale approaches I think it's May 7th), I'll write up a list of everything we are growing. There will be early peppers and eggplants, lettuce, gai lohn, etc.

I have been working on a big writing project, and will be turning in 2/3 of it tomorrow. Only 1/3 to go, and then more time to garden, blog, etc. 

Yesterday as I stood by my window, a mockingbird flew within a yard of the pane and into the neighbor's blooming pear tree. Mockingbirds are such dramatic birds, all full of songs, and when they fly, they open up gray wings and reveal a broad V of white. They are so floppy when they fly. It doesn't seem they would stay afloat. My friend tells me her mother taught her they were "trash birds," a concept I don't get, and if you explained it to me I still wouldn't get. I have spent many an hour in a garden working and listening to mockingbird song and they were some of my favorite hours. 

Happy spring! (Almost) 

Another Name Question: Hyacinth Bean

OK, someone who is good at other names for crops. Does anyone know what the hyacinth bean is called in Nicaragua? It is Dolichos lablab, or Lablab purpureus in Latin. I don't need the Spanish name, but the Nicaraguan name, which I am told is a different word. A friend here in the states wants to tell his father about the plant, but can't find the right word so that his father can find it there. It is a vine with beautiful purple flowers and pods that are edible when young. Needs too much summer heat to grow in my San Francisco garden, but have seen it growing in the Washington, D.C. area.

More photos soon. I am writing to a deadline that is coming up in 10 days, and feeling a little frantic.