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March 2009
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May 2009

CCSF Plant Sale Soon--Tomatoes!

The plant sale at CCSF is coming up soon. It is to be on May 7th, 11-3. While they will have plenty of ornamentals, and spring flower arrangements, the news is that this year there will be lots of vegetable seedlings, particularly tomatoes. The are all early tomato varieties, suitable for growing in SF or nearby. A few of them are ones that I want people to try, to see if they will resist the disease tomato late blight. These are ones that someone writing on the web claimed didn't get the disease in their gardens, so if you have seen this disease, you might like to try them.

The sale is in the Department of Environmental Horticulture and Floristry, on the north end of the campus, on Judson between Gennessee and Foerster. Thursday May 7th only, 11-3.

The tomatoes that may be late blight resistant are: '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), currant tomato (wild variety, tiny fruit, from Totally Tomatoes, I think, but available several places. Currant tomatoes are available as red, yellow, or white. We are groiwing white ones).

I I wrote about this disease several blog posts back, with a link to a site with photos. The name of the post was "Have you seen this tomato disease?" You can use the search feature to find it.)

There are also many other varieties, including Early Girl, Stupice, Chocolate Cherry, Roma, Sungold, Old German, etc.


Trouble for Fava Beans

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Today's column in the Chronicle was about black aphids and fava beans. They did print the image I sent, though this one is a little clearer than the one in the paper, which had registration problems. That is, one of the colors in the four color separation is not quite lined up with the other ones. The Chronicle promises a new printing press soon, which will improve the quality of their photo reproduction.

In Britain, this is what they call black fly, though it is an aphid rather than a fly. As I mentioned in the column, they just nip of the tops of the plants, which the aphid are happiest eating, and let the lower flowers form pods. You may prefer to spray with a hard spray of water a few times, or, for a better clean up, use an insecticidal summer oil spray. One spraying might be enough to do it. 

People used to use soap sprays to kill aphids, and they may work, but the oil sprays are proving more effective. A good reason to stay with the less-toxic methods, such as the above, is that beneficial insects really will help you get rid of garden pests if you don't use pesticides that kill them.

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For example, here is a lady beetle feeding on the black aphids on the same fava bean plant.I only got one shot of it, after which it dove behind a flower and never came out, but it was working away on the aphids. This one is an adult, but the little charcoal gray and orange alligator-like lady beetle larvae eat aphids even faster than the red-orange beetles with black dots that we all recognize.

Hope you can see the beetle. It is just past half way down in this photo, on the stem of the plant, among the flowers.

May your fava beans not get black aphids, or, if they do, may the lady beetles show up!

Citrus Bud Mites Deform Lemons

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This is the photo that was submitted to go with my SF Chronicle ( Golden Gate Gardener column today. How could they resist printing this wonderfully sculpted Eureka lemon? But resist they did, so I thought you'd like to see it here. The image was taken by Dagmar Zidek, whose lemon tree has the problem. 

This happens because some mites enter the flower buds and start sucking out the sap. The ovary of the flower is misshapen, so the fruit is, well, outlandish. Citrus bud mite is apparently particularly a problem near the coast in our area, just where we depend on lemons for most of our garden citrus. 

The goal, in managing the pest, is to kill it without killing too many of its predators, in particular predatory mites. You have to spray when the bud mites are active and not yet inside the buds, which is May and June, then again in September through November. Use a summer oil spray. Some summer oil formulations are still based on petroleum, but apparently studies showed that vegetable oils worked fine too, so now a lot of the newer ones are based on vegetable oils, like canola or soy. So keep your lemons looking like lemons by keeping this pest under control!

Or maybe you'd rather go for the Deformed Lemon Hall of Fame.  


2009 February-March 046 copy It's just a pile of freshly washed apples. Nothing special to look at. But I photographed these apples on March 26th, and they are the last of the apples I harvested from my tree last mid-October. So they have been in my fridge, in a plastic bag to prevent evaporation, for over 4 months. How are they? Firm, tasty, and not quite as sweet as they were after a month or two of storage.

The secrets of long storage of apples are 1. A variety that stores well, 2. Learning to pick at just the right time, 2. Cold storage in a container that reduces water loss.

So what variety are these? Unfortunately, we don't know, although two apple variety experts have examined fruit and leaf. They may be Baldwin, an old variety that is known to bear late in the season and store well. (The tree was planted before we owned the house, and there is no one to ask what they planted.)

As to picking at the right time, I pick when they still have green under the red streaks, but come off of the tree without twisting. At this stage they are hard, crisp and not as sweet as they will be later. As they ripen, in storage, they get sweeter for a long time, then lose a little sweetness at the end.

As I said, they have been in plastic, in the bottom of the fridge. I know plastic isn't the greenest material, but they were recycled bags and held up the whole time.

Oh, and one more thing: The apples were not bruised or injured in any way. That would have greatly increased the chance of decay. Still, I do lose a few every winter, so I have to take them out from time to time and check them over. This time, I threw away (composted) half a dozen, but that left 2 dozen--two weeks at an apple a day. I also washed the good ones and dried them before I put them back away, because some of them had a very thin layer of some dark gray surface growth here and there--some microbe that couldn't break through the skin. Maybe it was living on their waxy coating, but it did wash right off.

I eat these storage apples in nonfat yogurt with broken English walnuts. If the apple has lost too much sweetness, I add a light dribble of honey.

I often think about the fact that gardeners don't necessarily always eat their garden produce at its very freshest. Usually, yes, the garden produce I eat is fresher than what I can buy, often only minutes from being harvested, but sometimes not. When food is coming fast--too many cucumbers to give away--I may eat the one I picked last week up first, because I value any that I grew over ones I can buy, and don't want any to go to waste. (Though I must say that the more recently picked ones are probably still fresher than those from a grocery when I do get to them.)

And when I store the apples--well, when I buy an apple, I want it to be hard and crisp. One year, when some disease made our crop light, I went to the farmer's market every week in apple season and bought Fujis picked the night before. They sure were good. But I forgive the apples from my own tree for being a little tired by the end of March.

My tree is starting to leaf out. Chances are I will still have a couple of fruits from last year when the flowers open to make next year's crop. If I do, I'll take a picture.

More Change at the S.F. Chronicle

As you may know, I write a weekly column for the SF Chronicle, and the paper has been going through great financial difficulty recently.Part of the result of their financial difficulty has been a restructuring of sections that moved most of the Home and Garden content from Wednesday to Sunday. Another part has been that they have been trying to reduce their staff. Changes continue.

After longtime Home and Garden editor Lynette Evans left the paper at the end of 2008, Simar Khanna, who was previously editing the 96 hours section, took it over. Yesterday, I got an email explaining that she had taken a buyout and had only stayed on for the past two months to help with a transition. And she said that Laura Thomas, who has been in the department for some years, has also taken a buyout and left.

The new Home and Garden Editor is Deb Wandel, who has been working in the Food Section for many years, and whom Simar says is experienced and good to work with.

I just write the columns and hope they are treated well. In the past couple of months, the H&G section has sometimes been so tiny--one sheet, 4 pages--that they have not been able to run my column every week. Then, last week, they cut a couple of paragraphs from the middle of an answer, adding a bit of mystery as to how we got from the first part of the answer to the last part. But I still think the Chronicle is an extremely valuable resource and hope they/we can find a way to keep it in print. 

In the garden, we are transplanting onions, collards, tomatoes, leeks, and lettuce, and sowing seed of arugula and Spigarello broccoli. That last is a broccoli grown for leafy shoots. I want to compare it to gai lan, or Chinese broccoli. Seems like the Italians and Chinese have a few similar greens, which each culture stir-fries with different condiments.

The Spring of the Year

2009 February-March 018 copy  Tulips aren't common in San Francisco, because they don't get enough winter chill to returm in subsequent years, but they are so lovely when they do appear that I can never resist photographing them.


Here is a flower that is much better adapted to our local gardens.

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I planted this flower in my front garden to give me winter blooms, but there it is, still blooming in spring. It's called Tagetes lemmonii, or copper canyon daisy. Mine is maybe 3 1/2 feet tall, but they can reach 6 feet. The plant has a strong scent when you brush against it, which Sunset describes as a mix of mint, marigold, and lemon. Some love it; others hate it. It was the favorite scent of one of my students, while someone just told me they were violently allergic to it. Who can say? But mine isn't where it would get brushed against much, so I won't find out which visitors love or hate it. This is a frost-sensitive plant, and may not live many years, but I am enjoying it so far. It has four or five branches in various stages of bloom, and when a branch has bloomed out, I'll cut it back. Wish I could put the scent on screen so you could see what you think, but the technology is lacking, alas.

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One of the best food crops in a San Francisco garden in spring is one that comes up wild if you let some seed drop the previous year. It's the native plant miner's lettuce, which is Claytonia perfoliata. The perfoliate part refers to the fact that the stems grow out of the center of the leaves. The little flower stems elongate and then seeds form, but the leaves are nicest in a salad when the first flowers open. They are crunchy and mild, a real treat. These are wet from one of our last rains, but we aren't having any rain now.

It has been sunny the past few days, and today the wind has been blowing hard all day. It is weather like this, in the spring, that will catch local gardeners by surprise and cause them to lose a few plants. The sun and wind will dry the ground quickly, and plants will wilt. Have you checked your garden for water lately?