Archive for April, 2015

Twenty Water Conservation Tips

Author: Meera, April 27, 2015

California is in a historic drought. It’s our fourth year of below-normal rainfall and scientists, city governments, state lawmakers, and communities worry that this drought could run longer, perhaps even becoming a mega-drought. Wells are going dry, reservoirs in the state are lower than they’ve been in years, and water levels in rivers, lakes, and streams have shrunk.


Farmers have a right to be worried that their acreage may have to lay fallow. And what about the fruit and nut orchards? The Sierra snow pack that supplies much of the water to the Central Valley and Bay Area (where much of California and the nation’s food is grown)  remains a fraction of what it has been in non-drought years. Salmon runs are being impacted. Water is getting more scarce and more expensive. And less food produced means higher food prices.


Recently, Governor Jerry Brown mandated water conservation throughout the state. Communities are implementing drastic measures to force their citizens to cut water use. But that doesn’t necessarily mean lower water bills if our communities have to buy water to make up a shortfall. Each of us must do our part.


planter boxes on both ends of the fence protect the bamboo and hold water

Environmentalists value bamboo for its drought tolerance and landscape appeal; stone is an excellent element for zero landscaping and can be used with succulents or cacti




Twenty Tips to Cut Water Use



!. Install low-flow toilets and tub, sink faucets, and shower heads.

2. Use a front-loading washer rather than a top-loading version. The front-loading machines use roughly 20 gallons per load versus the 40 gallons of top-loading machines. We installed our energy-efficient front-loading washer when we moved in.

3. Wash laundry less often and make sure you set the machine for the right size load.

4. Take shorter showers with the drain closed. Capture the gently-used water in pails to recycle.

5. Use your energy-star dishwasher for cleaning dishes, glassware, and pans. You will use less water than by washing dishes by hand. But run the dishwasher only after it is full, not half-empty.

6. If you have a pool or hot tub, use a cover on it to prevent evaporation of water.

7. Wet your toothbrush, but then turn off the water as you brush your teeth.

8. Capture gray water (from the dishwasher, washing machine, shower, and sink). Gray water is gently used household water, not water from the toilet or sewer. Have a plumber install a gray water system to trees and plants on your property.

9. Completely turn off faucets to avoid drips. Also, fix any leaky faucets or water pipes.

10. Collect rainwater in plastic barrels and keep covered to eliminate the potential for mosquitoes breeding in the water.

11. Shower less often. Flush the toilet less often and never to flush away an insect or tissue. Use a lidded-waste can instead.

12. Use the broom to clean the sidewalk and driveway, not the garden hose and water.

13. Stop watering the lawn. Consider removing the lawn in favor of a landscape with drought-tolerant and indigenous plants. Or zeriscape, using bamboo, succulents, cacti, and stone.

14. Buy and use green products with the EPA-partnered WaterSense label.

15. Don’t throw out leftover ice cubes; use them to water a plant.

16. Never use running water to thaw meat or fish. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

17. Insulate water pipes to get hot water faster instead of running water through the faucet.

18. Install an instant water heater appliance under the sink to get hot water instantly rather than let the faucet run until the water gets hot.

19. When on vacation away from home, turn off the water softener to conserve water.

20. Recycle kitchen waste instead of putting it down the garbage disposal and running water. That recycled waste can become valuable compost for your garden and keeps it out of the septic system.







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Garlic–A Staple of Any Kitchen Garden

Author: Meera, April 21, 2015

No proper kitchen garden would be without a section for onions (whether spring green onions, chives, or bulb onions) or garlic. Both kitchen staples are easy to grow. In several raised beds measuring four feet by six feet, I’ve planted garlic amidst a few jalapeno pepper plants. Garlic benefits other plants in the garden as well.



Use garlic for companion plant to deter pests from lettuce and cabbage

Use garlic as a companion plant to deter pests from lettuce and cabbage






In spring, after all danger of frost has passed, plant garlic cloves. Or, plant in late fall when you might be planting other types of bulbs. Some European gardeners swear that garlic must be planted on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice.



I planted my garlic in late February/early March, long before my tomatoes, eggplant, pumpkin, and squash (the heat lovers) went in. The green garlic tops shoot out of the soil quickly and grow fast.





Plant each clove from a bulb upright in soil roughly one-inch deep. Space the cloves four-inches apart. The growing site must receive full sun. Give the garlic a good watering each week. Garlic is a beneficial companion plant in the garden because of  allicin (a property that acts as a fungicide and pesticide), especially when planted near lettuce and cabbage where it will deter aphids.





When the tall green shoots of the garlic become dry and turn brown, it’s time to harvest the garlic bulbs. After you’ve pulled the bulbs out, shake off the dirt (never wash) and then hang the bulbs in a dark, dry place. Then when the bulbs are completely dry, you can braid the paper-dry tops to hang the garlic in the kitchen for easy access.






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The Prolapsed Vent Issue

Author: Meera, April 15, 2015

It happened to one of my chickens a few years ago; now, it’s happened again.


The Ameraucana (left) with a Buff Orpington (right)

The Ameraucana (left) with a Buff Orpington (right)



My one-year-old Ameraucana hen–a blue-egg layer–developed a prolapsed vent from trying to lay a too-large egg. The first time it happened, I did all the things I’ve learned to do: separate her from the flock, reduce light, nutrition, and water (to stop her from trying to lay more eggs).



I used a lukewarm towel to clean her. Latex gloves and vaseline to try to push the vent/cloaca back in. And it worked for a while. It took her a couple of weeks to recover. Elated, I thought she would be fine. Not so.



The ameraucana and a white Leghorn with a Rhode Island Red chicken at the bottom of the frame

Top to bottom: Ameraucana, white Leghorn, and Rhode Island Red hens




By the time I realized it had occurred again, the other chickens had been pecking her–drawing blood–and she seemed weak, wobbly, and near death. I repeated the previous steps, thinking she’d pull out of it, but by morning she was gone.



Disheartened, I began to search chicken forums on the Internet to find out which breeds are susceptible to this issue. I learned the Cornish game hens and chickens that are bred for meaty bodies are more likely to have the vent prolapse, but I haven’t yet learned whether or not the Ameraucanas are equally susceptible. If anyone knows, drop me a line. Thanks.



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I opened my hives this past Sunday with the help of my world-class beekeeper neighbor. We checked on the the condition of eggs, the number of new queens, the growth of baby bees, the presence of mites (none detected), and the amount of honey (lots).



The male bees (the drones) over the last weeks have been engaged in some crazy flight patterns in front of the hive as the mating of the queen takes place. The old queen has done her egg laying and the hives have lots of babies with nurse maids and other worker bees. From the hives comes the clearly audible sound of humming and the fragrant scent of honey.



The drone (male bees) are vital for mating with the queen; after that, they are unnecessary and are elminated

The drone (male bees) are vital for mating with the queen; after that, they are unnecessary and are eliminated



The drones are not now needed and the workers in the colony are doing away with them. I found a stack of drones at the front door of the hive this morning. Strange sight to see, indeed. But no more so than the many queen houses (formed from honeycomb by the worker bees). These houses are where the new queens are nourished; each contains royal jelly.



Search for the tubular circles and you've found the queen houses

The tubular circles are the houses where the baby queens will be cared for by the workers. The houses contain royal jelly for the feeding of the new queens



My neighbor told me to wait three more weeks to take honey, but since I didn’t take any honey during the fall/winter and there were huge stores of it in my hives and coupled with the fact that there’s a plethora of flowers now to provide pollen for the bees, we decided it would be okay to remove some frames. So, I took six frames (weighing roughly ten pounds each) from the hives.



The honey I harvested has a pale lemony color–significant for the wildflowers and almond and fruit tree blossoms from which the bees collected the pollen to make that honey. In the fall, the honey is darker and earthier tasting, thanks to pollen from the star thistle and eucalyptus blooms.



When we had finished with my hives and walked back to my neighbor’s house, we spotted a swarm overhead. We grabbed the pots and wooden spoons and started banging. The bees took refuge in the tall pepper tree and that’s where my neighbor rescued them. In all, it was quite a spectacular Sunday!




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Propagating Plants from Rose Cuttings

Author: Meera, April 6, 2015



We've planted roses everywhere

The Abbaye de Cluny rose has dinner plate-size roses



Roses are among the most romantic flowers in a garden. I grow dozens of cultivars of rose bushes–climbers, hybrid teas, floribundas,  and polyanthas. When I have an extra few dollars, I might spend it on a rose bush, but when money is tight, I simply start a new bush from one of my favorites that I’m currently growing.



Climbing Sally Holmes has scampered up a ten-foot fence

Climbing Sally Holmes has scampered up a ten-foot fence



My husband and I love the climbers. We have tall fences (over six feet) around our property on all sides. Covering an entire fence is easy when you use a vigorous, virtually pest-free climber. Two roses that quickly adapt and grow to fantastic heights are Sally Holmes and Cecile Brunner.



Climbing roses need strong support, since some canes can reach forty feet or more as they scramble over a roof or stone wall, trellis, fence, or arbor.



Last year, my husband created a rose arbor on wires strung from the fence along the north side of our house to the roof line. He planted the Cecile Brunner rose as his climber of choice. Its sage green leaves make a lovely foil for the tiny pink roses that permeate the air with a spicy-sweet scent throughout the spring. Cutting and feeding will render another bloom in summer.



My garden has plenty of places where I could tuck in a new rose bush, and I’ve bought many over the years. I have some favorites that I’d like to start in other areas. They include A Shropshire Lad, Handel, Lady Banks (a thornless yellow rose), and Iceberg.



Climbing Handel flourishes in full sun and on a sturdy support

Climbing Handel flourishes in full sun on a sturdy support



This is the perfect time to propagate roses from cuttings in the Bay Area since the rose bushes in many yards are beginning to awaken. Roses require water, something no longer plentiful in California. Thanks to a severe four-year drought, we now have mandatory water restrictions. That means we gardeners must consider how we can recycle water, use gray water, collect water, and otherwise find ways to reduce water usage.



Shropshire Lad is a David Austen climber that looks splendid alone or with other roses

A Shropshire Lad is a David Austin climbing rose that looks splendid alone or with other roses




To propagate a rose from your favorite bush, take a six-inch cutting from a healthy cane. Make the bottom cut a sharp angle cut, not straight across. Do not crush the stem. Remove the leaves.



Dip the angle cut into a jar of root hormone powder. This powder enables the cane to root more easily in the ground or pot.



Insert the prepared cutting in the soil. Water as needed when the soil is dry. The cutting will need one to two months to root and then, it will begin to leaf out.



Some people like to put a quart jar over their cutting to create a mini-green house climate. In mild climates like the Bay Area, this isn’t necessary. The best time to propagate cuttings from your favorite roses is in the spring and never in extremes of cold or heat.



Creating romance in the garden could start with a table and chairs, floral-motif linens, and a service of tea. But even before those accoutrements to romance are added, why not fill the space with roses? It’s so easy.



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Mid-March to early April on the farmette brings the celebration of birthdays and the promise of new selections of flowers for our spring gardens. This year, our new plants are old varieties.



A fellow-gardener friend gave me a selection of antique flowers for pollinators that included Bee Balm, Sweet Alyssum, Prickly Poppy, Sunflowers, and Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate. These will go in various flower beds around our property.



Honeybees make a nice sundown snack for marauding skunks and raccoons

Honeybees at work on a frame of wax



Pollinators include many species of bees. We want them in our gardens to pollinate our fruits, vegetables, berries, and nut crops. Planting open-pollinated flowers enable pollinators to forage for pollen and nectar (their sources of food). When we provide rich food sources for pollinators, our food crops will benefit.


At a time when bee populations are declining worldwide, gardeners everywhere can help the besieged bees by planting diverse, open-pollinated varieties of pollen- and nectar-rich flowers. The following flower selection are considered old garden mainstays.


Bee Balm–”Bergamo”  Monarda hybrida

This perennial likes sun to light shade and soil that is moist, and well-drained. The plant will reach two feet tall and will bloom summer to fall. It attracts both hummingbirds and bees.


Sweet Alyssum–”Benthalmii” Lobularia maritima

Alyssum is an annual that likes full sun but part shade in the hottest areas of hte garden. Soil preferences is rich, moist, and well-drained. It reaches a height of ten inches and small white blooms form summer to fall. It will flower repeatedly if it is clipped back after flowering.


Prickly Poppy–”Busy Bee” Argemone platyceras

A sun lover like all poppies, this one is an annual that loves poor, dry, gravelly soil. It will grow to three feet and bloom throughout the summer into fall. It does have prickly spines, so care must be taken to avoid contact with the spines.



Sunflowers come in a range of sizes

Sunflowers come in a range of sizes



Sunflowers–”Pan,” Helianthus debilis, subspecies: cucumerifolius

Another sun lover, this annual thrives in rich, well-drained soil. Plants will reach three feet in height and bloom summer through the fall. These sunflowers make excellent cut flowers.


Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate–”  Polylgonum orientale

This annual will go at the back of the garden since it reaches a height of six to seven feet. It likes well-drained, moist, rich soil that is located in full sun. The plants bloom summer throughout the fall and self-sows.





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