growing, eating, sharing

The irrigation season begins; keeping young plants from being eaten.

The irrigation season begins; keeping young plants from being eaten.

What a difference in the last 2 weeks! A heat wave, long days and no real rain, and suddenly trees are completely leafed out, roses are starting to bloom, and everyone is planting tomatoes. For my garden the biggest changes, (in addition to losing the light in my bedroom window as the grape vines expand), are my irises in full glory, a major artichoke harvest and starting to run my drip system regularly.

 Before last Friday I had been spot watering new plantings, as there was enough deep moisture for established plants. But Friday afternoon I realized that I would be gone all weekend and the soil was starting to really dry out, so I ran the drip lines for the first time this year. Soil moisture will vary a lot in different gardens now. Clay soil in low areas or near springs may still be wet, but raised beds and sandy soil in exposed areas could be quite dry. Remember that most plants – including tall weeds – take a lot of water out of the soil, especially on windy days, which we’ve been having. To retain as much moisture in the ground now as possible, mow or weed out unwanted plants to reduce “transpiration” – the loss of soil moisture through plant leaves – as well as preventing weeds from going to seed.

 Watering is one of the hardest parts of gardening in California. There are no easy answers as to how much, how often or how long to water, and Sara and I have written about this in past blogs. Dig down a few inches in several places to learn how moist or dry the soil is. You may find that some areas dry out much faster than others. And review our Water-wise document, www.igrowsonoma.org/water-wise-food-gardening, for tips on conserving water and holding more of it in the soil.

 Keeping our young food plants from being eaten by other critters can be another difficult task. There were more snails in my garden this spring than ever, probably due to all the spring rain. Although you can use products like Sluggo to reduce their populations without poisoning your garden, it is best to find and destroy as many snails as possible in the spring. Their hiding places are pretty easy to find once you know where to look, and if you go out early on damp mornings they are often quite visible. Although I don’t appreciate the damage “pests” can do, I do enjoy the process of observation and interaction with other garden life. Yesterday I was amazed and only slightly horrified to discover a solid mass of green and black aphids, being tended by a stream of ants, on the artichokes that were ready to pick. Why this year are both types of aphids together when I only had black aphids last year? But the most fascinating part was watching the army of Soldier beetles feasting on these aphids! I have never seen so many Soldier beetles in one place. I cut the artichokes that were ready and put them in a bucket of water, where the ants drowned and after a few minutes I easily rubbed off the aphids and brought the chokes into the house. There are plenty of aphids left to keep the Soldier beetles busy and Mother Nature’s drama in the garden goes on. Earwigs are a different story; their damage can be devastating this time of year. They love hiding in the spaces between pots in a flat and munch on the germinating seedlings, which can be fatal. So I try to remember every day to take the pots out of the flat and quickly squish any earwigs I find, and I remove other hiding places to reduce the populations of earwigs now. But even earwigs have their place, (from our perspective), in the garden, as they eat aphids too. I have found earwigs in apple leaves which were curled from aphid damage, busily eliminating the aphids.

 Many people are not comfortable killing other critters in the garden, even insect pests. Although I can understand this, it’s good to remember that we are not separate from nature. There would not be hordes of snails, aphids and earwigs in our gardens if we had not planted all those delectable plants for them. We have co-created the garden ecosystem and we need to manage it. But as co-creators, it is our job to get to know those other creatures, understand their life cycles and habits, and “manage” them with respect.

 Enjoy these beautiful, warm spring days in your garden. Look carefully, listen, and be engaged with the pulse of all of nature’s life surging into full force.

 Happy May Day!