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Edition 6.17
May 1st, 2006

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"I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one."
— Edna St. Vincent Millay

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10-20-20? 15-15-15?


Don't be confused by all those numbers! The N-P-K numbers (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) on the label simply give you the percentage of each of these primary nutrients in the fertilizer. For example, a 10-20-20 fertilizer contains 10% nitrogen, 20% phosphorus, and 20% potassium. This means that 100 pounds of this fertilizer will have 10 pounds of nitrogen, 20 pounds of phosphorus, and 20 pounds of potassium. These nutrients certainly aren't the only ones plants need, but plants use them in the greatest quantities. You'll sometimes hear the term "fertilizer ratios." This is simply the ratio of each to the other. Divide the numbers by the lowest number in the group of 3 and you will have the ratio. For instance, 10-20-20 would have a 1-2-2 ratio, and 15-15-15 would be 1-1-1.

Nitrogen is the nutrient most often in short supply in soils. It stimulates vegetative growth such as leaves and stems, and gives a lush green color to leaves. Phosphorus stimulates root growth, hastens flowering, and promotes increased disease-resistance, whereas potassium increases the size and quality of fruit and flowers, among other benefits.

The balance of these nutrients can be as important as how much you apply. For instance, a tomato may respond with lots of vegetative growth and few fruits if you give it too much nitrogen. If you give it too much phosphorus and potassium, and no nitrogen, the result can be a small plant that produces only a few tomatoes. Be sure to use a fertilizer that is specialized for the type of plant you are feeding.

The Benefits of Mulching


One key to a successful garden is planning for the worst. Let's call it preventative maintenance.

Mulch is to a garden what a roof is to your home. We couldn't heat or air condition the home without the roof. The same seasonal temperature variance occurs in your garden. A 3" layer of mulch not only retains moisture in the soil but it maintains a cooler temperature in the summer and a warmer temperature in the winter.

Mulching also brings many other benefits to the garden. It gives the garden a tidier appearance, and greatly improves the growing conditions for plants. Mulch helps suppress weeds and helps to conserve moisture. It creates an environment where earthworms can grow, and they will enhance the soil's condition. Nature provides this for us in the natural setting; and by applying mulch to our garden, we mimic what is naturally done on the forest floor.

Mulch provides a blanket to the soil that protects against the crusting effect that happens as a result of watering or rain. Organic mulches decompose and add humus to the soil.

There are many mulching materials available. Color, particle size, and nutrient exchange are considerations when choosing your material. While decorative barks are attractive, they can become a home for insects and they will drag nitrogen from your soil.

Materials like bark are in a state of decomposition. Nature's way of hastening decomposition is to utilize available nitrogen from any available source. The plants are then competing with the mulching material for available nitrogen. Decorative mulch is best used in wide areas without vegetation and for winter cover in areas where plants are dormant.

Non-organic decorative mulches (rock and such) are an attractive addition in gardens but give nothing back to the soil and can also be a hiding place for pests.

Thus, it is best to choose a fully composted material for mulch around growing plants. It will give you the moisture retention and soil temperature protection without consuming the nitrogen your plants are planning on.

A good rule of thumb for mulch is at least 1½ inches and up to 3 inches. It should be applied to already moist soil because it will rob the soil of its moisture otherwise. Mulch should never be placed right up against the stem of the plant or trunk of the tree.


Choosing Tomato Plants


Looking around at the choices available in tomato plants, it's easy to get confused. What do they mean by determinate and indeterminate — not to mention semi-determinate? Should one buy an heirloom or a hybrid? Everyone knows what a cherry tomato is--but what is the difference between a beefsteak and a salad tomato?

Determinate, Indeterminate, and Semi-determinate

Determinate varieties are also known as bush tomatoes. They stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud, ripen most of their fruit in a short period, usually about 2 weeks, and then die. They generally require no staking or caging and are usually early-maturing. Pruning is not recommended. The plants and their fruit are generally smaller than indeterminate sorts. Most varieties that do well in pots are determinate.

Indeterminate varieties are also called "vining" tomatoes. They grow, bloom, and produce fruit until the end of the growing season (generally first frost). These almost always require staking or caging for support, and pruning may be required.

Semi-indeterminate varieties are basically indeterminate in nature, but have some determinate qualities, such as earlier yield and less need for staking.

Non-hybrid, Heirloom and Hybrid

Tomatoes are usually self-fertilizing. A non-hybrid tomato is one that has been allowed to self-fertilize to produce non-hybrid seed. Growers can save seed of non-hybrid tomatoes to plant the next season's crop. Non-hybrid tomatoes will grow true from seed. Old, non-hybrid, cultivated varieties are often known as heirloom varieties.

Hybrid tomatoes have two genetically different parents that are crossed each year to produce the hybrid tomato seed. Although hybrid tomatoes do produce seed, the seeds will not have the characteristics of the hybrid — though it can be fun to plant them just to see what you get!

General Types

Beefsteak Tomatoes

Beefsteak tomatoes are known for large size and thick, meaty flesh. The pulp cavity of this type is small and may resemble a "marbled" steak--hence the name. This meatiness makes them hold together well when sliced, and the large size makes them great for sandwiches. One slice does the trick!

Salad Tomatoes

Also referred to as globe or slicing tomatoes, this variety is medium-sized, meaty enough to hold together well, and juicy. The smaller size makes them popular for salad wedges (bite-sized), or sliced to accompany a meal.

Cherry Tomatoes

Measuring less than an inch in diameter, these tomatoes make excellent bite-sized nibbles or tasty additions to salads. Cherry tomatoes are also great for grilling on skewers. Sub-types include grape and currant tomatoes, which are smaller in size but slightly sweeter than regular cherry tomatoes.

Plum Tomatoes

Also known as Roma, these are egg-shaped tomatoes that have thick skin and flesh. They are less juicy than most other varieties, which makes them good candidates for baking, canning, and broiling. They also do well for sauces and paste.

Paste Tomatoes

These are dryer than other varieties; many plum tomatoes are also "paste tomatoes." They are good for making tomato paste and dried tomatoes.

Get Rid of Snails and Slugs

Snails and slugs are a real challenge to a gardener's patience, but there are many choices for dealing with them which you might not have been aware of. The good news is that many of these solutions to the snail & slug problem are non-toxic!

Remember the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach of starting with the least toxic?

Here are some ideas:

1. Hand-pick and dispose of them by your choice of methods. These would include stomping them, throwing them in the street, dropping them in a bucket of salt water, and so forth!
2. Coax them out of the flowerbed by laying a flat board on the ground. They will crawl under it to get away from the heat of the sun, then you just swish them off into the trash.
3. Put out a saucer of stale beer- They are attracted to the scent of it and will crawl in and drown!
4. Apply a copper band around flower pots. Snails cannot tolerate copper and they will not cross it. These are available commercially, or you can make your own.
5. Put down scratchy things (snails don't like doing the equivalent of walking across broken glass in bare feet). Finely crushed eggshells and diatomaceous earth (this will need replacing if it gets wet) work well.
6. Get friendly with the larger neighborhood predators. Possums, ducks, turtles, tortoises, rats, some birds, and snakes (and even my former neighbor's Springer Spaniel) will prey on snails and slugs.
7. Try snails that like other snails for dinner. The predatory snail Rumina decollata (decollate snail) will feed on young snails and may be worth a try but also may nibble on young plants on occasion . It takes a little time to get them established but many people have been pleased with the results.
8. Don't forget the predacious beetle Calosma, which also feeds on snails and slugs.
9. If these fail, try a pet-safe snail bait such as MONTEREY SLUGGO (safe around pets); for a really bad snail and slug problem, use CORRY’S SLUG & SNAIL (not safe for pets).

Use baits weekly for at least three weeks to get all generations.

A word of caution if you have been using a pelleted form of snail bait- it can be dangerous around pets as it looks like food to them. The finer granule type is much safer - but please be careful; read the label and use as directed.

Care for Avocado Trees

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A mature avocado tree needs to have at least two pounds of nitrogen a year and varying amounts of other nutrients such as phosphorus and zinc. For the home gardener, the easiest way to feed your avocado is to use a mixed fertilizer specifically recommended for citrus and avocados that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and zinc . Be sure to follow the package directions.

In coastal zones, gardeners should divide the amount of fertilizer for the year into five equal applications and give one feeding each month from February through June. Interior gardeners should divide the total amount into four monthly applications and give one feeding per month from March through June. With slow-release fertilizers you can divide the fertilizer into two equal doses. Give the first dose early this month if you live along the coast, late this month if you live inland, and give the second dose in June.

If you choose to go with single-use fertilizers, you can feed avocados by spreading 25 pounds of aged chicken manure under each mature tree in February. Beginning in March, give each tree one trowelful each of blood meal and bone meal every six weeks, through August. If the mulch is very thick, rake it off, sprinkle the food underneath, then replace the mulch on top.

The main things an avocado desires are rich soil, excellent drainage, and a thick layer of mulch over the roots. Allow the leaves that fall to remain under the tree; don't rake them up. (Avocados are best planted at the back of the garden where their large leaves won't look too messy.) Add additional mulch to young trees.

Remember, never cultivate or dig under avocado trees, because that would damage the roots and all your fruit might fall off. It's best not to grow anything under an avocado tree, especially if that something needs frequent irrigation. Wet soil promotes root rot of avocado.

The History of the Hass Avocado

The Hass Mother Tree 1926-2002

In 2002, the tree to which every Hass avocado in the world can trace its lineage, finally succumbed to root rot at the ripe old age of 76. Her offspring account for 95% of the avocados grown in California, and the fruit of her labor resulted in one of the state's most important industries. Yet, despite speculation to the contrary, nobody knows what variety of seed produced the original Hass Mother Tree.

The tree began life as a mistake - a lucky-chance seedling planted by A.R. Rideout of Whittier. Rideout, an innovator and pioneer in avocados, was always searching for new varieties and tended to plant whatever seeds he could find, often along streets or in neighbors' yards.

In the late 1920s, Mr. Rudolph Hass, a postman, purchased the seedling tree from Rideout, and planted it in his yard. He planned to graft other varieties off of it, but when the grafts didn't take he decided to cut the tree down. Fortunately for avocado lovers everywhere, Hass's children talked him out of it. They preferred the taste of the tree's fruit to that of the Fuerte, the predominant variety and industry standard in those days.

Since the quality was high and the tree gave a good yield, Hass named the variety it produced for himself and took out a patent in 1935. That same year, he signed an agreement with Harold Brokaw, a Whittier nurseryman, to grow and promote the Hass avocados. They would split the gross income: 25% for Hass and 75% for Brokaw.

Brokaw began to propagate the rough, black Hass exclusively and promote it in favor of the standard varieties. It made sense. The Hass was a far better bearer than the Fuerte and it matured at a different time of year. Because of the seasonal advantage, Brokaw was successful to the point of yearly sellouts of his nursery crops.

The patent expired in 1952, the same year Rudolph Hass died. But by then, the bumpy black avocado that bore his name was rapidly gaining in popularity on the smooth green Fuerte. Consumers preferred its richer, nuttier taste, while grocers favored it for its durability and longer shelf life. Today, the Hass accounts for about 80 percent of all avocados eaten worldwide and brings in some $350 million a year in revenue.

The tree that launched an avocado revolution lived out her days in suburban La Habra Heights. Harold Brokaw's nephew Hank nursed her through more than a decade, trying to save her from fungus. Hank lost the fight in 2002, and the trunk is currently in storage in a Ventura nursery awaiting the decision on a fitting way to commemorate the original Hass Mother Tree.

Cinco de Mayo

inco de Mayo is a date of great importance for the Mexican and Chicano communities. It marks the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla. Although the Mexican army was eventually defeated, the "Batalla de Puebla" came to represent a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. With this victory, Mexico demonstrated to the world that Mexico and all of Latin America were willing to defend themselves from any foreign intervention. Especially those from imperialist states bent on world conquest.

Cinco de Mayo's history has its roots in the French occupancy of Mexico. The French occupancy took shape in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. With this war, Mexico entered a period of national crisis during the 1850's. Years of not only fighting the Americans but also a Civil War, had left Mexico devastated and bankrupt. On July 17, 1861, President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for a brief period of two years, with the promise that after this period, payments would resume.

The English, Spanish and French refused to allow President Juarez to do this, and instead decided to invade Mexico and get payments by whatever means necessary. The Spanish and English eventually withdrew, but the French refused to leave. Their intentions were to create an empire in Mexico under Napoleon III. Some have argued that the true reason for the French occupancy was a response to growing American power and to the Monroe Doctrine (America for the Americans). Napoleon III believed that if the United States was allowed to prosper indiscriminately, it would eventually become a power in and of itself.

In 1862, the French army began its advance. Under General Ignacio Zaragoza, 5,000 ill-equipped Mestizos and Zapotec Indians defeated the French army in what came to be known as the "Batalla de Puebla" on the fifth of May.

In the United States, the "Batalla de Puebla" came to be known as simply "5 de Mayo" and unfortunately, many people wrongly equate it with Mexican Independence^, which was on September 16, 1810 - nearly a fifty year difference. Over, the years Cinco de Mayo has become much more commercialized and many people see this holiday as a time for fun and dance. Oddly enough, Cinco de Mayo has become more of a Chicano holiday than a Mexican one, celebrated on a much larger scale here in the United States than it is in Mexico. People of Mexican descent in the United States celebrate this significant day by having parades, mariachi music, folklorico dancing and other types of festive activities.

Shade Loving Plants and Sun Loving Plants

One thing to watch when buying plants for sun or shade is that we gardeners often grow plants from very different climates than our own. A plant that would be a sun-hog in Alaska will probably require some protection from semi-tropical sun, for instance. So keep in mind that sun and shade are, to some extent, relative to the climate. But all plants (hydroponics aside) need the right soil, as well as the right amount of light, to stay healthy.

Many of the most popular true shade-loving plants (from the forest floor) are also acid-loving plants. Also, many shade plants come from areas with a high annual rainfall (50 inches or more). If your soil is alkaline, you will need to amend the soil extensively. It's also a good idea to pre-plan for the water needs of shade plants. You might want to consider a drip irrigation system, which uses less water than other methods.

Preparing the soil:

Your very first step should be to get your soil tested. Is it acid, alkaline, or balanced? That makes a big difference. Your next step should be to amend the soil with a good planting mix, using enough for the area. If your soil is too alkaline for the plant's requirements, we recommend GYPSUM. For more balanced soil, use GARDNER & BLOOME SOIL BUILDING COMPOST to help the soil retain its moisture during hot summer days, yet allow good drainage in case of a deluge (root-rot is no fun either).

Although sun-loving plants can often handle poor soil better than shade-lovers, and are often more drought-tolerant, a good planting mix is still needed if you want a truly healthy plant. Sun-lovers have widely varying soil requirements; some even prefer somewhat alkaline soil. Our professionals will be happy to help you find the right soil amendments for your plants.

When planting in a container, for shade or sun, use a good potting soil, such as GARDNER & BLOOME POTTING SOIL.

Flower Beds & Containers

Clean up and replant flower beds as they finish blooming. In Southern California we grow annual flowers year-round by planting with the seasons, twice a year. Beginning in September, but mainly in October, we plant cool-season annuals that bloom all winter and peak in April. This makes May the logical time to replace them with warm-season annuals for blooms all summer long. (If you planted ahead from seeds in flats, you’ll have plenty of home-grown transplants all ready to go in the ground.)

So now is the time to pull out all cool-season annuals that have finished blooming, such as cineraria, calendulas, Iceland poppies, malacoides primroses, snapdragons, and stock. As you clear the beds also clean them up, add some mulch and fertilizer, and replant the bare spaces with summer annuals, including marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, gomphrena, and petunias in full sun and lobelia, impatiens, and begonias in partial shade. (Semperflorens and richmondensis begonias can be planted in sun or shade in coastal zones.)


Memorial Day and Poppies

Memorial Day, originally called "Decoration Day," was first celebrated on May 30th, 1868, to honor those (Union soldiers) who died in the American Civil War (the South had their own memorials at that time). After World War I, the day became one to honor all Americans who died fighting any war. But why the poppies?

Poppy seeds lie dormant in the soil, and heavily turning or digging up the soil causes them to sprout. Poppies have long been noted for suddenly 'popping up' on battlefields and in graveyards.

Major John McCrae, a Canadian, wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields" the day after the burial of a young friend and student, after seeing the poppies in the cemetery where his student had been buried.

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In Flanders Fields.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
— Major John McCrae

Moina Michael, an American, was very moved by the poem, and wrote a short poem of her own in response, from which these lines are excerpted:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led.
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

She began the tradition of wearing red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation, also selling poppies and giving the money to a charity benefiting servicemen in need. The tradition of wearing poppies spread and is now practiced in many countries on their own days of remembrance.

Not only did Ms. Michael start the tradition of wearing poppies, she also seems to be responsible for the tradition of selling them to benefit servicemen in need. Many veterans' organizations will be selling them for this Memorial Day. They aren't expensive but they are very valuable. Buy one, wear it at the barbecue or party, and remember what our freedom costs.

A Very Special Day!

The earliest Mother's Day celebrations we know of were ancient Greek spring celebrations in honor of Rhea, the mother of the gods. But those were in honor of one particular mother. England's "Mothering Sunday," begun in the 1600's, is closer to what we think of as "Mother's Day." Celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent, "Mothering Sunday" honored the mothers of England.

In 1907 Anna Jarvis started a drive to establish a national Mother's Day. In 1907 she passed out 500 white carnations at her mother's church in West Virginia -- one for each mother in the congregation. In 1908, her mother's church held the first Mother's Day service, on May 10th (the second Sunday in May). That same day a special service was held at the Wanamaker Auditorium in Philadelphia, where Anna was from, which could seat no more than a third of the 15,000 people who showed up.

By 1909, churches in 46 states, Canada and Mexico were holding Mother's Day services. In the meantime, Ms. Jarvis had quit her job to campaign full time. She managed to get the World's Sunday School Association to help; they were a big factor in convincing legistlators to support the idea. In 1912, West Virginia was the first state to designate an official Mother's Day. By 1914, the campaign had convinced Congress, which passed a joint resolution. President Woodrow Wilson signed the resolution, establishing an official national Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May.

Many countries of the world now have their own Mother's Day at different times of the year, but Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Japan, and Turkey join the US in celebrating Mother's Day on the second Sunday of May. Britain still celebrates Mothering Day on the 4th Sunday of Lent — but they now call it Mother's Day. By any name, and at any date, it's a special day to honor a special person.

Have a gardening mother in your family and having trouble thinking of a gift? Bored with the usual chocolate and flowers? Try something different for Mother's Day this year! How about a gift planter?

Get a big flowerpot or a planter and fill it with things she can use in her garden! She'd surely appreciate a new pair of garden gloves, a selection of seeds, new small tools like trowels and clippers, knee pads, some good hand lotion, and other useful items she might not buy for herself. Come in and look around.

Recipe of the Month: Grilled Avocado Quesadilla


What You'll Need:

  • 6 pounds California avocados
  • Fresh lime or lemon juice - as needed
  • Olive oil - as needed
  • Salt
  • 1 ½ cups Manchego cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup Panela cheese, grated
  • ½ cup Cotija cheese, shredded
  • Freshly ground black pepper - as needed
  • 12 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, cut into thin strips. (2 pounds 4 ounces)
  • 12 Home-made or home-made style flour tortillas (10-inch)
  • Unsalted butter - as needed
  • 3 cups salsa fresca

Step by Step:

An hour or two before service: Cut each avocado into 10 or 12 slices about 3/8-inch thick. Brush each slice on both sides with juice and oil; lightly sprinkle with salt.
Grill, turning once, until browned with grill marks; reserve.
Thoroughly mix cheeses, reserve.

Lay 1 tortilla on a work surface. Put 1/4 cup cheese mixture on half the tortilla. On top of cheese evenly distribute 1/2 ounce poblano strips (about 8).

Top with 4 or 5 grilled avocado slices. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon salsa (optional); top with 1/4 cup cheese mixture. Fold empty tortilla half over ingredients; press lightly.
Brown quesadilla on medium heat in hot butter on both sides. Cover for a minute or so to finish melting cheese. Cut into 4 pieces. Serve with 1/4 cup salsa fresca on the side.



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