Denise and Lindsay's Iris

Denise and Lindsay's Iris
Photo by J Hulse

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Dear Gardenbear,

When is the best time to apply beneficial nematodes to my garden?

That’s an excellent question! Maybe we should start with what nematodes are, exactly:
The beneficial nematode is a microsopic worm that lives below the soil.
The picture seen here is of a juvenile nematode called a scarp.  It is generally clear or white in color and has no segments like earthworms do.  There are thousands of different kinds of nematodes that live in the soil.  Nematodes are considered parasites and can affect a number of different plants and animals. Some species of nematodes are considered pests, but these are not the same species of beneficial nematodes used to control insects.
Apply nematodes after danger of frost is past.  (They may be applied almost anytime, preferrably Feb-March in climated zones 8-10).  I recommend  a combination of beneficial nematodes (which are usually sold together in nurseries, under refrigeration.)  These are Steinernema and Heterorhabditis.  They spend their lives hunting and killing over 200 different species of insects that spend some part of their lives underground.  They are a very efficient organic insect control method and kill most insects before they become adults.  This includes lots of common lawn and garden pests such as grubs, fleas, mole crickets, japanese beetles and weevils (my personal favorite). These nematodes will not control or kill other types of nematodes already in the soil.
When a beneficial nematode attacks an insect larvae or grub it enters the body of its host. Generally within 48 hours that host insect will either die, be physically altered or unable to produce. The Steinernema and Heterorhabditis strains of nematode carry a bacteria that generally kills its host insect in quick fashion. The beneficial nematode then moves onto another host.
Beneficial nematodes prefer moist soil, but can live in almost any type of soil.  Significant numbers are required to make sure that pest insects are controlled. We recommend the following distributions of nematodes:
1 Millon
2 Million
6 Million
24 Million
(small yard or garden)
(larger yards)
2000 sq. feet
up to 4000 sq. feet
up to 12,000 sq. feet
1 acre
Beneficial nematodes are sold in packets which can be stored refrigerated for several weeks. When you are ready to apply them, you simply mix them with water and spread them on the soil.  I like to use a watering can for application. But they’re tiny enough to go through a sprayer nozzle.  When they come, they’re usually dormant in a medium like finely ground bark.  You re-constitute them in water.  If you’re using a sprayer, strain the liquid before you put it in the canister.  Greenhouses and indoor plant owners can also apply beneficial nematodes to indoor plants, the beneficial nematode will control gnats and fungus which inhabit the soil.
Beneficial Nematodes are available from The Beneficial Insect Company by the million.  The following prices are approzimate:
1 Million
2 Million
6 Millon
24 Million

Monday, December 12, 2011


Family: Brassicaceae
Genus:  Brassica
Species: oleracea GongylodesGroup

 (For a recipe treat, click on the title above)

Kohlrabi is a low, stout cultivar of the cabbage that will grow almost anywhere.
The name comes from the German Kohl ("cabbage") plus Rübe ~ Rabi (Swiss German variant) ("turnip"), because the swollen stem resembles the latter, hence its Austrian name Kohlrübe.
Kohlrabi has been created by artificial selection for lateral meristem growth (a swollen, nearly spherical shape); its origin in nature is the same as that of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts: They are all bred from, and are the same species as, the wild cabbage plant (Brassica oleracea).
The taste and texture of kohlrabi are similar to those of a broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but milder and sweeter, with a higher ratio of flesh to skin. The young stem in particular can be as crisp and juicy as an apple, although much less sweet.
Except for the Gigante cultivar, spring-grown kohlrabi much over 2.5 inches in size tend to be woody, as do full-grown kohlrabi much over perhaps 5 inches in size; the Gigante cultivar can achieve great size while remaining of good eating quality. The plant matures in 55–60 days after sowing. Approximate weight is a little less than half a pound and has good standing ability for up to 30 days after maturity.
Kohlrabi can be eaten raw as well as cooked.
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 113 kJ (27 kcal)
Sugars 2.6 g  
Fat 0.1 g
Protein 1.7 g
Water 91 g
Vitamin C 62 mg (75%)
KNOWN PESTS: Cabbage worms and loopers, root maggots, aphids and Diamondback moths
KNOWN DISEASES: Head rot and downy mildew

Friday, December 9, 2011


It’s a freezing 32 degrees outside this morning.  My indoor carrot seeds have been germinating for the past 3 weeks.  All are up and beginning to show just the tiniest of true leaves.  The cotyledons have been present for more than a week.  The variety I have chosen for this planting  is called Imperator.   I started some outdoor imperator carrots (in situ) two weeks before.   Here’s what I did.

I’m experimenting.  First, I wetted two attached sheets of paper towel.  I spread seed evenly over the bottom sheet and covered it with the second sheet.  I folded them up nicely and put them in a plastic sandwich bag.  (Carrots need to soak at least 12 hours before sowing, according to the packet instructions.)  I took them the next day to my client’s raised bed.  This was November 1, 2011.  I first amended the soil with compost (mostly comprised of lawn clippings and leaves from last year), Epsom salts, (see below*), a little dolomitic lime, and a healthy dose of chicken manure.  I turned it deeply, because carrots are long, and those roots prefer a soil that offers little resistance.  I Took out the wetted paper towels, unfolded them till there was just one whole towel covering the others, and I cut them into 8 strips.  (That’s enough for 2 rows about 4 ft long).  I made a shallow trench and set the strips in and covered them up. ).  It is 5 weeks later, Dec. 9, and the carrot tops stand about 5 inches tall.  Outside.  In the  cold.  They’re lovely! 
The second part of the experiment was started two weeks later, on November 15.  I bought the Burpee Ultimate Growing System  for 19.95.
It contains 72 cells, each with a small, nickel-size disc of compressed, organic peat moss at the bottom of each individual cell.  Just add water, and VOILA, you have a cell full of starter soil.  There’s a soaker tray, and a platform that sets inside it.  Then there’s a little wicking blanket that goes on top to cover  the platform.  The plastic cell pack sets on top of the blanket.  I sprinkled carrot seeds on top, added about a gallon of water to the soaking tray, put the clear plastic dome (supplied) on top, and set the whole contraption in a sunny window.
One week later (without soaking the seeds first, or without covering them at all with soil), they began to sprout.  Within 4 days all cells showed sprouting activity.  And, no additional water was necessary.  By Nov 29 (2 weeks), I began setting the tray of seedlings (including the dome) outside on my back porch (full sun) during the day.  Daytime temps have been reaching the low 60’s.   I bring the seedlings in around 4pm when the temp goes down to about 50 degrees.   The seedlings have a long, long root now, but not much ‘true leaf’ in evidence yet.  I suspect I will be seeing some real growth by next Tuesday (Dec 13).  That will be just about a month from the date of sowing.    Before these may be planted, they will need some additional hardening-off.  (That means, I’ll need to leave them out overnight for 3 or 4 days before planting.  That reduces the shock of transplanting.) 
I’m hoping to get them in the ground before I leave for Christmas in Kansas. 
What I’m looking for in this experiment, is:
1.      Which plants produce better carrots
2.      Which method produces in the shorter time frame
3.      Will my carrots even grow in rainy, rainy Northern California winter?EN
Tentatively, I can see the efficacy of the Burpee system for plants of the solanum family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) which require more heat to thrive.  They may be started inside as early as January (if you have enough good light) in order to plant them outside as early as March 15.  The solanacea, however, should be moved up to a larger size (4 inch) vessel for 4 weeks, in order to develop a more extensive root system, before planting in the ground. 
The Burpee system is a bit flimsy.  But, I think, when treated with care, it may be re-used one more time before it hits the recycling bin. 

I’ll keep you posted on my progress, and the final results when they’re in. 

Have a great day and go rake some leaves.


*Why Epsom Salt Works in the Garden
Composed almost exclusively of Magnesium Sulfate, Epsom salt is intensely rich in these two minerals that are both crucial to healthy plant life. These same minerals which are so beneficial for bathing and using around the house are also a wonderful facilitator to your garden, helping it reach its fullest potential and creating a lush and vibrant outdoor space. Unlike common fertilizers, Epsom Salt does not build up in the soil over time, so it is very safe to use.
Magnesium is beneficial to plants from the beginning of their life, right when the seed begins to develop. It assists with the process of seed germination; infusing the seed with this important mineral and helping to strengthen the plant cell walls, so that the plant can receive essential nutrients. Magnesium also plays a crucial role in photosynthesis by assisting with the creation of chlorophyll, used by plants to convert sunlight into food. In addition, it is a wonderful help in allowing the plant to soak up phosphorus and nitrogen, which serve as vital fertilizer components for the soil. Magnesium is believed to bring more flowers and fruit to your garden, increasing the bounty as well as the beauty of your space.
Sulfate, a mineral form of sulfur found in nature, is an equally important nutrient for plant life. Sulfate is essential to the health and longevity of plants, and aides in the production of chlorophyll. It joins with the soil to make key nutrients more effective for plants, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Sulfate works in conjunction with Magnesium to create a “vitamin” full of minerals, nourishment and health benefits for your garden.

Monday, December 5, 2011


(Click on the title.  It's another Bill Nye "The Science Guy" music video!)  It's time you took charge of what goes in your mouth.  I mean, really.  Is it worth it to wonder where those grocery clerks' hands have been?   And the gas it takes to get to the store just for a head of lettuce!  Gawd.  Enough, already.  Grow it right outside your back door (where you can keep an eye on it.)  Because, let's face it, you are about to become a parent.  And you're going to have children of all temperaments  There will be the normal, perfect onion child.  And there's lettuce.  He'll blend in with the crowd.  And there's perfectly round, orange-yellow, medium-sized delicious 'Nebaskra Wedding' tomato. He reminds me of my childhood neighbor, the wrestler.  All the girls adored him.  And then there's Zucchini boy.  I think he has a glandular problem.  Those growths!.  You leave them more than a day or two, and they mutate into gargantua the magnificent!  You could practically write a book. 

So, keep an eye on them, like only a parent can.  Some need more training than others (like scarlet runner beans).  Others almost thrive on neglect.  (Not really.  I just liked saying that.)  But radishes are easy and fast and fun. 

Check them frequently for wetness.  Just like a little baby.  If they're feeling puny, give them a little extra attention. They usually respond quickly to attention.  Oh, and like all babies they need constant attention at first.  A little later, you can leave them on their own some of the time. 

And you know how apes pick for nits.  It's disgusting, I know, but plants have their own nits, like aphids and worms. They need us to get to those hard-to-reach places. 

And fortify them for life!  Give them a  wonderful, comfortable home.  Plenty of sunshine.  Preening to teach them self-respect.  No, wait.  This metaphor is way, way too anthropomorphic.  The reason for keeping the place clean, really, is to remove vectors for disease, and parasitic insects, etc, etc.  And, of course, we always want things to look their best. 

And, after youth, they reproduce.  There's no need to teach them about the birds and the bees.  Then, as soon as we pluck all the children from their mothers, we yank the mothers out of the ground and turn them to compost.  Lickety split.  (Something about this image is sooooo wrong!) 

So, get off your ass and do something for yourself, for God's sake!.  Plant an organic garden.  Follow The Edible Path.  Make a difference.  Save the planet. 

Next, I'll do the metaphor of the Conductor and the symphony.  The wind section will be replaced by brassica.  HAHA  Get it?  Brassica's are all those cabbage family plants that give you gas.  HAHA

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Please click on the title of this article, if you want.  You'll see a video of Havasupai Indian Waterfall


You may know that we’ve had a terrible drought here in Texas.  My lawn is dead.  What can I do to restore my self-respect with my neighbors?
Greta Grassley
Dear Greta,

John Crisp of the Indiana Gazette seems to capture the essence here. 
“The current drought hasn't yet reached the proportions of the 1950s disaster, but according to the Houston Chronicle this summer has been the hottest and driest seen in Texas since records began to be kept in 1895. The current drought is the worst one-year drought on record.”

Harsh!  And everybody is soooooooo worried about their lawns.

Originally, status was one of the main motivators behind cultivating a lawn for the sake of it.  A well-kept lawn symbolized disposable wealth and an ability to appreciate the finer things in life.
In ancient times, whatever land you may have been lucky enough to own would have been immediately devoted to agriculture, which was making a living.   Well, folks, those times are back.  Lawns are so eighteenth century.  And water is scarce.  Check out  these facts:
1.      Since 1950, water usage in the United States has risen 127 percent.
2.      Even though each person only requires 48 liters of water on a daily basis, individuals in the United States use an average of 500 liters, those in Canada an average of 300 liters and those in England an average of 200 liters.
3.      95% of all the water that enters each household ends up down the drain.
4.      More than a billion people in water poor regions around the globe survive on the same amount used to flush a toilet or take a 5-minute shower.
5.       It takes an average of 300 gallons to water your lawn. During the summer, this can account for almost half of your water usage.
6.      TheTiger Woods Golf Course in Dubai uses 4 million gallons of water every day to maintain its lawns and gardens.
So do yourself and all of us a favor.  Dig your lawn up!  Go native.  Use more stones.  Try some sculpture.   
Start here at ,  The native plant society of Texas. 
  Now THIS is what I’m talking about.   It’s from a company called Texas Land Design. 

Think about water use.  For other ways you can help quench the world’s thirst, visit this site: .

One Love,