Posts Tagged: Sal Levinson
Not every garden mystery can be solved, but it is fun to research and try to figure things out. A few years ago, I noticed that daffodils and snowdrops in a certain non-irrigated area of my yard had very short stems compared to their normal growth. These are not petite varieties. For example, one variety typically is 13-15” tall, but the plants grew only to about 6” tall. The flowers and leaves otherwise appeared perfectly normal.
There could be several reasons for the spring bulbs' stunted form. For example, the soil could lack nutrients, the bulbs were planted too deep, or our region didn't have sufficient chilling hours (although other spring bulbs in the yard were unaffected). But my primary suspicion was that the series of recent droughts had affected their growth. Dry conditions lead to depauperate, or stunted, plants. Twenty years ago, in the fall, I could plant spring-blooming bulbs in non-irrigated areas of the yard and forget about them, knowing that the winter rains would do all the work of providing them with moisture. But California now has had multiple years of drought in a short time period, from 2012-2016 and 2020-2022, and I can no longer count on the restorative winter rains to irrigate the bulbs for me. I suspected that the bulbs likely did not receive sufficient moisture to achieve their regular height that they would achieve under optimal growing conditions.
But we received plenty of rain this winter! The bulbs should be fine, this year, right? Unfortunately, no. Again, certain plants (but not all) have shorter stalks, but bloom just fine. Well, there goes that theory. My next theory is that the shorter plants are growing in an area that was disturbed by some construction activity, namely too close to the gravel bed underlying some flagstones. Perhaps the soil lacks nutrients. I'll try fertilizing and amending the soil the next time I plant and see what happens. Regardless, I'll still enjoy the cheery spring blooms even if I have to look a little more closely for them.
photo by Erin Mahaney
Congratulations, Joanna Chiu, UC Davis Outstanding Professor and Mentor
Let's congratulate molecular geneticist-physiologist Joanna Chiu, professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and...
Molecular geneticist-physiologist Joanna Chiu, professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, working in her lab. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It finally happened! The back yard has drip irrigation, complete with a timer controller. I am still working on tweaking the system, but I can see the difference already: evidence of a regular and evenly-watered garden.
The bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) that I repotted a few weeks ago has grown fast. I've been trying to grow it as a standard topiary, like a lollipop, but it never had enough leaves for me to trim it into shape, much less to harvest for cooking.
I'm even growing Malabar spinach (Basella alba), a tropical perennial vine indigenous to Asia and Africa. It may be a short-lived plant in our temperate climate. But I'll enjoy for as long as I can. When it gets cooler, I could take cuttings and grow it inside until the weather warms again. In the same pot are seedlings of Chinese Cabbage that I sowed just for fun.
And everywhere else I look, where the drip system is in place, the plants are looking better.
Drip irrigation by JobyOne is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
The Return of Bombus
The English lavender drew her in. And there she was, a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, foraging in our family's pollinator...
A yellow-faced Bombus vosnesenskii, prepares to sip nectar from an English lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, sipping nectar.(Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, departs. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
How to Outfox Foxtails?
It seems these days that it is hard to find something on which everyone can agree. But I may have just found it –foxtails. I hate them. Can I get an amen here? I should perhaps explain that what I refer to as a foxtail is any barbed grass seed that finds its way onto me or my animals, and not merely the annual grass of the genus Setaria of which there are many varieties. Every year it is the same; the grasses are green and lush, the rain ends, the heat comes, and the foxtails are virtually everywhere. Especially, if you live in a rural or country area as I do. Now if I did not have pets, I might notice them as hitch hikers on my shoes, socks or pant legs. But because I have pets, both cats and dogs, I notice them in the form of vet bills. I have tried to solve the problem in several ways so far without success. The only year I had a modicum of success was when I allowed my horses to graze the same area the pets occupy. They ate everything and I think that year I never had a trip to the vet for an extraction. The downside was that the horses ate everything—roses, pomegranates, oranges, peaches, mulberries, almonds, etc. It was worth it though because the emotional toll of seeing your pet in the excruciating pain a foxtail can inflict is hard to take.
The list of things I have tried that have not worked is much longer. I had high hopes when I found a mask made out of non-toxic mesh that fits over the dogs' head covering its nose, eyes, mouth and ears. There is enough flexibility in the netting that dogs can drink water and carry a ball while wearing the mask. Wearing the mask involved some training however, and mine all trained well, but flunked out when it came to continuously wearing the mask once out of my sight-- especially my girl who tends to have a lot of her own opinions about things. I also found that the nose end of the mask was not as durable as I needed since the dogs spend a good deal of time with their snouts pressed firmly to the ground. Replacing the masks every three to four weeks can also be expensive when you have four dogs, though not as expensive as the trips to the vet.
Being a recent graduate of the UCCE Master Gardener Program, I turned to my resources: Pests of the Landscape Trees and Shrubs, An Integrated Pest Management Guide, published by the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources (Publication 3359)(hereinafter IPM). Given my feelings about foxtails, the idea of using a “flamer” —one of the options described in the IPM—appealed to my darker side. A flamer is what it sounds like. An open flame that is applied to the basal stem area of the weed being eradicated. But the memory of being evacuated at two in the morning by the LNU Complex fire quickly caused me to reject this method. There are infrared flamers that do not have an open flame, so I might reconsider, but the grasses would still have to be green for this to work; too late for that now. There are of course herbicides and biological control to consider along with the manual labor of hoeing and pulling, but in the large area I am addressing this will take a fair amount of time and labor. In the meantime, it is leash walking for me.
Groene naaldaar aarpluim (Setaria viridis)