A portion of the header on my new website, www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com.

A portion of the header on my newly revamped website at http://www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com.

In August, I launched a redesign of my website.

I also migrated my In the Garden blog from WordPress to the new site and upgraded my e-mail system for notifying you about new blog posts.

Please don’t worry that anything else has changed.

These are the same In the Garden posts that you’ve already subscribed to. It’s just that the e-mail notifications look a little different.

Initially, I’d set them up to say that they were from “Santa Barbara Garden Design,” but to allay any confusion, I recently changed the “from line” to “Joan S. Bolton.”

In any case, the posts are still by me, they contain the same great content about gardening, and you can still search the archives for any of my past posts.

As always, I appreciate your comments and interest.

I have moved my In the Garden blog to my newly revamped website, http://www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com.

Please check out the site, and join my blog there!

One of the beautiful gardens I'll feature during my talk.

One of the beautiful gardens I’ll feature during my talk.

On Wednesday, August 7, 2013, I’ll be the featured speaker for the monthly meeting of the Santa Barbara County Horticultural Society.

My talk will be: “Digging the Good Life: Creating Colorful, Water-Conserving Gardens.”

I’ll describe how to create gardens in a number of different styles by using the wide range of colorful and interesting low-water plants that thrive in our mild, wonderful climate. I’ll also note which plants attract beneficial insects and sustain wildlife, and touch on integrating edibles into the landscape.

I’m looking forward to sharing what I know with kindred spirits, and encourage anyone who loves gardening to attend the meeting, which is free and open to the public.

The meeting will start at 7 p.m. on August 7 at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, at the corner of Foothill and La Cumbre Roads, Santa Barbara.

Adult Asian Citrus Psyllids strike a distinctive pose, angling their backsides up into the air when they feed.

A tiny bug that can carry a deadly citrus disease has been found for the first time in Santa Barbara County — in Santa Maria — and a quarantine may be declared within the next few days.

An Asian Citrus Psyllid was caught last month in a yellow sticky trap hanging from an orange tree in a residential neighborhood three blocks north of the Santa Maria Town Center Mall. The find was confirmed by state agricultural officials this week.

Why the Psyllids are Dangerous

While the psyllids on their own don’t pose much of a problem, they deal a lethal blow to citrus trees if they become infected with a bacterial disease known as citrus greening or huanglongbing (HLB). The disease deforms the fruit, makes it taste bitter, then kills the tree. The devastating disease, which has no cure, was detected in Florida in 2005 and has wiped out more than $1 billion in citrus revenue there. Since then, HLB has marched across a number of southern states, leaving thousands of dead trees in its wake. It reared its ugly head in California earlier this year, infecting a lemon/pummelo tree in Hacienda Heights.

About the size of an aphid, brownish-gray adult Asian Citrus Psyllids mass on the underside of a citrus leaf.

Right now, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) officials are trying to figure out whether the discovery of the single adult psyllid in Santa Maria was an isolated incident or indicative of a larger problem, according to Brian Cabrera, an entomologist at the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

“They set out more traps around the area to see how many more there might be, and how much of the area is infested,” Cabrera said. “Based on the results of their survey, they’ll decide what type of quarantine is going to be implemented.”

Choices include a quarantine with a 20-mile radius or a quarantine limited to Santa Barbara County, he said.

In the nymph stage, Asian Citrus Psyllids are dull orange, have red eyes and produce waxy tubules that direct honeydew away from their bodies.

Regardless, a quarantine would ban the movement of any type of citrus — plants, clippings, leaves and fruit — out of the area. The only exception would be commercially grown citrus that meets stringent requirements and receives approved treatment, Cabrera said.

Such a quarantine already exists for a portion of southern Santa Barbara County. After a psyllid was found in La Conchita in Ventura County in 2010, CDFA slapped a 20-mile-radius quarantine around the discovery. The ban is still in effect. It runs from the Ventura County line to Highway 154 and from the coastline high into the foothills, and includes Summerland, Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, eastern Goleta and Painted Cave.

Where Did the Psyllid Come From?

Abnormal fruit produced by

Abnormal fruit produced by a citrus tree infected by Huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening disease.

As for how the psyllid made its way to Santa Maria, Cabrera said that if it turns out to be a single find, it’s likely that it arrived as a hitchhiker.

“It was in a residential area, not near commercial orchards,” he said. “Probably someone went into an area in LA County or Ventura County, they got a bag of oranges from one of their family members and a psyllid was attached to one of the leaves. That’s why they call it a hitchhiker.”

But solo or not, ag officials are on high alert, and are actively monitoring sticky traps placed in neighborhoods and commercial groves, parcel carriers like UPS, FedEx and the US Postal Service, and the inventory of various retailers, including big box stores like Costco.

Symptoms of HLB include yellow mottling of the leaves and small, hard fruit with a bitter taste.

Cabrera also encourages homeowners to keep an eye on their citrus trees for any evidence of the psyllids, which are tiny, winged insects that feed on tender, new shoots with their heads down and their bodies angled up at about 45 degrees. The damage may be what’s most apparent — yellow blotches on the leaves and misshapen, bitter fruit.

“Our office is happy to look at any samples. There are so many other things that could cause a citrus leaf to turn yellow,” Cabrera said, adding, “Tell everybody not to move any citrus around.”

Visit Joan’s website at www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

Also please note: If you see an ad below, it has been posted by WordPress to keep the site free. I receive no income from the ad, nor — unfortunately — do I have any control over its content.

Just because we’re heading into winter is no reason to stop growing vegetables. With a shift in focus, there are any number of edibles that you can tend during cooler weather.

By Way of Background

Cool-season broccoli and green onions share space with bright-blooming calendulas.

Living on the Central Coast has many virtues, not the least of which is that in the garden, our mild, Mediterranean climate means we can grow crops year-round. But instead of four seasons per year, our edibles only have two: the warm season and the cool season.

Warm-season crops are generally big, robust growers that bear fruit in some form or another. These are our sun-kissed tomatoes, elegant squash and zucchini, crunchy bush beans, succulent corn and sweet and fiery peppers. To mature properly, the warm-weather types need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day, plus plenty of heat. Each has a predictable time line, generally marked on the seed packet or plant tag, with days from planting to harvest ranging from 45 days to 120 days, depending on the variety.

Cool-season crops tend to be more demure in stature and yield edible roots (beets and carrots), leaves and stalks (salad greens and Swiss chard), and flower buds (broccoli and cauliflower). There’s nary a fruit in sight.

Cool-season vegetables require far less sunshine. Four to six hours of direct light is sufficient on the days that the sun does shine. If clouds or rain move in, they may slow down or take a break. But they suffer no harm. When brighter skies appear, they simply resume growing. As a result, during wetter years — or those gifted with a string of warm, sunny days — it can be difficult to predict when exactly a particular edible will be ready to harvest.

Getting Started

Carrots need consistent moisture and excellent drainage for uniform growth.

One of the keys to successful warm-season vegetables is providing enough water early on, to keep the young plants and their emerging roots well hydrated.

Cool-season crops can face quite the opposite problem.

In a rainy year, and depending on your soil type, they may have trouble drying out.

Excellent drainage is critical. While your cool-season edibles won’t mind any and all moisture that nature provides, they absolutely detest sitting in cold, boggy soil for days on end.

If you have heavy clay, dig down at least a foot and amend the excavated soil with a generous blend of coarse and fine-textured compost to force rough, jagged pathways between the small, slick clay particles. Then shape the amended soil into mounds at least 6 inches high and 12 to 18 inches wide.

Packman broccoli forms a central head, followed by side shoots that can be harvested for three to four weeks.

If you have coarse, sandy soil, amend with finer-textured compost. In coarse soils, compost replenishes nutrients and acts like a sponge, preventing the nutrients and water from washing away too quickly.Growing cool-season edibles in a raised bed provides an opportunity to adjust both your soil composition and drainage.

But even if your raised bed soil is tip-top at the moment, be sure to mix in at least an inch or two of compost each time you plant.

Or if you garden in that magical mix of rich, loamy soil that already drains well, still consider applying a soil conditioner that contains humic acid or mycorrhizae to boost beneficial microorganisms in the soil. We add new material every time we plant a new crop, and after 20 years, the soil in our raised beds is dark, rich and smells wonderful. Even better, it reliably produces healthy bumper crops.

Also consider growing your cool-season crops in containers, if what you’re growing doesn’t have a big footprint, such as a mixture of leafy greens or several rounds of carrots. Provided they’ll get enough sunshine, you can put the containers close to your front or back door. That way you won’t leave a trail of muddy footsteps each time you traipse back and forth to your garden.

What to Plant Now

Cool-season root crops include beets, carrots, green onions, kohlrabi, leeks, radishes and turnips.

Sow these directly in the garden, as the roots are difficult to transplant. Be sure to net the bed. Foraging birds can pluck the seedlings so rapidly that you might not realize that your seeds ever sprouted.

Buttercrunch lettuce and frilly red lettuce contrast beautifully in the garden as well as on the plate.

Leaf and stalk crops include bok choy, cabbage, celery, kale, lettuce, radicchio, salad greens, spinach and Swiss chard.

While you can grow any of these from seed, I like to purchase nursery seedlings for their variety.

For instance, rather than buying a single seed packet and growing 20 Red Sails lettuce plants, I’d rather spend a little more for an assortment of butter, romaine and loose-leaf lettuces.

They’re prettier in the garden and on the plate. And I don’t have to contend with birds gobbling up my tiny little sprouts.

Edible flower buds include artichokes, broccoli and cauliflower. These are the behemoths of the cool-season world, inhabiting far more space in the garden.

A single artichoke plant, with its silvery, serrated leaves, can easily grow 5 feet tall and wide, while broccoli and cauliflower plants grow about 2 feet tall and wide. With their deep, spreading roots, all three are at their best in fertile, well-drained beds.

A slightly different version of this article was first published in Edible Santa Barbara.

Visit Joan’s website at www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

Also please note: If you see an ad below, it has been posted by WordPress to keep the site free. I receive no income from the ad, nor — unfortunately — do I have any control over its content.

Crimson clover is an excellent source of nitrogen, provides forage for beneficial insects and helps control erosion.

If you’re planning to grow only a few vegetables this winter — or even none at all — don’t leave your garden beds bare. Instead, consider sowing a cover crop to rejuvenate your soil.

Sometimes called compost crops or green manure, cover crops have been used for centuries to replenish nutrients, loosen up compacted soil, control erosion, inhibit weeds and provide habitat for beneficial insects.

The technique faded away in the 1950s when the use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides became widespread. But with recent interest in organic and sustainable growing techniques, cover crops are enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

Getting Started

Ryegrass helps to break up heavy soil and  control erosion, while fava beans fix nitrogen and attract beneficial insects.

Cover crops come in two flavors: warm-season and cool-season. In all but the largest home gardens, the cool-season types are more practical. That’s because our warm-season summer vegetables tend to take up a lot of room. Think sprawling melon vines, robust rustling cornstalks and bushy, full-bodied tomatoes. Every last square inch of soil is generally consumed by one edible or another.

Come the cool season, many of our crops, including leafy greens, carrots and radishes, can be planted more intensively. Growing these smaller edibles often leaves a fair amount of bare earth, which is perfect for sowing a cover crop.

As for what to grow: consider what you’d like to achieve. Legumes add nitrogen to the soil by grabbing it from the atmosphere and “fixing” it in nodules on their roots. Cool-season annual legumes include clover, vetch, field peas, alfalfa and bell or fava beans.

Grasses and cereal grains help to build the soil and boost fertility by adding organic material. They also improve tilth and fight erosion. While they can look a little straggly themselves, they help to crowd out weeds. Look for annual ryegrass, barley and oats.

Grow a mix if you’d like your cover crop to accomplish more than one of the above. For example, Bountiful Gardens, a mail-order nursery in Willits, California, offers a Compost Crop Mix containing wheat, vetch, rye and fava beans, while Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, also mail-order, has a Premium Soil Builder Mix composed of bell beans, BioMaster peas, yellow peas, purple vetch, hairy vetch and Cayuse oats.

In the Garden

Planting a blend of wheat, purple vetch and white-blooming fava beans adds nutrients, fixes nitrogen and improves the overall structure of the soil. It’s also pretty enough to harvest for a bouquet.

Cover crops are grown from seed. It’s important to sow the cool-season annual types in September or October while daytime temperatures and soil temperatures are still warm, which boosts germination and gets the seedlings off to a  strong start.

Here’s what to do:

  • Rough up the soil with a stiff rake, garden fork or shovel.
  • Smack any dirt clods to break them apart.
  • Apply a specialized bacteria inoculant to any legume seeds.
  • Scatter the seed at the rate suggested on the packet.
  • Lightly rake in the seed to the recommended depth.
  • Gently water the area.
  • Mulch with a light layer of straw or shredded leaves, then water again.
  • Keep the surface visibly moist for the first week.

Once the seeds sprout, start backing off on the water. As the seedlings begin to shade their own roots, ease off to once a week or so. When winter rains appear, stop watering entirely, unless a dry spell occurs.

Cool-season cover crops typically take five to six months to do their work and should be ready to be knocked down in March or April. But the weather ultimately governs their tenure. They may stall out during several weeks of cooler temperatures and rain, or speed up dramatically with a series of unseasonably warm, dry days.

Harvest Time

Below ground, alfalfa fixes nitrogen. Above ground, it provides excellent habitat for bees.

Regardless of the calendar, your cover crop’s time is up when it begins flowering and its roots are still fresh and pliable.

That point is critical. I once made the mistake of letting fava beans complete their life cycle, including setting seed and withering away. Then, digging into the soil, I discovered thick, fibrous roots. While it’s best to wait three to six weeks between harvesting a cover crop and planting new vegetable seeds or seedlings, no way were those tough ropes of roots going to decompose within a reasonable period of time. To plant new vegetables, I had to yank out the roots, which included their nitrogen nodes. Doing so defeated the purpose of planting the favas. Plus, it was extra work.

To harvest your cover crop, mow it, weed whack it or hack it to the ground. If you’ve grown vetch, trailing peas or any thick-stemmed plants, cut them up so they’ll break down faster. Let the spent pieces dry out for a week or two, then till them into the soil. Or rake up the dried top growth and add it to your compost pile. Later on, you can mix the finished compost into your garden soil, returning all those nutrients and goodness to the earth.

This article was first published in the Fall 2012 issue of Central Coast Farm & Ranch.

Visit Joan’s website at www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

Also please note: If you see an ad below, it has been posted by WordPress to keep the site free. I receive no income from the ad, nor — unfortunately — do I have any control over its content.

Bagrada bugs busy mating on a Brussels sprouts leaf.

A destructive new insect, seemingly out of nowhere, is wreaking havoc on local organic growers and home gardeners.

Over the last six weeks or so, literally hundreds of thousands of Bagrada hilaris bugs have descended on a host of edibles growing in fields across Santa Barbara County and begun methodically sucking the life out of them.

“We lost all the plants in our early plantings of broccoli, cauliflower, anything in the brassica family, Brussels sprouts, all the kale,” said Mark Tollefson, Executive Director of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens in Goleta. “Over the course of a week, we watched the plants curl up and die.”

Other organic gardeners from Carpinteria to Santa Ynez are suffering losses as well, primarily to members of the brassica family, but also to bok choy, cilantro, peppers and even corn.

“They also are eating weeds, mustard and alyssum. They’re feeding on the plant juices,” said Brian Cabrera, an entomologist at the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office. “I have heard that there’s a toxin (in their saliva) that they inject, but I don’t know if they’re actually that toxic to the leaf. I think mainly the damage is from hundreds of these bugs on a single plant, jabbing their little needle-like mouth parts and sucking it dry.”

What to Look For

Bagrada bugs at two stages of life: nymph on the top left; adult on the bottom right.

At first glance, bagrada bugs look like small, dark ladybugs, which of course are fantastic beneficial insects.

But that’s actually their nymph stage, when they’re relatively round, and a two-toned black and red. In a matter of days, they morph to their next stage, in which their bodies elongate and develop distinctive pale, orangish stripes, spots and other marks. Then they begin mating — with the female the larger of the pair — and the cycle begins anew.

In my garden, we first spotted the nymphs on our Brussels sprouts and late-season corn a week ago last Sunday. The adults began emerging a few days later and had begun mating by Friday. We haven’t seen the small, round jelly-like eggs yet, but don’t imagine that it will take long for them to appear. According to Cabrera, a single female can lay about 100 eggs during her lifetime.

Where They Come From

Maria Murrietta, a UC Cooperative Extension agricultural technician, collects Bagrada bugs that have annihilated my Brussels sprouts. The bugs will go to a UC lab for research.

Bagrada bugs are native to east and southern Africa, Egypt, Zaire and Senegal, according to the Center for Invasive Species Research at UC Riverside. They first appeared four years ago in Los Angeles County and rapidly spread through southern California and southern Arizona.

The infestation at Fairview Gardens in mid-August was quickly followed by reports to Cabrera from Solvang, the Mesa, Mission Canyon and other parts of Goleta.

“Then a couple weeks ago, we started getting calls from some of the growers, organic growers especially,” Cabrera said. “They’re getting hit pretty hard. They can’t use some of the materials that the nonorganic growers can use.”

Indeed, conventional farmers are combating — and controlling — bagrada bugs with pyrethroids and organophosphates like chlorpyrifos and malathion, according to Surendra Dara, a strawberry and vegetable crops advisor and affiliated IPM advisor for UC Cooperative Extension for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.

The trouble is, the bugs are so new to scientists that they haven’t yet figured out much in the way of organic controls, Dara said.

Bagrada bugs, scooped up and ready for their trip to the lab.

“Because of the kind of bug it is and its life cycle, it can be a little tricky to develop a strategy to target its vulnerable stages,” he said. “The organic growers, the small gardeners, homeowners, they don’t have resources that farmers have. So for organic farms, you don’t have as many options.”

But that doesn’t mean growers like Tollefson are throwing in the towel. He plans to wait another week before planting another round of cool-season crops. In the meantime, he’ll work through a list of tasks, starting with mixing diatomaceous earth with water, then spraying it on the ground.

“I don’t know the exact pathology, but I do know that bugs that are in contact with it die,” he said. “Bagrada bugs dive into the ground. So sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the soil can be helpful as far as managing them.”

Tollefson also plans to interplant strong-scented garlic and onions with his brassicas, and to wait until his starter plants are 6 to 9 inches tall — instead of just a few inches — before putting them in the ground. His thinking is that the larger plants will be more robust, thereby have a better chance of withstanding the bugs.

Another tactic is to break up the soil. “When temperatures drop below 50 degrees or get very, very hot, the bugs get sluggish. At that point, they stay in the soil,” he said. “Tilling the soil grinds them up. I have a big rototiller. It’s 70 inches wide.”

Weed control is important as well, he said. He might try planting a few sacrificial or trapping crops to intentionally attract the bugs, then kill them “in a natural way.”

Also important is building soil fertility, he added. “The more healthy the plants, the more opportunity we have to beat the bug.”

In Home Gardens

Despite similar markings during their nymph stage, Bagrada bugs are NOT beneficial ladybugs.

For home gardeners whose vegetables are already infested, Cabrera suggested spraying the afflicted plants with a 1% or 2% insecticidal soap solution. In addition, he said, “Vacuuming them off is worth a try.”

For folks who are getting ready to sow their cool-season vegetables from seed, Cabrera recommended turning the soil first, to destroy any eggs, then installing row covers immediately. His advice holds for planting seedlings, too.

“If you determine that your plants are bug-free and egg-free, then put up row covers,” he said. “Make sure that the covers aren’t lying on the plants because the bugs can eat through that. Raise up the covers through hoops or pipes, then bury the edges because (otherwise) the bugs can crawl under.”

As for what lies ahead, Cabrera said, “I don’t know how long they’ll be around. If the weather cools off, the activity will drop off because they don’t seem to be active on cooler days. It remains to be seen within the next few weeks what’s going to happen.”

As far as scientific research into organic controls: Dara is launching a study this week, thanks to scores of bagrada bugs that Maria Murrietta, a UC Cooperative Extension agricultural technician, collected from my ailing Brussels sprouts and corn plants on Friday.

Bye, bye, bagradas. Too bad I couldn’t donate every last one that’s decimating my garden to science!

It was a happy day, to donate so many destructive bugs to science.

Over the new few weeks, Dara will subject those bugs to a mix of products, with the aim of determining whether any organic methods have the potential to successfully control and/or kill the bugs.

In the meantime, Tollefson is philosophical about the challenge.

“So yeah, it’s a big deal to lose these crops,” he said. “But the reality is, it’s one more thing to deal with. It’s significant enough that we can’t ignore it. (But) we’re farmers. We’ll adapt to this bug.”

This article also appears at Noozhawk.com.

Visit Joan’s website at www.SantaBarbaraGardens.com, or post a comment by clicking on “Leave a Comment” back up at the top.

Also please note: If you see an ad below, it has been posted by WordPress to keep the site free. I receive no income from the ad, nor — unfortunately — do I have any control over its content.

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