Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's Mushroom Time

Bright golden Chanterelles are beacons of cheer this time of year for gardeners and hikers.  These huge ruffled mushrooms pop up year after year under our ancient oak trees at Wildwood Farm.  They like to hide under cover of fallen leaves so it takes an eagle eye to find them.  The cold wet dreary skies are always a reminder to look for them though; it’s definitely a reminder to the mycelium to send up fruitbodies!

Of course, the mycelium lives underneath the ground all year with the oak’s roots.  The fungus gets extra sugars from the oak. The oak uses the mycelium to absorb extra water and nutrients.  A classic symbiotic relationship.

Besides admiring the Chanterelles from above, we also harvest them.  Each mushroom has gills that radiate outward from the stem – very photogenic any way you slice it.  Of course, we eat them too.  They are packed with Vitamin C, Potassium, and Vitamin D.  And they taste great with eggs, in stuffing, or alone.  The trick is to cook the right mushroom!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Decisions of Yesterday

We walk at a rapid pace - the future is here today.  Good and bad things go hand in hand - many times bad things win the everyday battle.  These footsteps are preparing you for the tomorrows.  It is frightening - where to turn, is everything going to workout.  Decisions were up to the individual.  There were none of the hand holding robots we have today [2012 and the future].

Junior year at UC Berkeley was tedious.  The grades were better - more time to spend studying.  But a change was coming.  Everyone had to go into the military for two years.  I dropped out of school and served in the military.  They sent me where I didn't want to go.  They wanted me to hate people I did not know.  Each day was a full twenty four hours.  At last, the release date arrived - Back to Berkeley to finish work towards a degree.

Now, the big step. Looking for a career.  I did not realize it but the next direction was leading to a career in plants.  At that time, the foundation was going to be a long divergent path.  Plenty of ups and downs - hang on - it was a rapid fast paces trip.  Ten years in a completely unrelated pursuit.

The final days at Berkeley I interviewed at BUROC - put on my one button row powder blue zoot suit.  People kind of looked at me on campus- what the hell was this.  The plastic interviewers couldn't believe their eyes.  Looking back, I couldn't either.  Needless to say, no one wanted me.  Retailing was out - Macy's, Saks the other department stores were looking for top grades, not some ill prepared person.  Big mistake on their part

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Summer Sky Tea for Hummingbirds

After watching a new selection of Agastache flourish in our gardens this summer, we ordered more.  It arrived in a cell pack - 96 baby Agastache with just a few leaves on each plant.  We let it acclimate to the Valley of the Moon climate for a week before putting each one in a 4" pot.  Then we waited.

With the help of some late season heat, it added many new shoots and even a few of its signature dark purple flowers.  But now, we don't want the Agastache to have to continue to find the energy to push more flowers as the temperature drops.  So, we trimmed back much of the new growth to the thicker part of the stems.

The hummingbirds were devastated.  The common name for several varieties of Agastache is Hummingbird Mint.  These little guys would practically knock over a baby plant pushing on the small flowers!  The cuttings from Agastache 'Summer Sky' didn't go to waste though.  We snipped off the leaves and put them in our tea pot.  The mild flavor was pleasant and slightly reminiscent of mint.  On a rainy day, the best part was the warmth. 

Agastache 'Red Fortune' is next on the menu.  The Hummingbirds love it too.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fall Color Tours

On Tuesday, a group of 30 gardeners visited Wildwood Farm to learn more about maples.  They chose November to see fall color at its peak.  Of the hundreds of maples, we highlighted 30 or so that have outstanding fall color.  It was difficult to limit the list to 30.  It seemed like someone was always scribbling the name of a maple that caught their eye on their handout.

Acer japonicum cultivars are known for their fall color – scarlet, orange, red, yellows all on one plant.  Generally, the leaf outline is the distinguishing characteristic of japonicum cultivars.  In contrast, Acer palmatum cultivars generally have one dominant color, like a red Osakazuki.  A Baldsmith, which has green, pink, and red tones throughout the year will also turn to a uniform vibrant red.  It truly is a collage of colors in the nursery and gardens this time of year.

The color change starts when the temperature drops below 46 F.  At the point, the chlorophyll starts to shut down.  This is the pigment that lends leaves their green color.  Anthocyanin and Anthoxanthin are other pigments in the plant that color leaves.  A combination of sunlight and temps below 46 F allow these purple reds and yellow colors to come to the fore.  The show is fleeting because the plants need the chlorophyll for photosynthesis. 

Enjoy the show while it lasts!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Man vs Gopher

To really understand this epic struggle for supremacy, we have to consult an Integrated Pest Management expert.  This is a rapidly growing field that seeks to use poison and pesticide only as a last resort.

Carl Spackler, assistant greenskeeper at Bushwood Country Club, specializes in gopher eradication.  When asked his approach, he replied “I have to laugh, because I’ve often asked myself, my foe, my enemy, is an animal.  In order to conquer him, I have to think like an animal, and whenever possible to look like one.  I’ve got to get inside this dude’s pelt”.

If you’re dealing with bugs or mildew, thinking about the root cause of the problem makes sense.  You might be able to correct something before using a pesticide or herbicide.

When it comes to gophers, don’t mess around.  We tried planting one section of Wildwood Farm three times, each time thinking the gopher wouldn’t bother the plants.  Wrong. 

This time, we’re planting perennials that have a scent, like Nepeta and Salvia nemerosa.  These two plants are gopher resistant.  Resistant as in the enemy will leave them alone once they are established.  Getting them established is the trick.  Gophers prefer local, organic, fresh roots.  We wrapped chicken wire around the roots and folded in the bottom.  Crafting a special basket isn’t necessary. The roots will find their way outside the wire.  We like the salvia because it will carpet an entire section with purple blooms.

We went the extra mile and planted onion too.  Not just any onion, but one of the ornamental varieties.  We get 3-4” drumstick purple blooms in the spring and the gopher gets a whiff of onion.  Allium sphaerocephalon never sounded so good.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Dig. Drop. Done.

That’s the new marketing slogan for the Netherland Bulb Company.  They sell bulbs, lots of them.  From the sound of the campaign, everyone still doesn’t realize how easy gardening with bulbs can be.  There are a few things to keep in mind.

Wildwood Farm ordered several hundred bulbs from several different companies.  We also bought steamed bone meal from LeBallister’s Seeds, a local company that specializes in wildflower mixes and fertilizers.  With LeBallister’s, we get 50lbs of powdered bone meal for $36 and that’s it – none of the other fillers that come in the ‘bulb food’ packages.   Most bulbs like a spoonful of bone meal [bulbs absorb powder faster than granular] when they’re planted to get going for spring.

The fun part of planting bulbs is the design.  It takes a bit of imagination to picture what they will look like in bloom!  Planting in lines simplify things. 

They also look great naturalized – planted in random groupings.  Creating drifts of bulbs, whether it’s with color, variety, height, or bloom progression is the opposite of the formal look. 

There are 425 Narcissus Dutch Master, Scarlet O’Hara, and Tahiti going into a bank on our highway frontage.  The goal is to intersperse the orange ones [Tahiti, Scarlet O’Hara] into larger sections of pure yellow [Dutch Master].