The Attack of the Cucumber Beetle!

Ugly cucumbers with scars, chewed holes in cucumber plants?  What is going on?  Take a look around your cucumber plants, near the base, in flowers and on the leaves.  You may find this devastating beetle wrecking havoc on your plants and cucumbers ~ The spotted cucumber beetle and striped cucumber beetle.  Melons, summer squash, gourds, winter squash plants and fruits can be affected as well by these little buggars.

Make no mistake!  These are not insects like the likable lady bug you want around.  These disease carrying cucumber beetles will feed on rinds of fruits causing ugliness..aesthetic injury, bacterial wilt, squash mosaic virus, stunting, and even killing young plants.  They become more active as the weather warms, feeding on blossoms, pollen, nectar, fruits and leaves.

Managing these cucumber pest require a bit attention.  Left along they can ruin a entire seasons of harvest.  Pure neem oil sprayed twice a week will slow and eventually stop any further invasion.  Spray in the evening, when the bees have gone, being sure to spray the base of the plant, basically used as a soil drench to treat eggs and larvae.  Persistence, I say!

Try companion planting!  Radishes, calendula, catnip, nasturtiums, rue and tansy all work well.  Marigolds are great, but plant the right kind or you may be attracting them rather than repelling them.  Varieties like African, french or Mexican marigolds are your best bet!

This year we took our overgrown tansy plant and chopped (made a mulch, sorta speak) it up, sprinkled it around the base of our cucumber plants and saw a decline in beetles within a few days. However we still had to treat with neem oil.

Mulching also helps.  Mulching can deter cucumber beetles from laying eggs near the plant stems, in the ground, but this does not deter beetles from feeding on flowers, fruit and leaves.

This year we have planted several different varieties of cucumbers.  Muncher is top of the list of attack, while Marketmore fruits and have not been affected what-so-ever and the leaves are in the best shape.

Okay, with a little more fast knowledge of cucumber beetles and ideas to control them~ Go get um!

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Grow and Eat Kale The Superfood!

Organically Grown Kale

Kale the superfood and superstar!  Why wouldn’t you grow and eat kale?  It’s loaded with vitamin K, omega-3, alpha-linoleic acid, it supports the brain and bones, contains more vitamin C than an orange, plus boosts the body’s natural ability to detox.

I have grown kale for many years for it’s beauty in the flower garden and vegetable beds.  There are so many types of kale you can choose from and make a rainbow of awesome, edible interest.  While this superfood will “kinda” grow in not so great soil, it will grow quicker and healthier if you take a little time to amend the soil.  It also enjoys some sunshine, but will adapt to a semi-shady spot in your garden or yard.  Plus, if you have a windy area that most plants do not tolerate, you can place your hardy kale plants in that environment!  Amend your soil well with plenty of compost and a nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer such as “Bio-Fish 7-7-2“.  You can sow directly or use transplants.  Seeds can be sown eight to six weeks before your last frost of the season, but even in our hot climate we have had success sowing seeds right through late spring with a little extra moisture.  Thin seedlings to 12-18” apart.   Transplants can be planted out here in February through early summer.  Wait a month if your soil is still below 40 degrees.  If temperatures are going to drop into the low twenties, I simply give them a little protection with a quick covering of a frost blanket until the sun reaches them the next day.  Kale can tolerate frostbite.  Never starve kale of water or it will become bitter.  Kale loves kelp!  Throughout the season, once a month, drench the soil with a kelp solution.  That will be the only food kale should need if your ground was prepared at planting time.  Harvest leaves a baby size for salads or let them mature and pick from the bottom up (larger leaves) if you want continued harvest.   Pick kale with a sharp knife and eat right away. During the summer months, kale will produce somewhat looser and greener leaves.   Don’t have room for kale?  Sure you do!  Grow in a pot or pop a few in your flower bed, they add contrast, color and interest in the background of flower beds or patios.

We grow many kinds of kale for many different uses.  Curly Green kale is probably the most common and seems to work well in most recipes.  It comes in dwarf size plants to plants that reach 3 foot (yes sometimes larger, depending on variety, soil and location).  Curly green kale is great for making kale chips.   Lacinato kale is also known as dinosaur kale.  It is gaining popularity these days. Lacinato can also be used in most recipes that call for kale.  It has a spicy flavor and pairs well with spicy sausage.  Redbor kale, or curly roja kale has been traditionally grown for its ornamental look in the garden, but is just as tasty as other kales.  I feel it it the sweetest of the kales and with its dark ruby hue makes it great in blueberry smoothies.  It is not commonly found in grocery stores.  Red Russian Kale has a red leaf stalk with purple veins.  It’s sweet, tender with a hint of spice.  Russian kale is ideal for Asian dishes with flavors of sesame, soy and ginger.  Add Red Russian kale to your egg dishes and be boosted up all day long!

Kale and Blueberries!  What a healthy combo…

Blueberry Kale Smoothie

1 cup fresh or frozen organic blueberries

1/2 whole milk

1/2 cup packed chopped kale, stems removed

1 T honey or agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup ice cubes

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Serve immediately.  This smoothie is great for your cardiovascular health!  Drink up!

For another great recipe we like go to this link: Roasted Veggies and Kale

Kale was recently added to the “Dirty Dozen” list of vegetables, so it is definitely worth growing your own or buying from a reputable local grower.

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Pruning Fruit Trees

February!  It’s time to prune here!  With this warm weather, 70’s,  it’s a race against time for me!  Racing around planting the garden, planning CSA crops, getting seedlings starting, running my shop, spraying dormant oil, weeds popping up everywhere and taking care of the old cat, Casper the Perfect Cat who has to eat 7-8 times a day! Yup he’s still doing good!  Whoa!  And making sure there is time for the new grand-baby (cutest baby on earth)! Arrg!  When am I going to get it done?

Ok, so I do cheat a little.  During the fall months after most of the leaves have dropped, I prune my apples and pears.  With almost 50 fruit trees, this can really help in the spring.  They sure don’t seem to mind and there is less water sprouts, which pears and apples are more prone to producing.  So this is a win win for me!

If weather is warm, like this year, I start early pruning.  Mid-January.  An apple a  day…Or a tree a day keeps…huh, I don’t have anything!  Here is some guidelines to follow when pruning.  GOOD TOOLS!  I can’t say it enough!  A good sharp tool is well worth it’s weight.  My favorite?  Felco!  I have had the a Felco f-13 for large hands for well over 10 years, plus it cuts larger branches and I don’t have to reach for the loppers.  They come in several sizes to pick from, so get the right tool for your hand to reduce fatigue. They do cost more, or do they?  10 years and still keeps ticking, well, still cutting!  I just can’t say enough about these excellent tools!  I keep it sharp, enough to chop a finger…there’s a story.  Sharp tools whiz through the work, making a clean-cut.  Clean cuts ensure pests don’t enter raggedy edges of the branches.  Good sharp saws are also important for those larger branches that are to big for pruners.  Again, I love my felco saws!  And of course a good pair of loppers.  On to pruning techniques!

Felco Pruners F-13

Tried and True Felco Pruners

You can stand out by your fruit tree with a pruning manual in one hand and pruners in the other and never get anywhere. You have to dig in!  Once you get going, you’ll get it!  Keep in mind, not all tree shapes are created equal! So relax about having the picture perfect tree.  More than likely, it isn’t going to happen!

I will prune twice each year, winter is a major pruning and summer pruning is done to keep sunlight on the fruit to sweeten it and help it ripen, and to remove any suckers that may develop. Usually when I do my thinning chores, I have a pair of pruners in my back pocket. Saves time.

Shapes of Trees:

Central Leader – is best for apples, pears, European-type plums (green gage, damson) and sweet cherries.  A “central leader” is the main stem or trunk of the tree from which other lateral branches develop.  For central leader shaped trees, select the tallest, straightest shoot to be the central post.  This will give the central post an extra bit of dominance. Start shaping the lower scaffolding by cutting back a branch with a heading cut, making sure that the new branch you choose will maintain an angle of 30-45 degrees.  Too flat an angle when you have a heavy crop, could break the branch.  Some heavy producing years, no matter how good your pruning is, you may need to tie some of the lower scaffolding branches to the central post for support.

15 Year old Peach Tree Pruned to Open Center

15 Year old Peach Tree Pruned to Open Center

Open Center – is best for peaches, nectarines, Japaneses-type plums (Santa Rosa, mariposa, elephant heart) apricots, and sour cherries.  Open center fruit tree pruning are based around three or four main limbs set at wide angles with about five lesser branches on each.

Planting new trees?  Look your tree over well when purchasing.  Look carefully over the trunk, especially near the soil line.  Watch for abrasions of any kind!  Abrasions can be a sign of present or future problems.  A tree on sale, may be a good deal at the moment, but it may cost you time and trouble down the road.  Look at its shape as well.  If the tree has branches only on one side, it will be harder to train to “open center”, but maybe easier to “central leader”.  For peaches and apricots, look for three or four main branches that are evenly, or somewhat evenly spaced.  The angles of these branches can be trained by placing a spreader between the main trunk and main limbs. So as long as they aren’t all straight up with the trunk, you can probably shape it. You can purchase these spreader or make them yourself.  When placing a spreader, be careful not to force your branch too much, or you may cause it to split at the trunk.  Do this gradually over time (within the first 6 months).  New trees will sometimes develop shoots along the trunk, don’t cut them, rub them off.  Cutting them encourages growth.  Do a small amount of pruning 4 or 5 times during the summer to get the shape you desire.

Here are things to remember –

1. Cleaning up the tree – This includes removing the following:

  • Dead, diseased and broken branches.  See!  That’s an easy first step!
  • Water sprouts and suckers.
  • Weak dropping and unproductive branches.
  • turning downward branches.
  • competing leaders (this is when pruning central leader)

2. Let in light – Remove branches that:

  • Compete with other branches
  • Shade the center of the tree (in very hot climates, you do need to be careful not to go crazy here.  To much sunlight in high UV areas will cause sun-scald to branches).

3. Methods:

  • Make cuts at a 45-degree angle, 1/4″ above a bud.
  • Use hand pruners for 3/4″ to 1″ (depending on pruner type), lopper up to 2″, and saws for anything more than 2″ cuts.
  • When pruning a tree that has had disease, be sure to wipe with a disinfectant wipe before moving on to the next tree so you don’t spread the disease!
  • Do not paint with wood seal or other paint.  Painting will take the tree longer to heal over. Let nature take it course.

Here is a great tip to remember when you are doing corrective pruning.  Do not fertilize that tree for that season.  Fertilizing will stimulate more water sprouts.  The corrective pruning will provide enough stimulation of growth for that season.

In more depth –

You will need to decide whether or not you want to use a ladder to harvest, or pick fruit from the ground when planting your trees!  When I first planted my orchard, I pruned all branches from the ground up about three to three and half-foot.  20 + years later, as I replace and plant new ones, I don’t want them so high, so I keep those main branches to about two foot from the ground.  I like this much better!

Peach trees will produce fruit on one year old wood.  Pruning needs to be done to encourage new healthy wood that is about 12-18″ long and under 1″ in diameter. Branches should be cut out that are to close to each other and any dead, diseased or broken branches or twigs.  The best fruiting wood will be horizontal wood.  The whole tree needs to be pruned enough so that the branches have space around them. Leave branches that will shade the tree trunk, which decrease the chance of sunburn.  This is especially true for out high UV area.  Suncald on tree trunks will cause bark to peel away, inviting insects and weakened branches.

Cherries and apricots will produce fruit on 1-year old branches.  Cutting old limbs keeps an apricot tree productive and healthy.  Some people will remove all the little stubs that form on cherries and apricots, leaving whips, but to find out later they just removed all their fruit as well.  Remove only 20 percent of the older growth throughout the tree. Pruning apricots and cherries can also be done after fruiting, late August if you live in a wet area.  This reduces the chance of disease that develops in wet conditions.  However!!!!  This is not good in our climate because it stresses the tree when doing the major pruning in temperatures above 100 degrees.  And we are certainly in that heat zone in August!

So, grab your pruners, loppers, and saw, and get to work!  I’m headed!

 

 

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Fresh Pumpkin Puree for the Best Pumpkin Pie!

Using your own pumpkins will make the best tasting pumpkin pies! It’s super easy and it produces a fresher-tasting pie. Use 2 medium sugar pie or other eating pumpkins. Field (Jack o’ Lantern) pumpkins don’t make the best pies, but Casper or Cinderella pumpkins will work fine. Preheat oven to 400 degree Fahrenheit. Cut out the stem, quarter the pumpkin lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Bake the quarters cut side down in a shallow roasting pan with a little water in the bottom, until tender, about an hour. Let cool, then scrape the flesh from the skin and run it through a food mill for a nice puree. Use puree in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe. Freeze any left over puree for up to 2 months.
Tip: Pumpkin pie is at its best baked the day it is served without ever being refrigerated. Schedule your baking so that you can take the pie out of the oven just as you slide the turkey in. Enjoy!

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