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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Webinar on High Tunnels Free

Final registration call for our high tunnels webinar
Outfit your barn with galvanized equipment.
Increase yields while decreasing your carbon footprint.
Conserve water one drop at a time.
Which structure is best for your growing needs?

Visit FarmTek to register

Monday, March 12, 2012

Leaving for Afghanistan

I have accepted a post with the University of California, Davis, as their Deputy Chief of Party for establishing and extension program in Balkh Province, Afghanistan. The program is funded by USDA and involves currently UC Davis (lead) as well as Purdue and Washington State University. I will be leaving some time in April, 2012. My blog and newsletters will continue with perhaps some interesting posts from my new location. My newspaper column will continue with submissions from me from over there as well. You can still reach me by my email addresses with questions. So stay tuned!

Afghanistan Agricultural Extension Project (AAEP)

This project is designed to assist Afghanistan s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock to deliver more effective, demand-driven extension services to producers and other rural clientele. Anticipated results of the project include a cadre of extension staff with the technical expertise and appropriate methodologies to effectively extend information and knowledge; increased public accessibility to, and use of, government extension services; development of extension training modules and educational materials based on high-priority needs; targeted agricultural universities, vocational high schools, and technical institutes with increased capacity to prepare future extension personnel; improved services for women working in the agricultural sector; and a pluralistic approach to extension that responds to farmers needs for research-based technologies, builds upon the innovations of Afghanistan farmers, and promotes coordination among the various entities providing extension-related services.

Drip Emitters Probably a Better Choice for Containers Than Drip Tubing

An assortment of drip emitters
Q. I recently purchased 4 large clay pots 18" deep and 21" wide at the top for my roses.  I would like to run a soaker hose up the bottom, circle around the top edge, (I might want to under-plant with flowers) and then take the hose back through the bottom and on to the next pot.  My partner believes that we should just put two drip emitters at the top of the plant.  Do you think that it is okay to under-plant with flowers or should we just mulch the top with shredded cedar?  Also, should we fill part of the pot with gravel before we fill with soil?

A. Regarding the pot, I have never been an advocate of putting gravel or crushed clay pots at the bottom of the container for drainage. It is best to use the same soil mix throughout the container as it will drain the more readily if the soil is consistent from top to bottom. Make sure the soil drains freely out the bottom hole of the container.

            I understand you are trying to run some sort of drip irrigation up the bottom of the container so it is not so unsightly. This is the right way to do it but I happen to agree with your partner that drip emitters are probably a better choice than using a soaker hose. These soaker hoses frequently get plugged.

            I would probably run smaller distribution tubing to the top of the container and put two or three drip emitters there from a larger mainline polyethylene pipe at the bottom. This should be enough to water the understory plants if you want.

            Regarding the shredded cedar mulch, wood mulch is always a better choice than bark mulch. Wood mulch adds a lot more to the soil as it decomposes. The problem with wood mulch is that it is not very pretty up close. The problem with cedar mulch is that while pretty, is does not decompose easily.

            I would probably recommend using an inch of wood mulch and then perhaps putting something on top of it to beautify it such as cedar mulch. Be very careful with wood mulches coming in contact with young woody plants. If this wood mulch stays wet and stays in contact with the bark of young woody plants, it can cause the trunk to rot at the soil level, a problem we call collar rot. I hope this helps.

Will Tree Roses Grow in the Mojave Desert?

Q. I need your advice on tree roses, please.  I'm a recent transplant from the Denver area.  I have always wanted to grow tree roses but because of Denver's winters I never tried to grow them there. My all-time favorite rose is Double Delight. Do you think it does well as a tree?

A. I went ahead and attached a copy of roses that do well in our desert climate, a publication from Weeks Roses. As you can see, Double Delight is a very good hybrid tea for our climate. It should also do well as a tree rose. Roses will do best if you do not plant them near a hot wall such as South or West facing.

Get Roses for Hot Desert Climates

            Having said that, the advantage of putting them in this exposure is that you have a greater chance of getting blooms all winter long in these locations provided you provide some protection from winter wind. Winter winds primarily come from the north and northwest here. These directions may change in an urban setting where winds are diverted and channel between buildings.

            If you can, try to create a microclimate for them that will stay warm in the winter but provide some late afternoon shade in the summer. The disadvantage of that exposure is the amount of heat generated in midsummer and the stress which accompanies it.

Hardy Kiwis Will Grow in the Las Vegas Valley with the Right Location

Q. I recently purchased a male and female Hardy Kiwi starts form Parks Seed Company.  I was wondering if you might be able to give me any tips for growing them here in the Las Vegas Valley.  I have done some reading on pruning and training them into a trunk and building a T-trellis. In what I have read they need full sunlight but I  am of the mind that perhaps afternoon shade might be a bit better.

A. Good thinking. I would be of a similar mind that if you could protect it from late afternoon sun and strong winds you will be better off. Even though they are hardy kiwis and more tolerant of winter temperatures than standard kiwis they can still suffer from some cold damage if the temperatures get low enough. And they do get low enough in parts of the Valley to kill hardy kiwis.

            So a good location in the right microclimate is going to be paramount. They should still get a minimum of six hours of full sun each day. They must be planted in amended soil with good quality compost mixed in.

What Hardy Kiwi Looks Like

            I would highly recommend mulching them with wood mulch rather than bare soil or rock mulch. Keep the mulch away from the trunk at least 6 inches the first few years. If you can keep them in a warmer microclimate in the yard and out of strong cold winter winds will have success with them.

Is Oleander the "Bad Boy" of Landscaping?

Oleander as a tee form

Q. I am on the landscaping committee in my community and we have had several people question us about the oleander shrubs in the community.  Are they allowed or have they been banned like the olive trees?

A. No, they have not been banned. This poor plant has been so maligned over the years it is incredible. It has been singled out as a scary plant of some sort. It’s the “Bad Boy” of desert landscapes.

            Yes, it is poisonous along with 100 other plants in our landscape. Is it more poisonous than others? Yes, it is more poisonous than many others but there are other landscape plants that are equally or even more poisonous than oleander. We just don’t talk about them.

            Does its pollen cause allergies? No. The pollen is relatively heavy and sticky and does not travel very far on wind currents. Oleanders do not rely on wind for pollination but instead rely on pollinators like bees.

            Frequently, plants with very showy flowers are typically insect-pollinated. Plants which do not have showy flowers frequently are wind pollinated and their pollen must travel long distances. Acacia, Mesquite contribute much more to allergy problems than oleanders.

            Oleanders are beautiful plants for the desert and can take a tremendous amount of abuse. However, they are also high water users when watered to keep them full and showy. They are tough, drought tolerant plants if not given enough water or under watered.

            When water is reduced, their visual quality is reduced considerably but they can survive.

Planting Fruit Trees from Containers Gives Few Advantages

Fruit tree in container to avoid purchasing
when roots are exposed like this
Q. I would like to plant a peach and pluot in my backyard. I know you always recommend planting bare root, but I am too excited and don't really want to wait 3-5 years for fruit. There is a drastic price difference between 5 gallon and 15 gallon trees.  How soon would I get fruit with each of these options? I have one spot that is cooler and another a bit warmer. Which would be best in these spots?

A. The 5 gallon tree will catch up to the size of the 15 gallon tree in about two years. This is because the larger tree transplants more poorly compared with the smaller tree. A bare root tree will catch up to the 15 gallon tree in 2 to 3 years.

            There is very little difference between all of them in how soon they will produce due to transplant shock. Transplant shock is less in bare root trees than container trees and they establish better in soil than container trees.

            The peach tree should be into full production in its fourth year. You will get a trickle of fruit prior to this. The pluot will enter into full production in about the sixth year but you should get a trickle of fruit in the fourth year.

            I would put the pluot in the cooler winter location to try to delay its bloom later in the spring to avoid fruit loss due to late freezes.

March Todo List in the Orchard

Sweet corn at the orchard

March Todo List

  • Plant sweet in at least three rows for wind pollination. Plant seed one foot apart and enough room between rows so you can harvest ears. Keep out of strong winds.

    Contessa sweet onions after harvest
    at the orchard
  • Dig and replant onion transplants or plant transplants ordered. Be sure to use a high phosphorus fertilizer and compost at the time of planting. We can grow both Short and Long Day onions. Try Candy, Big Daddy, Texas Super Sweet, Red Candy, Walla Walla, Sterling. A good place to order online is Dixondale Farms in Texas http://www.dixondalefarms.com/     

  • Harvest asparagus every 2 to 3 days. Store spears upright to prevent curving of the spears.
  • Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, cucumbers to be planted March 15. Protect from wind and strong sunlight for two weeks.
  • Early March. Prune table grapes.
  • Spray to prevent thrips damage on nectarine fruits.
  • Prepare bottles for putting on fruit trees for harvesting fruit in bottles. Select early producing varieties and put the bottles upside down so they drain and in the shade of the canopy on the north side.
Growing fruit in bottles partially covered with aluminum
foil to prevent heat buildup

  • Weed vegetable plots.
  • Cutworm control on newly emerged seedlings. Spray Bt (Dipel or Thuricide) or Spinosad over newly applied vegetables and the soil surrounding the plants.
  • Prune palms to get them out of the way of the vegetable plots.
  • Harvest green almonds toward the end of the month and into April.
  • Thin apricots when dime sized.
  • Thin peaches when nickel sized.
  • Harvest snow peas
  • Fix irrigation leaks
Almonds harvested green. This size and smaller can be used.