Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tomatoes in September

Fig. 1   Harvest ('Sun Gold' and 'Super Fantastic' -  September 18,2013)

Today my husband brought in these tomatoes from the garden.  They are still producing and the fruits are still sweet and juicy.  Here in our area, as long as we continue to tend to these indeterminate tomatoes, we can expect to have fresh tomatoes until early November or Thanksgiving depending on the weather.  

Fig. 2  Super Fantastic showing flower buds as of September 18, 2013

As seen on the growing tips of the indeterminate 'Super Fantastic' tomatoes (Fig 2) flowering continues even as we approach the end of summer.  In fact, they will continue to flower until the temperature gets too cold. (Determinate tomato varieties, on the other hand, will cease to flower in spite of favorable growing conditions.)  At some point however, even when the flowers set, low temperature will hinder the fruits from growing into reasonable-size tomatoes as they will also fail to ripen.  This is the reason for fried green-tomatoes in my kitchen.

Fig. 3  Beautiful fruit set

I also noticed some signs of tomato worm damage in the tips of the tomatoes.  Fortunately, because we have resident Blue Jays in the garden, the damage is not extensive at all.  

 How are your tomatoes doing this month?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pride of Madeira

 Echium candicans
Common Name: Pride of Madeira
Family: Boraginaceae
Plant Type: Annual or Biennial or Shrub
Country of Origin: Portugal (Madeira), Spain (Canary Islands)
Zone: 14-24

First encounter
Every year, for one reason or another, we would find ourselves roaming or driving along the coast of California enjoying the wet salty breeze on our skin.  This is what inland-Californians do, I guess.   And almost always, my eyes seem to be awakened and drawn towards an elegant shrub covered with purplish blue flowers flower heads that point to the sky.  The Echium candicans is a very delightful plant overall.  I fall in love with it every time I see it.  I can remember seeing it first a long time ago (before internet was open to everyone) in Carmel while on the 17-Mile Drive.  Looking at it from a distance I knew I saw something good that I wasn't looking for.  From that time on I saw it again many times but it was when my family was visiting the Mission San Luis Obispo that I came very close to the "Pride of Madeira" (its American nickname). The temptation to have this plant rushed all over me that I could not resist to break off a tiny branch from the shrub. Wrapped in a moistened paper towel tucked it in a plastic bag, the branch came home with me.   I gave all the necessary tender care and it rewarded me by showing me some roots and then new leaves grew.  The plant lives!  But when winter came that year, the plant died.   And I didn't even know its name.  

Funnel-shaped flowers are borne on spike-like panicles.

Facts about the Pride of Madeira
It was only when I started working at the nursery that I came to know more about the plant.  I found out that this plant has the following attributes:
  • Large gorgeous plant (5-6 ft tall and 6-10 ft wide)
  • Beautiful purplish-blue flowers from spring to summer float above foliage.
  • Evergreen (green and grey-silver) leaves
  • Attracts butterflies, bees and birds.
  • Drought tolerant in the coastal areas 
  • Tolerates poor soils
  • Deer Resistant
  • Poisonous (all plant parts)
  • Reseeds - it can become a weed if unchecked.

New branches do not grow on old wood. 

Factors to Consider in Growing Pride of Madeira

  • Sun - Full Sun or part shade in hot climates (like mine),
  • Soil - moderately fertile; sand, clay or loam; well-drained soil.  Neutral or alkaline pH.  Rich soils can hinder good flowering.
  • Fertilize during growing period.  No fertilizer is required in winter.
  • Pruning for shape is not necessary.  If you need to prune only within the branches that have leaves.  The plant branch only on new stems.  
  • Deadhead to avoid reseeding.
  • The plant naturally forms into a round shrub.
  • Protect from frost in situ with frost cloth.  Young growths are susceptible to freezing temperature.
  • Potential pests include snails and slugs especially when the shoots are young.

Recently, my family visited Angel Island and again "Pride of Madeira", in full bloom all over the island, captured my heart. (The pictures featured in this post were all taken from the island.) The sad truth is - this plant is not adaptable to my Zone 9 climate.  But I will try to bring her to my garden one more time.

Did you know?  Echium candicans is poisonous.  This is probably why it is deer resistant.  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Garden Bunny

It's been almost two years ago since Lexy, the bunny, came to be part of our family.  My youngest child wanted a pet when her big sister went to college.  We adopted one of the rabbits that have been abandoned by their original owners. We chose Lexy because she's litter box-trained and looked docile which meant that my daughter could pet her.  She's a house bunny - we had to sign an agreement that we will not let her live outside the house.  But even a house-bunny needs to be in a cage because there are cords lying around that are in danger of being chewed into pieces.  

Discovering the secret spaces in the garden.

This house bunny is a garden bunny by day.  She gets the necessary dose of sunshine and enjoys a little bit of freedom being with the rest of nature out there while nibbling on some fresh greenery.   When no one is there to keep her in line, she is confined in her outdoor cage on the shady area of the lawn.  She used to be scared whenever the neighbor's dog barked from the other side of the fence. Watching her ears twist as they listen to the source of unusual sounds around was quite entertaining.  But now she feels secure - observant but not easily startled.  She has a box she can run into whenever she needs the security of an enclosed space.

Lexy sits in her cage on the lawn.

There have been some changes in the garden, of course including the increase of nitrogen levels on some areas of the backyard.  The wood pellets from her litter box are being used as mulch for the acid-loving shrubs in the yard such as roses and boxwood.  All that is needed is to add extra nitrogen fertilizer necessary to feed the hardworking microorganisms during decomposition process.  These wood pellets mulch are also very effective in suppressing weeds.

Nibbling on everything but spitting out the unpalatable.

Lexy is a quiet bunny but she adds life in the garden - socially and organically.  How is your own pet changing the course of nature in your backyard?
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