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Farm & Garden

Free-Range Flowers Love To Roam

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Farm & Garden

Written by Maria Gaura

SANTA CRUZ - Flowering plants look so sedentary in their garden beds, so docile, so dependent. But turn your back for a few months and, before you know it, they’re wandering all over the place.

It’s not just the urban critters that roam in my garden. I count nearly twenty different flowering annuals that sprout up every year, wherever they please, forming thickets beneath the porch stairs and twining around the compost bins. Oriental poppies shoot up in a new spot every winter, blooming at eye level and dying off just as we’re planting the summer vegetables. Mounds of nasturtiums billow beneath the fruit trees, and brighten neglected corners.

But I haven’t purchased any of these plants in years.

 

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(PART FIVE) Gleaning the Fields: Volunteers Gather Fresh Food for the Poor

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Farm & Garden

Written by Maria Gaura

CASTROVILLE, MONTEREY COUNTY, CA. (Sept. 2011) - When harvesting Iceberg lettuce, first give the plump round head a squeeze. If the lettuce feels firm and dense, jab the wedge-shaped harvesting knife at the base of the plant to sever the stem, pull off the floppy outer leaves, and drop the moist green orb gently into the harvesting crate.

But if the lettuce gives beneath your touch, or has a spot of mold or a brown leaf, leave it behind. There are thousands of leftover lettuces in this ocean-view field, and our crew of volunteer gleaners has only one truck to haul away its share, so we take only the perfectly full and heavy Icebergs, and leave the rest for the plow.

It seems unbelievable that so many beautiful, perfectly-shaped vegetables will be tilled back into the earth, but in fact, an estimated 20 percent of all field crops grown on California’s Central Coast are left in the field or thrown out at the packing shed.

 

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Spring Deer

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Farm & Garden


Young deer with fuzzy antlerettes takes a break near UC Santa Cruz.
Maria Gaura ©santacruzwire.com
 

Experts Share Tomato Secrets For Cool Coastal Gardens

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Farm & Garden - Farm & Garden

Written by Maria Gaura

SANTA CRUZ (April 2011) – Spring is finally here, and the shelves at local garden centers are overflowing with tomatoes – everything from grape-size cherries to hulking red slicers.
It’s tempting to load up on seedlings with the brawniest, most masculine names - maybe a Beefmaster, a couple of Brandywines, and a Mortgage Lifter. But before you do something you’ll regret in a few weeks, back away from the tomatoes! That’s right. Go home, think it over, and come back to the garden center when you’ve got a plan.
The fact is that we’re a beach town, and tomatoes – especially the big, beefy ones - prefer the triple-digit weather in Fresno. But advice from Santa Cruz garden experts Renee Shepherd, Christof Bernau and Cynthia Sandberg can help you grow amazing tomatoes anywhere in our tricky coastal zone.

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New Digs For Santa Cruz Tomato Queen

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Farm & Garden

Written by Maria Gaura

SANTA CRUZ (March 2011) – For more than a decade, Cynthia Sandberg’s Love Apple Farm has been a Mecca for serious tomato lovers. Her annual spring seedling sale, featuring more than 100 varieties of tomato, draws throngs of home gardeners in search of tasty and unusual heirlooms such as Portuguese Monster, Nebraska Wedding, Jaune Flamme and Hippy Zebra.
The biodynamic farm is also a haven for the kind of gardeners who drop fish heads in the planting hole and water their plants with tea made from worm poop, then post photographs of their ten-foot-tall tomato vines online. Sandberg offers a wealth of back-to-basics garden wisdom to her customers, as well as classes in gardening, composting, cooking and canning.
But beginning this month, Sandberg will be brewing her worm poop tea at a new location.

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Webmaster

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Farm & Garden


Super-sized Orb Weavers appear in local gardens in the fall.
Maria Gaura©santacruzwire.com

 

Super-Size Spiders Invade Local Gardens

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Farm & Garden

Written by Maria Gaura

SANTA CRUZ (November 2010) – For many Central Coast gardeners, fall is a season to avoid the back yard. We might blame our seasonal sloth on the waning daylight hours, or the lengthy to-do list of landscaping chores.
But I chalk it up the autumn invasion of garden spiders - those gangly, dangling web-hanging garden freaks that start out the size of your pinky fingernail and quickly balloon to Halloween-fright proportions. They seem to appear overnight, around mid-September, and enjoy flinging their nets across garden paths at face-height – a nasty surprise for the garden-variety arachnophobe.

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Strawberry Upside-Down Pots

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Farm & Garden

Inverted terra-cotta pots keep strawberries high, happy and bug-free.
Maria Gaura ©santacruzwire.com
 

Pest-Proof Planting Pots for Strawberries

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Farm & Garden

Written by Maria Gaura

SANTA CRUZ (August 2010) – Strawberries are easy to grow in our cool coastal gardens. The hard part is getting to the tender fruit before the bugs do, especially in an organic garden.
Commercial growers, even the organic ones, rely on sheets of plastic to keep their berries dirt- and bug-free. But I can’t bear to uglify my garden with non-biodegradable petrochemical mulch. Instead, this summer I recycled a stack of terra-cotta flowerpots into pest-proof podiums for my strawberry plants.

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Non-Violent Critter Control for Buddhists, and Other Gentle Gardeners

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Farm & Garden

Written by Maria Gaura

SANTA CRUZ (July 2010) – When animal pests invade the garden, many homeowners are quick to trap, shoot or poison the creatures undermining their lawns, or pilfering their tomatoes.
But an increasing number of nonviolent gardeners, including vegans, Buddhists and the simply compassionate, are turning to humane traps that confine, but don't kill, the annoying animal. Yet humane trapping, while bloodless, can pose tricky problems of its own.
Once you’ve trapped a live raccoon, for instance, what do you do with it?  As it turns out, there are few legal options for relocating your furry captive.

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Garden Jewel

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Farm & Garden


Caterpillar of an Anise Swallowtail butterfly munches on fennel.
Maria Gaura ©santacruzwire.com

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Saving Mr. Stinky

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Farm & Garden

Written by Maria Gaura

SANTA CRUZ (June 2010) – When I was growing up in the suburbs of Northern California, home gardening was a lethal discipline. Lawns were doused with toxic solutions to keep them green and weed-free, trees were sprayed on a strict schedule, and insects were indiscriminately poisoned –along with whatever birds, frogs and butterflies happened into the line of fire.
Sometimes the firepower was more than metaphorical. I recall the day that my dad loaded his shotgun and stuck the barrel through a bathroom window, waiting with finger on the trigger for a gopher to poke its head out of the soil. This was in a household with six young children, in a yard separated from our neighbors by a couple feet of thin air and a flimsy redwood fence.
Terrifying as it was, all of us survived the shotgun incident – even the gopher. But that episode came to mind recently as I began looking into humane traps for garden pests, and came across a non-lethal box trap for gophers. Gophers. Seriously, I thought, what kind of a gardener is so wishy-washy, so lacking in righteous vengeance that she can’t bear to kill a lousy, rose-killing, fruit-tree toppling gopher?
Then I remembered the Mr. Stinky incident.

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