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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Apr 20

How Much?

Posted on April 20, 2018 at 10:30 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Irrigation season is approaching. When it comes time to turn on your irrigation system, our Weekly Watering Schedule is an amazing tool. It provides guidelines for how much water to apply to the garden based on the current evapotranspiration—or ET—rate. (ET is the amount of water lost into the air through evaporation from soil and transpiration from plants.) The watering recommendations take into account the type of irrigation you are using, as well as if your garden is located in the south, central or north part of MMWD’s service area. It also breaks down watering times for lawns, high-water and low-water-use plants. 

potatoes in plastic tote container
 Potatoes in plastic tote container
But what if you are watering vegetables? What category do they fall into? Do some vegetables need more water than others, or require extra water at certain times of the growth cycle? In general, for watering vegetables you’ll want to follow the “high water use” guidelines in the Weekly Watering Schedule. But as with all gardening, there are many factors that come into play, and so you’ll also want to monitor and adjust if needed to achieve maximum production in your garden. Yes, veggies have microclimates, too!

For example, how well is the soil prepared? Are we talking about hardpan clay with the purchase of a four-inch nursery plant planted in that ground? Or are you planting in well-worked soil with good drainage and optimum sunlight? Is the soil rich in nutrients? Optimum growing conditions along with the recommended amount of water will help you achieve the best results. 

During their growing season, and under good growing conditions, beets, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, tomatoes and carrots will all require about 1-2 gallons of water per week. For a drip system using 2-gallon-per-hour emitters, this would mean about 30-60 minutes of water each week. With these vegetables, it’s best to avoid allowing the soil to dry out. 

Some vegetables require more water, up to 2-3 gallons of water per week. These include cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach. These are also cool season vegetables and prefer more shade for optimal growth. Because they like similar growing conditions, they make great companion plants. Along with these plants, squash and cucumbers also prefer more water.

Some vegetables need more water during certain periods of their development. Beans and peas need at least two gallons of water per week during their flowering and pod development stages. Corn will need that same amount of water during the time of tassel development and when the kernels begin to swell. Potatoes’ water needs increase to two gallons when the potatoes are the size of marbles. 

Gardening is fun. It can be a challenge or similar to working a puzzle. But for the most part, I have found plants to be forgiving. Enjoy the planning, planting and harvesting. No matter, the reward is the joy when you bite into that first ripe veggie!
Apr 13

April Showers

Posted on April 13, 2018 at 9:41 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

 April gardening in the sunshine
 April gardening in the sunshine
April weather can be disconcerting at best. One day the sun draws us out into the garden to weed, complete last-minute pruning, fertilize or set out seedlings. Then the next day torrential rains drive us right back into the house.

This past weekend was no exception, as rains thwarted the best of intentions to tackle weeding before the weeds take over the garden. The ground was still too cold and saturated here in Lassen to set out seedlings. But the weather worked for applying fertilizers—in fact, I was able to take advantage of the rains to help deliver the rich nutrients down into the root systems.

The first question when pursuing this task is always: what type of fertilizers to use, if any at all? Should you choose granular or liquid? Time released? Organic or inorganic? And what is with all those numbers on the fertilizer package? 

Did I just say the weather was disconcerting? Books have been written on the subject of fertilizers. Many gardeners have their favorite formulas, brand and timing for application. This gardener is no different. I prefer using organic fertilizers—either manufactured by my chickens, donkeys or horses, or purchased fertilizers made from various manures, plant or animal matter. I also look for fertilizers rich in nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The numbers following the NPK on the packaging represent the percentage of each nutrient in the mix. You will note that they never add up to 100%. The remainder is other nutrients and fillers. I prefer fertilizers in which these are as organic as well, as there is less chance of burning the plants than with inorganic fertilizers. In addition, organic products help eliminate salt build-up—especially in potted plants. 

I also like to control the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium going to specific plants at different times of the year. For example, nitrogen contributes to the growth and greening of plants, but makes for weak stem growth. Fertilizers high in nitrogen are used to achieve lush green lawns. On the other hand, spring flowering plants benefit from getting a 0-10-10 fertilizing during the winter months to aid in their flower/fruit production. While dormant, they do not need any nitrogen for growth (note the 0 in that 0-10-10 formula). However, in spring I can easily switch to 15-30-15 to feed roses, rhodies, camellias and azaleas, along with other flowering shrubs and fruit trees. 

You might be wondering what those last two macronutrients do. If nitrogen accounts for green fast growth, phosphorus aids in overall health of the plant by stimulating and developing strong roots and flowers. Potassium is responsible for creating overall vigor and further development of carbohydrates in photosynthesis. 

The right ratio of these three elements offers a well-balanced diet to your garden. However, to complicate the issue, if your soil is already high in phosphorus or potassium it could be detrimental to your plants that do not need large amounts of these macronutrients to survive. The best way to determine the specific needs of your plants is to purchase a soil test kit at your local garden center. This can help determine if you should omit one of these elements when fertilizing. For example, if you have soil already abundant in phosphorus, you can purchase a fertilizer with a 0 (P) in the numeric formula.

Fertilizers: They are a study in themselves. What better thing can you do on a rainy day but to pick up some more detailed literature on the subject? Your plants will thank you for it!

Apr 04

What If?

Posted on April 4, 2018 at 11:08 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

What if I added four inches of rotting wood chips to my vegetable garden and planted directly within it?

What if I tucked perennials such as primroses or tuberose bulbs in a drab area of the garden for a colorful or fragrant element of surprise?

What if the vegetable garden contained as many annuals flowers as it does vegetable plants?

What if we broke out of our normal gardening routines and tried something new? Would we impact crop abundance or survival? Or would we meet with success and new-found inspiration? Would we be able to push outside our comfort zones and let go of predictable outcomes?

Gardening can be freeing. We can move our plants about, try new varieties, create new rooms within our garden or keep the status quo. The question is what motivates us to try new things?

This past Easter weekend, my trusty dogs Sassy and Misty accompanied me to our little log cabin nestled in the forest just west of Lassen National Park. Our family acquired the cabin this past autumn. When I first saw this home, it was clear that the past owners loved gardening. I couldn’t wait until spring to learn what treasures would unfold, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The warm sunny days drew the dogs and me outside to feed some magnificent six-foot-tall rhododendrons planted near the creek side. As we walked about, tiny treasures unearthed themselves, revealing a spot of color here and there. We noted new buds breaking from their dormant sleep, and wondered how long before emerging bulbs would reveal their spring splendor. Patches of snow remained in some areas, and where the snow had melted, I found the earth like a sponge underfoot. This was better than any Easter egg hunt I could remember!

primrose
 Primrose surprise
The walk opened my mind to how we garden. That sponge underfoot told of how plants thrive in rich soil. How could I duplicate years of forest duff in my own garden? How could I capture that element of surprise embodied in the intense cobalt blue of primrose revealing itself in the midst of a still-dormant winter garden? How could tiny violets hidden by their foliage move us to seek out the source of sweetness permeating the air? What changes could be made in the garden at home to break out of a normal routine?

These questions have inspired new experiments in my garden. To imitate that rich forest soil, I have already shoveled four inches of well-rotted wood chips into the hoop house earmarked for berries such as straw-, blue-, black- and rasp-. My horses and donkeys provide ongoing aged manure for increasing the richness of soil in the vegetable garden. Seed packets stored in the greenhouse contain the promise of annual color to delight all types of beneficial insects that will work at pollinizing the vegetables.

Yes, shaking up our routine can be fun and promising. Are you willing to step outside what is comfortable in the garden and try something new as well? Let the experimenting begin.