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Organic Gardening Newsletter #15 - 5/7/2009


Organic Gardening Class Newsletter #15

Carl Rosato gave us a fantastic lesson on fruit tree culture. Thanks Carl. As most of you know by now, Carl packs a whole lot of information into his talks. For those who didn't retain all those helpful details, we hope to have a DVD completed soon showing Carl's methods of pruning, soil amending, thinning, and so much more. We will keep you posted.

Directions to field trip this Sunday, May 10 (Mother's Day): 1 PM and 3 PM      

Please check your class card for your reserved time. If you haven't signed up, the 1 PM session is full. There is room to switch to 3 PM if you are signed up for 1 PM. Fee for single field trip is $10 (if a check, please make payable to: Valley Oak Tool Company). 

Take the Midway south from Chico toward Durham. Go about 2 miles past Hegan Lane. Turn left at Oro-Chico Highway (near where Patrick Ranch is on the right side of the road).

In less than a mile, go left on Chayote. The gate will be open. After the gate, it is the third house on the right. Please park in the field then check-in and gather under the shade of the trees. 

For this tour of beautiful roses and so many more plantings at Sky Lake Gardens, Christy Santos will focus more on landscape design and installation than having the names of every variety planted (the plantings are very extensive). 

The card set Carl showed us on the field trip is the Tree Fruit Pest Identification and Monitoring Cards by Carolyn Pickel et al. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 3426. Available at or phone 800-994-8849. These cards looked pretty good.

Vegetable Gardening Tips:
As I am visiting a few gardens around town, I am noticing that some soils just don't have that alive feel that was so evident at Carl's Woodleaf Farm.  A major factor in this difference is that Carl has tested his soils and balanced the nutrients over many years. Also very important is the way Carl has encouraged grasses, clovers and frankly many weeds to flourish throughout his orchards and fields. Joseph Cocannoeur wrote a book many years ago called Weeds: Guardians of the soil. There is an art to managing herbaceous weeds to increase the organic matter content of your soils and thereby increasing the biological activity. Some weeds like red root pigweed are "deep divers," going down into the subsoil to bring up nutrients that may have leached beyond the root zone of shallow rooted plants. There is an art to managing the weeds, and you may have noticed Carl Rosato has mastered that art in his orchards, with organic matter content up in the 6% range.

In our hot dry summers, we may find ourselves watering some weeds and not pulling them right away. In a vegetable plot, you have to stay on top of the cycles, so that you get the benefits of root growth and yet cut or pull the weeds before they inhibit your crops. Every plant puts down roots that pulverize and loosen tight soils. This could be weeds or it could be a green manure crop you intentionally plant. This year, I am letting weeds like prickly lettuce get large around the borders of the garden, and letting some weeds get bigger than I used to between the rows.  I am still weeding, but managing the timing differently. A friend has a new garden, with a vigorous crop of red-root pigweed sprouting. This weed will grow 4 or 5 feet tall and have very scratchy seed heads in the summer if left alone. But I wouldn't hoe the whole area as quickly as I used to do. Start with pulling the weeds right next to the plants. With the pigweed that is at least 6" away from the squash and beans, you might want to leave some until the pigweed is about 6" tall,  then hoe it. You can leave the desiccated weeds right there to serve as a mulch. Another weed (especialy perennials like bermuda grass, Johnson grass, bindweed and nutsedge) should be hoed and removed as soon as you see it. Purslane never gets tall, it is a ground-hugging succulent, and is hard to control. I wouldn't let it go either.

When you have a lot of weeding to do, a wheel hoe gets it done much faster and easier than a hand hoe. You can check out for a video demonstration.

The back side of these recent rains is an excellent time to break open new ground, pull weeds, etc. Remember to thin young plants before they stunt each other's growth. Get your first plantings of beans, corn, squash and melon seeds in now. Tomato, pepper and eggplant transplants can go in the ground. It is best to transplant in the late afternoon or early evening so that the roots can re-grow some root hairs before being in the blazing sun. Give them a nice big drink of water as you transplant, and again the next day.

Keep the water on the cool season crops like lettuce, peas, beets and kale.

I am looking for someone to post video footage on YouTube (either volunteer or for a fee) so that you can click on a link in the newsletter and see what I am describing. We need to get the stake and string method of tomato trellising posted. It is the best method for our climate in my opinion. If you know of someone who could revamp my emailing system, please let me know.

Next Sunday at 1:30, we area returning to the Chico Grange for a talk on Composting by a true professional, Gary Foster of Compost Solutions.

Happy gardening,

David Grau

Valley Oak Tool Company
P.O. Box 301
Chico  CA   95927
telephone 530-342-6188

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