UC Master Gardeners of Monterey & Santa Cruz Counties
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Pest Profiles: Spotted Cucumber Beetle

Last weekend I went out to my back porch to water and deadhead my container garden and came across some damage to my cosmos. The petals of most of the flowers had multiple small holes. I looked more carefully and noticed that the tomato plant next to the cosmos also had small holes in the leaves and in the fruit. Now I was curious! What was causing this damage to my plants? As I started turning over leaves and rotating tomato fruits, I spotted what looked like a yellow ladybug. A-ha! A potential pest! But who was this spotted critter?

Damage by western spotted cucumber beetle. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark.
Some time on Google netted me the moniker spotted cucumber beetle. Armed with a common name, I started looking for information on the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources website. Pretty soon I had a scientific name, Diabrotica undecimpunctata undecimpunctata. Not just a spotted cucumber beetle, but the Western spotted cucumber beetle. Although I haven't run across this little dude in my garden before, it turns out he's the most abundant cucumber beetle in California.

As is indicated in the common name, Western spotted cucumber beetles and cucumber beetles in general are common on cucurbits, that is melons and cucumbers. But they also will feed on other tender succulent portions of garden plants, including the flowers and leaves. The life cycle includes several generations a year, with eggs laid at the base of plants or in soil cracks, larvae which burrow into the soil and eat plant roots, and adult beetles that attack the aboveground portions of plants. Adult beetles are shiny with black heads, long antennae, and yellowish bodies with black spots. There's also a related striped cucumber beetle that has stripes rather than spots, but does pretty similar damage in the garden.

Western spotted cucumber beetle. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark.
The good news: older plants can support substantial numbers of cucumber beetles without serious damage. The bad news? Although there are some predators on these critters, including a parasitic tachinid fly, predators may not be enough to dent the population, especially in commercial farming. There are no effective cultural controls for cucumber beetles. Because the larvae are underground, the only life stage that's treatable with pesticides is the adult beetle stage. For the home gardener, the best solution may be to grow seedlings under a protective cloth which can be removed when the plants are old enough to tolerate damage. 

For more information, check out the UCANR Integrated Pest Management information here and here. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog so that you receive an email notification when a new post goes up. If you have questions, contact us online, by phone or in person to get answers to your gardening quandaries!

Posted on Monday, September 18, 2017 at 3:23 PM

Container Gardens

If you've been wanting to start a garden but feel a little overwhelmed by the task, why not a container garden? You can start simply with just a pot or two and expand as you build your confidence. Why a container garden? 

  • You can grow a great variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers in containers 
  • You don't have to do nearly as much soil prep as you do for an in-ground garden
  • Containers can be squeezed into small spaces where a larger garden won't work, for example, on a balcony or small porch.

Container Types

Container garden photo by Dan Randow. Link to license at end of article.
There are many different types of containers available to use: half wine barrels, plastic pots, glazed clay pots, 5 gallon buckets or other recycled containers can all work. I've got a container garden on my back porch with all of the aforementioned container types as well as a few others including a stock tank I drilled holes in the bottom of, some hypertufa pots, and a couple of containers I built out of old redwood deck boards. In general you want a pot that will hold soil and moisture but also allow drainage. If your container doesn't have drainage holes, make sure you add some. If your pot is large, put it where you want it before filling it with soil as it will get heavy. If your pot is less than about 10” diameter x 10” deep, be careful what you plant in it as the soil will dry out faster. That size would work for a succulent or cactus but wouldn't be ideal for a tomato plant.

Location, Location, Location

Choose your garden container location based on the cultural needs of the plant you plan to put in the container. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day, as do a lot of annual and perennial flowers. Some varieties of flowers and foliage don't need as much sun or prefer it to be filtered through trees. If you aren't certain, read about the plant's needs before you choose the location.

Soil

Container garden photo by Kristine Paulus. Link to license at end of article.
Soil is probably the most important factor in having happy container plants. You want a mix that is light, easily wettable and quick draining. The soil should retain moisture but also have plenty of air spaces for the roots. About half the soil mix should be organic material such a coconut coir, compost or worm castings. The other half of the soil mix should be inorganic material such as perlite, vermiculite, or sand. A good quality soil mix might cost you a little more but your plants will be much happier and more productive. The four functions of soil for plants include:

  • Anchorage and support
  • Storage and supply of water
  • Supply of air
  • Storage and supply of nutrients

Drainage

Make sure the pot will not damage anything when water drains out of it. It's better not to use a saucer if you don't need it. Why? Because irrigation water with fertilizer in it will leave soluble salts in the soil. If you don't leech these salts out of the pot by adding enough irrigation water so some water drips from the bottom of the pot, the salts will build up in the soil and could cause problems for your plants.

Saturation Zone

There's always a saturated zone at the bottom of the pot after the water drains out. The height of the saturation zone depends on particle size. The finer the particles in the soil, the more saturation occurs. That's important because if the soil is too saturated the plant will have difficulty taking up air through the roots. And although it seems hard to believe, adding gravel at the bottom of the pot only shifts the saturated zone up, leaving less unsaturated soil for the plant to grow in. So don't put a lot of gravel in the bottom of your pots, just a few broken shards to keep your potting mix from falling out the holes in the bottom of your pot. If you have poorly draining soil in your pots, here are a few solutions:

  • Improve soil by changing it to a coarser mix
  • Practice over-potting if necessary (use a larger pot than you need)
  • Increase plant spacing to increase evapotranspiration (the water loss occurring from processes of evaporation and transpiration. Evaporation is when the water on the soil or the plant surfaces turns to water vapor. Transpiration is the loss of water through the leaves of the plant.)
  • Irrigate at mid-morning when evapotranspiration is high
Effect of gravel added for drainage. Image taken from UCMGMSCC continuing education seminar.

Nutrients

The rule for fertilizer is weakly, weekly. That is, frequent but low doses of fertilizer are best for container plants. Using a water-soluble fertilzer is an easy way to control the amount of fertilizer your plants get, because you can apply it when you water your plants, dissolved into your irrigation water. 

Visit here and here for additional reading. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog so that you receive an email notification when a new post goes up. If you have questions, contact us online, by phone or in person to get answers to your gardening quandaries!

Dan Randow's container garden photo license is here. Kristine Paulus' container garden photo license is here.

Posted on Monday, August 28, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Zucchinis and Tomatoes and Basil, Oh My!

Summer squash. Photo © Leora Worthington.
Do you have summer squash and tomatoes piling up on your kitchen counter and spilling out of your garden beds? Have you tried fried zucchini, roasted zucchini, stuffed zucchini and more? Here's a simple recipe that just happens to be vegetarian, gluten-free, and delicious! I don't even have a name for it, it's so simple.

Ingredients:

Fresh tomatoes

Fresh zucchini

Fresh basil

1 tbsp olive oil

1-3 garlic cloves, to taste

Salt & pepper to taste

1/2 - 1 c. shredded or crumbled cheese - Mozzarella or Feta are both great

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 300-350 deg F. Slice tomatoes and zucchini in rounds about 1/4" thick. Slice or mince garlic, whichever you prefer. Put about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of a casserole dish. Layer zucchini, tomatoes, garlic and basil until you run out or you fill the casserole dish. Sprinkle layers with salt and pepper. Spread cheese over the top layer. Cover and bake for about 30 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and zucchini is soft. Spoon into dishes and eat with crusty bread or gluten-free juice-sopping alternative. 

Tomatoes. Photo © UCANR.
This recipe is very adaptable. I've used thyme, oregano and rosemary when I didn't have fresh basil. I've added slices of eggplant when I had it, as well as slices of onion or fennel. I've served it without the cheese topping to vegan friends. Feel free to experiment and share your results in the comments!

Don't forget to subscribe to our blog so that you receive an email notification when a new post goes up. If you have questions, contact us online, by phone or in person to get answers to your gardening quandaries!

 

Posted on Monday, August 14, 2017 at 3:43 PM
Tags: Tomatoes - Fresh (1), zucchini (1)

Revised - What to Plant in August

Last week's planting guide was more appropriate for the southwest than our Central California climate. So here, for your reading pleasure, is a planting guide for August for Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This information comes from a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources publication entitled "Vegetable Garden Planting Guide for Santa Cruz County."

Summer squash. Photo © Leora Worthington.
Crop Selected Varieties Seeds or Transplants?
Artichoke Green Globe Transplants
Basil Genovese, Lemon, Red Opal, Siam Queen Seeds
Beets Detroit Dark Red, Chioggia, Golden, Little Ball Seeds
Broccoli Green Goliath, Packman, Premium Crop, Waltham Transplants
Cabbage Early Jersey Wakefield, Express Red, Savoy Transplants
Carrots Chantenay, Nantes Types Seeds
Cauliflower Snowball Types Transplants
Edible Flowers Calendula, Johnny Jump Ups, Nasturtiums Seeds
Endive Batavian, Curled Types Seeds
Kohlrabi Early Purple Vienna, Early White Vienna Seeds
Leeks American Flag, Titan Seeds
Lettuce - Leaf       Black Seeded Simpson, Little Gem, Mesclun, Salad Bowl Seeds

 

Crop Selected Varieties Seeds or Transplants?
Mustard  Mizuna, Others Seeds
Parsnips  Hollow Crown Seeds
Peas, Garden Maestro, Lincoln Seeds
Peas, Snap Sugar Snap, Sugar Ann Seeds
Radishes Cherry Belle, French Breakfast, White Globe                  Seeds
Spinach Bloomsdale, Melody, Popeye Seeds
Squash - Summer Scallop, Yellow, Zucchini Seeds
Swiss Chard Bright Lights, Fordhook Giant, Rhubarb Seeds
Turnips Purple Top White Globe Seeds

 

Bell and sweet peppers. Photo © Leora Worthington.

Visit the California Garden Web for basic vegetable gardening information including planning your garden, preparing for planting, caring for your vegetable crops, and much much more! Don't forget to subscribe to our blog so that you receive an email notification when a new post goes up. If you have questions, contact us online, by phone or in person to get answers to your gardening quandaries!

Posted on Monday, July 31, 2017 at 3:00 PM

What to plant in August

We're revisiting a post from a few years ago by PaulMcCollum. Thanks, Paul! Don't forget to subscribe to our blog so that you receive an email notification when a new post goes up. If you have questions, contact us online, by phone or in person to get answers to your gardening quandaries!

To all the lovely people,

Here are the recommendations from Mother Earth News of what to plant in our region for the month of August. I am preparing my cabbage bed now for transplanting cabbage starts in about three weeks. Write me if you have any garden questions. 

Paul

Top Crops for the Southwest Region:

Here are the Top Ten crops for the Southwest region, followed by other recommended crops, as rated in our National Survey of Most Productive Garden Crops. (The criteria for selection include ease of culture, efficient use of garden space and time, ease of storage and desirability at the table.) The recommended crops are sorted by plant family to help you plan rotations so that the same plant families are not grown consecutively in the same area, as much as possible.

Top 10 Crops: Southwest Region

1. Potato
2. Garlic
3. Cherry tomato
4. Bulb onion
5. Slicing tomato
6. Carrot
7. Summer squash
8. Snow/snap pea
9. Paste tomato
10. Sweet peppers

Other Highly Recommended Crops:

Cabbage family:  Kale, kohlrabi 

Cucumber family:  Cucumberpumpkin, winter squash 

Leafy greens:  Arugula, chard, Chinese cabbage, mache, lettuce, pac choi, spinach 

Legumes:  Dry soup beans, edamame, fava bean, snap beans, snow/snap and shell peas, Southern peas

Root crops:  Beetradish, rutabaga, shallot, sunchoke, sweet potato 

Tomato family:  Eggplant, peppers (all types), tomatillo

Miscellaneous: Bulb fennel, leek, okra, rhubarb, scallions 

Posted on Monday, July 24, 2017 at 3:00 PM

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