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Cool weather challenges; weeds-into-gold

Our weather turned cool this May, which has been wonderful in some ways. The rush to get warm season crops in the ground is less pressing and watering is less critical. But the cool weather is presenting its own challenges too. Small amounts of rain like we’ve had can help keep seed beds moist but doesn’t really soak in. The strong winds in late April and early May pulled a lot of water out of the ground. I was surprised at how dry the soil my garden beds was when I planted my tomatoes last week, though mulched perennial beds are still moist.

Cool weather also means that warm season crops germinate and grow slowly. Seeds can rot in the soil if it is not warm enough and slow growth gives pests and diseases an advantage. Earwigs, slugs, snails, and birds can be devastating at this time. Some gardeners feel that this is the one time that bare soil in a garden with newly planted annuals is a good thing. Bare soil absorbs heat from the sun much better than mulched soil and does not provide as much hiding space for leaf eating critters.

I often put green strawberry baskets upside down over newly planted or emerging seedlings to keep birds off. Small chicken wire “hoods” can work well too. Floating row cover protects seedlings from all of these pests plus aphids and the flies whose larvae become leaf miners, but you can’t see your plants through them!  Some farmers are starting to use a product for pest exclusion called ProtekNet that you can see through and lasts much longer than row cover. I hope that it becomes available in garden size quantities at some point.

SluggoPlus is a product that helps control slugs, snails, earwigs and pill bugs, but it is expensive. Snails can be controlled by nightly patrols with a flashlight. You can stomp on them or collect in a bucket, (with tight fitting lid), and give to someone who has chickens. Same with slugs, though you will need a tweezers or clippers…. And look closely in dense foliage like agapanthus, ivy and rosemary shrubs, as snails often live in these. Or make traps with shallow dishes of beer or other fermented liquid.  These critters also like to hide out between nested nursery flats or pots, so you can put those in the garden, but make sure to check them daily, shaking the pests into buckets.

Weeds are loving this cool, moist weather too. Can you use weeds “harvested” now as “straw” mulch next month?  Many of us are thinking about how to close, or at least reduce, our organic material import/export cycle these days. Weeds that have not yet gone to seed and won’t root and grow again, (like Bermuda grass would), can be skimmed off just below the soil surface, or mowed or weed whacked. Leave to dry for a couple of days then rake up and store to use as mulch.

This material would also be great to layer with kitchen waste in your compost. If you like the idea of making your own compost but are having trouble integrating it into your life, it may be helpful to create better systems that make composting easy. Some people find it helpful to have 2 lidded buckets or bins just outside near the kitchen. One has dry organic material like weeds, leaves, straw, etc. You put a layer of this material in the collecting bucket, then every time you dump some non-animal kitchen waste into the collecting bucket you add a layer of the dry material. This should prevent the kitchen waste from getting slimy and stinky. When the collecting bucket is full you add it to your in-process compost. When your in-process compost has enough materials collected to make a pile at least 3’ x 3’ in size, add  water, as needed, (should be like a wrung-out sponge), and let it “cook”. A second pile then becomes your in-process pile.

Participating in this waste-into-gold process can be very gratifying! For more information on composting, the Master Gardeners are holding a series of workshops this summer. See www.ucanr.edu/compostworkshop..

May your garden grow well!