Questions about gardening? Ask QMR!
Q: What is the best way to control spider mites?
A: Spider mites are amazingly durable, persistant pest for indoor (and at times, outdoor) growers. These small creatures live on the underside of plant leaves, and tap into the plant's cardiovascular system and suck out vital juices. Often, the first sign of spidermites are tiny yellow spots that grow steadily on the upper side of the leaf. In a bad infestation, spider mites start webbing and leaves might appear bleached out. The first control is to keep grow room temperatures down. Spidermites are cold blooded, and so only go as fast as room temperatures allow. Preventative and treatment sprays generally are either herbal oil based, enzyme based or pyrethrum based. For a few small plants a ready to use product like Mighty Wash is a great choice. For a bigger garden a concentrate like Monterey Take Down is a good choice. One bottle will make several gallons of spray. Finally, a great way to knock down the vigor of the bugs is to use a systemic treatment (Azamax is a great, organic choice). When used as a root drench, the plant uptakes the active ingredient (azadachtrin, derived from the neem tree seed) and when the spidermites eat the plant, the azadachtrin sickens them. The great thing about Azamax is that you can treat plants up until harvest when you may not want to be spraying due to foliage density and to keep residue out of the harvest.
Q: How many lights do I need to grow 12 plants?
A: How big of a space do you want to grow the plants in? Much depends on how big you want to get the plants, and that is where the first question comes into play. If you are growing in soil, in containers like Smart Pots, the diameter of the pot will designate the amount of space you need. Generally speaking, one light hood covers a 4 foot by 4 foot area. If you want to jam 12 plants into that 16 square foot space, you need one light. If you want to spread them out, you will need more.
Q: I've seen a powdery white covering on some of the leaves of my plants. What's going on?
A: The past two outdoor seasons in California have created a monster in the form of powdery mildew. Combine the cool, damp spring weather with the fact that most gardeners are using cloned cuttings, and we've gotten an epidemic of powdery mildew. This stuff sinks a tap into your plant's stomata (an opening the plant uses for exchanging CO2 and absorbing nutrients) and sucks out the vigor of your plants. Plants infected with PM never fulfil their full potential in size or yields. Product infected with PM is practically worthless. Preventing PM is the key to controlling it. As mentioned, cloning a plant contributes to the spread of PM. Once established on a particular plant, PM will become systemic, and any cuttings trimmed from the original will also be infected. If you want to guarantee no PM at least for awhile, start your garden from seeds. PM also spreads from plant to plant, so an infected plant should be removed from any plants you want to keep clean. Nearly every gardener who has detected PM on their plants fight a constant battle particularly when conditions (damp, cold) occur that encourages spread of PM. Products meant to prevent and sometimes control PM include Serenade (a bacterial solution with a living organism that feeds on PM), and fungacides like Green Cure and Zero Tolerance. Once available over the counter, sulphur burners and fungacide bombs are now restricted from sale in California. Both do a great job in cleansing indoor growing areas that have had diseased plants. One final note on PM... it's a naturally occuring fungus that contributes in nature to the final demise of many plants. You are likely to encounter it on squash plants late in the season when the weather turns cold and humidity is high. As a result, the spores are constantly around, and can gain a foothold on your plants whenever you give them a chance. The most common way to control PM is through spraying the above mentioned products directly on the plants. Nearly every spray (even water) can be phytotoxic to plants (burning the leaves), so be sure to only spray during low light hours or when the lights are off. Since PM thrives in humid conditions, spraying a couple hours before the lights come on (or early in the morning) is best because the plant gets a chance to completely dry out after the sun comes up/lights come on.
Rules for controlling PM:
Purchase only plants from "clean" sources. Get a guarantee against PM infection when you buy plants.
Remove infected plants immediately from the immediate area of your clean plants. If you must keep them, isolate them. The spores will quickly infect the other plants nearby.
Never take cuttings from infected plants. That is like deliberately breeding defects in an animal. Never give away infected plants you don't want to try to keep. You're just adding to the epidemic.
Spray every three to four days with a fungacide like Green Cure.
|Quail Mountain Ranch Blog
Feb. 2, 2013
By Bud Neville
Jury's back, it's all about the soil
For some eight years since we've had the ranch near Foresthill, we've amended our heavy clay soils to try to improve the quality of our garden soil. Around six years ago, we started getting heavy into the gardening business. While always a "student" of gardening, an education was forced upon me as we expanded and refined our product offerings and knowledge in the store. When it came to compost teas, I hired a soil consultant to help me come up with the best formula and process to produce a high quality biological aerobic tea.
When it came to amendments, I was educated by many of my knowledgable customers. In the home garden, I always relied on the basics: blood meal, bone meal and chicken manure. Suddenly, I had requests for fossilized seabird guano, green sand, azomite and other more obscure amendments.
When we first started carrying soils, I was mostly ignorant of soil biology, and the science of soils. I was used to buying the cheapest bags at our local building supplies store. Quickly, I realized that the many high quality bagged soils were well worth their higher price tags. Yet who can justify A $15 bag of soil to grow veggies when you're going to need a pallet to make a significant difference in the garden?
Occasionally, we'll get damaged bags in the store, and I started taking these home. In 2010, I set up a raised bed garden with these high end soils. By the end of the season, I was convinced, and I also became addicted to soil science. I purchased soil textbooks online, and bought all the Ingraham books on the living soil food web.
In 2012, in search of a quality base of compost to possibly formulate our own potting soils, I fell into another fascinating subject: mushroom cultivation. Few quality foods can be raised with the ease of mushrooms, which are great sources of protien and vitamin D. While indoor mushroom cultivation requires climate control, lighting requirements are minimal (and lighting is generally the biggest cost factor for producing food indoors). What attracted me to the cultivation of mushrooms was a search for spent mushroom compost. Northern California has some major suppliers of mushrooms, particularly down around Watsonville and Monterey. Unfortunately, getting my hands on some spent mushroom compost turned out tougher than I thought it would be.
"Fine," I thought. "I'll just make my own mushroom compost and have mushrooms in addition to the compost!" So I started the research, buying a couple books by Paul Stamets Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms and The Mushroom Cultivator. Talk about opening up some interesting options! I got sidetracked on the shiitake mushroom sections. When I realized the equipment required for commercial mushroom production, I lost interest at the moment, then I was able to make a connection to get bulk mushroom compost via the transfer truck. Some day, I'll get back to the mushroom possibilities.
All the while, I was experimenting with mushroom compost I found locally available by the yard. I bought 5 yards and another 5 yards of topsoil and wheelbarrowed it into raised mounds in my garden. We started putting plants out early in 2012 thanks to the mild spring, and by the first week of June, we were pulling off pounds and pounds of summer squash. We had an exceptional year with roma and Beefmaster tomatoes, okra, green beans, sugar peas, pickling cucumbers, potatoes and an herb bed that produced more dried bags of basil than we'll use in years,as well as plenty of dill for pickling and fennel seed for sausage and salami making. We've had small successes in years past in the garden, but the new soil really made a huge difference in the volume of our harvest.
The moral of the story: Don't waste expensive amendments on native soil if you're in an area with "bad" dirt. Instead, spend the money on bulk soil. Later you can amend your quality soil when it needs it. By the way, most areas have a yard with bulk barks, soils and gravel that you can take your own pickup to for a load of bulk soil.
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