The 3 Sisters
The Iroquois Indians planted corn, beans and squash in such a manner that each benefited the other. This method is called the 3 sisters: the corn provides support for the beans, the beans provide nitrogen for both the corn and squash, and the squash spreads out to protect and cool the soil and suppress weeds for the beans and corn. All three eaten together provide a highly nutritious diet. Different cultures have variations on the 3 sisters. At the Master Gardener Bayer Farm vegetable and pollinator demonstration garden, the MG Food Gardening Specialists plant one of these cultural variations: maíz, frijol and calabaza plus chile and “quelites” (an umbrella term for any wild, native Mexican green, usually one that has small leaves). Electra de Peyster, Food Gardening Specialist, provides a list of varieties, planting schemes and directions so that you can create your own 3 sisters. Learn more.
In the Garden
Year-Round Food Gardening in Sonoma County
Master Gardener and Food Gardening Specialist Penny Fink introduces us to the updated “Year-Round Food Gardening in Sonoma County” publication, and shares how this chart has facilitated her growing food twelve months of the year. This invaluable reference can be used for planning your food garden, planting crops, harvesting and transitioning your garden from season to season. Read more.
Easy to Grow Vegetables
Are you a new home gardener? Start with a small garden and some easy-to-grow vegetables. In your summer garden, plant tomatoes, pole or bush beans, zucchini and cucumbers. And if you plan carefully, you can add some lettuce to the mix. Ready, set, grow!
Food Garden Specialists
Food Garden Specialists (FGS) are volunteers in the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County. They have a passion for and extra training in sustainable food gardening. In addition to offering food gardening workshops, they provide free advice and consultation services to community gardens throughout Sonoma County. Read more.
Food Garden Tips
May Tasks and Tips
For what to grow this month, click here.
- Weed, weed, weed! Weeds are competing with your crops for sun, water and nutrients. And, weeds can harbor some nasty food garden pests.
- Despite our el Nino winter, there are long-term drought predictions not to mention our usual long hot, dry season each year. Continue to compost, compost, compost and mulch, mulch, mulch! Both will retain soil moisture along with other benefits. Some crops, such as tomatoes and corn, are heavy feeders and will benefit from the compost (2-4 inches). Don’t over-compost or add additional fertilizer high in nitrogen – it will only cause a flush of green growth requiring extra water and will attract pests.
- Many Sonoma County gardeners buy warm weather veggie transplants this month. Don’t buy a plant forming fruit – it’s been in the container way too long. Tomatoes and peppers should be wider than they are tall. Check not only for healthy green foliage, gently slide the plant out of the container to make sure that roots are healthy and not matted.
- Speaking of transplants, how about choosing varieties with less days-to-maturity (less water before it produces), that are “drought-resistant” or “drought-tolerant” in the variety description, that are California-bred suitable for our climate or, in the case of tomatoes, are determinants (where the fruit matures about the same time – harvest and pull it out).
- Normally, we would advise you to plant citrus this month. However, citrus requires lots of water to become established. Best to wait until the fall rains.
- If mature citrus sustained frost damage over the winter, you can tip prune the deadwood once all threat of frost has passed. Prune damaged parts down to the new growth buds. After pruning, water deeply and apply a balanced fertilizer (how about less than what the manufacturer recommends in this drought year?). Also, add 3-4 inches of mulch – staying away from the woody trunk – to retain moisture and keep the soil cool this summer.
- If May weather turns unusually hot, put shade cloth on tender seedlings for a few weeks and do your best to keep the root area stays moist, not wet.
- Over-vigorous fruit trees or trees that are too large, or fruit trees that were not sufficiently pruned because of the wet winter, may be summer pruned the end of May to June/July. It reduces the production of fruit, but less fruit requires less water. Cherries and most peaches can be pruned after the fruit is harvested. At a minimum, remove upright watershoots emerging from branches and suckers emerging from the tree roots/base. They do not flower or fruit and they compete for water and nutrients.
- Most fruit trees (not all) benefit from thinning – especially in a drought year. Favorable fruit-to-leaf ratio promotes large fruit. In general, space fruit every 4-6 inches along a branch or leave one fruit per spur; but leave the largest fruit even if unevenly spaced. Remove small and damaged fruit.
- Beneficials are insects that feed on common garden pests, like aphids and caterpillars. Attract bees and beneficial insects to your food garden by including ornamentals and flowering herbs that provide nectar and/or pollen. Preferably, choose low-water plants such as California pipevine, yarrow, thyme, salvia (sage), lavender, rosemary and dwarf germander – to name a few.
- Depending on the weather, May can see some heavy infestations of aphids. Use a spray of water to remove aphids; usually, they can’t find their way back up the plant. Soap sprays can be used, but the infestations must be thoroughly covered and repeat applications may be necessary.
- Know what pest you are fighting so that you can select effective pest management strategies. Check out University of California’s natural enemies gallery.
- Inspect crops regularly for early problem diagnosis and resolution. Refer to University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site. Control ants to help control damaging insects that produce honeydew, such as aphids and scale. Ants are protecting these harmful insects from their natural predators.