From the UC Blogosphere...
"Got 'em!" That's the message we've all been waiting for. Several of us bumble bee enthusiasts--Robbin Thorp,...
Bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, foraging in manzanita on Feb. 12. (Photo by Allan Jones)
Bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, takes flight over a manzanita on Feb. 12. (Photo by Allan Jones)
An early Bombus sighting! Photographer Allan Jones of Davis grabbed this shot of a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, in manzanitas on Feb. 12. (Photo by Allan Jones)
By Andrea Peck
A few sunny days, trickles of rain, and my yard is filled with weeds. This year I find the time lacking to pick them--or maybe I have grown accustomed to the beauty of an untamed yard, weeds and all. Either way, I realize that as those same weeds, lush and green now, begin to brown, their charm will wane. That's where my Sunflower Theory comes in. This theory is multi-faceted, but mostly it involves height. The sunflower draws the eye upward—away from unwanted botanical freeloaders. They provide color when the weeds turn nasty and unsightly and they're easy to grow. The final element involves uprooting the sunflower when its lifespan is over. Pulling the sunflower from the ground jostles neighboring weeds from their home and essentially boots them out. Now, I agree there are inconsistencies with my theory, but no matter, it's all too late—I've gone and bought a packet of seeds anyway.
There are many types of sunflowers, but I selected the “Snacker” variety (Helianthus annuus); mostly because I found that title amusing, and secondly because the adjective “humongous” caught my eye. Definitely everyone wants a humongous Snacker sunflower. And, who can blame us?
So there is no mystery with the name ‘Snacker.' Of course, the sunflower species in general grows obtrusive and shameless. This is not a subtle family. The great thing about this gigantor plant is that it “was developed specially” for the tasty seeds. The package practically leaves you drooling with its suggestive semi-recipe that dares you to mix the seeds with dried fruits and nuts.
This type of sunflower is described as ‘confectionary' because it is grown for the edible seeds. The seeds are striped white, gray and black. These differ from the small black seeds of the oilseed varieties which are pressed for sunflower oil and made into meal. The Snacker kernel is large and nutritious. You can let the birds eat them, save them for sowing, or eat them yourself. Humongous is no joke--this sunflower grows up to 8' tall and the flower may span 14” in diameter.
Luckily for most of us, we are coming upon the average last frost date. For those in cooler climes, plant your seeds indoors 2-4 weeks before average last frost date. Brave, outdoorsy types can plant 1-2 weeks following the last frost date. Sunflowers are not uppity plants--they will tolerate most soils and are drought tolerant. To maximize growth, irrigate deeply and allow it to dry out between watering.
These plants are so large and fast growing that they can even be used as an impromptu screening. Of course, you must remember that they are annual plants—your screen will not be permanent.
If you are going to harvest your seeds, you will want to protect them from the birds. This can be done by covering the flower (as it starts to fade) with a thin netting that provides ventilation. The package recommends pantyhose or cheesecloth—just be sure that the flower has had adequate time to be pollinated first.
Sunflowers do not last long. As soon as the head turns brown and dry and the petals have fallen away, it is time to harvest your seeds. The seeds tend to ripen around the outer rim first. Amazingly, each full flower should produce a pound of seeds. If you are going to be eating the seeds, hang the flower head in a cool, dry place indoors for 3 to 4 weeks. To roast, simply spread the seeds on a cookie sheet and roast at 300°F for 30 to 40 minutes. To salt seeds, place them in a bowl of salted water overnight then roast. Use ½ to ¼ cup of salt per two quarts of water.
Honestly, the thought of sunflower seeds for me and the birds is much more appealing than weeding. Bon appetit!
By Leonard Cicerello UCCE Master Gardener
I get very confused about what kind of mulch to use and how thick to spread it. Can you help? Candace in Atascadero.
Spreading mulch throughout your garden beds is a simple thing you can do that will reward you with many positive results. Mulch can improve the appearance of your landscape while conserving water, suppressing weeds, and will improve the health of your plants and soil.
There are several types of mulch which are made mostly from wood products. Gravel can even be used as mulch. Since they vary in appearance, often the choice is made based on color and texture. Other considerations include redwood mulch for sun loving plants and peat moss for shade loving plants because of the higher acid content.
There are many different types of mulch: shredded bark, redwood mulch, shredded cedar, peat moss, cocoa hulls, rice hulls, compost, straw, newspaper and more.
How thick do you layer it? Four inches thick is optimum. Ultimately, it depends on how much money you want to spend, how much time you want to spend spreading it, and essentially your estimation of what works best for you.
Another appropriate use of mulch would be to smother lawns or dense weeds. A thick layer of compost or mulch will cause the lawn or weeds to decay while adding organic matter to the soil. A thick layer of newspaper will do the same job, and then later decompose.
In the summertime, mulch will help maintain moisture longer in the soil and will also to keep the ground from cracking. In the wintertime, mulch will keep plants warmer and reduce damage from frost.
Making your own mulch can save you money and time and does not require a lot of space to do so. A mulch pile can be a simple pile in the yard. Or, you could build a small bin or buy a mulch barrel. And if you are so inclined, you can invest in a shredder to shred your own materials.
By following time honored guidelines for making and using mulch, your efforts will reward you with healthy plants, healthy soil, and water efficiency .
For more information the impact of mulch in the garden, visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/UrbanHort/files/80212.pdf
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Monarch butterfly feeding on milkweed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch and a honey bee sharing a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A male monarch on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
You could say that noted entomologist/author Stephen Buchmann has a thing for buds, bees, beetles and butterflies...buds...
Entomologist Stephen Buchmann talks about the nests of carpenter bees at The Bee Course, an annual summer workshop in Arizona sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. (Photo courtesy of Robbin Thorp)