Don’t let your veggies feel the burn!

“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight,
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.”
~ Oscar Wilde

In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of the master craftsman, Daedalus, who constructed wings for his son from feathers and wax and warned him not to fly too close to the sun. Unfortunately, Icarus ignores his father’s instructions; he becomes overly confident and plunges into the sea and drowns after the sun burns his wings and melts all the wax. The myth sparked the saying, “Don’t fly too close to the sun,” and it may also have had something to do with the exercise expression, “Feel the burn.”

However, when it comes to our garden vegetable plants, we definitely don’t want them to “feel the burn” from fertilizer. This recently happened to my tomato and pepper plants when my daughter accidentally fertilized the leaves. Fertilizer burn can also happen if too much fertilizer is applied all at once, or the fertilizer is applied during a hot afternoon.

Fertilizer burn

The best way to treat fertilizer burn is prevention – read the label carefully and apply only the amount recommended for your plants. Fertilize in the morning when the temperature is  cooler, and be sure to apply the fertilizer with water around the root zone, avoiding the plant’s leaves and stems.

Treat fertilizer burn by removing damaged leaves, spraying off residue from the foliage and giving the soil a deep watering. It’s also a good idea to skip the next scheduled fertilizing session for over-fertilized plants.

By the way, summer temperatures are rising so wear your hat and sunscreen to avoid feeling the burn yourself.

New growth on pepper plant!

Happy gardening!

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Protect peppers from extreme heat

“I am peppered, I warrant, for this world.”Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 1

Shakespeare mentioned pepper more than half a dozen times in various plays; however, it was most likely black pepper, the seed of Piper nigrum, that he was referring to. He often used pepper or peppered as a verb to mean doomed as in this passage from “Romeo and Juliet.”

I’m not growing black pepper in my home garden; however, I am growing several types of peppers in the Capsicum genus: : yellow and red sweet bell peppers, two

types of jalapenos, orange habaneros, cayenne, and one of the hottest peppers on earth, the ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia).

Pepper plants, like tomatoes, will drop their flowers or fruit if daytime temperatures soar past 95 degrees F. The weather forecast says the Rogue Valley may be in for this kind of hot weather, so be sure to keep cover cloth or some other type of shade protection ready. I’ve set up a few umbrellas next to my peppers that I can easily open and close as needed.

I’ve already harvested a few jalapenos from my garden, and I want to share a delicious dish that my friend, James Davenport, created with them. James is a cook at

Jalapeno peppers in my garden.

Caldera Restaurant and Brewery in Ashland, and has also cooked at restaurants in Portland and New Orleans. His peppered pull pork tacos were the best I’ve ever eaten!

Peppered Pulled Pork


4 lbs pork shoulder

3 jalapenos sliced

1/2 cup red onion sliced

5 cloves of garlic chopped

5 strips of bacon

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. salt

3 tbsp. fresh cracked pepper


Rub pork in salt and and pepper. Cover in olive oil; top with garlic, onion and jalapeno and strips of bacon. Place in casserole dish, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cover casserole dish with tin foil and bake for 3 hours or until meat falls apart. Drain fat. Serve as taco filling, pork sandwiches, or protein with any side dish.

Peppered Pulled Pork with my jalapenos.

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Sneak preview of garden on this year’s AAUW tour

Eagle Point resident Dennis Godfrey is one of five private gardens that are part of this year’s Spring Garden Tour hosted by the Medford chapter of AAUW. The tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 9. For tickets and more information, visit the AWUW website at:

'Carefree Beauty' with peonies

'Jude the Obscure'

Royal Brown bungalow, circa 1908



Vegetable garden

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What the heck is that? Spittlebugs!

“Do not spit in the well – you may be thirsty by and by.” – Russian proverb

This proverb encourages us to think before we act – useful advice inside and outside of the garden!

However, it looks like someone missed the well and expectorated on some of my garden plants – yuck!

Spittlebug on feverfew

Actually, these globs are made by spittlebug nymphs (superfamily Cercopoidea), which, as adults, are sometimes called froghoppers because they can jump from plant to plant at great heights and distances. Adults lay their eggs on leaves; after overwintering, the eggs hatch in early spring.

Most gardeners are  familiar with these insects as nymphs because it is at this stage of development that they attach to a plant stem, excrete a frothy, spit-like substance from their rear end, and then encase themselves so they can grow up in peace. The “spit” protects the insects from predators and from drying out on hot days.

Spittlebug nymph

Within their private little bubble, spittlebugs feed by sucking sap from their host plant. Although damage to plants is minimal in most cases, a large spittlebug infestation can weaken plants. Spray spittlebugs off plants with a stream of water from the hose, or spray the plants with an organic repellent that is also useful for deterring crickets: Mix one blended garlic bulb, one teaspoon of red pepper powder and one tablespoon of liquid soap with one quart of water.

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Tips for tip-top tomatoes

The street
filled with tomatoes,
light is
its juice
through the streets.

~ Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Tomatoes”

tomatoes in grow bagsMy street isn’t filled with tomatoes, but my backyard sure is! Here is our collection of Abe Lincoln, Persimmon and Chocolate tomato plants grown from seed and recently transplanted into grow bags. We’ve had the best results irrigating our tomato plants with a drip line and emitters. We love growing our tomatoes in grow bags; we wash and reuse the bags season after season.

Here are a few tips for tip-top tomato production:

  • Fertilize with an organic balanced fertilizer when transplanting starts, and then every two weeks once plants have set fruit.
  • Water consistently until the soil is evenly moist.
  • Provide afternoon shade with lightweight row cover when temperatures rise above 95 degrees to prevent blossom and fruit drop.
  • Keep branches trimmed back so air circulates among the vines.
  • Some yellowing of leaves is normal when plants set fruit; trim dead foliage off the plant.
  • Tomatoes don’t have to look perfect to taste delicious – eat them off the vine in your garden!

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Sneak preview pics of upcoming Soroptimist garden tour

Gardeners share their inspiration during annual Soptimist garden tour

Here are some sneak previews of the gardens on this year’s Soptimist garden tour, which features 6 diverse gardens in Jacksonville and Central Point. The tour takes place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sat., May 19. Click above for more information.

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Spanish moss on a live oak tree in Louisiana

“I Am Louisiana” by Paul Ott

“I’m Spanish moss on a live oak tree
Cajun fried shrimp and a cypress knee
I’m Bienville, Captain Shreve, Beauregard,
Zach Taylor and Jean LaFitte
I’m New Orleans, the land of dreams
Creole cookin’ and a Mardi Gras king
I’m a thoroughbred racin’ at Louisiana Downs
Avery Island and a catahoula hound
I’m the Louisiana Hayride and the birth of the blues
The Evangeline, Chickory Coffee and Baton Rouge
I’m when the Saints Go Marchin’ In . . . the Superdome
The Atchafalaya and an old plantation home
I’m jambalaya, a catfish fry and a file’ gumbo
A sugar cane patch, Pete Fountain,
French Quarter and Satchmo
Well, I’m the Mississippi River
As it rounds the bend
I Am Louisiana
Ya’ll Come Back Again.”

It’s nice to get away sometimes and experience somewhere new or an old favorite again. Last week, Jerry and I visited my daughter and celebrated my birthday in New Orleans, a city we both fell in love

Southern live oak tree

with during the 10 years our family made our home there. We moved away just two months before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and this wass the first time we’ve had a chance to go back. While we were there, we hiked a portion of the Barataria Preserve Trails, which is part of the Jean Lafitte National

Historical Park located about 30 miles southwest of the city. We had never been there before, so the strange and beautiful flora of this classic Louisiana wetland was a pleasure to experience.

Giant blue iris - Louisiana state wildflower

Cypress knees and young alligator

Savinia in the bayou

Spanish moss and dwarf palmetto

Bald cypress

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A kiss to currants for native and pollinator gardens

“I stamp this kisse upon thy currant lippe.” - Theseus in William Shakespeare’s Two Noble Kinsmen, Act 1, scene 1

Theseus, Duke of Athens, and his bride, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, have not been married long when Theseus goes off to battle and must leave Hippolyta behind. He kisses his beloved on her “currant lips” and whispers, “Sweet, keep it as my token.” How

Theseus and Hippolyta

romantic is that!

Indeed, Shakespeare often used plants to conjure up vivid images of the color and texture of a character’s physical attributes. In this case, the Bard is comparing Hippolyta’s luscious smackers to the ripe redness of the English red currant berry. Ribes rubrum is a close relative to the gooseberry bush. There is also a black currant (Ribes nigrum), and they make wonderful jellies/jams, pies and sauces.

This fruit is not to be confused with the raisin-like currants (Vitis corinthiaca), which Shakespeare also mentions in The Winter’s Tale.

Native red currant (Ribes sanguineum)

The red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), native to our area, is a deciduous shrub that grows up to 10-feet tall, but can be kept smaller with pruning. The scarlet flowers in racemes bloom in springtime, and the dark-colored berries are ready to be picked in late summer. This relatively low-maintenance shrub is a perfect addition to pollinator gardens as it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

March is a good time to plant new currant bushes and other cane-fruit plants.  It’s also a good time to prune established berry bushes. The OSU Extension recommends removing dead and crossing branches, and then cutting back any canes that are older than four years old at ground level. This will encourage new growth and more productive bushes.

When I prune, I also add compost and a slow-release, organic fertilizer to the soil (balanced N-P-K) and a few inches of mulch around the plant.

If leaf and cane spot fungi have been a problem on cane berries, now’s the time to use a copper spray to help protect the plants from disease. Spray again two weeks later.

Red currant (ribes rubrum)


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The poop on turkey poop

“Up on the rooftop reindeer pause…”

Turkeys struttin' their stuff in my front yard.

Wait a minute; it’s too late for that. Those are 20-pound turkeys scrambling around my rooftop, driving my two dogs, and thus me, into a frenzy inside the house. Jerry runs out with a broom to shoo the turkey-toms away, but they’ll be back tomorrow: strutting, fanning, digging, scratching, pecking, wobbling, gobbling, peering…and pooping. Lots and lots of pooping.

My neighbor, who feeds the turkeys, diligently walks around the neighborhood collecting turkey poop in a plastic jug. He uses it in his compost and swears that turkey poop is one of the best natural fertilizers around.

I decided to investigate his claim further, and here’s what I found out about the benefits of turkey poop in the garden:

First, turkeys do, in fact, excrete a lot of waste. Large tom turkeys at 16 weeks old let loose a little more than 1 pound of manure every day. Females poop only slightly less than 1 pound a day.

Second, according to the OSU Extension Service’s Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley (2017),  poultry poop, whether turkey or chicken, has the third-highest levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (N-P-K) of any animal fresh manure, behind goat poop and the hyper-pooping bunny rabbit poop. (I know rabbits poop a lot because Jerry and I inherited one when my daughter went off to college.)

The drier the manure is, the more nutrients it contains.

Third, turkey poop usually breaks down more rapidly than other fresh manures, so it can be used more quickly in the garden. The best way to use turkey poop is by hot composting or brewing up a compost tea.

Fourth, turkey poop will last for two years, so you can collect it and and use it for a couple of garden seasons.

So, my neighbor is right to collect the turkey poop and use it as an effective soil amendment. I wonder if he’ll climb up on my roof and collect it there?

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“Beware the ides of March” – but garden anyway

“A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.” ~ Brutus in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Act I, Scene 2

When Julius Caesar hears this ominous warning, he blows it off by saying, “He is a dreamer; let us leave him.” Yet, on March 15, the mystic’s vision becomes horribly real when Caesar is assassinated by none other than Brutus, himself. Shakespeare may have forever colored the phrase “ides of March” with foreboding portent; however, before the Bard’s play the ides of March simply meant the first full moon of the month, which usually fell between the 13th and 15th. In fact, before Caesar changed the calendar, the ides of March marked the new year, a cause for much joy and celebration.

Leave it to the most famous tragedian in the world to turn a holiday into a real downer.

Yet, the ides of March in the Rogue Valley can be somewhat gloomy. One day it’s shirtsleeves, the next day snow mittens. In fact, the most important thing I’ve learned about gardening in the Rogue Valley during March is to get out and garden whenever I can. If I wait until the perfect gardening weather to stay put, I’ll still be sitting around without anything done in May!

In Sunday’s column (March 4, 2018), I wrote about sowing seeds indoor and outdoors for spring and summer veggies. Indeed, March is a busy month for Rogue Valley gardeners for transplanting starts and fertilizing perennial plants, too. Here are some more vegetable planting tips provided by the OSU Extension Service:

  • Transplant asparagus roots this month. In your garden bed, create a trench about one foot deep and wide, and create mounds at the bottom of the trench with about 6 inches of compost. Spread the roots of 1-year-old crowns (asparagus is a biennial vegetable) on the top of the mound and cover with 2 inches of soil. Continue to fill the trench with compost as the plants grow, but avoid covering the leaves.
  • Transplant head lettuce starts into the garden this month.
  • Transplant onion sets smaller than a dime this month. Onion sets are small, dry bulbs whose growth has been disrupted). When onion sets are planted, they regrow and slough off the old bulb.
  • Transplant strawberries this month. Select a combination of June-bearers, ever-bearers and day-neutrals to harvest strawberries from late spring until fall frost. Also fertilize established strawberry beds with balanced nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (N-P-K).
  • Divide artichoke crowns from your established parent plants this month and fertilize; also fertilize established artichoke beds with balanced N-P-K.
  • Fertilize all cane berries this month (raspberry, blackberries, gooseberries, etc.) with a balanced N-P-K or higher-phosphorous mixture (promotes flowering and setting fruit). Some gardeners say to delay fertilizing blackberries until they flower.
  • Fertilize established grapevines this month with lower-nitrogen fertilizer.

    Asters need to be divided and re-planted

For my flowerbeds, I’m working around the weather to cut back my perennials, clean up debris, and add compost dressed with slow-release, organic fertilizer (balanced N-P-K). I’m also transplanting some

overcrowded perennials: daylilies, gaura, foxglove and asters.  Finally, I’ve cut back my rose bushes to knee height. One of my rose bushes has black spot on the stems, so I’ve cut this bush back pretty hard and applied a fungicide.

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  • About the Authors

    Rhonda Nowak

    Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, writer and teacher. With more than 25 years of gardening experience and a Ph.D. in literature and language arts education, she combines a love for plants, poetry, and prose in her Literary Gardener blog. ... Full Profile
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