Q: Just this year I planted a Bartlett pear and Comice pear as a pollinator for the Bartlett. Both have pears on them now. I thought Bartletts were supposed to ripen in August. I picked one of my four pears, chilled it in the refrigerator for a couple days, and then let it sit for about three more days before slicing it. It remained as hard as a golf ball and got no tastier. When are they supposed to be ripe?
A: Bartletts are picked when the color of the pear turns from green to a yellowish-green but is still hard. Then you must put it at room temperature to continue ripening and for the flesh to turn soft and buttery. If you put them in the refrigerator, you will ruin the ripening process. If you let them soften on the tree, which you did not do, the flesh will be gritty with all those stone cells in the flesh.
If you pick the pear just as the outside skin changes color from green to light or yellowish green, the flesh will have more of a buttery dessert texture. Also, the seeds should be brown inside when ready to pick.
We are not picking Bartlett pears until mid-September at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Orchard in North Las Vegas.
Just an aside, Bartlett usually does not need a pollinator in most of the Western United States. It does in other parts of the country. Also, be aware that Comice tends to get a disorder called corky spot in our alkaline soils and may require foliar calcium sprays early in its development to correct that. You will see pictures of this problem on my blog.
Q: I started a mulch bin about 10 years ago. It is about 4 feet by 6 feet and on the ground. Today, when I went to get mulch for my vegetable garden, I found half a dozen grubs. How do I get rid of the grubs and keep the worms?
A: First of I would like to refer you to a pretty extensive discussion I posted on my blog regarding composts and grubs in the compost. See: http://xtreme horticulture.blogspot.com/2012/07/grubs-in-container-of-garden-soil.html.
Secondly, we have to remember that these grubs, like earthworms, are decomposers; they take raw products from your compost and help convert them into a soil amendment of very high quality through their gut.
But we also know that grubs are potential problem bugs when they mature so, as you already identified, it might not be a good idea to encourage them.
The compost pile needs to be turned regularly to aerate it so it does not get anaerobic or it will get all sorts of problems. So, if you are turning your compost pile, then expose these grubs for the birds at the same time.
Have you ever seen birds follow a tractor that is cultivating a field? The birds know that during cultivation all sorts of goodies are exposed and they are looking for a free lunch.
The other problem you may encounter is that your compost pile might be in a location where the birds cannot get to it, such as a barrel composter or the like.
One advantage that worms have versus grubs is their ability to move faster. If the soil is starting to heat up, they will go deeper quite quickly while the grubs cannot. So another alternative is to cover the compost with clear plastic and heat the upper layers but allow it to be deep enough so the worms can escape the heat. Keep it at 165 F for at least 30 minutes and let the grubs cook, then let it cool down. The earthworms will again migrate back to the upper surfaces through the compost.
A third way is to remove the worms, heat up the compost with solar energy (clear plastic again) and reintroduce worms after it has cooled.
Q: I have a three house plants: a Christmas cactus, mother-in-law's tongue and an orchid. There is white fungus-looking stuff on the top of the soil. What can I do to get rid of it? Am I watering too much? They are indoors all the time.
A: It is difficult to diagnose without some pictures but this might be either a salt accumulation from using Las Vegas tap water coming from the Colorado River or fungus (mycelial) growth on the surface.
Water taken from Lake Mead (Colorado River) at Las Vegas is carrying about 6 pounds of salt for every 1,000 gallons of water. Our native desert soils also contain a lot of salt. I assume your houseplants were potted with some commercial potting soil so the salt load is probably relatively smaller than our native desert soils.
As time passes this salt can accumulate in the soil (from the tap water and soil salt) and wick back to the surface of the soil as the water in the soil evaporates. This can leave a white crust on the surface.
Remove the upper layer of the soil and repot the plant with fresh garden soil. Dilute your tap water with about ¾ of the volume with distilled or reverse osmosis water. I would not use pure distilled or reverse osmosis water as this might cause some problems with your potting soils plugging up. Also, when you water, make sure 1/5 of the water applied actually leaves the container out the bottom as drainage and discard it. This helps to flush out the soil salts.
If this white thing is "fuzzy," it could be some fungal growth. Not all fungi are bad; some are decomposers and work to help break down organic materials that are already dead. Seldom do these fungi that feed on dead things attack healthy plants.
Scrape off the surface, repot and keep air circulating around the plant and in sunlight when possible to help keep these fuzzies to a minimum.
Bob Morris is a horticulture expert living in Las Vegas; he is on special assignment in the Balkh Province, Afghanistan, for the University of California, Davis. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com.