One of the fun things to do in July is to pick figs. They do wonderfully in our climate. Most people who have problems growing figs simply do not realize how much water they require and give them too little.
Most figs do well here, including the yellow Kadota, which has a mild flavor, as well as the stronger-flavored, darker figs such as Black Mission and Brown Turkey.
I am guessing the reason for not giving figs enough water is people figure they are desert plants and don't require much water or have them on part of the irrigation system that doesn't deliver enough. If given enough water, they produce very well here.
Once you have gotten beyond the watering issues, the next biggest problem is competition for the fruit. The usual competitors are birds and other predators who like to feed on the figs when they are ripe.
There are two crops of figs in our climate: the early crop born on last year's wood and the main crop that is produced on wood that grew this year. They are coming on this month.
Figs are a fruit that must be harvested when they are tree ripened and no sooner. Unlike peaches and plums that continue to ripen at room temperature after they are harvested, figs, like grapes and cherries, do not ripen any further once they are removed from the tree.
So figs must be picked when they are fully ripe. How do you know? Two ways, one visual and one by feel. Figs that are ready to pick will be soft to the touch .
Figs that begin to soften will no longer be erect and will begin to droop at their necks; the neck is the narrow part of the fig that attaches to the tree. Look for figs that have necks that can no longer support the weight of the fruit. These are ready to pick.
Decomposing fruit, you could argue, is like composting. It adds nutrients back to the soil, so why should I pick up fallen fruit? Well, consider how fruit fallen from the tree decomposes.
Insects that begin the decomposition process are some of the same insects that can attack the fruit on your tree.
If you leave your fallen fruit on the ground, these scavengers build communities out of the fallen fruit. Insects such as the dried fruit beetle or confused sap beetle multiply rapidly. In a couple of weeks these scavengers are looking for new food supplies.
The food supplies they find are the fruit on your trees, and now you have a problem with tree-ripened fruit - bug-infested fruit. And you thought the birds were bad; at least you could cut around the bird-pecked area .
Watch out for your compost pile, as well. If you add fruit to your compost pile, these varmints will infest the fruit there as well and spread to the fruit on your trees. Make sure fruit that is added to the compost pile is well covered and not exposed.
Q: I have discovered over 200 huge grubs in a 15x24-inch container that is about 2 feet deep. I had filled this container with a bag of garden soil from a garden center and planted strawberry plants. Of course the plants all died, so I decided to plant some seeds and discovered all these horrible grubs.
I have been told that a product called Grub-Away is safe to use and that nematodes are even safer. But my main concern is all the earthworms that are in my gardens. I put in the worms last year and am seeing tons of babies. I really do not want to harm them. So far, I have been digging up sections (all raised beds) and destroying the grubs. If the grubs were in the bags of soil I bought, do I need to treat future purchases?
A: Most of the grub control information is focused on lawns. However there are other grub problems, such as those you find in the compost . In most of the United States, the problems in compost are considered minor compared to lawns.
Here in our desert Southwest, where we have fewer lawns, the importance of grub control in compost piles and even bagged compost is usually just as or even more important than lawns. The nonchemical control of white grubs in lawns also will work in compost or bagged compost, for the most part.
There are some very expensive bagged composts that are actually very good, but those producers believe in not sterilizing the compost. This is a great idea in theory. The reasoning is that they want all of that biological activity added to a garden soil .
This biological activity contributes to the breakdown of organic material in the compost and releasing plant nutrients and a wonderful chemical activity that can take years to develop into normal desert soil.
Many organic growers would be dumbfounded in the logic of killing biological activity in compost. This biological activity is precisely one of the reasons why you compost.
On the other hand, not sterilizing a bag of compost will introduce all of this biological activity to whatever you add this compost. So, if you buy a bag of compost that has not been sterilized and you use it with your houseplants, there is going to be a very good chance your houseplants will be infested with dusky winged fungus gnats, for example.
I get many questions about how to control this pest in houseplants. This is seldom a problem outside in the garden in our climate.
So you have to be careful about what type of compost you use for which application. In my opinion, I would never use an unsterilized compost for houseplants . If you don't want these problems inside the house or greenhouse, all of your products should be sterilized. These are closed environmental systems and must be managed as such .
If you want the bag of compost sterilized, then put the bags in full sun during the summer months for four days and flip the bags over every day. This should heat sterilize the contents, provided the temperatures reach 160 F for at least 30 minutes. That should be not problem in our environment .
Secondly, you should inspect any compost and get rid of any grubs. These are decomposers and are working to help decompose plant materials. They also are first-level decomposers and will attack the roots of healthy plants as well. So screen your bagged compost before using it if you want to maintain its biological activity.
There are natural pest control products for grubs, such as beneficial nematodes and bacteria like Milky Spore, but they may focus on some grubs and not others. They are somewhat selective and may be a good alternative treatment that will leave earthworms alone.
Remember that earthworms can move pretty fast. If they don't like an environment, they usually flee. Grubs have a harder time doing this. But the earthworms must be able to flee to somewhere, and if they are in a bag that is getting progressively hotter, they cannot escape.
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.