Posts Tagged ‘mybayareagarden’

Back in early December, I wrote about seeding a ‘food meadow’ in my large garden plot. Fast forward a few months, and here is how it turned out: a great success!

Weeds have been light to non-existent, except for one small area where the sheet mulching was too shallow and grass came up. A light session of hand-weeding took care of that.

In this close-up, we see various bits of fennel, carrots, dill, and cilantro are showing their feathery tops above the lettuces. This salad in the making is making me hungry! Alas, it’s dark and rainy at the moment, so the greens are safe for now. Tomorrow, though, watch out!

I think the mixed-seed meadow idea has really done well, and I will be doing it again in subsequent years. To do it fully, I’d dedicate an area to it and let a few plants go to seed and keep reseeding themselves. I’m not going to go that far on my main garden bed… I think… but may let a lettuce or two seed out.


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Someone browsing my FlickR stream commented on this picture of one of last year’s hydroponic fence planters and asked, “what are the steps involved in starting an eggplant hydroponic growth system?” I wrote a quick answer, and then realized that there are probably readers of this blog who’d like to know, too!

Get yourself a pot with a water reservoir (or make your own), some substrate material (I use perlite), and figure out what you will use for nutrient solution.

I use a commercial mix from the local hydroponic store (ignore all the mixes about “Big Buds”, sigh– they are not for veggies, and they are high-nitrogen anyway so you would get more leaves than fruit). Dry mixes are best, followed by concentrated liquid mixes that you dilute. Don’t bother with a premixed solution, you are paying a lot for water!

You might be able to use a combination of conventional minerals, like dusting greensand into the medium, and some bone meal, and then using an off the shelf fertilizer like VF-111 or a concentrated fish emulsion (Alaska, Atlas). I haven’t really tried that yet, since the little container of the dry hydroponic mix I have has lasted 3 years already for me, with only a few 4-foot long planters a year and a teaspoon of mix into each weekly. As you can see, it grew some nice eggplants for me! Thai Lavender (long) and Fairy Tale (short, variegated)

I recommend reading up a bit on the net on hydroponics. It’s really pretty simple if you are doing it at home, rather than trying to automate it in a commercial greenhouse to produce bumper crops at timed intervals. Sure, if you get the mix too weak, your peppers might take an extra week or two to ripen. No big deal at home, a real big deal if you have a quarter-acre of them in hoop-row greenhouses and a contract to deliver them to some restaurant chain. 😉

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This is the part on Sprockets where we BLOOM!!


We’ve had some chills, thrills, and most recently a little heat wave, and by now just about everything is blooming. The coriander/cilantro is going exuberantly to seed, which helps the pollinators and gives me green coriander to put in the freezer, as well as dry coriander for seed and spicing. The ‘Celeste’ sweet peas have come back for the 3rd or 4th year of self-sown glory. I tried to plant some of the lovely pink ones I seed-saved from the community garden, but no dice: all blue this year.


Fortunately, this year’s new flower experiment, Clarkia, has come to the rescue with lots of eye-popping pink and magenta. These lovely flowers get really big and bushy, and while I scattered seeds of them in a number of places, I had to weed out some of the young clarkia that started crowding out other things. I had no idea what they’d look like, really, despite the pictures on the cover of the seed packet— thought they were MUCH smaller. But I think they’ll join the regulars in my yard, along with the old standbys of sweet peas, cornflowers, and nasturtiums.

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Speaking of cornflowers and nasturtiums, the side yard is doing very well. The nasturtiums, interestingly enough, seem to gradually self-select for one color, but it’s a *different* color in different parts of the yard. The ones along the side porch are almost always yellow. The ones by the fig tree by the driveway are gorgeously glowing orange and red. The scent of them at night is really stunning.   

The cornflowers self-seeded nicely in the same planter that I had them in last year, but this year I turned the planter sideways so that we could get more easily into the side yard. I was delighted that the snapdragons that I’d bought as a large potted plant last summer were successful at scattering their seed— these lovely snaps came up on their own in the planter. I moved both of my carnations, one from a pot and the other from the ground, into the self-watering planter as well, and they’re now thriving. When the cornflowers are about ready to give up, it will be time for zinnias. Meanwhile, in the snapdragon/carnation planter, some of that profuse confusion (profusion!) of greenery you see are Pepperbox Poppies (Renee’s Seeds) that are getting ready to lift up their heads. The sharp-eyed will spot some in the side-bed of clarkia above as well.

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These poppies are old-fashioned corn poppies, of the type we’d get for Memorial Day every year as a plastic buttoniere sold to support veterans. I’d never seen one as a real flower until these started blooming last week. I very much hope they establish themselves along the fence by the lavender, if they can compete well enough with the borage that takes over every spring. I had four-foot-tall borage out there in March, threatening to cover the lavender. I felt bad chopping it back, but put it in the compost pile to come back to the soil.

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Moving along the driveway past the little storage sheds, we come to the runner beans. Last year the Painted Lady runner beans I put at the base of one of the carport supports really took off, winding up the post and along the plastic lattice shading we have along the top. In the mild zones 7 – 9 here, runner beans will build up a nice big root mass and establish as perennials— a great permaculture foundation to build on! While I just grow them for shell beans, I’ve read that you can eat them as snap beans, use the leaves and flowers in salads, and that even the root is edible. Wish I’d known that when I dug a *humungous* runner bean root out of one of my teeny 3×3 foot beds two years ago, because growing them there shaded the whole bed. I composted it!

Of course, snails LOVE them, and will demolish young runner bean seedlings. The shoots coming up from last year’s beans were eaten down to nubs several times, and I gave up and started new ones from seed— but when the latest round of warm weather came again, there were new shoots, so now I have a double batch going up the first support, as you can see in the picture. The thicker, dark green and fuzzy shoots are from the older root.

In the middle picture, you can see the Delicata squash vine that I planted at the base of some of the supports this year. I figured, what the heck, let’s see how this works. 🙂

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I’m not out of pictures by a long shot, but I’m out of oomph. Let’s close with the daylilies, thriving in the self-watering planter and clearly getting ready for a bumper crop of flowers this year. These were in regular planters last year, and never did very well, staying small. I realized they needed better moisture control than I could give them in those particular containers, so I moved half my planters from the back patio to along the side fence. The daylilies complement the neighbor’s lavender nicely. In one of the planters, I keep some space for annuals— cosmos last summer, and this spring I put in some vintage pastel stock and the lovely new ‘Sonnet’ pansies to match. They’ll go really well with the daylily colors, too. I had to pluck a LOT of snails out of that section of the planters in February and March to get those to survive, though. Apparently they’re not just an edible flower for people— slugs and snails love pansies. Just peeking up there in pink is a geranium that seeded on the ground from ones the previous neighbors had, and turned out to be JUST beyond the edge of the planters, so it got to stay.

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It’s here, and it’s in full swing. The past month has been kind of like that song on the radio, “you’re hot and you’re cold”. We went from some early March days in shirtsleeves to a couple of weeks of cold-n-rainy, then some nice daytimes with back down the mid-40’s at night. This weekend it’s supposed to get into the mid-80’s. My lettuce is CONFUSED, I tell ya.

Things I’ve been doing, some of which may be things to think about doing in your garden:

Greens, greens, greens!

  • Harvest the first crop of spinach, Catalina Baby, (outer leaves only), and hope I didn’t take too much
  • Plant more spinach, this time a heat-tolerant variety, Oriental Giant (a spinach-alike, really) and a quick to mature type, Nobel 45-day.
  • Harvest rainbow chard, cutting it all way back to some inner leaves. No leaf miners (yet?) this year, for which I’m grateful.

Peas on Earth, Goodwill to Munch!

  • Check on your peas every couple of days– they may need a boost grabbing onto their trellising. I find myself patiently helping them grab the trellis instead of throttling each other. Hmm, sounds like kids!
  • Pick the first few pea stragglers and eat them as snap peas, whether they are conventional or snap peas. Don’t let your pea plant produce full-grown seeds and then think it is done for the season.
  • Dress their roots with a good layer of compost. In addition to keeping the soil moist, this helps keep it cool. Peas with cool feet will produce longer and be less prone to mildew.
  • Now that the weather is getting hotter, make sure that you don’t spray the pea vines themselves when watering if you can help it, and when you water, do so with plenty of time to dry out before the heat of the day. Once mildew takes hold, it can spread pretty quick.

Strawberry Fields (and Containers) Forever

  • Strawberries are flowering now; have you fertilized them since tucking them in for fall? This is a really good time. If you wait until the first crop of berries is ready, they may need a long break to absorb nutrients before putting out lots of replacement flowers.
  • Mine are everbearing, which produce a berry here and there all summer, but if yours are June-bearing, it’s doubly important to fertilize as soon as they start greening up and forming flower buds. You’re only getting the one shot with the berry crop!
  • Before you fertilize, especially if you’re using compost, carefully pull out all the winter-killed foliage. You don’t want rotting vegetation under that compost– the crowns need to breathe and get good air circulation. This will help prevent fungus problems.
  • Be careful what you are pulling on, and either snip out the old foliage at the stem, or grab only a stem or two at a time and give a quick sharp yank. It’s too easy to pull out the crowns!
  • If your strawberries are in a container, like mine, check the crowns. The soil levels drop as organic matter is used up, and you may have little strawberry castles raised up 2 or 3 inches above the soil. Fill in with enriched potting soil, or regular potting soil mixed 50% with compost. Be careful not to cover the crowns themselves– err on the side of caution, because if you cover them, you are very very likely to have fungus or mildew problems.
  • Container strawberries are sensitive to minerals, too– be sure to sprinkle some greensand and bone meal or eggshell into your containers annually. Now is fine, it’s not too late at all.

Gracious, where did the time go? I guess I’ve been a bit busy in the garden lately. We haven’t even talked about the runner bean seedlings, the tomatoes and peppers, and the squashes. Next time!

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corn at my community garden plot The corn is as low as an elephant’s toe? Just 2 or 3 weeks ago, it was about 70 centimeters and still going strong!

I saved a draft of this post a couple of weeks ago, and really want to get it out there for my garden buddies who may just be getting started on corn. I wish I’d known some of this stuff last year when I tried growing some flour corn in my tiny backyard garden! I didn’t take the right kind of care of my corn– too close together, didn’t hill it, and interplanted too heavily with squash– so I got only a few ears due to aphid infestation and not enough spacing for good pollination. But I still really loved growing a bit of corn of my own, and the first batch of corn flour was worth all the trouble. The difference between fresh-ground home-grown corncake and stuff made from even good organic commercial flour is amazing.

I can’t plant flour corn in the community garden, as it would mess up everybody else’s sweet corn, so the advice below is mostly about sweet corn. However, except for the staggered-harvest advice, it’s all applicable to flour corn as well!

yellow blue cobs Typical blue and yellow painted corn, in a midsummer harvest pic from 2007.

When planting sweet corn in a small plot, you want 2 – 3 per foot, with about a foot between rows. You also want to plant the northernmost row first (so it won’t shade the rest), and then when those plants have a good start, say a handspan above the ground, put in the next row, and so on. That way you’ll have sweet corn in small batches. This was another case of “reading after planting” on my part– I planted the whole little stand of corn in one shot. Well, I’ll have plenty to share, I hope!

Two corn tips that I’ll be trying this year, courtesy of a very savvy gardener who’s been growing in Sunnyvale for over 30 years. The first is that he has great luck starting carrots, notoriously sensitive to drying out during germination, in his corn patch. The shade from the corn keeps the soil from drying out, and carrots apparently sprout and grow readily. I’ve had really poor luck with carrots, so I’m going to try this!

brightly colored corn cobs I saved kernels from some decorative corn purchased in 2003, and in 2007 planted primarily red and orange ones in one stand.

The second tip is how backyard growers can keep those pesky raccoons from pulling down all your sweet corn. Hold up your hand and look at where your thumb meets the hand. If somebody were to pull down hard on your thumb, ow! That kind of pulling is how raccoons pull ears of corn off the plant. Our local garden sensei uses twine, or sometimes even tape, wrapped around the stem and halfway up the cob: about where your knuckle is on your thumb. Do this when the ears are full size but before they ripen– when all the silk is still green, even at the tips. Without the leverage, the raccoons can’t pull the ear off. They may eat a low ear right off the plant, but won’t be able to ravage through your little corn patch, pulling a pile of ears off and ruining them. I’ll be really interested to see how this works!

colorful maize Wonderful color but odd pollination due to adverse conditions.

My third corn tip is one that I hadn’t known, and that I’m glad our garden coordinator told me. You can’t have both sweet corn and field corn in one garden. They’ll cross-pollinate like crazy, as corn is primarily wind-pollinated. So that’s why I have sweet corn at the community garden, rather than the Mandan Red or Hopi Blue flour corns I had been eagerly waiting to plant there. Because it’s all for one and one for all, when it comes to corn. Maybe I can convince everybody next year to try flour or dent corn, but I kinda doubt it. I’ll have to see if I can tuck in a tiny patch of flour corn again in our backyard, but the way I set things up this year, it doesn’t look good. Dang!

colorful maize Red and orange cobs from my 2007 tiny maize plot.

Finally, if you’re growing flour or dent corn, hilling your corn is really worth doing! I’d thought that hilling corn meant planting it on a mound, for drainage or something. OK, good thing ya can’t see me blush! Growing painted corn last year, I noticed the stalks changed color as they got taller, and developed little knobby growths about 20 – 30 centimeters off the ground. Turns out that those are additional roots– that is, if you hill up the corn when they start to show! Pile up additional soil and those roots will dig in, anchoring the corn more firmly against wind, and maybe getting you an extra ear or two!

An easy way to do this is to actually plant corn in a slight trench, and pile up the soil between rows. When the corn comes up about shoulder high, hill it in (and add some nice compost!) by pulling in that extra soil. I’ve gotta try that on my next flour corn planting.

gorgeous patterned kernels I’d love to be able to stabilize this color! I’ll be carefully saving from this ear, for sure.

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The bee and butterfly garden is coming into full bloom, just a few paces away from our garden bed.

I really love working in the community garden, and even more so now that we have our own garden bed. For the first year or two, I didn’t really want a bed because I have some garden space in our backyard. But enough beds go idle, or neglected, that I didn’t feel bad finally going on the waiting list, and this year, the 3rd year of the garden, we got our bed in the January lottery. It was baked hard in the sun, and needed some TLC, but we dug in (literally) and it’s a happy, happenin’ little place now.

Low-growing plants dominate this third of our community garden bed, so as not to shade the rest of the bed.

The garden beds were laid out east-west, so that they get full sun along the south all day. Terrific! One of the many tips in the mandatory new-gardener class is to arrange your plants so that taller plants are to the north and east. We followed that advice, putting corn in the eastern third of the garden bed and our tomatoes and peavines along the north edge along the bed.

We wanted a lot of sun for our peppers, and some low vines along the south side of the bed. I’m hoping that the tomatoes and corn will also act to filter some of the hottest sun, so that mid-summer won’t fry our peppers. We can always rig some sunscreen, though, if that fails.

An icebox size watermelon may or may not make it: the stem has been half-eaten by those darn pill bugs! We’re told that ashes from a wood fire or all-wood charcoal are an effective deterrent for these pests, but found out too late for it to do any good for us.

The eye-catching red of this merlot lettuce gives way to bright green at the base of the leaves, so it looks flashy, not weird, in the salad bowl.

Peas and peppers and beans for the middle!

After a slow start, Cherokee Wax and Blue Lake beans are now thriving in the middle section of the garden. Time to start another row or two of beans or soybeans there, to spread out the harvest.

Happy squash plant!

Just a little gal now, this Big Mama kabocha is a bush-type, rather than vining, winter squash– ideal for smaller spaces. Of course, I planted two of them too close together, because I thought they were vines. Wups. This is why you should read the packages when you start seeds, not when sorting seed packs after transplanting.

The eastern third of our garden bed: corn!

The last third of our garden bed is mostly sweet corn, with some bush beans and dwarf sunflowers around the edges. There’s one gorgeous Purple Queen bush bean plant there, which I neglected to get a picture of this time (wups!) and one or two tiny ones coming up. The pill bugs ravaged them and not all of them made it! There’s always a lot to say about corn, so I’ll save it for next time. Just remember: it’s not too late! You can put in 65 – 80 day sweet corn, or even 90 – 120 day dent corn, all the way into June here in the SF Bay Area’s mild climate.

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Nobody has moved into any of my fence birdhouses yet, alas. I will try putting a few up under the eaves in the shade. Cornflowers came up nicely this year, though!

We had another of our spring heat waves this past week, with daytime temps in the high 90’s (F) and daily watering to try to save young plants. The timing was spectacularly bad: traditionally US Mother’s Day is the time to set out tender plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Many seedlings had only a few days in the ground before the heat slammed into us. This meant that their root systems weren’t necessarily developed sufficiently to support the plant during a time of great stress.

More seedlings waiting for kinder weather, or for me to finish preparing the other beds.

I had to spot-water my teensy pepper seedlings in the mornings all week, and hope that providing water directly at the plant would provide a margin of safety. I lost a couple of them anyway, but the majority are good so far. The peppers I transplanted a few weeks earlier into my hydroponic trays, however, adored the hot weather and doubled in size during the past week!

A pair of sweet pimiento peppers flank a ping tung long eggplant.

Other heat-lovers included the basil in my new blue herb planter. It’s an ordinary strawberry pocket planter, which I populated with kitchen herbs rather than strawberries. I moved it into ‘bright shade’ during the heat wave, as the herbs were planted only a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to be sure they didn’t cook in the planter. I really recommend making a planter like this, so you won’t have to constantly police your herb bed to keep some of the busy herbs like sage or oregano from crowding out and overshading others. My tiny 2 square feet of herb bed had sprawled to over 9 square feet through the fall and winter, and I had to cut it WAY back a week or two ago to get good access back to the fence.

Dual pockets of basil, plus sage, marjoram, italian oregano, and a crown of english thyme.

Normally I’d have beans by now, but I was late to the game and didn’t plant my usual Monte’s Italian heirloom (a variety of borlotti bean). The pill bugs, aka “The Eaters”, have been wreaking havoc on bean seedlings of all kinds, eating away parts of the stem until the leaves hang by a tiny thread. Of a dozen bush bean seedlings, only two have survived so far, and they seem to have gotten 4 of the 6 Monte’s Italian that I planted a week or two ago. I need to get some diatomaceous earth and hope that slows them down. I should also be ‘baiting’ with melon rind, or a saucer lid, or other thing they can hide under so I can remove them. Gotta get on that!

At least my painted lady runner beans came back on their own, an annual that goes perennial in this mild climate. They stopped setting flowers during the week of insane heat, but should get back to it now.

It wouldn’t be a garden update if it didn’t have a shot of our Garden Helper, usually found napping on the job. It’s better than sitting by the bird watering area, thinking impure thoughts, so I won’t complain.

Hey, when you’re this gorgeous, you need to really max out on the beauty sleep!

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Recently someone commented on an older posting of mine that some of last year’s veggies seemed to have no flavor. I think my reply may be of general interest, so I thought I’d post it instead of just replying privately.

Hi Raqui,

The discolored bean leaves I would say are cold damaged. The plant should recover.

For veggies with flavor problems, hmm. The seed being old is ok and won’t affect flavor. If it germinates, it’s got all the goodies. 🙂

Some varieties of veggie are bred for ripening at the same time, or being drought/cold/heat hardy, etc, rather than flavor. If you feel you were using a good variety, though, the next thing to look at is your soil diversity. Trace minerals account for a lot of the flavor, as well as nutrition, in food. It may be time to get a multi-mineral supplement such as greensand or some custom organic preparation, to enrich your soil.

Just like you can make bread with only flour, water, and salt, you can grow a lot of veggies with only NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) but they’ll be pretty wonder-bread bland!

One reason that composting is such a good idea is that you’re returning minerals from the non-edible parts of the plant into your soil. We were putting our plants into the city compost bin and picking up free city compost until last summer. Then we realized we were swapping our huge peavines and tomato plants for grass clippings and who knows what. Wups! So now we have a leaf-shredder that we use to shred garden waste, and our own compost bin.

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The warm weather continues to draw up delicious flower stalks from my Asian greens. I harvested a large colander full of tsatsoi leaves and flower spikes, as well as spikes from my joi choi in the hydroponic fence planters. The choi in the ground-level planters is barely starting to form central buds, as it gets less sun.

I did a very nice stir-fry with some Trader Joe’s gyoza (they have both chicken and veggie, btw) in garlic and ginger slices, then added some leftover red rice and red quinoa. I rinsed the stalks and made sure there was plenty of water on them, and put them on top to steam, covered. When they turned bright green, then started to deepen in color, I added the tsatsoi and choi leaves, also dampened, with a little extra water. Another 2 or 3 minutes of steaming and everything was done beautifully. The stalks are substantial, but not crunchy or mushy, and the leaves are still squeaky.

And now for the surprise– ripe tomatoes! I pulled my poor dead Costulato Genovese tomato bush a couple of weeks ago, as a windstorm had blown off the floating row cover and it had gotten obviously frost-bitten. I harvested the tomatoes still on it, and brought them in to fry up green. After a couple of days, though, they were clearly ripening! So I left them alone to go at it, and they ripened up beautifully. I just had a couple last night over brown rice with yellow split-peas, with broccoli and soy sauce and cheese. Yum! A nice taste of summer from the garden, long before time.

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Welcome, Weekend Herb Blogging readers!

Not only are winter greens easy and fun to grow, they like to surprise you now and then by deciding that Spring must be here. With all the recent (relatively) warmer rain, some of my asian stir-fry greens seem to have decided to Go For It and see about flowering. Hmm, can you spot the joi choi who is thinking it’s Spring?

Fortunately for us, these flower spikes are not only quirkily charming, but are also a special, nutrient-packed treat. Eat flowers? Isn’t that just for fancy salads and goat cheese? Nope! For instance, most of us have eaten this edible flower, broccoli!

Broccoli has many tasty cousins to enjoy. There’s Italian broccoli raab, and a number of friendly flower spikes that often go by the name Chinese broccoli but which can be anything from flowering choi to various mustards. Here’s some tsatsoi that has decided to reach for the sky.

Along with the cultivated greens, we have some tasty stir-frying options mixed among our cover crops. The early flower clusters of culinary seed mustard, such as this lovely example in my side tomato bed, can be snipped and added to other greens, or tossed daringly in a cream sauce over pasta. Yum!

It’s not only little Ralphie’s mom in Rabbit Hill, always making peavine soup, who can appreciate winter peas extravagant growth habits. The tender tops, not yet in flower, are delicious steamed or gently toss-cooked in light olive oil, with or without matchstick ginger and a little garlic.

Plant some extra peas to snip periodically for the table, or just snip bits here and there for a special treat– not too much if you want a good crop of pea pods. I think I still have some slack left on the main pea-patch. Thinning them out a bit also helps prevent powdery mildew when the weather gets warmer, but it’s not going to be warm enough for that for quite a while yet!

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