Category Archives: vegetables

The Giants’ Garden

AT&T_Park 3A few Sundays ago I spent the afternoon at AT&T Park watching the Giants play baseball. It was kids day. Hundreds of Boy Scouts were attending the game in uniform. Kids were everywhere eating peanuts and wearing the orange and black team colors. Some were sitting with their grandparents, some very, very young fans in their parents arms being smeared with sun screen.  It was a beautiful day on the San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, the team didn't get the memo that we were supposed to get another win against the Diamondbacks. Oh well, there's always next year.

A friend forwarded an article he saw in the SF Chronicle by Janny Hu recently about the Giants plan to create an organic garden behind the center field wall. The Giants Garden would be created between the left and right field bleachers in an area that is now concrete and an adjacent area where replacement sod is grown.

Plans for the edible garden include hydroponic troughs, concrete planters and living green walls which would supply produce for some of the parks' concessions, serve as an open air dining area and a community classroom during the offseason. If you're hankering for a nice kale and strawberry salad next season while you watch the game you're in luck. The Giants hope to have the garden ready for Opening Day 2014.

If the Giants can do it, you can, too. We all want the area around our homes to be beautiful, welcoming, productive, useful.  In designing landscapes for people I strive to integrate vegetables, herbs and fruit trees with flowering shrubs and perennials to feed the family while attracting hummingbirds and other wildlife. Not everybody has room for a separate vegetable garden and companion planting is a good way to avoid problems with pests and diseases.

Plants when attacked by pests, exude chemicals and hormones that actually attract nearby beneficial insects. Perennials like agastache, coneflower, coreopsis, scabiosa and yarrow are rich in nectar and pollen and  irresistible to beneficials. Many herbs also attract beneficials.  Cilantro in bloom is one of the top insectary plants.  Caraway, chervil, dill, fennel, lovage and parsley flowers also attract beneficials and are easy to grow among your other plants. Allow your salad and cabbage crops to bloom.  Arugula and brassica flowers are much appreciated by beneficials.

Plants like lettuces, spinach and swiss chard look great in the flower bed and flowers make great companions in the vegetable garden.
Dahlias repel nematodes. Geraniums repel cabbage worms, corn ear worms and leaf hoppers.  Plant them by grapes, roses, corn and cabbage. Marigolds discourage beetles, whiteflies and nematodes. They act as trap plants for spider mites and slugs. A word of caution,  don't plant them by cabbage or beans. Nasturtiums act as a barrier trap around tomatoes, radishes, cabbage and fruit trees. They deter whiteflies, and squash bugs and are a good trap crop for black aphids.

Herbs that help deter pests. Catnip/catmint repels mice, flea beetles, aphids, squash bugs, ants and weevils. Chamomile improves the flavor of cabbage, onions and cucumbers. It also accumulates calcium, sulphur and potassium, returning them later to the soil. As a host for hoverflies and good wasps it increases productions of essential oils in herbs. Summer savory repels bean leaf beetles and improves the flavor of beans. All beans enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen.  They are good for planting with all of your vegetables except onions, garlic and leeks.

Dwarf fruit trees can also find a place in the smaller garden. They can be grown in large pots or half barrels on the deck, too. Dwarf Garden Delicious apple is self-fertile and bears at a young age. Compact Stella cherry is also self fertile and is a good pollinizer for all sweet cherries.

If it's almonds you crave, plant a Dwarf Garden Prince almond. This compact 10-12 ft tree blooms mid-season with beautiful pale pink blossoms. Dense attractive foliage and good quality sweet almonds make this tree a nice addition to any garden. A patio-sized peach for smaller yards is the Dwarf Southern Flame.  Large, yellow, aromatic freestone peaches are firm, crisp and melt in your mouth. Tree height is just 5 ft and the fruit ripens early to mid July.

Planting flowers and edibles together makes sense and good use of your garden space.
 

Tips for Vegetables, Pests and Plants with Bad Behaviors

Summer is officially almost here although we all know it actually starts on Memorial Day weekend. What fun stuff should we be doing in the garden? What problems should I be on the lookout for? What troublemakers should I avoid planting?

June is a busy time for plants. Some are just finishing up early spring flowering like rhododendrons, azaleas. camellias, lilac and wisteria. Prune off spent flowers and shape plants if needed. Other plants are just beginning to flower and would like a dose of organic fertilizer to really perform well.

Plant corn, lettuce and basil continuously to keep a steady supply. Speaking of basil, if yours died recently showing brown spots or streaks up the stem,  fusarium wilt, caused by a fungus, is the culprit. Carried by either the soil that affected basil plants have been grown in or by seed from an infected basil plant it's a common problem. There is no remedy for fusarium wilt. Destroy infected plants and do not plant basil or other mint plants in that area for 2-3 years.

Night time temperatures should be consistently above 50 degrees for basil. As long as you provide it with a hot, sunny location and plenty of water, it's among the easiest of herbs to grow in the garden or in a container. Steady, slow growth is the key to good taste, so amend the soil with compost and forgo the fertilizer. Basil contains the most oils when harvested before the flowers occur. The best way to delay flowering, as well as to encourage branching and new growth, is to harvest regularly by snipping of the end of the branches.

The best time to harvest is midmorning, right after the dew has dried, but before the afternoon sun bakes out the oils. At some point later in the summer, flowering will begin in earnest. Then it's time to harvest the entire crop, as flavor will go downhill soon afterward.

Insects are having a field day at this time of year, too. Put out wet rolled newspaper at night to collect earwigs in the morning. If you see notches on your rose leaves, it's the work of leaf cutter bees. These guys are beneficial and will go away shortly.

If your rose leaves look like lace then you have the dreaded rose slug. I have a friend who's rose shrubs were really hit by these. It's discouraging when you had visions of huge fragrant bouquets on every table. What to do?

The rose slug is actually the larvae of a wasp called a sawfly. Because they may have 6 generations per year they can do a lot of damage to your roses. Early detection is key. Start scouting for sawfly larvae in early May when they can be hand picked or washed from the leaves with a strong spray. If needed, spray the leaves with neem oil while the larvae are still small. Conventional insecticides are toxic to bees and kill the good bugs too.

During the winter they pupate in the soil and removing a couple of inches will help with controlling their numbers. Even cultivating the soil at any time will break up the cocoons.

Finally, think twice before planting rampant growers that are hard to control unless you use a deep edging that will keep them confined where you want. There's nothing wrong with a plant that spreads out in the right places, but let it overgrow that area and it quickly wears out its welcome.

Plants like chameleon plant ( Houttunyia cordata) , lamium, it's close relative lamiastrum and hypericum are  great plants in areas that are not close to your other planting beds. The deceptively delicate looking and impossible to ever get rid of Japanese anemone falls into this category also. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Plan ahead.

Get out and enjoy your garden. The best way to nip problems in the bud is to walk around your garden with a beverage of some kind and just look.

 

Tomatoes for the Santa Cruz Mountains

The spring sun has started to warm the soil. I'm already having visions of eating ripe, luscious tomatoes later in the season. I have several friends who are tomato fanatics and share their trials, tribulations and successes with me. Every year brings new hope to a gardener who is excited to grow the best tomatoes ever.

One friend who loves her tomatoes is going to finally start a gardening journal in a binder. With a page devoted to each of her tomatoes, complete with color pictures, seed grower descriptions and space for her own notes, this year her tomatoes just can't fail to be delectable.

During the last couple of years, cool spring and early summer weather  took its toll on tomato production and taste so this year she is trying some different types for cooler climates. Many of these tomato varieties originate from cooler growing areas in Russia and other northern growing areas. She chose from Alaska, Amber Colored, Anna Russian or Azoychka varieties that are all Russian heirlooms,  Alicante from England or Black Krim originally from the Isle of Krim on the Black Sea in the former Soviet Union. Of course, Black Cherry, the only true black cherry tomato, is on the list. With a description of "irresistibly delicious with sweet, rich, complex, full tomato flavor that bursts in your mouth" , who could resist?

This tomato aficionado planted out her early "tried and true" varieties that she started from seed in the ground the last week of March in Wall O' Water season extenders to keep them warm. Night time temps in March were pretty cold so they needed all the help she could give them. The regulars include Early Girl, Stupice, Carmello and Sun Sugar.

New seedlings she bought and recently planted include Purple Cherokee, Paul Robeson, Northern Lights, Black Plum, Green Zebra and Sunset Red Horizon. She is also trying "a Red Brandywine that didn't do well last year but if we are lucky enough to have a warmer season if may do better".  She is "looking forward to the addition of new colors ( green striped, black, purple, marbled orange and red)  and hoping to enjoy the nuances of flavor that accompany them".

Renee's Garden Seeds has lots of great tomato varieties available online at www.reneesgarden.com. One is a colorful trio of treasured heirlooms that consists of Black Krim, the glowing orange Sweet Persimmon and traditional Italian Costuluto Genovese. She offers a total of 13 varieties including  heirloom Camp Joy cherry as well as everybody's favorite Sungold. For containers, there's Super Bush and for that burger, Big Beef Beefsteak tomato.  I'd like to try a Chianti Rose or the Italian Pompeii plum tomato.

According to Renee's website, tomatoes are native to South America and were carried to Europe in the 1500's by the Spanish conquistadors. Southern Europeans began enjoying their fruits early on, but in England they were viewed with suspicion and grown as ornamentals only as they are members of the nightshade family. In this country, Thomas Jefferson grew tomatoes to eat although most Americans didn't start cultivating tomatoes for the kitchen until the end of the Civil War.

Hope springs eternal for a tomato grower. What tomatoes are you growing this year? What were your best producers in years past? I'd love to hear from you as the season progresses and I'll share this with readers later in the summer or early fall.
 

Flowers, Edibles and Camellias

Every year the stirrings of early spring excite me. There's even a name for it – spring fever. There are lots of early season plants that can go in right now or you can spend some time planning for later additions to your garden. Both are great ways to kick-start this gardening season.

An article in this month's Sunset magazine talks about the "5- Mile Bouquet". How about a 50-foot bouquet using flowers from your own garden? There are flowers we can grow in every season around here. Who wants to put flowers doused in chemicals and shipped halfway across the world on the table? Plan to use your entire property as a cutting garden. You can have fresh little bouquets year round from your own backyard.

Winter flowering, fragrant sweet peas could be in your vase right now or bright orange and gold calendula. Stock blooms during the winter along with early narcissus. Both are very fragrant. Deer-resistant Sweet Violets are blooming now and smell wonderful in a tiny vase by the kitchen window. Anemone and snapdragons make good cut flowers and will be blooming soon. It's easy to plan ahead for a spring or summer bouquet because there are so many choices but make sure you have aster, scabiosa and gaillardia for those fall arrangements.

This year plan the edible garden around what grows best for you. It's not always cost effective to devote space in your vegetable plot for something that peaks at the same time as it's plentiful at the local farmers market. What makes sense for your taste, time and garden space? Easy to grow edibles like strawberries, blueberries, herbs, lettuces, arugula and peas are delicious freshly picked and don't take up too much room in the garden.

There are ways to make your whole landscaping edible. Fruits, vegetables and herbs can be intermingled with the ornamental shrubs and flowers in the yard. Plant an apple where a crape myrtle was going to go or an artichoke instead of a New Zealand flax. A border of parsley or chives around the flower bed would look and taste great. Or maybe French pole beans to grow up a bamboo arbor you tied together yourself. Take advantage of your entire property to incorporate your favorite edibles.

Now is a good time to pick out a camellia for that morning sun or shady spot that needs a shrub with year round good looks. Looking at pictures of camellia flowers in a catalog is nice but seeing them in person is even better. What better way to choose the perfect one? If you're partial to vivid flowers, Nuccio's Bella Rossa is right up your alley. An abundance of huge formal, crimson red blooms open slowly over a long period for an especially long bloom season. This brilliant camellia is believed to bring wealth if planted at the entrance to your home as are other red flowering plants.

A great camellia to espalier on a trellis is a sasanqua variety called Fairy Blush. Deep pink buds open to apple blossom tinted blooms with a sweet fragrance. Growing to a compact 4-5 feet this plant is perfect for a small courtyard or patio.

Then there's the soft blush-pink, semi-double flowers of Magnoliaeflora that can be the prized plant of the winter garden. It's deer resistant and the showy flowers are good for cutting. It would make a great privacy screen and looks natural in the woodland garden.

 requiring a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Provide well drained soil, rich in organic matter. Feed with an acid fertilizer after bloom. Keep roots cool with a thick layer of mulch and prune them in spring after flowering.
 

Lindencroft Farm- a CSA part 2

Lindencroft Farm is a great example of a local family doing what they love and making a living, too. You can see it in the new crop of Necores carrots just sprouting and being watched over by the family farm cat that was sitting on the edge of the retaining wall. Linda explained this is one of her favorite carrots because she doesn’t have trouble with it forking and it isn’t bothered by summer heat. Every  crop that is grown on the farm is researched for best flavor and vigor.

Linda Butler  starts all her vegetables from seed, and grows year-round. Some are started directly in the beds while others are started in flats and transplanted later. Cole crops, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, would get eaten by bugs and birds would eat them as fast as they germinated so these are started in flats.

Walking around, I saw many Italian names as she specializes in Italian peppers. She gets seed from organic seed companies in this country, Italy and France.  Some of her favorite vegetables are Rosa Bianca eggplant as it is almost never bitter. She also likes Red Russian and Lacinato or dinosaur kale.

Tat soy and bok choy are favorites in the CSA boxes. She grows beans of all types– french filet, romano, shelling. Golden beets ( my personal favorite ), all kinds of potatoes- fingerlings, Russian banana, red thumb, German butter, red lasoda and other heirlooms. The beds overflow with life.

I tasted the last of the cherry tomatoes. Rosalita, a red grape type, was good but the white cherry tomato was the best. Herbs grow in several boxes and the farm can’t seem to grow enough asparagus to satisfy the demand.

Insect control is easy,  Linda said. If fungal diseases persist she plants a crop of beans and that seems to solve it. Occasionally aphids or spider mites get the upper had, but rather than spray even with organic soap she finds she has better results by monitoring the plants often and spraying with a hard blast of water or cutting or pulling out infested plants. For fava beans that seem to always attract big black aphids, she harvest the beans and flowers while very young before aphids get a hold.

The farm is entirely powered by 78 solar panels. Recaptured rainwater is stored in a rainwater basin that holds a half a million gallons and is filtered twice before using. They collect this from just 2-3 good winter storms. Water from their own deep well is used in the beginning of the year with the rainwater used in the hot summer months.

I asked Linda if the cool spring this year impacted her plants and she said yes, ‘"Everything is three weeks late."  Our early October rains caused her tomatoes to get fungal diseased so they had to harvest them all, while some of the squash now has powdery mildew and has to be pulled up early. As we were talking she told some workers harvesting squash in another part of the farm to cut out the growing tips so the remaining squash would receive all the energy of the plant to ripen before the weather turns cold. The sunflowers being visited by a flock of chickadees was looking a bit bedraggled, too.

We watched some workers putting up frames for plastic hoop houses that will protect peppers crops from the rains and extend the harvest this year. Even potatoes benefit from this cover as overly wet soil contributes to fungal diseases. Lettuces, chard, kale and other leafy greens would get tattered by the rains if not covered.

Walking and talking, Linda would reach down and pick a sprig of bronze fennel or hyssop for me to enjoy. it’s clear that she is gentle on the earth and a good steward of the land. The entire farm is surrounded by redwood forest and oak meadowland, teaming with wildlife. Her philosophy of farming is to gently coax the best produce by creating as natural an environment as she can. Each year, the farm is healthier, most robust and more beautiful than the last.
 

Sweet Peas & Cool Season Veggies

Fall is in the air – sort of. The sun is setting earlier each day but our days are still beautiful. The autumnal equinox on September 23rd marks the beginning of fall when day and night are of approximately equal length. Gardeners living in Minnesota and Maine are thinking about "battening down the hatches" for winter already. Us, we’re just starting our fall planting season. There are so many possibilities for fall and winter edibles as well as colorful flowers, berries and foliage. For the biggest show there’s no better time to plant than early fall.  Let the fun begin.

While most of the summer annuals and perennials will bloom until at least October, there are cool season varieties that come into their own as our nights cool and last through the winter.  Try  colorful combinations of snapdragon, pansies, violas, sweet alyssum, calendula, chrysanthemum paludosum, forget-me-not, Iceland and shirley poppies, ornamental kale and cabbage, primrose, stock or sweet peas.

Who doesn’t  love old-fashioned sweet peas? A small bouquet will perfume a room with a delicious scent. They remind me of my Aunt Ruth who grew them every year and let me pick a bunch each spring whenever I went to visit. There are many new varieties and colors these days but back then her sweet pea vines were covered with the classic mixed colors of violet, blue, pink, peach and white.

Sweet peas have been around for a long time and many different countries claim that they originated there. One story is that a monk, Father Cupani, first harvested them in the wild on an island off Sicily in 1695` and sent the seeds to the Netherlands. In the 1800’s, an Scottish nurseryman named Harry Eckford began hybridizing and introducing larger varieties in a wider range of colors where they became quite a sensation. The most famous and perhaps the most important use of this flower was the extensive genetics studies performed by Gregor Mendel. Since they self-pollinate, their characteristics such as height, color and petal form could easily be tracked. But whether they came from Ceylon- the modern day Sri Lanka, China or Sicily, heirloom sweet peas are as exquisite in the garden and they are in the vase.

I like to plant early blooming types of sweet peas in October or early November. These varieties flower in the shorter days of late winter. Winter Elegance and Early Multiflora are common early flowering types. Also plant some of the more fragrant spring flowering heirlooms and Spencer’s at the same time to extend your harvest time. My very favorite sweet pea with long stems for cutting and an intense fragrance is called April in Paris. Large ruffled blossoms are a soft primrose cream, tinted at the edges in dark lilac that deepens and increases with age. You can’t go wrong no matter what color or style sweet pea you choose. They are all beautiful.

Now that the weather has cooled, plant cool season veggie starts like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, spinach, brussels sprouts, bok choy, onions and leeks in soil enriched with 4-6" of compost as summer vegetable crops will have used up much of your soil’s nutrients. You can sow seeds of beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, arugula, mustard and peas directly in the ground.

This is also the time to start perennial flowers seeds so that they’ll  be mature enough to bloom next year. Happy Fall.