Category Archives: sustainable gardening

Put your Garden to Bed

 There’s a peaceful quality to this time of year.  Mother Nature is winding down for the season turning deciduous trees ablaze with fall color.  Cool season pansies and violas turn their little faces to catch the sun.  It’s time to put the garden to bed for a greener spring next year. 

 Here are some suggestions, but promise you won’t try to do everything on one weekend.  it’ll just seem like work.  Gardening should be something you enjoy. 

  • Build up your soil by layering the vegetable beds with 2" of leaves newly fallen from your trees.  Soil building worms and organisms will start their work right away.  In the spring, dig what’s left into the soil.  If you want the leaves to break down faster, run over them with a lawn mower, then rake them up for mulch.
  •  Prevent erosion of your precious soil by mulching with straw or bark.  Mulch used around perennials, shrubs and trees will help moisture percolate into the soil instead of running off into storm drains or creeks along with fertilizers.    Mulch also keeps the soil from becoming compacted by winter rains.  If you don’t have enough leaves to use as mulch try layering newspapers and cardboard and cover with straw.  3-4" of mulch around the base of trees and large shrubs will hold weeds down, too.  Be sure to keep mulch a couple of inches away from the base of your plants so trapped moisture doesn’t rot the trunk. 
  • Chop down leftover vegetable plants and spent annuals flowers and layer on the vegetable bed under cardboard to decompose.  Don’t do this with diseases plants such as squash plants with powdery mildew.   These can be put in the curbside yard waste can.  Hot commercial composting systems can kill disease spores.
  • Clean empty pots and store them upside down in a dry location.  That way you’ll keep any soil diseases from being passed on to next year’s plants. 
  •  Store any excess leaves to use next summer if you have a lot of deciduous trees.  They’re like gold.  They make great bedding for a worm bin and next summer you can use them in the compost pile when you have an abundance of nitrogen rich green material but little carbon-based brown stuff to mix with it. 
  • Leave a little debris for wildlife so beneficial ground beetles have a place to live and birds can snack on seeds left on shriveled flowers.  Coneflowers, ornamental grasses and crocosmia all attract birds to their seed heads through the winter. 

The bottom line is to do those fall clean-up jobs as you have the time and energy.  Cleaning up in increments leaves height and interest in the garden and feeds the birds, too.

What you should do first, though, is to bring indoors houseplants that  spent the summer out on the patio. Also bring in any plants too tender to survive the winter outside. Be sure to inspect them for insect pests and wash them off.   Sub-topical plants  like tree ferns and bananas benefit from extra mulch to help them survive the worst of the winter weather.

It’s not too late to reseed thin spots on your lawn or apply a fall fertilizer to an existing one and if you have citrus trees, rhododendrons, azaleas or camellias they’ll benefit from an application of   Citrus use it for flower bud development and fruit sweetness.  Rhodies, azaleas, and camellias need it when flower buds begin to form.  It also improves flowering and root development of any plant and helps plants resist diseases and cold weather damage. 
 

Originally posted 2008-11-07 15:34:14.

Let the Birds Control your Insect Pests

Looks like trick-or-treating for Halloween is as popular with my garden visitors as it is with kids.  No, I’m not talking about those four-legged twins with doe-eyes that look longingly through my deer fencing at my hydrangeas.  I’m referring to the many birds that flock to my garden to eat aphids, mealybugs, mites and spiders, keeping the insect population under control without me lifting a finger.   What could be more convenient and beautiful to watch?

Throughout the year there are many resident birds that help me in the garden as they go about their business of  nesting and raising their young.  Ladybugs and other beneficial insects also do their part but it’s the songbirds I depend on to really get in there and do a clean sweep.  As if that’s not enough I get to hear them sing and call to each other and enjoy their bright plumage as they flit through the trees.

My garden is not very big.  I have a small birdbath to provide water for drinking and bathing. Several hummingbird feeders supplement the food supply when they are feeding their young and to help them through the winter.  The plants I grow provide foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts for all wildlife ( except those deer, sorry ) that visit my garden.  Shrubs provide hiding places and shelter for birds and other wildlife to raise their young, avoid predators and get out of inclement weather.   In return, they keep my garden healthy.  I’m getting a good deal, if you ask me.

Just this morning I was happy to welcome my resident flock of Chestnut-backed chickadees who proceeded to scour every perennial, shrub and tree like acrobats looking for insects and seeds.  They are quite tame and friendly and easily attracted to feeding stations.   At the same time, a group of brilliant yellow and black Townsend’s warblers arrived to survey the scene.  The prefer our cool fir and redwood forests in the fall and spring and also find food in oaks, madrones and bay trees.  These little birds are so bright you can see them from quite a distance.

Hopping about and scratching the ground to expose beetles and worms, a couple of American robins were doing their share of insect control. They also love the leftover blackberries still hanging on the vine.   Back up in the trees, the acorn woodpeckers were working on beetles and grubs hiding under the bark.  These are just some of the feathered help I have visiting my garden.

What can you do to encourage this free labor?  In addition to oaks and madrones, plant trees like crabapple, hawthorn, loquat, dogwood  and fruit trees for colorful fruits and berries.  Native shrubs like oregon grape, toyon, coffeeberry,  California wax myrtle, snowberry, coyote brush, manzanita and elderberry all have berries that attract birds. Ceanothus are among the most valued shrubs as a food source attracting bushtits, finches, grosbeaks, hummingbirds, mockingbirds, quail, thrashers, thrushes, towhees, warblers, white-crowned sparrows and wrentits.  Other shrubs to include are Japanese barberry, roses and junipers.

 Hummingbirds do their share of spider control when they have young and need extra protein.  Native plants like salvia, sagebrush, buckwheat, flowering currant as well as garden favorites like flowering maple, fuchsia, coral bells all provide nectar for them and butterflies, too.

 

 *  Avoid using chemical insecticides.   Most birds eat insects and spiders.  If you spray your plants with chemicals, you’ll create a sterile wasteland for protein-eating birds. You’ll also kill butterflies or their larvae.  Spray organic pesticides only if you absolutely have to and then direct the spray carefully. 

  *  Be unfastidious.  The best wildlife habitats are not overly manicured.  The less often you rake under bushes, the better it is for the birds.  Accumulated duff gives a place for insects and other creatures to breed and live.  When possible, leave small brush piles in out-of-the-way places.

If you’d like to identify the birds that you’ve attracted, you can get a free check list of the birds of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park from their gift shop.  Many of those birds will be in your garden, too.  They also sell a beautiful laminated color chart of local birds of Monterey Bay area.  Fun to have by your kitchen window for a quick reference when you see a splash of yellow fly by. 
 

Originally posted 2008-10-31 13:52:20.

Let the Birds Control your Insect Pests

Looks like trick-or-treating for Halloween is as popular with my garden visitors as it is with kids.  No, I’m not talking about those four-legged twins with doe-eyes that look longingly through my deer fencing at my hydrangeas.  I’m referring to the many birds that flock to my garden to eat aphids, mealybugs, mites and spiders, keeping the insect population under control without me lifting a finger.   What could be more convenient and beautiful to watch?

Throughout the year there are many resident birds that help me in the garden as they go about their business of  nesting and raising their young.  Ladybugs and other beneficial insects also do their part but it’s the songbirds I depend on to really get in there and do a clean sweep.  As if that’s not enough I get to hear them sing and call to each other and enjoy their bright plumage as they flit through the trees.

My garden is not very big.  I have a small birdbath to provide water for drinking and bathing. Several hummingbird feeders supplement the food supply when they are feeding their young and to help them through the winter.  The plants I grow provide foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts for all wildlife ( except those deer, sorry ) that visit my garden.  Shrubs provide hiding places and shelter for birds and other wildlife to raise their young, avoid predators and get out of inclement weather.   In return, they keep my garden healthy.  I’m getting a good deal, if you ask me.

Just this morning I was happy to welcome my resident flock of Chestnut-backed chickadees who proceeded to scour every perennial, shrub and tree like acrobats looking for insects and seeds.  They are quite tame and friendly and easily attracted to feeding stations.   At the same time, a group of brilliant yellow and black Townsend’s warblers arrived to survey the scene.  The prefer our cool fir and redwood forests in the fall and spring and also find food in oaks, madrones and bay trees.  These little birds are so bright you can see them from quite a distance.

Hopping about and scratching the ground to expose beetles and worms, a couple of American robins were doing their share of insect control. They also love the leftover blackberries still hanging on the vine.   Back up in the trees, the acorn woodpeckers were working on beetles and grubs hiding under the bark.  These are just some of the feathered help I have visiting my garden.

What can you do to encourage this free labor?  In addition to oaks and madrones, plant trees like crabapple, hawthorn, loquat, dogwood  and fruit trees for colorful fruits and berries.  Native shrubs like oregon grape, toyon, coffeeberry,  California wax myrtle, snowberry, coyote brush, manzanita and elderberry all have berries that attract birds. Ceanothus are among the most valued shrubs as a food source attracting bushtits, finches, grosbeaks, hummingbirds, mockingbirds, quail, thrashers, thrushes, towhees, warblers, white-crowned sparrows and wrentits.  Other shrubs to include are Japanese barberry, roses and junipers.

 Hummingbirds do their share of spider control when they have young and need extra protein.  Native plants like salvia, sagebrush, buckwheat, flowering currant as well as garden favorites like flowering maple, fuchsia, coral bells all provide nectar for them and butterflies, too.

 

 *  Avoid using chemical insecticides.   Most birds eat insects and spiders.  If you spray your plants with chemicals, you’ll create a sterile wasteland for protein-eating birds. You’ll also kill butterflies or their larvae.  Spray organic pesticides only if you absolutely have to and then direct the spray carefully. 

  *  Be unfastidious.  The best wildlife habitats are not overly manicured.  The less often you rake under bushes, the better it is for the birds.  Accumulated duff gives a place for insects and other creatures to breed and live.  When possible, leave small brush piles in out-of-the-way places.

If you’d like to identify the birds that you’ve attracted, you can get a free check list of the birds of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park from their gift shop.  Many of those birds will be in your garden, too.  They also sell a beautiful laminated color chart of local birds of Monterey Bay area.  Fun to have by your kitchen window for a quick reference when you see a splash of yellow fly by. 
 

Originally posted 2008-10-31 13:52:20.

What to do with Green Tomatoes

With night temperatures dipping down into the 30’s,  you may be thinking your tomato vines are done for the season.  But what about all those green tomatoes just hanging there?   Don’t let these underage beauties go to waste.    There are lots of ways to use them.   Opportunity is hanging on the vine, ready to be picked.
 
When fall frost approaches,you  can pick unripe, mature green tomatoes to ripen indoors. A mature green tomato has a glossy, whitish green fruit color and mature size.   Taste one by taking a 1/4" slice of a medium-size tomato and sample it.  Your taste buds will register a firm, fresh fruit with an immature tomato flavor and a hint of sweetness similar to a zucchini.    Select fruits only from strong healthy vines, and pick only those fruits free of disease, insect or mechanical damage.  Remove stems to prevent them from puncturing each other and if dirty, gently wash and allow the fruit to air dry.

Store your tomatoes in boxes, 1 to 2 layers deep, or in plastic bags with a few holes for air circulation.
If you have a cool, moderately humid room, simply place them on a shelf but out of direct sunlight.  They may be stored in the dark also.

 As tomatoes ripen, they naturally release ethylene gas, which stimulates ripening. To slow ripening, sort out ripened fruits from the green tomatoes each week. To speed up ripening, place green or partially ripe fruits in a bag or box with a ripe tomato. Green, mature tomatoes  stored at 65-70 degrees, will ripen in about 2 weeks. Cooler temperatures slow the ripening process. At 55 degrees, they will ripen in 3-4 weeks. Storage temperatures below 50 degrees will slow ripening, but results in inferior quality.

If tomatoes  are stored where the humidity is too high the fruit molds and rots. If humidity is too low, the fruit shrivel and dries out. Since homes vary in humidity levels, you will need to learn by trial and error what works best.

 Tomatoes ripened indoors are not as flavorful as vine ripened fruits. However, compared to store bought, you will be delighted with your own home ripened tomatoes.

 If you have peppers still green on the vine, they can be ripened in the same way as tomatoes.  

Another way to take advantage of your late tomatoes is to use them green to make a culinary delight in the kitchen.  Again your green tomato must be of mature size.  Avoid the small ones.  They will have a bitter taste and can ruin your recipe.  Core a green tomato before use.  Unripe tomatoes often have a woodier stem and a unique core piece.  This hard, white core section is not always continuous with the stem, so you have to look for it.   It’s small, about the size of a pea and sits in the tomato somewhere within the top inch of where the stem attaches.  You can see and feel a hard white piece that’s different from the test of the fruit if you slice a tomato in half. 

We’ve all heard of fried green tomatoes made by coating tomato slices with seasoned flour, then an egg mixture and finally with panko bread crumbs.  Be sure to lightly press the slices between paper towels to remove excess moisture  before coating.  Then fry the coated slices in about 2" of oil, turning once.  Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with kosher salt.   They’re especially tasty if you brown a little crushed garlic in the oil first and then remove it.  
     

Another way to use them is to .  Golden-brown, carmelized green tomatoes produce a deep, rich flavor that is perfect with sauteed nectarines, peaches and apricots.  Even when baked, they hold their supple but firm texture and develop a delicate sweetness similar to an apple. 

 Extend your harvest and don’t let anything in the garden go to waste.

Originally posted 2008-10-28 07:15:06.

Sustainable gardening tips

Blazing hot weather one day, foggy the next – our summer is turning out to be a particularly hot one.  The last two winters saw more than the usual freezing weather.   If weather tells us what clothes to wear, then climate tells us what clothes to buy.  Is all this proof of climate change?

Our planet has always experienced heating and cooling cycles.  A warm period from 300-1300 AD allowed the Vikings to fish and farm Greenland.  They were frozen out after 1300 when the Little Ice Age changed Greenland’s climate.  A 20 year drought starting in 1276 probably drove out the cliff dwellers in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico and the Mayan culture collapsed about the same time as an extended drought occurred in Mexico and Central America. 

People who cultivate plants have always taken climate change more seriously than most.  Many tomatoes stop setting fruit when daytime temps stay above 90 degrees.  Higher levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, have been accelerating weed growth.  Our best defense as gardeners is to choose wisely what we plant in the garden and how we water. 

  • Start with smart design by evaluating how the space will be used and what plants will thrive with minimum of care and pruning.  Select the best trees and place them to shade the south side of the house to reduce  cooling costs.
  • Supplement the soil by making soil health a priority.
  • Examine your irrigation system and watering plan for efficiency and minimal waste.
  • Reduce, recycle and reuse whenever possible.  Simple ways include reusing plant containers and composting  organic waste and fall leaves.  

  We can all become stewards of the land by using these sustainable landscaping tips.

Originally posted 2008-07-24 08:59:39.

What Makes for a Sustainable Garden?

The redbud are just starting to show color in my yard. Flowering plum, tulip magnolia, manzanita, forsythia, flowering currant and quince are blooming in many a garden. Even the deciduous trees and plants that look bare now are starting to grow new roots deep underground. It’s time to plan this year’s garden. Think about how you can blend artistry with ecology.

Garden to attract birds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects

A landscape developed with sustainable practices will improve the environment by conserving resources. It will require less maintenance and fertilizing, be balanced with our climate in mind and use less pesticides and water. Most of all it will be visually pleasing with lots of flowers. bees and butterflies.

Your goal may be a more drought tolerant garden but which plants are right for your yard? What plants will be more likely to withstand disease and pest damage? What kind of irrigation system should be installed to provide for the needs of the landscape in the most efficient way possible? Is it time to convert your sprinkler system to smart drip, inline drip emitters and micro-irrigation?

Where do you put the compost bin so you can return garden waste and kitchen waste back to the garden while recycling nutrients within the landscape? How do you keep the soil healthy? There are many components in designing and installing a sustainable landscape that is just right for your garden.

Start with a smart design. Utilize permeable paving like gravel or pavers to help manage runoff, giving the soil more time to absorb rainfall and recharge the ground water. Maybe you need a rain garden or small planted basin to catch and filter rainwater and keep it onsite.

Planting bed of plants with similar watering needs.

Group plants in your garden according to their water needs. Now’s the time to transplant if necessary to achieve this. Some maybe can survive on rainfall alone after their second or third season while the perennial beds and vegetable garden will require a different schedule. Water slowly, deeply and infrequently so there is no runoff. Water in early morning or evening to maximize absorption.

Plant deciduous trees to provide cooling shade in the summer and allow sunlight to warm the house in winter. Trees and shrubs clean the air of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. They breathe in carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, use the carbon to grow, then exhale oxygen. They retain more carbon than they lose so every tree you plant helps reduce your carbon footprint on the planet.

Feed and shelter birds, butterflies and other wildlife in your landscape. Plant perennials such as echinacea, lavender, penstemon or salvia, ceanothus and other native plants to attract pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. Plant flowers that attract beneficial insects to help control harmful insects and use organic pesticides.

Make your soil a priority by adding compost each year. Mulch your soil to keep down weeds and conserve water and use organic fertilizers, manure and fish emulsion that feed the soil. Compost the green and brown waste your garden produces like fallen leaves, weeds without seeds, grass clippings, spent flowers and vegetables.
Stay ahead of weeds, pulling them before they set seed and spread.

Take steps each year to encourage a beautiful, sustainable landscape and make your corner of the world part of the solution.