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Posts Tagged ‘Vegetable Garden’

Another in a series of posts to bring you interesting garden-related stories. This week we have links to a few articles we think you’ll like and news about events in Southern California.

A Plan to Turn Brooklyn’s Unused Acres Green: This article is about a truly great idea that a group of Brooklyn gardeners called 596 Acres (the total of unused public acres in Brooklyn) had to find and cultivate all the unused lots that dot the city. LOVE this idea!

Humans aren’t the only ones making things grow. Apparently the male Bowerbird, who builds elaborate bowers to attract a mate, is responsible for a lot of new plant life.

Here’s a lovely tribute to a lovely woman and an amazing gardener, Bea Grow. I had the pleasure of meeting her and visiting her beautiful garden a couple of years ago. Bea died last December and is sorely missed by the O.C. gardening community.

Click the link for a round-up of all the O.C. garden tours. Should have gotten this link to you sooner for all the April tours, but there are plenty on the list for May. One I highly recommend is the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour. It’s free (donations encouraged) and it’s fabulous — this weekend, May 5 – 6.

There will be a workshop on Edible Gardening in Small Spaces by my fellow Master Gardeners at the Orange County Great Park this Saturday. Here’s the description: Limited space? Master Gardeners are here to show you the ins and outs of getting a great yield from little places. Choose your favorite vegetables and learn how to make the most of them.

And finally a few words about a great event that I was a part of last weekend at the Orange County Great Park; the Artisan Food and Arts Festival. It was an all-day celebration of artisan food, sustainable gardening and art.

Chef Linda Elbert (of The Basement Table) and I collaborated on Seed to Plate: Cooking from the Garden, a presentation about growing your own vegetables and preparing them. I really enjoyed sharing organic growing tips with our audience.

Afterwards, I was able to spend time taking in the other chefs’ demos, the restaurant booths, sampling the food from the food trucks and seeing the art exhibits. Some of the art is still up. I highly recommend that you go see Tom Lamb’s exhibit of aerial photography called Marks on the Land: The View From Here.

The entire event was so much fun — kudos to my friend Maya Dunn and the Great Park staff for a fabulous job of pulling it off in grand style. Let’s hope that it comes back next year!

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I’ve been in my house for most of the time that I’ve lived in California — 19 years. And in all that time I’ve missed having the big, productive vegetable garden that I had in Pennsylvania. There are a lot of reasons that I haven’t been growing vegetables here; too little time, not enough sun, etc., but the big one is the really crappy soil in our area.

Soil is so very important for growing veggies. Of course light, water and nutrition are key elements, but you can have all of those and still not be able to grow much in the way of vegetables if your soil is lousy.

My soil is compacted and low in organic matter, a result of building practices in developments such a mine. Builders come in and level the ground, bulldozing away the fertile topsoil. Add the fact that the soil in this area is full of heavy clay, which stops tiny little roots dead in their tracks, and you have very inhospitable veggie growing conditions.

The solution is to build raised beds that you can fill with beautiful, fertile soil and loads of compost. Which is what I did last week.

This project is pretty easy. In spite of having only the most basic woodworking skills, I had no problem getting good results. I started with plans, which I modified it to match my needs, that I found on Sunset Magazines website. Now some of you may laugh at how little mine is (4′ x 4′), but I have only one tiny spot that gets enough sun for growing anything but part-shade plants.

I decided on a smaller version than Sunset’s also because this is test run that I didn’t want to sink a lot of money into. If it works, I’ll get some of the eucalyptus trees that surround my yard trimmed or removed (Have you priced this kind of job lately? Yowzers!) and redo my landscape to accommodate larger beds. In the meantime, this project cost me about $90 and took about 4 hours. Here’s how I did it.

Materials

  • One 16-foot long 2 x 12 cut into 4 equal pieces (ends up being a tad less than 4′ each due to the saw cut)
  • One 8 foot long 2 x 4 cut into 4 16-inch pieces with some left over
  • A box of 2 1/2″ decking screws – you’ll only need 12 of them though
  • One roll of 1/4″ hardware cloth (I had to get a 3′ x 10′ roll — a 4′ x 10′ would have been better)
  • Five 1 cu. ft. bags of organic topsoil
  • Three 1.5 cu. ft. bags of organic planting compost (total topsoil + compost should be 9 – 10 cubic feet)
  • 2 cups organic Tomato & Vegetable food
  • One small Jack Russel Terrier, optional

I went to Lowe’s (wish there was a real lumber yard in the area) and bought top grade pine. You can use pine, redwood or cedar. The latter two will last a while longer but there are sustainability issues with the cedar. DO NOT BUY TREATED WOOD even if they say it’s the new, safe kind. I don’t believe any of it is food-safe and it’s certainly not organic.

When you are selecting the wood look down the length of the board to make sure it’s not warped. A tiny bit bowing or twisting is ok, but it should be very, very slight. Also eliminate any lumber that has more than very minor splits on the ends or lots of knots.

Lowe’s will cut any lumber you buy to your measurements for no additional charge — good thing because these boards would never have fit into my car, nor could I have managed the larger piece by myself.

Some of the changes I made to the original plans were: I used 12″ lumber for the sides because I couldn’t see any reason to use two 6″ boards as they did in the Sunset plans. And I switched out their recommended 4″ x 4″ corner posts for 2″ x 4″ because my bed is smaller and I thought it wouldn’t compromise the sturdiness factor — besides it saved a little $$. I didn’t add the piping for the row cover hoops because it never gets that cold here, however my resident bird population may cause me to regret not being able to float some bird netting.

Tools

  • Electric or battery-powered drill, plus a screw driver bit and a drill bit that is slightly smaller in diameter than the decking screws
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Metal snips or shears

I assembled the bed upside down right where I was going to place it. In retrospect this was probably a mistake that accounted for my not getting the box perfectly squared. So I recommend assembling it on a flat surface like your patio, deck or garage. I did the whole thing myself, but if you can recruit a helper (one with opposable thumbs) so much the better.

  1. Lay down two of the 2 x 4s and place one 2 x 12 on top of them so they are right angles, lining up the 2 x 4s at opposite edges.
  2. Drill pilot holes to prevent splitting the wood. Use 3 decking screws for each end. Screw through the 2 x 12 into the 2 x 4s.
  3. Repeat for one more side. You should have two sides with legs and 2 sides without. (As you can see I switched out my little battery-powered drill which didn’t have enough torque for my electric drill)
  4. Attach one plain board to one board with legs, making sure that the corner is square and the legs face inside the box. Be sure you place the screws so they go into the wood and not the gap between the side and the leg.
  5. Attach the second legged board to the opposite side.
  6. Attach the final side.
  7. Next you should try to get the site as close to level as you can. 
  8. Then turn the bed right side up and mark the soil where the legs will go.
  9. Dig holes four inches deep for the legs.
  10. Place the legs in the holes and fill them in tamping the dirt around the legs.
  11. If there are slight gaps under the sides, take some dirt and mound it along the sides to fill them.
  12. Cut the hardware cloth to fit and lay it on the bottom. This is important if you live in an area with moles and gophers.
  13. Dump the soil and compost in and mix thoroughly using the shovel and the cultivator. Soil should come to within 3 inches of the top.
  14. Add the organic fertilizer and mix that into the top 4 -6 inches.
  15. Using the bow rake, level the soil
  16. Gently spray water to moisten soil.

Now you’re ready to plant!

It is little, but I’m very excited to have a vegetable garden again — no matter how small. Now Emmie needs a nap and so do I!
Update: I should have mentioned that you can increase the size of this raised bed by at least two feet in length with no issues. I wouldn’t recommend increasing the width. For raised beds 3′ to 4′ is as wide as you’ll probably want to go. It makes it easier to reach into the bed for weeding, planting and harvesting.

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Why are we startled? Really!? Fall comes every year at the same time, yet we always seem to be caught off guard when those first cool mornings hit. For most it means the end of the growing season and a welcome respite from our garden chores. But not so fast buckaroo! There’s still the Fall Cleanup to do.

There are actually two sets of chores in the garden now. One is cleaning up your garden, which we will look at today. The other is tool cleanup and storage which will be our post next week.

#1 Take stock.

Go out into your garden with your garden journal (You are keeping one, right?) making note of what worked and what didn’t. If a plant didn’t thrive, was bug infested, or disease ridden, it just might be time to “shovel prune” the thing to make a space for something that’s more suited to your climate/micro climate. You’ll have all winter to ask around and see what worked for your neighbors, or to talk to the folks at your local nursery about more suitable plants.

Bring your camera along and take a few photos to have when you’re looking at garden catalogues in the dead of winter. Not only will it cheer you up, but you’ll have a better idea of what new plants to order and where they should go.

#2 Final harvests.

Keep an eye on the weather reports. Harvest the last of your veggies just before that first frost hits. Or, put up some hoops and floating row covers to protect your crops for the early light frosts extending your growing season by a few weeks. Mary Beth did this in June, but you can still install them as a weekend project if you hurry.

#3 Clean, clean, clean.

Remove dead and dying plant material from your garden beds to prevent diseases from overwintering. Be especially vigilant in your rose beds — leave not even one fungus-infected leaf behind! Here’s a link to a great video on the Annie’s Annuals (amazingly great source for plants) website that shows how Annie “tears up” the garden in November to get it ready for spring. (Thanks for Dirt Du Jour for posting this.)

#4 Dig up dahlia tubers.

Yes, we know you hate this chore, but do it! You’ll be patting yourself on the back when these beauties are in full bloom next year. Click here for MB’s great “how to.” In coastal California you don’t have to dig up dahlias. You can just cut them back to the ground in November.

#5 Plant spring-flowering bulbs and wildflower seeds.

In Southern California this is the perfect time for putting in some spring-flowering bulbs. Click here for a list of bulbs that will do well in our warmer temps and for some good sources. You might want to consider filling in some early spring blank spots with native wildflowers. Planting time for wildflower seeds is mid-November through mid-March, but get your seeds now. Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano has nine mixes formulated specifically for California gardens using only native plant seeds.

#6 Cool Season Crops for Southern California.

Here in So Cal we really don’t get much of a break from gardening, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your energy level any given day. Regardless, fresh, homegrown veggies on your dinner table make it all worthwhile. You can grow arugula, beets, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, mache, escarole, favas, green onion, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mesclun, mustard, parsnips, radicchio, radish, snap peas, spinach and turnips.

Seeds should have gone in mid-September and you can probably get away with planting most of them if you do it right away, otherwise buy some starts and you’ll be right on schedule.

Ok. That’s enough for now. Next week we’ll talk tools.

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We are finally (almost, sort of) back after a hiatus for a hurricane, a wedding, and new job schedule adjustments. The “almost, sort of” refers to a horrible cold that I acquired in my travels that has laid me low for the past few days, but while I may be sick, I’m happy as can be.

Hurricane Irene wasn’t much of a hurricane and, aside from a mad dash to get to New York before her, she did nothing to affect our plans. My daughter and new son-in-law’s wedding in Prospect Park was just perfect — perfect weather, perfect heartfelt ceremony, perfect company. And our family has expanded to include the aforementioned all-round great guy, a new step-granddaughter, and lots of great relatives from the groom’s side. We had a fantastic time and I can’t stop grinning whenever I think about it. Al di là!

MB loves her new job and has just about mastered juggling her garden, her photography, and her work schedule. As a bonus, the job will provide her with some new tips that she’ll be sharing in the weeks to come.

Now, to get back on track, here’s the scoop on some important dates for gardening workshops and such.

Are you interested in becoming a Master Gardener? In Orange County, CA you’ll need to attend one of the MG Information Day meetings. Two are scheduled — one is this morning (sorry for the late notice) and the other is October 6th, 9:00 to 10:30. Please note that you MUST attend to receive an application and be considered for a spot in the 2012 class which starts in January. Click here for more information.

If you live in the Durango, CO area, you’ll need to contact the local extension office for information on the class that starts in January. Click here for more information and contacts. Do it now. I’m not clear on the deadlines, but I’m sure they are sometime this month.

For both locations classes are in the daytime on Thursdays and run through the spring. As a Master Gardener you will be expected to do a significant amount of volunteer work each year. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more than you thought possible, meet great people, and get out in your community and make a difference.

Southern California garden workshops for cool season gardening are starting this Saturday. Here’s the info for a really terrific series of five Saturday morning workshops which are presented by the Great Park and organized by the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Orange County. All workshops run from 10:00 am to 11:00 am and are free to the public.

Garden Workshop Schedule
September 17, 2011 — The Edible Landscape
Nicholas Staddon, director of New Plants Introduction at Monrovia Nursery, will show how to incorporate blueberries and other culinary delights into your landscape.

October 8, 2011 – Wicked Bugs
Author Amy Stewart (Wicked Bugs) will discuss bugs gone wild. It’s an A – Z of insect enemies, interspersed with stories that explore bugs’ sometimes odd behavior and our sometimes irrational responses to bugs.

October 15, 2011 –The Salad Bowl Garden
Master Gardener Kay Havens will demonstrate how to make beautiful salad blends. Her seminar will include Asian greens as well as how to make garden additions for flavor and color.

October 29, 2011 — Designing with California Friendly Plants
Wendy Proud, landscape designer and horticulturist, will share her expertise on designing your landscape with California friendly plants. Great tips on creating beautiful natural settings that use less water.

November 5, 2011 – Gifts from the Garden
Join UCCE Master Gardeners for a presentation about herbs. Each attendee will assemble a three-plant herb pot which can be inserted into a pumpkin or basket to give as a holiday or hostess gift.

The Orange County Great Park is located at Sand Canyon and Marine Way, and can easily be reached by the 5 or 405 freeways. For more information, visit http://www.ocgp.org/events or call (866) 829-3829.

That’s it. Please visit us again for Sunday Zen, featuring beautiful photos of our garden blooms and Tuesday’s Tips, an assemblage of tips and recommendations to help you become a more effective and productive gardener.

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Durango, Colorado 

Irvine, California

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Or we might have titled this post “Why Bees Are So Important.”

In January the press reported that scientists had noticed a significant decline in bumblebee populations in the U.S. — first it was the honeybees that were disappearing and now it’s bumblebees too. Scientists are not sure why just yet, but one thing they can agree on is that this is not good news because bumblebees pollinate about 15% of all crops in the field — blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, squash and watermelon; and in the hothouse — tomatoes, strawberries and peppers.

And it’s not just the many different variety of bees (honeybees, bumbles, carpenter bees, mason bees, metallic sweat bees, leaf-cutter bees, ground-nesting bees, and various localized native bees) that pollinate flowers. There are many other creatures that do this work like ants, beetles, moths, flies, birds, butterflies, wasps, bats, and even a few mammals that transport pollen as they make their rounds.

Which is kind of the long way round to the question of problems with fruit set in squash, melons and cucumbers. Several people have asked why the flowers on squash and cucumber plants have been falling off. There are several reasons.

The first thing you should know is you might not have a problem. Squash, melons and cucumbers belong to the cucurbit family and they all have a unique flowering habit. Each plant bears male and female blossoms. The female blossom has a miniature fruit (ovary) at the base of the flower. Male blossoms don’t have this swelling. The male flower’s only job is to provide pollen to fertilize the ovary in the female flower and they depend on bees to do this. If the pollen isn’t transported from male to female flower fruit set will never happen.

Early flowers tend to be mostly male and these will fall off with no sign of fruit set. Not to worry, this is normal. On certain hybrid varieties of summer squash the early flowers are mostly females that don’t get fertilized and they will drop as well.

When the plants start producing both male and female flowers at the same time things should start clicking — unless there are no bees around. Cucurbits have sticky pollen and need bees to transport it from male to female flower. If your garden doesn’t have enough bees to pollinate the female flowers you will not get fruit.

In the absence of bees the only option is to hand pollinate. Get a small artist brush and pick up the yellow pollen that you will find inside the male flowers. Take the pollen-coated brush and paint it onto the stigma in the female flower. It is important to do this to only flowers that have just opened as they are only receptive for a single day.

It would be so much easier to have bees do the work! Without them crops will fail, plants won’t thrive, and we will be hard pressed to find solutions to this growing problem.

How can you help? Rule number one is to NEVER use pesticides in your garden. No matter how careful you are you will almost always kill at least a few bees. Rule number two is to create a garden that will sustain bees and all the creatures that help us grow food and the other plants we love. You can find tips on creating bee-friendly gardens in this post and by clicking some of the links on our resources page.

One last note, though we always recommend lots of mulch for your garden beds be sure to leave a few small areas bare for ground-nesting bees. Mulching is thought to be one of main reasons that this type of bee population is diminishing.

Save the bees!

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Mary Beth: This was my project last weekend for my raised vegetable beds.

I got this idea from the Sunset web site and it worked amazingly well. Ray and I modified the design a bit based on how I made the beds which are on a slope and are very irregularly shaped. When I made them I used rocks for the sides of the beds instead of lumber, but it actually turned out to be a perfect way to protect my crops.

Ray used 2 foot pieces of rebar for the stakes. We hammered the bars into the ground along the long sides of the tomato and squash beds and slipped the PVC pipe on each opposite pair creating a half hoop. Then I covered the hoops with plastic.

The plants seem to be responding well. I think the plastic covers over the squash and tomatoes are keeping them warm at night when our mountain temps get down to the low 50′s. Cool nights will slow them down, but by using hoops to retain the warmth it should extend the season so I can have veggies well into October and maybe even November.

I also put hoops on my cool-weather plant beds, but I covered these with netting to protect those crops from the birds.

This is one of those “Why did I take so long to do this?!”  projects.

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