02 December, 2021

Heirloom Seeds: Who Knows?

One day a couple of years ago, I found a medicine bottle on my desk with some seeds.  Plastic medicine bottles, not being recyclable (because of the former contents) are a favorite for some seed savers. I looked for a note, but didn't find one, there was nothing written on the bottle, just a tablespoon's worth of seeds.

At first, I took them to be sweet pea seeds, but on a closer look these were okra seeds - larger than sweet pea seeds and missing the light spot (the "hilum" or the characteristic "eye" on many bean and pea seeds).  OK, so I had a tablespoon of okra seeds.  No note, no label, no nothing....  This was late summer and I put them aside - I figured we'd just grow it out and figure out what it was from the final product.

That's where we started.  In spring, I started six plants - gave a few away to interested parties and kept three to grow out at the garden.  It was a pretty normal flower for an okra, so we had nothing to help us there.  The plants grew strong and healthy, there was nothing unusual about the plants.  And when we got the fruit, guess what!

Not the best shot, but you can see the okra seeds,
round, in the center, ready to roll away.

It was just okra.  It was a good producer, nice pods, lovely flower, no complaints.  But it was **just okra**.  There was nothing that made it look different from any other okra on the planet.  It wasn't Burgundy okra, which would have had some reddish tones, it wasn't Jing, which is orange, it wasn't particularly long enough to be Perkin's Long Pod Okra.

Just an ordinary, gonna be gumbo again, okra.

After a deep breath, not having a wide variety of okra in the Seed Library, I decided to add it to the inventory and the only name to use was "Don't Knowkra."  And that's how we came up with our okra selection, Don't Knowkra - it is a good producer but an entirely average okra in all respects.  If you like okra, you'll not miss with Don't Knowkra.

The seeds roll right out of the pod when completely ripe -
in the meantime, they make for a creative shaker
instrument for children of all ages.

The okra seed pods are very interesting in that they ripen over a fairly long period of time and, as the pods age, the seeds simply roll out the end of the pod, and being round and all like that, they roll away from the mother plant.

I intend to revisit these pods again and take some photos with a quarter in them to show the relative size.  I'm more interested in saving seeds than shooting them!


28 October, 2021



October 2021

Squash and Friends

By: Ali FitzGerald
The Squash and Friends garden was planted for reasons both practical and impractical. It was mid-June, late into summer for southern California planting I’d been told. So, I did some research and found possibilities and potential in squash.

Squash was appealing mainly for sentimental reasons. They remind me of my favorite season in New England, especially pumpkins. One October, in college, I wrote down every free-associative thought that came to my mind on a giant pumpkin that I kept on my kitchen table. Some visitors thought it was funny, others found it disturbing. A great win, in my opinion.

I've tried to grow pumpkins many times at my parents’ house. My Dad worked in the yard every Sunday. It was his ritual and in turn the yard was always beautiful. His ease in all things garden made me think growing pumpkins would be simple. The first year, I didn’t read the package and planted several seeds in a much too small raised bed. The long vines became tangled and everything died. The next year, in the same space, I planted fewer seeds. I got two small fruits that were quickly eaten by a rabbit. The same thing happened the following year, so I gave up. 

When Daren showed Zara and I how to plant summer squash seeds in a bowl made of soil, the Squash and Friends garden truly was born. This technique helped overcome problems of infrequent watering and aqua-phobic ground. The directly sown seeds germinated in abundance. Success felt good. I wanted to know that high again, so I bought more; honey boat delicata, blue hubbard, zucchini and howden pumpkin.

A pumpkin harvest seemed unattainable and unlikely. At the time, there wasn’t much space, but I’d wanted the seeds anyway. I planted a single seed - on my late father’s birthday. With love, in memory, I marked it with an orange flag and checked on it weekly, afraid to get too attached. As Summer progressed, we added volunteer squash from compost and other “friends”;  zinnias, sunflowers, marigolds, tomatoes. They all grew around what became my lil pumpkin prodigy. I’ve been told it’s the biggest The Learning Garden has ever seen. I’m not much of a gardener really - it couldn’t have grown alone.

The Cool California Food

By: David King, Garden Master
Lettuce, the ubiquitous plant that is the main salad plant for most of the world, continues to play the starring role in salads with an abundance of colors and leaf shapes. For a few hundred years, lettuce has been slowly turned loose from it's plain leaf style and now the selections of lettuce are mind-boggling in their varieties of color and form; from red leaves that astound to soft leaves that do not crunch, from sweet tasting crunches to brilliant reds, some flashing like roses and others more maroon that anchor the lettuce on the plate.
Lettuce is easily grown – in cool weather. The plants are not pleased with heat, so Southern Californians tend to plant their lettuce seeds in Fall and continue to plant a few more here and there to keep it in supply, the warmer the weather the shorter their life-time. I like to plant a short row every other week – barely getting any soil at all on the rather tiny seeds – they need to be kept moist. In a heat wave, shelter your lettuce plants to keep them from bolting (prematurely breaking into flowers, after which they are no longer sweet crunchies, but tougher and not nearly as tasty. In the warmer months, put your lettuce in some shade; in the cooler months place them in places where you can protect them from our common sudden heat waves.
Some lettuce varieties that I enjoy include (the number is the supposed “day to maturity which often has nothing to do with reality.)

* Lolla Rossa (53) Little lettuce heads, ruby red that fades to a light green.
* New Red Fire (45) slow to bolt, a light red, a lot of variable colors and crunchy. 
* Merveille de Quatre Saisons (49) do yourself a favor and grow some of this French named lettuce that becomes the star of the garden and the salad plate

All of the proceeding varieties were from Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog, www.superseeds.com

Volunteer Opportunities

There is nothing better than working outdoors in a developing garden!  Bring your gloves, drinking water, gardening shoes and mask! 
Saturdays & Sundays
12 P.M. - 3 P.M.
Walgrove Ave

Ask The Garden Master

Send in your gardening questions to the Garden Master and check out David's answers here in our newsletter interview series.
Submit a Question >

17 April, 2021

Grafting in a Pinch

 The Benefits of Grafting

To get plants to productivity sooner

A better tasting, or better producing fruit tree

Contain a too-large plant by using dwarfing rootstock

Use a resilient rootstock in a soil that otherwise could not

To put two varieties of the same fruit on one tree

Books about Grafting

Reference material:

The Grafters Handbook – Not easy to read, not easy to find and when found it will cost as much as $300! However, if you run across one of these that doesn't cost $300, grab it. It has been THE manual for a very long time and it is the only book that covers ALL – not just the popular – grafts. The information in this book is going to be lost soon.

The Home Orchard, UCANR – one of the very best books that includes notes on grafting, but presents caring for home orchards. A truly well-written book, impeccable in it's presentation and incomparable in the breadth and depth of grafting. Wonderfully written.

A Grafting Glossary

Adventitious - said of buds, shoots or roots arising out of order; not initiated by apical meristems

Apical Meristem -the growth region in plants found within the root tips and the tips of the new shoots and leaves, a mature cork cell is non-living and has cell  walls that are composed of a waxy substance that is highly impermeable to gases and water

Bark – the outer layers of the rind, consisting largely of cork, serving to protect the inner rind and cambium. See rind.

Bud – to insert an eye, or bud, when bud-grafting

Bud grafting – grafting with an single eye or bud, detached from a shoot along with a portion of rind and, in some cases a small slice of the wood

Callus – healing tissue arising from the cambium at wounds

Cambium – the layer of meristematic tissue between the wood and the rind from which further elements of both develop

Clone – vegetative progeny of one plant

Compatible – said of plants which when grafted together form a good, sound and permanent union

Cultivar – internationally agreed technical term for what, in English, is known as a variety .

Eye – a single bud or group of buds

Graft – where the scion meets the stock, the completed operation of grafting, the union, a term often wrongly used for scion

Graft – to prepare and place together plant parts so that they may grow together

Incompatible – said of plants which when garfted together fail to form a lasting union

Meristem – tissue capable of growth, either primary from which new organs develop (primordial of leaves, stems, roots) or secondary, by which special tissues (cambium, phellogen)

Meristematic – pertaining to meristems

Mother Tree – a tree selected as a source of scions, cuttings or seed

Petiole – leaf-stalk

Phellogen – meristematic cork producing tissue in the outer region of the rind

Rind – all the tissues external to the woody core of stems and roots, often termed bark

Rootstock – root-bearing plant on which the scion is grafted.

Scion – part of plant used for grafting upon the stock plant

Tissue – the substance, structure or texture of which the plant body, or any organ of it, is composed

Xylem – botanical name for wood

Safety First!

Before you begin to graft, think about your safety first. The knives you are working with are – or should be – very sharp. Keep that thought first in your mind. Always cut away from yourself, never towards yourself – this is the root of most accidents. We are trying to get a knife through some stubborn material and without a second thought, turn the knife towards our fingers without even thinking. Know where the first aid kit is and, if necessary, the closest emergency room.

Grafting Tools/Supplies

Essential Tools:

1 Knife exclusively for grafting cuts, many sizes and shapes, don't go cheap on this knife.

A means to sharpen that knife at the bench or in the wild (of course you could have two knives, one for bench work and one for field work, the only concern is that you have the means to keep them sharp!)

Sharpening devices – whatever cranks your tractor and helps you keep your blades sharp (you are more likely to be injured by a dull blade than a sharp one)

Some way to make the graft stable – Parafilm is the hot tip! Rubber bands are a pain

A small first aid kit. I am serious. And brush up on your ability to do first aid.

In teaching grafting, it proved important to keep students in pairs. Person A watches as Person B works with the knife and they switch. For your first few grafts, have a friend or fellow student watch you and then switch and you watch them.

25 July, 2020

With Apologies

I have been absent for a good many months here. I apologize. We are all living through "interesting times" and it has taken a toll on many of us, I am no different.

I lost my precious Scottish Terrier, Mr Tre, in May and was already doing poorly, suffering from the effects of the pandemic - masks, no hugs, no hanging out with friends. And, not to put too fine a point on it, there was no baseball when the season ought to have started. It was so very difficult with everything being distanced and masks and excessive hand washing. It took me a long time to get in with it all, even though I was one of the early mask adopters. And no hugs when Tre made it apparent he would not make it through the month was agonizing.

It felt as though I had been flung of a sudden to a different planet where everything was topsy turvey to where it had been before. My writing has suffered and my teaching has suffered. I'm on a brutal pace to learn Zoom in all its intricacies and obfuscations; gone are the days where I could size up a program and learn it on the fly; today's programs are much smarter than I am.

So I am returning at last to my blog, I feel like I can write again. And I'm sorry to have missed a great garden season with you. I hope you have been able to look in the archives to follow along on my schedule because it's a routine every year. As I go along, I add stuff and puff up points that seem more relevant today than they did in say 2009 or something like that.

I promise to make a concerted effort to keep you informed and entertained and not drop off the planet. The Dodgers play their 3rd game of a truncated season today and that helps a lot. I have a new dog on the way that I can goosh over and photograph to his annoyance.

I allowed ads on my blog to beef up my income a little and when I opened it today, I was met with a huge ad from the NRA and another equally nefarious organization.

And so life goes on. I will have some postings on The Learning Garden and SLOLA as well as current topics in gardening. If you have questions you would like answered, hit the reply button below and I hope to steward my blog more judiciously in the coming months and growing seasons.


August – Are We Hot Enough Yet?

No longer is August the month of the hammock and the cold drink in the shade – not since I realized that how much you preserve of your harvest makes a huge difference in how well you can eat from your garden over the long haul. When harvest season is in full swing, like it is right now, dealing with the abundance is the major focus of the home gardener.

There are several ways to deal with fresh produce that will allow you to eat from your garden long after the heat of August is gone. You can dry the produce. This is the easiest way. Beans are simply left on the plant until the pods are crispy and ready to drop their seeds on the ground – yes! Those inner beans ARE the seeds! How easy can you get? Gather them up and lay them in a dry, location out of direct sunlight and splashes of water to dry for a couple of days. In Southern California that should do nicely in short order. Putting them away with too much moisture might result in moldy beans by the time you want to cook with them; to ensure they are dry, whack one with a hammer, if it is dry it will shatter. Once you have beans that shatter and not splat, give them a quick two day stint in the freezer to kill any larvae that might be lingering and then seal them up tightly in a glass jar, keeping them cool and dry until time to cook or plant! Double duty beans!

Other fleshy things can be dried in a dehydrator. If you grow to store a lot for the months ahead, consider a dehydrator – these contraptions will take care of an over-abundance in very short order. Not only does drying shrink the size of a lot of what you store, it is a type of storage that depends no power to keep the food from spoilage, making the food wonderful for emergencies and camping trips as well as a regular addition to your daily fare. And while you can use dehydrators on beans, I'd suggest not doing that. The bean seeds will dry plenty fast enough in SoCal without tempting fate with overheating in a dehydrator.

A lot of the food we eat came from humans finding different ways to store food in the days before dependable refrigeration. Cheeses, ciders, beers and wines to name but a few of the ways humans have preserved food through the centuries. And each culture has its own methods and processes to accomplish this. Most of these preservation techniques are held in high esteem in the cultures that created them

What else can you do with all this produce?

Pickling is easy and doesn't require a degree in food processing. Using what is known as the “hot water bath” process, you can make pickles of all sorts as well as jams and jellies from the sweeter produce. Pickling relies on vinegar (acidity) to prevent organisms from ruining your food while jams and jellies use sugar for the most part. You don't need a pressure cooker and while most folks use a dedicated canning pot, it is not essential. Last year, we had a very successful pickling class making Spicy Pickled Carrots. It was fun for all and all the students got to go home with a delicious jar of spicy carrots which was more fun to make than real work!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention all the fermentation going on these days! This is a throwback to what I mentioned above – mankind has had many ways to preserve the harvest before modern appliances. It seems like you can ferment everything including the kitchen sink. Exploring this phenomena is on my to do list and I'll get back to you soon with a report!

Canning – without adding sugar or vinegar, preserving the harvest becomes much more involved process and including owning, or borrowing, a pressure cooker and learning how to work it. It is not nearly the same as pickling or making jam. If you want to keep food that is not sweetened or pickled, you have to learn how to use one of these pressure cookers. While uncommon today, in my youth many families had pressure cookers and used them year in and year out. We 'put by' quarts and quarts of green beans and corn to be able to enjoy something to eat when the ground was frozen solid. Get a good book on canning and pickling and discover this whole different world you've missed and save a lot more of your garden!

The final option is freezing. In many ways, freezing is the easiest method, but it is also rather fragile in that one power outage could loose you the whole lot. By the way, here's a tip I learned to know if your freezer has been without power too long – even if you were away when the power outage hit: take a small container, small cup or bowl, that will hold about a half cup of water. Freeze it. Now, lay a coin on top of the frozen water. If you open your freezer and the coin is no longer on top, you know there has been a power outage and the contents of the freezer are suspect. Inspect everything thoroughly and even if you don't detect spoilage, you might consider tossing the lot if the coin was at the bottom of the ice. Since I've started using this, I've had no chance, thank God, to test it!

Freezing has it's upsides too! Got a couple hundred extra tomatoes? Easy peasy! Slice 'em in half and core them about a dozen at a time. Set into a low pan coated with olive oil. If you have some garlic, chop that up and sprinkle over the tomatoes with some olive oil, salt and pepper. You can add what you might have on hand, parsley, cilantro, oregano, basil – whatever cranks your tractor. Roast in the oven until tomatoes are looking a little blasted. Allow to cool. Put in the blender and whiz 'em for a short time. Measure out the whizzings into plastic bags of two cups of sauce each, more if you have a large family. Toss in the fridge. Use different recipes each time you do this – different ingredients/spices. Use these throughout the winter to sauce pizzas, sauce for pasta and so on.

Beyond these suggestions, let me make a radical proposition: If you have more than you can use, share it with your neighbors and friends. That's yet another way you can “extend the harvest.” With the amount of food wasted worldwide estimated to be 40% of all food grown, let's not add to that figure.

Planting in August – for most the month, at least – is dicey. The weather can be hot and vile – this year we have humidity so it feels a lot like the mid-west. The plants suffer from the unrepentant sun, and watering is almost useless. Large leaved plants will even wilt with enough water in the soil because they cannot pump enough water in from their roots. Wilting reduces the amount of leaf surface that get sunshine diminishing the amount of water left. There are two wilting points: The first is just the wilting point and the plant recovers overnight by pumping in water from the ground. The second is the Permanent Wilting Point. Guess what that means? Try to not freak out at the first and try to never come close to the second.

Which brings to mind – if you have to use extra hand cream, or you are drinking extra water, think about how your plants feel! Give them some too. If you are bad about self-care but you are watering your garden extra, maybe you should drink more fluids too – like water. Non-alcoholic water.

Use an 18 inch stake (available at almost any garden store) and a black plastic flat. Place the flat on the south side of the plant and prop it up with the stake – as in the photograph.
Starting seeds in the garden or setting out transplants can work better if you try this little trick – use an 18 inch stake (available at almost any garden store) and a black plastic flat. Place the flat on the south side of the plant and prop it up with the stake – as in the photograph. This is a transport flat with fairly large holes, a propagation flat with much smaller holes provides much more protection, sometimes too much. Leave this setup until the heat wave abates or until the plant has the stamina to make it without the shade.

Remember to consider how long your new plant is going to take to fruit. Will it still be warm enough to set a crop? Right now in August, I would plant only a very few varieties of tomatoes because most will begin to flower in late November. Yes, I know there are warm days in November, but how many? Can you count on enough warm days to get tomatoes from pollination to ripe before the cool nights cause it to rot on the plant? I think that's a poor bet. Instead, I think we should try to get cool season crops in before they really like to be set out. You could also grow a quick summer crops like beans.

Mind you, I'm not saying you can't. I am saying it's a gamble. How much space do you have for gambling? I mean more than just the normal gamble of trying to grow food in a normal world.... (Note: I'm a gambler and I gamble a lot more than I admit to. There are times when something is just too good to pass up!)

August is the time to contemplate the fall and winter garden; in addition to the stuff above, I'll plant seeds of artichokes (a perennial).

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers




Fava beans



Refer to the text for exact dates.

Figs On the Grill

This is only a 'recipe' in the loosest sense of the word, but it's worth your attention. Gardener's in the Mediterranean Climate should be seeing figs getting ripe right now or soon. Pick figs that are soft to the touch and slice in half. Put face down on a grill until warm, flip over and warm on the back side as well – you are not trying to 'cook' them so don't overdue it. Just leave them long enough to heat throughout.

Remove from the grill, put a dollop of a good stout, plain yogurt (I like to find yogurt labeled 'Greek') on top of each slice. Drizzle with honey.

It will taste so good, stand carefully to avoid falling over.

03 April, 2020

Our Gardens In April!

The summer garden's plants are in their little starter pots right now (vaguely reminiscent of training wheels on a bicycle) really begging to be transplanted into the earth. Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, the stalwarts of our summer garden are almost ready to hit the big time. In some years, it's too cool until after your taxes are done, but in many others, heed their pleas and put them out sooner.

It seems the crops most of us think the 'value crops' are the summer crops of the Southern California garden. Back in March, I sowed a couple of short rows of purple snap beans, so I have some lovely little summer plants already up in the garden, about five inches promising the goodies to come. Some folks swear they are 'purple green beans, ' but that seems a little goofy to me. They aren't green, they're purple – until you cook them; when they are cooked to a delicious al dente 'done,' then they become a deep luscious green. It's a perfect veggie for someone learning how to not overcook vegetables.

They are good, but in my book, they aren't the real deal of the bean world. In April, we put out the main crop of snap beans. It's pretty common to plant green beans, including, Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, Romano and others, either as a pole bean or a bush bean. Pole beans need something to climb on and tend to produce more beans over the entire season. If you want to eat your beans freshly picked at a number of meals over the season, pole beans are your bet. If you plan on pickling, canning or freezing a bunch of beans for the cooler months, bush beans with their tendency to put on all their crop in the space of three or four good pickings will be the ones you go for.

I plant a lot of bush beans for drying – the plants stay in the garden until they are withered brown stalks with the bean pods still on them, until the beans begin to fall out from the dried pods. Then I pick them.

I like to plant yellow beans, also called 'wax' beans. I hated yellow beans as a kid, mainly because they were different and I never saw them for sale in the grocery store; I didn't want to eat anything that wasn't 'normal.' As far as I can determine, this is the only instance of conformity I've ever committed. Now that I am an adult, I've come to love the yellow beans, especially when pickled. The yellow ones are like 'sunshine in a jar' that I can put on sandwiches and in salads all year long. Yum! I look for Pencil Pod or Carson, both of which are straight, delicious and good croppers. When it comes to pickling or canning, you only have to pack one jar with beans to appreciate the importance of a quality like 'straight!'

In all of this, I don't want to miss noting that I did an experiment a few years back putting a row of Romano beans up against Kentucky Wonder which had been my standard for a good many years. Romano won hands down so hard I've not planted Kentucky Wonder or any of the round green beans since! Some folks don't care for the taste of Romanos, but I find them as delicious as any bean I've ever had. And they are 'meatier' and, for my money, more productive over a longer period of time.

For something a little different, plant Dragon Langerie, a Dutch variety that has purple stripes down the large flat yellow bean. They can be quite large and still tasty. And showy! Or, Scarlet Runner beans. What a showy vegetable! First they have a bright red (scarlet, get it?) flower. The green beans can get what large, about ¾ inch across, and up to 12 inches long! Even at that stage they have a crunchy deliciousness that the size belies. After getting a little tough after a while, you can pick them and shell out the soft bean seeds – called 'shelly beans' in the south – and cook with a little butter. If you wait a bit longer, the seeds get hard and you have a dried soup bean – all this production in a plant you would be proud to put on a trellis at your front door! I didn't even tell you that the seeds are a brilliant purple splashed with black – this is one of the stand out plants of the bean world. Can you guess if I'll grow it again this year?

In the first half of the month, start planting beans, green, yellow and purple of all varieties, directly in the garden, I don't bother with transplanting from beans in starter packs, it's a lot more work for a very dubious gain. You can put out any bean from tax day on, but I usually wait yet another month for the beans I want to dry, like the famous Italian Cannelini, American Cranberry Bean or Black Turtle. I want these to ripen when the garden is basking in the dry heat of late summer/early fall. There are a lot of drying beans, but a gardener of a small plot can be forgiven if they pass on many dried beans – it can take a bit of space to get a decent crop. For the best drying bean selections look into Native Seed/SEARCH in Arizona or Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa.

Don't forget Lima beans! These big meaty bean seeds are really a winner in soups and stews. The climbing Lima bean variety “Christmas” is perennial in our climate and produces loads of red and white (the reason for calling it “Christmas” I believe) year in and year out. These vigorous vines demand to be put on a really sturdy fence – they will pull down anything less (as I can attest). If you can only afford one or two plants, they'll still make it worth your while. Keep them picked – it can be a bit of a chore to keep after them.
About the same time you are putting your green and yellow beans into the garden, set out a couple cucumbers. I like Armenian and Japanese cucumbers,each of which have the same mild flavor and awesome crunch, even though they couldn't look any more different! The Armenian cucumbers are a light green almost bordering on yellow, with smooth skin covering a straight fat cucumber while the Japanese are a very dark green, with massive prickles on a furrowed and absolutely convoluted twisty narrow cucumber. Both are delicious. The Japanese cucumber will bear over a longer period but there is much more eating on each Armenian cuke, so it probably ends up with both being about the same. Give them plenty of room! If your garden is small, make these gangly fellows climb a fence, a trellis or something up versus over the ground – and your other plants – which they will do with impunity!

At some point, everyone is tempted by the Lemon cucumber. This is an heirloom that looks so cute in catalogs. I have grown it several times and each time I've found myself asking, “Why?” It's not all that good, it's a labor to peel (five Lemon cukes equal less food than one Armenian or Japanese) and the vines can engulf a small home! OK, that's a bit much, but I've seen it cover a ten by ten foot garden bed without looking back. And it does produce well, but not like some of the more traditional cukes. Too much labor per bite. That should be a veggie growing matrix: Labor Per Bite; the LPB is too high.

The beans and cucumbers aren't all we are planting out right now. I haven't even mentioned later in the month! After the taxes are in, set out growing plants of peppers, eggplants, okra, melons, zucchini, summer squashes and tomatillos. Sow seeds of corn directly where they will grow. Pumpkins are a winter squash and all those hard skinned squashes should go out in May or so. They are really heat lovers. And demand space or something on which to climb!

You say you want pumpkins for Halloween? Check the packet for the days to harvest. On the coast, we need to add almost a month to that which means you need to get them in sooner rather than later. You can skip the 'add a month' part, if you are more inland; but a pumpkin that is ripe before you need it, will keep. A pumpkin that isn't ripe until Thanksgiving can't be transformed into a Jack o' Lantern until the last minute because it will rot very quickly. “Early” really is more better than late in this case. And your dates to harvest could be slowed down if we get a heavy dose of June Gloom on the coast making that extra month essential. Without June gloom, you don't have to add that month.

Peppers and eggplants are easily grown once it has warmed up. They usually get about 3½' tall and need about 18” between plants. As with most vegetables, you need to give them all the sun you can. You can also try growing some lettuce in the shade of larger plants. Lettuce dislikes heat, but I like tomatoes and lettuce (my annual BLT) at the same time and it's easier trying to get lettuce in summer than tomatoes in winter.

I love peppers but I hate eggplant. Both however, are beautiful additions to every garden, I grow eggplant as an ornamental and give the produce to someone who cares to eat it. Peppers come in a wild variety of colors – all start green and eventually change to whatever color they want to be – every green pepper you've ever eaten would have turned to some other color if we'd only practiced more patience. I like Anaheim, Early Jalapeno and Corno di Torno (Italian for 'Horn of the Bull') for warmer peppers and Cubanelle, Sweet Banana and Marconi for a sweet pepper. Eggplants can be Asian or Italian – I like the Italian Listada de Gandia or Rosa Bianca, primarily because they are very good looking in the garden. I have no intention of eating them. There are deep purple ones (almost black) and white ones as well as Turkish Orange and green eggplants. Very pretty.

Okra can be planted late in April/early May. Clemson's Spineless, Burgundy, Annie Oakley, and Star of David all are prolific producers. Put on a pot of gumbo in late summer! I'll eat 'em if I don't see 'em. There is a red variety called 'Burgandy' which is stunning! All okras, being mallow family members, have wonderful flowers and are stunning in the garden. I have been feeling better about okra as edible lately.

Not enough has been said yet about basil, but Genovese basil is the best in my book. Not just good production, but wonderful aroma and the taste is incomparable. Pinch the tips of each branch as flower buds begin to form all summer to keep it producing – once there are two pair of leaves on a stem, that stem will commence to flower. Pick the flowers before they have set seed, use them in cooking or making salads. Once the seeds begin to mature, the plant begins the process of dying. If you keep it well picked, the plant gets bushier and bushier and you get a lot more basil from each plant. Throw the pickings in soup, salads or directly in your mouth! It's a win/win type of situation.

Sweet corn is another delight of the summer garden. It is a little tricky to grow in our small gardens though. Corn, like all the cereal grains, is wind pollinated. However, unlike the other grains, corn has male and female flowers. The tassels atop the plant are the 'boy' flowers and the silks on the ear are the 'girl' flowers. The tassels produce loads of pollen that must reach the silks to fertilize them and create the corn seeds. This is hard to do if you don't have a lot of corn plants with pollen to blow onto the silks. It is best to plant corn as a block of plants rather than long rows. There needs to be a critical mass of male flowers to produce pollen to fall on the silks. You can shake the flowering corn stalks to cause the pollen to fall down and assist in corn sex if you're the adventurous type. Play some seductive music. “Was it good for you too?”

If you've ever eaten an ear of corn and found a spot where there was a space instead of a kernel, that shows that one silk was not pollinated: every kernel has its very own silk. To get a fully populated ear of corn, every individual silk must be fertilized.

Also at this time, you will put out plants of zucchini and soon afterwards, so-called 'Winter Squash.' Zucchini and the yellow crookneck squashes with soft skin are called Summer Squash because they are eaten in summer; while the hard rinds of squashes and pumpkins can be saved to be eaten in the cold (read 'non-gardening') months of winter. I usually set a plant or two of summer squash in the garden and plant seeds of the winter varieties. Both can be put out by seeds or by transplant, it's just the habit I've gotten into. Zucchini and summer squashes can be large leaved plants that don't ramble a lot, but get quite large. Winter squashes and pumpkins ramble everywhere – the larger the fruit, the larger the leaves and the greater potential with smashing other, not as large, veggies. Winter squashes resemble cucumbers in this way, except that cucumbers are more delicate than squash.

If you have an unused trellis, consider one of the climbing summer squashes like Zuchetta Trombonicino Squash. There are others with similar habits – but you'll have to grow them from seed! Check the seed catalogs for a description that matches this one. The fruit on these plants can get to be three or more feet long and when they are hanging down from a trellis they create a magical experience for children and the childlike as they walk between the hanging fruit – and mighty good eating too! Keep them picked and plan on having these gorgeous soft squashes to share with friends and neighbors. My catalog says they 'may be grown on a pretty strong trellis” and I would say that's just a bit understated. In our small gardens, growing these plants on the ground will take up too much of your gardening real estate and if you try a wimpy trellis, you'll get the plants growing on the ground as well, among the shattered parts of the wimpy trellis!

There is little hope of April showers in our area, although they are not unheard of. In many years, one or two will show up, although they don't usually provide us with much rain. Get your garden beds mulched as soon as you can. A lack of mulching will allow that water to evaporate and you will need to water all that much more. Add mulch to about three inches deep – don't cover your plants or freshly sown seeds, but all over the spaces between plants. And as plants get larger, add mulch around them. It will save you in weeding later on, the roots of plants will feel better and the critters in the soil are all much more happy!

It might seem early, but begin to think about saving seeds from some of the plants you put out now. Beans are easy in this regard, as are tomatoes and lettuce. Especially if you start your planting off with saving seed in mind. And it is NOT too early to think about seed saving; lets take a moment to think what you would need to do to save the seeds from some of the plants in your garden. Look elsewhere in this blog to find much more on seed saving! 

Saving seeds from year to year only needs a little extra attention in what you already do and a little more record keeping so you can say 'this came from that and not from that' with assurance. This little effort will enrich your gardening in unexpected ways. The season I started to plant my garden with the intention of saving seeds for the future, both my garden and myself were changed in ways I did not anticipate. I have heard other folks describe a similar phenomena once they became parents – the future has new meaning and new importance and weight. In addition, I became more intimate with the phenomena of life that exists in the garden, feeding on the flowers and the seeds that I allowed to flourish. I don't, as I've said, use any pesticides in my garden and depend on a multitude of insects in the garden as my 'pest control.'

Plant beans apart from one another, at least a few feet with something taller growing between them. Although science says there is little chance of cross pollination between beans, their research is done in insecticide-soaked research plots. In your organic garden, you can get some crossing so planting your different varieties somewhat apart with something tall between them will help keep the beans self pollinated so they remain the same bean year after year. (The bean remains the same.) Designate a couple of plants from the beginning to be seed producers and mark them with some colored flags or colored tape found in hardware stores (this 'tape' is a lighter version non-sticky flagging tape, like a light version of 'Police Line – Do Not Cross' seen at crime scenes), buy a couple of colors to use for different purposes. Chose a plants of early, middle and late production. Chose plants with qualities you like (production, disease resistance or straight beans) if you want to carry those qualities forward. Tie the tape securely around the plants you will save for seed. Simply let the plant make beans and leave them on the plant until the pod is drying out. Gather in the dried up plants and allow to dry in as cool a place as you can find until they are really dry.

To insure there are no insects in the beans, put them in the freezer for a few days once they are dry enough (hit one with a hammer – if it shatters, it's dry enough!), pull them out, allow the condensation to disappear and put them into jars with extra head room (air space above the beans) and store them in a dark, cool place until needed to eat or to replant.

Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are a little more demanding because they produce over the whole summer, or at least that's what we hope for. They are mostly self-fertile, so if you're saving seed for yourself only, you might find it acceptable to have two plants of each flowering at the same time. If you plan on sharing the seed with others who might not have the same forgiveness gene as yourself, you'll need more rigor. I had a handyman build me a couple of frames that cover a typical eggplant or pepper. These frames are of 1 x 2 wood on to which I can staple some porous fabric, called 'spun fabric' or 'row covers' – sometimes you'll see the brand names Remay or Agri-Grow. This fabric allows air, water and sunlight to pass but no insects – in fact it is used over rows of plants like cabbage to protect the plants from the cabbage moth. It is rather inexpensive and can be used for more than one year. Just make sure the bottom of the fabric has solid continuous contact with the soil The frames should be good for several years especially if you coat them with linseed oil.

Start with these easy to save seeds – on down the road, you can learn to save seeds from the more demanding plants like squashes and cucumbers. Both of those are more promiscuous than any animal ever thought to be and are pollinated by bees. To get pure seed from them requires to manage their sex life and that can be really demanding.

Or corn, beets and chard which are wind pollinated. In fact, is is because they are wind pollinated that many folks are upset with genetically modified organisms grown indiscriminantly in America's fields. The pollen from GMO plants can easily be blown into non-GMO cropland contaminating those plants with the genetically modified material. The wind blown pollen has created a scarcity of corn varieties that are NOT contaminated with this unproven, and largely unwelcome, tehcnology.

Once you find yourself saving seed, you'll really feel a connection to your forefathers and foremothers! They saved seed all the time because it was their only source for seed other than neighbors – and I'm sure that sharing their seeds was one of the annual highlights of the community. It can become a part of your annual harvest festivals, of which Thanksgiving is the ultimate.
Boy are we busy this month! Don't worry. If you fail to get everything done, you can keep at it for the first two weeks of May. There is no need to rush in Southern California. Our climate forgives us for being too early or too late most of the time, so you can go wrong, but you have to work at it pretty hard.

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
Winter squash
More basil, if needed
Beans of all kinds mentioned in the text
More summer squash, if needed
Squash (some folks prefer this to staring in containers)
Summer Squash


Refer to the text for exact dates.

It is with trepidation I share the following recipe: I have often thought I need to enter this in the county fair because it is a winner for those of us who love rhubarb pie – you cannot find a decent one made commercially, that's for sure. A rhubarb pie cannot be made with a ton of sugar that covers the tartness of the rhubarb. This is a single-male modified Martha Stewart recipe and it is delicious.

I have not mastered making pie crust as of this writing – that is the only reason I have not sought a ribbon with this pie: it seems unfair to buy a crust for a pie that will be judged. I intend to learn how to make a good crust and then, look out! The blue ribbon will be mine!

David King's Most Beautifully Delicious Rhubarb Pie!

2 double pie crusts
2½ pounds fresh rhubarb, cut into ½ inch pieces, or 2 20 ounce packages of frozen rhubarb, thawed and drained (I have never used frozen rhubarb, it was in the original recipe however)
1 cup sugar, or to taste
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Juice and grated zest of 1 bright-skinned orange

Preheat the oven to 350 ° F

Cut the rhubarb into pieces to fill your pie crust. Combine all ingredients except rhubarb in bowl. Spoon this mixture over the rhubarb as evenly as you can over the rhubarb – the act of baking will take care of the distribution of the sauce.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes, until the filling has bubbled and thickened. Let cool on a rack before serving.

Makes one large or two smaller pies.