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17 February, 2010

The Garden in February, Part I

Summer's harvest from two years ago include these gorgeous peppers (what did I plant?) and San Marzano tomatoes. Both were prolific and delicious. When summer is over, I don't want to touch another tomato, but by February, I'm getting geared up for a fresh BLT!

The short days of winter are getting perceptibly longer. We are half way to the Spring Equinox, which is half way to the Summer Solstice. These dates became important in an agrarian culture and as one gets more involved in gardening, it is easy to see the reasons that these dates were important to people dependent on knowing what to do and when to do to when their garden produce was necessary to stay alive.

Valentines' Day is my traditional weekend for starting my tomato crop for the coming year. One method I have done in the past was to use fluorescent tubes about 6 inches above the pots for the beginnings of tomatoes – I have also started them outside with a heating mat to keep the soil warm; with enough sun that works well enough. Peppers and eggplant are started about 2 weeks later. As seedlings, they cannot be allowed to dry out and they must be protected from predation, it doesn't take even a small critter many bites to entirely remove a plant less than an inch tall. More on the seed starting indoors shortly. Wait until late March before starting squashes (Summer and Winter squashes both), but cucumbers should be started towards the end of February.
February starts me thinking “baseball,” which will be right around the corner. (“Wait until next year”, is the universal call among gardeners and baseball players everywhere!) Dodger Spring training in Arizona starts next month and I'll begin again to get to know who's with us and who's been traded and look at our chances for the year. Win or lose, I’ll be out in my garden soon, radio in hand. Something about that baseball optimism that dovetails nicely with my gardening optimism. You don’t have to “think baseball”, but I do and it lifts my spirit in this slight lull before the summer garden kicks off. It's one of my traditions.

With any amount of luck, this is our rainiest month. That means we won’t need to be watering too much. I have more or less permanently built up beds with paths between them, so walking through a wet garden isn’t that big of a deal. If your garden isn’t laid out like that, take care not to walk through your garden when it’s thoroughly soaked. Your footprints will compact the soil and cause needless grief later when the soil has dried out. Especially in clay soil.

February is the last month we will want to prune dormant fruit trees. One cannot plan that they won’t have broken dormancy any later than this. See flowers? Or leaves? That’s “broken dormancy” in a nutshell, the sap is running inside the tree and pruning after that drains more of the tree's vitality – mind you pruning late won’t kill your tree, some folks do this kind of pruning regularly – it’s my preference to do my pruning with the least harm to the tree and for me, that means before the sap begins to run and that means December or January in a Zone 24 climate. I have learned over the last few years that my nectarine and peach trees break dormancy first and I need to consider pruning them in late November/early December. But I've proven that procrastination has its benefits! I find I can use the flowering branches for bouquets and I've got no shortage of nectarines! I'm thinning that tree incessantly, even with a hard pruning. So, my lateness hasn't stopped that tree from producing!

Don’t forget to deal with slugs and snails. In these wet, cooler months, these destructive little mollusks multiply with alarming proficiency and present huge problems. You can't get rid of them forever, they are migratory, so even if you could rid yourself of every single one in your garden on Tuesday, you'd have a whole new supply by Friday coming in from next door. And more on Saturday. It can be a discouraging thought! However, the only real way to deal with these transients is persistent effort. You deal with today's snails today and leave tomorrow's snails to tomorrow. Sounds like something I heard before, maybe it was in a yoga class?

Some gardeners keep a five gallon bucket on hand with soapy water in it (one of those plastic buckets you see in a hardware store's paint department – cheap and rust free) and drop the critters in for a quick death. Others put a board down with one end slightly raised. Slugs and snails will congregate there and can be simply crushed. Good for the soil. A fairly new product, 'Escar-go' is on the market and is non-toxic to mammals (you, your children and dogs and cats etc), and is actually beneficial to the soil. Slugs and snails eat it and die. Probably not as humane as crushing them, but more acceptable in polite society.

No matter what you do, you will probably always have problems with snails and slugs in our climate unless you are fortunate to have a possum on hand. These homely members of the rat family (look at their tail) consume slugs (mostly) and will resort to snails if hungry enough. I am fortunate in The Learning Garden to be blessed with a possum or two that have negated any need to bait or board for snails and slugs. I also avoid growing the Oriental cabbages and greens (sheer delight for snails as slugs) and savoy cabbage; slugs, more so than snails, love to live in between the crinkles in these plants and it can take gallons of water and lots of time to remove all that extra protein from dinner before you serve it (I have always found 'after' you serve it to be just a tad undesirable!)

Broccoli is being harvested, along with cauliflower, cabbage, peas, scallions, carrots, radishes, beets, new potatoes, chard, kale, and lettuces by the bushel. The garden looks stellar at this time of year, it is bursting with produce of deep green, blue green, punctuated with red and yellow (chard) flags. Heads of broccoli and cabbage show off their refulgent harvest, while the tops of carrots and beets peek out from their cool soil homes. Peas hang delightfully from those bright green plants, with colorful poppies in outrageous bloom and the honey scent of sweet pea flowers in their lovely pastel colors wafts on cool breezes across the garden. Freesias begin to bloom (and that's another heady scent!) with narcissus blooms showing off as well.

Don't stop planting lettuce, I will continue to start seeds of lettuce right up through May. I have it easy being so close to the Pacific Ocean – here, cool season plantings can stretch through all months except late July through late September. Warm season crops aren't nearly so flexible because our night temperatures don't get all that high – the soil is cool and never gets warmed up enough for the summer crops until July through October.

The real summer garden begins to take shape next month... but you can start seeds for it now, if you have a protected place to sow the seeds. You don't need a greenhouse or a cold frame, though both of these do help. It is possible to start seeds in an apartment on the 2nd floor without any decent balcony space. I did it for a good many years as I bounced from tiny apartment to tiny apartment.

david

15 February, 2010

Plants To Use for An Attractive Vegetable Garden and How To Use Them


Plants You Can Use As Edging


Arugula
Beets
Carrots
Johnny-jump-ups
Marjoram
Mint (p)
Nasturtium
Oregano (p)
Parsley
Radishes
Sorrel (p)
Spinach
Strawberries (p)
Thyme (p)
Turnips
Violets



Plants for Color in the Winter


Beets
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Johnny-jump-up
Kale
Kohlrabi
Mustard
Nasturtium
Purple broccoli
Swiss chard
Violets

Edibles That Are Shade Tolerant

Arugula
Beets
Cabbage
Carrots
Celery
Chard
Chicory
Chinese cabbage
Collards
Cornsalad (M√Ęche)
Cresses
Escarole
Fennel
Kale
Kohlrabi
Leeks
Lettuce
Mustard
Pak Choi
Radishes
Sorrel
Spinach
Turnips

Plants for Height in Winter


Artichoke or Cardoon (p)
Blueberry (p)
Brussels sprouts
Climbing Peas
Fava beans
Ginger (p)
Radicchio
Walking stick kale
Wheat

Plants for Color in Summer


Beans (some climb, some bush)
Eggplants
Okra
Peppers
Squashes
Tomatoes

Plants for Height in Summer


Corn (sweet and popcorn)
Cucumbers (on trellis)
Beans (on trellis)
Melons (on trellis)
Okra
Sunflowers
Tomatoes (in cages)

Edible Flowers


Borage
Calendula
Johnny-jump-ups
Nasturtiums
Pansies
Sunflowers
Violets

Fast Fillers


Arugula
Beets
Carrots
Cress
Green onions
Lettuce


Mustard
Radishes
Spinach
Turnips

Sowing Schedule in Zone 24


Crop
Sow On
Basil
February 15
Beets
Y/R *
Broccoli
September 15
Cabbage
September 30
Cauliflower
September 15
Collards
Y/R*
Corn
April 1
Cucumber
March 1
Eggplant
March 15
Kale
Y/R*
Lettuce
September 1
Melons
March 15
Mustard
September 1
Okra
March 15
Onions
September 1
Parsley
September 15
Peas
September 1
Peppers
March 15
Pumpkins
May 1
Spinach
September 15
Squash (summer)
March 1
Squash (winter)
March 15
Swiss Chard
Y/R
Tomatoes
February 15

    * except in mid-summer

The Principles of A Food Garden Design

When creating a food garden in the city, with buildings around and space at a premium, think of your garden through the following lenses:

  1. Consider Technicalities
    Sunlight
    Water

  1. Maximize the kitchen-garden relationship
    Near the kitchen is best

  1. Consider the bird’s eye view
    How will you view the garden - forget curb appeal (unless you're trying to sell!), but how will you see the garden and plant it for your satisfaction - if others want a good garden view, they can go plant their own garden!)
    Divide into units
    Repeat patterns and colors over a theme as much as possible

  1. Enclose the garden
    Fancifully, or conventionally, but with practical applications
    Creates a special place; a sanctuary
    Use existing walls and complement with fencing and/or planting to separate

  1. Design the garden like a room, invoking texture, color and mood
    A place to sit and view it
    Use color and texture from adjoining walls
    Keep in synch with the building’s styling

  1. Create an edge with raised beds
    Raise them with or without wood/bricks etc.

  1. Design for counterpoint
    Chaos vs. control
    Color opposites 
    8. Go vertical
   Structures add dimension to the garden
   Grow plants that climb extending the harvestable square footage

  1. Consider year round use
    Schedule plantings to go in and come out as the seasons changed to allow for maximum year round use; design for four seasons in mind.

david

14 February, 2010

The Most Current Short List of Seed Houses

Seed ordered from a seed catalog will be much fresher than seed in the rack at a local retailer.  None of the following companies sell Monsanto/Seminis seeds as far as I can determine.  Most of them have signed the 'Safe Seed Pledge' which forbids genetically modified seed.  Others go farther and sell only organic or open-pollinated seed.  
 
Botanical Interests; 660 Compton Street, Broomfield, CO 80020; 800.486.2647 www.botanicalinterests.com All companies on this list have either signed the 'Safe Seed Pledge' or have in some way indicated they do not sell genetically modified seeds and this was one of the first companies to sign that pledge. Their catalog is online and prices are very competitive with most of the selections I want to order. Plus, all the data on those seed packets enables me to appear witty and knowledgeable about sowing things from seed.  (Note button on left!  Punch it and go to their site to order seeds or a catalog.)

BOUNTIFUL GARDENS; 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410 www.bountifulgardens.org This is a good source for open-pollinated seeds and often have varieties not found elsewhere. They also sell packets of grain seed – grow a little wheat, some oats or rye? Don't dismiss this out of hand – I had a wheat field in my front yard once. It is a good thing to support organizations that do credible garden research. 

FEDCO SEEDS; PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903; 207.873.7333; www.fedcoseeds.com A very funky catalog, that makes me think of the Trader Joe's Frequent Flier, provides good quality open-pollinated seeds. While their focus is on 'cold-hardy, short season' seeds, we can use a lot of them here. As of August 31, they will no longer take orders for 2009. They begin to prepare for 2010's growing season. Their prices are low and the seeds are open-pollinated. A good deal for lots of seed. 

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 www.groworganic.com A fair priced purveyor of more than just seeds. This is the company to order cover crop seeds and tools as well as veggie and flower seeds. Their catalog is so chock full of data on pest control, fertilizing, cover crop seeds and irrigation; I have used it as a text in my organic gardening classes. 

NATIVE SEED/SEARCH; 526 N. 4th Ave. Tucson, AZ 85705; 520.622.5561; www.nativeseeds.org; Like Seed Savers Exchange, this is a non-profit organization that exists to save seeds that have been grown for generations and represent a genetic diverse collection that mankind cannot allow to fall into obscurity. Their efforts are centered on the Native American seeds of the desert climates of Arizona and upper Mexico, which, despite the challenge of desert conditions still represent a disproportionate portion of our modern food crops. 

PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400 www.superseeds.com This is the least expensive catalog of all. How? The packets are smaller with fewer seeds. And that makes good sense for us with smaller sized gardens. If I want more, I can order more packets – but usually I order several varieties with which to experiment.
 
SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership fees $35. Free brochure. www.seedsavers.org This is the other main source of seeds for me. I have been a member for over five years because I believe in the work they do saving the rich heritage of heirloom seed varieties that might well be a thin green line between us and the Monsanto's of this world that are striving to control our food supply. I urge you to order from the Exchange and to become a member; we NEED these seeds.

david

04 February, 2010

Botanical Interests Provides A New Button

From the seeds given to the Venice High School Horticulture program, I plucked this packet of eggplant to show you the beautiful art work on a Botanical Interests seed packet and to show the price of $1.59 which is a pretty good price for a gram of eggplant seed. Mind you, this packet might be from a previous year's production so eggplant seed might be slightly higher, but still a good deal by any standards. And I've learned you won't be gouged on shipping charges either!

I'm pleased to call everyone's attention to the newly added direct link to Botanical Interests Seeds on each of my blogs. A little bit about Botanical Interests that makes me proud to add this link to my garden writings, besides the fact that they'll give me a small commission on everyone who orders seeds by using that button:

  • Botanical Interests has signed the Safe Seed Pledge guaranteeing NO GMO seeds in their listings. I consider this to be an essential commitment for any seed seller to get my business let alone my endorsement.
  • They carry a solid line up of vegetable seeds, usually having one of the best prices in the business per packet. They don't carry all of my favorites, but a darn good lot of them
  • Many of the seeds are offered 'conventionally grown' or 'organically grown' when they can get the organic seed. The organic seeds are clearly marked so you can choose them easily if that's what you want.
  • I like the packets and the information on each packet provides some lovely factoids which, just like one of my lectures, can make you the life of the next party you attend. Just pull out five or six seed packets and you can impress just about anyone who will listen. Never ever be at loss for something to say again.
  • But the biggest reason I'm happy to put that button up here can be seed looking through the seeds donated to The Learning Garden and Venice High School's horticultural program over the years. Always high in the list of those donated the most seeds I have seen Botanical Interests time and again. Renee's Seeds and Seeds of Change have both sent along a lot of seeds too, but BI's prices nail the others to the ground. And it's quality seed in a bonus good looking, fun reading packet. Maybe one day we'll get them to do a story on the seed packets ala Burma Shave road signs! Wouldn't that be a hoot?

You probably won't find all the seed you want all the time from Botanical Interests, but the ones you do will be high quality and from a dealership you can trust to be honest and ethical. If you don't find all you want, please don't forget Seed Savers Exchange and Native Seed/SEARCH when ordering seeds also, they are the two non-profits I support and urge you too as well.

Hope will never die as long as seed catalogs are printed!

That's an old saw, I didn't make it up, though I wish I had.

david