I remember as a child in Kansas in the 50's (the really LATE 50's), there was often not much to talk about, but we had, if nothing else, the Weather.
"Hot enough for you, yet?" was a common greeting - of course, there was the other greeting 6 months later; "Cold enough for you, yet?" Rarely in the sweet spot of California does the weather make it to the first question level of conversation - but this year, July has outdone herself. I will say, in the strongest terms possible: July was plenty hot enough for me!
Amid rounds of record breaking heat - new records were established all over the place - often replacing two-digit highs with three-digit highs. It has not been an easy ride for plant or beast! Consider this then, that until the end of June did the Learning Garden get its water turned back on! If we had gone into that heat wave without those few days of water, we would have been ruined for the rest of the summer - as it is, one volunteer with hoses cannot keep up the garden watered thoroughly enough to keep it alive. As July approached, I began to plot out which parts of the garden I was willing to let die. We were fortunate and the water was restored - as I write this now on the 12th, the water is off again and I am praying for some Grace - this is not the time of year to have this problem.
Here's this month's journal entry:
Gardens in July
Tomato Flowers - don't count your tomatoes until you pick them!
has brought the heat. Now we are sorry we asked for it! More than in
most years, this is the time to get a cool drink and say hello to
summer in our Southern California gardens. For this reason among
others, I insist that no garden should be created without seating for
the gardener to glory in the work that has been done. This is not
the month to do a lot of planting, if you can help it at all. Water
is what your garden wants along with some weeding and harvesting.
Don’t just pour water on your garden without exercising your
noggin! Monitor the soil moisture and apply water as needed – but
before plants begin to wilt. Try to water when less will be lost to
evaporation – early or late in the day. I like to water under the
full moon, listening to the owls, but I discuss that I my Master
Class coming soon to a site near you. Stick a finger in the soil up
to the first knuckle. Better yet, turn over a small spot of soil
with your trowel. It should be slightly moist down about an inch or
so. The surface of the soil can be quite dry and that's fine. A
gardener is more concerned with the moisture level in that part of
the soil where roots live.
is most important to have water at the roots of plants – spraying
water into the air to fall on the soil, is not very efficient. A
lot of that water can be blown away from your plants (on to the
neighbors!) and a lot evaporates off into the air. It is not very
efficient at all. But there are other ways to to water that are
better. All these other ways involve putting the water close to the
root zone. The two ways to do this include some of the newest
technology and some of the oldest technology. The newest technology
is drip irrigation; the oldest is called an 'olla' – pronounces
OYE-ya. Variations of ollas are found in several different ancient
cultures and there is a move to put them back into gardens today.
before we get to that, we need to know some things about water and
how it moves in the soil. First of all, water 'sticks' to itself.
If you over fill a glass of water to where it is actually higher than
the edge of the glass, it often can hold together and not run down
the side of the glass. The tendency of water to stick together is
one of the qualities that make water so valuable a part of our world.
So as water moves, it pulls other water along behind it.
moves down in the soil because of gravity. Water moves up and out of
the soil into the atmosphere because of evaporation. Water moves
sideways in the soil when pulled along by plant roots pulling water
molecules out of the soil, which drags other molecules along behind.
Water fans out from the point it drips into the soil to a more narrow
or wider 'fan' depending on the composition of the soil; sandy soil,
with it's large pore space allows the water to move more downward
than outward. Clay soil, on the other hand, with small particles
tightly packed causes water to expand outward much more dramatically
than sandy soil.
on to getting water to your plants' roots!
irrigation has gotten a lot of attention over the last twenty years.
A number of people who have played with drip, myself included, have
come to feel it is less than 'as advertised.' In the first place,
drip irrigation is a lot of plastic parts. However, compared to an
underground irrigation system that are very expensive and difficult
to install, drip systems are cheap and easy.
the other hand, that means they are also relatively impermanent.
Plastic can be easily broken – and therein lies the tale of the
drip. The plastic seems to develop a magnetic attraction for shovels
and other sharp instruments, which means it must be repaired
constantly. Wild animals also find the plastic tubing an easy source
for water – they will just make the hole a little larger and there
is another repair awaiting your attention. Anyone who depends on a
drip system, soon learns to observe the entire system while it's
running at least once a month, I'd even suggest once a week – a lot
can happen in a month and without this walk through, the first
indication you have of a problem is usually a dead plant. The
observation, is done more with one's ears than one's eyes, because
you can hear the water making noises as it escapes from the tubing.
the pattern of wetness in the soil made by drip is not ideal for a
number of plants. Plants did not evolve to gather water from a
single spot with no other water than at that spot. For some plants,
this becomes a deadly problem. Part of the strategy of these plants
is to find water over a much wider range than less drought tolerant
plants. As a consequence these drought resistant plants find drip
irrigation a problem more than a solution. This is particularly
difficult for the California Native plant palette than it is for
plants that have been in the care of humans over the past hundreds of
years. California Native plants tend to not do well with drip
with drip in the food garden, every replanting of a crop, requires
the drip lines to be rolled up to facilitate preparing the bed and
planting. This is a cumbersome project at best and is a disaster for
the drip system at worst.
has a lot of drawbacks even though it does deliver water to the roots
with relatively little loss of water to the atmosphere and does
reduce water waste. There is one other product called a 'leaky pipe
or hose.' This technology has most of the good qualities of drip but
is easier to deal with and the leaky hose sweats water all along its
length which means there is a zone of wetness in the soil,
more closely approximating natural conditions and the hose is less of
a hassle to repair or move. It's not perfect but this is a
reasonable choice for non-permanent plantings.
on the other hand, are a lot more
and are not made of plastic.
Olla with a tomato plant in a ceramic planter- a good use of an olla that shows off all their good qualities perfectly.
of clay, an olla (Spanish for 'pot,' as in 'soup pot.' ) is porous
and water 'leaks' out. The olla is buried in the soil, then filled
with water which seeps into the soil, spreading out to water nearby
plants. How far the water moves in the soil is different according
to the soil's texture, and needs to be tested for some accurate
figures, but one can make some educated guesses in short order.
Ollas are not a good candidate for trees and perennials with woody
roots. They are somewhat fragile, but not as much as drip parts and
they are not made from oil like plastic. Ollas do not have to be
moved to plant a bed, as long as you are not tilling the soil in any
way, and, of course, in my style of gardening, that isn't done.
Ollas are absolutely fabulous in planted containers.
take steps to find ways to control the amount of water that is put in
your garden – and no matter how you get water to the roots, make
sure you mulch the beds thoroughly and save the water you do
put down from evaporating off into the atmosphere.
mulch level this month; insure it is deep enough to keep roots cool
and prevent evaporation of the precious water you are putting down.
I don't use fertilizer, which means my plants are never
over-fertilized and with the constant use of compost and mulch, they
are well supplied with all they really need to thrive.
I am cautious about using really good compost that might have
a lot of nitrogen in it on tomatoes. They tend to use up all the
nitrogen you give them by growing very large and healthy-looking
plants and not setting fruit. For our climate, this isn't a
disaster, you just have fresh tomatoes in September and October. But
if you don't want to wait that long for tomato season to start, skip
fertilizer or so-called 'hot' compost or anything with manure in it.
Save all that for corn which is a notoriously heavy feeder.
Honey Ice Cream
time to cool down! At the Learning Garden we have a 4th
of July Ice Cream Social and this is one of our annual favorites –
one day I hope to supply the honey for this ice cream from one of my
(for 2 quarts):
sprigs of fresh lavender
cups half and half
cups of whipping cream
the honey with the lavender in a non-corroding saucepan. Taste
after five minutes to check the strength of the lavender flavor and
leave a little longer if necessary, until the flavor pleases you.
the half and half and cream in a non-corroding saucepan and whisk the
egg yolks in a bowl until they are just broken up. Whisk in some of
the hot cream and return to the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring
constantly, until the mixture coats the spoon. Strain into a
container and stir in the flavored honey. Chill thoroughly.
according to the instructions of your ice cream maker and serve cold!
These In Containers
These In The Ground
to the Ground from Containers
Find a nice shady spot and with a cold
drink, turn on the Dodgers and watch your plants grow. You can sit
in your chair or put up a hammock to indulge yourself.
August 4th – It's the very
next What To Do and When To Do It... believe it or not, we'll start
some of our WINTER seeds! It's getting close to the time of our next
wonderful growing season! You can redeem yourself if the summer
garden wasn't up to snuff – or work to top your success! We'll also
see if we can't do something to handle the summer produce that is
pouring in right now! See you then!
Honesty in advertising forces me to tell you that the class activity, in opposition to my written word, was to plant seeds of two plants this month. We planted one seed each of two different colors of cotton (yup, the plant produces colored cotton - more on that one day when I have the time and the bandwidth - and another round of tomatoes, specifically, one of my favorites, the Burbank Slicer, which is a determinate tomato, growing about 24 inches high, when it stops, sets some of the most tomatoey tasting tomatoes and dies. If you haven't grown it, do it! I plant it now knowing I will be able to harvest the tomatoes before the nights turn cold. It is an amazing container plant too, where I often plant it with basil and oregano and call it "Growing a Pizza!"