Monday, January 30, 2012

Every Gardener's January: Reading

I've spent most of this month reading up on edible gardening and am now in the planning stages of what to plant and where. There are several books that have stayed by my side this January. My most used reference is How to Grow more Vegetables by John Jeavons. I kept seeing this book in stores but felt I had enough garden books already. When I realized the previous owners used this as a reference, I knew it would be a worthy addition. It explains a lot about why my garden is planted the way it is. And now that I understand, I can't imagine changing it.

I've had a really old, dog eared copy of Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew on my shelf for years. I would love to have the new edition, shown here, with much better pictures but the text seems the same so I can't really justify the upgrade.

Square foot gardening is kind of a revolution gone mainstream theory around gardening. In addition to maximizing space, it saves gardening time by reducing weeds and hopefully pests by using companion planting.

For the eye candy and pure inspiration, I love looking through From Seed to Skillet by Jimmy Williams and Susan Heeger. The gardens featured are beautiful. I love his recommendation on varieties, a lot of my favorites and a few that are new to me.

And while I was at Baker Creek, I had to buy their new book, The Heirloom Life Gardener by Jere & Emilee Gettle. This offers in-depth descriptions about the heirloom seeds they sell.


I've got a plan now for the garden, based on all of these books which will be coming soon.

Friday, January 20, 2012


My vegetable patch in San Francisco is a tiny 40 square feet. A few weeks ago I sat down to wrap my head around the new garden. Umm, this one is a little bigger, weighing in at 420 square feet of raised bed growing areas alone. Yikes! I debated on just starting out with a few beds here and there, but then I began to worry about wasting all that amazing dirt just sitting there, calling out to me to fill it.

At least one bed has been taken. This is her garden bed.
So I figure this, most people who have a garden, have day jobs, right? They are likely only able to spend most of their time in the garden on the weekends. Just like me. Yes, I'm sure I'm going to miss a few crucial times when I should be ready to pluck those just ripened peas off the vine before they go starchy or when the birds get a hold of the cherries before we get a chance to (aparently, this will happen).

The 60 year old cherry tree that still produces fruit. Stay away birds!
But you've got to give things a try. Take some risks. What's the worse that can happen? You lose a lot of money on plants you've bought. Which isn't good. So, this lead me to realize that it was going to cost A LOT of money to fill all those beds up with store bought plants. Not to mention I'm picky when it comes to choices. Quality counts. So it all comes down to seeds. A lot of this garden will be grown from seed. I can only start seeds in the ground, no transplanting since I won't be around to baby them all week. There certainly will be some storebought plants. I'm looking forward to this Tomatomania in a few months where I plan to stock up. Peppers will be bought too. But the rest, all seeds.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds to be precise. It just so happens that we live one town away from the Petaluma Seed Bank, where you can spend hours pouring over seed packets among other seed-crazed fools like myself. We went over last month and I stocked up. I was kind of shocked by the $45.00 price tag but then I realized these seeds could provide most of our vegetables for a couple of seasons. Think of what that will save in trips to the grocery store and farmer's market. A lot. Check out Baker Creek's site and be sure to order their catalog, it's 196 pages of incredible seeds. They have a new book out too which is a nice read.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Healdsburg : The Gardener

My favorite garden/home store is  The Gardener in Berkeley. I finally had a chance to visit their Healdsburg location last year and was not disappointed. This is the only location that has a garden and it was well worth a visit.

Sunflowers will definitely be on the plant list after seeing these. I could have spent hours wandering down these paths.

I just came across these images again and it made me pine for summer in the wine country. The ball sculptures were all over the site, they would really make a modern statement in an edible garden.

Hidden paths made by sunflowers and pots would be another nice idea to try.

The outdoor lounge areas were equally inspiring. A little sculpture, some old furniture all bordered by greenery.

This was my favorite spot of all: the outdoor fireplace made modern with the addition of two bright red chairs. It doesn't take much to make a space inviting.

Of course, it never hurts to add a hammock!

Or some amazing sculpture. One can dream, though.

The Gardener has three locations: Healdsburg, Berkeley and San Francisco. The Healdsburg store is closed through January 31st but is usually open every day through spring and summer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fruit Trees!

One of the really appealing things about this property was the sheer number of fruit trees that had been planted by the previous owners. As we toured the property as potential buyers I knew that there were quite a few. But after buying the property we had the chance to walk around with the previous owners while they pointed out all of them and told us all the varieties. I hastily wrote things down as we wandered from tree to tree.

Here's the list:

A sixty year old cherry sits proudly on one side of the lawn. Cherry trees aren't supposed to do well in this area and this one isn't looking so beautiful anymore but apparently it still produces lots of tasty fruit. I just hope we can get to them before the birds do.

Golden Delicious apple
Fuji apple

White peach (I love white peaches and have a hard time finding them in markets here)
Yellow peach
Italian Plum

Santa Rosa Weeping Plum
Canning Plum (these grow all over the county but are great for canning)
Black Jack Fig
2 Lemon trees
Orange (more like a bush)
Fuji apple
Golden Delicious apple
Pear (perhaps a Comice or Bosc)

Asian Pear
Kumquat (a teeny, tiny one with no fruit yet)
Fuyu persimmon (also small and not sure how it will do)
3 Grape vines
Blackberry bushes (not a tree, obviously, but they're all entangled in the trees)

There is enough of everything for our small family plus extra to share with friends. It's better than an orchard of one variety. And they're all fruiting! It usually take about four years before you see a yield and we're coming in around year six. The oranges are almost ripe now, just a few more weeks and we can start harvesting those. And a few lemons are ripe too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

DIRT : the compost piles

Why not start off the blog with what is likely the most important part of a garden, the DIRT. My husband has absolutely no interest in gardening precisely because of the DIRT. Nothing makes me happier than seeing it under my nails at the end of the day. Want better dirt? Compost.

There are compost piles under those squash leaves.
In the past few years, composting has become common for a lot of gardeners. Rather than deplete the soil by just growing food, we need to grow the soil too. I'm no expert on this and I will admit I'm a complete beginner on this topic. I don't have to compost in San Francisco. The city does it for us. We're provided huge bins for our kitchen waste. You go to a cafe and you can compost there too. It's the law!

Most of it gets shipped off to the wine country for use and several times a year they offer it back to us for free. Seriously, they do all the hard work for us.

The Great San Francisco Compost Giveaway. Image via Apartment Therapy.
Okay, I know five gallons is tiny but remember we have very small yards in San Francisco! We obviously needed a lot more than that for this garden and thankfully, this house came with two beautiful piles of gold, one ready to go and then, this one.

When I first saw this pile, I shuddered. I wanted a compost pile, but this? This was ugly! Rotting apples were rolling out all over the place and all sorts of plants were growing out of it, including a huge winter squash. And what's that growing there? Why, it's Amaranth. Lots and lots of Amaranth. Now I get it. I needed to let go of my control freak habits and just let the earth do what it's got to do. I can't imagine having a neat little compost bin now. I'm learning to loosen up, and my husband has agreed to turn the pile for me, if begged.