All the photos in this blog were taken by me. The information is taken from friends, books, magazines, conversations at nurseries, the internet and a few of my own amateur-gardener thoughts. Please feel free to share your own knowledge and experiences in the comment section that follows each posting.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Forth

I feel like I just started the Master Gardeners Program and now I am already preparing for the final exam. How did that happen? Remember when you were little and grown-ups bantered about how fast time flies and you were bored by always hearing it? I take all those thoughts back. Time does fly.

Speaking of flying... near this time last year I discovered the nest of Mockingbird eggs. It was a highlight of my garden as you may remember if you're a frequent reader. If you're new, read last June's blog entries. They are my favorite so far, I think.  While its fresh on my mind and timely conversation, let me mention the insect activity that I've witnessed. On the heels of a Master Gardener's class on Entomology and Integrated Pest Management, I went out to survey my roses with a magnifying glass (or loop). I have been battling the aphids with hose showers now and then, but I never stopped to actually get involved in their world. I am not taking the aphids on as warmly as I did the Mockingbirds, but the activity on the rose stem is stunning. It's these occurrences in the garden that fascinate me and keep me coming back for more. 

Before we dive into Spring, I must share the tail-end of the winter harvest. Afterall, vegetable gardening is not just about the planting, it is also about the harvesting, which can be a lot of work in itself. You can imagine the washing, drying and preparing that went along with this typical loot. Bok choy is in the forefront followed by broccoli, chard and way too many oranges and lemons.

A soil tidbit
As we prepare for our warm season gardens, keep in mind not to till your soil too aggressively. You want to minimize disturbance to your soil and only fuss with the top layer. Let the earthworms do your rototilling. Now is a good time to add organic matter in the form of compost that you've made yourself or purchased from the nursery. Remember that compost is an amendment and not a fertilizer, but it does wonders for soil structure, water retention and the ability for your plants to absorb nutrients.

Kathy asked for some information on composting. First off, there are many ways to compost and you need to find what works for you. I used a silly little book called, Backyard Composting, by Harmonious Technologies in Sebastopol. In addition, Basic Composting, by Ebeling is great if you want to build your own bin. There are numerous sites on the Internet as well.  Find something that will help you decide how you'd like to collect and store your material. For example, I collect kitchen scraps in a Kitchen Compost Pail from the Container Store

When it fills up, I empty it into a large, white paint bucket that sits outside my back kitchen door. I bought it at Home Depot.

When that fills up, I empty it into a structure I have in the backyard. I built this using six shipping pallets. It has worked well, but it is definitely a slow method. The section on the right is the holding area, while the section on the left is the active area. In this picture,  you can see that the left side has decomposed quite a bit.

The key is to build a pile layering equal portions of green material and brown material. Then when you are ready, you start the process of turning your pile and keeping it moist. Maintaining an adequate moisture level will create a nice home for micoorganisms, earthworms and insects. It should be about as wet as a squeezed-out sponge. My pile does not generate high heat because of the size and open construction. If you use a closed container such as, BioStacks, you can create a much faster system. I am looking into a system called The Compost Tumbler. One of my Master Gardener classmates highly recommended it and she has been composting for over 20 years. 
If you want a faster system, it is best to shred or chop up your material. The smaller the material, the faster it will decompose.

Green is your nitrogen.
Anything that was originally cut from a live plant or derived from a vegetable-eating animal. All fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea (even the bag), egg shells (best to break them down first), yard clippings, grasses, weeds, flowers, horse manure.

Brown is your carbon.
Leaves, straw, sawdust, cardboard
I mainly use leaves. 

Compost is good everywhere! It is not just for the vegetable gardeners. Flowers, shrubs and even trees like compost. It is a way to slowly release nutrients into the soil. You can sidedress your plants with it just like a mulch. 
A Happy Coincidence
I was organizing some old pictures today and I found this one of a card that I read one day with Lori and Paula during a memorable occasion in a redwood grove last spring. They had one of those decks of beautiful cards that you read for inspirations and reflection. We were in a group and you had to draw a card and read it to yourself. This was my card. I love that I found it today. Serendipity is defined as a happy coincidence. What's better?

Happy Spring! 
Turn your face to the sun and blossom.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter Wonder

I started writing this blog with the intention of posting every two weeks. I've got one more week to write an entry that will qualify for once a month. I'll blame it on winter, the holidays and too much festivity. My Garden Girlz (or sometimes known as Dirty Girlz) inspired me to get writing!

While life is busy moving forward, the garden grows with ease and independence during these cooler months. I am never disappointed by its progress in my absence and I often teeter between which season I like better, warm or cool. Cool season vegetables have rich, deep colors between the dark purple leaves of Radicchio and Swiss Chard or the green/purple combination beginning in the Cabbage or the intense lime green Christmas tree peaking through from the Broccoli Romanesco or the snowy white Cauliflower. Natural art using colors I love.

For more information about Warm and Cool Season Vegetables and when to plant them, see the Santa Clara Master Gardener's Warm and Cool Season Vegetable Planting Guidelines to decide when to plant for best results.

Don't Forget to Feed the Birds.  They eat all year round. 
And if you want them to help you in the summer with insects, feed them so they'll stay!

Resource Tip:
We are fortunate in this area to have many resources to learn about our gardens. Now that I have officially started the Master Gardeners Program, I want to make sure you know about the HOTLINE. 
You can call the hotline Monday - Friday from 9:30 -12:30 at 408-282-3105.  If you have home gardening questions, ponder no more... just pick up the phone! 

January To Do's
If you haven't done your dormant season pruning, now is the time for your deciduous plants. Acid-loving plants, such as azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons are best pruned while they are blooming or immediately thereafter.  Don't forget to fertilize as well. I like to sprinkle the ground around my roses with alfalfa pellets that I get at a local feed store. It's an excellent source of Nitrogen often needed at this time of year.  It's also time to do your dormant season spraying in order to prevent problems with overwintering insects in the Spring.  All spraying must be completed before buds form. Check with your local nursery what the best type of spray is for your conditions.

Don't forget that your plants may need water during the dry weeks that we have in the winter. Make sure to check your soil. Use your water meter. You'll be surprised to see that often they are parched. Especially your pots!

January is also a good time to pay attention to our indoor plants. Dust off their leaves and flush their root systems. If you can, take them to a sink or bathtub and water several times. Let them drain well or put them in a tray with stones. Do not let them sit in their own water... unless you want their roots to rot.

Erma Bombeck says, "Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died". 
She makes you want to laugh and then say to yourself... 
that makes so much sense!

 Easy Peasy Bok Choi 
So fast, yet so good

I pick several leaves of this Win Win Choi (Bok Choi family), wash them off well and loosely chop them into bite site pieces. I put a small amount of sesame oil in a saute pan, add the bok choi, stirring occasionally until it wilts to my desire. I like the stem crunchy so I don't wait too long. Then, I add a couple teaspoons of soy sauce and voila! 
Delicious with a nice piece of salmon (with sesame oil and ginger) and a glass of white wine.
Simple is superb.

January makes me marvel at nature in a different way than June. Its amazing to me and sometimes shocking how plants make it through such miserable conditions. I've been to Tahoe a couple times this winter and I look at the blanket of white snow and envision that in a few months the whole landscape will be drastically changed. Perhaps one of Mother Nature's finest accomplishments is managing seasons. However, it would be hard to agree on what her finest accomplishment is 
because she has so many. 
Any thoughts? 

"There's one good thing about snow - it makes your lawn look as nice as your neighbour's." 
Clyde Moore