Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June? Really?

Lately,  the weather has had me scratching my head in confusion.  Is it really June?  I've been grumbling  and longing for sandal weather as I sort through the sock basket to find four pairs of socks every morning.  Usually, the sandals are dusted off and my sock-folding hiatus is in full-swing by mid-May.  Now, I'm wondering if I should remind the girls to pack umbrellas and sweatshirts as they head off to end-of-the year swim parties.  My British neighbor jokes about the funny English weather we've been having, but I'm pretty sure he's just kidding when he says he brought these gray days over from across the pond.  He can't really do that, can he? (CRAZY FACT #1:  tomorrow, London's forecast calls for sunny weather that's two degrees WARMER than what we're having.)

It looks like March outside.  The typical early June day in my garden is 85 degrees and sunny.  Our usual June rainfall can be measured by the teaspoonful.  So why am I rushing out between downpours to catch photos of the garden? (you might as well benefit from my wet, frizzy hair...  this is a rare full-view of the garden... or as full as I could get without standing on the roof).

The vegetable plants are as confused as the Portland transplants I talked to yesterday who are wondering why they ever moved down here to sunny California (CRAZY FACT #2:  On Saturday, Portland will be a sunny 83 degrees.  I'll be enjoying showers and a cool 64 degrees.  Seriously.) The heat lovers (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, etc.) are kind of sitting around and waiting for the heat of summer.  When the real heat hits, they'll go crazy and grow so quickly that their progress is visible on a daily basis, but right now, the tomatoes inching along, slowly but steadily setting a few fruits here and there.

The summer squash are blooming, but the bees seem to be in hiding.  I had to take reproduction into my own hands and play the role of bee to get these two to grow.

The plant that I thought was a bush acorn isn't so bushy after all.  I think it must be the Winter Luxury pumpkin (which means things will get a little wild and crazy soon, since I didn't leave it enough room to truly vine!)  (In other news, I REALLY need to work out a better seedling-labelling method.  Like YESTERDAY!)

There are some garden residents that enjoy this cool weather. I've actually got tiny little heads of broccoli and cauliflower forming

I actually have some real celery stalks.  They're still small, but if I wait until all of the plants are full grown I have no idea how we'd use it all at once! 

Also, we can't forget my friendly garden Alternaria Solani, aka  Early Blight.  It's making itself at home on a few of my tomato leaves -- mostly just the oldest, bottom leaves of my biggest plants.  

What am I going to do about it? Pretty much nothing other than removing the infected leaves.  I toyed with the idea of spraying a fungicide, but then that got complicated.  Copper-based sprays are organic but hurt earthworms.  Daconil is a fairly safe non-organic fungicide that is very effective if sprayed at 7-10 day intervals.  But do I really want to start spraying chemicals around a garden where my baby plays, even if they're been proven relatively safe so far?  I was relieved when I read this from Redwood Barn Nursery's Don Shor. While I usually roll my eyes at people who try to assure me that the heat here isn't that bad because it's a DRY heat (like that REALLY matters when the temperature is 105!), it turns out that the fungus among us DO care whether the weather is wet or dry.  They don't fare well in our dry heat.  I just have to wait for the weather to get back to normal and the beastly summer heat should take care of the problem for me.

(by the way, if you have some strange tomato symptoms  that you can't identify, try googling ipm + tomato + your state.  There are some great, free, online resources available.)

In other news, my twelve year old daughter wants a bikini for the end-of -school swim party she's invited to, and I had something like this in mind. 
 The up-side of this weather?  I may get to dodge that discussion entirely, and she'll have to go wearing something like this (she's totally just that big.  Just a little girl.   No, I'm not in denial.  I totally deny being in denial....)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Garden Gate

My garden fence was hastily thrown together the first summer we owned a dog.  It seemed like a good temporary solution nine years ago.  My dad and I built it together, and it's about as attractive as you'd expect it to look given my choice of materials (and also given the fact that my dad and I are the two of the least-handy people in our extended family.  Possibly in all of California.)  It's mostly wire livestock fencing, with a couple of heavy-duty cattle panels on each end and for the gate.  Maybe that should be "gate?"    (If I was talking to you in person, I might make air quote motions with my fingers when I referred to my "gate", so I think it deserves those apostrophes.)  To close the "gate", I wrap a bungie cord around the panel and the metal fence post(if you've read my blog posts about how the chickens got into my garden, the way that happened is probably becoming obvious to you about now!)  Over time, the bungie cords degrade in the sun and break apart.  (The frayed bungie cord pieces hanging on the fence are the ghosts of garden latches past...)

Yesterday morning, I was weeding  (surprise surprise!) when my five year old joined me.  Her visit began with grumbling, 

"Why did you latch the gate so tight, mom?  It's hard to open!"

Before I could explain that I was hoping to keep her baby brother out of the garden, the next thing I heard was her shouting "NO, No!!  Don't!  Don't Touch!"

And then, "Mom, Charlie picked another tomato!"

That would bring the tally of tomatoes that he has picked from my poor Stupice to four.  This one was a lovely, hopeful mix of orange and green, so close to being ripe.  It was even closer than the one he picked over the weekend (On my birthday, no less.  He's merciless.) Anyway, by the time I reached him, the tomato had 8 tiny little tooth marks on it.

After that, I made a decision.  There was one remaining nearly-ripe tomato on the vine.  It was only about the size of a marble, but it was nearly red, with only a couple of green spots left.  It was clear that sitting on my hands and waiting for it to get perfectly ripe was risky business.  The little guy is fast and ruthless, and my state-of-the-art garden fencing is no match for him (at least when his sister opens the gate ahead of him and lets him in.)  I resolved to snap a photo of it on the vine and then pick it, declaring it my earliest homegrown tomato ever.  I even considered photo-shopping it to look a tiny bit more red than it actually was.

This is where I would post that photo if I had it.  Instead, I found absolutely no trace of the tomato when I took my camera out to the garden.


It's gone.

I'm grieving the loss.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I love green

Is it really a surprise that green is my favorite color? 

I'm soothed by the muted, greenish greyish tones of santolina and yarrow
If I were to pick a paint color for my kitchen (which is something I totally need to do!) I'd look to the leaves of my fava beans

 Or maybe take hints from the bokeh that forms in the background when I snap photos of my French Lavender flowers -- or the softer color of its stems.
Sage's leaves, covered with a bumpy topographic map of veins, call to me more than the smoother, brighter leaves of calendula
Carrots and potatoes have brighter, more lively greens that seem to shout "we're alive!"  They aren't colors I'd paint with or be likely to wear, but I love the hopeful vigor that they exude

 This morning though, I'm more excited about a color that isn't quite as green.  It isn't this Red Russian Kale (though I really like the way its pinkish purples contrast with its greens (what color-blind gardener decided to call this plant red, anyway?)

It's this... and the parts of it that are a little less green than they were yesterday.  The parts that are yellowing, and even, (dare I say it?) taking on a very faint hint of orange.  Yes, I like these colors very, very much.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Well THAT'S not such a pretty picture!

Someone has been eating eggs again.  It makes me so sad to find these broken eggs in the nesting boxes!

I think I owe our Araucana an apology.  I thought she was the one eating eggs last summer, but it looks like our egg-eater is not a chicken at all.  I watched a Magpie swoop into the coop today, and do this damage.  They're known locally for eating nestlings and stealing eggs from other species of birds.  It's funny to read that birders call this species rare.  Flocks of them spend their summers on the lawns of my neighborhood.  I've seen firsthand that they are quite susceptible to West Nile Virus, though -- a couple of summers ago they were acting kind of drunk because of the virus' effects.  When I see my eggs stolen this way I kind of feel like attacking the birds, but it is good to know that they're a vulnerable species.  I'm all for helping species in danger, but I don't want my chicken nesting boxes to turn into regular bird feeders (and besides, they seem to be pecking holes in the eggs looking for meat, and then leaving the eggs pretty much uneaten when they see that they are undeveloped.  What a waste!)

Our coop doesn't have a roof, since we weren't worried about predatory birds or anything else coming in from above.  I guess it is time to rig up something to cover it... 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Faulty Garden Math... and where you can find free resources to avoid the same mistakes

So I've got this big patch of my garden that's filled with brassicas right now -- broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.  I live in Sacramento, California.  Even though my average May temperatures are in the eighties, it isn't unheard of to get temperatures up in the nineties in April, and I can certainly remember more than one May day when the mercury crept up to (and beyond) 100 degrees.  Brassicas like to grow when the weather stays down below 80 degrees.  So, um, why do I have all of that broccoli (and other stuff... um, it's unlabeled for the same reason I couldn't identify my Chinese cabbage back at planting time) out in my garden right now? 

Well, in February I went through my seed box and decided what to plant.  I picked up the broccoli packet and thought "Broccoli matures in two or three months.  I'll plant these." 


The "Days to Maturity" on broccoli seed packets is counted from the date of TRANSPLANTING, not the from the date you plant the seeds.  Also, the days to maturity varies from variety to variety, and it is important to consider which variety you are actually planting.  The seed packet I had was a blend of varieties, intended to provide a staggered harvest over a month or so.  The earliest varieties in the blend matured in 67 days.  Some don't mature for 95 days. 

So, the right math, to determine how much of a mistake I made? 

I planted seeds around the middle of February (I'd know exactly when if I kept better notes!)  Maybe even later, closer to the end of February.  I posted this photo on March 3

They were ready to transplant by about the third week of March (brassicas like to be transplanted when fairly small -- about 4 weeks is good), but the rain and wet weather kept me from transplanting them until the very end of March or the beginning of April.  On April 5, some of them got quite a setback when my hens raided the garden.

 4/1 + 67 days = 6/7  My earliest broccoli is due to mature at the end of the first week of June.  About SIX WEEKS later than it should be in this climate.  While AVERAGE temperatures aren't too awful for broccoli at that time ( says my average high temperature for June 7 is 86 degrees farhenheit),  the weather on the above-average days can be WAY WAY too high for broccoli growth.  I will be lucky if the earliest broccoli plants produce decent heads.

4/1+95 days = fireworks and Independence Day parades.  OOOPS.  Silly gardener, July is for tomatoes and peppers. NOT broccoli -- unless you're talking about seeding it for a fall crop, in which case, go right ahead and talk broccoli in July.  The latest plants are probably doomed, even though they look pretty healthy right now in our cool spring weather. 

So... when should I have planted broccoli seeds for an April harvest?  January.  Now I know!  Also, a blend of varieties doesn't makes sense for spring in my climate.  I think I'll try that in the fall.  in the future, if I plant spring broccoli I'll look for a very quick maturing variety that will mature before our heat sets in.  I don't think a 97-day broccoli really stands a chance n my spring garden, even if my timing is perfect.

There are some great online planting calendars available.

Farmer Fred's planting calender for California's Central Valley is available here

The Sacramento County Master Gardeners have a planting calendar available here

And a more general California Master Gardener's planting calendar (which includes Sacramento in the "interior valley's" column,  but also covers other regions of California) is available here

If you live elsewhere, check with your local master gardener websites, university vegetable crops programs in your region, or search for other regional resources from where you live.  I've printed mine and placed them in plastic sheet protectors in a binder for easy reference.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Buried Treasures

(this was posted last week, but blogger ate it so I'm trying to recreate that post)

I just used a garden hoe.  After years of pulling weeds by hand, the lightning-fast results were really remarkable.  My hoe, a fancy Swiss-made Glaser Stirrup Hoe kind of pulls and slices weeds with a gentle back-and-forth movement.  Other brands call this style of cultivator a "hula hoe" or "stirrup hoe."  Anway, it's a cool, easy to use tool that is incredibly well crafted.  I'm not sure why I had never used one before.  For example, maybe, back when I purchased said hoe.  NINE. YEARS. AGO. 

You see, I bought the hoe, which came in two pieces, and then when I arrived at home I realized that I didn't have the screw to connect the two pieces.  I set it aside, intending to get a replacement screw.  Time went on and I put off getting the screw.  Bags and boxes were piled on top of the hoe, and I simply forgot that I even owned it.  (In my defense, it was in my shed---my scary garden shed that is infested with black widows.  My scary garden shed that is infested with black widows and gets to be about 10,000 degrees hot in the summer when I really need the hoe.  My dark, stinky, scary garden shed....  Well, you get the picture.) So, anyway, now that it is out in the light of day, I'm finding it pretty useful.  It's best for my paths, since the plants in my beds are rather close together and unevenly spaced.  It feels kind of like rubbing a long-handled eraser on the weeds growing in my pathways, and goodness knows I have a lot of weeds that need erasing! 

Who forgets buying a top-of-the line garden tool that they had coveted in garden catalog for months?  The same person who uncovered the hoe in the process of also discovering that she already owned more than half of what she needed to set up a drip system for her garden, that's who.

I should probably feel really embarrassed about my past wastefulness, but mostly I feel like twenty-something me has given thirty-something  me a couple of early birthday presents.  I'm too busy grinning (and weeding... and weeding...  to properly hang my head in shame. 

True Story.

Oh, and the screw I needed? It set me back a whopping EIGHTEEN cents.