Sunset Magazine’s Take on Zones

A Sunset Magazine zone map

Yesterday we posted a USDA zone based vegetable gardening planting guide. But the problem with USDA zones, as many readers pointed out, is that they aren’t specific enough. For instance, all of the city of Los Angeles is in USDA zone 10, but the difference between where we live and the coast is significant.

This is where Sunset Magazine’s more detailed zones maps come in handy. Sunset has divided the entire country into more finely delineated micro-climates. You can find your Sunset zone here. With your Sunset zone you can then use their handy online plant finder or one of their many books.

While an excellent resource, unless I failed to find it, I couldn’t locate any vegetable planting schedule based on Sunset zones. Perhaps its an impossible question, proof of the adage that “all gardening advice is local.”

USDA Zone Based Veggie Planting Schedule

Knowing when to plant vegetables is one of the big keys to edible gardening success. Unfortunately, many gardening books, websites and the back of seed packages assume you’re in a place with easily delineated seasons. What about those of us in Alaska, Southern California, Texas, Florida or Arizona? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a web-based vegetable planting calendar based on zip codes?

While it’s not down to the zip code level, there’s a USDA zone based web tool on a site called the Vegetable Garden. Now I have to say that this website, with all those contextual ads, looks like a scraper site at first glance. But the info on our zone 10, here in SoCal, was accurate.

I’d be interested in hearing what those of you in other USDA zones think of this tool. Give the Vegetable Garden planting schedule a spin and leave a comment. I’m hoping to post tools like this on a resource page that will appear on this blog later this year and would appreciate your input.

Thanks to Root Simple reader Kristen of the Urban Farm Blog for this tip. You can also scroll to the bottom of a post we did on the 6th for planting schedules for Texas, Montreal and Southern Nevada.

The CDFA’s Pesticide Theater

In the fall of 2009 a citrus pest called the Asian Citrus Psylid showed up in our neighborhood. It’s a major concern to commercial citrus growers since the pest spreads an incurable and fatal plant disease called huanglongbing (HLB).

The California Department of Food and Agriculture commenced a futile effort to suppress the psylid by hiring a contractor, TruGreen, to spray residential backyards in Southern California with a combination of imidacloprid (deadly to pollinating insects) and pyrethroid.

As I expected, it didn’t work. The state’s strategy has now shifted to releasing a parasitic wasp (Tamarixia radiata) imported from Pakistan. Citrus farmers will continue heavy applications of pesticides to keep the psylid at bay. UC Cooperative Extension biological control specialist Mark Hoddle explained to KQED (italics mine),

Hoddle says Tamarixia radiata won’t eradicate Asian citrus psyllid. Commercial citrus producers in California will still continue to apply insecticides to prevent the spread of Huanglongbing. But, he says, state regulators have already determined backyard pesticide applications are too expensive ($10-11 million so far) and too ineffective to bother with.

Frankly, I’m inclined to conclude that the original eradication program was a make-work program for CDFA officials and TruGreen all made possible by a big infusion of cash from our tax dollars and the citrus industry.

During their backyard spraying campaign in our neighborhood in the fall of 2010, the CDFA and TruGreen showed up at a neighbor’s house who, at the time, had over 50 citrus trees in pots (she was operating a mini-nursery and selling the trees).  CDFA and TruGreen were overwhelmed by the amount of trees and ran out of imidacloprid. They promised to return but never did, leading me to believe that they weren’t really interested in eradicating a pest but were, instead, engaged in a kind of “pesticide theater”. It’s a bit like the security theater that goes on everyday at our nation’s airports courtesy of the TSA.

Even with the parasitic wasps I’m not planning on planting any citrus or recommending that citrus be planted in Southern California backyards.  Everywhere in the world the psylid has shown up, HLB has followed within a decade. I strongly suspect that growing citrus in SoCal will be like trying to grow table or wine grapes here. With grapes, Pierce’s disease, spread by a very similar insect called the glassy winged sharpshooter, makes it impossible to grow anything but resistant varieties unless you use a lot of pesticides. Until a HLB resistant citrus tree shows up (probably by means of genetic modification, never a great option IMHO) I’d stick to pomegranates and figs.

A Sonora and Kamut Wheat Field in Los Angeles County!

Sonora wheat

The Los Angeles Bread Bakers, of which I’m a co-founder along with Teresa Sitz and Mark Stambler, have teamed with farmer Andrea Crawford, of Kenter Canyon Farms, to plant what I think may be the first wheat field in Los Angeles County in many years.

Wheat used to be widely grown here, especially Sonora wheat, a drought tolerant variety originally bought to the Southwest by the Spanish. Along with Sonora, we planted an ancient wheat variety called Khorasan, better known under the trade name Kamut. An American airman obtained Kamut from a street vendor in Cairo in 1949. Researchers are studying ancient wheats like Kamut to see if people with wheat allergies can tolerate them better. We purchased both varieties (certified organic) from the Sustainable Seed Company.

Discing the field

The field was prepared by discing it with a tractor. We sowed the wheat by hand and then covered it temporarily with shade cloth to keep the birds out until the seeds germinate. The seeds were watered in with an overhead sprinkler, but the plan is to pray for rain. If it turns out to be a dry year, monthly waterings will be necessary.

Mark, Andrea and Nathan sowing.

Andrea plans on sowing in some red poppies to help keep the weeds down. If all goes well, a harvest party (get ready to thresh and winnow!) will take place when the grains mature. Sign up for the LA Bread Bakers Meetup (free to join) to find out when the harvest fest will take place.

The wheat field covered with shade cloth.

Speaking for the Los Angeles Bread Bakers, we’re really excited to be a part of this agricultural experiment. A big thanks goes out to Andrea and her son Nathan who have made this possible. We’ll post some updates on the blog as the field progresses.

Note: A quick clarification because we’ve had some questions. The poppies that Andrea plans to plant are not Somniferum poppies (that’s a different kind of cash crop!). They are red poppies, also called Flanders poppies, Papaver rhoeas.

Low Tech Solar Heating with a Thermosyphon Collector

Yet another great post from the folks at Build It Solar: a simple and low tech solar heating system called a thermosyphon collector mounted in the wall of a garage. It uses the same principle as the solar dehydrator we have on our garage roof–basically it’s just some clear plastic and a heat collector made out of black window screen. If your climate is cold and sunny (think Colorado) this would work nicely.

Read the post to see a review of its performance over the past nine years here.

Call In Your Questions to the Root Simple Podcast!

As I mentioned in my voluminous New Years resolution list, we’re going to attempt a podcast after a false start last year. One of the ideas we have is to answer listener questions. This is where you can help. Got a question? Call and leave a message on our Google Voice number: (213) 537-2591. If we don’t have the answer we’ll interview someone who does. We’d prefer calls, but if you’d like to send us an email, you can reach us at [email protected]. Put “podcast question” in the subject line. Looking forward to some great questions and please be patient with us as it may take us awhile to produce the first show.

Solar Garden Helper Thingy

From the always cool Build It Solar blog, a “garden helper machine” built by Randy, aka “PD-Riverman”.

I really Love gardening but I have a bad back and when it comes to staying bent over in the garden it gets rough. So I built this Helper Machine. I  call it My P-Machine. Planting/Picking/Pulling weeds/Putting around the garden machine. 

It’s powered by two 12 volt 80 watt solar panels that charge some golf cart batteries.

I feel like adding learning welding to my New Years resolution list!

How to Plan a Vegetable Garden

Today I did the unthinkable and made good on one of my many New Years resolutions: I planned our 128 square foot vegetable garden a year in advance. Here’s how I did it:

Identifying Seasons
Using an Ecology Action pamphlet as my guide, Learning to Grow All Your Own Food: A One-Bed Model For Compost, Diet and Income Crops, I divided the year into three seasons. Most of you reading this blog probably have two: a cool season and a warm season. Here in Los Angeles we have:

  • warm: April-July
  • hot and dry: July-October
  • cool: October-March

Picking Planting Dates
Using the handy Digital Gardener’s Southern California Vegetable Planting Schedule I chose planting dates (in April, mid-summer and Septmber/October) for each season and marked them down on my Stella Natura calendar. I identified the vegetables I’d like to grow choosing only those veggies that have done well in the past and that we like to eat.

A planning form from Ecology Action

Deciding How Much to Plant
To decide how much to plant I rely on the charts in John Jeavons’ book  How to Grow More Vegetables. I took his three day Biointensive gardening class early last year and recommend it highly, especially for learning how to use the, at first, intimidating charts in the book. Jeavons handed out a handy planning form during the class that works with the tables in the book to help organize your garden. With experience, I also now have an idea about how many square feet of, say, lettuce it takes to keep me and Kelly in salad for a season. While not everyone likes Jeavons, I can say that my best years in our vegetable garden have been when I follow his methods (minus frequent double digging).

Planting Compost Crops
Jeavons stresses the importance of learning how to grow your own compost and fertilizer. I adapted the food/compost ratios suggested in the Ecology Action pamphlet to match our climate. Instead of growing a big winter compost crop (Ecology Action is in cooler Northern California) I decided to treat the late summer/early fall as our “winter”. Growing vegetables in the hot, dry late summer here in Southern California is, frankly, a pain in the ass and water intensive. It’s a time when I’d rather just take a break from vegetable gardening and just grow a bunch of drought tolerant sunflowers, amaranth, cowpeas etc. On the other hand, winter here is the best time to grow all those cool season crops like lettuce and arugula. Using Ecology Action’s suggestions I came up with a compost/food growing ratio:

  • spring/summer – 33.3% food, 66.7% compost
  • summer/fall 100% compost
  • fall/winter 66.7% food, 33.3% compost

The compost crops will reduce my gardening workload, build fertility and assure that there’s always something growing and no sun-baked bare soil.

Apologies for a Southern Californiacentric post, but you can use the same process to identify dates and how much seed you need for any climate. In fact, if you know of a good vegetable planting schedule for your climate please leave a link in the comments.

Update: Scott left a link for readers in Texas. The Texas A&M Extension Service has a vegetable planting guide here.

And meansoybean left a link for vegetable gardeners in Montreal which you can see here.  

Thanks to Hak, here’s Southern Nevada

Kristen sent one for all of the US based on your USDA zone here.

2011 in Review: The Garden

It’s was a difficult year in the garden. A lead and zinc issue screwed up my winter vegetables garden plans. At least we managed to find some river rocks and put in a path.

I found this photo from December 2010. I was certainly a lot more organized that year.

For 2012, I’m putting in raised beds to deal with the heavy metal issue and we’ve already planted more native plants. But most importantly one of my New Years resolutions is to plan the vegetable garden ahead of time. And I’m going to take better notes (though I’ve been saying this for ten years now). Those notes simply being, the date a veggie is planted and the first and last harvests of said plant. That info will make coming up with a planting schedule easier in subsequent years. At least if I keep my many resolutions!

In Chaos Order, In Order Chaos

Periodically Mrs. Homegrown and I teach vegetable gardening classes. For the students, I’ve been looking for a way to illustrate nature’s complex, non-linear dynamics that, paradoxically, seem ordered. I stumbled across this cool sculpture that neatly summarizes the idea of “in chaos order, in order chaos.”

Imagine each of the hammers standing in for one of the systems in your garden, insect life, nutrients, microbes, fungi, etc. Now imagine intervening in the motion of one of those systems. The point is that, with complex non-linear dynamics, we don’t know what the end result of our interventions will be. Best not to monkey with the system . . .

You can see more sculptures by the creator of this video at