USDA Releases New Hardiness Zone Map

The United States Department of Agriculture has just released a new zone hardiness map that reflects both a warming climate and new algorithms that take into account things like terrain, and proximity to bodies of water.  The map is also now searchable by zip code.

You can access the new map here: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb .

For the background on how this map is different from the previous (1990) version, the USDA has a press release

Growing Greens Under Fruit Trees

In the photo above is Scott Kleinrock showing off a section of the edible garden he designed at the Huntington Gardens. At first glace it looks like a lot of weeds, but it’s a clever idea: growing greens in the understory of fruit trees.

In this picture, which was taken last weekend, you see a field of:

  • mallow
  • daikon radish
  • arugula
  • mustard 
  • vetch
  • calendula
  • cabbage

Except for the vetch, which helps build soil, all are edible and nutritious. It was grown with almost no supplemental water. Labor involved removing unwanted grasses in the first year and spreading seeds. And all of these plants readily reseed themselves.

Depending on your climate, the plants you use for this strategy could vary, but the idea is the same: select hardy, reseeding greens that take little or no care. Weed out the things you don’t want. Use space that would otherwise go to waste. Lastly, sit back and let nature do her thing.

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.

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 www.kenkinetic.com.

Meet the Good Guys: Beneficial Insect Poster

 The good folks at the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) have created a handy little poster featuring some of our best insect friends–the natural enemies of garden pests.

They want it spread far and wide, so they’re promoting this link to a downloadable PDF fit for printing. This is a great resource for home gardeners, but also for teachers, schools and community gardens. Laminate it and pass it around! And please feel free to share the PDF link with your circles:

(The UC Statewide IPM website is a great resource, even if you don’t live in California. Go there and you’ll find fact sheets on residential pests and advice on how to deal with them.)