Tomato Review #1 Red Currant–The World’s Smallest Tomato

Due to poor planning in our garden this year we’ve had a bit of a “need to get produce at the supermarket” gap. Ironically, the first bit of homegrown produce to appear this summer came in the form of what we’re calling the world’s smallest tomato: an heirloom variety Mrs. Homegrown Evolution picked up at this year’s Tomato Mania sale called Red Currant (Solanum pimpinellifolium). This is a domesticated versi...

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Tips on Composting from Will Bakx of Sonoma Compost

Sonoma Compost’s composting operation. On Thursday at the National Heirloom Exposition, Will Bakx, soil scientist and operations manager of Sonoma Compost, gave a rapid fire lecture on the nitty gritty details of composting. Here’s some of his useful tips: Temperature and Turning Compost should stay above 131ºF for 15 days to kill pathogens. Bakx recommended getting a thermometer to check the temperature every day during the...

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Comopost, Compost, Compost

As if I didn’t need a reminder of how important compost is to a vegetable garden, note the tomato above. It’s on its way out, but it grew with no supplemental water in hard-packed clay soil contaminated with lead and zinc in a hot side yard. Why did it do well while the rest of my vegetable garden did not do as so good this summer? Homemade compost. I didn’t have enough compost for the rest of the veggie garden so I bought som...

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The End of California Citrus?

As small as an ant, the Asian citrus psylid is big trouble! When I spotted state agriculture agents on our street I knew something was wrong. It turns out that a specimen of the dreaded Asian citrus psylid showed up in our neighborhood. The Asian citrus psylid is not a problem in itself, but carries an incurable bacterial disease called huanglongbing (HLB). HLB, first reported in Asia in 1919, renders citrus fruit inedible and eventually kills...

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Made in the shade- Passive cooling

We just survived another major heat wave here. People and plants were positively melting. The sidewalks were veritable solar cookers. I’m sure I could have fried an egg on the sidewalk outside my house. I prefer not to crank the air conditioning, so I have been thinking a lot lately about simple ways to cool ourselves and the spaces we inhabit. Air conditioning is the main mechanical means by which we cool buildings these days. However, t...

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Bird Netting as a Cabbage Leaf Caterpillar Barrier

UPDATE: This idea is a complete failure–see the ugly details here. Last month I sang the praises of floating row cover as an insect barrier. The only problem is that floating row cover retains heat, and so when our fall and winter days turn hot, as they so often do, it gets way too hot and humid inside the “tent.” So as Marshall McLuhan was fond of saying, “If you don’t like that idea, I’ve got others.”...

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Garden Design Trends: Interplanting and Plant Communities

The Daily Telegraph garden designed by Sarah Price. Landscape architect Thomas Rainer has a new post on his blog looking at some current garden design trends. Two of these trends intrigued me: what Rainer calls “interplanted everything” and another he calls “community gardens” (by which he means plant communities not allotments). Rainer says, “Massing is out.  Highly interplanted, mixed schemes are in.”  It...

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Why You Should Avoid Staking Trees

The correct way to stake a tree. Image from the Vacaville Tree Foundation To answer the question of why tree staking should be avoided, one can turn to the latest Extension Service advice or to the nearly 2000 year old words of Seneca: No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley. It...

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Notes on Mark Bittman’s “Behind the Scenes of What We Eat”

Last week Erik and I went to see well-known food writer Mark Bittman speak on food policy. He spoke in a huge room in The California Endowment–and it was a full house. Afterward, Erik and I compared it to being in church. We were surrounded by people of the same faith, being told things we already know, and being reminded to be good. And I don’t mean that in a bad way! It never hurts to meditate on how to be better, to do more. Bitt...

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Growing Strawberries in a Self Irrigating Gutter (SIG).

I got this idea from Larry Hall, who made a video showing how he uses gutters as self watering containers. In the first part of the video Larry shows how to use a gutter to supply water to a row of pots. In the second part he shows a two gutter strawberry growing system. I decided to build Hall’s self-irrigating gutter (let’s call it a SIG) to grow strawberries. Here’s how I did it: With some scrap wood I made a support system...

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