27 March 14

Pollinators in the Garden

Last week we attended a workshop put on by the California Center for Urban Horticulture on Gardening for Pollinators. A full morning of talks followed by a trip to the Honey Bee Haven, followed by a trip to the Arboretum Plant Sale (for the record, we bought a manzanita, three Spanish lavenders, a giant buckwheat and an ericameria). All but the lavenders should grow into large shrubs that qualify as four feet, and the lavenders should end up filling that slot.

Sketchnotes from pollinator gardening workshop I’ve written a blog post for the ANR Green Blog that provides more background, but here are the big take-homes for me from the workshop…

  • Planning for succession blooming (in the Central Valley, that means late winter through fall)
  • Putting plants in clumps at least 4 feet long if possible (honeybees, especially, like to specialize)
  • Putting in plants that provide both nectar and pollen (nectar is fuel for adult bees, pollen is protein for the young)
  • Using native plants where possible; they’re drought tolerant and have what our native bees need
  • Avoiding most-toxic pesticides and herbicides
  • Providing a clean source of water (a slow-dripping tap on a sloped surface is ideal; bees like to drink from very shallow sources)
  • Providing cavity nest holes in wood for carpenter and other bees
  • Leaving some areas of gardens unmulched for ground-nesting bees
Posted by at 08:10 AM in Gardening | Link | Comment

16 November 13

From Field to Flour

Two years ago we started getting involved with Farm 2.6, a new educational community farm a few miles west of Davis. I had the odd idea then of putting in a small wheatfield, with the idea of baking some bread from wheat I had grown myself. Today I ground my first batch of flour from the wheat!

Wheat berries There is a reason why grains do not figure in most home gardening efforts, despite being an important diet staple. It is an awful lot of work to produce grains in any sort of quantity at all. (For those who are nevertheless still interested, one good text is Gene Logsdon’s Small-Scale Grain Raising). The timeline of our efforts was as follows. In late winter of 2012 we sowed the field in red clover as a cover crop and to put nitrogen into the soil. It then lay fallow until late January of this year, when we planted the field in a hard red spring wheat. It didn’t end up as a very densely planted field, and there were many, many weeds in it, but wheat we got, and several of us harvested it by hand in early July. The wheat then sat in the barn until last week when at a work party it was threshed and winnowed. The threshing was done by dancing on the heads of the wheat placed in a pillowcase; the winnowing was done with the aid of a small fan. The resulting wheat berries are at left.

Grinding the wheat We have a small hand-cranked grain mill at home and I set to grinding today. This too is hard work, and in about an hour-and-a-half I grinded about 3 cups of flour. I ended up borrowing one of our pieces of cat furniture to clamp the mill to; the cats were curious what use I was making of it. Below is some of the flour. Next up comes baking a loaf of bread! The ground flour

Posted by at 09:18 PM in Food | Link | Comment [1]

22 August 11

Melons, Squashes, Beans, Okra, Tomatoes, Feral Chard, &c

harvest august 2011 I can’t keep up. The squirrels are going to eat the melons unless we harvest them and the beans hide behind every leaf. The okra is getting bigger than is good for its being appetizing.

Very late tomato season this year, but now it’s making up for it…

Posted by at 08:08 AM in Gardening | Link | Comment

18 May 11


When the noise of
rapes and gropes and
men in power
(and men not but
wanting it SO MUCH)
gets too loud

I dig.
In earth
softened by
unhoped-for rain,
earthworms teeming
in a second spring,
tilling improbable loads of
well-seasoned manure
in through loam
and silt. Dig.

Mocked blackbirds and
squabbling swallows swirl as
mud gloms on to my
boots and barrow-wheel.
Dig in grief
for women
silenced by fear.
Fork the rage
into the earth,
go gentle.
Dig: invite
all to sit
at an ancient,
wormeaten table,
sharing the harvest.

Posted by at 07:50 AM in Politics | Link | Comment [3]

4 August 09

Watermelons Everywhere

Squirrel in watermelon rind Part of the trouble with growing things like watermelons is that each plant only produces one or two (unlike butternut squashes, which are breeding faster than the rabbits that live in the ground under them), you plant them at the start of the season, they take up loads of room (though nowhere near as much as our one Hubbard squash, which is by now halfway to Dixon), and then they all ripen at once.

You can store ordinary melons after they’ve been picked for quite a while. But watermelons are best eaten, like corn, shortly after they’ve been picked.

One of the long grays burst open on Saturday. Before it became food for ground squirrels (one is pictured above, eating its way through a watermelon bowl) and ants, we picked it and took it over to a friend’s for dessert. More watermelons are looming in our immediate future….

Posted by at 04:57 AM in Gardening | Link | Comment

3 July 09

Trying Not To Kill The Peppers

I’ve been looking after the garden while Pica is in Maine. Most of the squashes seem happy (it’s pretty hard to do in a zucchini) and I have been faithfully watering the peppers bed and the buckwheat ground cover that Pica put in alongside the ditch. Last weekend it was very hot, but this week it has been cooling down in the evenings with a good Delta breeze setting up. I think the plants have been happier as a result.

Posted by at 10:43 PM in Gardening | Link | Comment

27 May 09

Gardening as a Board Game?

Not the real vegetable garden Scenario: you have some of the finest soil in the country (30 feet of loam with silt, an old flood plain now spared from flooding by a somewhat compromised levee and decades of illegal water diversion), though the soil contains almost no organic matter (something you can remedy by getting truckloads of horse manure and bedding from the horse barn across the road and working it in; the compost pile you tend assiduously is never, ever enough). Your climate is extreme Mediterranean. The landlord has said you can use a triangular plot with 12+ hours of sun exposure but that is overrun with weeds and ancient grape vines put in maybe 30 years ago which now host a strapping colony of ground squirrels (the landlord’s only request is that you put in a large assortment of sweet curcubits, such as melons, muskmelons, and watermelons, all of which require copious space). Other creatures willing to eat everything you put in the ground are pocket gophers, jackrabbits, cottontails, introduced wild turkeys and the usual earwigs and slugs after a wet spring (we haven’t technically had a wet spring but the timing of our two big rains has conspired to produce a bumper crop), aphids and other beauties like the tomato hornworm, plus Zonotrichia sparrows in winter.

You are given 100 yards of chicken wire, 12 T poles, assorted seeds which, if they bear fruit, will include ratatouille fixings and then some, an inflatable snake to deter birds (ha!), and a copy of Sunset Western Garden. Toxic chemicals are forbidden (don’t look at what they’re putting on the adjacent alfalfa field), but you can use cayenne, garlic, fish oil, and any concoctions made from them, if it makes you feel better. You are to observe the time-honored principles of not planting the same vegetable in the same spot for at least three years.

Your challenge is to get as much as you can to a) germinate (1 point per plant), b) get more than two sets of leaves before it gets eaten by insects and molluscs (2 points), c) encourage pest predators (in this case coyotes, ladybirds, etc.) (3 points per creature eaten, except for aphids, which are 3 points per 1,000), d) flower (4 points per plant), set fruit (5 points), and e) make it into your kitchen after it ripens but before it gets eaten by some creature (remember, ground squirrels can smell exactly when a cherry tomato is at peak; you can’t). You lose points for rotting stems and fruit, infestations of toxic weeds, insufficient or too much watering, and every zucchini that grows over 6” long.

You win the game when you have successfully cooked a ratatouille for eight people in the solar cooker (which will take at least three rounds).

Posted by at 06:22 AM in Gardening | Link | Comment [6]

20 May 09

Even The Petals Are Edible

Guava blossom Our guava bushes are blooming profusely!

Posted by at 11:55 PM in Gardening | Link | Comment [2]

9 May 09

The Locavore's Curse

One of the things about my conversion to gardening: I know what’s in season here, when. To the minute. I know when beets are likely to be turning woody, know when to expect the first real tomatoes. At the moment asparagus and strawberries are just past peak (we’ve had a good hot week), but it will be a while before the first tomatoes harvested locally hit the stands. Chard, bombproof as always, is a good intermediary. I am harvesting the last of the crucifers. Next week, the onions will start to flower, and will be pulled up. I haven’t planted enough to last all summer — but the leeks are starting to flower now, and I’m hoping to use them first. The garlic is drying: this, we will have for all of the summer and most of the winter.

We went this afternoon to the Maxfield Parrish show at the Crocker Museum of Art. We’re members, so are able to put in a quick fifteen minutes without guilt. Today, though, there was a reception to launch the Parrish show. We decided to attend.

There were strawberries, to be sure. But there were no asparagus. There was pineapple, probably from Hawaii; melons and canteloupes, probably from Mexico or Colombia; grapes, probably from Chile; green peppers, probably also from Mexico (we still have a few frozen bags from last summer’s crop, but these were “fresh”). The carrots were probably local (but who knows?). Oh: and tomatoes. Cherry and grape tomatoes. From where? Blackberries and raspberries: from where? Or when?

I find I am cooking more with the seasons, using what’s available now. Our fridge is full of beets. They will be over soon, meaning I can dig up that bed and put something else in. Something other than beans, cucurbits, or tomatoes, because I am taking up inordinate acreage with those outside my original bunny fence…

Posted by at 09:27 PM in Gardening | Link | Comment

19 April 09

Another Weekend With No Tomatoes Planted

It’s supposed to be a record-high temperature tomorrow, and me with nary a tomato seed planted. We did pick up three seedlings at Picnic Day yesterday along with a pepper and marigold, rescued today from Numenius’ office.

I’m back knitting after the cat-bite interlude. We cooked lentils and quinoa with chard from the garden, threatening to bolt, having given a bunch of it yesterday to J&B. Today feels very cuspy.

Yet it’s already tonight, and my big challenge of the morning will be to see if Union Pacific steam train #844 comes by my office window before my 9:00 am meeting. Follow it on Twitter.

Posted by at 09:14 PM in Gardening | Link | Comment [1]