Entries in garden (35)


In My Garden: Cherries!

Above: Minnie Royal cherry tree

Many people don't believe me when I say I have productive cherry trees in my yard. Their response is always "Cherry trees only grow in cold climates, not on the coast in Southern California." But the fact is we have two very good varieties of delicious dark red cherries with a very low chill requirement (hours per year under 45 degrees). They are the Minnie Royal and the Royal Lee. These two varieties should be planted close together, as they pollinate each other.

When the cherries start to darken I put up bird netting with 3/4" hole spacing, or smaller, to keep the birds away. This size spacing also prevents the birds from getting caught in the netting, as can happen with larger spaced netting. I tie the netting around the trunk of the tree so no one gets in from underneath and possibly trapped inside the net. I leave several overlapping folds in the netting so I can reach in to pick fruit without having to untie the net every time. 

I also want to say that I have several fruit trees on my property from which the birds can eat the fruit to their hearts content. Maybe when my cherry trees mature and I am harvesting lots of cherries I will share with the birds who nest and live in my yard. But my trees are still young and while I got a significant amount of cherries this year, the nets stay on and the cherries are off limits to the birds until I the trees are producing enough to share. 

Above: Minnie Royal cherry tree, 2014

Above:  Four years later, 2018, the same Minnie Royal cherry tree as in above photo. Unfortunately, I had picked all the cherries off before taking the photo. 

Above: Ripe cherries!


Winter Tomatoes


Everyone knows tomatoes like long warm days to flourish. I usually plant a crop in the spring and then again, if possible, in mid-summer. The mid-summer tomatoes in Encinitas, which is close to the ocean, are usually better because we have Santa Ana's, which are hot, dry winds blowing in from the East instead of cool winds from the ocean in the West. This brings very hot weather to us in October and November, sometimes stretching into December. Early summer here oftentimes can be cool and overcast, so I really count on that late tomato crop's bounty.

This past fall and winter is extraordinary. Besides a couple weeks of cool weather (only Southern Californians would call our weather this time of year cool) we have had a very warm season and apparently the tomatoes agree. We use tomatoes mostly for salsa fresca so I mostly grow Romas, with a few heirloom tomato plants thrown in the mix for salads and avocado sandwiches. It's February and my outdoor tomatoes show no sign of slowing down. 


In My Garden: Fall is upon us


Fall is upon us but it's not the time to put your garden tools away. In fact, fall, winter and spring are really great times for vegetable gardens.

First prep the garden bed with plenty of compost, worm castings and mix a few shovels of cottonseed meal and alfalfa meal into the soil to boost the nitrogen, potassium and potash. Try to prep your bed(s)s one or two weeks before planting and water the bed(s) twice a week to help the soil balance itself out, because digging always upsets the natural balance of bacteria necessary for plants to assimilate the nutrients in the soil. Prepping a week or so ahead of your planting schedule will give the soil time to recover from the intrusiveness of your dig. 

I usually start almost everything in flats that I keep in my greenhouse until the plants are three to four inches high. They should have a good root system by then. You can use your patio, garage, or window inside the house in a similar way, anyplace with good natural light. When you finally take them outside be sure to let the plants get used to full sunlight by placing them somewhere outside that gets only a couple hours of sun at first, and then over the next week slowly increase the exposure to full sun.

Now is the time to plant lettuce, arugula, kale, cabbage, garlic, onions, scallions, broccoli, cilantro, parsley, peas, fava beans, and broccoli raab, just to name a few of the fall vegetables.

Above: Lettuce "starts"

Above: My new cucumber plants in my greenhouse.

Above and below: Broccoli raab plants just starting to peek through the soil.

Above: Young celery plants

Above: Young cilantro plants

Above: Protecting my Snow Pea's young sprouts from the crows, who love to pull the little sprouts up for fun!



In My Garden: Fall veggies!  

Above:  My basil crop. The leaves are as big as my tomatoes! Right now our freezer is full of pesto, made with raw pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts, and no cheese. Laura's vegan version is extremely flavorful and light. Without the cheese, the basil is the prominent flavor, the aroma alone fills the kitchen. 

It's fall and those people living in colder climates are putting away their gardening equipment. But not here in San Diego. In some ways, this is an even better time for gardening than summer. Here in Southern California we are lucky enough to be able to grow our crops all year long. You can be planting lettuce varieties, spinach, kale, cabbage and celery to start with. I like to plant cilantro and parsley for a chimichurri sauce that Laura makes. We toss the chimichurri with soba noodles, and add it to other dishes, especially Mexican food. I also plant a large bed of broccoli raab, a crop we look forward to every fall. See my February, 2014, blog for our pasta with broccoli raab recipe. 

No garden is complete without snow peas for stir-fry dishes. I have a large bed planted now and will plant one more large bed before spring, so that we will have an abundance of snow peas, one of our favorite garden vegetables. I have enough room in my garden to plant 100 or so garlic bulbs, and once harvested and dried, this garlic will last close to a year if stored in a cool, dark, dry place. I also planted a bed of scallions and carrots to grow over the winter for a spring harvest. Right now I have cucumbers, tomatoes, and basil that I planted in the late summer for our normal warm and dry Santa Ana weather in the winter, and the new starts will be planted in the greenhouse when ready. 

I have been experimenting with tomatoes, not the easiest crop to grow on the Southern California coast. Tomatoes and foggy beach weather do not mix. But I have found winter tomatoe varieties that are doing quite well this year, so that 2017 may be the year of the tomato for me. Only time will tell. Our weather is typically mid-60's at this time of year, but our temps are hovering into the mid-70's, and all that California sunshine is helping my garden to flourish.

Above: My lettuce crop this year.

Above:  Winter lettuce and spinach for big garden salads with dinner every night.

Above:  Scallions

Above: Good-for-you kale. Chopped up and sauted in olive oil with lots of garlic and red pepper flakes, it's one of the most flavorful side dishes on the menu. Toss it with rice pasta and white beans, and it becomes a delicious and healthy main course. 

Above:  Fresh cilantro and parsley from the garden for making chimichurri sauce to toss with soba noodles. The sauce is a lighter and thinner version of pesto, but packed with the vibrant flavors of parsley, cilantro, garlic, raw pumpkin seeds, salt, olive oil, red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes. Tossed with noodles or rice, topped on a baked potato or a bowl of black beans, it's a compliment to many grain and vegetable dishes. 

Above:  Winter tomatoes


My Crow Buddies

I have come to respect crows, as I do all animals, and want to share this true story with you. 

Several years ago I saw a crow walking on the ground in my backyard and as I watched him I saw a neighbor's cat creeping along the shadows of some bushes towards the crow. Knowing what the cat was about to do, I ran outside so that the crow would fly away. But to my surprise he couldn't fly, and I could see his wing was injured. I put the crow in a cat carrier and took him to Project Wildlife where they repaired his wing. Project Wildlife will return wild animals to the yard they were found in, so this crow was returned to my yard and to his family, who were waiting for him. I still see him years after this event and he is still living and thriving in my yard. His left wing hangs down lower than the right, due to the original injury, and that is how I recognized him. But this is just the beginning of the story.

The year following his injury, as I walked through my yard, I saw another crow walking on the ground and as I walked by he didn't fly away as crows usually do. I assumed he was another injured crow who needed help. I got out one of my animal carriers and walked over to where the crow was hiding amongst some bushes. I picked him up and put him in the carrier. I placed the carrier on my patio in the shade  and went in the house to call Project Wildlife to tell them I would be bringing in an injured crow. This took about 15-20 minutes.

When I came back out to my patio to check on the crow, the trees surrounding my patio were full of crows, at least 20 to 30 of them, and as soon as they saw me they started squawking at me intensely. They were definitely trying to tell me something, but as I don't speak their language it took me a little while to realize they were trying to tell me something. I quickly went inside to my computer and googled birds and crows. I found that sometimes the crow isn't injured, he is simply a young crow learning to fly who had not gotten the hang of it yet. By the way, this is true for any young bird. 

I went back to the crow in the carrier and checked for injuries, which really got this pack of family members even more upset. I didn't find any injury. (The crow from the year earlier had a different, and noticeable, injury to his left side and wing).

I decided to put the crow high up in a tree where a cluster of branches made a kind of bed, so that he would be safe. As soon as I did that the mother and father flew up to check on, and console, their chick. Amazingly, the other 20 or 30 crows flew off, apparently knowing that the young crow was safe. Over the next few days one of the parent crows was always with their young bird, and I could see them bring him food regularly.

Then one morning they were gone from their perch in the tree, but they still came back to my yard regularly. And they saw me also, scolding me every morning as I walked outside to remind me that they can take care of their own young. Since then they seem to understand I respect them and would not harm them, and they no longer scold me, but they still squawk at me, perhaps just saying "Good Morning" in crow.