Thursday, March 20, 2014

Of worms and high hopes!

This time of year when I turn the soil in my garden - I am amazed at the number of earthworms, Small red wigglers and giant night crawlers the size of small snakes... The soil is drying, but still moist from the last rain.  Perfect for forking over. Time to dig deep and add compost to the soil, and set up for summer watering.  Due to anticipated water rationing this summer I will use timers and drip lines to deliver the water just to where it needs to go.  The secret is to set up the water system first, establish where water will be delivered and then plant only in the moist zones.  I find that 10-20 minutes of drip a day is adequate to produce healthy plants. 

In your hardware store you can buy one hose timers - easy to create and use your water system!

Selecting the plants to grow is tricky.  We have a climate determined by the prevailing airflow from the Pacific. Since we are far inland, miles from the ocean, our daytime temperatures are more like inland summer temps.  In the summer we can count on clear skies and temperatures into the 80-90 degree range (most but not all days).  But when the sun sets, the cool ocean air returns and our nighttime temperatures in the summer consistently fall into the 50s.  This is critical for determining what we can grow.

One of my raised beds with deep good soil - Year around  I have crops here!

The other key factor in my garden is the subtle microclimates even to be found in a back yard.  By a south facing wall it is like Fresno - the hottest microclimate we have.  In the shade of a bush, with no direct sun, the climate is more like Portland Oregon.  On the far side of the house where the sun never shines it is more like Mendocino.   Every plant variety has its favorite conditions - so the trick is to find where it will be happiest.

Bean poles - few crops more satisfying or easy to grow!

Next comes selecting varieties.  Forget  "beefsteak" tomatoes or the heirloom varieties of tomatoes - they require warm nights, which we do not have. They are a good idea - they just don’t like our climate!   I grow "Ace" and "Early girl" tomatoes - both smaller than a tennis ball but very productive.   In our location, they do best if placed in the warmest microclimate I have! The plants keep growing larger all through the season - and they produce fruit until frost.  Also forget eggplants and bell peppers - they are just frustrated to attempt growing them- they need warm nights that we don’t have. Corn and melons are also marginal here.

Whatever you do - dont plant to many !  Zucchini are prolific!

The other side of the coin is that our Pacific airflow creates conditions that minimize winter frost - making it possible to grow a full winter garden:  broccoli, kale, and broccoli in the winter months. After frost is past we can plant onions... and once frost is past we are a good location for potatoes.

A raised cucumber bed that I saw - not in my garden...

These are the plants best suited for our climate - After many attempts at trying to grow plants not suited to our conditions ... Now I only grow things that are naturally adapted to our climate:

Summer crops that we can count on: Plant End of March

* Buy plants in nursery
S - plant seeds

*Cucumbers - Standard, Asian
S  - Green beans - Blue Lake variety //Also Italian Romano beans
S - Zucchini
S -Winter Squash (Acorn or Butternut)
*Tomatoes - (Ace, Early Girl)
*Kale: Italian, Black Leaf, (I prefer these to Curl leaf
*S - Chard
* Basil

Sample Ace tomatoes

End of Sept./October planting:
S- Beets
* Chard
S- Lettuce
S- Fava Beans 
Leaves capturing sunlight energy in our back yard!

October - November  (wait for rain)
S Plant hollyhock seeds, poppy seeds, wild flower seeds, sweet pea, leek seeds
Onion blossom
Late January
Seed Potatoes
Onion starts

If you do not live in the SF Bay Area and want to know what plants are best suited to your location search out the master gardeners web site or state agricultural college for your area and inquire from them>