Saturday, February 6, 2016

"Getting down and dirty"

Photo Credit: All photos this week came from my good friend Google Images...

Once January is past, we have very little chance of any more frost. .  And if we have a few days free of rain, it becomes possible to work the soil. I have several things that I like to plant as early as possible and then hope for the best –and if a late frost happens - I will just replant…. its worth the risk and planting now you can let the spring rain do the watering

I 'dig' gardening!

1.     Fava beans are so easy to grow (a good crop to plant with kids). The plants are attractive and snails don't seem to like them  - You don't even need to do much to prepare the soil - Just dig a 2 “ hole and drop in a seed, cover up, and it will grow – They also add Nitrogen to the soil… You can go to your local Mexican market – and just buy a small pack of dry seeds – they are good to grow beautifully 
Glorious fresh Fava beans

2.     Nurseries now have 6 packs of small Kale and Swiss chard plants.  The young plants prefer a well dug soil. Mix in some compost or soil conditioner for good measure.  There are several varieties of Kale that I like better than the curly Kale with which you may be familiar. Kale and Swiss chard both grow easily. Unfortunately snails love them both too.  So sprinkle  a little snail bate around the plants.  
Swiss Chard - I like both the red stem and the green...

3.     Now is the perfect time to plant magnificent beets.  Plant seeds – they also like good rich soil with compost – plant the seeds 3-4 inches apart – they grow well in our climate.  The biggest problem with beets is that most people dont plant enough of them!

4.     Carrots are also good in the spring. Your nursery or hardware will have several varieties of carrot seeds.  Carrots are notorious for growing best in a loose sandy soil – so with our predominately clay soils select one of the shorter varieties.  Be brave and try a couple of varieties - see which one you like best...  (One of my happy memories as a child was pulling ripe carrots fresh from the soil, washing off the dirt, and eating it right there - so good! ) 
Carrots have a mystique for me
5.     You can also put in broccoli and cauliflower plants – but unless you have a big garden – they take a lot of space and generally produce only 1 good head of vegetables – I usually skip them.
Chayotes grown as a patio arbor

6.     Chayotes are a very satisfying vegetable to grow– These are grown extensively in much of the world with Mediterranean climates but they not well known here. – Go to a Mexican market and buy a good large specimen – Ideal if you have a fence that needs covering, or want a quick cover for your patio arbor.   They grow beautiful vines with rich green leaves and late in the seasons large amounts of chayote squash form.  The fruit can be kept for many weeks into the fall and winter. To learn more about Chayotes visit this site:

Radishes come in many colors and growth types

7.     This is a fine time to plant lettuce seeds and radish seeds – well-worked soil – compost – sprinkle the fine seeds.  They also need protection from snails.
One of the many types of lettuce
8.     Onion bulbs and potatoes – Now is the time to plant them both – and some people swear by them – I find that for all the space required and storage problems once harvested – I don’t grow them any more.  But they both grow very well here if you want to try

9.     One of my favorites; peas – either regular or Oriental sugar peas (or sugar snap peas>) – for only a little work they give you a wonderful satisfying crop – Only downside is that you must pick them consistently or they will stop growing. 
Cherry tomatoes also like our climate
10.If you are very brave (or some would say foolish) you can try looking for small tomato plants in your nursery soon now – I plant mine very early at the base of a south facing wall with good day time sun – and they take right off… Different tomato varieties have been developed for distinct climatic regions. Forget the large beefsteak tomatoes or most of the heirloom varieties – sure the plants will grow and you can get a very small crop from them – but you will get a much more satisfying crop with good flavor if you stick with “Ace” and “Early Girl’ varieties.

11.Summer squash (Zucchini) needs to wait another month

12.Also this month you can find small plants of Artichokes, rhubarb; …they are perennials and return each year.  Fun to grow, and both are very attractive plants
Love it or hate it - rhubarb ( Give it a change and its will grow on you)

13.Some people love 'Sunchokes' – they are sold in most Supermarkets – and you can plant them right out of the bag – they are a relative of sunflowers and have a tasty root used in soups and stews … Very easy to grow…

Sunchokes - try them first before you put in a big crop

14.Strawberry plants will soon be available soon– and providing that you can grow them on a drip irrigation line – will keep you supplied in strawberries for many weeks.  My preference is Albion  ( you can read about them here - but buy them from your local nursery ).

15.Our wonderful bay area climate has one drawback from the point of view of a gardener – Every night in the summer the cool Pacific air flows over us - We love to live in this climate – but cool nights make it almost impossible to grow a good crop of peppers, eggplant, and okra… Many gardeners will disagree – but its true – these plants need warm nights to set and develop a good crop… I have struggled with them all and only been able to get small unsatisfactory crops ( even though the foliage seems to grow well )… The Alameda County Master Gardening group gives the same advice… also the home garden group out of UC Davis…Never mind – there is so much more that we can grow well… “Live within your climate”

A growing garden

My favorite garden reference book is Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Peirce: Read reviews here:

I have made reference to adding compost – Start a compost system now with all prunings and green kitchen waste and you will have it ready to go for next year… avoid adding weed seeds and animal products.
This year you can buy sacks of compost or even redwood soil conditioner.