A garden update

I used to post about my gardening, back when I had a garden. Since we moved last year, there hasn’t been much action in that area. Most of our back yard is in pavers, which is low-maintenance and good in the drought, but rather boring. We moved south and farther away from water, so it’s noticeably hotter and drier, and it’s been an adjustment. We’ve got a small plot on one side which would be good for veggies, but it’s infested with mint and as much as we’ve tried we just haven’t gotten rid of all of it. (There’s a circle in hell, I’m convinced, for those who plant mint in the ground in regions where it doesn’t freeze regularly in the winter. It took me 5+ years to get rid of the bulk of it at our old place, and new shoots would still pop up on occasion. If you want to grow mint, please keep it in a pot. End PSA.)

In our new place, there isn’t really a front porch, more like a set of steps up to a stoop and the door. I’d bought a couple of painted pots and put them on the stoop with primroses this winter. Primroses are perennials in this climate, but they don’t like it that hot or dry, so they usually look their best in winter and eek through summer. Our front door faces west and so gets all of the afternoon sun, with the added ‘bonus’ of the concrete steps and stucco house reflecting back all the light and heat. The primroses just weren’t going to make it through the summer there, no matter how often I watered them, so I pulled them out into other containers so they could live indoors for the season. I ordered a set of self-watering pot reservoirs to retrofit the pots, and bought some lantana to put in them. Lantana loves the heat and shouldn’t go too crazy sending out shoots as long as it’s in a pot. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, we’ve been adjusting to the drought restrictions by limiting our watering on the small grass area we do have in the front. The spouse would like to get rid of all the grass, but it probably doesn’t make sense to do it until the fall, when there will be a bit of rain again (fingers crossed!) and whatever plants we put in will have an easier time getting established. Our city was placed in the ‘reduce 30%’ band under the statewide restrictions. Thankfully they’re basing that on a city-wide average adjusted by house size, so if you have already been quite frugal you’re not being punished for your foresight. The official ‘we’ll fine you if you go over’ period doesn’t start until June 15th, so we won’t know until later in the summer how we’re doing. I read a news article recently that said that the Bay Area in general had reduced water usage 19% this spring compared to last year, which is promising, especially considering that last year we were already in a drought and lots of people were already voluntarily reducing water usage.

The non-garden update

I have little to report on my garden this year. The question of whether we’d be moving and where has been repeatedly up in the air, then caught, then thrown up again, to belabor a metaphor. Thanks to that and travel, I have planted exactly nothing. My rhubarb has rebounded from the winter wet, which it never likes, but other than that it’s all weeds and roses, and a few annuals in a planter box on the porch. It does look like we might have a good year for the apple tree, so if we are still here in the fall I hope to make a lot of applesauce. I hope that all of you have done better with your gardens than I – have you planted some good stuff this spring that’s now ready to harvest?

On a somewhat related topic, I’ve been noticing a lot of new produce stores opening up in my area. They carry mostly veggies and fruit, and usually some additional basics as well, and they tend to be smaller stores often in areas that are pedestrian-friendly. It amuses me to see these trends ebb and flow – when I was a kid, the trend was to bigger supermarkets, culminating in giant Walmarts and Costcos where you walk a mile in order to find anything. Nowadays many people seem to prefer smaller and more accessible stores, even if they don’t carry everything under the sun, which explains the success of Trader Joe’s.

Everything old is new again, I guess.

Garden planning 2013

It’s beginning to look rather springlike here in the Bay Area, which makes me think about my summer garden. Until a couple months ago, we thought we’d be moving sometime this spring, so I hadn’t done any garden planning at all. Now it looks like we are staying put for a while, so I am scrambling for a garden plan. Our local master gardeners group does a tomato and pepper sale which is not yet scheduled for this year, but last year was in early April. We’ve still been having frosts at night, so I guess I still have a few weeks before I really need to be organized. (Alternatively, if I wanted to raise anything from seed, I’m late and totally missed the boat.)

I was at Ikea recently and noticed that the self-watering pots that I’ve used for several years are back in stock. Self-watering pots are really great for container gardening, especially for things that suck up water like tomatoes. I wish the Ikea models were even bigger, but they are only 20 bucks each and pretty roomy for something like one tomato or pepper plant, and are on wheels so you don’t have to drag them around when full of dirt and plants. You can make your own larger self-watering containers, and someday I will, but these are a nice stop-gap for the moment.

Have you been snuggling up to your seed catalogs this winter? What are your plans for your garden this year?

2012 garden review

I suppose now is as good a time as any to look back on my garden for the year. We’ve had our usual Indian Summer warmup, so my tomato plants are still kickin’ along – depending on how cool it gets at night I’ll probably get a few more weeks out of them. I only planted 4 plants this year, and had a better turnout per plant than last year, but because it was so cool in early summer the tomatoes were really late (again – I’m starting to admit that that’s just what you get in most of the Bay Area).

I planted one bell pepper plant and ended up with 2 or 3 peppers all summer, I think – pepper plants just aren’t high-bearing for me so I’m not sure I’ll bother with them next year.

I’ve already posted about the nearly complete fail of my potatoes-in-a-bucket experiment. Most of the problem seems to have been my overwatering, but again potatoes are one of the cheapest things to buy in the grocery store so I’m not sure whether I’ll bother with them again.

I should have done cucumbers or zucchini or something squash-ish this year but after last year I was afraid the tomatoes just wouldn’t leave room. As it turns out the tomato plants didn’t get nearly as big as last year (yet I ended up with more actual tomatoes – the endless double bind of tomato growing?)

It’s possible we’ll be moving before next summer, so if that happens I’ll have a whole new space to plan for.

If you have a garden, how did it do this year, or what are you planning to grow next year?

Apparently I’m only part Irish

The other day I pulled up my potatoes from this year’s growing-potatoes-in-a-bucket experiment. Let’s just say that if I had to live off my potato crop this winter, I’d be eating a lot of stone soup. I dug up the first, smaller container first (which was a large flower pot of the sort that people often use to grow mums and such). I apparently had overwatered, as the soil was really wet still and the potatoes were too. A few had started to get not quite moldy, but a little smooshy. Still, I got maybe a pound of potatoes out of it, with most being reasonably sized, and a few of these hilarious miniscule new potatoes (here’s a photo of them in my hand for scale).


I had better hopes for the larger container, which was a repurposed garbage container that a previous tenant had left in our backyard. But once I started getting into it, I found a whole bunch of bugs that looked somewhat like silverfish. The potatoes I looked at had tiny holes in them that the bugs had presumably eaten through. I didn’t want to bring bugs into the house or eat messed up potatoes, so I left the whole thing outside and then put it all in the compost heap. I’m unclear whether the wetter environment helped or hurt as far as that’s concerned. I googled about various potato-eating insects but so far I haven’t seen any pictures that match, so I don’t know if it was a potato thing, or just a crime of opportunity, so to speak.

Summer may now commence

When I got back from a recent trip, I found that the first of my tomatoes had ripened. That’s proof that this summer has been warmer than last, which was positively frigid, and where I didn’t get any tomatoes until mid-August at the earliest (it may have been nearly September). I turned right around and made something with some of them – but you’ll have to wait ’til Friday to hear about that.

One of our local thrift stores occasionally carries sewing patterns, along with bags of fabric. They must have gotten a big donation recently, because I stopped in and the pattern box was full. Most of them were my size, and I could have brought home 30+ patterns. I restrained myself, though, and only brought home 5, including a Butterick fitting shell.
Assuming all of these patterns were from the same person, there was a story there in that box of patterns. The 80s and 90s patterns were mostly in the 18-22 range – Butterick and Vogue mostly, with a few Stretch & Sew and Burda. Then there were little girls’ patterns – a daughter or granddaughter? The more recent patterns were either in the 26- size range, or in 6-10 (the daughter grown up?). It’s fun but maybe a little poignant to speculate on who the person was who bought the patterns, and why the patterns were donated.

Gardens and sun

My small garden is growing well. The tomatoes are starting to set fruit and the potato shoots have poked their heads above the pile of soil and compost. The rhubarb crown and division have both recovered as well, which means I’ve got three rhubarb plants going. Of course, the new two are way too small to harvest and will be that way probably until next summer. In general I’m not going to have a lot of garden to harvest this year, but that’s OK by me – a few tomatoes and peppers and then later the potatoes are plenty to keep up with. I think this year I’ve learned how to embrace my lazy tendencies, or at least spurn my perfectionism, as far as the garden goes. Our apple tree is also showing out, as my grandmother would have said – the late, wet spring has given it plenty of oomph for setting fruit. It hangs over my summer clothes-drying location, which means every week or so I have to trim back a couple of shoots as the apples get heavier and pull them down into the way of the clothes.

The other day I managed to sunburn my right shoulder only while sitting in a friend’s backyard. I wonder how many gallons of sunscreen I’ve used over the years? The trend these days seems to be to cover oneself with garments, as opposed to the style when I was a kid of wearing as little as possible when it was really hot. With my pale skin I should probably shift to the ‘cover every inch’ school of sun protection, but it just feels odd to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts in the middle of summer.

What about you – how is your garden growing? Do you cover up in the sun, or just slather on the sunscreen?