Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Well it’s been awhile since I blogged and I admit it, I’ve been in the garden a lot! For the last couple of weeks the daytime temps have been in 70’s and it’s been cooling at night but not freezing.

My lawn, which goes dormant in the winter, has come back to life. I tossed down some fertilizer, gave it a good watering, (we really haven’t had enough rain this spring), raked it the following day and then gave it a light mowing.

For my vegetable garden I picked up the following tomato seedlings from Capital Nursery: a six pack of “Early Girl,” a couple of “Beefsteak,” and a rare heirloom “Watermelon Beefsteak.” I’ll probably pick up a few more tomatoes in another week but I only had room for these right now as some of my winter veggies are still taking up valuable real estate. The nice thing about having chard and carrots still in the bed is that they protect the tomatoes from any strong winds until the seedlings have a chance to get a little stronger. A few words on tomato plants:

1. I like to use tomato cages or some other form of restraint as they have a tendency to sprawl which doesn’t hurt them but it does make it easier on you to pick the tomatoes.
2. Learn if the tomato is “determinate” producing all its fruit at once or “indeterminate” producing its fruit throughout the growing season. I like to do a bit of both kinds. The determinate kind I use for canning.
3. I like to companion plant. The theory of companion planting is that when planted together certain plants will help ward off diseases or pests. For tomatoes I mix in marigolds, parsley, basil and nasturtium. I actually add nasturtium to all my other veggies- it’s a pretty plant and the flowers are a nice addition to salads.

With new tomato seedlings I always pinch off the first set of leaves and plant it a little deeper so the soil goes up to where the leaves previously were. It makes the plant stronger.

In addition to the tomatoes, I planted some seeds of carrots, beets and corn (I’ll add additional rows every couple of weeks to stagger the harvest). Within a couple more weeks I’ll put in squash, cucumber and pepper seedlings.

Fruit trees are always fun but I’m always nervous about committing… you know, planting them in the ground forever and ever until death do us part. My solution, wine barrels! This year I’ve got a dwarf blood orange and a “Kadota” fig tree which already has figs on it! I’m also hoping to find a good variety of avocado. For container fruit trees look for dwarf, mini, or varieties known to do well in containers. You may also want to find out when you can expect your first crop and if it’s self pollinating.

And since the weather’s been so nice, I’ve been finding myself wanting to just lay around in it! Unfortunately the price of attractive loungers range anywhere from hundred bucks upwards! So I got a little resourceful and made my own from scrape wood and deck screws. Four leisurely hours and a beer later and I’m sitting pretty! Happy spring!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Try not to Panic.

First it was a week of rain and now it’s been a week of sunshine. I try not to panic. During spring an impatient gardener can blow through more cash at a nursery than a stripper at a stiletto shoe sale.

So to keep myself from buying too many plants too soon I begin weeding in earnest. It’s the perfect time to do this. The weeds come out easy and every time you’re about to get hot a puffy cloud covers the sun long enough for you to get cool again. But I admit it, I did pick up some Sequoia strawberries which I planted beneath a couple of Imperial Star artichokes. I’m hoping the large leaves will allow them enough sunlight but keep them hidden from the birds. The other purchase included some veggie seeds. My favorite seed companies include Botanical Interests, Seed Savers, Seeds of Change, Renee’s Garden, Kitazawa Seed Co. and Burpee’s Organic.

I am not a big fan of starting my own seedlings indoors. I think our growing season here on the west coast is long enough and our weather mild enough that you can usually start most seeds right in your garden bed. The seeds I put in this week for my spring/early summer garden included sugar peas (around a trellis), carrots, chard and Chinese stir fry greens like pac choi. (A lot of these are the same that I do for a winter garden). Each year I try to add a few new vegetables to the mix. This year when it warms up a little more, I'm going to try okra. I picked a variety called Clemson Spineless 80 that was developed in 1980 from Clemson University. Try not to panic. No, it is not a genetically modified plant but now that I brought it up….

Recently while having a friend over for dinner the topic of genetically modified plants came up. Which made me wonder what is the difference between a (GMO) genetically modified organism versus a hybrid versus an heirloom?

Plants on their own will adapt and evolve to the changes in their habitat and when gardeners get involved it happens even more often. Propagating and crossing plants to create cultivated (something that grows with consistent results due to human action) varieties and completely new plants have been going on for a very long time. I doubt that any vegetables or fruits today are as they were a millennium ago. For example the carrot which we are use to seeing as an orange root was in fact any other color but orange until the 16th century when a Dutch crossed a pale yellow variety with a red one.

What the Dutch did was transfer thousand of genes, in no particular order, within the same species and which probably took a few generations of carrots before he got the orange one which I believe at the time would be considered a hybrid. Now from what I understand of GMO’s a single gene can be altered, in one generation and you can cross the species barrier. Try not to panic.
I’m really not sure how many GMO’s are available on the market but I have notice that one of my favorite seed companies Botanical Interests makes a point of stating on their website site that they do not willing sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. In fact, Botanical Interests usually gives a history of the cultivated variety on the seed package as with the Clemson Spineless Okra. Even many heirlooms have had human intervention. Generally heirlooms are varieties that were not changed since 1900. If it is of great concern, try not to panic, do a little research and always ask.


By the way, thanks so much for all the encouragement on the blog either via comments or emails. The blog is a lot more work than I expected but its fun and causing me to examine my gardening methods or lack there of. So thanks again for taking the time to read and the lovely comments!