Overwintering Vegetable Crops: Seed Sources

California gardeners who live in mild winter climates (all but the Sierra foothills and mountains), can grow overwintering types of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. We may also be looking for varieties of some other crops that grow well in our winter months. For example, some lettuce varieties handle cold better than others. In addition, if you live in a coastal part of California, you will want to locate vegetable varieties that will thrive in cool summers. For the widest choice of varieties, you can start them from seed.  In my book Golden Gate Gardening, I have described many of the best overwintering and cool-tolerant varieties, given sources for seed, and included a chapter explaining when and how to start seedlings. Following is a short list of some of our best mail order seed companies for regionally adapted varieties, and two local stores that sell seed from some of these otherwise mail order companies.

Yr frost 0299697-R01-008 copyOverwintering 'Purple Sprouting' Broccoli

Bountiful Gardens  Bountiful Gardens Web Site

Kitazawa Seed Company  Kitazawa Web Site

Niichols Garden Nursery   Nichols Web Site

Territorial Seed Company  Territorial Web Site

Two East Bay stores offer seeds from some of these seed companies:

Pollinate Farm and Garden, 2727 Fruitvale Avenue, Oakland, 510-686-3493

Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, 1310 McGee Avenue, Berkeley, 510-526-4704

 

 


Some Resources for Waterwise Gardeners

This is not meant to be a complete list, by any means, but here are a few publications and links that will be useful if you are selecting plants for a waterwise garden.

WUCOLS stands for Water Use Classification of Landscape Plants. This project, sponsored by UCDavis, California Dept of Water Resources, California Center for Urban Horticulture, lets you find out the water needs of over 3,500 landscape plants in six different regions of California. The most recent version WUCOLS IV,can be accessed at the following address:

http://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS/   Click on "Plant Search" Or you can use this link: WUCOLS IV

For information on growing California Native Plants, check out the Las Pilitas web site, laspilitas.com, or use this link: Las Pilitas Nursery.

Here are links to two articles on the subject of watering trees during a drought that were recently in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Trees Out on A Limb

Watering Trees in A Drought

Finally, here is a short list of books that you will find useful as you seek ideas and plants for a waterwise garden:

California Native Plants for the Garden, Burnstein, Fross, O'Brien, Cachuma Press, 2005.Photos, text on garden uses and care.

New Sunset Western Garden Book. I think the most recent is 2012, and it does have all color photos, which are helpful, but the text of couple of editions right before this one were a little more thorough.

Plant Life in the World's Mediterranean Climates, Peter B. Dallman, University of California Press, 1998. Maps and charts show how the 5 mediterranean regions are similar and, importantly, how they differ, then explains the habitats to which many of our favorite plants are adapted.

 Plants and Landscapes for Summer-dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region, East Bay MUD, 2004. Inspiring photos and useful information.

The Random House Book of Indoor and Greenhouse Plants, Roger Phillips & Martyn Rix, Volumes 1 & 2, Random House,1997. Despite the name, thiese two volumes cover mostly mediterranean and other subtropical plants that we can grow outside. The photos and text about the plants in their native habitats are very useful.

Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California, Pam Peirce, Sasquatch Books, 2004.California garden history, plant origins, garden maintenance instructions, garden design, and a philosophy for a regional garden.


Windbreak for a Garden

My column in today's San Francisco Chronicle was shortened, removing information about using shadecloth to create a windbreak for a garden. It might be a useful solution, especially for a garden on a roof or elevated deck. Today's column is about growing plants on a windy deck, in containers. The reader wanted to know if there are plants that are both drought tolerant and also attractive to pollinators. Indeed there are, and I listed some, but it is also true that bees and butterflies will be less likely to visit if the site is quite windy. 

The following information was cut from my column:

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Reducing windiness on your deck would not only reduce water loss, but also produce an environment more inviting to bees and other pollinators. While a wooden lattice on the windward side would help, I once wondered if there is a wind blocking cloth. I learned that the best material available is a polyester shade cloth that blocks about 50% of the sunlight. If it blocks less sun, it won't stop much wind, so it's a compromise.

            You wouldn't want to put either up on the south side of a garden, or you'd have a shade garden, but our region's prevailing winds are from the west or northwest. A north side wind calming structure wouldn't block the sun, while a west side one would be a trade-off between afternoon sun and wind. You'll have to be the one to decide if that's more help than hindrance in your situation.

            Charley's Greenhouse (charleysgreenhouse.com, (800) 322-4707) sells a 6-by-12 foot, knitted, green, 50% shade material with edging and grommets for $52.00.

 


More Late Summer Bloom for San Francisco

I've been writing about flowers that bloom in my garden in late summer and fall. This time of year is always a challenge, because the summer is dry and so many mediterranean and California native plants bloom earlier in the year. I have the further problem that my garden is in a foggy and cool part of the city, and the backyard goes into shade in fall and winter. This results in outbreaks of powdery mildew diseases and gray mold. So I am writing about plants that resist these diseases.

The photo below is of pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, which provides reliable color, from September into November. The photo was taken on October 15th. November 15th, it was still in bloom. The spot where it is planted is in sun from April until September, then in open shade, so it gets the sun it needs to prepare to bloom.

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This plant attracts hummingbirds and offers a whiff of pineapple to gardeners who brush against it. The edible flowers are attractive in salads, especially in a fruit salad. The leaves have such a tantilizing scent, but unfortunately, do not hold the scent when they have been cooked.

In winter, pneapple sage loses most of its leaves. In spring, I cut back any bare stems, and new, leafy ones grow to replace them.

Another late-blooming flower with tubular red flowers is the California fuchsia. (It used to be called Zauschneria californica, but has had a botanical name change, so it is now to be called Epilobium canuum.) I grow it in a place that gets sun all year, but it could handle winter shade, since it is mostly dormant in winter. You wouldn't want it too near to a pineapple sage plant, in any case, since one small, red tubular flower in a small space is enough.

California fuchsia blooms from July onward into autumn. This year, following our spectacularly mild November, some parts of the plant are still blooming at the end of December. It has no scent, however it does share with pineapple sage that it attracts hummingbirds. It has no scent. The other morning when I went to pick up the paper, a hummer was taking its breakfast in the California fuchsias. 

The main drawback I have found to California fuchsia is that the plant is very brittle. If a cat fight happens in it, or you have to reach through it to get to other plants, the meter reader has to push it aside to read a metor, damage will occur. Pieces will break off and have to be discarded. So be careful where you put it.

After California fuchsia blooms, it looks pretty ratty and you will want to cut it back. Maybe the first year just cut back partway, but  I cut my established plants to near the ground and it comes back fine.

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For some bright yellow in late summer and autumn, grow goldenrod. There is a native species, Solidago californica, which I think is the one in the photo. These plants are about 3 feet tall and were covered with bees--honeybees, bumble bees, large and small native bees--they were all having a feast.

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Here is a big bee, probably native, not a bumblebee.

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This one was a wee little bee, probably another native. After goldenrod blooms, cut it back partway. It is a semi-evergreen perennial. And, by the way, it is falsely accused of causing hayfever. Apparently it is the ragweed that blooms at the same time as Eastern goldenrod species that is the culprit.

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Coming up: Some flowers for winter color.


Pineapple Lily--Flowers for Late Summer in San Francisco Gardens

My San Francisco garden is often foggy, cool, and damp in the summer, too much so for a number of late summer-into-fall kinds of flowers. I'm starting a series of posts about some plants that bloom in my garden in this season without succumbing to botrytis (gray mold) or other diseases encouraged by the cool, damp microclimate.

This first flower is Eucomis, also known as pineapple lily. I like it because it looks so dramatic, but it is easy to grow. I have grown it in containers for many years. It blooms without fail in mid-August and lasts several weeks. The leaves are low to the ground; the flower stem is over a foot tall.

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This plant is Eucomis comosa, which has white or pink flowers. Eucomis cl IMG_5021 copy
Here's a close up of one that has pinker flowers. You can see they are like miniature lilies. It is indeed a lily relative, but not related to pineapple. That name comes from the little tuft of leaves at the top of the flower stem, like the one above a pineapple.

Eucomis grows from bulbs, which you may find at a local nursery in the spring, or may have to mail order from a bulb specialty company. It can be grown in the ground if you like, or you can plant one or more bulbs in a container. In the ground or in a container, plant so the neck of the bulb shows at the surface.The plants are hardy to 10 degrees F.

Though the porch on which they are growing goes into shade while the Eucomis is still in bloom, becoming even more cool and damp, it never becomes infected with botrytis or any other disease. After it blooms, the flower stems and leaves pull out of the bulb easily and can be composted.

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Here is a group of eucomis plants in several containers. The ones in the back right are Eucomis bicolor, a similar species that has pale green flowers with purple edges. This species has the same growing needs as E. comosa.

 


Some Plants Think it's Spring this November!

Well, we know they aren't thinking, and I guess that's the problem. When San Francisco has some cold weather followed by a period of warm days in mid-Autumn, some plants start growing, or blooming, as they would normally do in February or later. We see a few plum blossoms in fall sometimes, but this year I am seeing many blooming plum trees. I even saw a blooming crabapple tree yesterday, and they normally bloom later in spring than the flowering plums!

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Looks like spring, doesn't it. But look enlarge the image and you see the fake spiderwebs on that tree that remain from Halloween. This shot was taken on November 15, 2012.

In my backyard, I cut a bulbous iris and put it in a vase in early November. This is definitely a February flower, but three plants have bloomed and the rest are all and still growing.

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You can see one of the last ripe apples still hanging on our tree. Wrong time of year for iris, for sure.

Another plant reacting badly is the Crocosmia 'Solfaterre'. It had its deep yellow flowers in September, then died back, and I cut it to the ground. Didn't expect to see it again until maybe March. But here it is again, with leaves popping up in November! (The leaves start out green, but turn a smokey brown by midsummer.)

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The problem, for these and other early growing and blooming plants is that they are using up all of this energy now, and will probably be forced back into dormancy by colder weather in December and January. Thus they will have less energy to grow and bloom in the spring.

Global warming may change what we can successfully grow here. Some plants that depend on just enough winter chill to rest and regrow, may not thrive if our climate shifts just enough to make them try to bloom twice a year.

The study of the relationship between climate and natural phenomena such as flower bloom time is phenology. We're going to hear a lot more about it as the earth warms!

I was out gardening today, making Black Friday into a green one. A peaceful day. I deadheaded the Cosmos, which are still blooming madly in both front and back yards, then cleaned up apple leaves under our tree, to get rid of apple scab spores. Tomorrow I'll put some composted chicken manure on the wild onion (Allium triquetrum) bed to help them get growing faster. I've been watching the madness at stores on TV and being glad to be home today.

 

 


Healthy Schools Information

I am giving some classes about pest management for some school garden coordinators in San Francisco. Because of this, I have been researching the legalities of pest management in California schools. Below are some links to information that explains the Healthy Schools Act, including lists of pest management chemicals that can be used in schools without posting, and explanations of how to post use of a chemical that isn't on the list.

Note that the rules were set up mainly for inside and landscape usage, rather than for food gardens. The active ingredients that are exempted from the Healthy Schools Act are all basically food products, so are permitted in food gardens, but there are inert ingredients that aren't, so to find out which these are, see the EPA list of inert chemicals that can be used in "food use sites". (Pesticide labels also indicate whether the product is legal to use in food gardens.)

http://apps.cdpr.ca.gov/schoolipm/   This is the main page of the CDPR School IPM Program. It provides overall info on regulations that  apply to schools, and allows you to link to the next two useful pages: 

http://apps.cdpr.ca.gov/schoolipm/overview/hsa_faq_color.pdf  This document provides FAQs on the Healthy Schools Act.

http://apps.cdpr.ca.gov/schoolipm/school_ipm_law/exempt_products.pdf   Here you can read about Pesticides & Inert Ingredients that are exempted from the Healthy Schools Act (The actual lists start on page 3--scroll down) (This document also includes links to the EPA minimal risk pesticide list and to the list of CDPR exempted products) 

http://www.epa.gov/opprd001/inerts/section25b_inerts.pdf  This is the list of inert ingredients permitted for use on food crops.

www.cdpr.ca.gov   To see if a pesticide is registered (legal) in California (Click on: Look up pesticide products.)

www.npic.orst.edu. Use this site to research a pesticide ingredient through the National Pesticide Information Center, sponsored by the EPA, go to  Look for Active Ingredient Fact Sheets.There are technical or general Information Sheets, depending on your interest and technical background. There are also sheets on inerts and much other useful information on this site. You can also call them to ask for information in person.

www.ipm.ucdavis.edu  Click on Home and Garden Turf and Landscape, then on Pesticide Information, then on "Home & Landscape Active Ingredients Database." Also, within the pest management writeups, there are comparison charts for various pesticides, telling you what parts of the environement they might harm and other health and environmental factors you might consider when choosing among alternatives. 

See also my book, Golden Gate Gardening. The chapter on IPM includes much information about choosing and using pesticides. In addition, the book's Appendix IV, pages 390-397,  explains pesticides in greater detail, including how to read a label and detailed analyses of common active ingredients you may be thinking of using in your garden, so you can make informed choices among your options.


Cucumbers in December?

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If you have any doubts that this has been a mild fall in San Francisco, consider this: I shot this photo of a plump cucumber in my garden on December 23rd! Although the leaves are dying, a few are still green and the cucs, though small, keep coming. They are also deliciously tender, crisp, and sweet. They received rave reviews in a large Christmas salad we made for a potluck.The plants tell us about the weather as surely as do the thermometor and the rain guage. I think the reasons for this ongoing success are both the mild temperatures and the lack of rain.

How unusual is this late harvest? I've been growing this variety of cucumber, 'Burpless Tasty Green', in the same San Francisco garden for maybe 30 years, and this is the first time they have borne this late. Usually, I pick the last of them by early to mid-November. This year, not only did I pick 3 cucs on December 23rd, but 2 more small ones on December 30th!.

The harvests from a winter garden always seem like special gifts. Hope yours is providing some for you as well--and Happy New Year!

 

 


Of Lawns and Artichokes--and the new editon of Golden Gate Gardening

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I just thought you'd like to see a lawn growing in a place where it is happy and watered by the summer rain, so unlike here in California, where a lawn is not natural, uses a lot of irrigation water in summer, and still struggles to survive. This lawn is in rural Indiana, which I visited last summer. I don't think they do much more lawn care than mowing there. The whole area is covered with fields of crops, forest, or lawn. This lawn with trees is the view from the back porch that you can see in the distance. In winter, the view is often of snow. Not a bad view, eh?

Here in California, I planted seed of 'Imperial Star' artichoke a couple of weeks ago, and seedlings are emerging from the seeding mix in containers on my windowsill. I've never grown artichoke from seed before. This is the one that is supposed to bear the first year from seed. They use it a lot in the Imperial Valley, where summers are probably too hot and winters too mild for it to do well as a perennial. They take it out and replant every year. Interrupts the life cycle of pests too. Gardeners in cold-winter areas also try 'Imperial Star' since the winter would kill the plants. Here in the near-coastal parts of the  Bay Area, it should be perennial, just fast bearing. It needs to to outside early enough to get a little chill before spring warmth, which should be no problem to achieve here in San Francisco, where our springs are long and chilly. I'll post some photos when the plants are a little bigger.

I am beginning a countdown to the publication of Golden Gate Gardening 3rd Edition (GGG3A), which should be in stores by February 1st, 62 days from today. Much new and updated info. Calendars for Zones 15 and 16. New recipes. New cover too.


Insect Helpers

Early May 2008 047 copy Recently I promised to show a photo of a soldier beetle. Here it is, cleaning up the pahids that were eating my Rosa chinensis. This is the first one I have seen in my San Francisco garden, though I have seen them several times in the East Bay. A colleague at City College tells me that they are often in his Noe Valley garden.

There are over 100 species of soldier beetles in California. The larvae feed under bark or in soil litter on eggs and larvae of butterflies, beetles, moths and other insects. The adults of some species eat pollen and nectar, but the adults of other species eat aphids and insect eggs and larvae. In this case you can see the shed skins of aphids on the stem of the rose bud, but I think the soldier beetle ate up all the aphids and was just wandering around hoping for more. As soon as I saw the soldier beetle, I ran back in the house for my camera, and when I got back it was gone. I was sure it had flown away , but I waited, and soon it wandered back into view.

You can recognize soldier beetles by their narrow shape, and by their soft black, gray, or brown wing covers and often a red, orange, or yellow head and abdomen. All these details are from the Natural Enemies Handbook, by Mary Louise Flint and Steve Dreistadt, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Project, 1998.

Soldier beetles are just one of many naturally-occuring helpful insects that show up when you avoid the pesiticides that kill them along with pests. You don't buy soldier beetles, just give them a chance to help you.