Recipe: Vegetables Vietnamese-Style

This is a tasty stir-fried dish flavored with Southeast Asian fish sauce and crushed peanuts. It is a great way to use the wild, Mediterranean onions that are in season in the Bay Area now--December through early April. (To see photos and read a description of the wild onion, search this blog for Allium triquetrum.)

1 Tablespoon oil                                                                         2 Tablespoons chicken or 

3 green onions or wild onions--cut into narrow strips          vegetable broth

2 stalks celery--cut into narrow sticks                                   1 Tablespoon fish sauce--or to taste

1 medium carrot--cur into narrow sticks                              Black pepper, to taste

2 cups cut-up Chinese cabbage                                              1/2 Cup peanuts, dry-roasted

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Photo: Carrots, celery, and wild onions, sliced and beginning to cook in a skillet.

Directions: 

Cut the onions, celery, and carrot into narrow sticks ("matchsticks") 2 or 3 inches long. Chop and measure Chinese cabbage.

Coarsely crush the peanuts. (I use a mortar and pestle--just long enough to break each peanut into pieces.)

Heat oil in a skillet, add onions, celery, and carrot. Stir-fry for 30 seconds. 

Add cabbage and continue to stir-fry until cabbage begins to wilt.

Add broth, fish sauce, and black pepper, turn the heat up and cook until liquid is almost gone. (The fish sauce adds saltiness and a savory umami flavor.)

Taste to check the seasoning and add more fish sauce or pepper if desired. 

Serve hot, sprinkled with the peanuts just before serving. 

Adapted from California Culinary Academy: Southeast Asian Cooking, by Jay Harlow. 

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The vegetables as served--topped with coarsely crushed peanuts.


Some Soil Basics--Soil, Potting Mix, Amendment, Compost

What is soil? What is potting mix? What is Compost? When to use each and why.

Soil contains 5 ingredients: Mineral particles, water, air, living creatures, and dead organic matter. What plants need to get from soil is: minerals (from dead organic matter and sometimes from the mineral particles), water, oxygen (because every living cell respires, using the air’s oxygen and releasing its carbon dioxide), and sometimes symbiotic relationships with living creatures (such as mycorrhizae—which rarely need to be purchased).

The mineral particles in soil range from tiny clay particles to the larger sand particles, with the in-between-sized silt particles. The best for plant growth is a mix of the three, with more sand than the other two, such as sandy loam, though other mineral particle proportions can be improved by adding organic matter.

The nutrients plants need to get from organic matter are largely nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, which are released from dead organic matter as it is digested by soil creatures, including soil-dwelling bacteria earthworms, fungi, and actinomycetes. Plants don’t need the complex molecules of organic substances, just the simple elements.

In nature, organic matter enters soil when plants or animals die or when animals urinate or leave manure. Most organic matter falls on the surface, then earthworms and other creatures carry it underground. Burrowing animals also produce some organic matter when they die or defecate underground, though animal burrows are also relatively near to the surface. Nutrients from this organic matter seep deeper with rainfall or artificial watering and are also left behind in deeper soil when plant roots die there. In nature, plants expect a gradient between the amount of nutrients from organic matter and the amount of oxygen, from greater amounts at the surface to lower amounts in deep soil. (There are fewer living creatures in deep soil, simply because there is less oxygen, so if organic matter is down there, nothing will digest it to provide plants with nutrients.)

Organic matter helps the soil hold onto more water longer and still have air spaces. All organic matter provides some nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and trace minerals. Not all organic matter is rich in nitrogen, which is the nutrient most likely to be low in local soils. For growing vegetables, we want to add more nitrogen than, say a for a shade tree or an ornamental shrub, because we want vegetables to grow big and grow fast. Some organic materials are so low in nitrogen that soil creatures will not be able to digest them unless they also use some nitrogen from other materials in the soil, such as nitrogen fertilizers we have added. Low-nitrogen organic materials include sawdust and shredded bark. These are high in complex plant carbohydrates, such as cellulose or lignin, for which we use the shorthand “carbon.” Others are high in nitrogen. If an organic material does contain plenty of nitrogen, we consider the organic matter to be fertilizer, however we need to be careful not to use too much of high nitrogen materials, since they can burn plant roots.  

When we consider organic matter for adding to soil, we speak of the carbon/nitrogen or C/N ratio. Ideally we want to dig in some organic matter that is about 30/1. This will improve the water and air capacities of the soil as well as providing nutrients. The C/N ratio of sawdust or shredded bark is in the range of 200/1 to 700/1. That of garden wastes is 25/1 to 80/1, depending on whether it is fresh and green or dry and fibrous. That of kitchen scraps is about 17/1 and fresh animal manure is also quite nitrogen-rich. A good way to balance these widely varying materials is to compost them—mix them up and let them rot together for a while. Ideally, we’d mix materials to aim for a finished C/N ratio of 30/1. (We call mixtures of aged organic matter compost no matter what the end C/N ratio might be, but what went into it will determine how high the nitrogen content of the finished product can be. When a compost is made of only garden waste, which is modest in nitrogen content, you probably will need to dig another source of nitrogen into your soil as well.)

If you want to increase the organic matter in your soil, buy materials that are labeled “amendment” or “compost” and dig a layer into the soil surface along with any fertilizer you might be using. (You can also spread organic materials on the soil surface as a mulch. For vegetables you want to use s small-particled mulch, or something that will decay relatively fast, not big bark chunks that must be raked aside before you can replant.)

Potting mix, container mix, landscape mixes and similar products are often labeled “soil,” which they are not. They most often get their bulk from sawdust or shredded bark, that low-nitrogen stuff. (And plants don’t really need that much organic matter of any type. Three percent is usually plenty.) Potting mixes may also contain mineral particles that are inert or nearly so as far as the plants are concerned, such as perlite, pumice, or even pea gravel. They may contain small amounts of aged manure or worm castings, which is a good thing, but which does not make them adequate to use as garden soil. They are typically sterilized, so as purchased they do not contain any living creatures. This is fine if you are growing houseplants, but not ideal for garden soil. They may also contain chemical fertilizers or even pesticides—read the label carefully.

If you need to fill an empty garden bed or raise the soil level in your plot significantly, the best idea is to raise it using plain soil, such as sandy loam, then dig some compost and, if you like, other organic fertilizer, into the top 6-8 inches of the soil. (or you could stop adding soil at 8 inches from the top, dig a couple of inches of compost in, then add 8 more inches and dig in twice as much compost as you just did.) This imitates nature, in that the bed will have more organic material and higher fertility near the surface, less deeper in the soil. . (If you are making a Dearborn garden bed much deeper than it was, or just adding soil to raise its level in the bed, it would be best to take out the old soil, which someone has been amending and fertilizing for years, add the fresh sandy loam, and then put the old soil back on top, and then dig in some amendment and fertilizer.)

Potting mix or container mix are best used in a container 2 feet or less deep, the kind with one or a couple of holes for drainage. They are great for this use, water-retentive and providing good drainage. However, after a while, container mixes collapse. This is when the wise gardener will repot the plant in fresh mix. Potting or container mix are not designed for beds with bottoms open to the soil, or for any use that is over 2 feet deep. When a potting mix is used in a deep raised bed, a problem will ensue in a year or two when the stuff collapses.  The plant roots will then lack air, and the bed will need lots of fertilizer to supplement the carbon-rich wood products that remain. The gardener may spend a lot of money adding more potting mix and fertilizer, or dig it out and start all over with fresh potting mix or, better idea, soil. There are so many names of products sold in bags now that it becomes confusing, but if you stick with potting mix for containers two feet or less deep, and, for garden beds open to the soil beneath them, use soil with organic matter (well-made compost, soil amendment, maybe some extra fertilizer) dug into the top 6-8 inches, you can't go wrong.

I explored the web site of Lyngsø Garden Products (in the SF Bay Area) which is where we have obtained the turkey manure-based compost for the past couple of years. They sell sandy loam, and have a very nice explanation of what it is and what it’s for. They also sell many other “soil” products. I noted that some of them were a lot cheaper than sandy loam—probably because they contain so much sawdust or shredded bark. They also sell Organic Diestel Structured Compost, the turkey-manure-based compost. It’s very pricy, and worth it I think. Lyngsø sells by the bag or will deliver as little as a cubic yard of material for a flat fee of $85. They are in San Carlos. 

Now let us consider for a minute how volume of these materials is calculated. Soil, amendment, compost, etc. are sold by the cubic foot or cubic yard. Bags of soil, compost, etc. for outdoor use contain 1 or 2 cubic feet. Any more and you could not lift them. There are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard (3’ x 3’ x 3’).

A bed that is 8 x 8 feet and 2 feet deep requires, as an example, 128 cubic feet, or about 4.74 cubic yards of soil to fill, or a bit less to give yourself headroom and room for some amendment, say about 4.25 cubic yards.

A final tip: When adding a material different from what is below it, it is always wise to add a layer a few inches thick first, and mix it with the layer below it, then add the rest. This avoids having an abrupt transition, which water may not readily pass through.

At Lyngsøgarden.com:

Sandy Loam is $62.00 a cubic yard, $3.50 /sk (sk, for some reason, means cubic foot bag)

Organic Diestel Structured Compost is $145.00 a cubic yard, $6.50 /sk

Note that the information about filling garden beds with soil, not potting mix is also explained in the soils chapter of my book Golden Gate Gardening,


Garden Tip

Got Pests? Try Botanical Oils

            Into every beautiful and productive garden a little nasty pest activity may fall. Aphids may infest the kale, powdery mildew coat the leaves of zucchini, black spot mar the rose leaves, or little white flies flutter while their nymphs are sucking the sap from a shrub.

            In the early days of modern pesticides, incredibly toxic chemicals were sold to home gardeners to manage pests. These days, the products we use are more likely to kill pests without threatening our health as well. A good example is oil-based pesticide.

            Petroleum oil in water, with a sticker-spreader to keep it from settling out of solution, was long used to spray woody plants in winter. It was called “dormant oil.” If you sprayed it when leaves or flowers were present, it burned them. Because of this, other, often less environmentally friendly, chemicals were used in the summer.

            However at some point, researchers learned that it was sulfur impurities in the petroleum oils that made it toxic to leaves. So they refined the sulfur out and sold the new products as “superior” or “summer” oils. You could safely spray them on leaves and flowers all summer, as long as the temperature was below 90 degrees F when you sprayed.

            Oil kills by clogging the breathing pores of insects or actually exploding the spores and other cells of fungus. And as research continued, It was found that many kinds of botanical oils will also do the job. Products based on oil of canola, soy, linseed, sesame, even jojoba (a desert plant) began to appear (read the active ingredients list). Some of these sprays include aromatic oils, such as thyme and peppermint, which might offer some repellant action.

            I encourage you to try these products, based on renewable, even edible, oil sources, in your garden. I have permanently stopped an aphid infection of kale with a single, thorough spray of a botanical oil product. However it is usually necessary to respray every week or two to continue the protection. Also, to control diseases, oils are most effective as a preventative or at the very first signs. If you spray early, you can kill spores on plant surfaces, but once a fungus grows deep inside the plant, where sprays can’t reach, it is often too late. Follow directions on labels and watch your plants.

            Another oil product that kills insects and some disease spores is Neem oil. It also is toxic for insects to eat and kind of disgusting to them, so reduces feeding and even egglaying. However, the ingredient, azadirachtin, is a growth retardant for bees, so I prefer to try other oils first, or save neem oil for pests not listed on labels of botanical oil products. Azadirachtin breaks down in sunlight in 100 hours. Follow directions on label, including about interval between spraying food crops and eating them.

           


Oven-Roasted Cauliflower with Cajun Spice Mix

I've been roasting a lot of vegetables lately, inspired largely by the book Fast Fresh and Green, by Susie Middleton, published in 2010. She has included a chart that helps choose the size of pieces to roast and how long it will take for them to reach a delicious stage of brownness with out scorching. She also has a number of special recipes for roasting vegetables with particular seasoning or with several kinds roasting together. 

I decided to try roasting cauliflower with something on it that would make it less white, so it would be a little more interesting on the plate. I tried curry or curry spices, which wasn't bad, but decided I like a cajun flavor more in this case. The roasting makes the cauliflower tender all through with a sense that the outer edge has been fried. Yum!

So here is the recipe, with the spice mix first:

Cajun Style Seasoning Mix (Adapted from Down Home Healthy, Leah Chase and Johnny Rivers, National Inst. of Health, 1994

They call it "Hot 'n Spicy Seasoning.")

¼ cup paprika (preferably smoked paprika--so good!)

2 tablespoons crushed dry oregano leaves

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (to taste)

½ teaspoon dry mustard

Mix all ingredients in a jar with a lid. Store what you don’t use right away in the cupboard with the lid on. Makes about 1/3 cup.

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Oven-roasted Cauliflower with Cajun Spice

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Cut cauliflower and arrange it in a single layer on a large baking pan. Cut large curds from the head and then cut them into pieces with at least one flat side and a maximum thickness of ¾ inch. (Start by cutting each curd in half lengthwise and then dividing the halves lengthwise, with a little of the stem on each.)

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a 9 x 13 inch backing pan and use one hand to toss the cauliflower in the oil, coating it. Rearrange it in a single layer.

Sprinkle a little Cajun spice mix on each piece of cauliflower. (If your shaking skills are not great, try putting it in a jar with a shaker top, but a rather narrow neck, so you can aim at each little bit of cauliflower.)

Put in the oven and cook about 17 minutes. Check. It could take 3-5 longer. It should be browned on the bottom but not black anywhere. Serve hot!

One 9 x 13 inch pan full serves 2 people and uses about 40% of a standard cauliflower head.


Making Soup Stock From A Garden

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Illustration: Soup stock being made from backyard garden ingredients, including wild onion, parsley, oregano, and thyme, with a purchased bay leaf.

Soup stock, that deliciously flavored liquid we use as a basis for soups and sauces, is a natural for the gardener-cook. The beauty of it is that most of the ingredients can be scraps of vegetables, or over-produced ones we would otherwise probably not eat up. Let the cooks with no gardens go to the grocery and buy carrots, celery, onions, and other vegetables to flavor stock. We have it already if only we know what to use. No matter if the ingredients are a bit tough or strong-flavored, they are perfect for broth. They will be strained out and discarded anyway.

An important starting concept for the gardener who would make soup stock is that most stocks include plants from two different botanical plant families: the carrot and the onion families. Use at least one of each, add a few herbs, and you'll have a very nice stock. 

Carrot Family 

In the carrot family are parsley, Japanese parsley (Mitsuba), celery, fennel, and, of course, carrot. The easiest plant of this group to grow in quantity in a small garden is parsley. Once you have it, you can let a couple of plants of it reseed and save as many seedlings as you want, transplanting some when the plants are still small to places you want it to grow. Japanese parsley is a perennial plant that grows best in shade. If you like its delicate flavor and have a shady, well-watered place for it, you can have it for harvest most of the year.

Celery is not as easy to grow as parsley, so most small space gardeners don't grow it. (If you buy celery, do save the leafy parts to use in stock.) Some gardeners do grow Chinese celery, which has narrower, less-tender stems. It is easier to grow and most useful in soup or other cooked dishes. If you are growing it, you will have plenty of leaves for use flavoring stock. 

Fennel loses its anisy flavor when it is cooked, having instead a distinctive sweet flavor. It is not for every stock, but can be very nice in some. (I have used it as a second carrot family ingredient, with parsley or carrot tops as the main flavoring.) Most gardeners will not have fennel growing, but if you are growing even one plant for its tender, white bulbous leaf bases, you will have plenty of green stems and leaves that could be used in stock. (The fennel in vacant lots, a weedy variety, rarely has enough tender leaf base to be useful, but I imagine its stems and leaves would flavor a stock just as well as those of domestic Florence fennel varieties. And if they are tough, no matter, since stock ingredients will be strained out anyway.)

Carrot leaves are a fine addition to stock. If you grew too many carrots to eat up, of course you can add the root too, but most gardeners don't grow that many, so would prefer to save the roots for eating raw or adding to the soup later.

Onion Family

One of the best onion family crops for use in making stock is the leek. When you buy leeks, you may not realize that up to three of feet of leaves have been chopped off, leaving at most a foot of green leaf on the white lower stem that we think of as "the leek." All of that leafy part is great for making stock. If you had purchased the leeks, you'd just have a few inches of green leaf, but in the garden, there is plenty of it. And, should the leek sit in the garden over winter and you forget to use it up by late March, it will surely form a flower stalk, becoming tough in the process. If this happens, cut up the entire plant for stock. 

Bulb onions are not the best crop for a small garden, and are not always successful in that if the timing is wrong, they will form poor bulbs or will flower before they bulb. If you do grow bulb onions, remember that any bulb, leaf, or flower stems you don't eat can flavor stock. That goes for onions you have purchased as well--any trimmings, even dry skins, will flavor stock. (if you do plan to grow bulb onions, the surest ways to do it are to plant onion "sets," small bulbs you get at a nursery, in February, or grow seed of "day neutral" varieties in early to mid spring.

Wild onions that grow in Bay Area gardens are a culinary secret worth learning. They are Allium triquetrum, a Mediterranean native that is a perennial plant. The bulbs are dormant in summer, grow in fall, and make useful greens and flowers all winter and early spring, dying back in April. If you have it as a weed, you may as well be eating it. The entire plant is tender and nicely flavored enough to use in salads and cooking, but if you have a lot of it (it tends to be weedy) you will find it flavors stock nicely as well. (Search for it by scientific name on this blog for a photo and more info on identifying it and managing it in you garden.)

Trimmings from a Grocery

While I am writing this primarily for gardeners, I should say that when produce workers put out vegetables, they often chop off the very parts you'd use for stock. I have come across workers removing leafy parts of celery, leaves of leeks, and carrot tops as they set out the vegetables, putting all the "scraps" in a box to discard. So even with no garden, one could frugally and deliciously make broth from these tasty discards.)

Herbs

You will want to add some herbs to further flavor your stock. Add a bay leaf or two. I think the best idea for most of us is to buy some already dried. Bay trees get big and make a dense shade, so are not the best choice for most small gardens, but I have seen them kept small in a large pot or half barrel with some success. If you do have access to a larger bay tree, harvest by pruning to shape. Remove the leaves and press them in newspaper under books until flattened and dried, then store in a jar. (Be aware that the California bay is a different species than the Mediterranean one, with harsher-flavored, most think inferiorly-flavored leaves.)

A number of Mediterranean herbs are easy to grow in Bay Area gardens. The best to have handy in a small garden for stock are probably oregano and thyme. Grow them in the ground if at all possible, giving them room to spread their roots and make good plants. Add fresh sprigs to your stock.

Making the stock

To make your stock, add all of the ingredients to a large soup pot at once, adding plenty of water. You can also add salt and pepper, but I usually don't at this stage, leaving decisions about them until I am using the stock for making a soup or sauce. (If you eat meat, add soup bones too, marrow bones or boney parts of chicken.) 

Boil all of the ingredients 30 minutes to 2 1/2 hours--use the longer time especially if you have included meat. If only vegetables and herbs were used, you can just strain them out in a fine-mesh strainer and you have your stock. (If bones were added, you will probably want to refrigerate the pot overnight, then use a spoon to skim off any fat before you strain.)

Once the stock is strained, you can use it immediately to make soup, or you can put it in containers in the refrigerator for use in up to a couple of days. Or, if you have too much to use fresh, put some in containers and store these in the freezer for later use. Write the kind of stock and the date on a label affixed to the containers. 

May the soup be with you!

 

 

 


Master Gardener Plant Sale Coming Up April 21, 2018

Each year the Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco counties has a spring plant sale and educational fair. This is their 9th year!

The event will be held on Saturday, April 21, 2018, 9 am to 1 pm at the San Mateo County Event Center, Sequoia Hall. There will be free parking at 2495 South Delaware Street, San Mateo. 

The plants available will be new and heirloom varieties of tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplants, herbs and more.  They will have top-performing selections for each microclimate. 

There will also be educational tables and expert advice. 

 

For more information, go to www.bit.ly/MGPlantSales

 

 


Pokeweed--A huge and Toxic Weed

In my SF Chronicle Column for November, I reported on a weed that has been sighted in San Francisco. It's a native in the  Eastern part of the U.S., so I was surprised to find it here, but there it is. I also saw one down the Peninsula this summer, though I forget just where. 

The plant is large, 4-10 feet tall, and most parts and stages of it are toxic to most mammals. I described it in my column, but was unable to get a photo of it into the print version. However, I can show a photo here. This is an image of a stem of berries. Botanists call this kind of flower or fruit-bearing stem a raceme. The berries are dark purple. When they are ripe, their stems and the longer central stem of the raceme are usually bright pink. The stems of ripe berries are the most recognizable parts of the plant. 

Pokeweed berries

Photo by Andra Sadoun

You may find it surprising, given the toxicity of this plant, to know that it has long been a part of the diet of rural people in the South and eastern-central parts of the U.S.one of the young greens gathered and eaten in spring.  Only the leaves of very young plants are eaten, and they must be boiled two or three times, with the boiling water drained off of them between boilings and after the last one. This dish is called "poke sallet." (It important to know that the word "sallet" derives from an old English word that meant cooked greens, not salad, as the raw leaves would be toxic.)

The berries are toxic, and eating only a few has killed small children. Though some say the seeds are the most toxic part, it hardly seems worth the risk to try them. Birds seem immune to the berry toxin, so the fruit is eaten by many kinds of birds, including Northern mockingbird, mourning doves, and cedar waxwings. Raccoons and possums may also be able to eat the berries, though most mammals cannot.

The most toxic part of all is the root. The plant is perennial, likely to regrow from last year's roots, so the best way to get rid of it is to dig it out. Wear gloves, as the toxin can enter through skin. Then pick up any fallen berries you see, and watch for seedlings. (The young plants are sort of nondescript, with large oval, pointed leaves.)

How did the weed get here? Presumably from bird-planted seed, but it's possible the seed was assisted by some other form of transportation. It could have stowed away in tire treads or shoe treads. While there are domestic varieties, are grown as ornamentals, their leaves look different from the wild plant. (The ornamental varieties are  ‘Silberstein’, which has pale, cream-colored leaves with green spots, and ‘Sunny Side Up’, with yellow-green leaves.) The ones being found in the Bay Area seem to have normally green leaves, meaning are not escaped ornamentals.

 


Here are my recommendations for sources of information on growing fruit and nuts in San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Also search this blog for info on citrus HLB disease and on wooly apple aphid, both problems for which you should keep a lookout: 

Golden Gate Gardener: Third Edition, Pam Pairce, Sasquatch Books, 2010. The chapter on fruit is a good primer on selection of fruit-bearing plants for Bay Area gardens, with a discussion of microclimate adaptation and summaries of the care and possible problems involved in growing specific fruits. Suggested varieties included.

ANR University of California Publication 8261 Selecting Fruit, Nut, and Berry Crops for Home Gardens in San Mateo and San Francisco Counties, by K. S. Jones and Laurence R. Costello. http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/repositoryfiles/8261-54314.pdf

Grow a Little Fruit Tree, Ann Ralph, Storey Publishing, 2104  This is my favorite book for current and prospective fruit tree owners. She covers choosing, planting, harvesting, pests, but most importantly, pruning. The most important information in the book is how to make the first cut and prune the tree in the early years to create trees that you can harvest without having to use a ladder. The illustrations are attractive and useful. 

California Rare Fruit Growers. This California-wide organization has local chapters that often give workshops or hold scion exchanges. They are on the web at crfg.org, especially useful is the fruit facts Wiki, https://crfg.org/wiki/fruit/, which includes fact sheets for many kinds of fruits, especially subtropical ones. They also now have a YouTube channel, at https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=crfg.

 


Popup Perennial Edibles Sales

If you are looking for a single fruit tree or a entire edible landscape, you may find what you need at one of the periodic plant sales being held on the grounds of the Bay Natives Nursery at  10 Cargo Way in San Francisco. There will be one April 22 and again on May 13. On both days, at 1 p.m., there will be a talk on Edible Backyard Gardens by Mike Boss, Plant Ecologist and Garden Maker.

Available at the edible perennials sales will be trees, shrubs, vines, and non-woody perennials--everything from artichoke plants to unusual citrus. 

While you're there, check out the natives at Bay Natives, as well as their lively flock of chickens. Penned next to the nursery is a small herd of goats, also fun to watch. 

 


Spring Bloom in Fall--It's a Problem

In today's SF Chronicle (January 1, 1917), I wrote about plants that bloomed last fall in San Francisco that ought not to have been blooming until spring, caused by continuing climate change.

While it's true that we typically have our warmest "summer" weather from mid-September to mid-October, this weather has been lasting longer than usual. Last fall, the warm days and mild nights lasted until near the end of November. We celebrated time spent outdoors in nice weather, but some of our garden plants reacted by blooming and leafing out as if it were spring. This is a problem for the plants, which put energy and physical matter into doing this, so that when spring really does come, they have less stored matter and food energy to do it all again. This weakens the plant, leaving it more susceptible to all kinds of setbacks.

Case in point is my apple tree, which has borne bountiful crops of delicious apples for 30 years. But recently it has been trying to bloom in fall. Then, because winters aren't quite cold enough, it blooms later than usual in the spring. And, because of the energy it used up in fall, it blooms more sparsely. Two years ago, it had practically no fruit.

Last year it did better, though not as well as it used to do. The photo below, which I sent to the Chronicle, but they didn't use in the paper, shows my tree last November, with a few last apples and last leaves till hanging on while blooms and new leaves opened all around them. Now, on January 1, all the new leaves have succumbed to cold, wasting all that effort.

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If you are growing other temperate plants in the Bay Area, such as cherries and plums (ornamental or fruiting), magnolias, lilacs, or azaleas, you may be having the same kind of problem. What's to be done to save our plants? Obviously continue to work against climate change, a movement in which California in general is doing well.  But we can also join an effort to record the changes, in which our regional data will provide extremely valuable evidence.

More data about how climate change is affecting plants in our region is especially important so that we are represented in a system that has so much more data from cold-winter regions.

There are two organizations that are seeking citizen science data. One is the National Phenology Network (www.usapn.org/), sponsor of the National Phenology Project. It studies both plant and animal species. Another, Project Budburst (budburst.org), is studying only plant responses. Phenology is the study of what plants and animals do in response to seasonal changes.

Sending records to these databases is easy to do online. Log in, choose a plant, and tell them what it is doing on various dates. Children can do it at home and school classes can do it. Both web sites have curriculum information to help teachers fit the work into classes. It teaches observation, appreciation of plants, climate science, ecology, and how science is done

So as our new, and rather unnerving, year begins, please help observe and record what is going on with nature. Your reports will be powerful.