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May 2006
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July 2006

Year Round Vegetable Gardening/July 15

Here's my next public talk, coming up in just 3 weeks:

Want fresh garden veggies to eat all year round? Pam Peirce, author of Golden Gate Gardening, the classic guide for local food gardeners, will show you how! Learn the crops and planting times (July and August are pivotal) that will take you through fall, winter, and into spring with plenty to harvest- artichokes, broccoli, lettuce, peas, and more-- Oh my! Seedlings for some winter crops, and recipes for using them, with be included.
Garden for the Environment, 7th Ave. at Lawton Street, 10am – 12noon. $15; No one turned away for lack of funds. Pre-registration required. Call 731-5627 to pre-register or for more information.

This is the listing from the Garden For The Environment website, which is at The garden, at 7th Avenue and Lawton, in San Francisco's Inner Sunset neighborhood, is open during daylight hours to demonstrate environmentally friendly gardening. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the garden is staffed and welcomes volunteers who want to learn more about gardening.

My class on Year-round vegetable gardening will be held in the garden, in an area with tiered seating. The space is limited, so be sure and call if you are interested in coming, to be sure there is room. (Introduce yourself as a blog reader.)

Meanwhile, happy 4th, and hope you have a little time to garden during the holiday!

Eating the Weeds Creatively

I have recently purchased Paula Wolfert's book Mediterranean Grains and Greens. It includes many recipes that contain wild leafy greens that I have in my garden. I am still mostly in the "browse and wonder" phase of reading it, not quite to the "assemble some ingredients and make a recipe" phase. But tonight I am browsing at "Summer Harira with Purslane and Spices," a recipe from Morocco. And since there is a wide patch of purslane in my garden right now, I am thinking of weeding and cooking. The main ingredients of this recipe are lamb rolled in a spice mix, lentils, parsley, onion, tomatoes, rice, coriander, and 6 oz. of chopped purslane.

Or maybe I will serve Purslane and Baby Greens with Cucumber and Shredded Cabbage, a recipe from Israel. This is better, since it uses 3/4 lb. of purslane.

Purslane is eaten in many parts of the world, from Mexico to Pakistan, including many places around the Mediterranean. Paula Wolfert says it was a favorite food of Gandhi. It is a slightly succulent, slightly tart, actually rather tasty green that is high in vitamins and is one of the few vegetable sources of 3 Omega fatty acids. I have eaten it for years, but am still rarely able to eat up even what grows in my small garden plot. I put some in salads or make it as it might be cooked in Mexico (saute some onion, add chopped purslane, a little tomato sauce, and a small amount of chopped jalapeno pepper, cook till purslane is tender). Then I run out of ideas, but not out of purslane.

I am always impressed by the slowness with which we can change what we eat. Having a perfectly good food in ones garden, grown intentionally or allowed to grow because you know it is an edible weed, presents you with a fait accompli. There it is, so eat it.

The answer starts with cookbooks, continues with planning and resolve. I will, in the next couple of weeks, attempt to eat up the purslane, but I may end up helping to solve the problem by giving some away. Or, if all else fails, there is always weeding and composting (before the seeds form).

Flowers for evening and fog

Ha, joke's on me. The fog came back and the weekend was cool. So gardeners near the coast won't be needing heat protection information for the time being. Probably still pretty hot inland though.

Some flowers, like California poppies and gazanias, don't open fully when the days are foggy, but others open more fully on such days. Good to grow some of these flowers that open in low light in a climate that is often foggy.

Since last week my Oenothera odorata has been blooming. It is an open sort of perennial that eventually reaches nearly 2 feet tall, bearing yellow flowers that are nearly 3 inches across. One common name for the genus Oenothera is evening primrose, and this one really does open in the evening. It is wonderful to see blooming in the dusk or in the dark. There aren't a lot of flowers at a time, and they are held on thin stems with only small, dark, linear leaves, so it looks kind of lanky in the daytime, but in low light the flowers seem to float in the air like fluttery yellow butterflies. Though the flowers stay open longer on foggy mornings, they only last one day, fading before the next evening. I don't think this species has a particular common name. I got my plant from Annies Annuals, and it has seeded itself. I wasn't sure I wanted it back, but decided to leave a few seedlings, and when it started to bloom, I realized that I had been missing it.

Most Nicotiana alata (flowering tobacco) types are also most fully open in evening and morning, though some of the newer cultivars seem to stay open all day. But I have older, tall ones with white and purple flowers that are stunning in the evening and morning, and stay open fully as long as the day is foggy I particularly like the white one, because it has naturalized, coming back each year, though it is sold as an annual. It reaches a couple of feet tall, and stays covered with starry blossoms whenever light is low for weeks in late spring and in summer.

Nasturtium stays open day or night, but has the quality of seeming to glow in the light of late day. In fact, Darwin's daughter presented a paper on the fact that nasturtium glowed in the dark because it was actually phosphorescent. Of course she was quite wrong, but I think the science society at which she spoke probably listened out of respect for her father. How embarrassing if she later realized it!

Heat Wave in SF

Another hot day yesterday in San Francisco, and, though last night the fog did come in, this morning, at 8:30, it has lifted, so we expect more of the same. And inland, we are having, as they say, three digit temperatures.

We don't get hot weather in San Francisco and near the coast very often. It is great weather for going to the beach or sitting in the shade in the garden, but it can be hazardous for dong strenuous outdoor work. I have seen one professional gardener this week with heat exhaustion, and imagine there have been others.

So if you plan to work in your home garden this weekend, take care of yourself as well as your garden. Wear a hat. Use sunscreen. Wear loose clothing in light colors to reflect the sun. Drink more water than you think you need (don't wait to become thirsty). Avoid sudden changes of temperature, such as getting into a superheated car (air it out first). Don't garden too long in the heat. Try to limit your more strenuous tasks to early or late in the day, when it is cooler.

According to Kaiser Permanente, symptoms of heat exhaustion include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, or nausea, cool, clammy, pale, red, or flushed skin. I'd add headache, as it certainly always happens to me. If you get these symptoms, get out of the sun to as cool a spot as you can find, drink lots of water (a little at a time if you are nauseated), lie down. Maybe sponge yourself with a little cool water, but take care not to overcool and start to feel chilly.

If you continue to work in heat you could get heat stroke, which shows itself through confusion, delirium, or unconsciousness with hot, dry, red or flushed skin, even under the armpits. If this happens, the victim needs emergency medical attention. Call 911 or get to an emergency room.

Scary, huh. So do enjoy your wonderful warm weekend wisely.

Near the coast, people have 2 reactions to high temperatures. One is "Wow, we are finally having some nice weather." The other is "It won't last very long, right? The fog will return soon?" (Yes it will, and even as I write, the fog is, indeed, drifting in again over our house.) So many of us are living in a dilemma. We would certainly love to grow some big, sweet, juicy, beefsteak tomatoes. Heck, we'd even like a few honeydew melons. But then again, we'd really hate to part with our wonderful natural air condtioning.

The Parts of the Flower

Every time I am about to teach the parts of a flower I am struck by how small are the parts of so many flowers. I am looking for a nice stout flower, with big, obvious parts, and all I can find are tiny, delicate ones the parts of which will require a magnifying glass to see.

If it is spring, and I can find tulips, or if there is, perchance, a lily in bloom in early summer, then all is well, but the geranium flower keeps itself to itself and the deceptive daisy presents dozens of tiny flowers in the center, surrounded by "petals" which are really individual flowers called "ray flowers." And, in the case of daisies, the ray flowers may or may not have sexual parts. They may be reduced to a petal alone, just enough to attract the insects that pollinate the central florets.

For tomorrow, I am considering agapanthus, which has nice lilylike flowers with 6 petals, 6 stamens and a single pistil. Well, not quite right. It really has 3 petals and 3 sepals. But unlike many sepals, which are green, these look exactly like the blue petals. Botanists call them tepals. Another possibility is the foxglove flower. It has, technically speaking, 5 petals that are fused into a tube (you can see five little lobes at the top of the tube, all that remains of the separate petals), and 2 pairs of stamens that form two elegant arches within the petal tube.

But for clarity, we need at least one flower with an inferior ovary. This is inferior in the sense of "below" rather than in "not as good as." It just means that the petals and sepals are attached at the top of the ovary, so the ovary sticks out behind them. In these flowers, we can see the ovary without dissecting the flower. An example is the flower of the fuchsia. You can see the little bulb that will develop into the fuchsia berry behind each flower.

So tomorrow will find me out poking around the garden, seeing what I can find that will relate the real world to the terms botanists use. It's an exploration that always produces a surprise or two. If you head out to explore on your own, take a magnifying glass for best results.

Less Toxic Herbicides?

I have often been asked whether vinegar was a good weed killer. I have thought it had potential, but it has been my understanding that the weak vinegar solution we use in cooking is probably not strong enough to work well. Now, recently, I have been sent a sample of a weedkiller, containing 8% clove oil, 90% vinegar, and 2% lecithin. It is called Perfectly Natural Weed and Grass Killer. I have been using it on the weeds in the sidewalk cracks in front of my house. It has worked well on annuals, and has killed some of the perennials, like dandelions, but a couple of those have recovered. I tried it on them again today, a third time, ever hopeful.

The vinegar in Perfectly Natural Weed and Grass Killer is 8% acetic acid, quite a bit stronger than ordinary vinegar, and, no doubt, harmful even to get on ones skin in that concentration. The lecithin is a food product used to emulsify, that is, mix oil and water, so it probably just keeps the clove oil in suspension. Interestingly, the clove oil is listed as the active ingredient, the vinegar as an inert, or inactive ingredient, though I'm sure it has an herbicidal effect.

My web research tells me that this is a Canadian product, and that Home Depot will be carrying it in the U.S..  A Colma Home Depot worker tells me they don't have it or know about it, but that they have had several queries about it this week.

A similar product mentioned on the web is Burnout II, which is 4% clove oil, and also contains vinegar, citric acid, lecithin, sodium laurel sulphate, and mineral oil.

A study that compared several herbicides, including the herbicide Roundup (which contains the synthetic compound glyphosate) and Burnout II, found that these two products produced similar results, however while the Roundup cost $80 an acre, the Burnout II cost $1200 an acre. This is dramatic. Though I didn't buy my Perfectly Natural Weed and Grass Killer, I supect the price of it is similar to Burnout II, however, since I am using it only on weeds in cracks where I can't pull them, I won't need much of it to do the trick.

In summary, either of these vinegar and clove oil based herbicides are reasonably effective unselective herbicides and, unlike Roundup. they don't introduce synthetic chemicals into the environment. If I can figure out where to buy more of this kind of herbicide, I will do so.

What Did the Katydid Sing?

Two weeks into writing a garden question column for the Chronicle, that is 2 columns published, though I've written 4. The letters are pouring in and they are all interesting. I've gotten the first reply that I want to reprint.

The letter is about birds as a management method for katydids, those green, leaf-imitating relatives of grasshoppers that sing at night and munch on plants. The letter writer says that the insects hatch at the same time as baby birds, so if you leave a birdbath or bird feeder in the garden at that time, the birds will go after the young katydids to feed their young.

While I know that most birds need insects to feed their babies high protein food in spring, it is great to know that they are particularly fond of katydids. I don't have the critters, but for those that do, I'm sure this will be good news. And, because the katydids in question only hatch in the spring, this method would certainly be a big help.

I still think that one would need to tip the scales a bit with other methods, since the katydids have apparently built up to a large population in a small garden, but here is another reason not to use pesticides toxic to birds. I suggested a garlic oil spray (recipe in last Wednesday's column on and other methods, most of which should spare the birds.

Incidentally, the Chinese, for a couple of thousand years, have kept both crickets and katydids as pets in order to listen to their songs. The insects have been kept in little cages, some of them quite elegant, and some of them designed to be carried everywhere the owner went. However, the songs of katydids vary, some being little more than clicks, and I don't know whether the ones in our area have a nice chirp.

Fruit Flavored Sugar vs Fruit

I am in San Diego County, visiting my father. His peach tree has about 20 fruits. The boysenberry has about the same number of huge ripe berries, with many more on the way. There are 'Sungold' cherry tomatoes too, from plants I brought him. The banana tree is setting fruit and there will be pineapple guavas, loquats, lemons, oranges, tangerines, and avocados later on. Fruit in the stores here is excellent and inexpensive.

I keep trying to catch a thought about fruit. It is that we are always being offered fruit-flavored foods, or even fruit scented nonfood items, because it is felt we will be attracted to something that tastes or smells like fruit. And it seems we sometimes lose track of the fact that it is the fruit that is the source of this wonderful taste and smell. Not sugar with a bit of fruit flavor, but complex, vitamin rich, texturally interesting, juicy, fruit.

Makes sense in a northern climate, where fruit is so limited in season and expensive, that people would look for fruit-flavored substitutes, but when I can find and afford good fruit, I find myself going after the real thing. Not fruit-flavored soda, not jam, not candy, not chewing gum (and not fruit-scented air freshener or scratch and sniff strawberry scented something or other either), but juicy, sweet, delicious fruit.

Part of the problem may be that some of the real fruit we are offered is not very good. Peaches picked before they are ripe, strawberries bred to be beautiful, but not tender and sweet, and other insults to our tastebuds, drive us into the arms of the food processors who would convince us to buy sugar products with a fruit flavor.

Having said all of this, in a week when I am luxuriating in fresh berries, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and more, I have to say that one of my most amusing taste experiences was provided by Jelly Belly candy. Four of us were camping on Angel Island. Night had fallen. We were sitting on a bench overlooking the Bay. I had Jelly Bellies in many flavors, including many fruits. We ate them slowly, one at a time, and wondered at the evocations of different foods as each artificially-flavored sugar candy hit our tastebuds. With the color of each candy invisible in the dark, we couldn't use that as a clue, and since, other than color differences, they are identical, each one was a total surprise. On the one hand, it was a delight, fun to do and fun to talk about. On the other hand, something about the dark and the calm of nature that surrounded us also let me feel how small, how imperfect, how minor an echo were the flavors of the candy compared to the actual objects.

Matilija Poppy--A glorious monster

I have allowed a monster into my garden. It's a beautiful monster, but still one to be reckoned with. It is tha Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri), a native of California and Baja California from the coast ranges to the foothills. A 6 to 8 foot plant that consists of mostly unbranched stems covered with pointy gray-green leaves. At the top of each stem several huge white flowers open in sequence. Matilija poppy is nicknamed the "fried egg plant" (not the "fried eggplant"!) because the flowers and their yellow centers have the size and proportions of sunny side up eggs. I see why, however the flutter, crinkle, and translucency of the flowers seem to me to make them quite different and considerably more ornamental than the flat, opaque, platebound breakfast item.

The reason this plant can be a monster is that it will make a thicket of stems in a several square foot area, and it will send out rhizomes that will sprout suckers, sometime several feet from the parent plant. The good news is that the suckers are easy to pull or dig out, but the bad news is that the plant will make more. You can keep up with the suckers easily with weekly, or even biweekly care, but I wouldn't want to ignore a plant for several months.

Because I have found this fine monster to be manageable, in other gardens, I will give it a try. I will keep the suckers cut and cut back each stem after all of its blossoms have faded. Also, when, by about the third year, it has many stems, I will start cutting it to the ground when it begins to bloom less in autumn.

First Column

My first column was printed today in the SF Chronicle, under the headline: Pam Peirce; Golden Gate Gardener. It is being fun to write, but the writing of it is taking time from other pursuits. I have been writing answers to enough questions, too, to see me through my trip to see my dad next week. so it feels nonstop at the moment, but it will settle down and leave me time to blog in a week or so. You can find it at The direct link is if that works.