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November 2006
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January 2007

Still Room in My Spring Classes

There are still a few spaces in both of my spring Vegetable and Herb gardening classes at City College of San Francisco. If they fill before you can enroll, just come to the first class, since there are often a few cancellations and you can enroll on that day. Send me an email and let me know you are interested.

And, for more info about the classes, see the December 8th entry and also go to

The Furies of a Windstorm

What a wild storm we had last night and this morning in San Francisco! There was heavy rain last night and the wind blew hard all night and half the day. Our lights went out twice, and a friend tells me they were out in San Mateo part of the day as well.

I had to drive acrosss the city early this morning, and had to dodge the many garbage and recycling bins that had blown into the street. Most of them were near the curb, but there were a number right in the line of traffic. Some had spilled and the contents were blowing all around. 

In several yards, Christmas ornaments had fallen over. And whereever there were trees, the ground and road was covered with a mulch of small branches and fallen leaves. Even Geary Blvd, a 6 lane road, had big drifts of pine needles up to several inches thick.

When I returned home, I found that my front garden had become a major trash trap. Junk often circles around between our hedge and the neighbor's porch and gets caught in my plants, but today was the worst! There was lots of crumpled newspaper, several plastic bags, styrofoam, junk mail, kids' schoolwork, shopping lists, napkins, and unidentifiable white stuff. I cleared it 3 times, and I will still have to reach under and through the plants to remove the last bits of detritus tomorrow.

And, ironically, the wind tore up our white tree dahlia. I say ironically because the plant usually blooms near the end of November, and a wind storm often hits it right before it blooms and tears off most of the leaves and flowers. Happens about 2 years out of 3. This year, the flowers were about a month late, and it was unharmed by wind before last night. So once again, the winds hit it just as the first blossoms were opening. Every year I think I have to get rid of it, since it so rarely gets to bloom, but then a year comes along that it blooms beautifully...  Well, it wasn't this year.

Tonight it is calm and clear. Not even very cold. Tomorrow I will tour my gardens and assess the damage. 

Alcatraz Gardens, Frosty Nights

Early in December I went to Alcatraz, the famous prison island, in the San Francisco Bay, with members of the Mediterranean Garden Society. We toured with one of the people who are renovating the historic gardens there--both the ones from the Victorian era military base and the ones from the prison era. We went places the general public can't go yet, I took digital photos with my new camera.

On Monday and Tuesday of this past week, we had frost in my neighborhood. There was frost on the ground in our backyard and on all the nearby roofs. In the front, the cars had frosted windshields. At the City College demonstration garden, there was spotty frost. The chard looked untouched, as did the broccoli. The cabbage had a bit of visible frost. Among the plants covered with ice crystals were lettuce, radish, cilantro, miner's lettuce, and some of the arugula. I took photos, both film and digital. Then I went back yesterday and shot the same plants recovered. We lost maybe a leaf or two of lettuce, otherwise, everything seems fine. These winter crops are tough, but I was relieved when we didn't have a third night of frost, as that might have caused some permanent damage.

So where are the photos? Much is going on behind the scenes. I have to upgrade my windows version to transfer the images to my computer. I now have the (legal) disk. Sigh. I think after Christmas I will figure out how to get it on the computer, then put the camera's software on too, and...

Yes, stay tuned for photos!

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas to all who celebrate same.

Training Fruit Trees for Ease of Harvest

I'm teaching a basic gardening class this fall. One of the questions I asked on a take-home quiz is:

List three important goals in pruning a deciduous fruit tree.

There are more than three good goals to aim for when you are pruning a fruit tree, but the one that has turned up on every paper so far is: Don't prune the lower limbs or you won't be able to reach the fruit.

It makes me happy to read this answer. I think of the fruit trees I've seen with lower limbs removed. There is the fruit, 10 feet up where no one can reach it. Useless. I am cheery when I think that these students won't do that.

Of course the other part of keeping fruit within reach is to train the tree when it is young so that it has a low first crotch. This is done by encouraging low branches when the tree is very young. If what you bought was a single, unbranched stem, you want to cut it just above a bud that is two or three feet above the ground. If it already has some branches, save the ones that are wide-angled from the central stem and well-spaced around the tree and from each other, remove the others, shorten the ones you have left to a few inches long.

The bottom line is that deciduous fruit trees, like apple, plum, pear, and apricot need training and shaping when they are young, or they won't be good, fruitful, easy to harvest trees. When you buy a young deciduous fruit tree, also buy a book with guidance on training and pruning it, with some nice line drawings to show you what to do, and you will be rewarded with more fruit and a stronger tree.

When I was a child we had a yard with 4 apple trees. In summer I spent a lot of time climbing into those trees, usually with a book. I always wondered why apple trees, in particular, were so easy to climb. Now I know. It's that low first crotch. Not only are the first branches within reach, but the low first crotch let's one climb up to get the rest of the fruit. Or read a book.

Spring Gardening Classes at City College

The new spring catalog for City College of San Francisco is available, with a full list of horticulture classes offered.

I will be teaching two Saturday morning classes on growing Vegetables and Herbs. Each class is 6 weeks long, and meets from 9 to 1 on Saturdays. From 11 to 1 we have lab, for which we have a big garden and greenhouses. In these fun, practical, thoughtful classes, you will learn what you need to know to grow food in a small or larger garden. We also share recipes and learn how to harvest and prepare food from a garden.

The first class, 111F, runs from February 3 through March 1, and will cover buying seeds and plants, starting from seed or transplanting, salad and root crops, and edible flowers. The second class, 111G, is from April 14 through May 19. In it you will learn how to grow summer crops, as well as how to identify and manage pests by using integrated pest management.

(These classes are two parts of a three-part series. The final class of the series will be offered in the fall. It covers soil preparation, composting, styles of gardening, and the fall/winter garden crops.)

The catalog recommends gardening experience or a basic gardening class as prerequisites for my classes. This doesn't mean you have to have taken a basic gardening class, just that you have enough experience or info that I can jump to the details of the crops without leaving you far behind. If you have been gardening or reading Golden Gate Gardening for a while, that should do it. (We use GGG as the textbook, with plenty of supplemental handouts.)

Check out the City College web site under Environmental Horticulture and Floristry at for other offerings. The tree care class, which isn't offered very often, will be given next spring, as well as plant propagation and the usual ornamental plant I.D. classes, landscape construction, floristry classes, and many others.