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June 2007
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September 2007

Birds in my Community Garden

The other morning I was out with my camera in my community garden in San Francisco, and was able to catch photos of some of the birds that spend time there. They are enjoying flowers that are seeding and the active insect life in the garden. While I see birds often while I am gardening, I have never attempted to photograph them, but they are very bold, so it proved easy to do.

Aug_2627_07_026_copy Here we have what I think is a grackle, sitting on a trellis made of weathered wood. This guy also was enjoying very much a bird bath that has been set up in one of the garden plots.

Aug_2627_07_024_copy_2 A pair of mourning doves were feeding on the ground. They moved around behind plants to try to hide from me, and I followed, silently,until I moved around a plant and found this one standing practically at my feet.

Aug_2627_07_022_copy_2 And there are always little flocks of sparrows that fly up when you come upon them. You usually don't see them until they fly. They fly to nearby, higher, places and look at you as if to say, "What are YOU doing here?"

In addition to these bird species, we also see robins, mockingbirds, and there has been an oriole's next a couple of times. And green parrots, in the palm street trees. I feed the robins earthworms or wireworms sometimes. I toss them and the robins run over to pick them up. I love to hear the mockingbirds singing their ever-changing songs. Recently, a noisy mockingbird stayed a few feet from me, perched first on my rasperry trellis, then on structures in neighboring plots, then back to my plot. It scolded loudly for maybe 15 minutes, until I noticed its fledgling hopping about in my 4-foot tall African bue basil shrub, which I was pruning. The baby was trying hard to stay out of my sight. And I thought the parent mockingbird wanted me to go away so it could eat some of my raspberries!

Plants to attract Native Bees

Last night I attended a talk about the native bees of the Bay Area and garden flowers that will attract them. The program was one of the San Francisco Natural History Series that take place once a month at the Randall Museum in San Francisco. (It's at, click on classes, lectures, and Natural History series, but the site is not up to date, so you may want to call for info.) The speaker was supposed to be Gordon Frankie, who is studying native bees at U.C. Berkeley, but he sent a graduate student in his stead, and I am afraid I have forgotten her name.

However I didn't forget what she said about bees and garden flowers. More than once I have had a discussion of this matter and ended up, with others, wondering whether the flowers that attract these pollinators were only California natives, or if they include other flowers. This talk had the answers. So far, they have found that many non-native flowers attract one or more of the approximately 300 species of bees found in the Bay Area, and that many natives do as well. You can see a list at as well as a wealth of information on the bees and ways to make their life easier so they can thrive and help domestic bees pollinate our crops.

August131507043ready So what is the photo? This is an Eryngium, or sea holly, in bloom I know, it looks unnatural. But this is the right color, vibrant blue flower heads, bracts, and stems. It is a non-native garden flower, a perennial, that attracts many kinds of bees, from tiny ones to larger. Surprisingly, Eryngium is in the same plant family as celery and carrot, though it isn't edible. It is a sturdy, moderately drought tolerant flower that doesn't require rich soil, making it ideal for Bay Area gardens.

Besides eryngium and cosmos, other common nonnative attractants are Gaillardia, Bidens, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, sunflowers, and all sorts of mint family herbs like sage and rosemary. Among natives, there are coyote brush, ceanothus, several native buckwheats, California poppy, gumplant, and matilija poppy.

A final tip is that you should try to leave at least half of your soil unmulched, since most of these bees are solitary, putting their eggs with a store of pollen underground. (They are not aggressive, since they don't have a group nest to defend.) They can't dig under organic mulch, and can't get through plastic mulch either.

I have seen some of the bees shown on the website, and look forward to seeing more. Has anyone else watched a leafcutter bee cover her underground nest with the circle of leaf she has removed from a rose? It is a nest roof!

Sunflowers in the Fog


Who says that sunflowers need the sun? While much of the nation has been dealing with a heat wave, our neighborhood in San Francisco has been having its usual gray summer. It has been mostly foggy for at least a month,


and yet this garden has a splendid display of sunflowers, along one side of the house, then wrapping around the corner to go partway down the other side. They seem to bring the sun even on a gray day.Thank you to whoever decided to plant them.


This shot sacrifices detail to show you the extent of the planting.

My Dad's Bananas are ripening!

Julyaugust07038forweb There they are, the bananas that ripened despite the frost that killed all the leaves on the stem they were on and much of the rest of the plant. This shot, taken on August 10, shows that many of the fruits are turning yellow nicely. As you can see, the weight of the fruit bent the stem over until it threatened to touch the ground, so my brother put a tomato cage in the ground and propped the bananas on it.

I cut a few of these, and we had them as refreshments after watching the video of Dad's 100th birthday party. They were pretty good. As Dad says, this variety of banana doesn't get that strong banana oil flavor when it is ripe. His friend, L., who is visiting says, "Oh, but I like that flavor." Dad says he doesn't, and I'm with him.

I was thinking that the stems of the banana plant had to be connected underground to each other through their rhizomes, so the frozen stem would get some energy from the other, less damaged, stems. Looks like I was right.

I took more pictures in Dad's garden, which I will prepare and send in coming days. We also went to Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas (, and there will be more shots from there. We took Dad, in his wheelchair, and he sure did have fun there. He likes to remember times when Mom was still alive and they made hundreds of jars of jelly and jam to be sold at the holiday sales. They used fruits from their garden and neighbors' gardens, mostly subtropical.

Quail gardens have a big planting of subtropical fruit plants, including a walkway with different banana varieties on either side for about 60 or so feet. (All the banana plants were nice and green, though search as I might, I found no bananas, unlike on previous visits.)

Back to the City, where it was sunny in our neighborhood on Sunday and Monday, but today we are back to mostly fog.

Class on Mediterranean Food Gardening

My summer school class at City College of San Francisco is over. It is always intense, for me as well as for the students, since it meets 2 nights a week, 5 hours a night, and I'm afraid that it and the Chronicle column together, along with keeping my gardens intact, have kept me from writing in my blog. Now I am off to se my dad again, so will have a new report on his bananas. Then back to a couple of weeks of time off from teaching.

My next public class will be at Common Ground garden store ( on the morning of August 25th. It will be about how to relate to the mediterranean climate of the Bay Area to produce the best mix of year round crops and use them well. Some food and agriculture history, some climatology, lots of practical tips, a calendar, slides of locally grown crops, and some recipes. It is 10:30-12:30 and costs $25. Call them at (650) 493-6072 to preregister. It's a nice garden store too, worth checking out. It's a good source for all kinds of organic fertilizers, many sold in bulk.

I will be teaching a one unit, 6-week class at City College of San Francisco this fall, but it is full. It will be on soil prep, compost, and raising vegetables and herbs in fall and winter. If you miss it, I think I will be offering it again next fall, so try again. It usually starts the Saturday after Labor Day.