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November 2009
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January 2010

Chayote Squash in Bloom

Last year I planted two chayote squashes on a large, sturdy trellis. One died, and the other was so damaged by a cold windy rain that it didn't bear fruit. However, it did regrow last summer, and is now a huge plant. In midsummer, I planted two more plants. (The plants can set fruit without cross pollination, but having a second plant nearby will help.) Those plants are still far to young to bloom, but the older one has flowers. So we are on watch for a fertilized female flower.

Dec 09 Vegetables 021 copy There is a female flower. You can see the tiny squash behind it. They form singly or in pairs, on short stems.

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And here is a stem of  male flowers. There are usually several male flowers on a long stem, separate from the female flowers. To get a fruit, you need a bee. There is a hive nearby, but will the bees come out? Will there be a sunny and warm enough day? One not too windy? I cross my fingers. 

These photos are a week or two old now. I shall shoot again this week and see if any fruits are filling out yet.


Winter in the College Garden

Dec 09 Vegetables 010 copy Thought you'd like to see what is growing in the garden at City College of San Francisco these days. We are between classes, but the fall-planted crops are continuing to grow into winter. Here is what there is to see. To the right is 'Bordeaux' spinach, grown to be eaten as baby leaves in a salad. It doesn't get very big, but it's succulent and has those nice red veins. Below it is mizuna, a nice mild mustard that is good in a salad or in a stirfry. Good in Asian dishes or sauteed and served with pasta. You see this one in local "spring mixes" in grocery stores, and with good reason, since it is easy to grow and mild in flavor.

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The cabbages are also maturing. We started three kinds. The first is 'Parel', an early cabbage that makes a small head. It is supposed to mature in 50 days (calculated from the time you set out 5-7 week old plants), and make a head that weighs 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. So the heads are approximately 5 inches across. These are about ready (took a little longer than listed, which is common growing into winter).Dec 09 Vegetables 014 copy You can see that the outer leaves get a little chewed up, but that doesn't harm the head, so I don't worry about preventing every little hole. It is probably done by slugs, maybe earwigs or snails. You can see a bit of cilantro growing above the cabbage and to the right. And there are a few weeds growing through the straw mulch--chickweed, I think. It's edible and an annual you can pull out and it won't grow back. 

I shot the next two cabbage varieties at the same distance, so you can compare their size as well as their maturity. The next one is 'Ruby Ball', a red cabbage. It is supposed to mature in 78 days from planting out, and make 3-4 pound heads. Dec 09 Vegetables 015 copy As you can see, the plant is bigge. The head isn't as solid yet either, so it has a ways to go before it is ready. Again, a few holes at the edge, but not enough to worry about.

Finally, there is some 'January King'. This kind is what they call "overwintering" in that it will not have mature heads until winter is nearly over. It is a pretty one, ruffled green with pink or purple leaf edge. It is supposed to mature in 150-210 days after planting out, and form head that weigh 3-5 pounds each. That is 5-7 months after plant out! (By the way we planted all of these cabbages out in early September.) You may ask why plant cabbage that takes so long to mature? Answer: You probably don't want to spend much time in the garden in the winter and having these long-season cabbages growing allows you, with a minimum of cold feet or hands, to have something to harvest into winter.Dec 09 Vegetables 016 copy You need to get them all planted out in late summer or early fall, depending on your exact microclimate, but then they will mature in different months over the coldest months. They are also pretty in winter. You cn do a little better job than I of hunting slugs and snails, so the skirts of the plants remain handsome. The cabbageworm (a green caterpillar) is a problem until weather cools, but from then on, it is dormant for winter. I pick off cabbageworm eggs, or students help to do it, in San Francisco until about mid-October, and then the problem stops.

Another virtue of growing cabbage, broccoli and other crops into winter is that you can stop watering them in about mid October for the most part, and let the rains take over.

As you can see, the head of the 'January King' is still pretty small for the size of the plant. It will be another month or two before it is fully formed.

Did anyone out there have frost damage last week? The above crops are hardy to quite a lot of frost, and they all look fine. I did lose a row of nasturtiums that were decorating the edge of a bed. Turned to pale yellow mush, flat on the ground. That's it for pretty orange flowers in salads until spring! I lost redworms in a long frosty spell last year, so I moved the worm compost bins into a greenhouse last week. And now a construction class has made them fine new bins. The next step is to harvest finished compost and make the redworms fresh beds in their new homes!

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What else is happening? Chard set out in September is growing well. It is no longer being damaged by the leafminer that chews out the insides of leaves, now that cold weather is in full swing. This is 'Bright Lights' one of several mixes available with different-colored leaves and stems in one seed packet.

And finally, here are the leeks, set out last late spring, growing nicely into winter. They will still be fine for sharing with the first class of the spring semester, which is in February and early March. After that they are likely to bloom, meaning they become tough and inedible.

All of the above crops are hardy enough to grow in more inland locations in the Bay Area in winter. The new edition of Golden Gate Gardening, due out February 1st, includes planting calendars for inland locations such as Walnut Creek and San Jose. Try a winter garden. You do most of the planting before the winter sets in, and the rewards are delicious!

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Growing Artichokes from Seed

I promised a photo of the 'Imperial Star' artichoke seedlings I've been growing, and here they are. Just as

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predicted by the vendor, I didn't have perfect germination and some of the seedlings were albino. I planted maybe 22 seeds and got 18 seedlings. Of the 18, two were albino. You can see one of the albinos in the upper left hand cell, the tiny pale plant to the right of the larger green one. Albinoism is more serious in plants than in animals, since the lack of color is caused by a lack of chlorophyll, and no chlorophyll, no photosynthesis. No photosynthesis, no growth. That is, no growth after the little bit of stored energy in the embryo within the seed is used up. So, as you can see, the albino is smaller than the plants that have chlorophyll. I have potted up the green seedlings now, and will shoot them again when they are a bit bigger.

Another tip from the vendor is that the artichoke seedlings with smoother-edged leaves will make the better chokes. Too soon to see that. The first two leaves on these plants are the "seed leaves," the ones that were in the embryo. They are just that simple oval shape, not the shape of the true leaves. The true leaves are just visible forming at the center of these seedlings.

Meanwhile, we had some very cold weather last week. I had frost in my garden on the mornings that hills near the city, such as Mount Diablo, had snow. Following are four images of frost on plants. All have recovered now. The first two are a bergenia plant. This species is native to the Himalayas, so it is prepared for considerably more cold than this.

Dec 09 Vegetables 005 copy That's a poppy seedling below the bergenia.

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 The next image shows an ornamental thyme called "lime thyme." It has a nice bright green color and I have used it to edge a bed. It is native to southern Europe, but can take a little frost.

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Finally, here is a sedum. Again, a European plant that is relatively frost hardy.

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I brought a few potted plants into the basement for the period of frost, including  a Crassula falcata, an orchid cactus, a few epidendrum orchids, and one pink-flowered zonal geranium. After I brought them in, I realized that all of them came from Southern California. All but the geranium came from my Dad's garden, and the geranium was one I gave to my husband's mother in Los Angeles. San Francisco is on the edge of too cold for it, but there is the sentiment, you know, and the very bright flowers, so I am willing to baby it.

After the frost came the rain. At least it's warmer! I love seeing it rain, but wish there'd be a bit of sunshine every once in a while.

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.