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February 2010
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April 2010

Link to an article on container gardening

At the San Francisco Landscape and Garden Show I gave a talk with a handout on food gardening in containers. I ran out of handouts and promised I'd put this article on my blog. Sorry for the delay. I had to get some seeds in yesterday, and finish a Chronicle column by today. So it turned out I didn't have the article on the computer, but I found the link to it when it appeared in the Chronicle. Here it is:

Thanks for coming to my talk. Hope your gardening experiences are fun and delicious.

Pam Peirce

Golden Gate Gardening Third Edition!

The new, Third Edition of Golden Gate Gardening is in the stores. In the first week of February, it debuted as #6 among paperback nonfiction books sold in Northern California, so it's off to a good start.

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 Golden Gate Gardening has been guiding California gardeners to success in growing vegetables, herbs, fruit, edible and cutting flowers since 1993. If you have used it before, you will be glad to hear that the new edition contains all that you remember from the old version, and more. There is updated information and new tips. There are new vegetable listings, an expanded and improved fruit chapter, new recipes, and updated pest management suggestions (environmentally friendly, of course). The chapter on eating from the garden (Chapter 16, A Garden-Based Cuisine) is almost completely new. The appendices are updated, from the seed catalog/wesite list through the lResources for Gardeners and Suggested Reading list.

This book will offer regionally specific guidance for maximum food production in gardens located in California from the northernmost coast to San Luis Obispo, and inland as far as Walnut Creek or San Jose. Coastal or near coastal gardeners will find calendars and tips for growing food year-round despite the fog, and inland gardeners, where summer fog is absent, will find two new planting calendars for year-round food production in typical inland microclimates. 

The Potatoes are Finally In the Ground!

I bought some Russian Banana fingerlings from Ronnigers Seed Potatoes  ( and have planted half at the college garden and half here at home.The ones at the college went in on February 20th, during a class, but it took determination to get the ones at home into the ground, because of my tight schedule teaching and giving talks to promote the book. (Their little sprouts were starting to form and I know if you wait too much longer they will grow themselves out without having the energy to make more potatoes!)

At both the college and at home, my first step was to tarp the area I intended to plant. That is, I tarped it every time it rained and untarped it when the rain stopped. This allowed the soil to dry between the storms to the point that it was OK to dig. (You pick it up and squeeze a handful, then see if it breaks apart easily. If so, it's dry enough.)

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Here's a photo of the tarped area, weighted with bricks so it won't fly away in a wind. There is a second tarp, a green one, in the upper right. I put upside-down five gallon buckets down the middle of the bed, and put the tarps over them, so that water would flow down and off of the tarp, rather than puddling in the middle. Between the two tarps are a yellow calendula (edible flower) and several plants of flat leaf parsley. They just came up there, from last year's fallen seeds, right in the middle of the long bed. I I couldn't bear to remove them, since they are pretty and I have been using them in cooking. (I use the Calendula "petals" in salads and the parsley in all kinds of dishes.) So I just tarped left and right of them and left them in the light (and the rain).

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So I weeded out all the other stuff that was in the beds, added soil amendment and fertilizer and planted the potatoes. I'm using a trench method. The potatoes are 4 inches deep at the bottom of the trenches. When they have emerged 5 or 6 inches from the ground, I plan to pull soil from the mounds over them, leaving an inch or so showing, and levelling the ground. When the plants have growsna few more inches, I will mulch the bed. The potatoes form on the part of the lower stem that is underground, while the plant is young, so gradually burying more stem will, hopefully, help encourage more potatoes to form.

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And there is half of the planted bed. It's the end where the green tarp was, seen from the other side. (You can see the calendula and parsley on the right.) In front of each of the mounds, I've planted a tiny lettuce seedling, for which I have great hopes. I should say that this whole area is still in winter shade. It will be interesting to see how far the potatoes are up when the sun is finally high enough to reach this bed. I'm hoping it gets there just in time to get them going. So far, however, not a trace of potato aboveground. But then, 4 inches is a long way to go and it has been rather cold. When they emerge, I'll take more photos. Estimated homegrown potato salad time: June 1st. (P.S. Have you checked out the potato salad recipes in Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?)

Afterward: Book Party at Flora Grubb

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Thought you'd enjoy seeing a few photos from the book party held at Flora Grubb on Sunday, February 28th. It was a big happy crowd, mingling among the palm trees and munching on sushi. I now feel the book is well and properly launched, though there are many talks, book signings, and radio appearances to come. Plants 015 copy 72 Flora Grubb staff served punch, ice tea and wine, and generally helped with the party. Thanks to all for coming and for helping out!
I gave a short presentation, thanking some people who helped research the current edition. Below is a photo of me with the ones who were present. They all got books, though some had received theirs already.

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The people in this photo, left to right, are Malcolm Hillan, Lisa Gerhard, Sue Zaslaw, Bracey Tiede, Pam Peirce, David Goldberg, and Christina Johnson. 


My little talk follows:  

Thank you very much for coming to my party. Writing a book is such hard work, and often such lonely work. A book party is a wonderful antidote.

Thank you also for reading Golden Gate Gardening.

It makes me very happy when I hear that someone has used the book to grow food, to have fun gardening, to eat better because of what they grew or what they learned.

It took many people to make this book a reality, from inspirers to informants, to the many people who have asked me questions over the years, to the publisher, Sasquatch Books, which provided an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and designer. These are listed in the acknowledgements, which are updated for this edition.

I’d especially like to thank today 11 people who helped immensely in the preparation of this new edition and present them with copies of the book.

    If you would step forward when I say your name, I would much appreciate it. I will start with Bracy Tiede (who was present), who pulled together a team of Master Gardeners from Santa Clara County to help produce a planting calendar appropriate for that region. Other team members were Karen Schaffer, Susan Zaslaw (present), Carole Frost, the current Cooperative Extension Advisor for Urban Agriculture in Santa Clara County, and Nancy Garrison, who retired from that post. I want to especially thank Nancy for all of her work over the years testing varieties and planting times.

Next I would like to thank Sue Phelan, a gardening teacher from Walnut Creek, in Contra Costa county, for her help with the planting calendar for that region.

     Two of my coworkers at City College of SF provided valuable help. Pat Morgan, the department’s Nursery Specialist, researched new information on pesticide active ingredients and reviewed what I wrote about pesticides. Malcolm Hillan (present), colleague on the teaching faculty reviewed the water and soils chapters and helped as I tried to make then as useful as possible and cover current issues and practices.

Lisa Gerhard (present), garden designer and arborist, has been my student, my employer, the pruner of my apple tree and designer of my garden. She also helped extensively with the fruit chapter of this edition of GGG. She sat with me as we came up with a new outline for the chapter itself, and also used the internet and phone interviews to decide which varieties to add and which to drop in this edition.

Christina Johnson (present) helped by determining which seed suppliers currently carry the older as well as the newly included crop varieties. This was painstaking work, which I’m sure required her professional proofreader’s sharp eyes.

Finally, I want to thank my husband, David Goldberg (present) for updating the seed catalog listings and the Resources for Gardeners Appendix—also a time consuming and exacting process. I offered David a book, but he says he has read it, more than once, and at several stages, and, in addition, has several boxes of it stored under his work table in his study, should he wish to look again.

These thank you’s tell you something about what is new in this edition. The book has been reworked throughout to make it more useful. I’ve taken good advice from readers to improve its usefulness, in clarity, points included, order in which material is presented. I have expanded information on using the garden all year with a minimum of time spent in the cold, rain, and early dark of winter. I have added information, in the two additional calendars, and throughout, to make the book more useful to those who live in the next inland tier of the Bay Area. I have added varieties I’ve tested over the past 10 years, less-toxic pesticides that have recently been released, added recipes, added new information on management of vertebrate pests, and have almost completely rewritten the last chapter of the book, the one called Cooking from the Garden.

   I’ve observed that getting the food from the garden to the table is often a challenge, and have made sure to include harvesting and use tips with all of the crops. The last chapter includes tips for making sure the food you grow gets eaten, but I’ve also set forth a call for developing a regional garden cuisine, one that draws on the foods we grow best, in the seasons we can produce them, and calls on the cuisine traditions of the people of many cultures who inhabit our region. There is California Cuisine, I know, but this will be a cuisine like no other, a unique cuisine developed from urban agriculture in a place that has not had agriculture for that long, that reflects our place in the way that traditional cuisines developed in their places throughout the world.

I wanted briefly to add that in addition to its direct goals of helping people understand the climate of our region, grow food in it, and use that food to eat better, I have had two larger philosophical goals in writing this book.   

In our current culture, we often hear ourselves referred to as “consumers” not just when the subject is “people as buyers of the products being discussed” but as if the term were descriptive of our essences as human beings. I don’t think this is a positive or useful way to think about ourselves. I hope that gardening is a way to become the opposite of consumers “producers,” and that this will become a crack in the dominant paradigm, an inspiration to look at oneself in a new way.  I think that many people buy stuff in the hope that it will be transformational, only to find they are the same person with more stuff. Gardening is an activity that can be done for very little cash, and that often does transform the gardener. The garden creates the gardener as much as the other way around.

   Second, and perhaps the larger issue that leads to the previous unfortunate situation, is that I believe our culture gives disproportionate power to large corporations. They are considered individuals, like you or me, and yet wield vast legal, political, and economic power they can use to influence what we think. Much has been written recently about the power of big agriculture, of big food corporations, and how the result has been a food supply that does not support good health. As my daughter says, and I think many people would agree “I don’t want to have to think about what I eat,” but thought is required to eat a healthy diet given the food choices that jump out at us from corporate ads. Gardening is, again, a crack in that paradigm. We may not grow all that we eat, or even a significant amount of it, but growing even a little of it lets us see what we can do to feed ourselves and see more clearly the reality of whole foods. This makes the corporate food blitz that much less powerful, and hopefully, helps to crack it open, leading to such wonderful directions as the Michelle Obama’s push to improve what we feed our children.

But we don’t need to ponder the bigger issues to have fun gardening, do we? All I have to say, in closing, is: Garden On!