Looking Like Spring!

Gardens are actually starting to look good out there. The sun came out today, which inspired me to drive around a bit and look at gardens. Cherry blossoms are blooming, along with watsonias, daffodils, California poppies, California lilacs (ceanothus). Its been a long time since the California poppies stayed open all day, since they close up with overcast or rain. Today, everything was bright and sparkly. Hope you got out to see it. If not, sounds like there are 2 more days to enjoy it. Take advantage of the later sunset to go for a walk after work and see what might be in bloom near you. As my little 8 year old friend said: "When you see a flower, you feel happy." By golly, she's got it!

On Wednesday, if all goes as planned, I will have another article in the Chronicle. It's a bit of reportage about how the rain has been affecting gardeners and tree workers.

My next lecture and slide show will be on Sunday, April 23, at the Sloat Garden Center at 401 Miller Avenue in Mill Valley, at 10 in the morning. For more information call them at (415) 388-0365. I will be talking about Mediterranean Food Gardening, or how to use our mediterranean year to get the most from our vegetable and herb garden. I will be giving out a planting calendar and some recipes that will help you abolish the Eastern US bias that haunts us in so many gardening books and magazines. Hope to see you there!

Michael Pollan's new book

Went to hear a lecture by Michael Pollan today, the last lecture in a series of free lectures at the Goldman School of Public Policy, at UC, Berkeley. Pollan, the author of Second Nature and The Botany of Desire, has written a new book that tracks the sources of foods in several meals. It will be out next week, and is titled The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Ntural History of 4 Meals. Today, he spoke about corn in the American food system. It is subsidized in a way that encourages ever increasing production with falling prices. Sixty percent of the corn we grow is used to feed animals. Mr. Pollan has written in the past few years about the fact that corn disagrees with cows, so they are also fed antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. Overuse of the antibiotics threatens to make them less effective in treating our own diseases.

But in addition to being used in animal feed, corn products are now used in an ever-increasing number of our prepared foods.High fructose corn syrup in particular is suspected to contribute significantly to the rise in obesity and diabetes.

I learned a new term today "the fixed stomach problem." This is the food industry's term for the fact that we can only eat so much, so how can they continue to sell us more and more food, and so grow, as capitalist enterprises must. Years ago, when I was reading about food technology, I learned the terms "acceptibility" and "mouthfeel." These were terms used to evaluate new processed foods they were creating. These terms made me feel that the food industry was thinking of us as livestock to be offered a new kibble. Would we accept it? Did it feel right to our mouths? Not was it delicious, nutritious, delightful to eat, a product of a sustainable food system, but was it "acceptible." Now the term "fixed stomach" makes me feel not even like livestock, but like a commodity. How can the industry gain greater access to my stomach?

I feel that I live in a world full of endless stuff I don't need, and among the things I don't need are most of the products of the food technology industry. Every time I make a salad from my garden, or saute some homegrown greens, or eat fresh produce from a farmers market, I am denying the big food industry access to my stomach, and taking charge of what goes into it myself. I hadn't thought of it so bluntly, but today I felt an indignant need to take my stomach out of their perview, thank you.

Meanwhile, I am growing potato from seed. Really, from seed, rather than from whole small or cut pieces of tubers. I tried it once before, years ago, and reported my lack of success in Golden Gate Gardening, but this time it is going better. I will post a photo of the seedlings and a report on their progress next week.

Rain Break

It is starting to feel a little like spring, despite the ongoing rain. By the way, there are photos of the March hailstorm in earlier posts now, if you want to check them out, see And Now Hail and the next couple of posts to view them.

After 5 unsuccessful attempts to hold a workday at City College of San Francisco, we finally succeeded this week--twice! On Saturday the rain stopped long enough that for 3 of us to plant broccoli and weed the lettuce and peas. Today, Monday, it suddenly stopped raining in the afternoon. This is the 6th time I have attempted to meet students at 2 on Monday. Although I doubted anyone else would come, I drove over, and one other person did show up. We had a nice chat while weeding a bed to prepare it for planting. With a new class starting Saturday, and many seedlings in waiting from the last class, we are going to need more room to plant!

Next Saturday marks the first week of 111G, a 6 week class that I teach at City College of San Francisco. The course will cover summer crops such as tomatoes, beans, squash and cucumbers as well as now to deal with pests without resorting to pesticides. It begins at 9 AM, Saturday, April 8th, in the horticulture building, on the north side of the Phelan Avenue Campus. Send me an email  (see About page) for info on enrolling, or come on Saturday.

Imagine if, from now on this spring, it would rain no more than a couple of days a week instead of 6 1/2 out of 7. My damp feet are starting to feel warmer already just imagining it!

I bought a gardening book this month, which I don't do very often. It is California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O'Brien, Cachuma Press, Los Olivos, CA, 2005. It is a book I have been hoping someone would do, a list of over 500 plants, with 450 color photos, evaluating the native best trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and bulbs for garden use. It has answered several of my burning questions so far. It includes care and pruning directions, climatic adaptation, plant lists for various garden situations, and much more.

Spring Market in San Jose, Automatic Composter

This Saturday, April 1, 2006, will be the day of the 12th Annual Garden Market in San Jose. It will be held from 9 to 2 at a new location: The Mercury News, 750 Ridder Park (exit 880 Brokaw East or 101 Old Oakland North). There will be huge plant sale, with over 70 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and as many of sweet or hot peppers, plus much more. Common Ground of Palo Alto will have a booth. The event is sponsored by the UCCE Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County.

At the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, I was offered information about many businesses and products. One novel product was a automatic compost maker that can be used indoors to compost kitchen scraps. It can handle scraps and paper waste for up to 5 people, making a high nitrogen compost every 2 weeks. It includes a heating element to help the bacteria along that need high temperature to decay the scraps. I asked about energy use, and was told it takes about as much power as a typical night light, or about 50 cents worth of power a month, or less than it costs to haul the same waste in a diesel garbage truck to a landfill or municipal composting program. The machine is 22" x 22" x 14" and plugs into a standard electrical outlet. It automatically mixes and aerates the compost as it is decomposing.

It seems to  me that this might be a good alternative for disabled gardeners. I asked if they had found a market among older gardeners, and they said they had indeed. They had expected more sales among younger gardeners, but were surprised to find the average age of  their customers was much higher than expected.

I was thinking of my Dad, who was still composting actively at 89, but gradually lost the ability to even carry his scraps out and bury them around his fruit trees. Now, when he is 99, his scraps go into the recycling bin or even, often, the garbage. Had he learned to use this composter several years ago, he might have been able to teach his caregivers how to do it, and might now still be able to compost and use the compost to help his fruit trees.

If you want to take a look at this innovative equipment, check it out at www.naturemill.com.

New Nursery Names, Locations

Two San Francisco nurseries are changing their names.

Floorcraft is becoming Flowercraft, with a nice flower for an O. Their new website is at www.flowercraftgc.com. They are having a Garden Fair next weekend, April 1st and 2nd, 11 to 2, with free seminars and demonstrations. Flowercraft is at 550 Bayshore Blvd, between Cortland and Industrial. You can call them at (415) 824-1900.

Guerrero Street Gardens, which shares a space with The Palm Broker, is about to become Flora Grubb Nursery, at the same location. It is at 1074 Guerrero, between 22nd and 23rd Streets, and can be reached at (415) 648-2670. They are still at their old websites of www.gsgardens.com and www.palmbroker.com, but will soon be online at www.floragrubb.com.

Sloat Garden Centers have an new location at 675 El Camino Real in San Bruno. You can call them at (650) 869-6000. Maybe I will be able to give a lecture there next season?

Any other nursery news from the region? I would love to hear the scoop and will report it here.

Meanwhile, in my windowsill, my cucumbers and tomatoes are up and the leek seedlings are getting taller. Still raining about every second day and we're sick of it. Predictions were for a warmer, drier spring than last year, but so far no sign of it.

What a mess the hail made!

Hailccsf_2 Shredded cineraria daisy, nasturtium, potato, even chunks cut out of the fat leaves of a hen and chicks succulent. There is a skirt of leaves around the base of a number of trees in the neighborhood, all knocked off by the hailstones--most of which were as big as garbanzo beans.

A mat of lumpy ice covered the demonstration garden at City College of San Francisco well into Saturday, the day after the hailstorm. The next day, the hail and snow froze together to make a lumpy ice sheet on the bare ground around the bases of plants. Lifted them off and hope for the best. It hailed again a bit today, but nothing like Friday night. As with a frost, I am leaving the plants alone for a few days to see what will recover.

Watching how long the ice took to melt in my back garden taught me where the coldest places are. They are next to the fence on the garden's east side and, coldest of all, by that east fence and next to the house, a shady corner where ice is still unmelted on Sunday!

It isn't that cold out. Even during Friday night's thunder and hail storm, it was only about 40 degrees F. Today it is about 50. But the soill temperature on Saturday was barely above freezing, from having ice melting into it, I presume. The sun is shining, after repeated rainy spells all day today.

Getting ready for the garden show. I will be at the Gala on Tuesday and viewing the gardens again at a Press Reception on Wednesday, then speaking at the show on Friday at 6:30.

And Now Hail!

Announcing itself with bright flashes of lightening and loud claps of thunder, a hailstorm fell tonight. What a racket it made. Our poor cat was cringing in a chair, his eyes wide, tail tucked under. I was thinking about the plants. There was over an inch of snowy hail in pots on the porch. It was dark and cold, but I dumped the stuff out of the pots of plants I know aren't hardy to frost.

Hailporch I wasn't sure of a couple of plants, so went upstairs to check their hardiness. Sunset's Western Garden Book was the first reference I picked up. Sunset zones are great for understanding the climate you live in. But when I tried to find out whether a particular plant can take the cold temperature it was just exposed to, I had to see which Sunset zone it is hardy to, then look up that zone and read through the text about it until I found out its coldest temperatures. (Click on the pictures to see them larger.)

Doing this a couple of times made me realize the value of the USDA Plant Hardiness Map. Simple. Easy to remember. USDA Plant Hardiness Zones consist only of the coldest temperature a plant can survive. Zone 10's average coldest temperature is 30 to 40 degrees F, Zone 9's is 20 to 30, and so forth, each one 10 degrees colder. Once you learn the zones, you know the coldest temperatures without further reading. (USDA Hardiness Zones appear in many books and plant catalogs.)

You can see the USDA Plant Hardiness Map at http://www.usna.gov.Hardzone/  This is in the site of the US National Arboretum. Click on "Go to the Map."

In any case, I will report on the condition of the plants in my garden tomorrow. One thing I know is that the chard, wild onion, and garlic chive leaves will be marked with little white dots--injury caused by the hailstones. How did your plants fare in this weather?

HailcinerariaHere you can see the damage to a cineraria daisy that was blooming before the hail hit it.

If you build a better gopher trap...

...will the world beat a path to your door? I suspect that many people, mostly those who haven’t watched treasured plants become gopher food, are squeamish about controlling the little gnawers with traps. But for those who must do it as part of their job, and for home gardeners who have lost too many treasured plants, a new trap described in last Saturday’s S.F. Chronicle, should be a welcome improvement. It’s called a cinch trap, and unlike the traditional Macabee trap, doesn’t require extensive digging to locate a tunnel. If you can find an active surface opening, you can just insert the cinch trap there. The article describing this new trap is an interview by Deborah K. Rich with Thomas Wittman, part owner of Gophers Limited, in the Santa Cruz area. You can read it at: 


     I found that cinch traps are widely available for purchase on the web, and there is even a little video showing how to set one at this address: http://icwdm.org/video/cinchset.mov

     For an article from UC Davis about gopher control, including a list of the repellent techniques that don’t work, such as planting gopher purge, inserting vibrating devices in the soil, and putting chewing gum in their tunnels, check out: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7433.html

I promised a soil temperature reading today. On Saturday, March 4th, the soil thermometer read 38 degrees F. Could br a fluke. Maybe the thermometer was inserted deeper than last week, or in a colder place, but it shows that the soil is definitely not warming up yet. And with all the cold rain that is continuing to fall, I don't suppose it will warm up anytime soon. My records show that last year at this time the soil temperature in that garden was 52 degrees F. A bit different from this year!