Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guest Garden #2 – Waste Not Want Not

Did you know that you can eat arugula flowers?  And they are totally yummy?  This is what I learned at this months meeting of the garden club hosted by Lisa in her garden.

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, and her roses were in boisterous bloom, giving her garden a rollicking color backdrop.  The ever practical Lisa pointed out that the roses were there when she moved in, two years ago.  Since then, she has removed some of the roses to make room for her vegetables.

In this garden, nothing is wasted.   Against one wall near the table where we sat eating nibbles and drinking Lingonberry punch (a drink from Lisa’s homeland –Sweden), a wrought iron frame held shelves full of pots of blossoming annuals giving the immediate area a lovely Mediterranean feel. 

Lisa has used her imagination by planting pots in unusual ways, e.g. succulents in strawberry pots.

Here she has planted herbs in pots and grouped them together into eye pleasing displays.  Notice the lettuce in a plane white basin letting the variety of colors in the lettuce leaves ‘pop’!

I think what I loved most about the Garden Club this week is what I learned about blossoms and seeds.

I noticed that Lisa’s arugula (we call it rocket in Ireland) had all blossomed.  Mine had bolted too and are also starting to blossom, and I was sad because I figured that was the end of it, in the same way that once lettuce bolts it’s not as nice to eat.  Apparently, not so for arugula.  Lisa told me that you can eat the flowers, as she picked one and popped it in her mouth.  I followed her example, and was astonished at how nice they tasted – they are sweet – probably from nectar – with a delicious peppery aftertaste, similar to that of the leaf.  I love it when my food looks pretty and being able to eat these little flowers made my day!  It also means that I don’t have to pull out my arugula – it can still be eaten, flowers and all!  Later that day, I had a salad from my garden topped with arugula flowers.  Not only does it look great, it tasted so good that I didn’t even need to use any dressing!

Lisa also showed me how to gather seeds from broccoli – seed saving is something I’m keen to learn about.  Here is a broccoli seed batch being dried out for next season.

I love that Lisa uses every part of the plant, nothing is wasted.  Anything that she can’t eat or save is composted.  She even has some compost presents to look forward too.  Here are some potatoes growing out of her compost bin.

 I know from personal experience that these spuds will be the tastiest she will ever eat! 

Her strawberries, in a small raised bed at the side of her garden, look lustrous and healthy – always a great plant to photograph as the leaves alone are so pretty.
Lisa has a profusion of oregano and is starting some rosemary in pots. 

She tends to keep her herbs either in areas where they can’t take over her garden , or in pots.

Her vegetable garden has beets, lettuce , carrots, broccoli, onions ( the latter two not in this shot) and in the picture of the roses at the start of this post you may have spied the garlic planted between the rose bushes.

Here is the arugula in its full glory. You can just see the onions peaking up in the background.

In the corner, the peach tree is starting to form fruit.  Lisa was complaining about how the birds take a bit of each fruit before she can get to it.  She figures it would be fine if they would just choose a fruit and finish it rather than sample all of them!

The apple tree in the other end of the garden doesn’t produce fruit.  Too hot we reckon, thought it is a lovely tree and provides a nice shade.

Lisa showed me a mystery plant she got in a plant swap.  Actually, it was piggy-backing in a pot that held another plant, so it is probably a weed, but she planted it, and it looks pretty.  Does anyone know what it is?  Please leave a comment if you know - we’d love to find out.

We left the gardening club with the determination to start seed saving and looking forward to keeping a beautiful crop of arugula, flowers and all.  Of course, as is the way, we had a great time eating drinking and being merry – all in the name of good gardening!  Well, ultimately, that is what a garden is for – isn’t it?

Byddi Lee

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Peas Treaty

The Peas Treaty

So it is by now well established that I hate slugs.  Slugs are stealth experts – they strike in the dead of night and the only ones I’ve actually seen were the ones that drowned in my beer.  They had smiles on their slimy little faces!  Then there are their comrades-in-arms – the tough(er) guys of the mollusk world, those warriors with armor plating (relatively speaking!) – Snails! 

I discovered where the snail’s headquarters are.  They’ve been hiding in two places – one is an old privet bush that I decided to take out.  Why oh why can’t the snails eat the privet leaves?  The blighters were camping out there but not actually eating the horrible bush!  Typical.  I can’t figure out why someone hasn’t decided to genetically engineer snails and slugs to prefer to eat weeds and invasive species – what a gardeners dream!

I don’t like to actually directly kill anything.  Spiders in the house - Allan deals with those.  The garden is my domain.  Beer is kind.  Sluggo is discrete and quiet – not that squishing a slug isn’t – its not as if they scream or anything.  Generally you don’t see the slugs.  But big brazen snails – they are a totally different kettle of gastropod!  I couldn’t bear to squish the ones I found in the privet –that whole cracking shell thing gives me the hee-bee-jee-bees - but what to do with them?

As I came across them I set them up on the bird table but as the afternoon wore on, can you believe it, they were escaping?   How sad a guard am I that 6 snails made a run, a snail run and almost made it?  And where were the birds and lizards that pose so nicely for photos when you need ‘em – probably off getting their facials and manicures!

We had a great run with the sugar snap peas… I planted them in October and we ate peas constantly right up until last week.  In the early days, we were eating mainly pod and tiny peas inside.  Later, we shelled the peas and they were still delicious.

 With the peas finished it was time to take out the old yellowing pea plants and put them in the compost – and that’s when I found the snail mother ship!  I picked up a snail that was nestled in between a leaf and a stem, and it pooped on my finger.  I dropped the snail and was left with a tiny perfectly formed snail turd (not that I’m an expert on snail turds) on the tip of my finger!
Talk about adding insult to injury!

Some of these snails were massive and there were tonnes of them!  Now I know who has been eating all my lettuce.  I felt betrayed by the peas for harboring the snails.  There I was, giving peas a chance and now this! 

And it was nigh on impossible to bring myself to kill them – they possess a quirky beauty all of their own.  And not a bit of wonder they are so beautiful what with all the good food, not to mention the drink, I’ve been supplying them!
My little book on how to kill slugs suggested throwing them in the compost bin.  Apparently, they tend to stay with the bin because it is full of goodies.  The pea plants were headed that way anyway, so it wouldn’t be that cruel.  Once there, the inmates headed straight for the walls, as if they knew they had to escape!

 Few days later, I caught a stunt snail trying to walk the tightrope to escape.  I guess no-one likes to have their freedom taken from them – but it’s either that or the death sentence – if I could find a reliable executioner!
And if you look closely you can see he has a passenger.  No ash cloud is going to stop this guy!
This past week I also decided to prune the big orange tree at the side of the house.  Those top branches had so many oranges that we were able to juice them, producing 5 liters (1.3 gallons).  We froze it so that we can enjoy our own fresh orange juice year round.  There are still plenty of oranges left on the tree for us to enjoy now. 
The peas and carrots are finished up but I’ve new batches growing – I’ve been staggering when I plant things so that I have as close to a year round supply as possible.

We’ve also been eating the following produce from our garden:
lettuce (many different types)
Bok choi
Asian stir fry mix greens
beetroot (one raw beet and six oranges makes a delicious juice for two – and it’s a lovely pink color too!)
Radish – though I gave them to Al because we don’t like them – I only grew them as an experiment to see if the 2001 seeds would germinate – they did!
Limes – though strictly speaking these last two are our neighbor's trees.

I’m looking forward to the warm season vegetables.  Some of these I’ve never grown, nor even seen growing before.  It’s going to be a whole new adventure.

The front yard is progressing painfully slowly but progressing nonetheless – more on that another blogtime!

Byddi Lee

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wonders never cease.

When your major competitor is a slug, it makes you wonder at your status in the universe!  Such is my obsession with the slugs in my garden that my friend, Haile, from Ireland sent me a book “50 Ways to Kill a Slug”!  The book has some great suggestions – Haile book-marked her favorite – hanging them on the clothes line to dry!  She so gets it – as a fellow gardener, she too hates the wee monsters.

Another friend, who does not garden, innocently asked me the other day “Just how much damage can they do?”  She figures they are small and slow, so what’s the big deal.  When she looks outside and sees a yard full of green plants, she thinks there’s plenty to go around.  The thing is, these creatures target the fresh, newly germinated seedlings – I’ve lost two entire crops of peas to these slimy creeps.  Remember my pictures celebrating the onset of spring, Springtime – a Myriad of Miracles?  Two days later, my newly germinated peas – all gone!  Enough to bring a grown woman to tears, I decided not just to get mad – I got even.  I declared full on war and brought in the Sluggo, recommended by Master Gardeners as an organic means of slug control.  They were using up too much beer (the slugs, not the Master Gardeners) and this was more deadly. 

By California standards, it’s been a wet spring, ideal for slugs.  Even with regular use of Sluggo there are still innocent casualties – My new lettuce patch took a direct hit.

Then, I decided to try to start some peas indoors.  I called in to have a look at a new Lowes hardware store opened nearby and discovered that they had super cheap potting soil – 2 cubic feet for $5.  I bought two bags and went home and planted up a set of seeds, peas , beans, bok choi and, turnip to name a few.  Three weeks later the pots smelt funny, nothing had germinated and I discovered that the seeds had all rotted.  I had ignored the first lesson on my gardening course – if you have $1 to spend on your garden use 90cents of it on your soil – or something to that effect.  This soil was so bad that the only thing that did grow out of it was mushrooms!  I was able to use it to pot up some tomato seedling which, in my great enthusiasm, I started in January.  They are growing well in my sun room that is fast becoming a greenhouse.  You can see the stem behind the mushrooms.

Once I switched to Sluggo, I felt more confident about direct planting my peas and beans.  The peas are going strong and the first bean poked its head up this morning!  Unfortunately, the weeds are more in focus than the bean!

In fact, I’d been all set to write a piece about gardening disasters.  With the cooler temperatures this week, the garden had slowed up.  When I did my morning walk about – I love that first walk in the garden each morning to see what the new day brings – I was surprised to see a few new things up.  It washed away my gardening blues, and I realized that, really, I had only three ‘disasters” and none of them that much to write home about:-
1) The slugs eating ALL my new peas before I introduced Sluggo.  I felt let down by the beer!  A new experience for an Irish girl.
2) The cheap soil rotting all my seeds – all my own penny pinching fault!
3) Something digging up my newly planted sunflower seeds!  I can’t blame the slugs this time – they have no arms for digging.  My guess is either a bird, which technically doesn’t have arms either, but boy can they scrape with their feet, or a squirrel that seems to be stalking me in the garden.  It’s very bizarre, but he will sit only feet away from me watching me, probably waiting for me to plant more seeds for him to feast on.  Each time I stand up he runs to the relative safety of the fence and sits peeking over it at me. 
Perhaps he recognizes me as a former member if the Tufty Club. Though I'm not sure they let grey squirrels join.  Mind you, I can't see why not as they did let Willy Weasel join!  I wondered was that still going these days - a road safety campaign aimed at children in Britain and Ireland- and of course, why wonder when you have a choice of search engines? Some of the sites are hilarious - if you were also a member of the Tufty club please leave me a comment!
I planted a row of sunflowers, about thirty seeds in total, along the back fence.  I am just imagining a wall of giant flowers come summer.  A beautiful wall of flowers – with a gap now!  To remedy this I planted more seeds in pots to fill in the gaps.  
So far only three seeds outside have germinated – my “wall” is starting to materialize as a mere bunch!   Can you spot the Sluggo?

It has been unseasonably cool here, so there is still time for the other seeds to come up.  Hopefully, I will have enough indoor started seedlings to fill in any other gaps.  I hope it works – It should look fabulous. 

Sunflowers were the last thing I bought my father before he died.  I sent him a bunch when he went into the hospice for the last time.  I thought they engendered hope, and it being the start of April a look forward to summer.  We thought we’d have him for the summer at least, but we didn’t.  He kept the sunflowers in a vase on the window sill of his hospice room and you could see them from the car park when you arrived in to visit.  It was if he were smiling out a welcome.  His second anniversary was on April 10th.  I miss him. 

The sunflowers weren’t the only things to germinate over night.  We now have watermelon, zucchini and eggplant!  I love how the Americans call this "eggplant "– so much easier to spell than "aubergine".  Though I do wonder, do they describe the color aubergine as “egg plant”?

I love the way potatoes first come up – they are like little velvety green roses nestled in the soil.

And to totally evaporate the disappointment of my three minor disasters, one of my plants came back from the dead!  Last October, I bought two gogi berry plants.  One died pretty much straight away, and the other one ‘died’ at the end of November.  Or at least I thought it had died, but hurray - it came back, re-clothed in fresh green leaves, despite the fact that an iris is growing practically on top of it.

So minor hiccups apart, all's well in the garden, contentment blooms!

Byddi Lee

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Picture This Contest - April 2010

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself with my new camera, but I thought I'd enter this picture in this month's  Gardening Gone Wild picture contest.  It's "Peas In My Heart" from my last blog post - What on Earth is it all About?

Friday, April 9, 2010

What on Earth is it all about?

Earth Day is the 22nd of April. 

Thanks For Today and other fellow garden bloggers are sharing ways to garden sustainably in honor of Earth Day and this is my contribution. Please visit Jan's blog,  Thanks For Today to see links to other posts honoring Earth Day.

I’m not sure if it’s an American thing or a world wide event –though when you consider that the “World Series” is a tournament involving only America and Canada, I’d be forgiven for being confused about these things here.  That said, I can’t ever recall celebrating Earth Day when I lived in Ireland.  It’s likely that given it’s proximity to St. Patricks Day, we were all still in recovery.  Add to that the fact that Earth Day is not about swilling the grog, so yeah, maybe we missed it!

So what does it mean to me?  I like to think I live everyday as if it were Earth Day.  I’m converting my front garden to be a native plant garden so that I might conserve biodiversity, won’t waste resources (water, fertilizers etc) and hopefully provide a habitat for the local wildlife.   I run the gauntlet of the Drosophila flies and compost my kitchen waste.   Every week, I take reusable carrier bags with me to the supermarket and feel embarrassed if I’m packing my shopping into a Lucky Supermarket bag when I’m in Safeway’s and vice versa –silly I know- the bigger issue being that I’m not WASTING plastic!   I drive a small (by American standards!) car and I turn off lights, computers and appliances when not in use.  I hang my clothes on the line to dry and my dinner guests get cloth napkins.  As things go, I’m a tree-hugger!

At least, I believe in trying my best to be environmentally friendly for more than just that one day of the year.

So, what can I do for Earth Day that I’m not already doing or attempting to do….

As the Christian Brothers hammered into the Catholic school children back home, in a previous millennium, (sadly, in some cases quite literally!) the key is EDUCATION.

So hold on to your hats, here it comes!

Basically, I wanted to know what is Earth Day, who started it and when.

What is Earth day?

Earth Day was designed to promote environmental awareness based on the idea that everyone on our planet deserves to live in a healthy, sustainable environment.  Basically, they want to engender in us an appreciation of Earth. 

Ok, that’s an easy one, especially at this time of the year.  Have a look at these photos I took of California’s native wildflowers and tell me you are not inspired.

It’s heartening to think that someone thought to highlight the wonders of our planet.  Sometimes it’s easy to go around with our eyes closed to the beauty of our world, especially when we are wrapped up in the rat race, living between car to office to inside our own homes, struggling to get through our busy days.

But STOP! 

It’s still there - waiting patiently for us to take notice - the trees, the sky, the mountains, the ocean.  For some lucky people, it’s right outside their windows.  You’d be surprised what you might find in your own back yard.  This fence lizard poses for me regularly - right in my backyard!

Increasingly people need to make a journey to reconnect with their planet.  That is the beauty of Earth Day.  It reminds us that it’s alive, we haven’t strangled all of it, yet, and we need to nurture what’s left. 

Just over the hill from where I took this picture is the land fill site for San Jose.  This is why we don’t want it to spread!

The “who” and the “when” of Earth Day totally intrigued me.  The Earth Day that we celebrate now was started by US Senator Gaylord Nelson.  Despite being saddled with a rather unfortunate name, he decided he had bigger and better issues to pursue.  Frustrated by political inertia on environmental policies, he announced at a conference in September 1969 that the following Spring there would be a “nationwide grassroots demonstration”.  You can get the story in his own words here.

So far so good - BUT THEN - I came across another article about a DIFFERENT Earth Day.  Curious and curiouser!

So, it turns out that in fact, the founder of Earth Day was John McConnell.  He even wrote an Earth Day proclamation and suggested that Earth Day be held on the spring equinox (March 20/21) starting in 1969.  So that puts him ahead of ole Gaylord! 

Isn’t it typical that there couldn’t even be a consensus of when Earth Day would be and that some politician just ran roughshod over what had already been established a year earlier?  

Mind you, if Earth Day was on March 20th the Irish would be still hung over from the 17th.  Maybe that’s why they changed it to April 22nd!

The bottom line is that this is the human condition – we, each of us, have different ideas, different faiths, different loyalties, different wants but we all share basically the same needs and the SAME PLANET!  And for this reason alone, we need to work towards the SAME GOAL – a healthy, happy, home.

So I say for Earth Day, get outside, look around, do some gardening – feel the planet in the palm of your hand.  After a good day in the garden, you too can have peas in your heart! 

Byddi Lee

Friday, April 2, 2010

Guest Gardens #1 – A Fusion of Relaxation and Function

When the gardening classes ended, a bunch of us got together and decided to start a gardening club, taking turns to host it in our gardens once a month, where we could continue the exchange of ideas and swap seedlings.  Judy, who sat beside me in class, (with the escaping worms!) offered to host the first meeting and kindly agreed to me posting her garden as a “Guest Garden” on my blog.  I also discovered that she makes the best sangria I’ve ever tasted!  Of course, sangria and snacks are an important element of any gardening club!

Judy's garden is like the grounds of a luxury hotel.  Somewhere you could go on holiday, tranquil and relaxing.  She has a good sized pool, one that you can actually swim a proper length in before needing to turn.  Last year, whilst looking for the new house, I saw so many houses with pools that were too short to actually swim properly in.  In many cases it was a choice between pool or garden.  Judy is blessed by both!

Another striking feature of this property, is that it overlooks a golf course and the Santa Cruz Mountains beyond that.  This, Judy admitted, was the feature that sold the property to them several years ago, not the actual house!  They take full advantage of their beautiful view with understated iron railings that, for the most part, you look through but are themselves really stylish.

It reminds me of something from a holiday brochure.  Wish you were here?

But Judy’s garden is not just about a beautiful lawn, pool and view, though for many that would be plenty!  Judy’s garden is also a working garden, providing food for her family.  Along the side of her house she has three raised beds where she grows vegetables.  It’s a great illustration of how a smaller space can be effectively put too work. 
 The first raised bed has strawberries and onions in it right now.  This prompted a useful discussion for our meeting on “How do you know if you have planted too sparingly or too much in your garden?”  We reckon start bare and then keep adding stuff in slowly.  If it starts to suffer, then you know it’s too much.  The problem with too little is that you are leaving room for weeds, and you could be growing something edible instead!  As Judy wisely said, “Gardening is not an exact science!”  All comments are welcome on any aspect  of gardening advice...

The middle raised bed looks like the herb garden.  Notice here the drip irrigation system – a necessity in this part of the world.
There is rosemary in the bottom left corner.  I have a nicer close- up shot of that.
Judy has also planted cilantro (coriander to Europeans), and lettuce and more onions at the other end.  We talked about when you should harvest onions.  Judy pointed out that the instructions on the seed pack weren’t very helpful - “Harvest when ready.”  But how do you know when onions are ready?  They’re in the ground and once you dig them up that’s that!  I did some research, and the general consensus is that you can harvest them when the tops start to wither and fall over, i.e. die back.  So, I hope that answers your question Judy.  Also, various sources suggest leaving them to dry out a little too.

Judy’s third raised bed is choco-block full of amazing broccoli!  This just goes to show that giving your seedlings some space can have its dividends.  These are twice the size of mine (same type) which were squeezed between my peas and my kale.  Judy can eat broccoli every night of the week at the minute!  A great crop.
One of the things I love about Judy’s garden is how she has utilized the space (and how tidy it is compared to mine!) with ingenious ideas or simply ideas that leave you smacking your head saying, “Why didn’t I think of that!”

She brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “sack of spuds” with these grow-in-the-bag potatoes.  It also means that she won’t lose potatoes in the soil and have surprise potatoes the following year!

I loved how she took advantage of the wall to support her sugar snap peas!
And for ground cover in her side beds, she is using a plant that is attractive and gives one of my favorites – strawberries!  Keeping them in narrow beds limits their growth so that they don’t take over completely.

Judy is also the proud mommy to baby tomato seedlings.  Aren’t they adorable!

She also has the most unusual double petaled (I'm sure there is a more technical name for this!  Please comment if you know - I'm still learning.) tulip that I have ever seen.

It was a lovely afternoon - sunshine, sangria (did I already mention the sangria?) and excellent company.  It’s a great way for someone like me, setting down roots of my own, to meet interesting, like-minded people. 

We had a good laugh at how becoming a gardener changes our perspective on things.  We get excited about manure!  One of the girls (I must remember to check with them all if I can use their first names in future blogs!) shared a source for chicken manure.  Judy said that until a few years ago she’d never imagined she’d be so happy to get that link!  A germinating seed makes our day and we are all getting excited about a forthcoming field trip to the Yerba Buena nursery!

People say “If I won the lottery I’d…”  Well, I have a garden - I’ve already won the lottery…and with my hand in the soil, like Scarlette O Hara, I too say, “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!” (Especially with Safeways down the road for backup!)

Byddi Lee