Instead of reaching for the fridge to make my meals, I try to think about what I can incorporate from the garden. It’s worth taking those extra steps down to the garden to pick even the smallest of plants, a sprig of thyme, a few kale leaves, or green onions. No matter if most of my meal is store bought, it’s nice to get into the practice of going into the garden to pick our food. Not only do I get the benefits of fresh air and movement but I get to see how the plants are doing and what bird feeders need to be filled up. If the birds haven’t reminded me already! The addition of some greens or zucchini to a meal can stretch out store bought ingredients to make a cheap and healthy meal.
There’s no denying that a meal solely from the garden is something special but it’s also nice when the topping to a meal is from the garden such as some basil or parsley sliced thinly to give us some green to our meals. Sometimes we can feel lazy about going outside to grab some herbs for a meal but take the moment as a gift to explore the open air, the soil beneath your feet and our connection to this earth.
A journal documenting the weight of all the veggies harvested from the garden, photos, multiple blog posts every week, all dreams that have gone and past with the summer. The journal lasted a whole two weeks. The blog posts lasted only two updates. The photos were taken intermittingly. It’s just how it is.
Life happens and if keeping up with my day job, relationship and the garden wasn’t enough, capturing it the whole process in luring details just isn’t in the cards. What I can tell you was that it was great year in the garden and it’s looking really good going into the fall. I’m writing this after the power has been restored from a massive atmospheric river blasted Sonoma County and the Bay Area with inches and inches of rain. I love knowing that there are plants in the ground to soak up all this water. California was parched this summer and water rations were in affect. Despite this, the garden produced a lot. More than we could keep up with. Do you know what picking cucumber can fill a jar? What am I going to do with all these pickling cucumbers? There’s still some in the fridge and I’ve already made five different recipes.
Plant what you eat is something I preach. I think we planted too much of some veggies we like to eat. For example, the tomatoes kept flowing from our eight plants. Freezing them until there were bags and bags of tomatoes to process. Yet, we were able to keep up with our two zucchini plants. All those hot Korean peppers and other varieties like Scotch Bonnets produced well. As much as I like hot sauces, we probably planted too many. More eggplant and more potatoes next year. We love our greens and had a steady supply for most of spring and summer but it requires constant reseeding and I just couldn’t keep up with it through the heat of the summer. I think I will look into purchasing a pound of mixed lettuce seed that I can spread when walking through the garden. Maybe that was I can keep up.
Fall is setting in. Most of the tomatoes have been pulled from the ground but peppers are still in. They seem to like the cooler weather in the fall here. We’ve planted celery, more onions, greens, kale and collards. Potatoes and garlic will be going in the ground soon.
As for the wildlife in the yard, I’ve been able to witness the migration of native birds throughout the summer. Right now, our residents our Chesnut Chickadees, Lesser Gold Finches, Sparrows, and Dark Eye Juncos. As much as I love all the visitors, I need to buy some bird netting to give the seedlings a fighting chance.
It’s been a huge blessing to work from home. A fifteen minute break can be spent watering the garden and watching birds dance around the bird feeder. A lot of winter crops are starting to reach maturity. Spring peas are just past their peak. I’m letting some mature on the vine to harvest seeds for sowing in fall. I shelled the others. What’s nice about sugar snap peas is that you can eat them at any stage. A great variety I’ve always loved for its versatility.
The fava beans have been cut but I left the roots in the ground for the added benefit of carbon sequestration and organic material. Onions may have got stressed out at some point because some are starting to flower which affects their taste and ability to store well. I’m picking them sooner than I want. I’ve planted more seeds for a fall crop so I’m hoping those provide better results. The tops never did yellow and fall down. This crop was Walla Walla, the onion I just planted are Spanish Yellow. We will see if there is a huge difference in bulb size and growth pattern.
No waste garden notes: It’s very hard to keep up eating everything in the garden without letting the products go bad. Even with a small kitchen garden, lettuce will flower, peas go unpicked, and beets get forgotten in the fridge. Every few days I try to get into the kitchen and think of food I can make with what’s in season. Grow what you eat often is a way to avoid too much food going to waste. That’s something I continue to practice and mention in this blog.
Drought notes: Warm weather is around us and we’ve had very little rainfall in California. One way to help with water use is mulching. I can’t say it enough, it helps keep water in the soil and adds organic material that builds healthy soil. There is some concern about wood chips stealing nitrogen from plants but I’ve had plenty of success using it and don’t plan on stopping. Check out my post on mulch here.
List of To-Do’s in the garden: – Weed, tons of crab grass still coming up even though sheet mulching (process of laying down cardboard and mulch) helped with a lot of it. – Finish planting summer crops. – Plant celery seeds. Such a great plant to grow because often you don’t need a whole bunch for a specific recipe. – Continue harvesting spring crops. – Tie up rest of tomatoes and cucumbers.
Today, I went out to harvest turnips from the garden. It’s always a pleasure to grow a plant successfully that you’ve never grown before. It’s a balancing act, you don’t want to plant veggies that you’ll never eat but you want experience growing some veggies that can add to your palate and food storage. Here in Northern California, i planted these seeds in February and I’m harvesting them now in late May. The variety is an heirloom variety called purple top white globe and the seeds were bought from seed savers exchange. I have to say that the termination rate for these seeds was excellent. I admit that I didn’t thin these as much as I should have but the crop still turned out well. These turnips will be made into a mashed turnip recipe mixed with potatoes and turnip greens and a whole lot of butter.
Also in the basket of today’s harvest was some fava beans. Tore most of them out to make room for summer crops. I took the tops of the fava beans and shredded them with the lawn mower for compost and left the roots in the bed to decompose. Pretty cool that you can see the nodules that help the bean fix nitrogen.
With the rise of the suburban landscapes, there has been an increased focus on manicured landscaping. When leaves fall on the ground or lawn, they are raked, bagged, and sent to some another place. These leaves would naturally provide the soil with what would be considered “organic mulch,” (I’ll explain later). Mulches like leaves help reduce evaporation, increase organic matter in the soil, and improve drainage. In our Mediterranean climate where we have no rain in the summer, mulch should be in wide use, helping conserve our water.
Why use mulch? First of all, it’s putting money back into your pocket by saving you on your water bill. It also provides organic matter that eventually breaks down to humus, which provides nutrients and stimulates biological activity. Also, the organic matter improves soil drainage in clay soils and increases water-holding capacity in sandy soils. Mulches also help reduce weeds by smothering and blocking sunlight to seeds. They also make it a whole lot easier to pull weeds when you do have them because the soil is nice and loose.
What are the different types of mulches? They are mainly divided into three categories: organic, inorganic, and living. Organic mulches would include wood chips, straw, newspaper, etc. Inorganic mulches would include rocks like river stones, sand or lava rocks. Living mulches would be plants, mostly plants that spread and form a dense cover above the soil. A few plants that I recommend include comfrey, thyme, and low growing California natives such as Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) or California Lilac (Ceanothus sp.). California Lilac and Manzanita are the most drought and deer resistant. While, comfrey (high in potassium) can be cut multiple times a season for nutrient rich mulch.
There are lots of choices when it comes to applying mulch in your yard. How do you choose one for your landscape? The organic and living mulches provide the most benefits. The inorganic mulches do not provide organic matter but are great when used with succulents, cacti and other seaside and desert plants. Straw is great for vegetable gardens, because it breaks down relatively fast. For orchards, you may want to go with wood chips cut into different sizes that will provide weed control for a longer period. Pine needles and oak leaves work great for acid loving plants. There are many resources online that are easy to access that can provide more information on choosing your mulch.
There are certain guidelines you want to follow when applying mulch to your landscape. First of all, it’s important not to cover the crown of the plant because this can cause moisture to build up around the trunk, which will result in crown rot. Horticulturalists have different opinions on how much mulch should be applied. Through my experience and research, I believe a couple inches or less is all you need in most situations. If mulching summer vegetables, wait until mid-spring because you want the soil to be warm. Also, be sure to water the mulch after you apply because sometimes it can be very dry, acting as a barrier to water.
Finding materials for mulch in Sonoma County is easy, local soil yards like Sonoma Compost will usually have a few options to choose from. Also, at local nurseries, you can find bagged mulch. Wood chips are sometimes offered for free on sites such as Craigslist and Freecycle. The easiest option would be to let the leaves and branches from your own plants decompose on site. That method doesn’t require you to get in your car or pull out your rake on your day off.