Sunday, September 2, 2012

September Gardening.

Hello Friends,

Guess what?  It's time to start thinking about the cool season.  Yes, I know, it still feels like summer, but it is quickly transitioning to fall.  Here in So. California our fall weather is marked by cooling nights, shortening days, and gorgeous sunsets. 

There are lots of tasks to do to get ready for the fall veggies, flowers and bulbs.  The following link is a great resource for getting ready:

September Gardening Checklist

While selecting plants, don't forget about your Mother.  Mother Nature that is!  Companion planting is a great way to combine various species for optimal garden health.  This chart demystifies this time tested method of gardening....just match what you wish to plant with what is grows best with, plant them next to each other in the garden, and enjoy!
A guide to "Facebook" for plants. Follow this chart for a healthier and stronger garden. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I'd like to introduce the gorgeous Chasmanthe!

Hello Friends,

In gardens tucked away all over town, there is a glorious bloom occuring.  Upon first glance, it is a cluster of fan shaped, brilliant green foliage that resembles bearded iris in form and vigor.  Held atop this foliage are warm jewel colored flowers, in shades of red-orange to yellow. This gorgeous display is of the elegant yet informal Chasmanthe, or Cobra Lily. 

Chasmanthe is a genus of plants that bloom in the early spring to summer.  Originally from South Africa, they are well adapted to the climate here in Southern California and naturalize in gardens quite easily.  Each year the display increases as this plant stretches its legs and its clump increases.  The following photos were recently taken in Ojai, CA where this beauty soaks up the early spring sun.  I especially love how the foliage catches the afternoon light.

This yellow really cheers up the garden!

Here you can see how the plant clumps and spreads.  Great for naturalizing!

Here you can see how it gets its name, Cobra Lily.  Those arching flowers are getting ready to strike!

What could be better than this?  Afternoon light streaming through the gorgeous apple green foliage.

Cobra Lily nestled into a low water situation...feels right at home.

This pic was sent to me after I took the others....see the progression of the flower...Gorgeous!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

6-Week Garden Plan: prep for spring!

Hi Friends,
Okay, its time! Lets get out in the garden and take some action.  It may seem early to work the garden for those Tomatomania tomatoes, but now is actually the best time.  It is also easier than you think and if you start now you’ll see how easy it is to have amazing soil for spring and summer plantings.  Trust me…your tomato plants will thank you and reward you with lots of scrumptious fruits all season long (Yes, a tomato is a fruit).
6 Week Garden Plan:  prep for spring!
1.    Plan your garden.  This is important for multiple reasons:
·      Zero in on where to concentrate your soil building efforts.
·      Crop Rotation:  gotta do it!  Growing the same crop in the same place every year is a no-no.  (…hello diseases and pests!)  If you’ve been growing your tomatoes in the same place, then its time to move them to another plot (or container!).  Follow this guide to easy crop rotation: click here.
2.    Start a compost pile…in your garden plot!
·      Time tested and easy. Take those kitchen scraps from dinner (veggies, paper, breads, peels, egg shells) and bury them directly in the garden.  Dig a small hole and put in those veggie and paper scraps.  Do this all around the garden and come spring, you’ll have worms galore! 
3.    Bale of straw…use as mulch and it will feed your soil.
·      Hit up your local feed supply store and pick up a bale of hay!  Sound funny?  It works!  Break apart the bale and spread it around the garden as a mulch at least a few inches thick (2” to 6”).  This will trap moisture and feed the beneficials living in the soil.  (Make sure you buy a bale that is weed seed free).  Use all season long…the more it breaks down the better!
4.    Add worms.
·      Worms are the true champions of a healthy garden. Buy them online or independent nurseries.  Sprinkle around in your hay mulched garden…BAM!!  Magic.
5.    Apply a layer of Malibu Compost.
·      Biodynamics is a fancy word for “Really Awesome Compost.” Support local with a purchase of Malibu Compost.  Apply in a ½” to 1” layer all around planting areas as a top dressing.
6.    Make compost tea and apply.
·      Easy and effective: buy ready made tea bags from Malibu Compost (instructions included) or use your own compost to make a solution of magic elixer for the soil.  Check out the book Teaming With Microbes, A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis for details. Compost tea infuses the beneficial microorganisms into our soil at a concentrated is soils version of eating yogurt.  Lots of good guys create a better environment for roots.
Happy Gardening!   Stephen.
Seedlings in the greenhouse...spring is coming.  Let's get out there and start prepping our soil!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Soil 103: Starting a new garden & Adding to an existing one.

Hello Friends,

Okay, so we talked about what we should be adding to the soil to get it ready for planting, right?  So the question I get asked most often is "I have a new garden (or have never gardened before), what should I do to get it ready?"  Well, that is easy, just follow these steps:
  1. Check out the soil where you wish to plant...what does it tell you?  Dry, hard, weedy, desolate?  What color is it?  Fluffy and dark is the best, this allows for good drainage and healthy roots...does your soil match up?  99% of the time, it needs help, so keep reading.
  2. Remove debris such as rocks and weeds, then lightly rake area to rough up the surface.
  3. Amend!  Refer to the previous blog on types of amendments, but to keep it simple, make sure to add enough bagged amend to cover the area with 2" to 3" of the good stuff.  Go thick with the potting soil/planter mix...More is better here. Go more sparingly with the manure/worm castings/compost, as it is more potent.  This technique is called top-dressing and it is the best way to add new soil without breaking your back.  Just open the bag(s) and spread out with a rake.  No need to incorporate or dig in, just layer it on top.  Also, if you have clay, then you should add gypsum. This naturally occurring mineral will break up those hard to dig clay soils and let the good stuff in. 
  4. Water thoroughly....this will encourage the new soil to percolate with the existing soil.  Also, moisture will get the worms in the original soil to come visit the new stuff and that is KEY!  You could also add worms available online or at your local nursery.  The worms (and other little guys) do the work for us.  They mix and blend the top-dressed area with the existing soil and with time, the soil becomes one.  How cool is that!!  The sooner you amend the sooner the worms can get started, so get in the garden now for spring planting.  Never too early to amend!
This new raised veggie garden is filled with a combination of potting soil + planter mix + and compost.  In raised beds, it is important to add new soil with each planting, as the level of the soil will drop each season. 

Already have a garden, and just want to make it better?  Usually with an established garden,  amendments have been added over the years.  This is great, but it can always be better.  Follow this formula for success:
  1.  Get a good quality Planter Mix and spread around garden to around 1" thick.
  2. Add compost (my favorite is Malibu Compost) in a layer over the planting area.  Put enough to cover the area by around 1/4" to 1/2" inch. 
  3. Water thoroughly, and watch your plants smile!
All in all, keep in mind that you want to add lots of good stuff, but leave the work to Mother Nature to do the mixing and integrating.  Sure, you could take the time to mix it in, with shovel and spade, but in most cases, it is completely unnecessary.   Add worms if you don't feel like you have them already and remember to amend with every planting and/or beginning of each season.  Do this and you be the envy of the neighborhood with your "black gold". 

Next week will will explore the 6-week plan for getting your garden ready for Tomatomania Tomato Season! 

Happy Gardening,
A good gardener checks their soil to see what it needs.  A great garden is only as good as it's soil!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It's All About the Amendments!

SOIL 102:
So, to sum up last week…. soil is ALIVE! It is an ECOSYSTEM that needs the proper care to ensure your plants get the most out of it.  This means LOTS of organic AMEND and NO chemicals.  Since we are nurturing a soil food web, we will need to ensure proper aeration and drainage along with a proper balance of nutrients for your plants (… and Tomatomania Tomatoes of course!) to thrive.
To do this, our job is to AMEND.   It is important to do this each time you plant and at the very least, once a year. The amendments listed below are available at your independent local nursery, come in bags, and will not only add the beneficial microorganisms we want for our ecosystem, but will feed the ones we already have!  How cool is that?  I think of amend for soil like yogurt for humans…full of living goodness that keeps things in balance.
Preparation is key!  Adding amendment to your garden now, will allow for the soil to improve in time for spring planting.  Of course, most of us wait till we have the plants to add good amendments, but a little advanced planning and amending goes a long way!  Why not go to the nursery this weekend and start feeding that SOIL!
Choose from the list below and remember to read the label to ensure proper proportions:
Organic Soil Amendments:
·      Compost.  Purchase at your favorite garden center or make your own.  Either way it is a great investment for the health of your soil. I use a product called Malibu Compost…best money can buy! Best for veggie gardens. A little goes a long way.

Malibu Compost: don't start a garden without it!

·      Worm Castings:  a little goes a long way when it comes to the nutrient rich natural product.  Your plants will love you for it. Great for all garden plants.
·      Manures:  Composted cow or chicken manure is the age-old natural way to fertilize and energize your soil. Great for roses, lawns and landscape plants.  Use compost for veggies.
·      Bone Meal:  this natural source of nutrient is essential if you wish to prevent blossom end rot.   Just a heaping handful per plant will do in the hole when you plant. Great for all plants, but especially bulbs and container plants.
·      Blended Amendments:  these will include peat, composted forest products, kelp, bat guano….the list goes on and on.  These will come blended together. These say Potting Soil, Soil Amendment, Soil Booster, and Planting Mix on the label.  
Native soil is lacking in organic material.  This new garden has lots of compost and blended amendments added to boost the soil food web.

Once amended and planted, it is important to FERTILIZE throughout the growing season.  I advocate using a natural product, and will include more details in a future post.  It is that EASY! You are now on your way to a healthy and happy soil food web that will give you that gorgeous, healthy landscape of plants and the best tasting veggies + tomatoes on the block!


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It's All About the SOIL.

Soil 101: Getting Started.
If you want to have healthy plants, then you need to have a healthy soil.  It all starts with the soil!  You might think that you know what soil is, right?  It’s that stuff that gets muddy when it rains, the kids like to play in and what the dog like to dig. Yeah, that stuff which we call dirt is a component of good soil, but to get it ready for veggies and flowers (and especially Tomatomania tomatoes!), we need to amend this definition…and the ‘dirt’ in which you plant.  Like the old saying goes, you get out of it what you put into it! 
So what do we ‘put’ into it?  Good question, and one that we will explore in more detail next week.  First, what I want you to do is to imagine soil at a basic level.  In you mind’s eye, focus on a handful of soil, and imagine that you have microscopic vision and can really stare into it.  What you would see is an entire ecosystem right before your eyes.  Volumes have been written about the creatures great and small that inhabit this amazing microscopic world, but all we need to know for now is that to have good soil we need to treat it like an ecosystem.  That simple. Soil is alive, and balance is the key.
Good soil is a combination of dirt (clay, loam, sand), organic material (compost, manure), air spaces, water pores and lots + lots + lots of organisms (did I mention lots?).  These organisms are the real unsung heroes of our time, doing the job of feeding our plants, and in turn feeding us.  These are the bacterium, fungi, worms, nematodes, protozoa, algae… on and on, that consume the organic material (even each other) then excrete out the stuff of dreams (okay, maybe only of my dreams)…  Fertilizer!  All natural, organic and uncensored, this is the stuff that makes plants zoom!  Delicious Tomatomania tomatoes, sweet carrots, perfect Zinnias; these are all byproducts of a healthy soil food ecosystem. 
So in a nutshell (yes, even nut shells are good compost!) Healthy Soil + Healthy Microorganisms = Healthy plants.  Plain and simple.  Feed your soil ecosystem and you feed your desire for luscious, homegrown produce and flowers. 
Stay tuned next week as we explore amendments and the formula for soil success!
Thanks for reading and happy gardening!
Healthy, happy veggies are possible organically, with healthy happy soil.

Springs plants are now being started...time to prepare your soil now to be ready for spring!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

End of Season Harvest!

Hello Friends!

There is nothing better than home grown produce.  I was with a friend recently, whom I installed a garden for.  It was time to take out the summer veggies and put in the winter crops.  The result was a bounty of beauty and flavor.  I took a few snapshots and wanted to share.  Enjoy!

Squash blossoms + Frisee = Homemade Pizza to die for!

Beautiful and Tasty!