Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Plant a Beautiful, Edible Fall Stunner: Persimmon Trees

California's Central Valley is ablaze with the other orange fruit tree currently: the brightly colored persimmon. And it's not just the fruit.


Persimmon tree leaves can turn a brilliant hue of red before the first big wind and rain storm of late November washes them off their branches. 

What's left behind is the unpicked fruit, dangling like holiday ornaments during December. That's a feast for our eyes...as well as a banquet for hungry birds.






Persimmons have adapted well to our California climate: warm, dry summers and mild winters. At least 500 different Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) varieties were brought to California during a major planting spree from 1870 to 1920. In 1877 alone, more than 5,000 plants in 19 varieties were imported from Japan. As a result, 99% of the commercial persimmon crop is grown here in California.

Persimmons are quite nutritious, as well, loaded with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Fiber, and antioxidants such as Beta-Carotene and Lycopene. 


If you live in the Central Valley, Southern California, Bay Area or low foothills ... you can grow that! Bare root persimmon trees will be available at local nurseries during late December, January and February. 

360-degree mini-sprinkler from Dripworks



Give them full sun and a regular irrigation in the dry months for best production. Persimmon trees can tolerate partial shade.






Persimmons are usually classified as either astringent or non-astringent. For fresh eating straight from the tree, choose a non-astringent, self-pollinating variety such as Fuyu, Giant Fuyu, Yemon or Izu. Astrigent varieties, which need to soften thoroughly before they sweeten, include Hachiya, Chocolate or Tamopan. Those varieties are self-fruitful, as well.
A partial harvest from one, 7-foot tall Yemon persimmon tree


Persimmon growing advice from the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG):

Location: Full sun with some air movement is recommended for persimmon trees in inland areas, although they will tolerate some partial shade. Persimmons grown in cooler areas should have full sun with protection from cooling breezes. As an attractive ornamental the tree fits well in the landscape. It does not compete well with eucalyptus.

Soil: Persimmons can withstand a wide rage of conditions as long as the soil is not overly salty, but does best in deep, well drained loam. A pH range of 6.5 to 7.5 is preferred. The tree has a strong tap root which may mean digging a deeper hole than usual when planting (when on D. kaki stock).

Irrigation: Persimmon trees will withstand short periods of drought, but the fruit will be larger and of higher quality with regular watering. Extreme drought will cause the leaves and fruit to drop prematurely. Any fruit left on the tree will probably sunburn. Some 36 to 48 inches of water are needed annually, applied gradually in spring and tapering off in the fall. Hot inland areas may require 2 or 3 applications weekly, while coastal areas may need watering only once every 6 weeks, depending on the soil. If a drip system is is used, the emitters should be moved away from the trunk as the tree matures.

Fertilization:
Most trees do well with a minimum of fertilizing. Excess nitrogen can cause fruit drop. If mature leaves are not deep green and shoot growth is less than a foot per year, apply a balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 at a rate of 1 pound per inch of trunk diameter at ground level. Spread the fertilizer evenly under the canopy in late winter or early spring.

Pruning: Prune persimmon trees to develop a strong framework of main branches while the tree is young. Otherwise the fruit, which is borne at the tips of the branches, may be too heavy and cause breakage. A regular program of removal of some new growth and heading others each year will improve structure and reduce alternate bearing. An open vase system is probably best. Even though the trees grow well on their own, persimmons can be pruned heavily as a hedge, as a screen, or to control size. They even make a nice espalier. Cut young trees back to 1/2 high (or about 3 feet) at the time of planting.

Pests and Diseases: Persimmons are relatively problem-free, although mealybug and scale in association with ants can sometimes cause problems. Ant control will usually take care of these pests. Other occasional pests include white flies, thrips which can cause skin blemishes and a mite that is blamed for the "brown lace collar" near the calyx. Waterlogging can also cause root rot. Vertebrate pests such as squirrels, deer, coyotes, rats, opossums and birds are fond of the fruit and gophers will attack the roots. Other problems include blossom and young fruit shedding, especially on young trees. This is not usually a serious problem, but if the drop is excessive, it may be useful to try girdling a few branches. Over watering or over fertilization may also be responsible. Large quantities of small fruit on an otherwise healthy tree can be remedied by removing all but one or two fruit per twig in May or June.

Harvest: Harvest astringent varieties when they are hard but fully colored. They will soften on the tree and improve in quality, but you will probably lose many fruit to the birds. Astringent persimmons will ripen off the tree if stored at room temperature. Nonastringent persimmons are ready to harvest when they are fully colored, but for best flavor, allow them to soften slightly after harvest. Both kinds of persimmons should be cut from the tree with hand-held pruning shears, leaving the calyx intact Unless the fruit is to be used for drying whole, the stems should be cut as close to the fruit as possible. Even though the fruit is relatively hard when harvested, it will bruise easily, so handle with care.

Storage: Mature, hard astringent persimmons can be stored in the refrigerator for at least a month. They can also be frozen for 6 to 8 months. Nonastringent persimmons can be stored for a short period at room temperature. They will soften if kept with other fruit in the refrigerator. Persimmons also make an excellent dried fruit. They can either be peeled and dried whole or cut into slices (peeled or unpeeled) and dried that way. When firm astringent persimmons are peeled and dried whole they lose all their astringency and develop a sweet, datelike consistency. 



Yemon Persimmon


And we are in total agreement with the CRFG: persimmons make an excellent dried fruit, a great sweet snack or for use in cookies or breads!






According to our favorite book on dehydration techniques, "How to Dry Foods" by Deanna DeLong:

• Wash and remove the stem cap. Cut fruit in half and then into 3/8-1/2" slices.
• Place on a dehydrator sheet in single layers.
• Dry at 140 degrees for 1-2 hours, then reduce heat to 135 degrees for an additional 7 hours (approximate).
• When done, they should be tender and pliable, but not sticky.

At that point, you can either vacuum seal them in plastic bags for long term preservation, or store the dried persimmons in a canning jar for quick use.

Backyard gardeners who do a lot of drying are passionate about their choice of dehydrators. Some prefer the rectangular Excalibur dehydrator ; others (including our household) enjoy the circular Nesco American Harvest Dehydrator . Our largest complaint about the Excalibur: the fan blows from the back to the front, which can rearrange any lightweight herb leaves that you might be trying to dry. The Nesco American Harvest dehydrator's fan moves warm air from the bottom up, offering less disturbance to the drying crops. Still, the Excalibur is a good choice for most fruit and vegetable drying.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Knock, Knock. Who's There? ANTS!

When it gets hot, the ants start marching indoors. When it rains, in come the ants. Too cold? The ants know where its nice and cozy: your kitchen, bathroom and pet food bowls. Outdoors, the pet food bowls and garbage cans are also ant attractants. Argentine ants, those busy little black ants, are in march formation year round.

In years past, we would reach for the spray can and douse those little scavengers. But not anymore.
 Many of those spray pesticides are only effective with direct contact on the ants. And the stronger sprays, with residual action to thwart the next wave of ants, is potentially harmful to you, your kids, your pets.

So, here is what we are doing now: following the recommendations of the UC Davis Integrated Pest Management Project for Ant Control.
That includes:
• Determine what the ants are attracted to and remove the food source
• Vacuum trails, wipe them with soapy water, or spray with window cleaner
• Locate entry points and caulk openings or plug with petroleum jelly
• Put out bait stations with liquid ant bait or apply gel bait at entry points
• Baits take time to work so continue to clean up trails
• Indoor sprays are not usually necessary.
• Avoid products packaged as granules that contain the active ingredients cyfluthrin or permethrin. Although these products may be mistaken for baits, they are actually contact insecticides that rapidly kill foragers and do not control the colony.

Before wiping up (or wiping out) the little critters, follow their trail. Note their entry point into the house. Seal it up. We have found ants entering the house in a variety of small avenues: beneath moulding, cracks in the window frame, behind electrical outlet plates...and one of the ants' favorite entries: that large holes beneath the sink where the pipes enter the house.

According to the UC IPM page on ant control, "If ants can be thoroughly washed away and excluded from an area, an insecticide is probably not necessary. Vacuuming up ant trails or sponging or mopping them with soapy water may be as effective as an insecticide spray in temporarily removing foraging ants in a building because it removes the ant’s scent trail, especially if thorough cleaning is done at the entry points. Some soap products such as window cleaners can kill ants on contact but leave no residual toxicity. Certain plant-based oils are also applied for this purpose, but their odor can be offensive."

Oh, and another lesson we learned the hard way: if you put those ant baits indoors, you will attract more ants inside. Look for ants crawling along the outside of the house, and place the baits there, being sure to follow all label directions.

What about those ant sprays that are intended to be used as a perimeter spray along the outside of the house? Stick with the bait traps, says the UC IPM page: "Spraying around the foundation will not provide long-term control because it kills only foraging ants without killing the colony. Perimeter treatments may appear to knock down the population, but ants will quickly build back up and invade again. To try to achieve long-term control, some pest control companies offer monthly perimeter spray programs. Perimeter treatments pose more risk of environmental upset than baits in bait stations and are less effective than a bait-based IPM program."

Ant baits are not ant traps, even though some ants may be stuck there. The whole point of ant baits: they get the stuff on them, take it back to their nest, where they share it with others...and then croak. Be patient. It may take a week or so for the baits to work on the ant nest.



More info about ant baits from the UC IPM project: "Baits are insecticides mixed with materials that attract worker ants looking for food. They are a key tool for managing ants and the only type of insecticide recommended in most situations.  Ants are attracted to the bait and recruit other workers to it. Workers carry small portions of the bait back to the nest where it is transferred mouth-to-mouth to other workers, larvae, and queens and other reproductive forms to kill the entire colony. Bait products must be slow-acting so that the foraging ants have time to make their way back to the nest and feed other members of the colony before they are killed. When properly used, baits are more effective and safer than sprays." 

• Sweet sugar baits such as boric acid (use low concentrations with less than 1% of the active ingredient) are highly attractive to Argentine ants throughout the year. 

 
• Protein baits are attractive to ants in spring when colonies are producing new offspring. (Baits like fipronil or hydramethylnon are effective.) 
• Place baits outdoors; avoid indoor baiting as that may attract more ants into the home.
 

• When using liquid ant baits outdoors, there are reusable ant bait stations available that hold the liquid, such as the Ants No More Ant Bait Station.

 

• Place baits near nests, trails, or along foundations, preferably in the shade. 
• Baits should be placed in protected areas away from children and pets.
 
• Offer small portions of each bait to see which one is preferred before employing an extensive baiting program.
 
• Follow up regularly to make sure bait is working and place fresh bait as necessary.
 
How baits work:
• Worker ants are attracted to the bait and take it back to the nest where the entire colony, including queens, may be killed.
 
• Bait must be slow-acting so workers won't be killed before they get back to the nest.
 
• Results may not be evident for several weeks.
 
• Bait stations or ant stakes are easiest to use and safest for the environment.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0016J1MZG/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0016J1MZG&linkCode=as2&tag=getgrowingwit-20&linkId=REQOA2DBYJUF6FIN

Ant baits contain various active ingredients and attractants. We have tried a variety of different ones, to appease the finickiest of ant diners. Besides the Gourmet liquid ant bait, another one of my favorites is powdered boric acid in a squeeze bottle, another less toxic alternative.

For those that prefer a homemade concoction for ant control, Horticulture consultant Debbie Flower of Sacramento recommends this formula:

1 part boric acid (I use 1 teaspoon) - available at most garden centers
9 or 10 parts sugar (so 9 or 10 teaspoons sugar)
Add enough water to make a slurry.
Put slurry in a small container, tuna can size.
Add 2 or 3 cotton balls and rotate them until they are completely covered in the slurry.
Put a lid on the container.  Lid must have holes big enough for ants to crawl through.  (Lid is not absolutely necessary but it keeps water and dirt out)
Bury in soil so lid is at soil level.
Leave it alone.  You won't see dead ants.  They visit, take the bait back to the colony, and kill the entire colony.


Friday, October 12, 2018

100-Plus Rose Varieties for California


Rose Display at Amador Flower Farm

Here in California,  where we can garden year round throughout much of the state, January and early February is the best time to plant bare root roses, now available at nurseries.




Your success with roses depends on several factors, especially location: full sun, as well as decent soil with good drainage. Roses require regular fertilization and irrigation.



Tropicana (with cosmos)
In our old garden, the top performing roses include the white-flowered floribunda/shrub rose, Iceberg; Summer Sunshine, a yellow hybrid tea; Tropicana, an orange-red hybrid tea; Olympiad (medium red hybrid tea), Rio Samba (yellow blend hybrid tea), Jeanne Lajoie (climbing miniature, med. pink) and Mlle Cecile Brunner (light pink polyantha).

 For a more thorough compilation, noted Master Rosarian Baldo Villegas has studied thousands of roses throughout California, and has put together this master list. 

Although by no means a complete list, here are over 100 roses that do well in the local inland valleys, especially the southern Sacramento and northern San Joaquin valleys. Many of these roses will thrive in foothill regions and parts of the Bay Area as well. For a more complete guide, Baldo has a page that will link you to your area's rose society.

For gardeners in Sacramento and the surrounding area looking for fewer choices, here's a link to a previous post: The 10 Best Roses for Sacramento.

Thanks to rosarian Baldo Villegas for compiling the master list and pictures. Visit his website for more about roses, including rose pictures, planting tips, as well as pests and diseases of the rose garden. From his list of roses, here are choices for...


102 GREAT ROSES TO GROW 
MOST EVERYWHERE IN CALIFORNIA

(Rose variety / color / year of introduction / ARS Score, if any, on a scale of 1-10)




Hybrid Teas; Grandifloras (20)

Andrea Stelzer, light pink, 1992
Black Magic, dark red, 2000
Elizabeth Taylor, deep pink, 1985, 8.8
 
Fragrant Cloud, orange-red, 1967, 8.1

Gemini, pink blend, 2000, 8.1
Gold Medal, medium yellow, 1982, 8.5
Honor, white, 1980, 7.6
Ingrid Bergman, dark red, 1984, 7.2
Marilyn Monroe, apricot blend, 2000, n/a
Moonstone, white, 1998, 8.2
New Zealand, light pink, 1989, 7.6
Olympiad, medium red, 1982, 8.9
Saint Patrick, yellow blend, 1996, 8.0
Secret, pink blend, 1992, 7.7
Signature, deep pink, 1996, 7.7
Stainless Steel, mauve, 1991, 7.5
Touch of Class, orange pink, 1984, 9.2
Tournament of Roses, medium pink, 1988, 8.0
Veterans' Honor, medium red, 1999, 8.0


 
 Floribunda Roses (15)

Betty Boop

Betty Boop,  Betty Boop spray, red blend, 1999, 8.0
Bill Warriner, orange-pink, 1998, 8.0
Blueberry Hill, mauve, 1999, 8.0
Dicky, orange-pink, 1984, 8.7
Fabulous!, white, 2000
Glad Tidings, dark red, 1988, 8.1
Lady of the Dawn, light pink, 1984, 8.2
Lavaglut, dark red, 1978, 8.8
Margaret Merril, white, 1977, 8.4
Pasadena Star, white, 2002
Playboy, red blend, 1976, 8.2
Priscilla Burton, red blend 1978, 8.6
Sexy Rexy, medium pink, 1984, 8.9
Showbiz, medium red, 1983, 8.5
Sunsprite, deep yellow, 1977, 8.7



Polyantha Roses (10)

China Doll, medium pink 1942, 8.2
La Marne, pink blend, 1915, 8.8
Lovely Fairy, deep pink, 1990
Lullaby, white, 1953, 8.7

Margo Koster, orange blend, 1931, 7.5
Marie Pavie, white, 1888, 8.8
Mrs. R. M. Finch, medium pink, 1923, 8.9
Orange Morsdag, orange blend, 1956, 9.4
The Fairy, light pink, 1932, 8.7
Verdun, medium red, 1918, 8.7

 
Climbing Roses (12)
Altissimo, LCl, medium red, 1966, 8.5
America, LCl, orange-pink, 1976, 8.4
Candy Cane, Cl Min, pink blend, 1958, 8.2
Dublin Bay, LCl, medium red, 1975, 8.5

Fourth of July, LCl, red blend (striped), 1999, 8.2
Handel, LCl, red blend, 1965, 8.1
Jeanne Lajoie, Cl Min, medium pink, 1975, 9.3
New Dawn, LCl, light pink, 1930, 8.5
Pearly Gates, LCl, medium pink, 1999, 7.8
Pierre de Ronsard (Eden Climber), LCl, pink blend, 1987, 8.2
Rainbow's End, Cl Min, yellow blend, 1999, 7.9
Soaring Spirits, LCl, pink blend, 2005



Shrub Roses (13)

Abraham Darby, orange-pink, 1990, 7.5

Cocktail, red blend, single, 1961, 8.3
Gartendirektor Otto Linne, deep pink, 1934, 8.8
Golden Celebration, deep yellow, 1993, 7.8
Prospero, dark red, 1983, 8.6

Raven, dark red, 1992, 7.5
Robusta, medium red, single, 1979, 9.5

Rockin' Robin, red blend, 1997, 7.5
Sally Holmes, white, single, 1976, 8.9
Sharon's Delight, white, single, 1996, 7.7
Sunny June, deep yellow, single, 1952, 7.7
Tamora, apricot blend, 1992, n/a


Old Garden Roses (12)

Baronne Prevost, Hybrid Perpetual, medium pink, 1842, 8.7
Crested Moss, Moss, medium pink, 1827, 8.6
Green Rose, Hybrid China, green, before 1854, 7.4
Henri Martin, Moss, medium red, 1862, 8.7
Marchesa Boccella, Hybrid Perpetual, medium pink, 1842, 8.9
Mons. Tillier, Tea, orange-pink, 1891, 8.1

Mutabilis, Hybrid China, yellow blend, 8.7
Paul Neyron, Hybrid Perpetual, medium pink, 1859, 8.1

Rose de Rescht, Portland, deep pink, 8.9
Sombreuil, Cl Tea, white, 1850, 8.8

Souvenir de la Malmaison, B, light pink, 1843, 8.7
Yolande d'Aragon, Portland, mauve, 1843, 8.3

Miniatures and Minifloras (20)

Baby Ballerina, pink blend, 1997, 8.1
Baby Love, deep yellow, single, 1992
Black Jade, deep red, 1985, 8.2
Butter Cream, Miniflora, light yellow, 2002
Child's Play, pink blend, 1991, 8.0
Dr. John Dickman, mave, 2004
Elfinglo, mauve, 1977, 7.5
Giggles, medium pink, 1987, 9.1

Glowing Amber, red blend, 1996, 8.0
Gourmet Popcorn, white, 1986, 8.7
Hot Tamale, yellow blend, 1993, 8.2
Irresistible, white, 1989, 9.3
Jean Kenneally, apricot blend, 1984, 9.4
Loving Touch, apricot blend, 1983, 8.4
Luis Desamero, light yellow, 1989, 7.7
Marriotta, red blend, 1998, 8.2
Minnie Pearl, pink blend, 1982, 9.4
Peggy "T", red bend, single, 1988, 8.5
Pierrine, orange-pink, 1988, 9.2
Rainbow's End, yellow blend, 1984, 8.9
Ruby Pendant, mauve, 1979, 8.6
Soroptimist International, pink blend, 1995
Will-o-the-Wisp, Miniflora, pink blend, 1998

And, my personal favorites:
Lyda Rose
Lyda Rose

Oklahoma
Brandy
Pink Peace
Iceberg
Summer Sunshine

Rio Samba
Voodoo




Thursday, March 29, 2018

Four Plants to Create a Pollinator/Beneficial Garden Airport

Proven Winners recently held their 2018 plant introductions at Matsuda's wholesale nursery in Sacramento, showcasing their newest annuals, perennials and shrubs. Sort of like a car show, but only for plant nerds…well, ok, professional landscapers...and plant nerds like myself. 

 Based in Michigan, Proven Winners chooses plants based on flowering, growth habit, disease resistance and overall garden performance…but only after they have successfully grown at trial gardens throughout the country, including here in California.

Michael Galli of Metamorphosis Landscaping in the Bay Area was at that show, and he told me what it takes to be a successful landscaper. “How do your plant choices make the client feel as the garden matures?” Galli asks. “If it makes a person happy at the end of the day, we’ve done our job.”


These days, gardeners are getting more smiles out of having a pollinator garden within easy view of a patio or window. Plants that attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are at the top of the list.
 

Galli says it only takes a combination of three or four different, long-blooming plant varieties to make a pollinator-loving gardener happy: salvia, lantana, butterfly bush (buddleia) and verbena.
 

“I have an 86 year-old client; she’s been with me for 20 years,” says Galli. “We took out her lawn and put in a pollinator garden. She called me recently and said it brings her such joy to sit on her patio and drink coffee, and watch all the pollinators in action.”

Galli’s favorite Proven Winners varieties that attract the birds, bees and butterflies, yet are drought tolerant and don’t take up too much space include:
 

• The lantana variety “Luscious”. Flower colors come in a wide array, including shades of fuchsia, orange and yellow, blooming from planting until a hard frost. This lantana gets about 18-30 inches tall with a spread of about 20-30 inches.

• Lo & Behold buddleia. “This low growing butterfly bush variety is very showy and reliable,” says Galli. “Its smaller size (18-30 inches) makes it a great border plant, with flowers from summer through early fall. It attracts so many butterflies, it looks like an airport in front of our house.” Flower colors include blue and purple.


• Playin’ the Blues salvia. No California pollinator garden would be complete without an unthirsty, hummingbird-loving salvia variety. “Playin’ the Blues” attracts bees and butterflies as well, with blue-purple flowers that reach for the sky on a 24-48 inch plant. This salvia variety doesn’t produce seed, so it has a very long bloom season, possibly throughout the year if there’s a mild winter.


• “Royal Chambray” verbena. This low-growing (6-12 inches), long blooming (April to October) verbena variety needs little pruning or deadheading. It has a mounding habit to attract butterflies to its purple flowers. The plant spreads about 24 inches.
 


A couple of tips to attract these garden good guys to your pollinator garden:

• Make it look like a neon sign to attract the attention of hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Mass each variety together in a sizeable area, about four feet by four feet, or more.


 • Everybody needs water. Install a water feature in your pollinator garden. It could be as fancy as a recirculating fountain, or as simple as a pan with water. Put that water feature in an area where predators (cats) can easily be spotted by hummingbirds.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Tips for the Beginning Vegetable Gardener

 

 

If you're new to backyard (or front yard) gardening and want to start growing vegetables, here are some tips:


 Location, location, location: Give the garden a sunny spot. Pick a garden location that gets at least six hours a day of full sun; more is better. Good drainage is key. That's why raised beds are so popular (that, and the soil in raised beds warms up sooner in the spring). Make sure a source of water is nearby.
 
• Can you see the garden?
By late summer, I hear about a lot of ignored gardens among first time vegetable growers. Initially, they’re into it: planting, irrigating, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting. However, by the time late August rolls around, their interest has waned, and the garden becomes a jungle of unpicked, overripe veggies and thriving weeds. One of the reasons I hear the most regarding this neglect: “I forgot to check the garden.” One tip that works for us: situate the vegetable garden so it’s visible from the kitchen window. If that’s not possible, put the garden where it can be seen from a high-traffic window, such as the dining room, family room, or a glass patio door.

 
Know your soil. Do a pH test (which measures the relative alkalinity or acidity of the soil), or a full soil test. One of the best bargains for a complete soil test is the University of Massachusetts. They will analyze your soil for under $20 (at this writing). They also include a brief interpretation of what all those measurements mean to you. Or, purchase an inexpensive pH and macronutrient test kit, one that will tell you your soil's acidity/alkalinity, along with its needs for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

For organic gardeners, I highly recommend the soil testing services of Citrus Heights-based organic gardening consultant Steve Zien's Living Resources Company. Besides a full report on all the numbers, Zien explains in detail what they all mean and offers organic recommendations for any soil shortcomings.
 
• Amending the soil with a good quality compost is a great idea, if your soil has never been amended. Mix in a cubic yard of compost for every 300 square feet of garden. That is a rule of thumb that I follow. After the first growing year, no rototilling is necessary. Just add a few inches of compost to the top of the soil; let the winter rains work the compost in.

• Fertilize the soil. I prefer to use low-dosage organic fertilizers, such as a mix of fish emulsion and sea kelp. There are plenty of great all-in-one organic fertilizers on the market labeled for use in vegetable gardens. Be sure to follow the label directions. If using a non-organic granular fertilizer (such as a 10-10-10- formulation), put a tablespoon in the bottom of the planting hole, cover with a couple inches of soil, and water in thoroughly. Don't let the sensitive roots of the tomatoes and peppers come in direct contact with the fertilizer. If you'll be using a water soluble, non-organic fertilizer on an every-other-week or monthly basis, use half the recommended amount for this first feeding.
 
Top the soil with a thin layer of worm castings; put two to four inches of a coarse mulch on top of that. Worm castings improve the overall tilth of the soil as well as the microbial activity. A mulch of bark or chipped/shredded tree trimmings helps preserve soil moisture and warmth, controls weeds, and slowly feeds the soil as it breaks down. Instead of asking Santa for a rototiller, ask for a chipper/shredder. Your soil will thank you!
Oregon Spring V

Good sources of information:

 
Not in the West? The Sunset National Garden Book is a good reference...if you can find it. 

If you are down South, the New Southern Living Garden Book is excellent.

The UC Davis Vegetable Research and Information Center is a good website with more garden starting info.

For California gardeners, the Farmer Fred interactive Vegetable Planting Calendar is a good guideline for when to plant. Also, clicking on the individual vegetables brings up information on how to grow it.

That's the basics! What you plant is up to you and your family's appetites. 

Read on for more detailed gardening information for the first timer:


Peppers spaced 2 feet apart. They WILL fill the bed! Trust me on that.
For tomatoes and peppers:

• Plant tomatoes deeply. Pinch off the lower leaves of the plant and bury the tomato deeply, leaving only the top four sets of leaves above ground. New roots will form along this underground, stripped section. If it's a very tall plant, dig a trench, lay the plant on its side in the trench, and bend the top section up (carefully) to stand above the soil level; fill in the trench.
Tomatoes spaced three feet apart. They also WILL FILL THE BED.

  • Give tomatoes room. Full-size tomatoes grow on vines that can reach five feet high or more. Plant them three to four feet apart. Prepare a staking system now while they're still manageable.

  • Space peppers about two feet apart. According to local horticulture professor Debbie Flower, peppers can be planted deeply, just like tomatoes.

 
Water. Don't let the soil dry out while the roots are getting established. During the warmth of summer, water tomatoes and peppers regularly, keeping the soil evenly moist. One common problem with tomatoes, blossom end rot (the bottom of the tomato turns brown and mushy), can be traced in part to irregular watering habits. Deep, infrequent waterings (once or twice a week) with drip irrigation or soaker hoses work great. An added benefit: drip systems and soaker hoses can be hooked up to a battery operated timer, watering these summertime treats while you're vacationing. Because raised bed plantings and containerized plantings will dry out quicker, they will need more frequent irrigations. 
Use a moisture meter to determine when the soil is beginning to dry out at the root zone to help you develop a watering schedule. Remember, that schedule will change as the weather fluctuates. Prices of moisture meters vary considerably. The one pictured on the left has worked for me for over 10 years. The green one on the right, although inexpensive, has surprised me with its durability over the years, and fairly accurate and consistent moisture readings. Also, it measures pH and light (of questionable accuracy). Still, it might last you longer than a year. Maybe.

When deciding where to plant your vegetable garden, choose the best available location by keeping the following factors in mind:

When is the soil ready to plant? You may have little choice concerning the soil type available to you, but you can use a simple test to find out whether your soil is in good condition for planting. Squeeze a handful of soil to test for moisture content. If the squeezed soil forms a clump, the soil is too wet to work. If you work soil that contains this much moisture, it might form into hard, cement-like clumps, which can cause problems for the remainder of the year. If the soil crumbles easily when it is squeezed, it is in an ideal condition to work. However, if that handful of soil is bone dry, water the area thoroughly a day or two before working or planting the soil.


Broccoli in the Winter Garden
 The Year-Round Garden. In California, there are 3 to 4 seasons, depending on your location, in which vegetables can be grown. Yet, many gardeners grow only summer crops. By planting a spring crop, a summer crop, and a fall crop, a gardener can get 3 crops from the same space.
 
Level ground is best for growing vegetables. It is easier to prepare, plant, and irrigate than sloping ground. If you must plant on sloping ground, run rows across the slope, not up and down, to keep the soil from washing away during irrigation.




Preparing a Garden Plan
It is best to plan on paper before planting your garden. A well-planned garden can provide fresh or preserved vegetables for use all year.  




Plant perennial crops, such as rhubarb and asparagus, to one side of the garden so that the plants are not disturbed by preparations for future crops. Plant tall crops, such as corn and pole beans, on the north side of the garden so that they will not shade low-growing crops.

Trellising and staking. Do not grow horizontally what you can grow vertically. Twining crops, such as tomato, squash, cucumber, and pole beans, use a great deal of space when allowed to grow along the ground. Trellises, stakes, or other supports minimize the ground space used and increase garden productivity. Support materials can consist of wood, extra stakes, twine, or a nearby fence.

 
For the beginning vegetable gardener, choose more hybrid vegetables than heirlooms. Hybrid vegetables are bred to have more disease and pest resistance, as well as larger yields. Heirloom varieties have more unique shapes and flavors, but can be problematic for the first time gardener. Sure, buy some heirlooms for the flavor; but for your first garden, plant mostly hybrids. After that, you may prefer the flavor of the heirlooms. I still plant a mix of both. Just starting out? In most cases, choose plants over seeds, it's a lot easier. Exceptions would be sweet corn, squash and melons. These are big seeds that germinate readily; but wait until nighttime temperatures are steadily over 50 degrees before planting these seeds in the garden.

Succession planting consists of sowing seeds of a given crop at 1- to 2-week intervals to produce a continuous supply of vegetables. Corn, beans, lettuce, turnips, and beets are well suited to this practice.

Intercropping involves planting early-maturing crops between the rows of late-maturing crops to increase production in a small area. For example, beans, radishes, green onions, spinach, or leaf lettuce may be planted between rows of tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, or corn. The quicker-maturing crops will be harvested before the others become very large.


What to Plant
Plant enough of each vegetable crop to meet your family's needs for fresh, stored, and preserved supplies. When choosing vegetable varieties or hybrids, consider such factors as disease resistance, maturity date, compactness of plant, and the size, shape, and color of the vegetable desired. Refer to the individual vegetable links on the Farmer Fred Interactive Vegetable Planting Calendar for variety recommendations.
For more information about some of my favorite tomato varieties, click here. 
 

• Conquer ADD in the garden.
We all have a bit of attention deficit disorder when we go into the yard. Intending to do one task, we get sidetracked by something else. Before you know it, it’s dinner time and the vegetable plot hasn’t been checked for aphids and tomato worms (your original task in the morning). Limit the “distraction time” by keeping a set of garden tools, trash can and a source of water nearby the vegetable plot. Position the garden nearby a water faucet and hose. Smaller hand tools can be kept in a converted outdoor mail box adjacent to the garden; for larger tools, perhaps a small shed (or large dog house) nearby. Do anything it takes to reduce the number of trips to the garage to get what you need for the garden. Because you know there’s something in the garage that will also demand your attention!


Tools
You only need a few, good quality tools for a small home garden:

Trowel. One of the handiest garden gadgets, it is useful for transplanting and for loosening soil around plants.

Shovel. Use a round-edged shovel for digging.
  
Spade or spading fork. Use to turn the ground, to turn under organic matter, and to break up large clumps of soil. In my heavy clay soil, I find the spading fork indispensable.

Rake. Use to smooth out the soil after spading and after preparing the seedbed. You can also use it for clearing up rubbish and removing small weeds.

Hoe. Use a long-handled hoe to remove tough weeds and to cover seeds after planting. When turned sideways, you can also use a hoe to dig a V-shaped row for planting.


Following these simple guidelines will keep your tools in good condition:


Clean tools after each use. A putty knife, jet nozzle on a hose or a wire brush is good for scraping off dirt. If tools get rusty, soak them in kerosene for a few hours, then use a wire brush or fine sand to scrub off the rust. Oil them with a light lubricant after cleaning.


Keep cutting tools sharp. The basic sharpening tool for hoes, pruners and shovels is an 8" mill file.
 

Keep tools in a dry place to prevent rust.


Growing your own food is easy, fun for the entire family and good for you! The healthiest food you can eat is the food you grow yourself.