Friday, March 21, 2008

Whats in Bloom (Early Spring 2008)

Instead of fighting blogger to format all the photos of the annuals in my front yard and such I made a slideshow instead.

Yes I actually DO like this music, its vibrant and bubbly and I can do my weird mr.roboto meets Alizee dance while sitting in my computer chair.

I blame motherhood for my odd manisfistations of youthful desires.


I slacked in showing how its progressed so instead of waxing poetic on watching greens grow I'll just post some pictures kk? I now have enough to feed a small army of rabbits....over and over again. I keep thinning it out but its still pretty densely planted, which is helping to squeeze weeds out of competition. I better start getting good at making salads...its buttercrunch lettuce and I have spinach and swiss chard as well.

My what weird weather we are having...

Weird day last week: sunny morning, got more overcast, got windy, started pouring- but the sun was still brightly shining. Very weird feeling.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What a nice weekend! I learned alot about tomatos

The weather once again was a hit and miss....saturday it was overcast and windy with random sun and drizzle thruout the day, so frustrating, I wanted to be outside working in the dirt. Sunday redeemed itself with sun, but man the constant post storm icy breeze was more then a bit irritating.

I had planned on going to the tour of Cal Poly Pomona's center for regenerative studies, but alas I had a fun night friday with my friends enjoying a drink or 2 ( ok, this time I got to 7! eeks!) and playing bunco (as we moms do once a month) and I didn't roll out of bed on saturday untill around 11am.

As fate would have it, Steve Goto ( "California Tomato King") was doing a talk at the local Armstrong Garden center, so I had enough time to eat and get ready to go over around noon to scope out some plants, pick up a few herbs/veggies I didn't have seeds for and generally take a day off from lugging the kids around with me to actually smell the roses....or at least read the descriptions of them without fear of a child pulling plants out of thier flats. I got a cinnimon basil plant, an 'Japanese Millionaire' asian eggplant, a gorgeous orange tomato 'Orange Oxheart' and a 'Big Bertha' pepper as comparison to the 'California Wonder' variety I've been growing.

The talk was really informative, Steve Goto is great at talking and had a nice little handout on the basics of tomato care. The talk lasted about 2 hours, but there was so much good info the time really flew by. It started to rain halfway thru so we had to pick up our chairs and move inside the store, not a small feat when I also had a garden cart with plants and 2 bags of compost, luckily a fellow listener saw me struggling and carried my chair, awww!

Steve has grown over 900 varieties , wow, just wow! I took 2 pages of little notes and scribbles front and back, and this was just a short version of his talk, the longer one has photos and slideshows too. I'd type some of the stuff out here but I'm not even sure where to start. I'm sure some more experiences tomato growers may not have been in as much awe but I was somepletely smitten with all the info on different varieties and growing conditions and amendments and such. He's doing a full talk on March 26 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Theres even a tomato plant sale after the talk, I'm really itching to go if I can get a sitter for the kids since its on a wed morning.

One thing he talked about I definatly want to try is growing a 'cool season' tomato in fall to get a nice crop of tomatoes in the winter as well. Last year I was picking tomatos well to near Christmas before I ripped the plants out but they didn't taste nearly as much as they had in the heat of summer. I had no idea they had tomatos bred that can resist cold to 36 degrees, how cool! It barely gets to 40 here on the coldest of nights, so one of those plants along with the 'Better Boy' and 'Orange Oxheart' plants should keep us happlily feasting on tomatos till next spring I'd hope! I'm really hoping to make that tomato sale even if I can't stay for the talk because of the kids.

Steve also mentioned a huge tomato tasting event with over 100 varities of tomatos to sample *drools*. Man, At this rate I'm going to be tempted to grow more tomatos then anything else just for the variety of flavors! I guess I'll have alot of salsa and pasta sauce when all is said and done.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Victory Garden Drive & 100 ft Diet Challenge!

Homegrown Revolution is organizing a really cool gardening challenge: To eat whatever you can grow within 100 ft of your house (or buy local organic produce). To me the idea is to send a message that we don't NEED to be dependent on massive corporations, high produce costs, be exposed to harmful pesticides, or waste over $2,000 a year on a lawn just to have a green looking yard.

My interest in my yard conversion really got going when we bought this house and started pricing the sprinkler system, sod, and maintence costs for a yard of grass. Now, being that water is only becoming more precious of a resource in California I couldn't justify wasting that much water to keep a mat of plants not suited to this climate alive. Heck, I'm going to water it it had better be colorful, edible, or both. Plus produce prices keep going up, which gets frutrating. I am not going ot feed my family to cheap processed crap that has next to no nutritional value because its cheap, I can't do that anymore. Organic produce is even more pricy, plus honestly not all "organic" farms are what I consider organic.

In my front yard I was more "flashy" and put in annuals and bulbs, mainly since we have a 50 ft mulberry that keeps the north facing yard cooler and more moist then the very sunny backyard. Its a nice expanse of grass and flowers to sit on the porch and admire while the kids play ball. It also has nice bcurb appeal, the backyard is my secret hideaway, even if its not all that imporessive right now. I look at the marked off beds and paths, the up turned dirt, the scattered tools and stakes and hoses, and I see beautiful rows of bright green salad greens, re tomatos, large handsome squashes and long vines. I have the gardening bug. Big time.

FoodShed planet has kicked off their Victory Garden Drive 2008 : "Declare victory against lack of control over the quality of your food! Join hands and hoes across our FoodShed Planet to create and inspire new organic gardens. Goal: 2 MILLION new organic gardens in 2008! Spread the manure--and spread the word!" .

It appears by starting my Garden ( and this blog) I've done exactly this without knowing it. I love it when I get stuff done I didn't intend to, makes me feel extra spiffy.
Even cooler University of California has a Victory Grower program going as, UCs weren't known for their collective gardening information when I was picking out a college, now that I'm seriously looking at going back its starting to seem appealing to do something agriculture related.
I was honestly wondering if after 9/11 "victory gardens" would become in vogue again- I mean, if we could rename our food to "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" surely we could take on a bit of personally responsibility and grow a salad?
Anyhow, I'm really loving gardening as a artistic expression, a political statement, a personal goal, and a healthy lifestyle element.

35 + uses for milk jugs & Gardening frugally

While looking for a link to show you how to make a green house out of a 2 gallon milk jug I came across this site with 35 uses for the humble milk jug. Quite cool. Viva recycling!

This site shows how to use water filled jugs as "bricks" to make a type of heat regulated greenhouse.

also, Toppers instructions for making milk jugs into planters.

BHG also has a page on 25 Low Cost ( or no cost) Gardening Tools

Tomatos and peppers are in!

Our last frost date for this area is March 21, but I'm terribly impatient and my seedlings were getting leggy, so since they have been hardening off this week I went ahead and put them in the ground. The weather suddenly cooled, from being around 80 to only around 70, but I'm hoping my little heat lovers will work on putting down roots before the sun comes out full force. Its supossed to drizzle too this sunday possible which would be nice. I have a bunch of 2 gallon milk jugs washed and ready to go to use as mini greenhouses if it seems like the cool weather is bothering them. I started some squash seeds in peat pots and they were already poking thru so I set those in the ground as well. I can't wait for some squash blossoms to stuff and eat...and baby tender squashes, yum! Now lets pray we don't get some freaky random hard freeze!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Local Gardening events this weekend and beyond

For anyone who may be interested:

Dr. Kyle Brown will give a tour of the Cal Poly Pomona Center for Regenerative Studies on Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 10:00 a.m. For directions and a map, go to their website (under "for visitors"). People do not need to pay for parking on that day, if they park in the Center parking lot.

Claremont Armstrong Garden Center735 E. Foothill Blvd.Claremont, CA. 91711 US
Telephone: 909-445-0744

Heirloom Tomatoes with Steve Goto

Saturday, March 15: 1pmONLY AT Armstrong Claremont

Discover the taste, color and shape of heirloom tomatoes. Tomato guru, Steve Goto, will teach you about the various heirloom tomato varieties and how to grow them.

also coming up:
Container Veggies Armstrong Garden Center

Saturday, March 22: 9amSelect the right vegetables, herbs and pots for an edible container garden.

35th Annual U.C. Riverside Botanic GardensSpring Plant SaleSaturday, April 5, 2008 from 12 to 5 pmSunday, April 6, 2008 from 9 am to 3 pm

It's spring & it's time for the Inland Empire’s biggest plant sale event!
Including colorful landscape trees and shrubs, flowering perennials, vines, shade plants, lots of herbs, cacti and succulents, house and patio plants, miniature roses, orchids, easy-to-grow wildflower seeds and much more
Enjoy a large selection of showy, water-efficient and heat-loving plants, just in time for the spring planting season
Many rare and hard-to-find plants and old-fashioned favorites
Expert Botanic Gardens Staff and Master Gardeners will be available to answer your horticultural questions.
Planting demonstrations and a display by the U.C. Riverside Entomology Department
Gardens T-shirts, sweatshirts, hummingbird and subtropical trees posters, composite urns, and Armadillo arm protectors
Preview Sale for Friends of UCRBG Members only -- Saturday, April 5, from 9 a.m. to noon
Click here for a partial list of plants that will be available for the spring 2008 sale. For more information on the Sale or on joining the Friends of UCRBG - contact us. Proceeds from this sale benefit the Botanic Gardens' many deserving projects. We need your support!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I got some strawberry plants for what?

While my hubby was up in NorCal he visited his brother and his family near Lodi. They have a huge garden and animals and a huge lot (yum!). She sent Chris home with a large bag packed with strawberry plants. Apparently she planted less then a dozen plants last year and with all the runners they sent out she has hundreds now. When Chris showed me my mouth started to water dreaming of sweet fresh from the ground berries covered with fresh wipped cream * wipes drool off desk*. First things first, I need to plant the little buggers.

I have no idea what type they are, so I'm kinda stumped where I should plant them. I'd love to put them in a strawberry pot, but if these are very aggressive in sending out runners I'm not sure how they would do there. I don't want to put them in my vegetable garden since I don't want to rip them out at the end of the year. That leavesme with the 3ft by 40 ft planter I grew my tomatos and squash in last year. Everything I've been looking up on strawberries says planting berries where tomatos were last year is a no no since they can contract some nasty soil viruses- but its the only area I have with full sun, already installed drip system and not going to be walked on. Its also the only area thats ready for planting on short notice. These are live plants in clods of dirt straight from her garden, and I don't want them drying out.

So thats what I'll be up to tomorrow, you know, after I cook, clean up after, do dishes, wash diapers, dry diapers, clean kids, sweep floors, mop floors, feed/clean kids again, fold laundry, write birthday invitations and maybe get a minute to go pee myself!.

Hooray for a productive weekend!

This is kinda a train of thought kinda post since I am so exausted after dealing with the kids and gardening all weekend, but I'm too jazzed from all I got done to sleep yet, so bear with me.

My husband was up in NorCal this weekend for his engineering geologist state exam, so I was stuck at home with the kids. The original plan was to drop them off for a weekend with the grandparents so I could garden my little heart out all weekend.

Then my parents got the flu. boo. hiss.

As any parent knows life is hell when your stuck at home with 2 little ones who miss daddy, so I did what I had to do to stay sane.

I went shopping.

You see OSH was having their " Annual Annuals Sale", basically buy one get one free of their 6 packs of annuals. I'm desperate to add some color and flowers to the front yard. We've been so busy working on the backyard the front was been pretty neglected, other then some irises,wild alyssum and random bulbs I have scattered around.

For about $30 I had 28 6 packs of flowers: impatiens/begonias/coleus for my north facing window box in full shade, alyssum/viola/impatiens for the partially shady area north facing area under Aurora's window, and petunias/pansies/snapdragons/dusty miller for the sunny areas around the yard. I especially loved the alyssums, I have the white variety running wild all over from a wildflower seed mix I threw around last year, but I got some packs of the more colorful shades in violet, lavender and magenta. I * heart* color. My color scheme for the yard is white/purple/blue/pink since I find those colors the most calming.

Let me let you in on a little secret: I've never planted annuals before. Yup, for me annuals was scattering wildflower "Butterfly Mix" seeds around and enjoying whatever decided to grow. I had always shrugged off the idea of buying plants you had to replace every year as a waste of money. I sewed some annuals to start from seed this year, and man, I had no idea how slow soem of them are to grow. :( paying 1.09 for 6 plants ready to go NOW seemed very appealing and affordable ( time vs money here). When some women get stressed they buy food, or clothes, or expensive handbags. I buy cheap stuff/stuff on clearence.

I went to Big Lots and found all sorts of nifty cheap stuff, like plastic gardening tools for my daughter ( even a mini wheelbarrow!), landscape fabric, some new garden tools, a bag of grass seed, and a garden kneeler foam mat thingy to save my poor aching knees. Its not 'name brand' stuff, but I really have never had a problem with the stuff I've bought there. Its where I get my plastic pots and window boxes too for 2-4 bucks each.

I hit Lowes to "window shop" for ideas and see what plants they had and stalked their clearence section. Yup, its all the damaged/half dead/old plants on 75% off. I found a nice pot with 3 purple calla lilly plants, reg price $13 I got for $3. Woot, I wanted some more calla lillies for a damp partially shady spot. It even had a nice plastic pot I washed and reused to make an arrengement of impatiens and coleus.

This year I wanted a little more control over what was growing where colorwise. So all the flowers are white, purple or blue. I forgot to take "before" pictures, and I worked until we were out of daylight so I don't have any "after" pictures yet either.

I kept the kids amused with sand toys and a planket on the grass with snacks and toys. Luckily the weather has been awesome, warm and sunny but not too hot yet. I even got a chance to pull all the 'old' mulch from the planters, rototill & add some slow release fertilizer, and covered them with come cheap landscape fabric I found at Big Lots for $4.00 WAY better deal then the $25 a roll at lowes for the super high end stuff. I cut "X"s in the fabric and used a bulb planter to cut out planting holes for the plants. Worked like a charm. The mulch was mainly for decoration around the sad rose bushes in front, so once the petunias and alyssum fill out the effect should be quite nice. I added the mulch back on top of the fabric and watered, and it now loosk way better. I'm also going to make a better effort to keep the roses well tended. I hadn't pruned them since we bought the house so I really cut them back this winter, and they are full of new growth, which I think is good. I'm no rose expert. I added some rose food around them as well.

I also installed some garden lights I had bought last year and never had a chance to install, I love the soft glow the little lamps give around the yard. Very nice to sit out on the swing and look around. I'm planning on planting some fragrant moonflower vines this year around the front porch area to enjoy on our evening swing chat sessions. Once the weather warms up a bit more I have a large packet of morning glory seeds I want to plant along the *cough*ugly*cough* chain link fence for some nice color and added privacy.

So all in all I spent about $100 to landscape the front yard and got the landscape fabric I needed for my vegetable beds. Hooray for being frugal!

Friday, March 7, 2008


Every year I await the first blossoms from the fruit trees. Growing up my parents had an apricot tree in the front yard and no matter what the calender said it was not spring until it bloomed.

Now I have apple trees which bloom even earlier, so when I started seeing the buds swell I was like a proud hen checking on them every day, talking to the tree, giving my husband "blossom reports" when he got home from work.

I bet he thinks I'm nutts, or sick of winter. I guess its a bit of both.

Not that we get ice and snow, theres plenty of green here even in the winter. Thing is I love fresh fruit, all the stuff in stores right now its bland and tasteless. Fruit trees in bloom are full of promise, that the sun will be out for months straight, I'll get some desperatly needed sunshine and this year I'll have the big vegetable garden I've always dreamed of having. Plus they are so beautiful, yet short lived. I try to enjoy them while they are there, I show the kids, explain what they are and why they are important not only to the tree but to the bees, butterflies, and other insects.

Yesterday I awoke to see the apple tree just covered in lots of beautiful blossoms. I had to get some pictures and fiddle with the digital macro option to try and get some nice desktop wallpapers. The ladybug on my blog header was taken on my apple tree last spring. I haven't seen any ladybugs yet, but there were a couple of bees, which is good. With the whole collony collapse disorder thing I was sad we might not have enough bees to pollinate much of the trees. I'm hoping as the weather brightens up more will come. I'm not an early morning person at all, but to see blossoms at their best I get up at sunrise to walk outside in the nippy morning chill to snap a few pictures. The apple tree isnt even fully blooming yet, more buds then anything, and the plum had 2 little early flowers, as did my peach. It was warm and sunny so hopefully tomorrow I'll have more photos to share.

plum tree:

Tree Roots Suck

Apparently I didn't get all the mulberry tree tree roots last year. 2 weeks ago I spent more time digging this monster of a tree root out then getting anything else done. it splits into 3 branches then went straight down, so there was no way to break it off in pieces easily. I had to wait till Chris got home from work to get a small saw in there to get it out in pieces.
I think the tree's spirit is laughing at me from where evere tree spirits go. Today I hit a root that went clear under the concrete slab, revealing while its been lifted up on that one side. I had to follow its windy path thru the yard with my spade so I could get it under the root, stand on the handle and try and left as much of the root in one piece as possible. I still ended up with a big pile of roots, but one piece was taller then my daughter. I had to get some pictures as proof of my victory. Luckily after 2 years they've started to rot to they somewhat 'pop' out of the ground with a spade and some physics, but sheesh. At this rate I'm still spending more time digging out roots then anything else. On the bright side, does that count as exercise? Cuz my arms and thighs sure feel like they got a workout.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

War On Weeds!

I haven't been able to work outside these last 2 weeks because of the ever changing weather. It rained, it was windy, it was overcast, I was sick...and today I finally was able to get outside again.

Lo and behold, my beautiful newly rototilled vegetable beds were speccled with weed seedlings, some almost as big as my lettuce transplants.

Boo. Hiss. I wanted to cry and swear at the same time. Swearing was quicker.

Its my fault, I told myself when I tilled them to spinkle some preen or plastic or something so I wouldn't have this issue while waiting for the soil to warm up and hardening my seedlings.

I'm trying to prevent weeds in my garden with as little crazy chemicals as possible and without spending a ton of $$$. Make that next to no $$$.

Last year we experimented with solarizing one area of grass to kill it and it worked really well, and it must have killed the seeds too since theres only the occasional weedling here and there. The rest of the yard that was crabgrass/st.augustine/bermuda grass up to 2 weeks ago is a while nother matter. Even tho we soaked it with roundup weekly for a month, rototilled the dead grass under and raked and handpicked as much of the grass as we could theres little shoots of some sort of grassy plant coming up all over. I'm not sure if its from seeds or rhizomes or both. UGH.

The other side of the yard that gets the brunt of the Santa Anas is a hotzone for weeds with so many seeds blowing there. Everyspring the whole area is green, and it looks pretty for a few weeks, until I realize its not grass or clover: its tumbleweeds, purslane, common mallow, and some crazy tangled vine thats a royal pain in every orifice of your body to pull out.

I've been soaking wave after wave of tiny seedlings a week after every drizzle we get to try and sprout/kill all the surface seeds, but theres no shortage of them. Of course, I've also rototilled the area 2 times already this year since our soil gets hard as a brick on top when it rains when gets really hot the week after. Silly me forgot tilling brings up years of other weed seeds...*gulp* We're in an area that was orginally a desert chaparel, so the plants out here grow fast, grow deep, and are next to impossible to kill once they are established. Only was I was able to pull most of them out slowly over winter was after the roundup killed them and the roots finally release some of their grip.

I hate using roundup, but I needed some serious help getting control over the yard. Now that the soil is warming up and every weed seed is trying to sprout I'm trying to get control over the situation best as I can so I spent my summer picking vegetables and not bent over for hours every day weeding. Even tho I started at the end of December getting the yard ready I feel like I'm falling behind. I have drip irrigation setup but as my newly dug beds proved the weeds are just denser closer to the emitters. I really need a way to suppress the weeds so they don't overtake my vegetables and herbs.

Our original idea was to use this really nice dupont heavy duty weed prevention fabric they have at Lowes. It lasts for years instead of months, a nice plus for an area we can garden in year round, it lets in air and water and guarentees weeds can't grow thru. Sounds awesome, but its $25 a roll and for the area of yard (west side densely planted vegetable beds) we're covering it would cost us around $400 plus the anchoring pins. Thats just one side of the yard. Yikes. Great idea, not financially feasible at this time.

Another common solution is mulch. I like mulch, its simple, it keeps roots cool and moist, blocks weeds...but the cost, sheesh. I can't use hay because in the winds out here it would just blow away. I'm looking at some sort of a nice shredded bark that won't blow away and isn't too "chunky" for kids to walk on. 1 bag at Lowes is about $4.50 and covers 12 sq ft of a 2 in depth. Our yard (total) is about 2,000 sq feet. Thats roughly..*pulls out calculator* $730 worth of mulch. Preen came out with a cool mulch thats color treated not to fade and has a chemcial to prevent weeds from growing, but thats over $5 a bag. ($913 total for the whole yard). Great idea, too expensive for our needs.

I tried to see if anwhere local offers free mulch like the City of LA did, and to my dismay San Bernardino County does not. I called my local waste division, got passed on the phone to a bunch of people before I got to a guy in Riverside who knows of a company that makes mulch/compost in a huge facility but when I called its for professinal use only and not availible to the public, sheesh. He had heard of a facility on Riverside Ave that has a sign in front that says open to the public but he didn't know if it was free or not or the exact address. Riverside is about a 45 minute drive for me, so I'm not sure if its worth all that hassle. It its nice quality stuff ( as in, no trash, animal droppings or a splinter hazard for the kids) I might be tempted. I need to do more research on that place. But for the time being it looks like if i want mulch I have to buy it.

Today I rototilled another 1/3 of the yard and marked out the 3ft wide beds and 18in wide pathways with mason's twine. I love the look of the neon pink lines. I'm serious, I love bright colors. I had a jug of preen I bought last year and forgot to use and had a grand ole time shaking it like a polaroid picture until all the beds had a sprinkling of it. I didnt sprinkle any over my lettuce, peppers or chard tho. Freaky named chemicals don't belong sprinkled on my veggies, espcially as I like to pick the outside leaves off for salads. I made sure my daughter didnt step on it or touch it, I scrubbed out shoes when we got inside at the end of the afternoon and I watered the whole yard to activate the stuff. I hate using chemicals anywhere near my kids, but I needed something to control these damn weeds and I had already bought this stuff. I hope it works.

Tonight I stopped by Lowes and got a jug of Preen's Organic Vegetable weed preventer, which is just corn gluten. Much safer around kids. Hopefully it works well around my leafy greens and the seedlings I'm going to set out at the end of the month. I tried to do some research and see if I could just use cornmeal on the coil, but everything I read mentioned corn gluten, not corn meal. I'm sure Preen is ripping me off at $13 per jug, but I have no clue where else to buy that stuff in bulk.

We also picked up a box of heavy black plastic to solarize the small section of yard we aren't planting ( yet). Silly me got black since when we used the clear stuff last year our neighbor said black works better. Then I got home and looked it up and all the sites say clear plastic warms the soil faster and deeper. Gosh Darnet. So tomorrow I'm going to take it back and exchange it. OR I could put it out where I had wanted to put my squash and melons and cucumbers and try to get a head start in case it gets cold again. I'm not sure.

Supossedly black plastic is great for warming the soil but out here where the summers are really hot the trapped heat can bake the roots, not good. So I'm still debating whether to use it to get my vines started and remove it, get them started and leave the plastic ( and hope for the best) or maybe by the time summer rolls around I can get some mulch to cover the plastic so it doesn't get so hot? Or skip the plastic altogether. LOL I dunno! Its not even the spiffy garden plastic, its just heavy duty contractor's plastic. My concern with the vining plants is I have to space them out so much for room to sprawl that until they are all filled out the dirt and all its nice added compost is prime weed real estate unless I do something. * le sigh*

Ah the joys of gardening. Not only do I get to pour over catalogs and websites obsessing what I WANT to grow, but I have to plan a stratagy of attack to keep stuff I DON'T want from growing. Oh well.

How to make seedling transplant/starter pots out of newspaper

FarmerCathy on MDC mentioned making newspaper pots for her seedlings and I loved the idea. ( Thanks for the Inspiration!) I plant my seed trays all at once and of course some plants grow faster then others so I'm left with some plants root bound and others not. In the interest of saving $$$ and not having to store a million little plastic cups when not using them I did a bit of research and found a site that shows how to make square newspaper pots and a how to video on how to made round newspaper pots. Enjoy!