Sunday, April 24, 2016

Planting Cabbage in late April

I just visited an artisanal sausage 'kitchen and watering hole' which serves sausages, for which the meat is ground on site. The sausages...the burgers.... while excellent, were almost outdone by their made-from-scratch ketchup, stoneground mustard & horseradish, and the assortments of PICKLES. The cabbage pickles were amazing and remind me, that I don't want to miss out on this from my garden this year.

Its cool outside yet, so its a perfect time to transplant my hardened off cabbage. The spacing seems to be ideally in a little spot 15 inches by 32 inches. No, I will not plant it in any location where brassica has been grown in the last 3 years. Good crop rotation will keep the bugs guessing!

In our climate where hail can strike anytime, its a great idea, to have a few on hand, which are grown simply because they can mature quickly. As cabbage can be grown in autumn, as well, tolerating freezing temps and even doing fine under a 3 mm layer of plastic sheeting, even if I had hail in August or September, I may be able to mature 'Derby Day' by Thanksgiving, as it requires only 58 days to maturity!

Now, for ensuring that its lined with great companions such as onions, dill and mint to keep the bugs at bay, and providing a great high-nitrogen fertilizer (which is the first number in the fertilizer digits on the bag N-P-K) such as bloodmeal or chicken manure, and I'm good to go!  Kimchi, here I come.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Tulips are out! Hardy, Durable Tulips

Its a big day! The first tulips appear in the western-facing border garden.

I am hard-pressed to be able to point to anything which the former homeowner did to the home, which was lasting in any way. Most of it was done quickly, without expertise, or done with the cheapest materials available.

The exception is the tulips. (And maybe two rose bushes.) I can count on these lil' buggers showing up every year. In fact, I planted native "rose" bulbs from High Country Gardens in this dry and warm spot, which largely lives on springtime snows, but only one of these has returned 3 years later.

Instead, her red and orange-red tulips remain. I will invest in more of these this autumn, as tulips are generally planted in autumn. (Though, let it be known, that any forced bulbs which I purchase from my local supermarket, I do plant in late springtime. They skip a season of blooming, but do produce blossoms the following spring.) But what are they likely to be?

Better Homes and Gardens says that 'species' types of tulips generally are the longest lived. What the heck is a species type? Here's some good reading: I also turn to the Bible of Tulip sites: -- fascinating site -- but rather academic - do I decide to return one day. For my immediate questions, to this site I turn:

It turns out that tulips have been bread as cut flowers for so long -- 20 years plus - that we've lost the original appearance of tulips and their longevity for quite a while. The 'cutters' want a single, large blossom on a stem. They aren't interested in a long-lived plant as they will replace the bulb at the end of the season (throwing out the old one).  So, those plants/bulbs which are the closest to their 'wild' ancestors, retain the longest life.  Note, these types of tulips are often called 'Botanical Tulips.'

He writes, "Among the botanical tulips that are easy to grow in home gardens are Tulipa kaufmanniana and its hybrids (‘Ancilla’, ‘Concerto’, ‘Johann Strauss’ and many others), T. greigii and it hybrids (‘Cape Cod’,’ Pinnochio’, ‘Toronto’ and many others), T. fosteriana and its hybrids (the ‘Emperor’ series is the most widely grown), T. tarda (now T. urumiensis), T. turkestanica and T. praestans. Note that most botanical tulips do not need deep planting to perennialize well: the standard recommendation of 6 inches (15 cm) is generally quite acceptable."

The author also notes, that some tulips come from very hot dry places, where no rain falls in summer (About a hundred species of botanical tulips grow wild across the mountains of Central Asia, particularly in an area spanning from Turkey to Afghanistan.)  He cautions that the reader may want to avoid these. For us in high, dry climes -- this list is a true bonus as this is exactly what we need! I can't wait to try them!
"...T. clusiana, T. bakeriT. humilis, and their hybrids, such as T. ‘Lilac Wonder’ and T ‘Eastern Star’..."

Finally, some tulips have green chlorophyll in their petals, which allows them to produce food for themselves not only though leaves and stem, but also through their petals. This gives them a bit of edge in the non-food producing season of survival, winter. Yes! I can justify indulging my craving for decadent, green-striped parot tulips, then - and see what happens!

Finally, note there are some groundcovers which are better than others, over bulb flowers in general. One of these is creeping phlox.  Planting your bulbs under groundcovers that don't rob them of what they need to live - maybe even holding warmth in the soil over bulbs in winter - will also help ensure they come back year after year!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Silica - Beefing up your Veggie's Defenses

Not everyone has respect for all schools of Permaculture.  One school of thought in agriculture, called biodynamics, can't help but incorporate the awe for miracle of growth into specific composting and fertilizing practices. Some are very ancient.

I combed through a rather exhaustive list of these, one day last season, and was struck by how often animal horns were used - buried at the head of new rows planted, for example. Bones seemed to make sense, as I know all too well blossom end rot, that is, what happens to my trying-to-mature peppers and tomatoes when the calcium supplies are short in the soil. But, horns didn't seem to make quite as much sense to the modern, scientific-minded gardener.

But after reading about silica supplementation to plants-- now it does!

Human hair and nails, as are animal horns, are made of a tough protein called keratin. So what is the relationship of keratin to silica? Silica is needed for the creation (or synthesis of) of keratin - that is, without this trace mineral the cross-fiber strands, which lend strength to all connective tissue, are weak.

In the earth’s crust, silicon* is the second most abundant element after oxygen, making up 27.7% of the crust by mass. Its found in rocks and stones - but sadly, these days our soil is usually very deficient in silica. (Therefore our diet is also somewhat deficient in silica. For USDA recommended daily allowance, see here:

Effects of Si-treatment on growth of cvs. Hinohikari, Oochikara and lsi1 mutant. Aspects of wild type rice cvs. Hinohikari (a, d), Oochikara (b, e) and lsi1 mutant (c, f) were observed after control nutrient treatment of rice seedlings (a, b, c) and 14-day silicic acid treatment of rice seedlings (d, e, f) [7].(Photo from:

When a pathogen (or bug) launches an attack on your veggie plant, the first line of defense is the cell walls themselves. The tougher the better. The silica (as silicic acid) is moved by the plant from its roots through the xylem, and into the intercellular wall spaces, as 'plant opal.'  BUT, researches have also found that when a plant is supplemented with silica, it also triggers the natural defenses, or second line of defenses by the plant, namely the production of toxins to discourage or kill the predator/pathogen.

A good source of silica? Diatomaceous earth!  You've caught be writing about it more than once, now. In fact, the sharp particles of diatomaceous earth are the silica itself. It will even rip up chitin - the 'keratin' or tough connective outer tissue of fungi. Hence, its been touted as getting in the way of powdery mildew. But, the better use for silica in this case, is IN the soil- as vitamin for your plant.

For a Bible on plant defenses see:

*Silica is one form of silicon.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Gardening Arms Length from my neighbor's Pet Waste Dump?

I was just cleaning out my vegetable bed, when the incessant barking of the dog just a foot or two away on the other side of a worn privacy fence, rose out of the background of my consciousness, and into conscious thought. Its been two dogs, 3 years, sun-up to sun-down and absolutely no cleaning of that tiny area where they intensively urinate and defecate during that time.

Crap! (On both accounts.) My vegetable beds are a mere 4 feet away. I wrestled with my hunches and hopes. It took me nearly a week to muster the drive to do the needed deep dive on pet waste and gardening.

I used to think those advertisements for pet toilets in public parks were silly and hilarious. But knowing what I know now, has transformed how I think about gardening, wearing shoes in the house and even wading in a street puddle! With 70-80 millions pets in the U.S. producing an avg 3/4 lb of poop per day -- that's 270 lbs per year, per pet --- one writer commented that we're literally swimming in pet waste. As a gardener, I need to understand this new landscape within which we're gardening.

1. So, what's in pet waste that I need to worry about?  A single gram of pet waste (that's about the size of a pea) contains 23 million fecal coliform bacteria. Pet wastes carry bacteria that make us very sick (pathogens), parasites and parasite eggs.

Academics writing about microorganisms causing illness through the water supply noted that one doesn't always know they are harboring a disease. There aren't always obvious symptoms. My last research showed that 3 out of 10 U.S. citizens had a parasite co-habitating - host unaware! But often, there ARE symptoms.
a) What are the symptoms of illness from bacteria in pet waste? Look for: fever, cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans.

In the top '5' list of parasites U.S citizens experience, the CDC places pet-borne parasites (yes, pets) in position 3 & 4.  Some can be treated with anti-parasitical drugs, in other cases, only the symptoms can be treated.

b) What kind of symptoms would a person have who is infected by parasites or worms?  Watch out for:
1) A condition called Visceral Larval Migrans. The ascarid eggs hatch in a person’s small intestine. The little worms or larvae get into the blood stream and float to the liver. They migrate in the liver and get to the blood stream that goes to the lungs. Some may enter the general circulation and end up in different parts of the body. They have been found in the human heart, brain, spinal cord, skin, and other tissues. The symptoms would vary depending on where the larvae become attached.
2) Another condition is called Ocular Larval Migrans. The immature ascarid worms or larvae can affect the human eye. The larvae attack the retina and cause blindness. Many eyes of children have had to be removed which until recently was the only treatment for this problem.
In a pediatric hospital 37% of all the retinal diseases of children’s eyes were positive for dog ascarid larvae. This is definitely a potential human health hazard.”

Take it from these online-vets, who have everything to lose if perceived as anti-pet, when they say: "pet waste is the greatest source of potential health risk for your pet and your family."

2. The pets are in the neighbor's yard. Do I need to care? 
YES! There are many ways that pet waste reaches your edibles.

First, pet waste (and semi-spent birdseed from your feeder**) draws rats (and mice). Kitty-corner across the street, the neighbors' open compost pile, has already drawn a large rat into regular neighborhood rounds. Ugh. The worms the pet waste harbors, are passed along to the rat. Rats are not trained only to defecate in pet runs.
Second, flies will consume and lay eggs in pet feces. These same flies will then come into your house and then spread disease as they pause on your counter and food.  REALLY? Flies??? One source noted that we seem to underestimate how many of the diseases we come into contact with, originate with insects also noting that:  ''Houseflies can be used to illustrate the dangers posed by disease carriers. Flies, which have tastebuds on their feet, always land directly on the food they eat-and on any given day, that could mean raw sewage (a fly favorite) followed by picnic food. The hairs on a housefly's body can carry millions of pathogens, which then brush off on anything the fly touches....'''
Third, your shoes! According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)*, pet droppings can contribute to diseases animals pass to humans, called zoonoses. When infected dog poop is deposited... eggs of certain roundworms and other parasites can linger in the soil for years (one commenter on a forum noted a decade or longer). Anyone who comes into contact with that soil—be it through gardening, playing sports, walking barefoot or any other means—runs the risk of coming into contact with those eggs; especially your dog.
Finally,  as you might imagine, the soil, moisture conditions and height of the offending area vis-a-vis your gardens, are the first factors to consider. Given that my neighbors do not irrigate in our high desert climate - and the pet is defacating atop dry soils and piles of leaves, there is a lot of dust! That, combine with the fact, their yard is slightly higher than mine, means there is definitely some pet waste reaching my garden as dust and run off during springtime melts - both threats to vegetables below and above ground.

So, other living things, dust, moisture, natural seepage in soils, carry what is in your neighbor's domain into yours. 

3. Look, you say. No one ever gets sick from this stuff. Really. how do we know that PET wastes are what to blame for pathogens and bacteria in our environment? Where is the evidence?

In one study, the researchers looked at a waterway near a popular spot for pet walkers. They were able to use DNA markers to indeed confirm, the contaminants in the water they feared, originated with Fido.

In another study, agriculturalists wanted to know if pet waste could be turned into fertilizer. What they found was that, the pet waste would have to be incinerated at such high temps for an entire week to render the dangers benign. It was no longer worth it -- this from a raw input that's free & FREELY given. (So, keep that pet waste out of the compost!)

But do the pathogens actually enter the plant tissues?  Some companies, scientists and agencies are trying to find out. There have been many foodborne illnesses, which have broken out even after the produce was washed multiple times in chlorinated water, so it has lead to new studies analyzing how the pathogens enter the plant.

In one study, it was found that salmonella used the lettuce plant's photosynthesizing process to locate its stomata and climb inside.  In another study, the penetration of pathogens occurred all the way through the roots of the spinach plant, but didn't rise beyond the crown of the plant into its leaves.

4. So where to from here?
Gardeners can reduce their exposure by peeling root crops, removing the outer leaves of leafy crops, washing their produce and hands before eating, and leaving dirty garden gear outside.

Others write about how important compost and amendments are to the soil around your vegetables, thus providing an ideal enviroment for the population of bacteria, which may prey on parasites or their worms that originated with Fido.

I have decided to treat the ground near the neighbor's 'pet run' as I would contaminated soil and raise the bed up sufficiently to be safe.  Last season, I visited a nearby community's 'community garden' which used to be a storage facility for municipal vehicles, machines, supplies. They knew that the ground too contaminated for food production. All beds are raised at least 12 inches.

Risks to all producing food around animals - even pets - are real. Sadly no one - not municipal authorities in charge of waste or water quality, not decision-makers nor citizens - wants to discuss the facts. Its considered uncool and anti-pet or animal rights to speak out the facts. Have the boldness to start dialogue with pet owners closest to you.  If you're a pet owner? Do all you can to ensure your life with animals is a sustainable one.

*The University of Maine suggests locating gardens FAR from where a family pet roams and even notes that gardens should not be near bird feeders. 

** Are all the same risks in dog poop also present in human feces? One garden blogger I read claimed 'dog poo - human poo - all the same stuff.' NOPE. Nada. Not at all! Science, the CDC, the EPA and Wikipedia all agree on that one.

**I HIGHLY recommend reading this article from Food Safety News for more info on how pathogens get into plants:

campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, toxocariasis, and antibiotic resistant strains of E.coli. - See more at:
campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, toxocariasis, and antibiotic resistant strains of E.coli. - See more at:
campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, toxocariasis, and antibiotic resistant strains of E.coli. - See more at:

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How did the ol' Wintertime Cool Season Garden turn out?

The thrill of growing through the winter, is a thrill of which I'll never tire! This is the 3rd winter during which I have grown under hoop houses covered in 3mm plastic.  (The hoops are built of flexible plastic piping from the irrigation section of Home Depot and anchored with 2 ft sections of rebar.)

Fall consumption: Those crops which sown in late summer, are to be harvested though Thanksgiving. Now, I always mean to plant my autumn crops between July 23rd and August 7th or so. I do. I always mean to.  My greens were planted in mid-September instead. It was a true crapshoot. But it turned out to be worthwhile.
Springtime consumption: Those for which I did not have time to harvest before hard frost or snow OR which - if harvested - we’d be challenged to finish off before they spoiled. So, I opt to keep them in the ground.
My Redbor and Blue Curly kales did well. Our winter was so cold, though, that the remained the size they went into winter. So, only 1-2 inches, they remained this through all of winter. They will take off during the first warm spell of February; we'll be eating 'em soon!
Leeks (var: American Flag):  These I had planted in part-shade in my garden, and they started their lifecycle also crowded. The odds were stacked against them that they’d mature in time for end-of-growing season harvest. I kept them in the ground over the winter. Covered under plastic, which often was weighed down with heavy snow, they did terribly well. While they didn’t put on hardly any mass, they came out of even the crushing snow, rather unscathed.  I have picked (4) for soup and am letting another two dozen shake of winter slumber and thicken up a bit.
The same is true of other greens where finding a cold-hardy variety makes all the difference in winter survivability, incl:
Tatsoi  // Spinach (var:  Olympia) // Marvel of 4 seasons  & Reine des Glaces lettuces
Mature parsnips (var: All American):  These I left in the ground from last fall. They grew slightly —mostly in length (reaching for warmth?). When I saw the first new leaves emerging, to prevent them from becoming woody and hollow, I dug them up. A huge harvest!
Parsnip seedlings (var: All American): These were volunteers of a single parsnip I allowed to go to seed last summer. They double in size from 1 inch to 2 over the winter and have a great start on this growing season. They’ll be ready to eat by June 1.
Green onions: These are amazing little suckers in wintertime. Sure, the outer leaves turn dry and golden. But, inside, there are tender green onions for winter noodle bows. Guardian, from Territorial Seed, is an especially cold hard variety.
Kohlrabi: This is usually one of the top performers in my winter garden. Even if they get a bit woody on the outermost layers, they’ll be tender and sweet inside. This year, I put them in the ground too late. They grew to a height of 2 inches and have remained there all winter. If they don’t bolt, I’ll have little kohlrabi this spring.

Here’s where I am throwing in the towel:

1) Broccoli Raab: I must give up on this in our climate. I’ll eave this to those of you in marine climates.  I’ve tried it (2) autumns, and (2) springtimes. Even with faithful pruning, I am unable to foil my broccoli raab’s tendency to throw up flowers. The occasional super hot day, just confuse it too much. The remaining stalks are very tough.
2-3) I have also been unable to germinate Kailaan (Chinese broccoli) and Daikon radishes. I’ve tried several seasons for each - both spring and autumn. For the sake of delicious steaming winter noodle bowls, I may try a different seed company. Just one more time.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bad Quality Jiffy Seedling Tray Covers no longer fit Standard Seedling Tray

He* brought it up. And I sighed relief. He won't be carrying Jiffy seed tray covers anymore. Too flimsy.

Yes, I have watched my seed tray covers become thinner over the last 7 years. I have watched as they went from $2.69 to nearly $5/cover. 

Image result for jiffy seed tray coverYet, flimsy was the tip of the iceberg for me. Now, Jiffy, has made them so narrow, that a standard flat of (32) 2.5 inch pots, will no longer fit underneath it. Corners now angle in sharply, not allowing for pots to stick up above the edge of the tray.

Very frustrating. Bad, baaaadd Jiffy.

Image 1What are your options if you are stuck with a too-small new Jiffy cover, as I am?

1)  Shift to a taller 'Sunblaster' model, which costs $6 at a competing greenhouse (see below) . It allows my larger plants to harden off outside, sheltered from the wind.  There are vents at the top, too -- which prevents the greenhouse from melting down (and plants inside, of course, too).

Because I have money to throw away on gardening? Nope. But I use my covers for many seasons on end. At least five.

2) Cram 24 pots (rather than the standard 32) into the center of the tray OR put seedlings into egg cartons or dirt blocks into the tray (Avoiding pots altogether). At this point, one can duct-tape the cover down. The sides will bow out, but an evap barrier will be effected.

Allow for a bit of additional effort, for in the immediately-above scenario, you'll be transplanting to a larger pot before transplanting directly into the garden.

3) My grandpa simply put a heating element into the bottom of an old dutch oven, covered it in dirt and grew little seedlings under a powerful light. No pots needed until the third or fourth leaf popped.  The seedlings were then transplanted to larger pots, but did not need a cover at all. He placed them into old sheet pans from grandma's kitchen (often enamel coated - the enamel was chipping off and so no longer for use in the kitchen), and placed them into a cold frame for protection from wind during hardening off.

*The owner of my neighborhood greenhouse with 40 years plus in the business.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Green Onion (Scallion) - Recipes: Use ALOT Quickly

I like scallions.

Ok, not sufficiently, that I can justify buying them at my local supermarket, though.

They grow well in my winter hoophouse. Especially a cold tolerant one called Guardsman.

If it remains quite green (though not perfectly) and grows all winter long, it brings me joy. In the middle of January, there is nothing sweeter than picking something from the garden, when otherwise deep white lies all around the bed.

So, how to can one quickly use up a whole mess of them in a week?  If you dig Asian, then you're in business. Use them --
1) to garnish every sort of noodle bowl - Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese.
2) in a Green Onion pancake recipe. These pancakes are very different than American pancakes.  They are often served with ginger dipping sauce.  Here's my favorite video of one genuine Asian Grandmother cooking the pancakes.
3) To make stir-fried scallion, beef over rice.
4) In spring rolls. Num!

5) Roast them. Admittedly, this may be tricky as the tops could become too dry and tough.  So here are some tips on roasting veggies.

6) I have used them to garnish:
- homemade soups esp cream-based ones,
- baked potatoes,
- chili (or chili on potatoes), and
- green leaf salads
- any Mexican fare - enchiladas, tacos, guacamole
7) Stirred into grains dishes of any kind, including cilantro lime rice.
8) Over pasta dishes including alfredos and ones with simple olive oil drizzlings.
9) In breakfast frittatas and omlettes (Though not with a heavy hand)

And with some skill one may -
10) Add them to bread, scone or biscuit dough, if you bake from scratch

If you can't use them all up in a couple of days, store them well, by treating them as other freshly-cut herbs or cut flowers - stored in water, in the fridge with frequent water changes. (Photo from