Bibb lettuce ready for harvest. Note triangulated planting which enables mature-plant foliage to cover all soil, reducing evaporation and sprouting weeds. Water two days before intended harvest to assure crisp leaves.
From 12 plants, a bin full of lettuce, harvesting the individual leaves. Toss the outermost old or bug-chewed leaves into the compost pile. Leave the several smallest interior leaves to continue growing for future harvests. Rinsed twice to filter out garden soil and debris, into ziplock bags, excess air squeezed out, and refrigerated, this will provide enough for several dinner-plate size salads.
Harvests of individual leaves from this 20-foot row of triangularly-planted lettuce (see last photo of 11/7 blog) will keep us in huge nightly salads through May or June when heat will make the plants bolt and go to seed, turning the leaves too bitter to eat.
Love those Dancy tangerines!
Bird netting around each clump of fruits, with a small hole at the bottommost "open air" spot enables me to harvest when I (not the birds and squirrels) want.
Parsley (left) and cilantro (right) germinate at different rates.
Deciduous tree trunks painted with white or beige-colored interior latex paint prevent winter sunburn damage.
Asclepias, butterfly plant
Between those first searched-for lettuce 6-packs at nurseries, and my seeds sown at the same time, we finally have our first dinner salad. My favorite lettuce is Bibb, with its intensely curly and crunchy midrib, richly green color with rouge highlights, and sweetly-tinged flavorfulness. Other shapes, colors and textures add to the salad-bowl diversity, but that Bibb is my mainstay. And, apparently the Bibb seed remains viable longer than many other varieties, since seeds from my three-year-old packets germinated more successfully than year-old packets of other varieties. Picking the dozen or so remaining Dancy tangerines from last year’s set has been a joy we’ve been rationing since it’s best to leave fruits on the tree until we want to harvest them. They’re so fully plump from absorbing that more-than-half-inch rain we had. Wonderful balance of tartness and sweetness, and so easy to peel. I recommend this variety highly, if you’re considering planting a tangerine! More plentiful are the persimmons we’ve been harvesting as we (and not the birds and squirrels) like. My success in wrapping branchfuls with bird netting has worked for a couple of years. I punch a hole only large enough for my fist and clippers into the bottommost open area that’s unreachable by critters because gravity would make them fall off before they could enter. Parsley and cilantro germinate at different rates, parsley more slowly – up to three weeks! If you sow your parsley-family seeds (including carrots and dill), you’ll need to lightly sprinkle the bed perhaps every other day to keep the seed hydrated until it finally germinates. I’ve found that lightly scattering some sawdust or compost dust on top of the seed will help retain the moisture but not bury the seed. Even so, by the time I forget about continuing to sprinkle – some two weeks later – some seeds finally begin to germinate so I remember to sprinkle again. New asparagus shoots are coming up, but are the size of a pencil so I’m leaving them to fern out so their energy will revert back into the roots. Next year’s shoots will be large enough to harvest – even if only a couple of them per plant – without depleting the plant’s resources. I’ve painted my deciduous fruit tree trunks to reflect the sun so they don’t get sunburned. Yes, even though temperatures feel mild to us, the sun’s rays are intense on tender new wood. Other young trees in the garden for their first winter should also be painted since their bark is still so tender. Although it seems counterintuitive, be sure to use interior latex paint which will allow the bark to breathe. Exterior oil paint will clog bark pores and suffocate the tree. White or beige colored paint will reflect the sun’s light best. Inexpensive paint can be purchased, or more expensive paint can be diluted half with water. Paint can be applied pretty sloppily - no need to get into all the nooks and crannies – since you’re just concerned with generally reflecting the sun’s beating rays. The part of erratic weather that I love is the roses sporatically blooming and bulbs sprouting their color at unexpected timings - even if they're just the first ones! Just like enjoying my ripening peppers all winter long (since we get no frost to kill the plants) instead of their supposed harvest time during warm weather! But then, I do find horticultural weirdness in all its permutations to be fascinating and intriguing!
Peruvian Daffodil, Hymenocallis festalis. Note peach tree trunk painted white to prevent winter sunscald.
Family Jewels -- Asclepias physocarpa -- blossom and seed pod
Sign at The Ranch at the Huntington Botanical Gardens
Wasn’t that rain wonderful? Even the drizzle starting hours earlier than the 4pm promised starting time was enjoyable despite being so heavy that it hurried my sowing sweet peas and scattering wildflower seeds. It primed the mulch and soil for later downpours, and I relished coming back into the house completely soaked and dripping – and broadly smiling - akin to stomping in puddles and building grass forts in the vacant lot across the street when I was a kid! With all that moisture – perhaps more than the expected half-inch – soaking through the mulch and down into the soil, I won’t walk in the garden or work the beds until tomorrow – and then lightly – so I don’t compress the soil and squish out the air pores. Those air pores are the breathing spaces for plant roots as the moisture held by the organic matter and soil particles drains. So it’s important to have all three - air pores, organic matter, and soil particles - in your growing beds. Repeated additions of organic matter foster this perfect mix of soil particles, water, and air, providing the “wrung-out-sponge” medium that both holds water and drains well so roots are constantly both hydrated and aerated.
Possible Frost Thanksgiving marks the average first frost date for our general area. While my Pasadena garden hasn’t had a frost in more than the five years of the drought, you never know what weather will actually occur, so it's best to prepare for all possibilities. With nighttime temperatures beginning to lower down into the low 40s, it’s wise to make sure that soil remains moist so plants are hydrated so they’re more resistant to any frost that does occur. And this rain was a good start! Other preparations for possible frost include:
Give one last deep watering to grapevines and deciduous trees but discontinue feeding. This will begin hardening them off for cold weather. You want to discourage new growth that will be tender and susceptible to frost damage.
Provide protection for deciduous tree trunks, as the leafless trees can be damaged more by first frosts than by later ones.
Sunscald can be a problem during the winter, especially on the south- and west-facing surfaces of young trees with thin bark. Paint with white or off-white indoor latex paint to reflect sun. Note that it must be indoor latex (not outdoor oil) paint since the outdoor oil-based paint will clog bark pores and suffocate the tree.
Support coverings away from foliage with stakes to prevent conducting the cold directly to the leaves and freezing them.
Move container plants under house eaves or other cover so they'll still receive bright light but winter rains (hope, hope!) won't drown or rot them. Normal humidity will be sufficient moisture for them for the several months of winter, especially if they go dormant. Also, move them next to but not touching a south- or west-facing wall so they’ll absorb reflected daytime heat but are shielded from rain and winds.
Add Manure and Mulch One heavy-duty project to accomplish includes laying down manure and compost over the entire garden except pathways. If we get more rain – hope, hope! – and the soil remains saturated, wait until early spring to dig the compost and manure into the soil. The rains will percolate through the organic matter and provide "manure tea" and “compost tea” to enrich the soil underneath so spring plantings will benefit. If we don’t get more rain within the month, check that the soil is well-drained from the rain we just had, and then turn in the manure and compost, gently breaking apart clumps. Use a spading fork instead of a shovel, since the fork's tines enable more work to be accomplished with less labor, and the soil falls apart more easily so less compacting results. After incorporating the manure and compost, water the beds and then let them rest for two or three weeks while the microorganisms begin breaking down the organic matter, which will generate heat. When their processing is finished, the soil will cool down, and you can proceed with seeding or transplanting, assured that the tender roots won't be damaged - burned!
Bibb lettuce I started from seed in my Speedling (R) trays and transplanted into six-packs.
Wildflower seeds germinate more easily when scattered into mulch, with all its nooks and crannies in organic matter.
Lettuce seedlings germinating in Speedling (R) trays, although too many in each cell which caused me to have to transplant them into six-packs so they could develop large enough to be transplanted into the garden where they'd mature.
Rough up the soil with a handfork so it's loose three inches deep, with no clumps larger than one-half an inch. See how much organic matter there is!
Bok choy lower right, cabbage and cauliflower on left side with limited access where they can grow to maturity without my attention besides watering. Upper right area that looks blank is sown with carrots and beets.
Peas planted about one inch apart and pushed one inch into the soil which has lots of organic matter. Five-gallon plastic nursery bin is buried almost up to its rim for watering, assuring that entire root zone remains moist so extensive roots can grow.
Well-rooted lettuce seedlings ready for transplanting.
On the left side, lettuce triangulated for efficient root and surface use. Two kinds of broccoli - purple sprouting and green heading - are in the middle, between the irrigation buckets. Permanent asparagus and artichoke plants alternate on right side, where I can't easily access.
I knew I might be too optimistic in purchasing the first veggie six-packs I could find of lettuce 2 months ago. Early fall and early spring are always a timing tossup since we never know whether the weather will stay cool or get hot again in the fall, or stay too cool or warm up in the spring. It’s always a guess of when to start what, especially when I want the new season’s edibles and perennials to get going as soon as possible. Both seeding and transplanting at the same time will mean that one option will win and the other option may lose. So I do both, to guarantee that at least one will work. It did get hot again – and again and again and again as it’s flip-flopped since then and we’re currently in a mid- to high-80s! swing. The lettuce from those six-packs that I’d transplanted did start to bolt and go to seed instead of producing edible leaves. So that expense and effort was a waste. But the seeds that I had also started came up just fine and so I transplanted them this past weekend. Yay! Here’re some pictures and techniques so you can get your seeds and transplants succeeding too!
Sowing Wildflower Seeds With that bit of rain that we were promised – which ended up being a mere sprinkle but at least wet the pavement and top level of mulch – wildflower seeds that I’d scattered just before did sprout with some additional overhead irrigation to get the moisture a bit further down into the soil and mulch. Mulch that was left from last year’s plants provided nooks and crannies for the tossed seeds to lodge and touch soil and organic matter that became moist with the rain. That’s why you shouldn’t clear your soil, but instead crush dried foliage and small branches in place.
Starting Seeds in Trays I love using my 30-year-old Speedling (R) trays for three reasons – 1. The Styrofoam insulates the potting soil and seeds to moderate temperature so seeds germinate more readily. 2. The tapered cell guides roots downward so there’s minimal transplant shock since the roots are already headed downward instead of circling around in six-packs. 3. Although the trays are relatively expensive to purchase, especially when also purchasing the drip trays (see www.groworganic.com), mine are now 30 years old so definitely worth the initial expense! Another suggestion if you choose to purchase them – the trays come in several cell sizes, so choose according to your needs or tendencies to delay transplanting. Initially, I purchased the one-inch cells since I thought I’d get the most number of plants for the purchase price. But, it turned out that I’d always waited too long before transplanting them, so many died because the tiny cells didn’t allow them enough space to develop further until I was ready. Instead, I purchased the three-inch cell size because I wanted an extensive root system before I transplanted them. And I continue to use the one-inch cell tray for my leeks, making sure to sow only two seeds in each cell, which makes it perfect for easy transplanting without further effort. Speaking of careful sowing – this time, I let a bunch of seeds fall into each cell, figuring that I’d gently pull them apart when transplanting. But this ended up being a problem because they were so tiny and delicate, and I had to separate them and transplant each into six-pack cells just to give them more vitality with new potting mix. So it ended up adding an extra step before having them develop large enough to transplant into the garden where they’d mature. So, don’t do what I did this time. Instead, make the extra effort to release only 2 seeds into each cell so each germinated sprout will have sufficient soil mix to develop fully into transplant size. Then you can either pull the two plantlets apart or snip one off at its base, not disturbing the root system of the remaining transplant.
Starting Seeds Directly in the Soil Rough up the soil with a handfork so it’s loose a good three inches down and there are no clumps larger than half an inch. Scatter small seeds of carrots, beets, cilantro, parsley and others that you’ll harvest en mass so they fall from half to one inch apart. Place larger seeds like peas about one inch apart, and push no more than one-half to one inch into the soil – shallower if heavy soil, deeper if soil has lots of compost. Sprinkle water gently to settle the seeds into good contact with the soil particles with barely any soil on top. Scatter a very, very thin layer of compost or potting mix on top to help anchor the seeds in place so they don’t swim away with each watering. Sprinkle again in morning and evening every other day to keep soil moist but not soaking. It may take up to 3 weeks for carrots and parsley to emerge – just when you’ve forgotten about them, they pop up – so keep that soil moist!
Transplanting into the Soil Be sure to water the seedlings before removing them so their rootballs come out easily. From Speedling trays, insert a paring knife down the side of the cell and pop the seedling out. From a six-pack, push gently from the bottom and then hold sideways or upside down so gravity will let the rootball fall into your hand. In both cases, handle the seedling only by the leaves, not the stem. If you crush any leaves, the plant can grow more. But if you crush the stem, it can’t grow another one so will die. Place transplants according to the size the plants will be when mature. For example, place bok choy about eight inches apart (about the width of your outstretched hand from tip of your thumb to the tip of your small finger), but cabbage and cauliflower about 3 feet apart. Place plants according to when you’ll harvest them. Cabbage and cauliflower I place at the back of a bed where I can’t easily reach because they’ll grow until they’ll mature in a couple of months. Lettuce and bok choy and spinach I place at the front of a bed where I can easily reach for frequent harvesting, at least once a week during the winter. Triangulate plants like lettuce and bok choy for best use of root and surface space. You want foliage of each plant to barely reach the next plant, to shade the soil. This will also provide enough space for extensive root systems. During winter, for plants like lettuce and bok choy, which you’ll harvest the outer leaves frequently, you can plant more closely together than plants you’ll wait until they’re mature before harvesting.