SF Bay Gardening

SF Bay Gardening

Exploring everything green beneath the fog

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4 Ways to Grow Plants for Free

4 Ways to Grow Plants for Free

If you’ve been at this gardening thing for any length of time, you know that it isn’t the cheapest hobby, and that the desire for new, exciting plants is strong. But, those gorgeous, expensive, plants at the nursery are not the only way to add […]

Grow Potatoes from Your Pantry

Grow Potatoes from Your Pantry

You bought that nice big bag of organic potatoes and cooked some, planning to use the rest later. But, when you came back to the bag, weeks later, the potatoes were soft and growing tentacles! What to do? First off, don’t eat them. Ew. You […]

What to Plant in April

What to Plant in April

If you haven’t started some seeds yet, or weeded some of your garden, get to it! We’re in the thick of planting now! Get your brassicas in the ground or start your seeds! If you don’t live in a SUNNY area, you need to get your tomato plants in the ground this month for best results.

This list is based on my planting calendar, which is a great reference when you are choosing what to plant and what to prepare for each season. I’ve included sources for each plant and some notes to better help you in planning your garden this year.

Artichoke Root

Plant outside in SUNNY AREAS only. This is the last recommended month until October to plant.
Sources: Peaceful Valley

Runner Bean

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Snap Bean

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Beet

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Broccoli

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors and plant outside in May or June.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Brussels Sprout

Start seeds indoors to plant outside in June through September.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Cabbage

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors and plant outside in May or June.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Carrot

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Cauliflower

Plant seedlings outside (FOGGY AREAS) or start seeds indoors to plant outside in May (FOGGY AREAS), June (FOGGY AREAS), or July (FOGGY AREAS).
Sources: Botanical Interests

Celery

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors to plant outside in May (FOGGY AREAS), June (FOGGY AREAS), or July (FOGGY AREAS).
Sources: Botanical Interests

Collards

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Early Corn

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Cucumber

Sow seeds outside.
Resources on growing Cucumbers: Bay Area Guide to Growing Cucumbers
Sources: Botanical Interests

Eggplant

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors to plant in May or June (SUNNY AREAS).
Sources: Botanical Interests

Hops Rhizomes

Plant outside.
Sources: Territorial Seed or Northern Brewer

Kale

Plant seedlings outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Kohlrabi

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors to plant outside in May (FOGGY AREAS), June (FOGGY AREAS), or July.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Leek

Sow seeds outside. This is the last recommended month until February to sow.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Lettuce

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Mustard

Sow seeds outside. This is the last recommended month until August to sow unless you live in a FOGGY AREA.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Onion

Sow seeds outside. This is the last recommended month until September to sow unless you live in a SUNNY AREA.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Parsnip

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Peas

Sow seeds outside in FOGGY AREAS only.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Pepper

Plant seedlings outside in SUNNY AREAS, or sow seeds indoors for planting in May or June.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Potato Tubers

Plant outside.
Resources on growing Potatoes: Grow Potatoes from your Pantry
Sources: Peaceful Valley

Radish

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Spinach

Sow seeds outside. This is the last recommended month until July to sow.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Summer & Winter Squash (including Pumpkins)

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Sunflower

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Swiss Chard

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Tomato

Plant seedlings outside or sow seeds indoors for planting in May (SUNNY AREAS) or June (SUNNY AREAS). This is the only recommended month of the year to plant tomatoes unless you live in a SUNNY AREA.
Resources on growing Tomatoes: Bay Area Guide to Growing Tomatoes, Review of Cuore di Bue Tomatoes
Sources: Botanical Interests

Turnip

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

What to Plant in March

What to Plant in March

The winter rains slow down, the air smells fresh, and you’re itching to get into the garden. What can you plant in March, inside or outside, in the San Francisco Bay area? March is one of the biggest months for planting in the San Francisco […]

Cats in the Garden

Cats in the Garden

Our cat is indoor-only, but our neighbors have a couple of active kitties that we often find napping or hunting in our garden. We usually enjoy seeing them and maybe offering them a pet, but sometimes I wish they would stay away. You can love […]

Distilling Water for Finicky Plants

Distilling Water for Finicky Plants

When I wrote a while back about the Carnivourous Plants Store in Half Moon Bay, I mentioned that we took home a sundew for ourselves. Our cool little plant monster happily enjoyed some fruit flies and ants as snacks, and we kept the dish below the plant full of water to resemble a sundew’s naturally swampy lifestyle. What we didn’t know then, was that the water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (which supplies Brisbane as well as San Francisco with drinking water) contains lime, and lime is bad for bog plants.

My plant was starting to flower–a LOT–and look a little sickly, so I deduced the water was to blame and started using rainwater instead. Rainwater is great, when it’s raining, or, if you have a good system for storing it, but I know that when the rains stop in late spring, I’m going to need a new way to get water for my sundew. And, in our home, buying bottled distilled water is not something we plan to start doing: too much waste and travel go into bottled water, distilled or otherwise. Nor do we plan to buy a filtration system that uses a reverse osmosis method, since they are expensive.  So, I decided to go for distilling water myself.

Water distillation is actually very simple, and understanding it is great not just for getting water for carnivorous plants: it’s also a survival skill. When I was researching how to best achieve it, most of the videos I found were from doomsday preppers and survivalists. Distilling can turn the dirtiest of liquids into clean, drinkable water, and that may be important if any kind of disaster strikes.

To distill water, you need to heat water into a vapor, and then collect that vapor when it condenses back into water. There are a few basic methods you can do easily at home with equipment you already have.

DIY Stovetop Distiller

You’ll need:

  • a large pot
  • a smaller heat-proof vessel that fits nicely inside the pot
  • a lid, preferably with a handle
  • ice

Fill the pot at least 1/3 of the way up with water. Place the smaller vessel in the pot, either on the top of the water or resting on something that keeps in place inside (this item must ALSO be heat-proof). If it is floating on the water, make sure that even if it moves around that it always covers the center of the pot.

Turn the lid over so that the handle is above the smaller vessel. The handle will help channel the condensed water into the center, and therefore, into the vessel. Add ice to the upturned pot lid. Turn on the heat and let the water simmer.

You will end up with melted ice, which you should remove carefully, as it may be boiling hot. You should get a good amount of water in about an hour. New ice will melt very quickly, so this method is more for a quick surge of distillation. You can keep the heat going, as the vapor will still condense and drop into the vessel, but beware boiling away the distilled water, too!

This method gets you a lot of distilled water, quickly

DIY Passive Solar Distiller

You’ll need:

  • a large, clear container, preferably glass
  • a smaller container that fits completely inside the larger container. A heavy container is best, so it will not need to float on the water.
  • a clear lid with a handle or knob, or plastic wrap
  • a small rock or weight, if using plastic wrap

You will set up the smaller container inside the larger container much like the stovetop distiller. Add water to the large containr. If your smaller container will not stay put once you’ve added water to the larger container, you can put something under the small container to prop it up and keep it still in the center.

Wrap the plastic, if you are using it, tightly around the top, and place the small weight in the center to direct the vapor down into the smaller container. If you have a lid that has a knob or handle, turn it upside-down so it serves the same purpose as the weight, directing the water to center.

Place the distiller in full sun for the day. After a few hours, you should see some water droplets on the top. This method is slower than the stovetop method, but by being passive, it saves your time, and uses the free, renewable resource of sunlight!

This method is much slower, but uses only solar energy. Using larger containers and better materials will yield better results.

I store my distilled water in a mason jar and refill as I collect more filtered water, and I only use it to water my sundews. Luckily, they are small. If I had many bog plants that needed distilled water, I would probably need to up my distilling game to something larger-scale, like some of these reverse osmosis filtration systems (warning: they are not cheap).

Happy growing!

Start Seeds in Pots You Already Have

Start Seeds in Pots You Already Have

When we think about starting seeds, images come to mind of those flexible black plastic packs, peat pots, and professional seed-starting flats. All those things work great, but so does just about any container that can hold dirt. If you’re serious about gardening, you know […]

A Different Kind of Winter Harvest

A Different Kind of Winter Harvest

Snow is not a normal sight in the Bay Area, which is why it’s quite common to trek up the mountains to Tahoe. The white stuff is quite fascinating to my kids, who had never seen it (or played in it) before. To me, a […]

The 3 Essential Gardening Tools

The 3 Essential Gardening Tools

Gardening, as you may already know, can get prohibitively expensive–but it doesn’t have to be. There are tools you need and tools that are nice to have. For most gardens in the Bay Area, these three items are the bare minimum you can expect to need to get started seriously gardening.

A Trowel

A shovel you can rely on is important to every gardener, and depending on the size and scope of your gardening, it can be the only “tool” you really need. You can use a trowel for digging out weeds by the roots, transplanting, scooping soil and other materials, and even to fluff up packed earth before planting.

Trowels come in all sorts and sizes, some are larger, metal, and heavy, which can succumb to rust if left wet. My preference actually came to me by accident: I bought a trowel for my son to use in the garden. Instead of buying a “children’s” tiny, flimsy shovel, I got a regular one, but made of plastic. Why buy kids tools that won’t last them very long? In the end, I started using his. I love its lightweight feel, comfortable handle, and that when he or I leave it out in the garden by accident, I don’t have to worry about it rusting. Plus, it’s made by Fiskars, a company I already know and trust for my sewing tools, and they offer a lifetime warranty on most of their products.

I recommend: Fiskars FiberComp Trowel

If you prefer metal tools, or just want to check out bundles, this is a great link.

Gloves

You can garden bare-handed, but I don’t recommend it. Gloves make it easier to grab those wet weeds, transplant your baby plants, and extract snails from your plants’ leaves. 

Waterproof

The very basic gloves required are waterproof on at least the palms, but they can be fully waterproof as well. These will get you through most gardening projects while keeping your fingernails clean–black soil under your nails and in the wrinkles of your skin is NOT a good look outside of a farm.

I recommend: Wonder Grip Latex Gloves

You can also find packages of gardening gloves, usually with a waterproof palm and fabric back, at Costco or hardware stores in the spring. I buy these, as I end up ruining gloves just by using them so much. These are often a great deal.

Garden Safety

If you, like me, have a problem with blackberry brambles and thistles popping up in your garden, you may wish to go ahead and get yourself some Rose Gloves. These are longer, like gauntlets, to cover the tender part of your arms and wrists. They can be leather, goatskin, or microfiber.

I recommend: Professional Rose Pruning Thornproof Gardening Gloves with Extra Long Forearm Protection

Pruning Shears/Clippers

Clippers/shears are what you’ll need to harvest those prickly cucumbers from the vine and to cut the stems of woody weeds you can’t just pull out of the ground. Make sure you pick a good brand of clipper, and take good care of your pair. You want the blade edges to stay sharp, so never rinse with water, which can rust them, but clean with rubbing alcohol.

I recommend: Fiskars Steel Bypass Pruning Shears

The Fiskars choice above is both from a good brand and offered at a low price. If you are looking for something more hefty, check out the full list. I do think it makes sense to start with inexpensive shears and then upgrade later when you’re sure you will stick with gardening and when you know what you like and don’t like.

That’s It!

Of course, you’ll need seeds and compost and pots and other items as you create and grow your garden, but with these three you are ready to tackle most of what gardening requires. What are you waiting for? Get Gardening!

5 Things Absolute Beginner Gardeners Should Know

5 Things Absolute Beginner Gardeners Should Know

Gardening is a huge subject, and the volumes of knowledge you can attain over time are immense. You can read, you can try and learn by your mistakes, and you can get advice. And, you can be totally overwhelmed by something as simple as figuring […]