SF Bay Gardening

SF Bay Gardening

Exploring everything green beneath the fog

Latest Posts

Guide to Growing Hops

Guide to Growing Hops

Do you brew? Home brewing is a great mix of cooking and socialization, great for shy folks (like me!) who need an excuse to invite people over. And what’s more fun then making beer while also drinking it, with friends? If you brew, you know […]

What to Plant in May

What to Plant in May

As we get closer to summer, all those warm-loving plants need to get into the garden. If you live in a foggy area, you still have some time to plant some more cool-weather brassicas and fava beans. This list is based on my planting calendar, […]

Raccoons in Your Garden

Raccoons in Your Garden

They are messy, they are destructive, and, worst of all, they are smart. If raccoons decide that your garden is their new hangout, you’ve got trouble with a capital R.

Is it really raccoons?

The first step to dealing with any kind of garden pest is to make sure you know what pest you’re dealing with. Raccoons are known to dig holes in loose soil looking for grubs, eat berries and grapes off of vines, steal tomatoes and corn (a favorite of theirs), and create “latrines.” Latrines are places that they frequent over and over again to do their business. Unlike a place where a cat will poop, this spot will be used by multiple raccoons for an extended period of time.

Deterring raccoons

The most live-and-let-live way to deal with raccoons is to make your yard, or, at least, specific parts of your yard, less appealing to them. 
First off, in case you hadn’t already realized this, make sure that any of your pets’ food is not being left outside. Raccoons love cat and dog food, and will even go for bird food. In the Bay area, birds do not need food to overwinter, so if raccoons are eating your bird food, consider no longer feeding birds in your yard at all.

To keep raccoons away from specific young plants, I have successfully used plastic forks and bird netting on the soil. these make digging hard or even uncomfortable, so it protects specific plants or newly planted areas from their evening grub hunts.

If you are trying to protect fruit on a grapevine, or corn cobs that are about to ripen, you need to do a bit more. Bird netting can work on grapevines and other fruiting plants, but raccoons have tiny little hands that can reach through, so you will still lose some to their tricksy ways.

To make a plant downright impossible for them to steal from, I recommend intertwining cut blackberry brambles with the plant. I use them on grape vines, and even weave them into corn stalks as they grow. Raccoons are very particular about their hands, which are very sensitive and human-like. They will avoid anything that can hurt their hands, so some well-placed thorns should do the trick.

Cleaning up their mess

If you have come across the unpleasantness that is a raccoon latrine, you should know that there are diseases specific to raccoons that can be passed to humans (List of Raccoons diseases transmittable to humans). Be sure to wear gloves and to dispose of anything that comes in contact with the raccoon feces.

Removing the poo it’s already there, and then covering up the area in some way, will usually deter future use of an area as a raccoon latrine. I have had success just using a spare piece of plywood, but blackberry brambles laid over the area, or something similarly unpleasant for them to walk on, will help deter them even more.

When deterring is not enough

If you’ve tried the less invasive methods and have had no success keeping raccoons out of your garden, you may need to look into trapping them. Be sure to contact your local animal control before you lay out a trap, as they may have reasons for you to not do so, or may have warnings for you about rabies or other raccoon borne diseases.

In some rural areas you can just relocate a caught raccoon about 5 miles from your home and let it go in an uninhabited area. In more populated areas, you will probably need to hand the raccoon over to animal control authorities once you’ve caught one. Some will tell you to kill the raccoon as well, which is another reason to check before you catch one, if that is a step you don’t wish to take.

What not to do

Do not put out poison traps or poison food for raccoons, because other critters will find it. Rats or mice that ingest poison food, for instance, can then be caught by hawks and other birds of prey, as well as domestic cats and wildcats. In addition, a poisoned animal may find a place to die that is not to your liking, like in a small crawl space below your porch. If you thought a living raccoon was a problem, how about a dead, decaying one?

Do not allow your pets, especially dogs, to interact with raccoons. While some raccoons may avoid your dogs, many will actually attempt to engage with dogs, meaning your dog can end up with scratches and bites that you will have to see a veterinarian about, and, at worst, may be infected with a disease.

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

Fava Bean

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

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. This is the last recommended month until July to sow.
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

Pea

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 […]