It seems like summer just started, doesn’t it? Everything is green and growing and it’s a waiting game in the garden. I haven’t even picked a ripe tomato yet this year! Still, I know from experience that it is already time to start thinking about […]
When my husband and I first moved into our home in Brisbane, one of our first DIY projects was to install our own rain barrels. We looked up a bunch of online tutorials, took the advice that we found there, and after finding a good deal on two used olive oil barrels, we created our rain barrels.
The advice we had found online told us to do certain things for safety of both the water and ourselves. The first thing we needed to do was to securely attach the rain barrels to the house so they couldn’t fall over. The second was to install both a spout on the lower side of the barrel as well as an overflow tube that would let out water if the barrel became full. Both of these things were not a problem.
The last piece of advice was to make sure that mosquitoes could not find their way into the water to lay eggs. We found a lot of tutorials similar to what we eventually created, which was a screen on top of the barrel, built into the lid, that would allow water in but not allow a mosquitoes to land on the water to lay their eggs.
What that advice did not take into account, however, was that sunlight can cause its own kind of damage. As you can see from the picture below, while our rain barrels are mosquito larvae free, they are encrusted with algae. The algae is so thick we can’t actually use the spout anymore, and our only recourse at this point is to fully empty our water barrels with a siphon (using the water for gardening, of course) and create a direct connection from our gutters to the barrel without allowing sunlight in at all.
There are a lot of rain barrels that are already built completely without letting sunlight in. Right now, there are in fact a lot of rebates in the Bay Area to get yourself a hold of one. At the time we installed a rain barrels, we did not know about any of these rebates, if they even existed at the time. We were excited to create our own rain barrels, and while most of the advice we found online was correct, that algae is way more trouble than we could have anticipated.
With the state of California and a lot of the country in severe drought this year, a rain barrel would be a great project or purchase to get into place while rebates are in effect and before the rainy season starts, so you can start collecting rain when the first drops fall.
Flows To Bay, A Program Of The City/County Association Of Governments Of San Mateo County (C/CAG)
The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA)
Rain Barrels for Sale
Be sure that any barrel you buy has a DIRECT CONNECTION to the barrel from your gutter system (not just screening), and that it has a spigot as well as an overflow system.
The Urban Farmer Store (free barrels for SFPUC Customers)
Gardener’s Supply Company (an employee-owned B-Corp)
It is awesome when your child takes an interest is gardening, especially if it’s something you yourself are into. You want to give them every positive experience: the crunch of a freshly plucked sweet pea off the vine, that indescribable smell of tomato vines on […]
As the rain pours down on a dreary afternoon, I find myself longing for those warm, dry days when going into my garden didn’t feel so muddy and gross. Remembering the extremely tumultuous–and hot–summer and fall of 2020, I can reflect on what worked and what didn’t. And, I can plan for a better year ahead.
2020’s Garden Results
Some successes and failures from last year’s garden, planned back in February of 2020:
Slow growing, and nowhere near the size promised on the seed packet, but definitely cool looking in the end. I did have one neat-shaped develop a soft spot before I pulled them out of the garden, which was sad. I think if I had limited the vines with more than one fruit to only one, I could have achieved larger sizes. I was a bit disappointed that the vines didn’t want to climb, so my bamboo archway was mostly empty. Alas.
I tried two early varieties of watermelon, and after nursing the pathetic little vines, I ended up with my very first experience with spider mites and a whopping ONE ripe watermelon the size of a softball. This is actually the second time I’ve tried growing watermelon in the Bay Area and I think it’s time to give up. On my neighbors’ advice, I’m going to move over to cantaloupes instead (see below).
As always, grow more than you think you need, because pesto can be frozen and basil itself can be dried. We do a lot of Italian meals here and you can never have too much of that beautiful, fragrant herb. We probably had Caprese salad 4 times in the fall, when the tomatoes were going crazy.
A tale of two Peppers
I got a bit of a surprise when I was weeding last spring–a jalapeno plant had overwintered and was sprouting new leaves. I figured it would be a pathetic attempt at a second season but left it alone. Low and behold, by December, we have jars of pickled jalapenos taking up half the fridge. If the winter weather is mild, it seams that hot peppers can be a perennial here, and I am all for less effort and maximum reward!
On the flip side, my latest attempt to get any sweet peppers bigger than cherry-sized to actually ripen in our weather produced several stunted fruits that never got past the “green and still growing” phase. I think I’m just about done with these guys as well.
2021’s Garden Plans
Now the fun part: the plans for this year.
I’ve grown garlic off and on over the years, and it’s always so easy. The only downside is that it takes up a part of your garden from November to the next September or so. Mine has been in the ground since before Thanksgiving and looks pretty happy under a layer of the seemingly unkillable oxalis weeds. I got California Late White from Peaceful Valley.
Yeah, I know I’m usually all about them vegetables, but my daughter is into everything beautiful/shiny/sparkly/endorsed by a unicorn, so I’ve been convinced to give some flowers a try.
I’m also going with two kooky flowers I’ve actually grown before that I know my daughter and her friends will freak out for: Bunny Tails and Drumstick Flowers. I am fully aware they will behead these and make them into “potions” and other items for faeries to consume, but that’s kind of the point.
Another fun one that a friend passed on to me is Money Plant. Its iridescent “coins” should be fun for the kids as well, and they (as well as the Bunny Tails and Drumsticks) dry well for display if they survive the faerie play.
Yeah, I have a gourd problem. My house is lousy with unfinished gourd projects, and that’s not gonna end anytime soon. The next experimental varieties are part of a (backordered) mix from Harris seeds called “Big Boy Mix.” It includes “Swan, Caveman’s Club, Bushel, Dipper, Birdhouse, Apple and Snake gourds,” so no matter what, it should be fun to try and figure out which gourds are growing on any given plant!
Having enjoyed lots of volunteer broccoli this year, I’m going to give it another try with the fractally-stunning Romanesco variety. More vegetables should looks like they were grown on another planet–and I’ve definitely seen Romanesco in sci-fi banquet spreads before.
I will be growing more Lacinato Kale again this year, because it’s always a big winner, but since we’ve been going through more and more spinach while working from home, I decided to try both baby (“Anna“) and mature (“Bloomsdale“) varieties. I look forward to making my famous from-a-soup-packet spinach dip with fresh spinach…and then eating it all in one sitting with my husband since we can’t share with anyone yet. Social Distancing isn’t all bad, I guess!
As instructed in Golden Gate Gardening, I found a short-season variety called Minnesota Midget which should be a success in my sunny Brisbane yard. I will be giving it a good head start in my greenhouse, a careful transplanting, and protect it with a slug force field to give it the best possible start in life.
Squash: Baby Blue Hubbard
Tomato: San Marzano & Brandywine Blend
Basil: Italian Genovese
Carrot: Little Finger (shakes fist while angrily remembering the last season of Game of Thrones…)
Oregano: Vulgare (true Greek)
Kale: Nero Toscano/Lacinato/Dinosaur
Of course I ordered my seed using my library of Seed Catalogs, listed out my varieties on This Year’s Garden Planner and will be mapping out my plants’ locations on the map I made using Google Maps. If you are trying to figure out when to start seeds and plant outdoors, my Bay Area Planting Calendar is a great resource.I also have detailed guides for the Bay Area on growing tomatoes (plus the printable Growing Guide), cucumbers, and gourds.
Are you trying anything new, weird, or exciting this year? Let me know in the comments!
I’m not gonna lie: Seeing the mailbox packed with color seed catalogs is one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. What is more hopeful, positive, and bursting with potential than a listing of plants and flowers you could grow? And from tiny seeds, […]
It’s been making the internet news cycles again: Glass Gem Corn (or Glass Gem Popcorn). It is definitely beautiful, and, in the sunnier parts of the Bay Area, easy to grow. Glass Gem is a flint corn, meaning it is intended to be harvested and […]