SF Bay Gardening

SF Bay Gardening

Exploring everything green beneath the fog

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Bay Area Bees Don’t Need Special Winter Help

Bay Area Bees Don’t Need Special Winter Help

Just as many gardening blogs, books, and general advice focus on the majority of the country where they have this thing called “winter,” so do Social Media trends. I keep seeing posts and articles on LOCAL Facebook groups giving helpful advice on how to “save” […]

Too Many Tomatoes?

Too Many Tomatoes?

It takes what feels like a million years to get 1 ripe tomato, and then suddenly my vines are heavily laden with red, ripe beauties. Once you’ve had your fill of salsa, pizza, spaghetti, chili, and Caprese salad (or your heartburn needs a break), what […]

Thwarting the Fennel Menace

Thwarting the Fennel Menace

There are a few pleasures in gardening that really make it feel worth all the work. Harvesting a huge batch of fat, happy potatoes is one. Picking up a cured gourd and finding it whole and hard and ready to be made into whatever project you desire is another.

But there is another gardening activity that is not at all about harvesting and food and goodness. No. I’m talking about the satisfaction that comes when you have completely thwarted an enemy.

My Greatest Foe

If you’ve read my blog before, you might have guessed that the enemy I mentioned is Wild Fennel. I literally named it The Worst Weed in the Bay Area. Back then, I didn’t have much encouraging advice. But that was then.

evil fennel coming up from a previously dug-up root
Like a zombie, the dug-up “dead” fennel emerges to terrorize the garden once more

Now I know how to kill it.


Without digging for hours in dry, unyielding clay.

The secret is Darkness.

Fennel under a sheet of black plastic
It looks awful, I know, but it keeps light away from the plant, which kills it completely

It’s not pretty, but few murder sprees are, amirite?

That Feeling of Victory

Today, I went to check on a few of my fennel torture bags. Yes, some were still holding on, and I carefully repacked them tightly.

But a few were dead. Fully dead. Dry as a bone. Ex-fennel.

And a few even came out of the ground complete, taproot intact. Look at the picture–that’s 2 feet down in the soil if I had tried to dig it out fully.

It was so satisfying pulling these jerks out of the ground intact. You can see the black plastic, yard staples, and the bowl used to cover one of the smaller ones.

How to Truly and Completely Eradicate Wild Fennel

fennel growing under a fence
Even in a tricky place like under a fence, plastic can be used to eradicate fennel organically. I used a staple gun to secure the plastic to this fence and it’s now clear of fennel.
Do you see any evidence of fennel now? It took over 8 months of plastic covering, but the deeply-rooted fennel is completely gone.


  • 6 mil Black Painter’s Plastic (NOT weed block)
  • Yard Staples
  • Yard clippers/trimmers
  • Staple gun (optional)
  • Black bowls from takeout or instant soup (optional)


  1. Trim the fennel down as far as you can go, removing all the material and composting it.
  2. Cover the stump tightly with the black plastic or a black bowl with holes punched in at least two sides near the earth (only use the bowl if the stump is small enough to fit totally inside underneath).
  3. Use yard staples or (near wooden fences) staples to secure the plastic or bowls in place. You are trying to eliminate light getting to any part of the plant, and stop any shoots from finding their way out.
  4. Keep an eye on your fennel darkness pods in case of escaping shoots. Remove any shoots that pop up, secure your light barrier again, and wait some more.
  5. Check occasionally after a few months to see if the fennel is dead. There should be no green or yellow material, and every part of what remains should be dry and brittle. That means success!

Stay Vigilant

While this method will take care of those old-growth fennel monsters, it does not stop new sprouts. Be sure to tear those invasive jerk babies out of the ground as soon as you see them. Fennel cannot be allowed to proliferate!

fennel taking over a fence
Don’t let fennel happen to you!

Bonus tip: This technique also works on Blackberry!

Preparing a Fall Garden Starts in August

Preparing a Fall Garden Starts in August

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 […]

Growing Basil for Fun and Pesto

Growing Basil for Fun and Pesto

Basil is one of those plants I feel like I can never grow too much of. I always start a ton of seedlings early and then plant all of them. This is unlike other plants, like tomatoes, where I only plant a few of the […]

How NOT to Build a Rain Barrel

How NOT to Build a Rain Barrel

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.

Securely attached to the house, overflow and spigot in place, no 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. 

Algae has formed anywhere the sunlight penetrates, including around the spigot (not shown), so we can’t get water that way anymore.

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.

Rebate Programs

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)


Make Plum Wine from Local Unripe Plums

Make Plum Wine from Local Unripe Plums

I’m sure you’ve seen the “tiny” plum trees around in the Bay Area. Not tiny trees, but trees that produce tiny plums. If you have one of those plum trees in your yard, or know of a “wild” plum tree somewhere nearby, you may have […]

How to Start Gardening with Kids

How to Start Gardening with Kids

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 […]

Last Year’s Garden Results & 2021 Garden Plans

Last Year’s Garden Results & 2021 Garden Plans

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:

Bushel Gourds

A Bushel Gourd in a hammock to protect the vine.
A Bushel Gourd in a hammock to protect the vine.

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.

Seeds, glorious and full of hope!
Seeds: colorful, glorious, and full of hope!


Garlic leaves emerging shortly after planting.
Garlic leaves emerging shortly after planting.

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 going with two varieties of sunflower, since I know how to grow them and they can be really striking: Mammoth and a mix called Heirloom Beauties.

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.

The Rest

Bean: Tendergreen
Edamame: Tankuro
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

Planning Tools

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!

2021 Seed Catalog Reviews

2021 Seed Catalog Reviews

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, […]