SF Bay Gardening

SF Bay Gardening

Exploring everything green beneath the fog

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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, […]

This Year’s Garden Planner Printable

This Year’s Garden Planner Printable

About this time every year, I start to get super excited. The evenings get dark earlier, the air is a bit cooler, and it’s that time of year when the garden gets quiet. Time to start planning for next year’s garden! I’ve planned my gardens […]

Buying Into a Better World

Buying Into a Better World

I don’t talk about “big” subjects much. This is a gardening blog, and gardening is about taking care of little things, for yourself and your family. However, a year of global pandemic, epic wildfires close to home, extreme weather all around the world, and a frightening political landscape have changed that perspective. A better world is NECESSARY for our planet and our children’s’ future. The voting is over, but let’s continue to work for that better future in whatever ways we can.

I buy organic seeds, I don’t use harsh chemical pesticides or fertilizers in my garden, and I try to buy local when I can. In a pandemic, that last one is harder. We tend to do more from home–like ordering online. But how can we continue to help make the world better while (mostly) sitting on our bums? And how do we do this during the holidays?

Buy from B-Corps & Co-ops

I know I have Amazon links on this site–I am an affiliate of theirs–but I actually try to avoid buying things from them. And, I’m actively looking for ways to replace them on the site (suggestions welcome!). Not only are they just all too happy to drive smaller companies into dust, their CEO is richer than should be possible all the while treating their employees like animals.

When I buy things now for my family, I look for a company that isn’t about going IPO or making rich people richer. I look for B-Corps that give back to their world, or employee-owned companies that do what’s best for the people that work there. This holiday season, I’ll be trying to avoid Amazon and big-box companies. These are a few of my favorites:

Bookshop.org (B-Corp)

This company came along at just the right time, at the beginning of the pandemic, and is basically everything Amazon isn’t. They sell books, and have a huge inventory. You can pick a local bookstore you love and a huge part of their profit will go to that bookstore. It’s that simple.

Bombas (B-Corp)

As it gets colder out, I really appreciate good, warm socks. Bombas has some unique sock designs for adults and kids, including sets perfect for gifting, and donates a pair of socks to organizations that help the homeless for every pair purchased.

Who Gives a Crap (B-Corp)

They sell toilet paper and other paper products. The paper is either recycled or made from planet-friendly bamboo. In these strange times, a 48-pack of toilet paper would be a hilarious and welcome gift.

Gardener’s Supply Company (Employee-owned B-Corp)

Not only does Gardener’s Supply Company give back to community gardening efforts, they also sell unique garden items, as well as items that are hard to find. I discovered their company when I needed lashing cord for making bamboo trellises and could only find it there. They have really nice items for gardeners, some that they themselves developed and produced, as well as gifts for everyone, like striking Amaryllis bulbs ready for a holiday table.

Buy Used

Used presents from Santa? YES! My kids didn’t bat an eye when they received used books and big boxes of previously-loved Barbies and her accessories. Maybe it’s because we buy so much cool stuff at thrift stores and yard sales. “New” stuff looks nice at all, but packaging is all trash. Plus, a whole box of another child’s collection of something is so much more impressive than one tiny new set.

Thriftbooks

Not only does Thriftbooks sell an amazing array of used books to help the environment and your pocket, they also buy books from libraries and sell books at a discount to correctional facilities. Last year, I was able to buy whole sets of my child’s favorite books series’ for a fraction of their full-price cost. They also sell DVDs, Blue-Rays, and Video Games!

Thrift Stores

If it weren’t for Covid-19, this option would be a no-brainer. But, you can still buy from thrift stores online:
Goodwill: https://www.shopgoodwill.com/
Salvation Army: https://www.shopthesalvationarmy.com/Browse

Neighborhood Groups & Craigslist

Facebook and Nextdoor are actually good for something besides locating lost cats: finding free or inexpensive second-hand items from your neighbors. Throughout the pandemic we’ve found a bounty of home and garden items, toys, and books. 

Ebay

Collectibles & weird items are only part of what you can find on Ebay. You can also get DVDs, CDs, or whole lots of used toys. They’ve got new stuff, old stuff, red stuff, blue stuff, and everything in between. Retired Elves Lego sets? Yep. Posters from your kid brother’s favorite movie from the 80’s? You betcha.

Buy Small

Etsy

Buy from individuals on Etsy instead of from big stores. Etsy is way more than handmade and custom items these days–it can also be a great source of crafting supplies. I found elastic and nose guards for masks here, and floss when I started my embroidery quarantine hobby, all from small “shops” that are really just one person.

Local Businesses

Mask up and be safe while you do it, or call the store and see if they offer other options. They won’t have the same online shopping & store-pickup experience as Target or other big-box stores, but they may just be able to accommodate what you require. It never hurts to ask!

Charities

Is your local Lions Club selling Christmas Trees by delivery? Mine is, and I will be buying our tree from them. Our schools also have online fundraising for things like Art Kits, books, and even general shopping online. 

…Just Don’t Buy from These Jerks (if you can help it)

I don’t want to say stress yourself out avoiding companies that make things easier, especially if you are schooling your kids at home or caring for relatives. We’re all dealing with so much right now. So I say, start with the good companies first, and then only shop at these if you really can’t justify the expense or shipping time:

Walmart/Sam’s Club

This is the WORST company out there. I watched them come into my hometown in PA as a kid and basically drive a thriving small-business area into ruin (there was a shoe store that had a talking Myna bird. A talking bird was magical to me. And Walmart destroyed that). And then they shut down THAT Walmart and built another, so there’s this deadzone of little stores next to the dead Walmart. They also pay workers as little as possible and sell cheap crap. Screw them.

Amazon

I’ve already ranted above about them. If you DO choose to purchase something from them, be sure to find a charity on smile.amazon.com and then always shop from that URL instead of just amazon.com — a (super small) portion of your purchase goes to that charity. If you can’t find a charity you like, why not add your closest local school?

Glass Gem Popcorn: A Rainbow in Every Husk

Glass Gem Popcorn: A Rainbow in Every Husk

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 […]

Tomato Growing Guide Printable

Tomato Growing Guide Printable

There are tools that I bring into the garden with me, like a shovel, clippers, and gloves. These things are meant to get dirty or wet. Gardens are not “clean” places. For that reason, I find it very difficult to have my reference materials, like […]

Baker’s Twine: The Most Versatile Gardening Tool

Baker’s Twine: The Most Versatile Gardening Tool

It’s crazy to me that I haven’t written about this before. I use this tool all the time in the garden, and I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I never just came out and admitted that this item is truly the best thing to have in your garden, PERIOD.

Baker’s twine.

Bakers Twine
Baker’s twine. So humble, but so useful

Yep, seriously.

I love this stuff.

First off, it’s like $5 for a million yards of it.

Second, it lasts forever. I have some bits I used 6 years ago to tie tomato branches to my tomato cages that’s still tied, and still usable if I didn’t think to bring out my twine cone that day. I just take the frayed bits and, if they’re long enough, tie up what I need to.

Bakers Twine used on Tomato cages
An example of an older bit of twine holding up this year’s tomato plants.

Third, it’s cotton, so it’s biodegradable (eventually).

Fourth, it has so many uses.

  • Tie up tomato branches to cages to keep tomatoes off the ground
  • Make lines for beans, peas, gourds, hops, cucumbers, etc. to climb
  • Tie bundles of herbs for drying
  • Lash bamboo together when building trellises (though Bamboo Lashing is definitely superior for this task)
  • Attach poles together for bean teepees
  • Wrap around black plastic when suppressing nasty weeds like fennel and blackberry
  • Tie down the corners of your pop-up greenhouse when the provided twine isn’t long enough
  • Making bundles of cardboard for recycling pickup
  • Wrapping gifts to give them a “rustic” look
  • All those normal kitchen uses (if you haven’t dropped the cone in the soil 50 times already, like I have)
Hops climbing cotton twine
Hops climbing baker’s twine.

So, when you run out of whatever string-type alternative you use for similar purposes in your garden, do yourself a favor and buy an industrial-sized cone of baker’s twine and for the next 20 years or so, you and your garden will thank you.

Plants you Should Never Buy as Seedlings

Plants you Should Never Buy as Seedlings

You’ve definitely seen them. At a garden center, or even some supermarkets, you’ve seen those racks of those happy little seedlings in their little plastic pots. Plant starts that are so perfect, so ready, and at only $3.99 each! But I’m warning you: some of […]

Assembly and Review of the OGrow Deluxe Walk-In Greenhouse

Assembly and Review of the OGrow Deluxe Walk-In Greenhouse

The OGrow Deluxe Walk-In Greenhouse (like these) was a Christmas gift, and I assembled it in February. It has been serving as a vegetable seedling grow house and greenhouse for some tender succulents since then, and I’m ready to give my opinion of it in […]

Yes, We have Black Widows in the Bay Area

Yes, We have Black Widows in the Bay Area

I was definitely in denial about black widows.

A friend had talked about seeing black widow spiders in her garden, and I just thought to myself, “she’s mistaken.”

I mean, I’ve lived in the SF Bay Area for more than a dozen years and never heard of anyone seeing one, let alone having any kind of “encounter” with one. I garden, so I spend time in the dark and dirty places spiders love.

I’ve even found brownish/blackish spiders in my house with that suspiciously round boo-tay and checked them for any hourglass tattoos on their bellies, but they were always other kinds of spider. Never a black widow. Never.

Until a fateful day in January.

I opened my green bin to drop in the week’s compost before trash day, and there was this shiny, round-abdomened, black spider, on the lid in a (not to be disparaging, but) messy web. I tapped the lid a bit, to see if it would move. And it did–just a smidge–and just enough to one side that I could clearly, even in the fading light of dusk, see the red hourglass marking on its underside.

Well.

So, I did what any normal human who values her life would do: I went into the house to grab my camera and took some pictures. They’re not great (see “fading light of dusk” above) but you can see I’m not hallucinating here, people. 

Close up of Black Widow on a trash can lid
Even in the poor light, and behind her messy web, you can see the red hourglass.

Then, after I gingerly took the garbage bins down to the curb, I did some research on my newfound friend. I hope you find it as useful and interesting as I did.

Are Black Widow Spiders Deadly?

The short answer is: usually not. Just like the seasonal flu, black widow bites are deadly only when they occur in people who are already in a weakened state, like sick or elderly people, or in small children.

That being said, their bites are incredibly painful. One fun bit of trivia is that the pain is sometimes so great, it is mistaken for appendicitis. I’ve had appendicitis, and it hurts so much you vomit and kind of want to die. With that kind of insider knowledge, I’m going to recommend you avoid black widow bites if at all possible.

If you get bitten, elevate the bite area if you can, apply a compress, and get someone to take you to the Emergency room. They will be able to get you the best pain relief and, if you do have an extreme reaction, they can administer antivenom and help you with your breathing.

How can you Identify a Black Widow Spider?

We have a lot of very helpful and not poisonous spiders around the Bay Area, so it’s good to know how to spot the few you should actually be cautious around.

Black widows can be black or brown, and have a shiny, round abdomen.

You won’t find them out in the garden in the sun–you’ll find them inside trash can lids, under and behind things in your shed or garage, and generally away from where you cam easily come across them. They will run away if exposed. They want to stay hidden.

Their webs are not symmetrical, but are instead messy and lacking obvious organization.

And, of course, most have that telltale red hourglass marking on the underside. 

Not all black widows are perfect specimens, however. So, if you’re not totally sure, I’d say avoid contact. And, if you have small kids or pets around the area you’ve found a potential black widow, I’d say kill it just to be safe. Most spiders I’d do my best to save from harm, but I’d rather not see my kids in the kind of pain true black widows can inflict.

Bonus Spider Story

A few months after my first black widow experience, my husband and I were clearing some things around in the garage. I moved a bag of nearly empty compost and discovered a likely black widow underneath. She immediately began running for cover under the bag, so I moved it again to keep her where we could see her while we discussed her fate.

Unbeknownst to us, a male Scrub Jay had noticed the excitement from a power line above. He swooped down next to us, hopped over to the spider, and neatly picked it up and flew to the top of a telephone pole to eat it. That certainly solved our dilemma of how to dispatch of Ms. Spider, but I did read about how eating a black widow can cause tummy troubles for birds. Mr. Jay seemed fine later, but he may think twice about rescuing humans from spiders in the future 🙂

So, Um, Yeah

So, Um, Yeah

I know you’re freaking out, because I am freaking out. We’re all freaking out. A little more or less, depending on time of day, amount of media consumed, number of dependents we’re supposed to home school, percent of productivity we’re expected to be at, etc, […]