SF Bay Gardening

SF Bay Gardening

Exploring everything green beneath the fog

Latest Posts

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)
https://www.flowstobay.org/preventing-stormwater-pollution/at-home/rain-barrels-rebate-program/

The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA)
https://bawsca.org/conserve/rebates/barrels

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)
https://www.urbanfarmerstore.com/sfpuc-program/

Gardener’s Supply Company (an employee-owned B-Corp)
https://www.gardeners.com/search?q=rain+barrels

Amazon
https://amzn.to/3yzM710

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.

Watermelons

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).

Basil

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

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.

Flowers

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.

Gourds

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!

Broccoli

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.

Spinach

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!

Melon

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, […]

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 […]