Latest Posts

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 […]

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, […]

2020 Garden Plans

2020 Garden Plans

Sometimes I worry, as spring approaches, that I’ll lose interest in gardening—that there just won’t be anything new to strike my fancy.

But then, the seed catalogs come. And the emails about the new seeds show up in my inbox. And I am smitten, once more, with the perfect possibilities that seeds provide.

What I’ll be growing this year

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are always in my garden, but this year I’m cutting back from 3 varieties to just 2. I want to focus on 1 sauce type and one slicer. And, while I will be sticking with my old favorite sauce tomato San Marzano for its insane productivity, I have to decided to take a break from my favorite slicer (Gold Medal) and go for a new one: Pineapple. I’m hoping it will have the flavor and beauty of Gold Medal, but with heavier yield and less blemishes. 

Peppers

I had good luck last year with my mini bell peppers, but my daughter didn’t like the heavy concentration of bitter seeds inside their small form. So, I will be going for regular-size bell peppers with the attractive orange Coral Belle.

Carrots

My kids are like rabbits and we go through a ton of baby carrots every week. Why not grow them myself? They are not impressed with multi-colored carrots because those tend to be spicier and more flavorful–they like their standard carrot flavor, thank you very much. For them, I’m growing Danvers 126. I addition to being a great standard carrot, it does well in heavy soils, so I don’t have to worry about the roots getting into the clay below my compost layer and growing in wacky ways.

Kale

I used to grow kale every year, and then one year it slipped my mind and that was 3 years ago. Yikes! I love freshly harvested Lacinato/Toscano kale–so crunchy and fresh. The stuff you buy at the store, or even the farmer’s markets, cannot compare! I’ll be using my saved seeds from a particularly large (8+ ft!) volunteer kale plant from 3 years ago. I know that the germination rate may be iffy, but I have a lot of seeds left and will just over-plant and then thin as necessary.

Watermelon

This is an experiment of sorts. When I first began seriously gardening in the Bay Area, I tried growing both gourds and watermelon with terrible results. But, I was an amateur in our weather, and now that I’ve gotten gourds to thrive, I am ready to tackle a new challenge. I picked two faster-to-fruit varieties of different sizes so hopefully at least one will do well: Sugar Baby and Crimson Sweet.

Gourds

Speaking of gourds, I’m looking to up the ante. Last year I got tons of Spinning Gourds and quite a few Bottle/Birdhouse and Corsican gourds that are happily molding over on my porch. Since I don’t even know what projects I’ll use those for yet, I figure I should grow a different type, and so I am going BIG. Bushel Basket gourds can grow to 24″ across, and can make great storage containers. I’m looking forward to seeing what they look like, if they grow well here.

Flowers

Last year, I focused on veggies and my only flowers were marigolds because their bug-repellent properties. This year I will be trying to grow some more exciting varieties. I’ve recently discovered a LOCAL seed company called The Living Seed Company, and since I had already purchased my veggies seeds for the season, I decided flowers would be a great way to try them out! I’ll be planting “Radiance” Cosmos (my daughter will love pink flowers!), some cute Bachelor Buttons, and the super-cool looking (and named!) Love-in-a-Mist.

What I will NOT be growing this year

Mouse Melons

They were very cute, and oh-so-prolific, but they just weren’t all that tasty. And, maybe the recipes were to blame, but even pickled, I wasn’t that excited about them (and I love me some pickles!). The most fun we had with them (other than the Calico Critters photo shoot) was when I took them to my daughter’s preschool so the kids could play with them.

Read all about Mouse Melons

Corn

The Glass Gem popcorn came out super well, and I will be publishing a belated article about it soon, but I honestly have WAY too much popcorn right now, and that’s after feeding the whole preschool one afternoon. I think it will need to be a bi-annual thing.

This year, I’m focusing mostly on things I know we will eat, and on producing more of the food we buy in our garden. What’s your garden focus for 2020?

What to Plant in September

What to Plant in September

Even as fall looms ahead of us, our warm September weather keeps the tomatoes, cucumbers, and gourds growing strong. And while the wild blackberries in full sun may have shriveled up, the ones in shady spots are just now fruiting plump, tasty berries. Here is […]

Have you checked out these Naked Ladies?

Have you checked out these Naked Ladies?

Don’t worry, I’m talking about the beautiful, fragrant, and totally weird flower that pops up this time of year, right after all its foliage had died back. The Belladonna Amaryllis (AKA Belladonna Lily, AKA Resurrection Lily, AKA Naked Ladies) is ablaze just about everywhere sunny […]

Mouse Melons: The Cutest Fruit

Mouse Melons: The Cutest Fruit

There are many beautiful fruits out there, and I’m sure you’ve grown some that you thought were drop-dead gorgeous. But would you say many of them were cute?

Let’s say you’ve got a plant that looks like the biggest garden fruit, i.e. watermelon, but is the size of a grape tomato. Voila! Cutest fruit around.

Mouse melons, or cucamelons, are relatively new to the gardening community, and images of handfuls of these tiny melons are showing up all over the internet. So small, so cute, so many adorable photo opportunities.

Bunny Calico Critter viewing the Mouse Melon harvest
Mouse Melons happen to be the perfect size “watermelon” for Calico Critters to enjoy.

Growing Mouse Melons

A tiny cucamelon and its flower. To show the size, the twine it is climbing is kitchen twine, less than 1/8 inch thick.

They grow a lot like cucumbers, just smaller (if you need more of a guide on growing them, check out my Cucumber Growing Guide). And when I say smaller, I mean like a bonsai cucumber vine. The leaves are so small, the vines feel very delicate, and the flowers are downright miniature. They would do well in a hanging basket or medium-to-large pot, or in the ground.

Cucamelon vines
This view shows you how little of my bamboo trellis the full-grown vines take up. That’s 3 vines growing at the far end going up the white twine.

You can trellis them, but be sure to offer them something very thin to grasp onto, like twine. Because of their tiny size, my bamboo trellis branches were too wide for it to grip. And, be sure to protect the vines from strong wind, or your fruit may go flying. I happened to plant them close enough to our grape trellis that the wind was blocked by grape leaves and my mouse melons thrived.

Where to Get Mouse Melon Seeds

Botanical Interests is where I obtained my seeds, and they sprouted and grew very well. 

Harvesting and Flavor

A nearly ripe cucamelon
An almost-ripe mouse melon. I would give it a day or two before picking, to let the green fade, so I get that yummy sour flavor.

So at first I was wholly unimpressed with the flavor of these little guys (even though popping a whole little fruit into your mouth and crunching on it is very satisfying). The flavor was basically “bland cucumber” (yes, that’s possible). I was picking them before they got too large (roughly large-grape-sized) thinking that, like cucumbers and squash, they would get less tasty when larger.

But, I find that if you harvest when they get a bit larger, more like a grape tomato, when the color fades a bit, they have a slightly sour taste that’s very interesting. Another name for them is Mexican sour gherkin, so that makes sense to me now.

I hope that I can get enough to pickle some, because I think that would make a great snack. However, I only have about 5 vines in the two mounds I planted, and sadly, that’s just not producing enough for a huge harvest. And huge for these little guys would be like filling a pint jar.

If you want to have more on hand than a novelty photo prop and a fun off-the-vine nibble, I would grow several more hills of them–at least 20 plants. Luckily, due to their tiny size, you won’t need that much room to do that.

Update September 10, 2019: So, it turns out my cucamelon vines were just getting started producing, and my two hills gave me more than enough fruit to make some refrigerator pickles. I used this recipe but found it is off on volume (it says the liquid you make is for 1 pint, but it’s actually double that). So, I have two quart jars with 1 cup each of mouse melons in them, but it means room to add more later, so I ain’t complaining!

Harvested Mouse Melons
My huge 2-cup harvest!
Cooking pickling liquid
Creating the flavorful pickling liquid using home-grown jalapenos, plus garlic and bay leaves.
Jar of cucamelon pickles in the fridge
My cucamelons in the fridge, just starting their flavorful journey to pickledom.
What to Plant in August

What to Plant in August

In the heat of the summer, spring-planted crops like tomatoes, peppers, corn, and cucumbers are going nuts. It’s hard to believe it’s already time to start thinking about fall planting! Cole crops like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale need to be planted now or in September […]

Gardening Without a Yard

Gardening Without a Yard

Space is tight in the Bay area, and many of us, even those who love gardening and growing things and all things green find that we do not have the vast open space that we would like for our gardening. We are lucky in that our […]

What to Plant in July

What to Plant in July

Depending on your microclimate, the days can get pretty hot, which some plants just love. Corn and peppers are really thriving, and you may be seeing some teeny-tiny mouse melons (also known as cucamelons) (squee!), but if you’ve got your eyes on a fall harvest, it’s time to get baby brassicas in the ground or start them indoors.

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.

Fava Bean

Sow seeds outside in FOGGY AREAS only.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Snap Bean

Sow seeds outside. This is the last recommended month until April to plant.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Beet

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Broccoli

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors and plant outside in July through September.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Brussels Sprout

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors to plant outside in July through September.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Cabbage

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors and plant outside in August through September.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Carrot

Sow seeds outside in FOGGY AREAS only.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Cauliflower

Plant seedlings outside (FOGGY AREAS) or start seeds indoors to plant outside in July (FOGGY AREAS), or August through September.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Celery

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors to plant outside in July (FOGGY AREAS) or August.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Collards

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Early Corn

Sow seeds outside. This is the last recommended month until April to plant.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Kale

Start seeds indoors to plant outside in August.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Kohlrabi

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors to plant outside in August or September & October (SUNNY AREAS ONLY).
Sources: Botanical Interests

Lettuce

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Mustard

Sow seeds outside in FOGGY AREAS.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Parsnip

Sow seeds outside.
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.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Summer Squash

Sow seeds outside. This is the last recommended month until March to plant.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Swiss Chard

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Turnip

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

What to Plant in June

What to Plant in June

Summer is here! Some of those springtime plants might be producing already, but it is still a great time to plant in the garden. It’s also not too early to start prepping for your fall garden plants. This list is based on my planting calendar, […]