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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 […]

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 in late summer in the Bay Area. The plants display pink flowers on their naked red stems, some petals streaked with white, and some more magenta than pink.

As a transplant from the East Coast, I first saw these mysteriously pop up in my backyard. I would have called them Zombie Lilies, given their blood-red stalks eerily appearing from what looks like nothing but earth. The appearance of those red stalks also made me think of some evil alien fungus from a sci-fi horror movie.

Luckily, the Naked Ladies are not that sinister. Their green foliage appears in the winter lasts through spring and then dies back. A few months later, in the late summer, the flower stalks shoot up. They store the energy from their green leafy time in a bulb, and use it to produce the flowers. Weird, but kind of awesome, too.

And, you can divide clumps of those bulbs to produce more of them, if you are so inclined. Plus, the seeds they produce can grow into plants, but they must be planted when fresh, not dried. The ones in my yard are just at the end of their flowering, so I’m hoping to harvest some of those seeds and try planting some new ladies myself soon.If you have grown Naked Ladies, from seeds or root division, please let me know how it worked out in the comments below!

More Information When Do You Plant Naked Ladies?
Amazon: Purchase Amaryllis Belladonna Bulbs

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 […]

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 weather, a Mediterranean climate, allows us many year-round options for growing. This means that even a small garden can still provide food, herbs, or beauty, year-round.

Depending on your living situation, you might have access to a small patio, a shady porch, just some inside counter space, or be lucky enough to get into a community garden.

Container Gardening

Low maintenance backyard? All those concrete slabs are not going to produce many plants that you’d like to grow (dandelions do just fine). Instead, there are many options for pots, raised beds, and just pretty much anything they can hold soil to grow yourself a nice little garden.

Anywhere in the Bay area, where yards are at a premium, you will find small jungles of terracotta pots full of succulents, grapes, even lemon trees. 
Container gardening means you get to choose your soil, and its composition, and do not have to deal with our local hard clay earth. But it also means you have to be very conscious of watering, since containers and anything higher than the ground will dry out faster and the ground itself. Knowing your plants before you plant is key to choosing containers that will let them grow as big as they can, to be as healthy and drought-resistant as they can possibly be.

Succulents are especially good for container gardening because they actually like to dry out, and sometimes suffer planted in the ground during our sometimes very wet rainy season.

One thing to know if you do choose to container garden, especially with succulents, is that plant thieves do exist, and those weirdos love rare and interesting looking succulents. Be sure to keep your most expensive or rare plants secure, either enclosed in your home or garden, or under video surveillance.

Shade Gardening

Some of us have yards that are beset by shade most of the day. Tomatoes and eggplants are not going to put up with too much shade, but there are lots of plants that even in the heat of the summer will thrive in a shady spot because they like it cool. Brassicas like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower don’t mind just a small amount of sun everyday. Lettuce and peas will also do well. To succeed at shade gardening in the Bay area, be sure to consult the planting calendar and make sure to plant in your shade garden at times listed for foggy areas only. 

Windowsill Gardening

If you’ve got a sunny enough window, you can grow plants that are only limited by your windowsill’s size. House plants and succulents thrive in this arrangement. Herbs are ideal, because they are right next to where you might cook with them.

Countertop Gardening

There is a thriving business in small, self-contained planters for your countertop, for those of us who do not have any outside space at all. These are small units with lights and sometimes watering functions, but many herbs and even lettuces and other small plants can thrive in tiny spaces and give you that gardening fix right in your own home. 

If you have space inside, you can even create a larger operation using grow lights to grow full size plants indoors.

Community Gardening

A variety of different plots in the Brisbane Community Garden, going strong!

If you are lucky enough to live near a community garden, and can get on the list to get a plot for yourself, you can have that Sunny outdoor spot that you always wanted. While travelling to your garden instead of walking out your back door is not quite as nice, a community garden plot has its benefits. 

Many community gardens charge a small fee and let you use communal water and compost. It’s instant community for you, as you can chat with your fellow gardeners, and learn from their successes and failures. And, some even have orchards and beehives that all of the gardeners may share.

Some Local Community Gardens

The Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative has a comprehensive list of school and community gardens, plus links to more information about them.

Brisbane Community Garden
Brisbane has one Community Garden with a small orchard and beehives! You will need to contact the Parks & Recreation Department to inquire about a plot:

They have a vibrant gardening community (and great weather for gardening!)

San Francisco Community Gardens
The City runs 38 gardens in the city.

South San Francisco
SSF has one garden, and you need to contact them to get on the wait list.

Adopt an Empty Lot

A strip of shady land in Brisbane has been cultivated into a tiny oasis of green. To protect the plants, a small brick path and stepping stones allows people to get to and from their street-parked cars.

This option is a little trickier, but it can be done. If you know of an unkempt area of your neighborhood, you can try to contact the owner and maybe you can farm it for a few years. Or, consider using the often desolate strips of dirt between the sidewalk and the street.

It’s risky, since you don’t own it and can be asked to stop at any time. But, it may give you several years of garden food and experience in the meantime. 

There’s a great book by Novella Carpenter about her adventures in Oakland farming in a lot near her home, even raising pigs there!

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, […]

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, […]

What does “Hardening Off” Mean?

What does “Hardening Off” Mean?

If you are new to gardening, you probably know that getting some seeds started indoors is a great way to ensure your plants get a healthy start where disease, weather, and pests will not hinder their beginnings. While this is true, there is a real lack of explanation out there about the next step in gardening, which is planting those seedlings in your harden, and the work that needs to go into their transition to make sure they actually survive!

Why do we Need to Harden Off?

All those cute seedlings under lights or in a sunny windowsill in your house are positively pampered compared to the plants that start life outside. Inside your home, those seedlings can expect a nice 65-70 degrees, day or night, no wind, no bugs, and consistent moisture. There is a HUGE difference in conditions between inside and outside, and you need to prepare your plants for that move as slowly and deliberately as possible.

Beginner gardeners will often just transplant indoor plants outside, and then wonder why they shrivel in the sun, snap in half on a windy day, or just fail to thrive outside. Plants grown in ideal conditions indoors must ALWAYS be hardened off before being transplanted outside.

Hardening Off

Hardening off is the process, usually taking 10 to 14 days, by which you slowly introduce outdoor conditions to indoor-grown plants.

Yes, hardening off is tedious.

Yes, it’s a pain in the patootie to keep moving your plants outside and then back in.

Yes, you have to do it, or your plants will suffer.

First, Start them Off Stronger

To aid in the later hardening off process, there are things you can do while the seedlings are still very young and living indoors. 

You can point a fan to blow air across them, to get them used to wind and to force them to grow more sturdy, thicker stems. In Brisbane, where we get very string wind as the fog rolls over the mountain in to San Francisco, this is a great way to get plants strong ahead of time. Leggy plants + wind = broken plants.

Letting established seedlings, like those with a few sets of true leaves, dry out a bit between waterings is another way to prepare your indoor plants for a very hot day in the sun outside, when they have to hold off until water comes again.

Next, Make a Hardening Off Schedule

When you’re almost ready to plant outside, such as when you know based on the Bay Area Planting Calendar that it will be optimal timing in about 2 weeks, you should start hardening off your plants. This means moving them outside into the shade or the sun, depending on what they are ready for.

Next, on a piece of paper or on your computer, start your Hardening Off Schedule. You can do it two ways:     

  1. Create a schedule ahead of time that you will keep to
  2. Record what you do to harden off your plants each day, and use your plants’ condition as a guide as to what to do next.

When I do a schedule ahead of time, it looks something like this:
Day 1: 2 Hours in Shade
Day 2: 4 Hours in Shade
Day 3: 1 Hour in Sun, 3 in Shade
Day 4: 2 Hours in Sun, 4 in Shade
Day 5: 4 Hours in Sun, 6 in Shade
Day 6: 6 Hours in Sun
Day 7: 8 Hours in Sun
Day 8: 12 Hours in Sun
Day 9: All Day in Sun
Day 10: All Day in Sun, stay outside overnight

What the make-ahead schedule does not account for is weather conditions. A foggy day is great if you’re on day 2, but unhelpful on day 7. Likewise, if the wind is blowing at hurricane speeds and you’re on day 3, you need to bring the plants in early and try again tomorrow. You may need to adjust your schedule if you don’t get the best conditions for the steps.

Finally, Stick to your Schedule

You can’t give up halfway and start from there a week later, because your plants will acclimate to their indoor digs again. The process needs to continue once you start, or you lose progress.

Take your plants out every day, placing them in the correct conditions for the given day, making sure they are sufficiently watered before or after they go outside. I take mine out in their trays to make it easier to move them (as you can see from the photo at the top of this post).


What is nice is that once you’ve hardened off your plants and they are fully accustomed to life outside, they can stay outside forever. If they are not root-bound, you can put off transplanting until you and the garden are ready to do it. You can transplant them, and, as long as you keep tending them with care and water, they should be happy in their new garden spot.

What if I Can’t Spend 2 Weeks as a Plant Chauffeur?

Yes, this schedule is rough if you travel to a job all day and cannot spend all your time shuttling plants around, but you also don’t want to come home to find crispy plants. While it’s a bit tricky, it’s not impossible to adjust the schedule to work for you.

Days 1 & 2: Find a great shady, secluded spot that gets NO direct sun all day and leave your plants there. Yes, less time outside would be ideal at the beginning, but shade is hardly the worst thing your plant will experience.

Days 2-5: These are trickier, as you need to know your outside space well to know where you have some morning sun but afternoon shade. If you can calculate it by watching some spots before you start the process, you could successfully leave your plants outside in a sunny spot that, an hour or several hours later, is in shade. another option is to aim for the bulk of these days to fall on a weekend so it’s easier to manage the tricky amounts of sun.

Days 6-8: Like days 2-5, you can find those spots that will work to give you the sunlight your plants need and not too much more.

Days 9-10: These should be easy to work around a normal schedule.

Guide to Growing Hops

Guide to Growing Hops

Do you brew? Home brewing is a great mix of cooking and socialization, great for shy folks (like me!) who need an excuse to invite people over. And what’s more fun then making beer while also drinking it, with friends? If you brew, you know […]