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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 […]

What to Plant in May

What to Plant in May

As we get closer to summer, all those warm-loving plants need to get into the garden. If you live in a foggy area, you still have some time to plant some more cool-weather brassicas and fava beans. This list is based on my planting calendar, […]

Raccoons in Your Garden

Raccoons in Your Garden

They are messy, they are destructive, and, worst of all, they are smart. If raccoons decide that your garden is their new hangout, you’ve got trouble with a capital R.

Is it really raccoons?

The first step to dealing with any kind of garden pest is to make sure you know what pest you’re dealing with. Raccoons are known to dig holes in loose soil looking for grubs, eat berries and grapes off of vines, steal tomatoes and corn (a favorite of theirs), and create “latrines.” Latrines are places that they frequent over and over again to do their business. Unlike a place where a cat will poop, this spot will be used by multiple raccoons for an extended period of time.

Deterring raccoons

The most live-and-let-live way to deal with raccoons is to make your yard, or, at least, specific parts of your yard, less appealing to them. 
First off, in case you hadn’t already realized this, make sure that any of your pets’ food is not being left outside. Raccoons love cat and dog food, and will even go for bird food. In the Bay area, birds do not need food to overwinter, so if raccoons are eating your bird food, consider no longer feeding birds in your yard at all.

To keep raccoons away from specific young plants, I have successfully used plastic forks and bird netting on the soil. these make digging hard or even uncomfortable, so it protects specific plants or newly planted areas from their evening grub hunts.

If you are trying to protect fruit on a grapevine, or corn cobs that are about to ripen, you need to do a bit more. Bird netting can work on grapevines and other fruiting plants, but raccoons have tiny little hands that can reach through, so you will still lose some to their tricksy ways.

To make a plant downright impossible for them to steal from, I recommend intertwining cut blackberry brambles with the plant. I use them on grape vines, and even weave them into corn stalks as they grow. Raccoons are very particular about their hands, which are very sensitive and human-like. They will avoid anything that can hurt their hands, so some well-placed thorns should do the trick.

Cleaning up their mess

If you have come across the unpleasantness that is a raccoon latrine, you should know that there are diseases specific to raccoons that can be passed to humans (List of Raccoons diseases transmittable to humans). Be sure to wear gloves and to dispose of anything that comes in contact with the raccoon feces.

Removing the poo it’s already there, and then covering up the area in some way, will usually deter future use of an area as a raccoon latrine. I have had success just using a spare piece of plywood, but blackberry brambles laid over the area, or something similarly unpleasant for them to walk on, will help deter them even more.

When deterring is not enough

If you’ve tried the less invasive methods and have had no success keeping raccoons out of your garden, you may need to look into trapping them. Be sure to contact your local animal control before you lay out a trap, as they may have reasons for you to not do so, or may have warnings for you about rabies or other raccoon borne diseases.

In some rural areas you can just relocate a caught raccoon about 5 miles from your home and let it go in an uninhabited area. In more populated areas, you will probably need to hand the raccoon over to animal control authorities once you’ve caught one. Some will tell you to kill the raccoon as well, which is another reason to check before you catch one, if that is a step you don’t wish to take.

What not to do

Do not put out poison traps or poison food for raccoons, because other critters will find it. Rats or mice that ingest poison food, for instance, can then be caught by hawks and other birds of prey, as well as domestic cats and wildcats. In addition, a poisoned animal may find a place to die that is not to your liking, like in a small crawl space below your porch. If you thought a living raccoon was a problem, how about a dead, decaying one?

Do not allow your pets, especially dogs, to interact with raccoons. While some raccoons may avoid your dogs, many will actually attempt to engage with dogs, meaning your dog can end up with scratches and bites that you will have to see a veterinarian about, and, at worst, may be infected with a disease.

4 Ways to Grow Plants for Free

4 Ways to Grow Plants for Free

If you’ve been at this gardening thing for any length of time, you know that it isn’t the cheapest hobby, and that the desire for new, exciting plants is strong. But, those gorgeous, expensive, plants at the nursery are not the only way to add […]