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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).

Planting

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 […]

Grow Potatoes from Your Pantry

Grow Potatoes from Your Pantry

You bought that nice big bag of organic potatoes and cooked some, planning to use the rest later. But, when you came back to the bag, weeks later, the potatoes were soft and growing tentacles! What to do? First off, don’t eat them. Ew. You […]

What to Plant in April

What to Plant in April

If you haven’t started some seeds yet, or weeded some of your garden, get to it! We’re in the thick of planting now! Get your brassicas in the ground or start your seeds! If you don’t live in a SUNNY area, you need to get your tomato plants in the ground this month for best results.

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.

Artichoke Root

Plant outside in SUNNY AREAS only. This is the last recommended month until October to plant.
Sources: Peaceful Valley

Fava Bean

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Runner Bean

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Snap Bean

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Beet

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Broccoli

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors and plant outside in May or June.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Brussels Sprout

Start seeds indoors to plant outside in June through September.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Cabbage

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors and plant outside in May or June.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Carrot

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Cauliflower

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

Celery

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

Collards

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

Early Corn

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Cucumber

Sow seeds outside.
Resources on growing Cucumbers: Bay Area Guide to Growing Cucumbers
Sources: Botanical Interests

Eggplant

Plant seedlings outside or start seeds indoors to plant in May or June (SUNNY AREAS).
Sources: Botanical Interests

Hops Rhizomes

Plant outside.
Sources: Territorial Seed or Northern Brewer

Kale

Plant seedlings outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Kohlrabi

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

Leek

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

Lettuce

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Mustard

Sow seeds outside. This is the last recommended month until August to sow unless you live in a FOGGY AREA.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Onion

Sow seeds outside. This is the last recommended month until September to sow unless you live in a SUNNY AREA.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Parsnip

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Pea

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

Pepper

Plant seedlings outside in SUNNY AREAS, or sow seeds indoors for planting in May or June.
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. This is the last recommended month until July to sow.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Summer & Winter Squash (including Pumpkins)

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Sunflower

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Swiss Chard

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Tomato

Plant seedlings outside or sow seeds indoors for planting in May (SUNNY AREAS) or June (SUNNY AREAS). This is the only recommended month of the year to plant tomatoes unless you live in a SUNNY AREA.
Resources on growing Tomatoes: Bay Area Guide to Growing Tomatoes, Review of Cuore di Bue Tomatoes
Sources: Botanical Interests

Turnip

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

What to Plant in March

What to Plant in March

The winter rains slow down, the air smells fresh, and you’re itching to get into the garden. What can you plant in March, inside or outside, in the San Francisco Bay area? March is one of the biggest months for planting in the San Francisco […]