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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 […]

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, 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

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 June.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Brussels Sprout

Plant outside in FOGGY AREAS, or 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 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 June (FOGGY AREAS), or July (FOGGY AREAS).
Sources: Botanical Interests

Celery

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

Hops Rhizomes

Plant outside. This is the last recommended month until March to plant.
Sources: Territorial Seed or Northern Brewer

Lettuce

Sow seeds outside.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Mustard

Sow seeds outside in FOGGY AREAS.
Sources: Botanical Interests

Onion

Sow seeds outside in SUNNY AREAS.
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, or sow seeds indoors for planting in 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

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 June (SUNNY AREAS).
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

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 […]

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 have two choices: compost them, or grow them.

Potatoes that have grown “eyes” are really just sprouting, ready to produce a new plant that will grow more potatoes. You can turn this accident into a boon for yourself and your garden, because now you have “seed” potatoes.

The instructions below will work for both grocery potatoes and purchased seed potatoes.

Prepping the Seed Potatoes

As I am a lazy gardener, let me start with the fact that you can just throw the potatoes as they are, eyes and all, directly into your growing medium and call it a day. However, for best results, you should cut the potatoes into smaller pieces, with at least one or two eyes per piece. Smaller potatoes, with only one or two eyes, should be left whole. If you have large eyes sprouting on the potatoes already, be careful that you do not break them off.

Cut the potatoes with a clean knife to leave 1 or 2 eyes on each resulting piece.

If you find mold growth on any part of the potato, toss it in the compost–these are already halfway to compost. Grow from healthy-looking seed potatoes only.

A potato that is too rotten to use. Compost time!

Once you have cut the potatoes, you need to let the cut parts callus over so that they do not encourage rot once in the wet soil. 1-2 days is ideal. You will see the cut part hardened up and dry when it is ready.

I store my potatoes in a cardboard box, and after a few days they form a nice, hard callus over the cut edges.

Where to Plant

Potatoes are not picky about their soil. They will grow in pure compost or just dirt, or even just straw (with some fertilizer). The only things potatoes require is a loose growing medium. They have to form tubers, not just thin little roots, so if the soil is too packed, the potatoes will be stunted or very small. If your soil is mostly clay, amend it with something like compost, dried grass clippings, or sand.

You can grow potatoes in containers, or even towers. There are lots of resources online for ways to do this (like This One), and these are usually designed to generate the most potatoes per square foot. If you are looking for mass quantities of spuds, it’s a great option.

For me, I like to just grow a few plants since we don’t eat potatoes that often (ahem, eyes on the stored ones), so I stick to a small patch in the garden. Pick a full-sun spot, plant anytime from February through September, leaving the eyes facing up, and cover with about an inch of soil.

If you are worried about the potatoes possibly carrying diseases that can infect your garden, which is the Number One reason against growing store potatoes in your garden, you can isolate the potatoes in a large pot, bucket, or tower. Seed potatoes from nurseries or online stores are guaranteed to be disease-free.

A spud in the ground, ready to be covered with soil.

Growing

You should see sprouts in one to two weeks, and the plant will grow heartily if watered regularly.

As soon as you get leaves above ground, you can start adding more soil to mound around the stem, burying the lowest leaves. This is called “hilling” and this will cause the plant to turn those leaves into roots/tubers, increasing yield. This is not required, just an option. If you do hill your potatoes, do it in stages, and only do it up to about six inches above the original ground level. Also, be sure to stop doing it once the plant starts to flower.

Harvesting

Potato flowers look like white tomato flowers, and are a sign that your plant is producing potatoes under the ground. When the flowers die off, your potatoes are ready to harvest. They will last for a bit of time under the ground, as well, but be aware that if you leave them too long they will themselves sprout and you’ll have volunteer potato plants everywhere (Problem or best possible outcome? You decide).

Using your hands or a shovel, carefully start at least six inches away from your plant and scoop down and toward the main plant to find potatoes. You want to avoid damaging the potatoes or ripping the skin. I find that dry soil is easier to work to get the potatoes out whole and intact, and some varieties will even just come with the roots if you pull the plant up by the stem.

Allow the potatoes to dry in a shady spot or indoors, making sure to move potatoes out of the sunlight by the end of the day or you will get green, inedible potatoes. When the dirt on the surface is dry, you can carefully brush it off, but do not wash the potatoes until you are ready to eat. Store like you do store-bought potatoes, in a dark, cool place.

Washed and ready-to-eat golden potatoes.

Warnings

If you happen to see red fruit growing on your potato plant, remove it. It may look like a cherry tomato, but it is poisonous, and should not be consumed.

If, during the growing season, you see potatoes bursting through at the surface of the soil, bury them immediately. Light will turn the potatoes green, which triggers the release of a toxin in to the potato. Likewise, if you harvest potatoes, do not eat any that appear green.

The amount of fully green potatoes it would take to harm a healthy adult is so much it is next to impossible to cause serious issues, but children and compromised people may get sick from green potatoes. To be safe, do not eat them, and, if you must eat them (because you are stubborn), remove the green parts and all the skin from the green ones, as that is where most of the toxin resides.

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 […]

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 […]

Cats in the Garden

Cats in the Garden

Our cat is indoor-only, but our neighbors have a couple of active kitties that we often find napping or hunting in our garden. We usually enjoy seeing them and maybe offering them a pet, but sometimes I wish they would stay away. You can love or hate cats, but when you are weeding or tilling the soil of your garden, and you are accosted by a horrible smell, that can mean only be one thing: cats are using your garden as a litter box. Not cool!

Cats love loose soil because it is easy to dig in and they can more easily bury their waste. Commercial litter is loose and grainy for just this reason. A freshly weeded or tilled garden is exactly the texture they are looking for. 

In the garden, cat waste is a big problem because of the toxins and other nastiness carnivore waste brings with it, especially their urine, which is as effective as an herbicide. Added to that, just the act of digging can destroy your carefully planted seeds, seedlings, rhizomes, and tubers. Below, I have laid out some strategies for keeping cats out of your precious gardens.

Distraction (Not Recommended)

One of the most common methods I have seen offered online to get cats to stop using your garden as a litter box is to plant catnip somewhere else in your yard. In theory, this would make cats focus on a part of your yard that does not affect your garden. In practice, I have found that it just doesn’t work. 

For one, it can attract new cats who weren’t already hanging out in your garden, because catnip is a powerful draw. Let’s not multiply the problem, shall we?

Second, catnip is a weed on its own. If you ever grown mint, you know what I’m talking about. This close relative will reseed and grow from runners very actively, so you would need to keep it in a pot with no holes, but even then, the seeds could propagate if carried by wind or other methods.

If you would still like to try this method in your garden, you can order there here: Catnip Seeds

Deterrent (Recommended)

When cats are digging to bury their waste, they’re looking for that easy, loose soil. If you make the areas around your seeds and seedlings less easy to dig, cats will avoid it.

Commercial Products

There are several commercial products for this exact purpose, my favorite being one that I found at a Daiso store called Don’t Cat. This item is the closest to it I’ve seen: Cat Repellant Mat. However, these commercial products are small and will get expensive over a large area, plus users claim that cats can just walk between the spikes.

Heavy-duty Bird Netting that is built for the garden and will last through several seasons before breaking down, would make most of your exposed soil undiggable for a cat. The downside is that it makes it hard to dig for you as well. This method would work best if you planted your seeds or seedlings and then laid the net on top, letting tiny plants through, and at a point where you will not be digging any further.

DIY

The method I use his to collect plastic forks all year round, and use them both as seed markers and cat deterrents in the garden. They stick up out of the soil right near my plants, so I know the cats will not dig right there.

Cat-repelling fork soldiers protect my newly-planted seeds from cats in my garden.

When a lot of plants are in one area the tiny army of upturned forks serves as a visual deterrent, as well, so cats will find other places to dig. This method also helps deter raccoons from digging for grubs in the same places.

The downside to using the forks is that they are not meant to be in the sun, and the UV rays break them down within one season. If you have access to another kind of pointy item that is easily seen and more durable, or that breaks down, I would use that. I have also successfully used trimmed blackberry brambles and small stalks of bamboo with little pokey branches sticking out of them.

Benefits of Cats in Your Garden

While the litter box thing is really annoying, cats also serve a great purpose in the garden. They can help kill or deter vermin, like rats and gophers, and can keep birds away if they are congregating in your garden for a snack during the day. Keeping them from defecating and urinating in the garden should be your primary goal, not eliminating their presence altogether.

Distilling Water for Finicky Plants

Distilling Water for Finicky Plants

When I wrote a while back about the Carnivourous Plants Store in Half Moon Bay, I mentioned that we took home a sundew for ourselves. Our cool little plant monster happily enjoyed some fruit flies and ants as snacks, and we kept the dish below […]