Latest Posts

Assembly and Review of the OGrow Deluxe Walk-In Greenhouse

Assembly and Review of the OGrow Deluxe Walk-In Greenhouse

The OGrow Deluxe Walk-In Greenhouse (like these) was a Christmas gift, and I assembled it in February. It has been serving as a vegetable seedling grow house and greenhouse for some tender succulents since then, and I’m ready to give my opinion of it in […]

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, etc. There’s Coronovirus out there. Covid-19. Then there’s the shortages, at supermarkets, but also at the seed catalogs, the dog shelters (well, that’s OK, I guess), the gun stores (less OK…).

In these times of uncertainty insanity blathering blatherskiting MADNESS, it’s the things we can’t control that add to our anxiety and increase depression. How do we counter the chaos and take back control? I suggest doing a few small things that make you feel safe and secure in this new, unsure world. Your home,computer, garden or windowsill are all perfect places to assert your power over things again.

Plant Quick-to-Harvest Greens

These are things you can plant now and see results in weeks, not months. They can grow on your counter top under lights or in a sunny windowsill. This is a quick win in a time when you need a boost of confidence. Tomatoes are nice and all, but when summer seems like a million Blursdays away, you just need something to eat that you grew NOW.

Microgreens and Lettuce are perfect for this. Sprouts will work, too, if you’re into that sort of thing. Since some seeds are hard to find right now due to the crazy uptick in people stuck at home, check your seed collection. Do you have older seeds from years past? Even if the germination rate isn’t great, it’s worth a try. And if that’s a bust, don’t forget your pantry. Did someone say ch-ch-ch-chia?

Miner’s Lettuce

Remind Yourself that You Won’t Run out of Food

I’m going to make a wild guess that if you’re reading this website, you are not particularly food insecure in general. That means that aside from kicking yourself that you didn’t buy that second pack of canned tomatoes at Costco in late February (they were Hunt’s brand and not San Marzanos but they’d be really nice to have right now…), you must admit you’ve got a treasure trove of meals and snacks on hand for the coming weeks. Even if you didn’t go to store again or have food delivered, you and your family would be fine.

And, even if your fresh and frozen veggies and fruits ran out, and you seriously could not, would not go to the store (because Sam-I-Am kidnaps you?)–remember, you live in the SF Bay Area! You’d still be able to go outside and find fresh citrus on lemon, orange, and lime trees, as well as Vitamin C-rich Miner’s lettuce in shady spots throughout the region. There’s avocados on trees. Strawberries are coming into season. Infant plums are on the trees now. And that’s not even counting what you might be planting now, like brassicas and lettuce and spinach and peas.

And, if you’re still worried, get to work and lay down that emergency garden now. There’s still time, and you live in the best place in the world to grow food and it’s the best time to do it.

Take a Walk

Yeah, we need to shelter in place, in our hobbit holes, peering out nervously, but we also need to see the sun, and the green things, and smell the earth. Even if you just amble into your side yard and check on a few containers of seedlings, be sure to get that touch of sunlight. Seeing green things, smelling them (the jasmine and mock orange are blooming right now)–these are good for your mind to process. Life is happening around you–normal life, like it was before. Like it will again. Like it ever was.

Help Your Neighbors

Even if in the before-time you tried to avoid Social Media, get on Facebook or Next Door or whatever they use to see what’s going on with your neighborhood. Not only is staying connected with your community a great way to feel less isolated, it also gives you ways to help out–and helping makes you feel more in control. I myself gave away a bunch of seeds that I wasn’t going to use this season since I know it’s hard to buy this year. Seeds are cheap, and I have so many. It was easy to do, but so many people were so thankful.

Give In to Your (Non-Destructive) Impulses

Making sourdough starter from scratch? Sure! Working on your long-suffering post-apocalyptic novel you started in high school? This is the perfect time. Putting giant Muppet eyes on your broken garage door (see photo above)? Do it! If it makes you happy, or even if it just distracts you from things that don’t make you happy, do it. It’s a time to control your emotions with activities that take your concentration and focus. Bonus if they give your friends and family some happiness, a full belly, or even a giggle.

Kill Something (AKA Give In to Your Destructive Impulses)

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you go full Mindhunter here. I mean kill something that you should kill. Like weeds in your garden. There’s something satisfying and calming about a good, honest fight to the death, you know? Especially one you know YOU, the human, will win. Like Fennel, which will put up a hell of a fight unless you catch a new plant right after a few days of heavy rain. Or Blackberry, which will give you some gnarly scars, especially if you don’t have protective gauntlets. Annoying mold or mildew patches in the house are also good for this kind of battle. How many rounds of spray-and-scrub will it take? Can your arm strength hold out?

The world around us may suck for a while yet, so I hope you can keep your hopes high and your plants green. If you have ideas for keeping your sanity in these strange times, please leave them in the comments below–I’d love to hear them!

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

Sfgate.com: 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

Berkeley
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:  https://brisbaneca.org/about-parks-and-recreation

Oakland
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, […]