What’s Growing in Northern California – Harvest Update June 3rd

It’s been a huge blessing to work from home. A fifteen minute break can be spent watering the garden and watching birds dance around the bird feeder. A lot of winter crops are starting to reach maturity. Spring peas are just past their peak. I’m letting some mature on the vine to harvest seeds for sowing in fall. I shelled the others. What’s nice about sugar snap peas is that you can eat them at any stage. A great variety I’ve always loved for its versatility.

Walls walls onions.

The fava beans have been cut but I left the roots in the ground for the added benefit of carbon sequestration and organic material. Onions may have got stressed out at some point because some are starting to flower which affects their taste and ability to store well. I’m picking them sooner than I want. I’ve planted more seeds for a fall crop so I’m hoping those provide better results. The tops never did yellow and fall down. This crop was Walla Walla, the onion I just planted are Spanish Yellow. We will see if there is a huge difference in bulb size and growth pattern.

Sugar snap peas shelled.


No waste garden notes:
It’s very hard to keep up eating everything in the garden without letting the products go bad. Even with a small kitchen garden, lettuce will flower, peas go unpicked, and beets get forgotten in the fridge. Every few days I try to get into the kitchen and think of food I can make with what’s in season. Grow what you eat often is a way to avoid too much food going to waste. That’s something I continue to practice and mention in this blog.

Drought notes:
Warm weather is around us and we’ve had very little rainfall in California. One way to help with water use is mulching. I can’t say it enough, it helps keep water in the soil and adds organic material that builds healthy soil. There is some concern about wood chips stealing nitrogen from plants but I’ve had plenty of success using it and don’t plan on stopping. Check out my post on mulch here.

List of To-Do’s in the garden:
– Weed, tons of crab grass still coming up even though sheet mulching (process of laying down cardboard and mulch) helped with a lot of it.
– Finish planting summer crops.
– Plant celery seeds. Such a great plant to grow because often you don’t need a whole bunch for a specific recipe.
– Continue harvesting spring crops.
– Tie up rest of tomatoes and cucumbers.

Harvest Update

Today, I went out to harvest turnips from the garden. It’s always a pleasure to grow a plant successfully that you’ve never grown before. It’s a balancing act, you don’t want to plant veggies that you’ll never eat but you want experience growing some veggies that can add to your palate and food storage. Here in Northern California, i planted these seeds in February and I’m harvesting them now in late May. The variety is an heirloom variety called purple top white globe and the seeds were bought from seed savers exchange. I have to say that the termination rate for these seeds was excellent. I admit that I didn’t thin these as much as I should have but the crop still turned out well. These turnips will be made into a mashed turnip recipe mixed with potatoes and turnip greens and a whole lot of butter.

Purple Top White Globe Heirloom Turnips

Also in the basket of today’s harvest was some fava beans. Tore most of them out to make room for summer crops. I took the tops of the fava beans and shredded them with the lawn mower for compost and left the roots in the bed to decompose. Pretty cool that you can see the nodules that help the bean fix nitrogen.

Home grown fava beans.

Mulch

Mulch? What is it? Why use it? How to use it?

By Christopher Harrod

With the rise of the suburban landscapes, there has been an increased focus on manicured landscaping. When leaves fall on the ground or lawn, they are raked, bagged, and sent to some another place. These leaves would naturally provide the soil with what would be considered “organic mulch,” (I’ll explain later).  Mulches like leaves help reduce evaporation, increase organic matter in the soil, and improve drainage. In our Mediterranean climate where we have no rain in the summer, mulch should be in wide use, helping conserve our water.

Why use mulch? First of all, it’s putting money back into your pocket by saving you on your water bill. It also provides organic matter that eventually breaks down to humus, which provides nutrients and stimulates biological activity. Also, the organic matter improves soil drainage in clay soils and increases water-holding capacity in sandy soils. Mulches also help reduce weeds by smothering and blocking sunlight to seeds. They also make it a whole lot easier to pull weeds when you do have them because the soil is nice and loose.

What are the different types of mulches? They are mainly divided into three categories: organic, inorganic, and living. Organic mulches would include wood chips, straw, newspaper, etc. Inorganic mulches would include rocks like river stones, sand or lava rocks. Living mulches would be plants, mostly plants that spread and form a dense cover above the soil. A few plants that I recommend include comfrey, thyme, and low growing California natives such as Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) or California Lilac (Ceanothus sp.). California Lilac and Manzanita are the most drought and deer resistant. While, comfrey (high in potassium) can be cut multiple times a season for nutrient rich mulch.

Wood chips as an organic mulch
Wood chips as an organic mulch

There are lots of choices when it comes to applying mulch in your yard. How do you choose one for your landscape? The organic and living mulches provide the most benefits. The inorganic mulches do not provide organic matter but are great when used with succulents, cacti and other seaside and desert plants. Straw is great for vegetable gardens, because it breaks down relatively fast. For orchards, you may want to go with wood chips cut into different sizes that will provide weed control for a longer period. Pine needles and oak leaves work great for acid loving plants. There are many resources online that are easy to access that can provide more information on choosing your mulch.

There are certain guidelines you want to follow when applying mulch to your landscape. First of all, it’s important not to cover the crown of the plant because this can cause moisture to build up around the trunk, which will result in crown rot. Horticulturalists have different opinions on how much mulch should be applied. Through my experience and research, I believe a couple inches or less is all you need in most situations. If mulching summer vegetables, wait until mid-spring because you want the soil to be warm. Also, be sure to water the mulch after you apply because sometimes it can be very dry, acting as a barrier to water.

Finding materials for mulch in Sonoma County is easy, local soil yards like Sonoma Compost will usually have a few options to choose from. Also, at local nurseries, you can find bagged mulch. Wood chips are sometimes offered for free on sites such as Craigslist and Freecycle. The easiest option would be to let the leaves and branches from your own plants decompose on site. That method doesn’t require you to get in your car or pull out your rake on your day off.

Useful Links:

Benefits of Mulch Pamphlet (PDF)

University of Illinois Extension (Great description list of mulches)

Guide on ground cover Ceanothus