Edible Landscaping for Industrial Settings: Tips and Best Plants

Using-edibles-in-commercial-landscapes.jpgLast week, I talked about some of the benefits and drawbacks of edible landscaping in “public” spheres such as commercial/ business landscaping or in a multifamily residence such as an apartment complex. This week, I want to talk more about how to actually succeed with this. Though there are a number of settings in which edible landscaping simply isn’t appropriate, by knowing how to do it right you’ll find it easier to judge when you can and can’t use edibles successfully. (And if you’re a homeowner, the plant choices at bottom will serve you well in developing a low-maintenance edible landscape.) [Read more...]

Edible Landscaping for Industrial Settings: Benefits and Drawbacks

Using-edibles-in-commercial-landscaping.jpgDoes edible landscaping belong in the public sphere, which is to say in the landscapes owned by cities, businesses, and in multifamily housing like apartment buildings? It sounds like a great idea, and if asked, I think most people would give an unqualified and enthusiastic “yes”! However, there are a lot of considerations with edible landscaping that actually make it really challenging to do well under industrial circumstances, and edible landscaping has the potential to cause problems in these types of settings if it isn’t implemented thoughtfully, particularly for businesses. [Read more...]

Defeating the Zombie Hordes (With Garlic)

garlic-prize.jpgEver since Plants VS. Zombies came out a few years ago, I’ve been increasingly aware of the effects of the zombie scourge on our landscapes. I mean, you could be enjoying a peaceful afternoon sunning yourself in the garden, and all of a sudden,  you hear the ominous sounds of the slavering undead coming closer. While they’re not terribly fast, they can be hard to deter. Bullets go right through them, and while baseball bats can be effective, who wants to get that close? Zombies don’t smell very good. Thank goodness for garlic. While we think of garlic as repelling vampires, it actually does a pretty poor job of that, a fact which True Blood fanatics will be aware of. Where our allium-licious bulbs shine however, is with zombies. You’d think the aura of dust and decay surrounding zombies would make them oblivious to the scent and flavor of garlic, but there you’d be wrong. Zombies are fascinated by garlic and feel compelled to taste it, and are then overcome with disgust and move on to the next garden. An example of zombie-repelling landscape design (photo from PCGamer magazine): Plants-Vs-Zombies-gardens So plant garlic around the periphery of your landscape, and give some to your nicest friends, family and neighbors. The zombies will move from garden to garden, sampling the fragrant bulbs, saying “blech!”, and moving to the next garlic patch until they come to an undefended parcel of land with no garlic defense system in place. This may belong to the nasty character down the street who gives out raisins at Halloween (not even the chocolate-covered kind), or the jerk who drives his noisy homemade scooter up and down the street at breakneck speeds, thinking that all the commotion and smoke belching out the back makes him more attractive to the ladies (as if). I’m not saying we want them to be eaten by the zombies, just that if we only have so much garlic to go around, let’s share it with the people who give out homemade Christmas cookies and have nice cats and call us “dear”. Anyway, with the zombie scourge in full effect, it may be difficult to find ample supplies of quality garlic. And you don’t want to stick with just one kind, either – zombies have surprisingly complex palates and may develop resistance to garlic if we all plant the same type. That’s where Peaceful Valley comes in. This company has loads of seed garlic all ready to plant, plus tips on how to grow it successfully, choose the best varieties, etc. The best part? Peaceful Valley’s an organic company, so if you are able to eat some of your garlic before the zombies ravage it, you can be happy knowing that cancer won’t get you before the zombies do. (I know, I’m a big bundle of cheer!) Anyway, Peaceful Valley has been kind enough to offer up a great big garlic prize package to one reader of this site: 1 pound of Russian Red organic seed garlic (Russian Red is a variety that thrives even in soggy soil, so all y’all in the rainy Northwest will be particularly happy with this one!) 1 quart of Liquid Kelp (for soaking the cloves overnight before planting) 10 gallon Smart Pot (to plant some in a container) 1 Garlic Twist (a clever kitchen gadget that minces the cloves when you twist it; easy to use and clean) 1 5×7 photo print of your garlic, so you can stand in honor of the plant that is keeping you and your family safe from the undead hordes just outside your home.  EDIT: Congrats to Maggie Wann, our winner! Disclosure: Peaceful Valley sent me some free garlic to write this post, but I think that’s just because their marketing director Charlotte likes me and doesn’t want to see me fall prey to the dusty undead. All opinions about zombies are my own.

Blueberries: Which Ones Taste Best?

Jelly-Bean.jpgWe’re big fans of blueberries here on the North Coast of California, as our damp Pacific Northwest climate and acidic soil make it the perfect setting to grow blueberry bushes. And we’re coming up on the best time to plant them, as most nurseries get their biggest shipment of blueberry varieties in fall. Because blueberries are beautiful plants almost year-round, they’re great for incorporating into landscapes, even low-maintenance or commercial/ business landscapes. And if you forget to eat the fruit, the birds will clean up after you, in stark contrast to many fruit trees which bear an almost-overwhelming harvest sometimes (juicing my apples in fall feels like a part-time job – not that I’m complaining!). But which berries are the tastiest? Over the past two years I’ve taken it upon myself to do a taste-test of the blueberries grown locally here in Humboldt County to see which ones I ought to plant and suggest to my clients. (The sacrifices I make in the name of research, right?) In a general sense, small berries are best for baked goods since they have less moisture, while larger berries are best for eating right off the shrub. I prefer the tart ones for cooking and preserving since they add a stronger flavor in baked goods. Sweet berries don’t taste like much in muffins and pies, but they are delicious eaten fresh. Below, I’ve shared the good, the bad, and the “meh” in the world of blueberries. I’ve starred my favorites. [Read more...]

Grow Your Own Microbrew! How to Grow Hops

how-to-grow-hops.jpgAs an ornamental gardener, I’m used to growing hops as a summer screen for chicken coops, bare walls and other elements in the garden that can be unsightly. It’s easy to grow, but needs to be sited just right, as it has an eat-your-home style of rapacious growth that can be either exactly what you need or overwhelming – depending on the spot. Here in Humboldt, we’re known for our amazing microbrews (and have a lot of home-brewers), so when I connected the dots that this lovely garden vine was actually useful, it upped my enthusiasm for it even more. I love plants that do double-duty in the garden! Hops, or Humulus, is a great plant for Humboldt County. It’s related to our local cash crop, and you’ll know why when you see those sticky buds forming in late summer. Yet it’s not just for Californians – it’s hardy to zone 3, so people in much harsher climates can grow it successfully. Fern Richardson of Life on the Balcony joined me in making this video to show you how to grow your own: You can see it’s pretty easy – here’s what you need:
  • Hops plant (either bare-root or potted)
  • Stakes or trellis (remember to put up supports the day you plant it as it will grow FAST once it gets started)
  • High quality organic amendment to create a planting mound, as hops are heavy feeders and need good drainage
how to grow hops If you’re growing hops for home-brewing, you may want a few types. You’ll need both a bittering and an aroma hops, and maybe more just to have a variety of flavors. ‘Cascade’ is the classic aroma type, while ‘Nugget’ is the most common bittering variety. Or if you’re like me and just appreciate the fast summer growth and lush look of the hops vine, there are some lovely ornamental varieties, including golden ones. ‘Summer Shandy’ is a new dwarf golden vine (hardy to zone 5) which is much better-suited to small sites, as it grows only 5-10′ tall and 2′ wide. While it may produce buds, it’s been bred for its looks and small stature more than for flavor. ‘Summer Shandy’ could even go into a container for vertical interest. Of course, whatever variety of hops you choose – when you plant – don’t let Fern hold your beer! how to grow hops (2) Further reading: The Homebrewer’s Garden, a great book on growing fresh microbrew ingredients at home. Disclosure: Gardner and Bloome paid to produce this video with me, but opinions are my own (I’ve bought over $3K of their products in the last two months for my landscaping business, so you know I’m a fan of their soil and fertilizers!).

Got No Pot? Grow Tomatoes Right in the Bag!

Planting-tomatoes-in-a-potting-soil-bag.pngHere in Humboldt County, it’s time to plant warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini and more. But some of us don’t have a plot of land to work, and sometimes, there’s not enough cash to buy a pot. I mean, have you seen the cost of pots these days? Some of them can run pretty steep. Planting high-yield crops right in the potting soil bag is a trick I learned when I worked at a nursery years ago. It’s cheap, effective and fast. Beyond the ease and the price, there is another advantage to planting this way. If you’ve ever gotten late blight or other diseases on your tomatoes, you’ll know that you’re not supposed to plant the same crop in that spot for three years to make sure the disease won’t come back. Planting right in a fresh, sterile bag of potting soil avoids all of these soil-borne diseases and allows you to have a great crop every year with little planning or expense. My friend Fern from Life on the Balcony is a container gardening expert (she literally wrote the book!), and we created a video together showing you how to do this: The most important elements:
  • Start with a high-quality potting soil, especially if you’re using plants that need a lot of nutrients like tomatoes or squash. I’m a Gardner and Bloome girl since I’m a totally organic gardener (their Eden Valley Blend feels like velvet!).
  • Choose varieties that will do well in a container (I love the ‘Sun Sugar’ grafted tomato from Log House Plants, as well as the ‘Astia’ patio zucchini seeds from Renee’s Garden).
  • You don’t need to fertilize for the first six weeks, as a high-quality potting soil has the nutrients to you get started. After that, one application of a granular organic fertilizer will get you through the rest of the season.
Beyond that, it’s pretty simple, as you can see from the video! If you haven’t gotten around to preparing a raised bed this year or you just don’t have the space, try this technique on for size and see how it works for you. Disclosure: Gardner and Bloome paid to create this video with me, but the reason they invited me is that I’ve been using their organic soils and fertilizers in my business for years (I just bought half a pallet of fertilizer for all the gardens I maintain!), so the opinions here are definitely my own.

Fruit Trees in Small Spaces by Colby Eierman

fruit-trees-for-small-spaces.jpgThere’s nothing quite like breaking into a fresh jar of yellow plum-infused liqueur or pear gin at the start of winter. It’s like a bottled bit of summer sunshine. And ever since we’ve figured out precisely what to do with all of the fruit and vegetables I’ve been growing, my nursery trips have been most enthusiastic when they involve growing food (yep, I’m one of those people that looks up from breakfast and wonders what’s for lunch!). Unfortunately, since I’m gardening on a suburban lot, space has quickly become an issue. So when I read that this fruit tree book was coming out that focused exclusively on gardening in small spaces, I was sold. Finally, a trustworthy source to tell me whether that newfangled “planting-four-trees-in-one-hole idea” is actually effective (he says yes, and gives a link to more resources!). I was also keen to learn pruning and care techniques for helping trees take up less space in the garden. In the first half hour with the book, I’d learned an excellent trick for keeping plants small: Summer pruning. Apparently by removing some of the leaves before they’ve had a chance to collect the full season’s worth of sunshine, you dwarf the plant’s growth. By following up your summer pruning with winter pruning cuts made close to the branch rather than close to the tips, you send the tree a signal that it has filled its allotted space, and it slows down a bit. This tidbit was worth the price of the book all by itself! FT_pg66_ColbyEirman The book has a cheerful and laid-back spirit. Eierman talks about having beers and sitting around the fire in his backyard, and the photos of the gardens and his friends enjoying the bounty of fruit were so normal and do-able that I felt quite relaxed about my ability to grow great fruit. It’s not a design book, though he includes some design tips; it’s more about that connection you feel when you’re able to grow things successfully and have a fun space to interact with and enjoy. You can see he has that and wants to share that joy with all of us. Urban OrchardsThe book includes a brief listing of some of the varieties available in each category of fruit, and shares some generalized tips about what types of climates each variety prefers and what kinds of diseases you might encounter. There is even an extremely useful chart about which types of rootstock have which characteristics. That’s certainly been bookmarked! The only thing I found frustrating was that he didn’t give much specific advice about how to choose varieties for our individual climates, which is a pretty big omission. While I agree with his advice that we ought to check with a local extension agent or old-timers in the area to learn what grows well, I feel strongly that each entry for a variety should have included the chilling hours needed as well as a few examples of pollinizers so this book could have stood by itself as a reference. Even so, Eierman has enough practical, on-the-ground experience growing fruit that if you read even portions of the book, you’ll find yourself with a pretty thorough understanding of how to grow fruit trees successfully, and his energetic good nature will have you circling pages and excited to get up and try some of the techniques and varieties he shares. Want to win a copy of Fruit Trees in Small Spaces? Timber Press has been kind enough to offer a copy to one lucky reader in the US. To win, just leave a comment below, and I’ll pick a winner randomly on Monday April 16th. Good luck!  Congrats to Amanda, our winner! Photo credits: Colby Eierman (of his friend Francisco eating fruit), and Erin Kunkel (of potting up a citrus plant)

EZ-Walls Plant Protector Extends the Season and Keeps Chickens Off New Plants

EZ-Wall-wall-of-water-protects-plants-4.jpgWhen I tell people I live in coastal California, they get this delightful image in their heads of sunshine, warmth, and many opportunities to suntan. Unfortunately for my vitamin D quota, I live at the other end of the state. It’s foggy, rainy, and doesn’t get all that warm, even in the middle of summer. You can imagine that getting a jump start on the season is something I’m into. I mean, tomato and basil sandwiches, fresh from the garden, are the best! I’ve been looking into seed-starting lights, grafted vegetables, cold frames, and other gadgets to lengthen my growing season and maybe score some real-live, actual tomatoes up in this joint. One of the simplest solutions I’ve found is this inexpensive portable mini greenhouse, called the EZ-wall. You just place it around a tender plant and fill with water for an immediate way of warming and protecting new starts. It even has a drawstring so you can pull the top shut for extra protection.
EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (2) EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (6) EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (7)
You may have seen a competing brand, the Wall-o-water. That works fine too, but what I like about the EZ-wall is that it’s a lot simpler to fill. You just stick the hose into the top, turn the water on, and fill the whole thing in one go. The other brand needs to have each little section filled one by one, which isn’t as convenient. I also like the drawstring at the top of the EZ-wall brand, which gives me a little more control as to how much protection it provides. The best, unexpected benefit? I’ll leave you to see for yourself: EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (3) Yep, it’s chicken-proof! I can’t even count how many baby plants my lovely ladies have destroyed with their happy scratching at the soil. But the EZ-walls is made of thick enough plastic that I will be very surprised if they damage it with their occasional curious peck or scratch. Want to try EZ-walls for yourself? They’ve kindly offered to send three readers their very own triple-packs of EZ-walls to get started with. Just leave a comment to win! Three winners chosen at random on Tuesday, March 27th. US only. Congrats to Alison, Erika and Melody, our winners!

Thick Rind on Meyer Lemons: How to Fix It

thick-rind-on-Meyer-lemon.jpgThe reason all of us foodie gardeners grow Meyer lemons is that their thin skins and delectable flavor surpass the acidic pulp and thick white rind of the grocery store Eureka or Lisbon lemons. Yet there are two common garden conditions that make Meyer lemons taste more acidic, develop thick bumpy white rinds, and have mis-shapen fruit. I personally planted a Meyer lemon about five years ago for a client, and she called me recently to ask what variety of lemon I’d planted for her, because she’d thought Meyer lemons were supposed to have a thin skin. When I went to inspect the lemon, sure enough, the lemons had 1/2-inch thick rinds with an acidic flavor, instead of the thin skins and floral flavor of a Meyer. Since I’d gotten the tree from a reputable nursery, I was pretty sure it truly was a Meyer. But why then were the rinds so odd? A little research turned up the answer.

There are two things that cause thick rinds in Meyer lemons:

Too much nitrogen. Nitrogen is indicated by the first number on your fertilizer bag, and it’s responsible for the green leafy growth of plants. If you’ve been topdressing your garden with manure, or have been using an all-purpose fertilizer in the garden, your lemon tree may have more nitrogen than it needs. While lemon trees often show signs of nitrogen deficiency, which is to say pale yellow leaves, it’s important to make sure you’re not over-feeding with nitrogen as that can cause lush growth that is attractive to pests, as well as deformed fruit, thick rinds, and a lack of juice. Too little phosphorus. Phosphorus is the second number on the fertilizer bag, and it helps plants create flowers and fruit, as well as healthy roots. The symptoms of too little phosphorus on a citrus plant are the same as for excess nitrogen – bumpy thick rinds, acidic flavor, and not much juice in the pulp.

How to fix this:

Because the symptoms of excess nitrogen are made worse by having a lack of phosphorus in the soil, it’s often a good idea to start by applying bone meal to the dripline of the plant – the area of the soil around the outer edges of the leaves. Bone meal is a slow-release form of fertilizer that is organic and natural. It’s also wise to be careful in applying nitrogen to your lemon tree. While lemons do need nitrogen, don’t apply so much that the growth is super-lush and super-deep green. Manure’s a great thing to use elsewhere in the garden, but skip it under your lemon tree. Of course, the best route to take is to get a soil test before applying anything. I found a source for an inexpensive soil test, and I explain how and why to soil test in that article. The soil test may save you money and prevent a lot of trial and error, and it’s only about $15. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Alpine Strawberries – Nature’s SweetTarts

Supermarket-berry-Rugen-Improved-Yellow-Alpine-Golden-Alexandria.jpgPictured: a normal strawberry, ‘Rugen Improved’ alpine, ‘Yellow Alpine’, and ‘Golden Alexandria’ berries Alpine strawberries. Seriously, have you guys tried these things? They’re like little red garden crackberries. They’re definitely one of my favorite things to grow at home, not the least because you can’t actually buy them in stores. Mine start going downhill as soon as they’re picked, and last at most a day or two in the fridge. But the flavor! Tart, rich, and sweet. Fall-apart tender and soft, nothing like those woody things you buy at Safeway. I just wrote an ode to them over at the Christian Science Monitor, and talk about a few of the varieties available: Alpine Strawberries: Perfect in Foliage and in Fruit And imagine my pleasure to see that Stevie over at Garden Therapy has just posted about how to save the seeds from alpine strawberries so you can grow them yourself. They’re about $4 a pop at the nursery, so growing your own from seed sounds like a marvelous idea to me, once you’ve gotten a good selection of varieties growing. Jessi over at Garden Fowl is also a fan, and points out that the white variety has runners, unlike some of the other varieties of alpine strawberry available. My ‘Golden Alexandria’ from Log House Plants is also forming some runners, so I’ll be excited to have more of them in my garden next year. Have you tried growing alpines? Are you all as smitten as I am?

Tomatoes! In Humboldt County! Grafted Tomatoes Beat the Competition

grafted-sashas-altai-tomato.jpgYes, ladies and gentlemen, the title is accurate. And no, I’m not talkin’ about no stinkin’ cherry tomatoes, either. Real, live tomatoes big enough to slice and put in a sandwich! If you live in Humboldt, you know what an achievement this is. Our foggy, cool summers don’t usually allow much of anything in the tomato department – if I get a few bowlfuls of cherry tomatoes, I’m usually pretty pleased. But this year, the bar has been raised. Earlier in the season, Log House Plants sent me three of their grafted tomatoes to test out in the garden. (Learn more about grafted tomatoes here and here.) Being a realist, and also prone to moping about at the slightest disappointment, I told them to please only send me grafted cherry tomatoes, as there was no way in hell a proper slicing tomato would do anything but break my heart. With great confidence in their tomatoes, they ignored my pessimism and sent a ‘Big Beef’ (true to its name), a medium-sized Siberian variety called ‘Sasha’s Altai’ (thanks to Amy Stewart for uncovering the story behind it), and my very favorite cherry tomato, ‘Sungold’. I snorted when I saw the ‘Big Beef’, but the plants were so robust that I put a little faith in the process and popped them all in. Well, a few months later, these behemoths are out-pacing every other tomato plant I’ve ever had. I grew some normal old ‘Sungold’ plants to compare, and while they’re doing pretty well for Humboldt, they’re only about two feet tall, while the grafted tomatoes are about 5 feet tall and busting out of their tomato cages. I planted everything too late, as last year we had a freak June frost which made me paranoid of planting too early, so I am just now starting to pick real, live cherry tomatoes from the grafted ‘Sungold’ (the normal ‘Sungolds’ are still unproductive). And today was the day I ‘d been waiting for: the ‘Sasha’s Altai’ gave me my very first-ever homegrown slicing tomato. Wow! While the ‘Big Beef’ is putting on tons of tomatoes, it’s too soon to tell whether this will be a bumper crop of one of my favorite foods, green tomatoes (OMG – fried green tomatoes – heavenly!), or whether they’ll turn a delightful stoplight color suitable for dousing in fresh basil, fresh mozzarella balls, and possibly a bit of balsamic. I’ll keep you updated. green big beef tomatoes Next year, I’m definitely shelling out for some grafted tomatoes (they were about $13 at our local nurseries), as well as Log House’s newest star, grafted basil. Yeah, you heard me right. I’ve been growing delicate little basils indoors under lights because the great outdoors is too chilly and cold for their basilly little selves to handle. I’m guessing one of those grafted ones would actually give me outdoor basil, and I can’t wait for next summer so I can try! Anyone else try out the new grafted tomatoes? I’m keen to hear whether your experience has been as good as mine has so far.