Tuesday, December 26, 2006


If you don't feel like crafting something out of your post-Christmas tree, there are plenty of organizations that will take and recycle... treecycle... your tree. This free service usually lasts through the first week of January.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Cool Yule Gifts for Gardeners

Here are a few things that caught this gardener's eye...

Stocking Stuffers

Oooms Wooden Memory Stick

A memory stick that actually is... a stick.

In Vitro Orchid
Test tube baby orchids... awwwwwww.

Under the Tree

WMF Expandable Flower Trivet

Colorful Birdhouse
A birder friend tells me this birdhouse is probably bird-friendly (i.e. easily cleaned and predator-resistant). It's very bad karma to buy a birdhouse that wasn't designed with birds in mind and it's sad to see so many out there. You can always call Gardener's Supply to confirm that it's safe for birds. It sure is inexpensive and cute!

Duck Bill Knife
This should be great for ripping open bags of soil, etc. Raise your hand if you stick your grubby fingers through those tiny bag holes and strain and stretch the thing until it gives.

(typing with one hand now)

Reform your gardener friend, S.O. or yourself with this tool.



Amy's book is so new it's not even out yet, but fear not because you can pre-order it, print the book cover from amazon, roll it into a scroll and tie a pretty ribboon around it. Show that special flower-lovin' someone that only the freshest, most fabulous books will do.

First update in several years; Also on the verge of being published. Remember that gift scroll idea? You know the armchair gardener in your life won't already have this one because no one does.

Give Your Gardener a Little TLC

After working in the garden, warm those cold tootsies with microwavable booties

This gardener's hand soap with pumice is the best! Scrubs away the dirt, but leaves your hands feeling soft and hydrated, not greasy or dry. If I owned a nursery, I would sooooo carry this product.

Say It With Flowers

If you need to order holiday flowers, wreaths or gift
s, consider ordering through Organic Bouquet.

Free Vase with any Holiday Bouquet!

A little Merry Christmas to farm workers, organic farmers, and that great big ball of dirt we all call home.

Also be sure to check out last year's Practical Gifts for the Avid Gardener, as well as Impractical Gifts for Garden Goofballs

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mike McGrath's Book of Compost

Hey, this book looks fun. If you remember Mr. McGrath's writing in Organic Gardening Magazine, where he served as editor for several years, you can safely assume it's also funny... as anything compost-related should be.

Seed Catalogs got me thinkin'...

about which summer veggies I'm going to grow in Summer of '07.


Early Girl gave a steady supply of roughly 3-inch fruit with good, though not spectacular flavor. Costoluto Genovese (Thanks, Don) was my second-best producer, and was not only delicious, but beautifully ruffled. Black from Tula (Thanks Amy) had the most complex blend of flavors and a beautiful dark tint , but production slowed dramatically when summer heat kicked in. If I grow it again in '07, I will plant it in a more sheltered spot. Maybe I should rig up some shade cloth. And Sun Gold... what can I say except, "You had me at hello and you will always have a place in my garden."

As always, my desire to stick with what works is in direct conflict with my desire to try something new. Luckily, there's plenty of time to duke it out in my head. I do plan to try one of the heat-tolerant varieties, a paste tomato, and a few good slicers. And Sun Gold.


'Gold Rush' was hugely successful and delicious. Flavor, to me, was just like a yellow crookneck, but the straight neck shape made for easy slicing. I will definitely plant 'Gold Rush' again, but would like to broaden my squash horizons by trying something new. I think what I like about 'Gold Rush' is that it doesn't taste "squashy". Pumpkin pie makes me gag, and I've been too afraid to try many squash varieties. Never tried spaghetti squash because I know the odds of it tasting like spaghetti are very slim.


Bell peppers were ok, but a bit bitter. I don't know that I want to grow bells in the coming summer. 'Fresno' chili pepper was just right for homemade salsa and it didn't seem to mind our sizzling summer temps. I wonder if there's a consensus out there on the best medium hot pepper for salsa. I'm willing to be swayed.


Genovese basil seems to be preferred for fresh use and pesto. Mmmmm.... pesto. Renee's Garden Seeds has a super fun basil selection, including a new container-friendly variety called 'Italian Cameo'.

In-ground versus Containerized

While containerized veggies and herbs did best early in the growing season, they started looking stressed just when the in-ground plants kicked into gear. If you can do both, do both, but in-ground is probably a better long term investment and requires much less watering vigilance. You want to be able to get outta town every now and then, don't you?

Ok, now back to the reality of December: rain, leaves, mucky soil, frosts, freezes, Christmas shopping and cleaning for company. Fa la la la laaaaa... la la la laaaaa.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bargains at Annie's Annuals

Just a reminder... to myself and others... that we only have until December 31 to get the 15% discount on plants at Annie's Annuals. We're nearing the end of the northern California prime planting season, but heck, I've seen plants go in the ground in January and not even blink. What? Plants don't have eyes? Oh, you sticklers...

The plain truth is that nurseries have a hard time selling non-blooming plants and right now not a lot's blooming. As long as you know what you're looking for-- or are in the mood for some surprises-- and the plant looks healthy, you can find great nursery bargains. Fall-planted trees, perennials, shrubs and cool-season annuals get an excellent head start, mostly in the form of crucial root growth, compared to those planted in Spring.

Bay Areans, you can just plant and plant and plant whenever you feel like it because you live in the land of perpetual springtime. Am I jealous? No way, Jose. Picture a San Franciscan kneeling in his garden, humming a techno-folksy tune while planting pansies and then boom, The Big One. Pansies flying, the ground undulating and perhaps opening up. Nah, Valley winters are ok by me. Valley living is ok by me. Makes me feel grounded. Literally.

I do want to make a mad dash to Annie's soon, though.

If you order online, note the following disclaimer: * Discount applied at checkout to new orders only. Does not include shipping.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Looking for custom seed packets

Anyone found a good online company selling custom seed packets where you upload your own photo and graphics? The ones I've found so far have high set-up costs and/or high minimum orders.

There has to be at least one company catering to home gardeners who want to share their seeds in a cute commercial-looking packet...

Here are a few top results from Google:

American Meadows
Earl May

Alternatively, does anyone have a nifty recipe for hand-designed seed packets using little blank envelopes/packets? Thanks.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Freeze Warning for Sacramento and parts of Bay Area

My citrus and tender ornamentals are covered for the most part. Even coastal towns will experience frost. I think this is a record breaker.

Aqua blue = FREEZE
Darker periwinkle blue = FROST

More weather info from the NOAA

My First Ever Tree Dahlia Flowers

10 feet tall.

A frost came dangerously close to nipping these in the bud, but the flowers managed to open for me. Ahhhhhhhhh.

Cal EPA Agency Officials are Vermicomposting!

As a fellow vermicomposter, this gives me the warm fuzzies.

Be sure to check out Bee reader comments. Juicy stuff.

Worm wranglers to the rescue

California Environmental Protection Agency officials have turned to some unlikely allies to help curb the amount of waste going into landfills from their downtown office building

By Edie Lau - Bee Staff Writer

Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, November 26, 2006
Story appeared in METRO section, Page B1

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Pondering the Perfect Potato

(photo from Wikipedia)
I wanted to share a recent revelation about the baked potato. All my life, I've been told "russet potatoes" make the best baked potato. Fine. All my life, I've thought a russet was a russet and the baked potato was a nice, bland meat accompaniment that is always improved with a little salt, pepper, sour cream, chives, bacon and cheese.

But when you're making an earnest (though not always perfect) attempt to avoid sour cream, bacon and cheese, that potato had better make an equally earnest effort to impart some flavor without having to get all tarted up for you. It took 41 years for me to find a potato that tastes delicious completely naked (the potato, not me, you perverts) and I want to shout it to the world!

Drooling with anticipation about where to find this earthy gem (that's a hint)? You need go no further than your local Whole Foods. That's where I found baked potato nirvana. On my last visit, pumped with endorphins from a ride on the bike trail, I mustered up the courage to ask the produce guy why their russet potatoes were so sweet and flavorful.

First, I pointed to the bin where I always found the special russets. I wasn't sure what exactly I was pointing at because they now had what appeared to be two different potato types in one stack. One was mottled looking with a smooth, glossy skin and the other had a dusty, netted brown skin.

He pointed to the dusty, netted one and said, "That's what you're looking for."

"Is there a special name for this type? Is it a particular variety of potato? Where is it grown? It's-so-sweet-I-love-it-Please-don't-ever-stop-carrying-it."

"It's called a netted gem and these are from California." He relayed that several customers had commented on the flavor, and that a group of elderly ladies told him it was "too sweet for mashed potatoes." I beg to differ, ladies, and I say that with the utmost respect. Still, isn't it remarkable that we're discussing the flavor of a potato and we haven't even gotten to the toppings yet?

I bought some, repeated the name "netted gem" several times out loud and not at all like a crazy person and finished my shopping.

Later that evening, I Googled "netted gem potatoes", which appear to be synonymous with Russet Burbank potatoes, and were discovered by a man named Lon D. Sweet. Ok, so, um, shouldn't it be named the Russet Sweet instead of the Russet Burbank? I mean, c'mon, he discovered it and it's so sweet and his name is Sweet.
According to Luther Burbank the Russet Burbank was originated by a man in
Denver, Colorado, who evidently selected a chance sport out of Burbank. Burbank
stated that, "These Burbank potatoes raised by Lon D. Sweet of Denver, Colorado,
have a modified coat in a way that does not add to their attractiveness. It is
said, however, that this particular variant is particularly resistant to blight,
which gives it exceptional value." Read more.
Oddly enough, I didn't come across any mention of the netted gem's superior flavor. Well, I have been accused of being a bit of a "super taster", so maybe I'm picking up this subtle sweetness when to many, russets all taste the same. But wait, remember the elderly ladies? They found the netted gem too sweet for mashed potatoes. I'm not imagining this! I'd love more people to try the potato and report back. Any chefs or potato farmers or foodies reading this?

This being a gardening blog, you're probably expecting me to encourage you to grow your own netted gems. Nah. You can't grow everything and potatoes seem like a lot of work. Is Sacramento lovingly referred to as Sacrapotato? No, it is not. It's Sacratomato. Live with it. Plus, the netted gem is reportedly difficult to grow in the home garden. Just buy them at Whole Foods and ask around for them at your local farmers' markets.

I'm also guessing there's more to this potato story than one produce man and Google can provide. If anyone is more up on their potato history than I, please feel free to comment. And were these potatoes really grown in California and not Idaho?

If you decide to make mashed potatoes out of netted gems, please let us know how you like them and what recipe you used. Can you taste the difference? Might want to test drive a batch before Thanksgiving. I'm betting your potatoes will be the talk of the table. Rats, I've been asked to bring green beans this year.

Dec. 13 edit: Check out the Cooks Magazine Potato Primer. It's a PDF download.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book...

... coming soon! Oh, the anticipation... I feel just like Steve Martin in The Jerk, when the new phone books arrived.

* Hardcover: 768 pages
* Publisher: Sunset Pub Co; 8th Rev&Up edition (February 2007)
* Language: English
* ISBN: 0376039175

Friday, November 10, 2006

November in my garden

A newly planted succulent bowl with babies from other bowls placed around the perimeter. Succulents root so easily that it's a shame not to take advantage of that fact. Even a single leaf dropped onto cactus mix will root and grow.

Another new bowl that I'll fill in with starts from my other bowls.

See the babies, i.e. freebies, near the outer rim?

It's sasanqua time!

This particular hibiscus has done really well next to the house, under a lath patio cover. It still has buds and flowers since we haven't experienced any frost or freezes yet.

My citrus has put on a nice flush of growth this fall.
I've got my frost-protection cloth ready to go if/when needed.

Still harvesting peppers... that's made it difficult for me to start my cool-season veggie garden.

Yep, still harvesting tomatoes.

Compact strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo 'Compacta') is looking festive

Mums are a great source of color right now.

Blanket of camellia petals and oak leaves on the Santa Barbara daisies... pretty.

Emily is not happy about the shift in the weather.

Despite the fact that I didn't plant any wildflowers this year,
I'm getting good germination from naturally deposited seeds.

Need to plant seasonal color in tired containers.

Poor man's orchid (Impatiens balfourii) still blooming

I really like the dark burgundy-brown of the ornamental millet. Adds some drama to the overwhelmingly silver-grey and purple background.

Looking forward to using the firepit.

Ornamental grasses really shine in november.
Roses are putting on their last show of the season.

My 'Eureka' lemon is looking a little snail bitten, but has put on a lot of growth.

We've had our first couple of real rains of the season, so the seat cushions are no longer tied on. They come in and out of the house, depending on the forecast.

'Medallion' and 'JFK' roses

My mini basil finally took off once the snail activity abated (mostly)

'Medallion' up close

Yes, I need to rejuvenate the chair planter with cool-season plants. This is the "before" picture.

I'm really happy with how nicely this succulent bowl is filling in. The plant in the lower left, commonly called "pork and beans" develops a wonderful blush on the leaf tips and is a great one to share with friends. Roots from a single leaf dropped onto the soil surface.

Slugs and snails are finally leaving my coleus alone.

I like the contrast between the decaying green, yellow and brown chinese ground orchid leaves and white lamium.

Dan loves his new toy, a stuffed duck.

He's going for the squeaker.

Nasturtiums are still doing their own thing. I started planting them a few years ago and now they happily return on their own.

No, this is not marijuana. It's a water hibiscus I grew from seed.

A baby gunnera leaf.

My salvia leucantha is a big, sprawling beautiful beast right now. My echium is getting big but still hasn't bloomed and my princess flowers are finally getting bigger and blooming nicely. They got hit pretty hard by frost last year.

Need a couple more plants to conceal my lovely irrigation system. The nifty bamboo ladder was a $20 score from Emigh Hardware.

I even like the decaying sedum leaves and seedheads.

Filling in with a little temporary color while deciding what this spot really wants to be when it grows up