Sunday, May 22, 2011

[HOLD] the onions

I have only moderately tried to grow onions in the past.  And when I say “onions”, I mean BULB onions not green onions (those aren’t too tricky).  I tried red onions once because I had heard how onions were the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie of the vegetable world (i.e. Set It and Forget It).  But much like any Ronco product, I was ultimately disappointed with lack of performance.

So back in February I wrote how my wife’s friend gave us 5 Texas Supersweet Onion sets for my garden, which I promptly planted because I was desperate to get started gardening as we came out of our Southern California winter.  110_4788

Well, they actually grew very well!  The tops were getting long and were healthy, thus I was encouraged that this would be my year to succeed with onions.  This was not to be (at least not yet).


All looked fine and I watched them each send up a flower stalk, which I /thought/ was good.  FYI, this is not good.  It turns out onions go to seed every OTHER year.  So this year they would have just produced a nice bulb for me to eat BUT…..  And here is where the BUT comes in.  Because I planted them in the garden so early (late January) they went through the typical schizoid weather patterns that typify the transition from winter to spring in southern California: cold-warm-cold-hot-cold hot…  Well, do that to them in a way “tricked” them into thinking they had gone through two years’ worth of time (winter-summer-winter-summer) and they went to seed like they are supposed to.  Now, going to seed isn’t a huge deal, you can still use the onions, they just aren’t as big as the typical onion for whatever variety you are growing and once they bolt everyone recommends just going ahead and pulling them.  So I did.  I went out there with my towel and loosened up the soil around each plant and pulled them out.  I must say I was pleasantly surprised as each one had grown a decent-sized bulb.


So now the rules say to let them dry and cure in the garage for two weeks, letting the tops dry up and such.  This is what they are doing currently and I suspect, come the close of the Memorial Day weekend, there will be fewer onions than that with which I started.  So now I know.  I picked up some yellow onion sets at the Fullerton College plant sale in early March and set those out in mid to late-March and they are bolt-free and doing very well.  I hope they will grow well and break my bad onion misfortune streak.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Potatoes [an update]

About 2 months ago I start my Potato Bucket Project.  I used six 5-gallon buckets from Lowes and this tutorial


I followed the directions like a good little gardener but I wasn’t seeing what I was s’pposed to be seein’.  Disconcerting to say the least.

Well, I had a bit of a hiccup with the whole potatoes thing.  [APPARENTLY] I did not allow the seed potatoes to sufficiently sprout before planting.  So, while I’m spending my days carefully watering and being sure the buckets got lots of sun, the potatoes were just…..s l o w l y…..rotting away.  I discovered this as dug down through the mulch to figure out why it I hadn’t seen the “promised” sprouts coming through the soil and it had been like 3 weeks.  Side note: rotting seed potatoes are nasty.  So I had some extra seed potatoes (which I had ordered from Seed Savers Exchange) and went and put them in a brown paper sack and stuck them in the closet for about a week and that seemed to do the trick!  I ended up with some real good sprouts and put them in the buckets (slightly shallower than the 4” I did for the first round).  So in a week or two I finally saw this:


I piled up some more mulch on top of the plants today.  That way the buried parts of the stems form roots and I gets me more po-ta-toes!  That’s the whole point, right?  I may do the next round of mulch piling using the FREE STRAW I got a couple months ago.  Will update later…

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Free Bale of [STRAW]

We went to a birthday party for our friend’s daughter a few weekends ago; a cowgirl-themed party.  At the end of the party my friend asked me if I wanted to have the straw bale they had purchased for decoration.  SCORE!!!  How often does a question like that get asked and result in pure joy to other person?!  Luckily, my wife let me load it in ‘her’ van to take home, which of course resulted in a mess of straw all over the back area that I, of course, promised to clean up that day but took me two weeks to get to.

The straw has come in really handy!  I am getting ready to grow some fingerling potatoes in 5-gallon buckets (using this tutorial).  I didn’t have any gravel to put in the bottom of the buckets to help with drainage so I used a couple inches of straw.  110_5206

I also used the straw as a nice mulch for the pathways in between the beds in my garden, which looks WAY better than before.  Also, it will keep the weeds down and make it easier to walk around after it rains (which, of course, we won’t get anymore of because I put the straw down).


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

[Tomato] SALE!

I’ve been (computer) lazy recently but I’m kickin’ in my blogging second wind now.

Thanks to former Governor Schwarzenegger and current Governor Jerry “Don’t Call me Eddie” Brown, I have get to take three furlough days a month off work so on Friday March 4, I headed down to the Fullerton College Tomato Sale.  It is the initiation of the spring gardening season for me here in southern California.  If you live in somewhere currently white with snow, I apologize.  110_5081

110_5068110_5072The amount of people who show up BEFORE the sale even opens always astounds me.   Tomatoes have become so important to these people, they rearrange their day, show up early at the sale with their boxes and wagons,  and surge in once the gates are open.  Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to get my tomatoes and did make an effort to get there slightly early but I was glaringly lacking a towing device for my seedlings.

BUT it turns out I had something most of the 60+ year olds didn’t have.  I had Polly, a friend of my wife’s who volunteers with the horticulture department who had already set aside the seedlings I wanted so there was no danger of reaching the appropriate tomato table and standing there slack-jawed at an empty tray of Roma tomatoes with only a wilted leaf or two to mock me as to what could have been.  Turns out I really didn’t /need/ Polly to set aside my plants as there was enough since I got there as the sale opened.

Anyhow, my tomatoes for this year include:


San Marzano Redorta


Costoluto Genovese

I tend to mainly use my ‘maters to make sauce for use throughout the rest of the year and we also use a handful of fresh tomatoes for a few batches of salsa every summer, so I picked up 2 seedlings of each.  Last year I did 3 tomato plants (2 – San Marzanos and 1 – San Marzano Redorta) and found myself wishing I had more.  So I went with the Redortas since they are bigger than the usual San Marzanos and the Costolutos just looked too cool to pass up, especially for a paste tomato.  I waited a week or so before putting them in the ground since we were having lows in the 40s that week and wanted to be sure the ground warmed up a bit before I planted.  Does it really matter? Nope!

My wife also wanted me to get some grape tomatoes (Juliet and Jelly Bean) just to have for salads and such.  I have no idea where I’m going to put the grape tomatoes in the garden.  I kinda maxed everything else out before she put in that command request.  Oh well… it will be all fine (as my son says).

Monday, February 21, 2011

[SEEDS] of change

Every year my veggie garden is populated through two different avenues: seeds purchased via the interwebs and seedlings purchased from one of the local collegiate horticulture programs.  The seedlings are purchased from either Cal State Fullerton’s or Fullerton College’s Tomato Sale in March.  Last year was my first year going to Fullerton College’s Tomato Sale because one of the ladies my wife works with is a volunteer with them.  The sale is the first Friday through Sunday in March.  Last year we got there within 5 minutes of the opening and the place was jammed with old ladies and their wagons.  I found these folks are friendly enough so long as you don’t represent competition which would prevent them from loading up on every Early Girl seedling in the place.  So, the sale is this coming weekend!  I’ll post about later though… but, on to my seeds.


So my seeds came in the mail!!!  I ordered from Seed Savers Exchange this year.  I found out about them last summer, so it was a little too late to order anything.  They specialize in heirloom veggies, which I really like to focus on in MY garden; veggies with a history.  So this year’s line up is as follows:

Dragon Carrots (purple carrots)

Russian Pickling Cucumbers (I make a mean half sour pickle)

Golden Midget Watermelons

Stowell’s Evergreen Corn

Joe’s Long Cayenne Peppers (for drying, use in the pickles and salsa/hot sauce)

Last weekend I planted the rest of the Scarlet Nantes Carrot seed I had from last year and some random cilantro seed in the beds where I plan to grow the cayenne peppers.  I plan to plant the purple carrots as companion plants in with the tomatoes once they are in.  I hear carrots love tomatoes

Had a lot of rain a few days ago so the garden is still a bit to wet to mess with plus its been getting really cold out at night, nowhere near a frost but still cold, so I think I’ll wait to get seeds in the ground for about 2 weeks.  Especially, since we’re supposed to get MORE rain this coming weekend.  Maybe the moisture will keep the wagon/old lady population down…

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


On Saturday I spent the afternoon moving the compost pile to the side of the house and then spreading out the compost that was ready into a few of the beds and in the open area at the top of the garden, which will become this summer’s corn and melon playground.

I also took a look at my winter veggies to see what they were up to.  All winter long I have watched my lettuce just slowly kinda hang out in the front of the garden.  It survived the 10 inches (!) of rain we got just before Christmas and the 80 degree temps and Santa Ana winds of January and its time came to be harvested.  I planted ‘oak leaf’ lettuce in the fall last year and picked about half of it on Saturday.

110_4947 You can see why its called oak leaf lettuce.  My hands are a smidge ‘pruny’ as a result of the washing of all the lettuce I picked.  Apparently, I can’t remember to take pictures of things until after it is nearly too late.  Well anyway, it all got washed, trimmed and packed up in some Tupperware Rubbermaid re-sealable plastic containers.image

Tonight, we made a DELICIOUS salad with said greens.  Chopped up some apple slices, toasted pecans and goat cheese with some raspberry walnut vinaigrette.  Scrumdiddlyumptious…

We probably have enough for 3-4 more salads and 2-3 salads-worth still out in the garden.  It puts things in perspective to wait 4-5 months for 6-7 salads.  But food is supposed to be slow, right?  We’re just spoiled by the grocery store.  But that’s probably something for another blog post.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Few Photos. . .

I took a few photos the other day in the garden in case I wanted to use them in a blog post.  As of yet I don’t think I have anything specific to write about them so I am just going to post them for no other reason than I have them.

110_4787This is my broccoli, which has been slow to get going (much like myself many days this winter) but it is going now nonetheless (also much like myself).  Last year was my first year growing broccoli.  It is a large BIG plant that has a lot of growing to do before you get any actual broccoli to eat.  I have four plants going right now over the winter so we shall see how it goes.

note my arch-nemesis in the background >=(

My wife’s co-worker gave me FIVE Texas SuperSweet Onion sets.  She actually gave them to my wife who gave them to me simply saying, “Polly, gave us some onions.”  So having very little experience grown onions from sets, I just thought they were spring onions or something like green onions and ALMOST sliced them up for dinner!  Luckily, I was told they were for planting, so… I did!  I have tried to grow onions in the past with little to no luck, so we shall we what we shall see with these bad boys.  If they take, I will be pretty excited!

The other day I blogged about how I cut down a juniper tree in my frontyard that blocked my sun.  So, I saved a slice of wood so I could count the rings (nerdy? perhaps) and do some detective work and see when this tree was planted.  I knew my house was built in 1965 so I counted up the rings and lo and behold there were 45 rings.  So my guess was the tree was put in by the original owner within the first 1-2 years (figuring they planted a sapling which was around a year old).  Thus ends my venture into the realms of dendochronology.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Puente Chips

Well, I’ve been spending some time getting my garden soil ready for planting soon.  Every garden has its fair share of rocks and roots and sand and clay, but my garden soil has some fairly interesting and significant rocks that forgot about until I was turning the soil over last week.  You see by day I am a geologist so these kind of things fascinate me!  I figured I’d take a moment to explain…since it is garden-related.


These are the rocks I’m talking about.  They are 1”-2” long pieces of white siltstone.  These rocks originally were part of a large formation of siltstone rock found in the Puente Hills to the north of me.  The formation is called (duh!) the Puente Formation and is about 5-12 million years old.  These fragments of white siltstone first show up in a younger deposit called the La Habra Formation (which is about 1 million to 400,000 years old.  The reason these siltstone chips, called “Puente Chips” because they come from the Puente Formation, are important is because they are the signal of when the Puente Hills started getting pushed up.  As the Puente sediments were pushed up above ground, the white siltstone beds were exposed to weathering and the rock fragments washed down the river that was depositing the other sediments of the La Habra Formation during the Pleistocene.  So by dating the layers where these “Puente Chips” first show up, we can better pinpoint when the Puente Hills started to uplift (which is currently estimated at 1 million to 700,000 years ago).  This is important for understanding the history and activity of many earthquake faults in Southern California and other things only geologists really care about. ;-)
Brea geol map-1
The “Puente Chips” in my garden are actually chips that weathered out of the La Habra Formation (making it the second time these fragments have made a journey from their original home, which is why they are a bit more rounded on the corners and fall apart a lot easier.
So that is the story of the 5 million year old rocks in my garden.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

{Blue’Cow’-nties} & Red Counties

I recently discovered the podcast for Tim and Liz Young over at Nature’s Harmony Farm in Georgia.  They are raising 100% grass-fed pasture-raised beef (among other other livestock).  I have been so fascinated listening to the podcast and hearing the real everyday things farmers committed to sustainable practices have to deal with and consider.  I have been so jealous of the folks out in Georgia who can get beef from this farm and others like it (because they will not ship).  I don’t really have access to lots of farms raising grass fed pastured beef, especially if they hold to the same ‘no shipping’ policy.  So I started doing some research to see where is the closest farm to Orange County (where I live).  I found Eat Wild’s website.  They are somewhat of a clearinghouse for grass-fed food information in the US.   Bringing up the map for grass-fed farms in California I was startled at the glaring “bald spot” in southern California.  This area which was settled chiefly through the Spanish (and then Mexican) rancho system is now beef-free!  (I personally live on the old Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana)  BUT THEN, I thought I saw another pattern… so I took a few minutes to do a little look-see-ing to check it out.
beef mapCaliforniaPresidentialMap08
I hypothesized the overwhelming majority of sustainable grass-fed beef farms were located in traditionally “liberal” areas of the state; the so-called Blue Counties.  Why is this?  Or is it even a real correlation?  Am I guilty of cum hoc ergo propter hoc?  Is it because the people in the Blue Counties are philosophically inclined to value sustainable ranching and grass-fed beef?  This implies Republicans and/or conservatives aren’t.  I am a Christian and a Republican'ish and I value this method of food production, but perhaps I am sadly in the minority in my Red County island.  If I counted correctly, almost 75%(!) of these ranches are in Blue 'Cow'-nties.
The closest grass-fed pastured meat was Lindner’s Bison in Santa Clarita, which is like 65 miles away.  Worth it?  On my reduced salary? Hmmm…  I emailed them for their pricing info so we’ll see and I’ll let you know.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I cannot tell a lie… I cut down the tree.


Parson Weems may have gotten his story wrong, but I sure didn’t.  Ever since I started my veggie garden I have been dealing with areas that don’t get the full sun I need.  This is chiefly due mainly to two main culprits: a good-sized juniper tree at the west end of my garden and my mortal enemy neighbor’s fifth-wheel trailer.  For years now, I have been cursing both of them but since I can’t (legally) chop down my neighbor’s trailer, I CAN cut down the tree, which I finally did this weekend.

I do not have a chainsaw, so I borrowed one from my friend Vance (who was currently borrowing it from a friend of his).  So he and the chainsaw came over on Saturday afternoon and we set to work.  The chain was really dull so it was taking quite a while, so when we came to the bigger parts, I decided to head on over and get a new chain.  MAN, that makes a big difference.  It cut like butter after that.

110_4769 110_4770 110_4772 110_4771

Viola!  One step closer to ‘full sun’ and now I have a good amount of fire wood for later in the year and I can add the wood ashes back into my compost pile!  Now, what will the future hold for the trailer?

Getting started in 2011

Well, I'm getting the garden in order and while I was at it I figured I'd try to resurrect my blogging efforts from last year.  I'm excited to expound on my garden thoughts and actions.  We'll see how it goes...

Over the fall and winter I never expect much from the garden, but this year I decided to sew a few things that were 'winter-friendly' and see what happened.  I planted some lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and green onions.  Not much of it really took, except the lettuce, until the week of rain we had just before Christmas last month.  So today we had a taco salad using a head of butter lettuce.

Also, over the fall and winter I started a compost area in one end of the garden where I loosened up the soil over an area of about 3 feet in diameter and would just toss in veggie scraps, shredded junkmail and cereal boxes, etc. forming a compost 'pit'.  Later, I started piling up the grass clippings in a compost 'pile'.  Its worked very well and the pile and pit are full of earthworms and Green Fruit Beetle grubs, which are breaking down the organic matter.  I also started adding some of the compost material into the beds to get ready for this spring's planting.


**Note: This was originally posted in February 2010 as part of an earlier attempt at blogging**
Now don't get me wrong, I like rain, I really like rain but this year I wanted to take advantage of living in Southern California and get my seeds started early this year.  However, ALL this rain has waterlogged my beds and I think most of my seeds have floated away.  It will be interesting to see where things start growing this spring...Carrots in the sidewalk cracks?

So when I got home today I re-planted some of the beds.  I actually started some seeds back in November last year so I do have a few things growing already.  Alot of things I planted in the fall didn't make it but the carrots and butter lettuce did so that's cool.

I am trying a new seed company this year -- Sustainable Seed Company.  Since I started the garden in 2004 I've used Burpee but I wanted to try a company that offered more organic and heirloom seeds (plus the prices are really nice).  So I am trying to do an all-heirloom vegetable garden this year.  I come from a long line of American farmers who worked their way from Virginia to Kentucky to Missouri to Colorado to California.  Perhaps some of these veggie varieties may have been the same that they ate sometime somewhere.

So here's what I got in the ground so far:
Broccoli (Green Sprouting Calabrese) - I've had trouble getting this started from seed
Carrots (Scarlet Nantes) - I have some of these growing and just filled in the bald spots with some more seeds.
Lettuce (Tom Thumb) - Got a little bit of this growing already and planted some more today.
Spinach (Bloomsdale Long-Standing)

 Scarlet Nantes Carrots
Tom Thumb Lettuce
This is my tiny little broccoli seedling.  We'll see if this one makes it.

Me and My Garden

**Note: This was originally posted in Feb. 2010 from an earlier attempt at blogging**
I always wanted to have my own vegetable garden but after we got married we spent almost three years in an upstairs apartment.  Yeah, I tried the whole "herbs on the balcony" planters and pots of tropical plants I bought at the fair, but everything eventually "past away".  If only I had an irrigation system out on the balcony (and sunshine).  Now that I think about it, I seemed destined to fail...=-(

So when we moved into our house in the summer of 2003 I was pumped up to have a garden!!! Now, my backyard is loaded with bougainvillea that blocks alot of sun and frankly, I'm scared of it so I try to stay away from the backyard was not looking good for a garden it was up to the front yard to fulfill my dreams (no pressure, front yard).

Well, there was a small area between my driveway and my neighbor's driveway that was choked with crabgrass and Lilies of the Nile (ugh!).  So I figured there was no rule about putting a vegetable garden in the front yard so I dove in and tore out the grass et al. and tilled up the dirt and in the spring of 2004 I put in my first veggies and every year since then, around February or March I get out there and get my seeds in the ground.

This is by no means a garden meant to save us money or get us through the winter like Barbara Kingsolver.  It is for us and our friends and I like it that way.