Welcome to my Sustainable Urban Garden

My garden is a work in progress, always growing and changing within itself.

My gardens include many herbal beds, raised vegetable beds, raised "citrus heights" citrus tree bed, berry beds, fruit trees, grape arbor, rose beds and many perennial flower beds with annuals too. My greenhouse is still in the transformation stage,
as well as some planting areas.
Enjoy your journey through my gardens, I do!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What's growing in winter?

December in the garden includes onions, leeks, garlic, swiss chard (of course), my new bed of potatoes and my full long bed of sweet and chili peppers.  I never got broccoli or other brassicas planted in fall (of course I was out of the country much of the time).

Sometime near the end of November I went out with a huge basket and harvested all the basil late at night before we were to get a hard freeze. I also harvest lots of my beautiful red peppers that cold dark night. Fresh pesto in winter is very special. We had a lot of pesto/pepper pasta dinners around that time.

The most amazing thing is that it is December 30th and I have plants full of peppers. Unbelievable, especially because we had a streak of cold weather that we don't see very often in Sacramento California. We also have had quite a lot of rain in the last two months. Of course the rain (and snow in the mountains) is really really good since we just came out of a couple dry years.

Very soon now, it will be time to set up my seed trays and start seed for early spring planting. The solar panels on the greenhouse will generate the energy to run the heat pad and the grow lights. Now that Christmas is over, it is the time to lay out my garden plan and decide what seeds to start. My freezer has two very large jars filled with seeds waiting to be chosen this year. Living on a city lot, there are limits to the space I have available for planting. Of course I use almost every patch of ground to grow something. So, within the next couple weeks our spring seed choices will be posted.

Friday, November 05, 2010

A very late summer veggie garden

I did not get my garden planted until the end of spring, early summer. And then I left for vacation in Sept. and Oct. Thank goodness I had a wonderful person caring for my garden while I was away and nothing died. That is a very special garden person for sure.

Oh, and Yes, I had a wonderful time in Ireland and visited many beautiful gardens. In fact, all of Ireland is a beautiful garden.

Okay, back to my garden. I planted it several months after my normal early spring plant time. First of all, the weather dictated that we plant a month late. Plants that sit in cold soil do not develop sooner, in fact they are set back behind plants that are put in soil at appropriate temperatures for spring growth. Then I was busy with college classes until June.

The surprising thing about this year's garden is that it is now (and while I was in Ireland) producing the fruits of my labor. The tomatoes are still on the vine, though I have picked all the red ones and only the green ones are left. The basil is still healthy. The zucchini is still producing. Well, two out of the three are still producing. Here is a picture of one that I will pick tomorrow. It is just above the large leaf that is closest in the picture.

So, here is a close-up of the zucchini that will be part of my steamed vegetable dish tomorrow night. Isn't that a beauty?!!!

While I was in Ireland, my potatoes decided to start growing. I must have left a couple little baby potatoes in the bed last time I harvested them in early summer sometime. I always say I should keep a garden diary and I do write down a few things, but never keep it up. Best intentions! Anyway, as I was saying the potatoes decided to grow all on their own without me even being in the country. Here they look pretty happy.

Oh I forgot to mention the peppers! There are lots of sweet peppers and chili peppers too. These pictures are only incredible because they were taken in the first week of November!!! Gardening fills the soul!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August greenhouse construction

So, the solar panels are up on the roof. They are generating electricity. Two panels go to batteries and an inverter changes to AC power. Now the "snap" fan is installed too. 

The roof vent was framed too.

So the polycarbonate installation began. The first piece was the south side which is the widest side.
And here is another shot of the south panels when they are first being fitted. You can see where the framed "snap fan" is installed on the left side.
A lot of work has been done by this picture. The sides are all in place, the roof is installed and some of the trim has been applied. What a difference a few days make. Thanks to my creative and skilled husband, who designed and is building the greenhouse.
This is a good picture of the "snap fan" installed. This fan runs off the variable DC power from one panel. We do need to put a regulator/controller on this fan to slow it down much of the time because it feels like a wind tunnel in the greenhouse.
This is one of the two temperature regulated cool intake vents. So, the greenhouse is coming along really nicely.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Tomatillo surprises in the vegetable garden

Last year was the first year I had ever grown tomatilloes. I was told to have at least two plants for pollination, so I had two. I had no problem with the production of tomatilloes last year. They are those fruits that look like green tomatoes and also the ones with the paper looking skin. I had lots of them and did not get them all harvested, so many fell to the ground. The yellower they turn the sweeter they get. I understand some people only like them green and others really like them different shades of yellow. I have no preferences yet. Under that dry paper shell they are quite sticky and have to be washed before you prepare them for eating fresh or in a salsa or sauce. Other than that they are easy to incorporate into any dish you desire.

I was also told that once you grew tomatilloes you would always have them. So, when I groomed that long side bed of my yard and did not find any volunteers I was very disappointed. Then a month later in July I noticed these volunteers. Tomorrow I have to thin them, so hoping I have lots of friends who want tomatilloes.

I think they are a wonderful addition to the vegetable garden and so easy to grow. They do need to be supported. I used one of my old tomato cages made out of heavy wire wrapped into a cylinder shape. I really think I will not grow more than 4 plants this year. That is plenty for eating fresh and plenty to freeze for later in the year. Their shelf life is quite long too, much longer than a tomato. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

July Greenhouse and Garden update

Well my garden is growing, late as it is. Usually at this time of year I have produce coming out of my ears, but not this year. The garden is so behind because it was planted two months late. This was because of the extended cold weather and also because I was so busy with my college class. Way too busy! Obsessed!

But back to the garden. There has been drastic pruning going on for access to the exterior of the greenhouse and also to insure the new solar panels are not shaded too much. So the huge Eureka lemon and huge Vitex tree have been drastically cut back. The Vitex tree has taken the worst beating (cut to a 5th or 6th of the normal width and height of the tree).  The trees in this picture are my Elder tree on the right and just a couple branches of the Vitex on the left with the large seed bunches on the very ends, and behind the roof on the left is the Eureka lemon and grapefruit tree on the right.

The panels are to power the fan for the greenhouse (DC) and the full spectrum lights, the seedling heat pad and timers.  This will all be very exciting. I have had an extension cord out there for the lights and heat pad for the past couple years. But finally the polycarbonate siding is going to be put up and it will be an all "new" greenhouse.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Working on the Greenhouse

Over a year ago we made our decision as to the covering for our redwood framed greenhouse. In this photo it is shown covered in 6 mil plastic which pretty much destructs after a year in our Sacramento sun. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to replace it now. Too many! So we chose Sundance Supply to purchase triple walled polycarbonate panels, which are sitting in their very heavy packing box on our patio.

Never in a hundred years would I have imagined that no one would know where to purchase exhaust fans and intake vents for a greenhouse that would close when not in use, so that all the heat built-up passively during the day would not be exhausted during the cold months and run on DC power from solar panels and batteries.

Well, a year later we have learned a lot about what is available and what is not. It was a long road with many dead ends. We finally found a fan for the greenhouse that is DC (generated by solar panels) run. It is called a Snap fan. In fact it runs straight off the solar panel and doesn't go to a battery. We still have to choose the shutters that will close to block unwanted cold in the winter. The Snap fan will be placed low on the south side (under the shade of my large Vitex tree).  We found our fan at Real Goods Solar Living Center in Hopland CA.

We have a pretty large window in the roof that will open with a Gigavent (automatically opens by temperature). We got it at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply in Grass Valley CA.

Here is a picture of a panel like one of ours. I took it at the Real Goods Solar Living Center. Of course ours will not be set-up on a portable frame like this one in the  picture. They will be on the roof of the studio which is attached to the greenhouse.

Ours are not up on the roof yet, but it will be exciting to see when they do get up there.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Today is the Summer Solstice

Today is the longest day of the year and the shortest night of the year!!!  It is the first day of summer, and it is 91 degrees, which seems pretty hot.

So, summer is here and I am still planting my spring/summer veggies. I have most of my peppers in. Would like to find 2-3 Anaheims to plant. 

I have five San Marzano paste tomatoes planted. I have two organic Early Girls and a Costoluto Genovese in large pots. Still have two slicing tomatoes to plant: a Paul Robeson and Sun Gold to plant, as well as one more Costoluto Genovese. 

This is what the Paul Robeson looks like - something like a Black Kim in color I think. I have never grown them before.
I have one Zucchini squash planted and one more French White Bush squash to plant. I lost a couple eggplant starts in the greenhouse and only have one left to plant. I haven't even gotten any beans planted yet, and need to look to see if any tomatillos have volunteered in a dry bed. I am watering that tomatillo bed right now.
It is pretty much covered with mugwort up to 6 feet tall. Very happy mugwort, but I don't need mugwort in that bed. It already has its own place on the other side of the house in an herb bed.

I have three kinds of Swiss Chard, the white, orange/yellow and red that are growing extra large leaves. They are not liking this hot sun as well as some other plants that are unhappy with this sudden hot sun. 

 And the late planted broccoli wilts during the hot of the day, but is still healthy because of the afternoon shade. The onions and leeks are in full bloom from this hot sun too. At least the round flower heads are pretty.

Oh, and the raspberries are coming on and are very sweet. I hardly get many of them into the house. Only twice have I not eaten all of them to get a bowl's worth in the house.

One of the greatest things this year is that the native bees and honey bees are very plentiful. The honey bees have been thick on my Vitex tree and my El Grosso Lavender (pictured below).

So, my ever changing garden is a very busy place!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I believe that Spring is finally here!!!

At least it seems that many of the flowers believe that Spring is here.
For several years I have purchased Passiflora incarnata (passion flower) vines from reputable nurseries. I have wanted to grow one on the back side of a fence facing west. Every year they have died. I never saw a flower unless the plant came with one.

So, this last year I purchased another, but this time I put it in a pot and set the pot on the north wall of my house, because plants in pots can't handle as much sun as when in the ground if they are sensitive to too much sun at all. I was just out looking around and noticed that the vine that has crawled up the side of the house now has flowers. It has also traveled onto a trellis which holds an orange trumpet vine (another story). To my surprise there are about five flowers and more to come. Here is a picture I took of one of the passion flower blooms. I am a happy gardener!

So what do we know about Passiflora incarnata, commonly called passion flowers?  Well, they don't like my west fence! They are also known as a maypop.

The maypop is a common roadside weed found throughout the Southeastern U.S and also Argentina and Brazil.  It derived this early common name because it just seems to 'pop' out of the ground in May. They grow in USDA zones 5-9, but should be planted in protected locations and mulched heavily from severe cold. Top growth can be killed back from frost. They need partial to full sun (not full sun in Sacramento though), and will adapt themselves to most well-drained soils. During the growing season the soil should be kept evenly moist for better flowering and growth. The flowers range around 3" in diameter and are very unique and quite beautiful. We also know that they start blooming in May! 

The vines can easily grow up to 15 feet in one season. (that is good because I want mine to end up along the railing of a two-story deck) They grow well on a fence or trellis, and they will scramble over shrubs and trees. They produce small fruits in the shape of an oval berry, similar to a kiwi fruit, called granadilla or water lemon. The fruit is edible, but it is pretty seedy. I have friends that eat them though. You can also make it into a jelly. 

The passion flower fruit is also a food source for several species of butterfly and their larvae.

Best of all, the passion flower is a naturally grown medicinal herb, in the treatment of insomnia and nervousness. It is also used as a sedative in nervous disorders (including gastrointestional complaints of nervous origin), difficulties in sleeping, and anxiety or restlessness. Passion flower reduces spasms and depresses the central nervous system. The aerial parts of the plant are gathered during fruiting season and are dried for herbal uses.

Passion flower has a tranquilizing effect, including mild sedative and anti-anxiety effects. In studies conducted since the 1930's, its mode of action has been found to be different than that of most sedative drugs (sleeping pills), thus making it a non-addictive herb to promote relaxation.

The sedative effect of Passion flower has made it popular for treating a variety of ailments, including nervousness and insomnia. Research had indicated that passion flower has a complex activity on the central nervous system, which is responsible for its overall tranquilizing effects. Also, it has an antispasmodic effect on smooth muscles within the body, including the digestive system, promoting digestion.

Also, there are no reported side effects for passion flower. However, it is not recommended for use in pregnant women or children under the age of two. 

(And in self protection - here is my disclaimer: This is not medical advice, but herbal information that you can acquire on the internet or from herbal practitioners. Anyone already taking a sedative or tranquilizer would need to consult a health care professional before using passion flower.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spring has been very slow in coming . . .

Here are some spring pictures.

The sky has looked much like this for much of our spring. There is a Kite in flight. He/she has a huge nest up in the top of that tree. At least we have gotten a normal years worth of rain. The problem is that it has been spread out over so many months that are normally warm with sunny blue skies.  Yes, it rained again today.
Here is evidence of so much rain that it seems like fall with all the debris of leaves, flower petals and nature's prunings.
This year we have three colors of Swiss Chard growing in the garden. On the left is the white, with red in the center, and the yellowy-orange on the right.  I love Swiss chard in steamed veggie dishes. They are new plants this year, but my last planting of it lasted at least four years. I called it grandfather chard!

Monday, March 29, 2010

WORM MOON - the First Full Moon of Northern Spring


According to folklore, tonight's full Moon has a special name--the Worm Moon. 

It signals the coming of northern spring, a thawing of the soil, and the first stirrings of earthworms in long-dormant gardens. Step outside tonight and behold the wakening landscape. 

"Worm moonlight" is prettier than it sounds.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The White House Garden is thriving!

Exclusive Video: White House Garden Survives, Thrives in Washington Winter
from the Daily Flotus by Lynn Sweet, 3-26-10

Despite a harsh Washington winter -- two blizzards and several feet of snow -- the recently harvested White House garden yielded a bounty of lettuce, spinach, and a lot of turnips.
"Nobody thought that the garden would survive," said Kass.
It not only survived, it thrived, making First Lady Michelle Obama's signature project a four-season source of fresh produce.
The plants grew over the winter covered by white plastic stretched over hoops, trapping the heat of the sun by day and keeping the plants warm at night. But even Kass was not sure the "hoop houses" would work. "The fact of the matter is we didn't know."

The video shows how the hoop houses exceeded expectations. The harvest included robust looking lettuce, spinach and arugula, Kass said leeks will be ready in the spring, garlic and peas will be picked later, as will carrots, planted but not harvested.
Ground for the 1,100-square-foot garden on the west side of the South Lawn was cleared on March 20, 2009 and first planted in April, with a "perfect" southern exposure.
"The planting of this garden was one of the first things I wanted to do as First Lady here at the White House," Mrs. Obama said at an earlier harvest on June 17. At the opening of a Farmers Market on Sept. 17 in Washington, Mrs. Obama said the garden was "one of the greatest things I've done in my life, so far."
The garden was been wildly successful, growing into Mrs. Obama's anti-childhood obesity campaign.
Kass, gesturing toward stakes already in the ground, says in the video "we are going to be expanding our garden this year, at the request of the First Lady." The plan is to "build a couple more rows of beds," Kass said.
In assessing the harvest, Kass said it was "more humble" than a summer picking, "but I think we did pretty great."

(link to article: http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/03/26/exclusive-video-white-house-garden-survives-thrives-in-washing/) 

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Finally the garden beckons

For some reason or many reasons,   ;-)
I have spent very little time in my gardens during the month of February. Was it the cold weather? Was it the rain and wind? Was it my classes? Was it my work?  I am not really sure, but the urge to get out there is back! Yea!!! I am on my way outside to prune. Yes, I know it is late, but all will survive.

The vegetable and fruit gardens are doing well for this time of the year. I do have less vegetables growing than usual though. I only have lettuce, onions, leeks, garlic, red potatoes, swiss chard and maybe spinach. Oh, I think I also have some bok choy growing too. I have many starter plants in the greenhouse waiting for me to get out there and give them the freedom of the 4 feet by 4 feet raised beds to spread their roots.

The lemons and grapefruit are providing us with a nice new crop. I have not gotten out there to check on my new fruit trees planted last year. So, hopefully off to the garden in 65° weather with an update and pictures to follow!

This ad is a little demonstration of some of what I have been working on inside on the computer this last month!

Click here to go to Sustainable Urban Gardens

Sunday, February 28, 2010

What's so important about fresh locally grown produce?

Tip of the week ...

From a nutritional standpoint:
Vegetables and fruits are rich in flavonoids and carotenoids with both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and both promote healthy digestion, can fill you up with few calories and little to no fat, and are among the healthiest snack options when on-the-go.

Dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are especially good choices, as are berries and other low-glycemic fruits. Aim for 4-5 servings of vegetables and 3-4 servings of fruit per day - go for a wide range of colors, choose fruit and vegetables that are fresh in season, and buy organic whenever possible.

The best solution is to grow your own. It is the healthy choice on many levels!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Locally Grown Organic Food

Making affordable, locally and regionally-grown organic food available to all, rich, middle-income and poor, must become a top priority for city and county governments across the nation. We are very pleased to say that we were able to change the front yard landscape ordinance in Sacramento CA to allow diverse plantings which can include fruits and vegetables.
More local organic food is beginning to be available with every new front and/or backyard home garden. New community gardens and local farmers markets are also supplying fresh local organic produce.

Making the transition to organic food and farming stimulates the local economy, improves public health, sequesters enormous amount of climate destabilizing greenhouse gases, and protects the environment. As global warming intensifies, scientists warn that a continuation of current "business as usual" practices will lead to a catastrophic 8.6 degree Fahrenheit temperature rise by 2100. Our only hope is to make energy-efficient and climate-stabilizing organic food and farming the norm rather than just the green alternative.

Tim LaSalle, Ph.D., CEO of the Rodale Institute, explains how organic farming techniques pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in living soil—an overlooked, but significant, route to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change. More at www.rodaleinstitute.org.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gardening in 2009 and 2010

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year with a great year of garden successes in 2010!!!

We had lots of successes this last year. Our raspberries are getting better and better every year. We added two new peach trees, a nectarine and an apricot to replace the big beautiful one we lost. We have added blueberries to the garden, but have not been gifted with a harvest yet.

Our peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, zucchini, chard, basil, peas, beans, potatoes, onions and leeks did really well. The spinach did not provide a large crop this year, nor the garlic or the eggplant. I think the eggplant just did not get enough care (too little water). As usual we had an abundance of lemons, grapefruit, loquots, figs and blackberries. This year was our first year for tomatillos and we had them coming out of our ears. With only two plants, they provided much too much to process. I still have some sitting on the counter.

(I think I might try #4 this year if we continue to have a wet year)

The Amazing Cucumber

This information was in The New York Times several weeks ago as part of their "Spotlight on the Home" series that highlighted creative and fanciful ways to solve common problems.

1. Cucumbers contain most of the vitamins you need every day, just one cucumber contains Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Zinc.

2. Feeling tired in the afternoon, put down the caffeinated soda and pick up a cucumber. Cucumbers are a good source of B Vitamins and Carbohydrates that can provide that quick pick-me-up that can last for hours.

3. Tired of your bathroom mirror fogging up after a shower? Try rubbing a cucumber slice along the mirror, it will eliminate the fog and provide a soothing, spa-like fragrance.

4. Are grubs and slugs ruining your planting beds? Place a few slices in a small pie tin and your garden will be free of pests all season long. The chemicals in the cucumber react with the aluminum to give off a scent undetectable to humans but drive garden pests crazy and make them flee the area.

5. Looking for a fast and easy way to remove cellulite before going out or to the pool? Try rubbing a slice or two of cucumbers along your problem area for a few minutes, the phytochemicals in the cucumber cause the collagen in your skin to tighten, firming up the outer layer and reducing the visibility of cellulite. Works great on wrinkles too!!!

6. Want to avoid a hangover or terrible headache? Eat a few cucumber slices before going to bed and wake up refreshed and headache free. Cucumbers contain enough sugar, B vitamins and electrolytes to replenish essential nutrients the body lost, keeping everything in equilibrium, avoiding both a hangover and headache!!

7. Looking to fight off that afternoon or evening snacking binge? Cucumbers have been used for centuries and often used by European trappers, traders and explores for quick meals to thwart off starvation.

8. Have an important meeting or job interview and you realize that you don't have enough time to polish your shoes? Rub a freshly cut cucumber over the shoe, its chemicals will provide a quick and durable shine that not only looks great but also repels water.

9. Out of WD 40 and need to fix a squeaky hinge? Take a cucumber slice and rub it along the problematic hinge, and voila, the squeak is gone!

10. Stressed out and don't have time for massage, facial or visit to the spa? Cut up an entire cucumber and place it in a boiling pot of water, the chemicals and nutrients from the cucumber will react with the boiling water and be released in the steam, creating a soothing, relaxing aroma that has been shown the reduce stress in new mothers and college students during final exams.

11. Just finish a business lunch and realize you don't have gum or mints? Take a slice of cucumber and press it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for 30 seconds to eliminate bad breath, the phytochemcials will kill the bacteria in your mouth responsible for causing bad breath.

12. Looking for a 'green' way to clean your faucets, sinks or stainless steel? Take a slice of cucumber and rub it on the surface you want to clean, not only will it remove years of tarnish and bring back the shine, but is won't leave streaks and won't harm you fingers or fingernails while you clean.

13. Using a pen and made a mistake? Take the outside of the cucumber and slowly use it to erase the pen writing, also works great on crayons and markers that the kids have used to decorate the walls!!