Puttering Around the Ol' Garden

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

One of my favorite things to do when I wake up in the morning, and when I get home at night, is to check the latest developments in the garden, water plants that aren't connected to the drip system just yet and snap various photos of amazing produce.

This is one of those photos.

Yes, you can grow artichokes in the Sacramento Region. We got this beauty during one of our first years for gardening. I've never seen an artichoke quite this big before, and can't even tell you WHAT variety this is, other than it's a big one, of course. Because we had a very small backyard, we were limited in what we could plant, and what we could allow to grow. Artichokes are BIG plants. And they will spread out and take over a yard if you let them. We couldn't allow that. We just didn't have the room. Fortunately, you can train artichoke plants to grow any way you want them to grow. And, with the use of some strong stakes and a lot of twine and string, we forced our plants to grow UP rather than OUT.

Here is one example of that growing method. You can clearly see the fence in the back of this photo. And this artichoke plant is well over six feet tall at this point, and would probably grow to a height of eight feet before it was all said and done.

I quickly found out that I was going to run into trouble one year, when I noticed an abundance of new artichoke plants in the artichoke bed. Where there had been four plants, there were now seven or eight to take its place. I was, of course, thrilled. The thinking was: "eight plants will certainly produce more artichokes than four plants!" Good thinking! Bad idea!

You see, as I mentioned earlier, artichokes will fight for space. It's a battle for the biggest, baddest plant in the bed. And the smaller plants? Well, they just tend to get "pushed aside" by the big bullies. Although I did notice some of the plants near the outer edge of the bed starting to lean a bit, I thought nothing of it. After all -- the plants just needed room to grow, right?

Then, one morning, I came outside to discover an artichoke plant that had been loaded with four or five delectable chokes, snapped from its base and fell over on the sidewalk, dead. The artichokes I had been planning to eat: history. Gone. Deflated. Into the trash bin they went. At that point I suddenly realized that the same thing was about to happen to about two or three other plants that were slowly getting forced out of the bed by other, stronger plants. What to do?

Venus and I put our heads together and decided that we had to stake those leaning plants up somehow to keep them from bending over so far that they would SNAP and fall over. That meant a trip to the man's toy store -- Home Depot -- the purchase of a few strong metal stakes and some string and twine.

I hammered those stakes into the center of the bed, then used twine and string to rope around the middle part of the leaning artichoke plants, pulling the string tight to force the plants back into the bed and back into a more upright position, before tying off that string on the posts.

It worked wonders. It really did. And then, and only then, did I discover that I had nailed one of those posts straight into the drip line buried four inches below the soil line. So, not only did I save my artichoke plants, I created a new fountain!

DOH! Another trip back to the man's toy store for new drip hoses, connectors, you name it....

Lettuce in Sacramento Summer Heat?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My gardening friend and KFBK/KSTE Gardening Show host Fred Hoffman tells me "good luck with that." And I probably should listen to Fred, since he knows just about everything there is to know when it comes to vegetable gardening.

Still, I'm always willing to burn $10 on seeds to at least TRY something new, and that something new would be Jericho Lettuce.

This is the very first year that Venus and I have tried growing lettuce extensively. And, true to her green thumb, just about everything the wife planted sprouted and grew well this spring. But the harsh summertime heat came early this year -- five days of 100 plus degrees in mid-May. And that's got the Romaine lettuce looking sad and deflated, and other varieties are taking on that depressed "singed" look. The spinach, sadly, is also starting to bolt.

So, in looking for new varieties to try, one grower suggested Jericho. It seems intriguing enough. Bred to withstand the heat of desert conditions in Israel without bolting? If it's good enough for the desert, it's good enough for Sacramento summertime heat, right? So, we'll see. An interesting experiment with a $10 bill.....

Gardening in Raised Beds

Monday, May 12, 2008

I am a huge fan of gardening in raised beds, and was happy enough to install the final three to my North Natomas backyard earlier this spring. These beds are constructed from 12-foot, two-inch thick, Redwood boards purchased from either Home Depot or Lowe's (depending on where the sale is!

I use standard 2/4's cut in one foot sections for the edges and the middle -- and the beds are held together with a variety of two and one-and-a-half inch gold screws.

The "trimming" effect around each box is actually standard Redwood fence boards, and each box is sanded and stained upon completion. Each box is hooked up to drip irrigation and each contains a ball shut off valve to shut off the water during the winter if the box is not in use. Each box contains a little over one cubic yard of special planter mix, purchased from Redmond's Supply in North Highlands. It contains a mixture of wood chips, steer manure, top soil and rock (yes, rock, which provides vegetables with needed minerals as does the wood chips).

I've discovered, from experience, that gardening in North Natomas MUST be done in raised beds. The naural clay soil grows little else, except weeds. Fruit and citrus trees, however, adapt well to this soil. Peaches, plums, cherries, oranges and lemons do quite well here, if given proper care, attention and fertilizer.

And finally, the beds are in honor of my wife, Venus. Notice the "V" at the center of each box. That "V" is for Venus, my garden inspiration. I never would have discovered heirloom tomatoes if she had not insisted upon buying this strange green tomato starter plant many moons ago....
Each bed is hooked up directly to drip irrgation, and I've also installed a ball shutoff value to turn off the water to each individual bed when not in use.

I've come to discover that raised beds must also be maintained and recharged each year. The six beds allow my wife and I to rotate crops, but it's also true that most vegetables literally suck all the good stuff out of good soil. That's why amending with compost each and every spring and fall is still a good idea, even if you are gardening in a raised bed.

The pictures you see are that of the main garden. There are smaller beds around this yard, backed up to the fence line, holding crops such as cucumbers, herbs, corn, sunflowers, artihockes (yes, artichokes do well in Sacramento) and a variety of tasty produce.

My First Post

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I am perhaps the last person in Sacramento, CA to start a blog. So be it. I've been behind on everything else in my life. Why not blogging? I chose the topic of vegetable gardening because the lady to your immediate right, my wonderful wife and garden inspiration, grow everything edible under the sun in our North Natomas backyard. We are heirloom growers. We started with tomatoes several years ago, and have since expanded to heirloom vegetables, fruits, flowers, you name it.