Posts tagged gardening

Kitchen-beds

As a child of Southern California, I used to envy those Americans who were able to spent cold, snowy winters inside by a fire, thoughtfully combing through seed catalogs and planning for their spring season planting. Our family would also wait to plant in spring, but in typical temperate climate Southern California fashion, we’d seed our garden with our usual tomatoes and strawberries that always provided plentiful summer harvests.

Seed-catalog-pages

I find it comforting seed companies still print and mail out their catalogs via the old fashioned United States Postal Service. I enjoy the color catalogs filled with photos of beautiful vegetables and herbs. These days, I imagine the recipes we could make using the fresh bounty of produce promised within these seed catalog pages.

Meyer-lemon-trees-closeup

Currently growing in our four raised kitchen beds: 3 puny French tarragon and thyme plants, a healthy low shrub of rosemary, and some seedling snap peas I have on hacked supports (i.e. an inverted tomato cage with a right-side up tomato cage). The herbs are perennials, while the snap peas are what I imagine as the flavorful embodiment of spring – fresh, crunchy, earthy. My large pomegranate shrub stands bare (see: grenadine recipe), while our Dwarf Meyer Lemon tree –shown on the right – is laden with fruit, perfect for making homemade limoncello!

Our ten-year old daughter voiced a request for us to plant artichokes, one of her favorite vegetables. As glad as I am for her affinity for veggies, artichokes are large plant that result in only a few edible pieces. I decided this was an unsound choice for our kitchen garden, considering the limited real estate of our four 3’ x 8’ raised bed gardens. My goal is for high yield, small footprint plants so we can grow many plants of produce that we really enjoy eating, including zucchini, tomatoes, and peas. Decorative plants such as sunflowers and pumpkins are also welcome, but they really need to have high aesthetic or nostalgic value to go in with the edibles.

After combing through this year’s seed catalogs, I am inspired to plant the following plants: jack-o-lanterns of different sizes for a varied Halloween display; small cucumbers for pickling; crimson, magenta, and gold sunflowers for their floral beauty and the food they provide for both our family and the local wildlife ( last year a dozen birthday party guests witnessed a squirrel scampering up some large sunflowers we had grown to eat through the stalk and cart off the seed head!); hot colored zinnias for their lovely hues; garlic and shallots for menu flavoring; zucchini for pancakes (see recipe below) and old fashioned zucchini quick bread; kale for green juices; and as many different types of tomatoes that will fit for a variety of tasty treats in late summer!

Garden-Vertical_kitchen-beds

Depending upon the success of our spring plantings, we’re hoping to enjoy the bounties of our garden with the following recipes in a few months:

BX0214_zucchini-pancakes_s4x3Ina Garten’s Zucchini cakes: an easy recipe which only takes 20 minutes from start to finish, requiring only 4 minutes cooking per pancake (the recipe yields ten 3-inch pancakes).

Tomatoes with salt

  • Pick warm, ripe tomatoes off vine on a hot summer afternoon.
  • Rinse off with a small amount of water from the garden hose.
  • Slice tomato and sprinkle cut surface with salt.
  • Devour. Lick up juices from chin and try not to grin.

Sugar snap peas

  • Remove ripe seed pods with stem from vine.
  • Rinse off with small amount of water from the garden hose.
  • Devour pod and peas. Savor the taste of spring!

Creative Commons Photo by epSos .de

Creative Commons Photo by epSos .de

Fall is already upon us, but I don’t recognize it.

In Octobers past, I would have my garden prepared for new plantings after spending weekend hours on tilling, amending, mulching, trimming, and dividing. This year, the unusually long period of heat has kept me away from the garden except for minor garden maintenance.

My garden does not really need more plants, but this realization doesn’t stop me from visiting our local nurseries during weekends where I’m prone to stare at plants like tourists eyeing Bottega Louie’s delightfully curated arrangements of macarons, eclairs, and other treats. Like their faces, mine lights up mesmerized with the rows of plant containers luring me into yet another “sweet” purchase.

Creative Commons photo by Jennifer Chong

Creative Commons photo by Jennifer Chong

I consider myself a good gardener, but I have made many mistakes over the years. If there is a book about gardening missteps, don’t be surprised if I wrote it (I did not). Here are five lessons I’ve learned during my time preparing, tending, and nurturing my garden:

Creative Commons Images: Natfot

A gardener’s best friend and the bellwether of good soil, the earthworm. Creative Commons Images: Natfot

  1. The importance of good soil. When I first began gardening, I pulled away in disgust whenever I saw worms in my soil. I now cherish these squiggly creatures. Their very presence are signs of healthy soil, and their absence is an indicator of little or no organic residues in the soil. If you don’t see them in your garden soil, it’s time to aerate, compost, mulch, and add other good practices into your routine.
  2. Plant what is appropriate for your garden. I often fight the urge to buy plant species that I consider “special” but know won’t work for my climate zone or garden conditions. Trust me, you won’t run out of appropriate species for your garden. When you plant is also important. Plants, particularly crops, don’t do well if you plant them in the wrong season. If you plant too late for example, you may expose certain species to pests and diseases which can spread to other parts of your garden. Do some advance research on the cultural requirements of different species; the information is readily available.
  3. Water properly. I water my garden by hand. With my maturing native garden, I don’t have to water as frequently as I would for a newly planted or non-native garden. In our current drought condition, I simply cannot be lazy about this chore. A sage in my garden serves as my touchstone when I am busy with other things. Water deeply and regularly to get water down to the roots. The water should soak 6 to 8 inches. Mulching also really works. Don’t skip this step.
  4. Trim Plants. I used to avoid trimming back my plants because they filled a space in my garden nicely. Plants need space, air and light. Trimming allows them to get enough of the resources they need to grow properly. Plants also have their trimming season.
  5. Invest in garden gloves. When I first started gardening, I did not use gloves because I wanted to feel the earth and the plants. I have grown wiser after many infected cuts and painful pricks from thorns and needles. Find gloves that fit your hands and buy several for different tasks. Used gloves get stiff, cracked, or get gross with regular use. I replace mine often and feel better about my own health.

All Photos by Linda Daley

All photos by Linda Daley

If you were to look around my home you’d find I’ve placed buckets in the tub, shower, and sinks. The reason? I am intent on conserving water during the drought by capturing as much of our household water for reuse in my gardens and flushing the toilet. The daily yields of greywater captured from the sinks and tubs have given me useful information about our household water habits and usage. For example, I discovered that running our shower water until it gets hot fills up a five gallon bucket in no time.

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At some point our buckets graduated from an everyday utility pail to decorative home accessory. How did this happen? I blame the process of trial and error. I managed to accumulate a number of pails and containers while looking for the best ones for collecting water. Rather than storing my “failed” purchases in a closet, I thought instead to keep them where they may be needed. Hence, one bucket started holding long stemmed flowers – just like the ones you see in the farmers market – to add cheer to the bathroom, while another one was flipped upside down to serve as a convenient table or seat next to the tub.

farmers market flower buckets

Not my best decisions. Luckily, my husband put a stop to it. So I am passing along a few tips in case you have not yet ventured down this path during these drought-conscious times.

Things to Consider When Purchasing a Bucket for Greywater Collection:

Bucket size: The first set of buckets I purchased were too large. At 15 inches in height, I kept scraping my calf against them in our small shower. For my 5’-7” height, a 9-10 inch high bucket with rounded edges solved the problem. I also think the rectangular, versus round, buckets capture more water. For the shower or tub, you can purchase the larger sizes, but you will need a smaller pail to pour the water into (see why below). A 12-15 quart pail works for me.

Plastic versus metal: A bucket full of water is heavy. I learned right away that I don’t have the strength to carry a 5-gallon container of water (what was I thinking!) to the garden. Although I like the look of galvanized metal pails, the plastic ones are a bit lighter, and every ounce matters when you are hauling water through the house. Don’t go cheap on the plastic either; they won’t last long with constant use.

Handles: Make sure your pail has handles. I use the smaller 5-6 inch high containers in my kitchen because they fit perfectly in my sink. These containers do not come with handles but then my backyard is also a short distance from the kitchen. Sturdy handles just make carrying the water easier. Look for the ones with sturdy grips. Your hands will thank you.

Color: The first set of buckets I used were painting buckets. They are bright orange. I developed a negative emotional response whenever I saw the bright orange. Color matters. Surprisingly, buckets come in neutral and other colors. I now prefer to stick to white. Otherwise, I get caught up with the whole matching-to-décor thing. And my husband will have none of that anymore.

We live in Eagle Rock. It gets hot. A couple of years ago, we decided to make the plunge and install central air in our little 1922 bungalow. When the unit was being installed – on our roof, no less (thank you, narrow residential lot) – I noticed a PVC line being routed along the roof and down the side of the house: for drainage of air conditioning condensate.

Note the PVC line running out of the lower left of the package unit.

Note the PVC line running out of the lower left of the package unit.

I began to notice just how much water was being generated…and discharged into the dirt. This water begged to be captured. The solution was simple: I cut the PVC line, attached a threaded fitting, and ran a super-short hose into a bucket. On a warm summer evening, as our 1,400-square-foot house cools down, the 4-gallon bucket fills up in less than an hour! In the morning we pour the contents to water our lemon trees.

For less than the cost of a cold-pressed kale/banana/ginger juice, you can buy these parts.

For less than the cost of a cold-pressed kale/banana/ginger juice, you can buy these parts.

This represents 45 minutes of air conditioner condensate on a warm July afternoon.

This represents 45 minutes of air conditioner condensate on a warm July afternoon.

Plants need to stay cool, too.

Plants need to stay cool, too.

In a few months, I’ll let you know if the lemons have a peculiar aftertaste.

*This of course begs the question: is air conditioner water sanitary?

Image A

About 12 years ago I did a major home remodel and I remember when the building inspector told me that in order to get final sign-off of my permit that I needed to install rain gutters throughout the house. The gutters had to be directed to the driveway or directly to the street. I proceeded to comply to get my final approval, but I wondered why my rain water had to be drained away from my landscape.

After two years of watching rain water flow to the street, I decided to do something about it. I re-hired the same rain gutter contractor and had them reconfigure all of the downspouts so that rainwater would flow into several rain capture strategies, including landscape planters, dry well, permeable driveway, and a rain barrel. Fortunately, my house sits in an area of Los Angeles that has well-drained soils – my soil is very sandy and drains about 2 to 3 inches per hour. – which is key to having these strategies succeed.

Here are four rain capture strategies that I used around my home.

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1. Use Raised Planters: I built a raised planter in front of the house to capture half of the roof drainage. Since I buried part of my raised foundation I made sure we waterproofed the house footing to eliminate moisture from migrating to the wooden sill. I kept the soil level 6 inches below the top of the foundations. I reconfigured the front portion of the roof water to this planter.  I planted a combination of Chondropetalum and Agaves which will take both drought and wet conditions. However,  mostly drought these days. (image A)

Diagram by: Richard Quinn

Diagram by: Richard Quinn


2. Install a Dry Well: I raised my front yard around 14 inches so that none of my front yard drainage would run over the sidewalk. I installed a “Dry Well” along the street edge. You can see the two plastic drain covers which not only captures the surface water, but also gave me a place to observe the drywell. The drywell basically consist of a 20 foot long, 24″ diameter perforated PVC pipe in a 36″ deep trench that is filled with gravel and a 12″ layer of topsoil. This has been my flower garden, strawberry patch and vegetable garden for the last 10 years. (Image B)

Driveway
3. Think Permeability:  I re-built my driveway to be more permeable. I placed gravel strips along the entire length of the driveway to capture all the surface water. It essentially created a series of “mini-check dams” that stopped the miscellaneous water from running down to the curb. Each gravel strip had a 24″ deep by 12″ wide gravel filled area to hold the water. What you see on the surface is a 4″ wide strip which most people think is simply a aesthetic design feature.

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4. Add Rain Barrels:  I installed rain barrels to capture, hold and re-use the rain water. We use this water to irrigation our surrounding landscape. If you go on to the City of Los Angeles DWP website you may qualify for a rebate. Check it out.

If you need help installing it, the City of Los Angeles has a great video. Rain barrels are inexpensive and easy to install. Here is a video from the DWP website: