In the Garden
No-Till Food Gardening
by SCMG and Food Gardening Editor Stephanie Wrightson
by Sonoma County Master Gardener Tweedy Olson
Growing Food in a Drought Year
- How much available water will I have for a food garden?
- How much food do I need to grow and can I grow it with available water?
- What supplemental water is available and how safe is it for edibles?
We need to educate ourselves about the water needs of various crops and stages of plant growth that require irrigation. In this regard, we should explore crops and varieties that may be new to us, but are drought-tolerant.
The Food Gardening Specialists (FGS) group are providing water-saving strategies Sonoma gardeners can employ and outlining best practices they can put in effect to retain moisture in the soil and use water efficiently as well as what planting choices may allow them to bring crops to a successful harvest. Their action plan for food gardeners is contained in these documents:
Food Gardening with Less Water
Drought-Tolerant Crops and Varieties
The following two expanded documents provide additional guidance to help Sonoma County food gardeners answer two important questions: Will I have enough available water to have a food garden this year? – AND – If I have available water, how much water does my food garden need?
A More In-Depth Look at Food Gardening With Less Water
How Much Water Does My Food Garden Need?
Free food gardening workshops are held in Sonoma County community gardens and are open to the public. The FGS are conducting new workshops this spring (commencing late March) titled - Food Gardening in a Drought. Workshops will be repeated in the fall. Check the SCMG Calendar for the dates and locations near you.
Harvesting & Preserving Garden Bounty
Food Garden Tips
Prepare a garden plan that includes what to plant where to plant and when to start seed indoors and/or set out transplants. Plan to place crops with similar water needs near each other. New gardeners should keep it simple: start with transplants unless it is a crop that is recommended for direct seeding in the garden. The experienced gardener will want to plan to make the most of garden space by planning for succession planting, companion planting and intercropping.
When planning your spring garden, implement water-wise practices. See “Food Gardening with Less Water” prepared by the Food Gardening Specialists.
Buy a calendar to record planting and, based on DTM, harvest dates. Make notes as to your successes/favorites and failures. If you kept a record last year, use it in your garden planning decisions.
If you only have space for a small vegetable bed, modify your garden plan to include edibles in your ornamental beds.
Plant bare root fruit trees.
Spray fruit trees with dormant oil after pruning and before buds start to open.
Protect frost-tender plants on cold nights. If you use a tarp or sheet on evergreen plants, use stakes to make sure that covers do not touch the leaves. Remove plastic or heavy covers during the day; frost cloth may stay in place on cold days. If you use lights as a heat source, note that the new energy-saving light strings do not generate enough heat. Mulch insulates the roots from cold. Potted plants can be moved under shelter. Finally, make sure that citrus is well-watered as the freezing temps will turn the water in the soil to ice, making some of it unavailable to the plants.
Good soil = healthy plants. Top your soil with finished compost. This will improve soil nutrition and tilth and feed the beneficial microorganisms that help plants uptake nutrients in the soil. No need to work it in – let winter showers and soil “heaving” do that for you. In any event, do not work very wet soil. If you had serious problems in your food garden last year, a soil analysis may be helpful. Many local nurseries have kits for this purpose. The analysis will show levels of nitrogen (N) which encourages green growth, phosphorus (P) which stimulates root growth and potassium (K) which promotes flower bud and fruit growth. In addition to other nutrients, the test also measures pH (measure of acidity or alkalinity) which affects the availability of nutrients to plants.
Incorporate information from the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site in your garden planning to avoid food garden problems. For example, planning a food garden, consider that members of the same plant family are susceptible to the same diseases and pests – calling for crop rotation. Plants in the Solanaceae family – potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers – should be rotated as much as possible.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH
RHUBARB, Dec-Mar, C, D/T, 1 yr maturity from roots, 3 yrs from seed
ASPARAGUS, CROWNS, Jan-Mar, C, T, 2 yrs to maturity from roots/crowns
PEAS, Jan-Apr, C, D, 60-80 days to maturity
ONIONS, BULB, Jan-May, C, D/T, 100-120 days to maturity
*NOTE: Planting dates are approximate for Sonoma County; weather patterns, microclimate and other growing conditions must be considered when direct seeding and transplanting. “Days to maturity” is approximate and depends on the vegetable variety and your garden’s specific growing conditions. This information will facilitate planting dates that lead to successful production before the growing season ends.
W = warm season crops that grow best in soil temps of 65-80 degrees and air temps of 75-90 degrees and little cooling at night.
W+ = warm season crops that need extra protection to keep them warm if planted early in season.
C = cool season crops that grow best in soil temps of 60-65 degrees and air temps of 65-75 degrees.
D = seed is usually sown directly in the garden
T = crops are usually planted from transplants
D/T = seeds can be planted directly into soil or transplants can be used
Selected Kitchen Garden Recipes
Dilled Cucumber Soup
Bok Choy Stir-Fry
Carciofi alla Romana
Classic French Omelet with Herbs de Provence
Fennel Pollen Update
Fennel-Pollen Crusted Halibut
Grandma's Herbed Triscuit Hors d'oeuvres
Grilled Padron Peppers
Honey Fig Jam
Lemony Rice and Shrimp Salad
Other Fennel Recipes