In the Garden
Five Easy Vegetables for the New Food Gardener
By Master Gardener Stephanie Wrightson
Food Gardening Specialists in 2015
by SCMG and Food Gardening Editor Stephanie Wrightson
The Food Gardening Specialists (FGS) is a subgroup of Sonoma County Master Gardeners. Members have specialty training and a passion for growing food. Their first planning meeting of 2015 last month started with a question: What new thing are you going to do in your food garden this year? The answers were varied with a few themes weaving throughout—not the least of which was food gardening with less water.
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
COMPOST! MULCH! WEED! These actions will help you keep moisture in the soil during this drought year. Incorporate 2-4 inches of compost in your soil to retain moisture, improve soil health and to see higher yields with the same amount of water. Most vegetables’ active root zone is in the top 6-12 inches – so, incorporate to 12 inches. Incorporate deeper if you have deep soil or you have double-dug beds. Add 3-4” of mulch (straw, decaying leaves, grass clippings, etc.) to retain water, cool soil and suppress weeds that compete with plants for water. Leave a gap around the collar/stem of plants to avoid rot. Strawberries and blueberries prefer acidic mulch such as pine needles. If you want to incorporate 2 inches of compost in an 8 x 4 foot raised bed, you will need 0.20 cu yd of compost. If you want to add 4 inches of mulch to the top of this bed, order 0.40 cu yd of mulch.
Rely on compost as your slow-release fertilizer. Caution: If you add too much compost or additional high nitrogen fertilizer, you will see a green flush of growth that will require extra water and will attract more insects.
Start irrigation when there is insufficient moisture in the soil. In a drought year, conserve water. Check the soil daily. Dig to the active root zone level or use a probe to check soil moisture. Look at plants for signs of drought stress (wilt; dull leaf color). In a drought year, there is not enough water to water deeply. A better strategy, when the weather is hot, is to divide the plants’ weekly water needs into daily applications so that there is even soil moisture. If your city has restricted watering to every other day, then divide the weekly plants’ weekly water need accordingly.
When buying transplants, look for uncrowded sturdy seedlings. Stay away from thick peat pots that don’t decompose well in Sonoma County’s hot, dry summer. Also, look for crops and varieties that are “drought-tolerant” or “drought-resistant.” Check out our “Drought Resistant Crops and Varieties” guide.
April 15 is the average last frost date in the county. This is just an average; Low spots in Sonoma County can have a frost risk into May. Watch weather predictions and protect any warm weather crops set out before the end of the month. See the list of cool weather plants below that can be planted safely in April.
Continue to thin/harvest any root and salad crops for proper spacing.
During the spring bloom period, fertilize citrus. For mature trees use 3 lbs of urea or 20-30 lbs of animal manure (reduce for smaller trees), splitting the application into three: April, June and August. Citrus is a heavy water user. Consider waiting until fall before planting new trees.
Build or purchase trellises for spring/summer crops that may require support or that you wish to grow vertically. Peas, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes are easy to grow on a trellis or in an upright cage. Potato towers also save space and provide a long harvest if you layer late-, mid- and early-season varieties in the tower.
Codling moth can be a significant problem for apple and pear trees. If you had wormy fruit last year, spray summer oil weekly during the egg-laying period, which is anytime moths are flying. An option for backyard orchards is hand thinning to remove all infested fruit during each generation (before worms leave fruit) and removal of dropped fruit.
Inspect crops regularly throughout their growing season for early problem diagnosis and resolution. Refer to University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site. If earwigs are gnawing on your plants, trap them with rolled newspaper, bamboo tubes, or short pieces of hose. Place these traps on the soil near plants just before dark, and shake accumulated earwigs out into a pail of soapy water in the morning.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH
PEAS, Jan-Apr, C, D, 60-80 days to maturity
ONIONS, BULB, Jan-May, C, D/T, 100-120 days to maturity
GREENS, ASSORTED, Feb-Apr, C, D, 35-45 days to maturity
RADISHES, Feb-Apr, C, D, 20-60 days to maturity
POTATOES, Feb-May, C, D, 100-120 days to maturity
LEEKS, Feb-Jul, C, T, 120-150 days to maturity
SWISS CHARD, Feb-Aug, C, D/T, 60-80 days to maturity
LETTUCE, Feb-Oct, C, D/T, 50-60 days to maturity
BROCOLI, Mar-Apr, C, T, 60-80 days to maturity
CABBAGE, Mar-Apr, C, T, 70-100 days to maturity
CAULIFLOWER, Mar-Apr, C, T, 80-90 days to maturity
KOHLRABI, Mar-Apr, C, D, 60-70 days to maturity
BEETS, Mar-Aug, C, D, 55-70 days to maturity
CARROTS, Mar-Sep, C, D, 70-90 days to maturity
ONION, BUNCHING, Mar-Oct, C, D/T, 70-80 days to maturity
KALE, Mar-Nov, C, D/T, 65-75 days to maturity
ASPARAGUS (seedlings), Apr-Jun, C, T, 4 yrs to maturity from seedlings
CELERIAC, Apr-Jun, C, T, 150-160 days to maturity
OKRA, Apr-Jun, W, T, 70-80 days to maturity
PEPPERS, Apr-Jun, W+, T, 65-85 days to maturity
PUMPKINS, Apr-Jun, W, D/T, 100-115 days to maturity
TOMATILLOS, Apr-Jun, W, T, 70-80 days to maturity
TOMATOES, Apr-Jun, W+, T, 50-90 days to maturity
CORN, SWEET, Apr-Jul, W, D, 65-110 days to maturity
CUCUMBERS, Apr-Jul, W+, D/T, 50-70 days to maturity
SQUASH, SUMMER, Apr-Jul, W, D/T, 50-60 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