In the Garden
by Master Gardener Ellie Samuel
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a flowering vegetable usually thought of as a southern crop. But, if you can grow tomatoes in your garden, you can grow okra. It is in the same family as mallow, cotton, hibiscus, cocoa and hollyhock. This is evident from the distinctive flowers—commonly yellow or creamy white, but also shades of red. The large flowers have five petals, and may have a red or purple spot at the base of each petal. It is a lovely addition to an edible landscape. The young pods, leaves and flowers are edible. And, the old, fibrous pods can be dried and used for flower arrangements. What a plant!
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
Summer officially arrives on June 21. Wednesday, July 1, 2015 is the full moon closest to the beginning of summer. On this night, the area of your yard bathed in moonlight will be the area of your yard with the most sun in the winter. This is the best place for your fall and winter food garden.
Weed and weed some more. Add more mulch (to 3-4” deep), as necessary, to suppress weeds and to retain moisture. Keep mulch away from stems.
As the weather warms up, the evapotranspiration (ET) rate increases – which affects the amount of moisture your food garden needs. ON AVERAGE, during the summer – your garden needs 1 inch of water per square foot per week. How much is 1 inch of water in a square foot? About 2/3 gallon (0.623 gallon to be more exact). Here is some advice on using water efficiently in a drought year:
Rely on compost to feed your soil. That and mulch will retain soil moisture.
Water daily (or every other day if your locality has restrictions) – adjust the weekly water needs to a daily figure. In general, vegetables perform better when there is even moisture in the soil in the Sonoma County hot, dry summer. In a drought year, we don’t have enough water to deep water.
Water only the active root zone. For most veggies, this is 6- to 12-inches deep; in deep soil in an open field or in double-dug beds, this may be 18-inches deep; for many fruit trees, this is 2- to 3-feet deep.
Use a drip system which is the most efficient application of water. Keep it in good repair.
Irrigate in the early morning or the cool of the evening – not mid-day when evaporation rates are at their highest.
Water only when needed – if the ET rate drops below average, decrease irrigation. Check the moisture in your soil daily and your plants’ reaction to drought stress (symptoms of wilt or dull color), and adjust your irrigation accordingly. Actual watering schedules will depend on soil type, container vs. in-ground, plant age (leaf/plant size), mulch, exposure and, especially, temperature.
Stake tomatoes (and use soft ties) or use cages if it was not done at the time of planting. Don’t handle tomatoes in the morning when they are wet from dew – disease can spread and you can bruise the plant. Tomatoes will be more bendable in the afternoon.
As you finish your transition from a spring to summer garden, choose early vegetable varieties with shorter “days to maturity,” that have high yields, and/or that are “drought-tolerant” or “drought-resistant” to efficiently use water. Note that “heat-resistant” refers to air temperature and does not mean that the variety performs well with less water.
When apple, pear, peach and nectarine trees have formed small fruit, thin them to about 4 to 6 inches apart – about the space between your thumb and pinky finger. Less fruit requires less water.
During the spring bloom period, fertilize citrus – but lightly during a drought. Typically, mature trees use up to 3 lbs of urea or 20-30 lbs of animal manure per year (reduce for smaller trees); split the application into three during April, June and August.
Remember to look at your planting calendar, annotated with days to maturity, so that you harvest your crops at their peak of flavor.
Fight critters with critters – build a bat or owl house. Bats eat moths – like the ones that lay worms on vegetables. Voles are a tasty treat for owls.
Inspect crops regularly throughout their growing season for early problem diagnosis and resolution. Refer to University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site. Use yellow sticky tape to control whiteflies or apply insecticidal soap to the undersides of leaves. Larger pests such as hornworms and squash bugs can be handpicked and dropped into a container of soapy water or cut worms in half with garden shears.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH
LEEKS, Feb-Jul, C, T, 120-150 days to maturity
SWISS CHARD, Feb-Aug, C, D/T, 60-80 days to maturity
LETTUCE (heat-tolerant varieties this month), Feb-Oct, C, D/T, 50-60 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
MELONS, May-Jun, W+, D/T, 85-120 days to maturity
PARSNIPS, May-Jun, C, D, 90-120 days to maturity
SQUASH, WINTER, May-Jun, W, D/T, 80-120 days to maturity
BEAN, POLE, May-Jul, W, D, 60-70 days to maturity
BEAN, BUSH, May-Sep, W, D, 55-65 days to maturity
ARTICHOKES, May-Sep, C, D/T, 130-190 days to maturity
CARDOON, May-Sep, C, T, 180 days to maturity
CELERY, Jun-Jul, C, T, 120-170 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