- Author: Erich Warkentine
The Farm + Food Lab, located in the City of Irvine's Great Park, features themed raised-bed gardens, fruit trees, vertical gardening, a worm compost bin, and solar and wind-powered lights. It is operated by a partnership consisting of the City of Irvine, Solutions for Urban Ag, and the UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County.
During a recent visit to Southern California, we visited the Farm + Food Lab. It turned out that officially it was closed due to high winds, but we introduced ourselves to two of the people who were working on site and were privileged to be given a private tour! Everyone had their own tour highlights, but two on which we all agreed were (1) the survivor tree – progeny of a tree from the center of the 9/11 building complex – which is now growing big and strong; and (2) three progeny of the Manzanar Pear Trees.
Some of the themed beds include the Pizza and Spaghetti Garden, Butterfly Garden and chicken coop, and pollinator garden.
The Orange County Master Gardeners present classes to the community on such topics as garden tool care and maintenance and fruit tree pruning and berry planting. Orange County Master Food Preservers have presented classes on food preserving.
For more information, see:
- Author: Jan Rhoades
Well, it is that time again. The holidays are over so I can spend dreamy nights curled up on the couch with the seed catalogues and sunny winter days digging in the garden beds. Ah, a gardener's heart filled with hope and joy for the coming season!
Thinking back on my veggie gardens, I have always planted borage. Somewhere along the way, someone made sure I knew how important it is as a garden addition. It attracts pollinators, is a beneficial companion plant, has nutritious edible leaves and flowers, is virtually pest free, and, as a bonus, it is a prolific self-seeder.
A historic medicinal herb, Borage (Borago officinalis), is a Mediterranean annual also known as starflower, bee bush, bee bread, and bugloss. It's not only a favorite plant of honey bees, but also attracts bumble bees and small, native bees. It has served many purposes from the time of ancient Rome to the present. Pliny the Elder believed it to be an anti-depressant, and that it gave courage and comfort to the heart. Francis Bacon thought that borage had "an excellent spirit to repress the fuliginous vapour of dusky melancholie.” One old wives' tale states that if a woman slipped a bit of borage into a promising man's drink, it would give him the courage to propose.
John Gerard's Herball (Published in 1597) mentions an old verse concerning the plant: "Ego Borago, Gaudia semper ago (I, Borage, bring always joys)". He states that "Those of our time do use the flowers in salads to exhilerate and make the mind glad. There be also many things made of these used everywhere for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the mind. The leaves and flowers of Borage put into wine make men and women glad and merry and drive away all sadness, dullness and melancholy, as Syrup made of the flowers of Borage comfort the heart, purge melancholy and quiet the frantic and lunatic person. The leaves eaten raw engender good blood, especially in those that have been lately sick.”
At one time borage was grown by beekeepers to boost honey production. It can be grown as an ornamental plant, but is also edible. You could say that borage is a sort of super plant.
In the garden, the claimed uses of borage include repelling pests such as hornworms, attracting pollinators, and aiding any plants it is interplanted with by increasing resistance to pests and disease. It is also helpful to, and compatible with, most plants — notably tomatoes, strawberries, legumes, spinach, brassicas, and squash. Some strawberry farmers set a few plants in their beds to enhance flavor and yield. Tomatoes planted near borage seem to improve in growth and disease resistance. Borage adds trace minerals to the soil it is planted in, and is good for composting and mulching.
It is an annual, but readily self-seeds and thrives in full sun. It is so proficient in self-seeding, in fact, that once a borage plant has established itself in your garden, you will likely never have to reseed again! The bloom period is different for various climates and growing zones. In my garden, borage will bloom from mid-spring to early fall. Borage will bloom for many weeks if the older flowers are trimmed off, and you can often push tattered plants to make a comeback by pruning them back halfway in midsummer. Healthy borage plants shed numerous black seeds, so expect to see volunteers for two years after growing borage. Self-sown borage seedlings are easy to dig and move, or you can pull and compost the ones you don't want.
Now, you may be thinking, “This is amazing! How in the world do I grow this miracle plant for myself?” It's quite simple actually. Seeds germinate easily and are best sown in full or partial sun under ½ inch (1 cm) of soil. Borage is not fussy and grows happily in poor soil. It's easy to sprinkle a patch with seeds and then cover it with a few handfuls of soil or compost. The plants can easily grow to be 3 feet (91 cm) tall and 2 feet (61 cm) wide, so give them room to grow, and let them shade your partial sun plants. Water well until the seeds germinate and the plants are established, then water only when dry. Feed monthly with a balanced organic fertilizer at half the recommended rate. Treat this easy-to-keep herb well and it will reward you with scores of beautiful flowers, lush foliage, and fertile soils.
If the Borage begins to take over your garden just thin out by hand pulling the plants out. The shallow roots will dislodge easily. Remember that the stalks are prickly, so you may need to wear garden gloves.
- Author: Trina Tobey
I woke up on my seventeenth birthday to find my parent's juvenile maple tree had magically converted to a banana plant overnight and had a resident monkey…and no, I was not dreaming. My very creative friend Whitney had snuck into my yard in the middle of the night to tie bananas and a stuffed monkey from the tree limbs. Twenty years later, this “banana tree” is the most beguiling gift I have received.
I come from a family of practical jokers. My dad loves to prank my children, and they love to get their revenge whenever they can. So when my dad's birthday came around this year, my kids and I took a page from Whitney's book, and plotted the perfect gardening practical joke. My dad hates watermelon and so my daughter suggested we put a watermelon garden in his yard. We found the fake vines with leaves and garden gnome at the thrift store and new Family Dollar in town for less than $10 altogether. All that was left to buy was a few mini watermelons and voilà, we had an instant watermelon garden! We got up at 4:30 A.M. the morning of his birthday and stealthily tip-toed into his backyard planting our prank garden into the middle of his pristine lawn. Now, the most fun was his response. He took pictures and posted them on social media, texted family and friends, and grilled every suspect until my daughter finally caved under the pressure two days later. My mom said, “He really got a big kick out of that!”
Here are some other ideas for gardening pranks, but the possibilities are endless and guaranteed to make for great stories and laughs for years to come. You could decorate your friend's garden with the ugliest garden ornaments you can find at yard sales. Put a gnome, flamingo, or other figurine in a garden and move it periodically (like Elf on a Shelf) posing it to do various gardening tasks. Attach store bought fruit or vegetables to a plant of a different species (i.e. tie oranges to an apple tree). And then there is the rubber snake, always guaranteed to create a startle but not for the faint at heart.
Be creative, have fun, and, most importantly, pick the right person or they might not think it is funny.
- Author: Trina Tobey
Every parent has been there. You spend an hour chopping and stir frying veggies and cooking up that perfect sauce just to hear, “This is gross!” or “I'm not hungry!” as your children make disgusted faces and unenthusiastically poke at the food on their plates. You're goal: to feed your children healthy delicious meals. Their goal: to eat dessert or unhealthy snacks instead. We've all given the lecture, “You should be grateful you have healthy food to eat because a lot of children go hungry.” I've even sermonized to my three kids about all of the people and work it took to put that meal on their plates.
Nothing, however, is more powerful than doing. Getting my kids out in the garden involved in the growing of their food has been the most effective “trick” to getting them to eat vegetables. They eat everything from chives to tomatoes straight out of the garden, especially when I tell them to “Stop eating all of my vegetables!”
The most important component to successful gardening with children is, you guessed it, FUN! We bought our kids colorful kid-sized gardening tools and gloves. These were gleefully accepted with a shout of “toys!” Next, get rid of any ideas you have of how your kids are going to garden. After making the mistake of expecting my kids to garden in a neat and orderly way following my directions and ending up nagging them to death, I learned instead to designate a plot in the garden for each child, let them pick out their plants or seeds at the nursery, and then, after some light instruction, I let them go at it in their own way. Sometimes things grew, and sometimes they didn't. It's all part of the learning experience.
In addition to eating from the plants in the garden, gardening has been healthy for my kids in several ways. They are getting outside and moving their bodies instead of sitting in front of their electronic device of choice. They are building skills and abilities which make them feel confident, especially when they see something they planted grow and produce. They are learning experimentally about the soil, how plants grow, and the bugs and birds that rely on the plants. Most importantly, they are sharing the experience with you!
- Author: Amy Weurdig
It's been awhile since I attempted gardening any kinds of vegetables out in the Mesa after the initial year of failures.
I thought hard about putting in raised beds closer to the house, maybe putting in a pest deterrent fence around it.
I've had some fun and a lot of success having my garden at the Bishop Community Garden, so why would I want to garden at home? Well, it'd be great to just pick what I needed for the meal right then, rather than planning on it ahead of time and driving the 11 miles into town. Not very eco-friendly to keep driving back and forth to get a tomato!
So this year, we had some left over tomato starts and I acquired a six pack of habanero peppers that I decide to try out in a trug – you know one of those rubbery garden buckets. The idea being that the trug would elevate the plants enough that the critters couldn't reach them – like a raised bed.
Fast forward 3 weeks: the plants looked pretty good. Had some crazy windy, cold, rainy weather for a couple weeks,but the plants still looked good. Then one evening I went out to water and found stumps.
All my plants were stumps. Cleanly eaten with no evidence at all other than the stumps.
So, my test showed that if I should do raised beds, they need to be at least 3' feet off the ground, enclosed in a wire cage, in order to see any fruits of my labor.
Here is the moral of my story: I'll keep my plot at the Community Garden where I get to see my friends, pull weeds, and pick my veggies free of pepper-eating varmints.