Wow, are we really almost finished with the first week of August?! This summer really has seemed to have flown by. Things in my garden have started to reach the chaos phase- tomatoes branches sprawled with far reach, vines no longer contained to their designated trellises, and top heavy sunflowers bent and fallen all over the place. Kitchen counters are in full mid-summer mode, and covered daily with ripening pears, tomatoes, cucumbers and of course, squash.
Despite the heat, we are slowly creeping into the Autumn season, and in addition to dealing with summer’s bounty, it is time to start thinking about the fall and winter gardens.
Northern California Gardening Checklist: August
Start fall veggies. Direct seed carrots, onions, peas and radishes. Start broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, kale and spinach seeds inside. Next month is also a fine time to plant, even into October, so if you don’t have space yet or just don’t have time, don’t worry.
Prune hydrangeas. Prune back right after blooming. Cut stems that have bloomed back to 12 inches. Most varieties produce flowers on previous year’s growth, so when pruning for shape and to control size, avoid cutting cutting off buds.
Harvest, harvest harvest. If you can’t eat it all fresh, preserve for the winter by dehydrating, pickling, fermenting, canning or freezing. Offer to friends, set out on the curb with a free sign, donate to the food pantry, or leave on your neighbor’s doorstep.
Water. Despite it being warmer than ever, it may be possible to water less. Now that most plants have set fruit, they don’t need as much as previous when putting on growth. If you have harvested all that you will off a particular plant, stop water completely. Maintain constant moisture on tomatoes to prevent blossom-end rot. If you do start new seeds, make sure to keep moist, and try keeping a shade cloth over the area to prevent moisture loss.
Maintain flowers. Make sure to bring some blooms inside so you can appreciate them. Deadhead fading flowers to keep in bloom longer, or leave dead blooms standing for the birds. Summer is a busy time in the garden, with a frenzy of birds consuming seeds from my spent bachelor buttons, sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias. I love to watch tiny finches perch on swaying stalks to nom down on tiny seeds. If you don’t want to leave dead or drooping flowers standing in the garden, pick the seed heads off and dry, then set in on a platform bird feeder.
Plan ahead for fruit. If you want to plant fruit trees in the winter, but not sure what time, now is the time to start planning ahead. Sample varieties at the local farm stands and farmers markets to find which types you like best.
Control fire-blight. Its a bad year for fire-blight, especially in pears. This bacterial disease affects new growth on apples, pears, quince and pyracantha, leaving it dead and blackened. Prune affected branches 8-12 inches below the infected area, dipping pruners in a bleach solution after every cut.
Prune berries. As soon as they have finished fruiting, cut berry canes that bore fruit off at the base. Tie new canes to a trellis.
Happy July! After a dreary spring, summer has come crashing in and brought the heat with it. This month is an awkward month for planting, it’s too hot and late to plant most spring and summer crops, but too hot and early for the fall and winter veggies. Instead, focus your efforts on keeping up with the harvest!
Northern California Gardening Checklist: July
Minimize fire risk. Mow or weedwhack down dry wild grasses and weeds around the house, doing the work early in the morning. Clear away dead branches from shrubs and trees. Check out Fire Safe Sonoma for more guidelines and how to keep your home safe.
Prop up fruit trees. To prevent limb breakage on fruit trees, use wooden supports to brace heavy limbs that are sagging with fruit.
Water. Water early early in the morning to minimize evaporation. Adjust irrigation systems to water more often (if needed) to compensate for the heat. I try to get out before 7:00 every morning to water my beds. Its best for the plants and, bonus, I don’t get all sweaty hauling the hose around. Check containers regularly. If you forget about a pot, and the soil contracts leaving gaps at the side, soak the container to rehydrate the soil.
Prune berry vines. When your done harvesting, cut old canes (the ones that have just bore) off at the base, and tie new canes to the trellis.
Prune wisteria. To extend the height or length of the vine, select some of the new stems and tie to a support in the direction you want them to grow. Then, cut the rest back to within 6 inches of the main branch.
Feed. If you didn’t enrich the soil when planting, feed tomatoes lightly. If you have issues with blossom end rot, apply a liquid calcium.
Harvest. Pick cucumbers, beans and squash daily. Tomatoes start to ripen this month, as well as melons, eggplants and peppers. Keep up with fruit harvest and remove any fallen fruit off the ground to prevent a mess and pests. I’ll be doing posts later this month on ideas on how to use all the plums and summer squash we are all inundated with.
Deadhead. Pick off faded blooms from annuals and perennials such as daisies, geraniums, marigolds, repeat blooming roses and penstemons to prolong flowerings.
Preserve. Canning season is now here! I’ll be doing a post next week on helpful preserving season tips. Make jam from the influx of summer fruits. If you can’t get to it right away or need to accumulate enough fruit to make it worth it, wash, pit and measure out them store in the freezer until you have more time. Ferment the cucumbers into pickles. Run fruits though the dehydrator.
Plan. Curl up in front of an AC, or at least a fan, and start planning the fall garden. Order seeds for cool-season veggies like lettuce, broccoli, carrots, kale and radishes.
Author and poet Margaret Atwood said “In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” And what a glorious time Spring is in the garden! The lengthening hours of daylight give us more time to be outside, and each day brings hope and possibilities. Meals from my kitchen are transitioning from the winter kales, carrots and leeks to the first of the spring artichokes, peas and baby lettuces. And eggs. So. Many. Eggs! Now is the perfect time to start a garden, or get to work on the tasks for an existing ones. Make sure to take time to notice the flowers, listen to the chatter of birds, and observe how many shades of green are out there.
The Northern California & Sonoma County April Checklist
Weed! I could spend entire weeks pulling and digging up weeds, and have little to show for it. But really, try and dedicate some time each day to this chore. If it seems to daunting to tackle them all at once, choose just a section and deal with the others later. At minimum, make sure to get them pulled before they go to seed. I’ve taken up the practice of going outside first thing, often still in my pajamas, and pulling the burmuda grass and bindweed around my fruit trees while my tea cools.
Transplant seedlings and start hardening off. If you started your own seeds inside, you’re likely at the point of needing to transplant into 4″ pots. I transplanted my tomatoes yesterday, and plan to transplant peppers early next week. Its also time to start hardening off starts, by gradually acclimating them to the outside.
Shop for starts. If you didn’t start your own seeds, or you had some varieties not germinate, now is the time to start shopping for starts. Nurseries now have all the summer veggies in stock, as well as 6-packs of annual flowers. Check back in a few days for a post on my recommended places to shop, what to look for, and what to avoid.
Plant veggies!!! For the first few weeks of April, you can still sow seeds or transplant lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes, chard, kale and spinach. The summer veggies need to wait until the later part of the month. Remember we still have a change of frost until around April 10. Even if there is no frost, heat-loving veggies like tomatoes need day and night temps of 55 degrees and up, so planting out earlier likely won’t jumpstart your season. Keep an eye on the weather and take your chances, but we are still in the 40’s right now at night. Once we past the frost date, follow these planting guidelines:
Tomatoes, 0-1 week after
Basil- 1 week after
Cucumbers- 1-2 weeks after
Eggplants, melons, peppers & squash- 2 weeks after
Plant citrus. Once the danger of frost has passed, plant citrus trees.
Bulbs. Plant summer blooming bulbs like dahlias and gladiolus. Leave the faded foliage on spring blooming bulbs, instead of cutting away, so the nutrients are drawn back to the bulb.
Watch for pests and beneficials. If you’re having an aphid invasion, its tempting to spray them all away, but consider giving nature a chance to find balance. Ladybugs and other beneficials are arriving to the garden in masses, and for them to stick around, they need to have food. Before you deem a plant lost and pull it out for the chickens, check to see if there are beneficial larva or eggs present, and consider leaving the infested plant.
Prune off frost damage. If you had plants that suffered any frost damage, its now safe to prune off the dead or damaged parts.
Feed. If you didn’t get to it yet, feed roses and citrus. Feed azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons when they are done blooming.
Help out the bees and birds. The drought is also hard on birds and bees, so make sure to have water available. If bees have to spend all their effort finding water, they won’t be able to pollinate and the constant stress will shorten their life. In my garden, bees drink from my birdbath, as its rough sloping sides make it easy for the bees to gradually approach the water. You can also set out a tray filled with rocks or float branches or corks in a bucket.
Watch for mosquitos. While it is important to have water out for the birds and the bees, you don’t want to provide a breeding ground for mosquitos. Empty any standing water every few days (make sure to water plants with it!) and ensure rainbarrel openings are covered with a screen.
Thin fruit. When baby fruits are about as large as a dime, thin so the remaining fruit gets larger and weight on young branches is reduced. Cherries, figs, persimmons, citrus and pomegranates usually self thin, dropping what they need to around June, but stone fruits like plums and peaches, and pomes like apples and pears will need thinning. Keep the largest of fruits, and thin to every 2-5″, depending on final size of fruit. University of California has a great handout for more information. Some people think thinning isn’t necessary, and according to neighbors, my Blenheim was never thinned. I’m unsure of my philosophy on thinning yet, so I’ll be doing more research.
Water. We are now in irrigation season, and California is still in our epic drought. I’ll have a post soon about gardening in a drought, but here’s a quick summary on some water guidelines. Deep-water trees and established plants, and prioritize watering young trees, perennials, and edibles. Before watering, check the soil’s moisture content. Hot days may cause plants to wilt, giving the impression it needs water, but a well mulched bed may still be moist. Dig down a few inches with a trowel or stick a finger in the soil to see if still wet or if it needs water. Water at the base of plants, not overhead on the foliage, so the water goes where it is most needed.
Kill your lawn. We don’t have water we can waste, and your lawn should be the first thing to go. Especially if you don’t use your lawn. Nothing screams asshole like keeping a perfectly manicured and bright green front lawn you never step foot on in the middle of a drought. Add an extra notch of douche-bag is you’re overhead watering in the middle of the day! (which is also now illegal, btw.) Let it go into a wild meadow, sheet mulch, plant natives, or replace with a low-growing groundcover. If you’re still convinced you need your lawn because your kids/dog/etc. love it, consider if a trip to the park could satisfy that need. Save your water for your shade trees or for things you can eat. And I now climb off my soap box….
What are you looking forward to this month?
“To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves”. — Mahatma Gandhi
Signs of Spring are all around us. It is still a bit early to put out things like tomatoes and squash, but there are lots of opportunities to get out and play in the dirt! Its also a great time to go outside and observe the beauty all around! My fruit trees are in bud, I’ve got daffodils blooming, there is delightful green grass everywhere, and vineyards and fallow fields are awash in yellow mustards.
The Northern California & Sonoma County March Checklist:
Start seeds inside. If you haven’t seeded your tomatoes yet, do it now! Check out this post for my indoor seed starting setup. I start almost everything inside, so I’ll be starting squash, melons, cucumbers, and basil inside this month.
Sow seeds outside. Cool weather plants like kale, radish, lettuce and peas can be seeded or transplanted outside. Many flowers, like cosmos and nasturtiums, can be seeded or transplanted out later in the month as well.
Plant potatoes: If you haven’t bought your seed potatoes already, rush out to Harmony or do an online order today, because potatoes can go in the ground next week!
Weed! As they say: “one year’s seeding makes seven year’s weeding”. Pull weeds as they appear, or at least before they flower and set seed. The somewhat soft ground from the meager rain we had in February have make this task a bit easier. Cover any bare ground with mulch to prevent a hostile take over.
Check your drip system, or install a system. Watering by drip is one of the best ways to conserve water, and pretty soon we will be in the middle of watering season. Check your existing system for cracks or leaks, repair as necessary, or put in a new system. Cover with mulch to protect the line from sun damage and retain moisture. Plus, it makes your yard look better.
Watch for aphids and other pests. Warmer weather means aphids are rapidly multiplying. Seemingly overnight I’ve got them clustered on my Cavolo Nero kale, artichokes and some of the remaining brassicas. Blast away with a stream of water, make up a soapy spray, leave for the ladybugs to take care of, or declare defeat and feed the plant to the chickens. Snails and slugs are also out in full force.
Plant perennials and trees. Although it’s technically better to plant perennial shrubs and trees in the fall, there is a great selection entering the nurseries now. Green thumbs are itching to plant something, and perennials can meet that need.
Fertilize citrus, roses and other blooming plants if you didn’t do it last month.
Build new beds or amend current ones. March is a great time to get a garden started or expand a current one. Dry stack rocks to create a raised bed perfect for flowers, or find some cedar or redwood lumber to make a deeper bed for veggies. Fill with high quality amended soil, or double dig compost into your native soil. I use Sonoma Compost’s Hi-Test soil for my raised beds, then supplement with organic fertilizers to meet the needs of that crop. Even if you aren’t planning on growing lots of veggies, plant some low water flowers like zinnias, cosmos or sunflowers to help out bees and birds.
Consider removing your lawn. Given our long hot summers, and the ever growing drought, lawns just don’t make sense for our climate. Consider removing your lawn by sheet mulching and planting low-water use landscaping plants or putting in an edible garden. Santa Rosa has a rebate program if you convert your lawn, and offer classes on how to do it. Keep an eye on Daily Acts‘s calendar, as they often holds work parties and workshops as well.
Personal homesteading tasks include getting more shelves up in the pantry, doing some hard core spring cleaning and de-cluttering, building new nesting boxes for the hens that are easier to clean, and painting the final bits of the house. Do you have any big March projects planned?
To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds and watch their renewal of life—this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do” –Charles Dudley Warner
Here in Northern California, January is one of the coldest months. Veggie growth is limited, the ground is (hopefully) to wet to work, and the sky is dark by the time most of us get home from work. But keeping a homestead and a garden is a year round adventure, and there are still plenty of things to do during this cold and dark month!
The Northern California & Sonoma County January Checklist:
Dream of Spring. Read the seed catalogs, plan what and where to plant.
Pray for Rain. That one rain storm we had didn’t do anything to get us out of this damn drought, so keep doing your rain dances!
Shop for seeds. Some companies, especially the smaller ones, do run out of certain or rare varieties.
Shop for bare root plants. Fruit trees, berries, asparagus, horseradish, rhubarb, now is the time!
Plant bare root plants: I’ll be doing a post on planting strawberries later this week, and check out this post from last year about planting fruit trees.
Shop for summer blooming bulbs. Order dahlias, gladiolus, lilies and other summer bloomers now.
Keep an eye on houseplants: The constant dry-heat from heating systems stress house plants out, so make sure to keep well watered and mist occasionally. Relocate to a sunnier window if needed, and turn periodically to keep the plant in balance. If you have an ant issue, check your plants. I’ve found nests living in mine more than once.
Watch for frost: Check weather reports or use your senses on if frost is expected. Cloudless sky, no wind, dry and cold or projected low of 35 or cooler means cover up the frost tender plants or bring them inside, like citrus or succulents.
Prune: Now is the time to prune deciduous fruit trees, roses and ornamental shrubs. I’m not going to lie, I have no idea how the hell to prune correctly, so if your like me, enlist in help. I plan to ask my neighbor who has several successful trees, and I’m sending Matt to take a free class at Harmony. They have several coming up.
Sprayfruit trees : If you use it, apply a dormant spray to kill overwintering insects and spray sulfur for peach leaf curl.
Harvest citrus: They don’t ripen off the tree and reoccurring frosts will dry the juice up, so pick them when they are ready.
Clean and repair tools: Sharpen the pruners, track down the trowels, and oil wood handles so everything is in good shape.
Feed the bird: tuppence a bag, tuppence, tuppence…..(No? Ok, moving on….)Help the wild birds survive the hardships of winter by putting out seed and suet.
Anything I forgot? Is there something you do make sure to do in January for your home and garden?
Also- Happy New Year! Did you notice the new design? I figured it needed a new look. Are the pictures to big? I’d love any feedback or thoughts! -M