Tips for growing beans

Beans are best when grown during the warmer parts of the year.  Bush beans can be direct seeded into your garden from mid-March through mid-September.  Pole, Lima and Soy beans have a smaller planting window, usually, early-April through late-August. Fava beans are the seasonal exception and do best when planted either, mid-October thru late-November or as the spring is warming up from early-March thru April.  No matter what bean you are planting or during what season you are planting it, the fertilizing requirements are going to be the similar.  All beans seem to do best when they are planted either in a row or in a group of their peers.  They seem to feed off of and support each other, and in general perform better when with their friends.  Before transplanting, prepare the soil with compost, Landscape Mix, and worm castings.  If planting a row of seeds, use per four foot section, 3, 1,1 cups respectively of each of the above ingredients.  When planting bush beans individually, simply use a handful of each ingredient to feed your young seedling. When your beans are done producing, we recommend that you snip off the stems of the plants at soil level, so as to leave the roots in the ground, and then lay the above ground portion of the plant on the soil surface so that it can break down and feed the soil.   Beans want to be watered deeply and the soil surface should be allowed to dry out between waterings.

Tips for growing artichokes

Artichokes can be grown very successfully here in Southern California, especially in the cool climate that exists close to the coast.  Plants can grow to be 4-5 feet tall and will perennialize, coming back year after year if they are taken care of and not discovered by gophers, which love to feast on the succulent, tuberous root of the artichoke.  Artichokes will live in a dry, rocky, neglected location in your garden, but they will thrive and produce an abundant yield of edible flower buds, 4-7 per plant, if they are grown in a tended garden bed that has a rich, composted soil and receives ample amounts of water.  When you transplant an artichoke into your garden, we recommend loosening the soil 8-10 inches deep and 18 inches wide. Into this loosened area add and mix in, two double-handfuls of compost, three cups of our Landscape Mix and three cups of worm castings.  For each following year of the plants life, we say to mix in the same amount of amendment to the surrounding soil, as a way to keep the plant and the garden bed, healthy and problem free.

To protect against gophers, you can bury a gopher cage into the ground and then plant your artichoke into it.

Making the most of your potato growing experience

Potatoes are one of the most bountiful and rewarding crops that you, the home gardener, can grow.  It is possible, under the right conditions, to pull 30 times as many potatoes out of your garden, as you plant into it.  Plus, there are very few vegetables that can be as hearty, nutritious, and life sustaining as the potato.  For many indigenous peoples of the earth, the potato is, and has been their main source of starch, protein and vitamins and minerals for more than six thousand years.  So here is what to do, when you, the 21st century backyard gardener, wants to make the most of your potato growing experience.

The place to begin this project is with the preparation of your garden soil. While potatoes are adaptable to a wide range of conditions, from dry and rocky soils, to a rich, prepared garden bed, they prefer a soil that is deep, light and loose, well drained, but rich and moist.  These are aggressively rooting plants, and with a little love, can produce incredible yields.  The first step, is to deeply dig your planting area.  Then, into this zone add a good dose of compost and organic matter along with our Landscape Mix and several heaping handfuls of worm castings..  Organic matter, or humus, is important in that it lightens and aerates heavy soils, increases the moisture holding capacity of sandy soils, and also contributes an organic fertility to the soil that potatoes need to be truly healthy.   When adding humus or compost to your garden, it is preferable to use a material that has been made from vegetative matter, as opposed to a manure-based compost.  Compost should be mixed into your intended growing bed at a rate of 2.5 – 5 pounds per 10 square feet, our Landscape Mix fertilizer should be added to the soil at 1-2 pounds per 10 square feet.  A soil pH of 6 is best.

An often overlooked way to prepare your garden bed for a potato planting, is to sow a cover crop a season or two prior to putting in potatoes.  Cover crops, or green manures, greatly improve the soil’s tilth, organic matter, microbial activity, water holding capabilities, and significantly increase nutrients that are in the soil, and available for following crops.  A mix of bell beans and buckwheat will provide an easy and cost effective way to prepare the ground for fall potatoes.  When preparing your soil for a spring planting of potatoes, we recommend our Max Soil Booster blend.

Two weeks before planting your potatoes into the ground, it is advisable to do something called, “chitting” or “greening” to them.  This is a process in which you pre-sprout your tubers, thus encouraging a strong burst of new growth and leading to an earlier harvest date. Spread your seed potatoes out in a box or open-ended crate and place this container in a well-ventilated, warm (70 F) place, with medium light to bright shade.  Arrange the potatoes only one layer deep, with the seed end up.  If you closely observe your potatoes, you will see that one end was attached to its mother plant and that the other has a concentration of eyes from which the sprouts will emerge, this end is the seed end.  Typically the potatoes that we sell are small enough to be planted whole and thus do not need to be cut into pieces prior to planting.  However, if the seed potatoes weigh more than 4 ounces, it is advisable to cut them into smaller pieces, with each piece being at least 2 ounces.  Each cut piece should have at least two strong eyes.  When cutting your potatoes for planting, use a sharp knife, and then allow the cut to “heal over” for a day before planting into the ground.  Some organic gardeners place their freshly cut potatoes into a paper bag with a couple of tablespoons of powdered sulfur and shake the bag until the cut portion has a light dusting of the powder on it.  The sulfur acts as a fungicide and will help to reduce the risk of infection from fungus and bacteria.

Now that you have prepared both your soil, and your seed potatoes for planting, it is finally time to get down to putting them into the ground.  Optimally, potatoes are planted into soil that is between 55 and 70 deg F.  Be wary of cold, water logged soil, as the tubers can have a tendency to rot before they have a chance to sprout.  Here in Southern California, our best windows for planting are mid-September through November, and then again from mid-February through April.  For the home gardener, space can often be a limiting factor and as a result, the planting methods that are described below (hilling, caging and mulching), are often modified, combined and adapted, to fit each individual garden.

The method most commonly used is, hilling.  To begin, the gardener digs narrow trenches that are 6-10 inches deep and 24 to 48 inches apart. Into these trenches, the seed potatoes are placed 10-14 inches apart. The farther apart you plant the individual potatoes, in terms of both distance between trenches and then spacing within the trenches, the larger the resulting size of the tubers and the greater the bounty will be.  Once you have placed the seed potatoes into the trenches, rake a 3-4 inch layer of soil over the potatoes, be careful, and do not fill the trench completely. In about two weeks the potatoes will begin to poke their shoots through the surface of the soil.  When the plants have grown 8 inches tall, gently rake more soil from the sides of the trenches up and around the growing stems, leaving the top 4 inches exposed.  Then every week or two go out and rake another inch or two of soil and/or compost around the potatoes.  This process of continually burying a little more of the plant has several benefits.  First, you are always covering up and disturbing weeds as they germinate, thus reducing competition for space, nutrients and water.  Also, hilling puts the root system deeper, where the soil is cooler, and the freshly raked-up soil creates a light fluffy medium for the growing tubers to develop in.  All of the tubers that a potato plant will produce grow between the level of the original seed potato, and the surface of the soil.  In other words, new potatoes will not grow below the seed potato and by adding more soil and burying the seed deeper and deeper, over time you will increase the available growing area for your potatoes and will also increase your yields.  When raking new soil up onto your plants, be careful not to leave any of the growing potatoes exposed to light or they will turn green.

For gardeners who think that they don’t have enough room, or who are waging an ongoing battle with gophers, we suggest the caging method.  This consists of taking a section of wire mesh, making it into a hoop and then standing this hoop up in your garden where you are going to grow your potato crop. You can also use a bottomless wooden box, or a barrel.  If you have a gopher problem, dig down several inches under where your container will be, and bury some wire mesh in the ground.  If the spaces in the mesh are smaller than 1/2 inch in diameter, you will effectively exclude any gophers.  Plant your seed potatoes into the ground inside of your cage, spacing the individual seed potatoes 10 inches apart and burying them 2-4 inches deep into the soil.  When the shoots have grown up to about 8 inches tall, you can go ahead and bury them half way with a layer of soil, compost or loose mulch.  Then every 7-10 days bury the developing stems with another 1-2 inches of material.  Continue to go out and cover your growing plants until you reach the top of your cage, you run out of usable compost, or until the plants stop growing taller.   In the past, I have grown potatoes next to my compost pile and have had an easy-to-reach source of rich, fluffy organic matter that I could throw into my potato cage for the express purpose of burying my growing potato plants.  Using this method, it is possible to grow a large amount of potatoes in a relatively small amount of space.

Another suggested method for growing potatoes is mulching.   We recommend this method of growing potatoes if your soil is shallow, rocky or contains so much clay that the forming tubers can’t push it aside as they try to swell up.  Start by preparing your seed bed as deeply as possible and then mixing a good amount of compost, fertilizer and worm castings into the garden bed to add fertility to the soil.  When planting the seed pieces into their bed,  simply press them into the top few inches of     soil, leaving them exposed if need be.  Next, loosely shake mulch over the bed, burying the seed potatoes 6-10 inches deep.   For best results, use a seed-free, grain straw as your mulch.  You can also use leaves and well dried grass clippings.  As the plants grow, continue to add more loose mulch as though you were hilling up the plants.  Be sure to keep the tubers covered at all times.  The result is excellent weed control, a continuous supply of moisture and reduced stress from heat.  At harvest time, pull back the mulch.  Your nest of potatoes should be clean, uniform and easy to gather.

While growing potatoes, we advise that you keep your garden bed on the dry side, moist but not wet.  If growing during the winter months, it is conceivable that you will never have to water your potatoes during their growing cycle.  This will lead to a tastier, more nutrient rich tuber that will have a thick skin, and be better suited for storing. If we are experiencing a dry year and you have to water your potato bed, do so every other week or when the above-ground portion of the plants begin to look tired, and wilt.   Because of the nature of the caging method and its increased amount of surface area, it may become necessary to sprinkle water into the growing cylinder even during moderately wet seasons.  If you are ambitious enough, we recommend foliarly feeding your growing vines by spraying a mixture of fish emulsion and liquid kelp onto the leaves every 2-3 weeks.   Start this regimen when the seed sprouts first emerge, and continue applying until flowering begins.

At the end of their growing season, the potato vines will begin to turn brown and will start to die back.  At this point you should stop watering your plants and allow their section of the garden bed to dry out.    Let the vines die back completely into the ground, and then wait for two more weeks before you dig out your new potato crop.  Waiting will make for an easier harvest, and give the tubers a chance to toughen their skins up, which will in turn increase their storage life.  If you have used the hilling method, take a digging fork and gently loosen the soil from outside the hills and expose the tubers.  By getting down on your hands and knees and actually digging through the dirt you will be able to find more of the smaller, less developed tubers and probably be able to gather a few meals worth of tiny quarter-sized potatoes.  To harvest when using the caging method, simply uncoil and remove the wire mesh, or just lift up and remove the wooden crate or barrel and allow the contents to spill over.  Then just dig through the resulting pile with your hands and collect all of the potatoes as you find them.  Harvesting your potatoes after having grown them with the mulching method is as simple as carefully removing the mulch layer of straw, leaves or clippings, and exposing the tubers.

After the tubers have been harvested it is best to spread them out in a shaded area and allow them to dry out for a day or so.  Then sort through and grade all of the potatoes.   Those that are solid and blemish free can be put into some sort of breathable bag, a slotted crate or a basket, and kept in a cool location with enough humidity so that the potatoes will not dry out.  An underground root cellar would be ideal.  Those potatoes that may have been soft, bruised, or had their skin broken during harvesting should be eaten as soon as possible, before they have a chance to rot.   Light and/or warmth will promote sprouting, as well as turn the potatoes green, and also lead to a decreased storage time.

Epicure 65+ days- This is an early season potato that has a thin white skin with deep eyes and creamy white flesh.   Although the shape of this variety tends to be distorted and irregular, the delicious flavor more than makes up for this irregularity.   Cook by boiling them and then rolling in a buttery herb sauce.   Will recover and still produce well even if burned a frost.

Red Lasoda 80+ days-  A Mid-season variety that has a smooth red skin, deep eyes, and white flesh. Over the years, Red Lasoda has been developed with the Southern gardener in mind, and as a result, produces abundantly here in our climate.  Perfect for boiling and making into potato salads.  Will tolerate high temperatures, but is susceptible to disease.

Yellow Finn 90+ days-  An extra-late potato that has an unusual flattened-oval shape to it.  The buttery, waxy yellow flesh tastes good and is suitable to be boiled, baked, fried or put into soups.  Its great flavor and wide adaptability to cooking, makes Yellow Finn one the most popular potatoes for home gardeners and market growers.  While not ideally suited for growing in Southern California, this variety will still perform well here.

Yukon Gold 65+ days- These are round, slightly flat yellow tubers.  Under thin skins, the flesh is firm and yellow with a slight pink tint to it.  Yukon Gold potatoes are great for baking, boiling and making into fries. They are not good when mashed. Think spackling.

Cal Red 65+ days- This is an early season potato that grows a small, round to oblong tuber with shallow eyes and creamy white flesh.  It is a heavy yielder, producing a large number of small potatoes.

Kennebec 80+ days- An oblong potato with smooth pale yellow skin, shallow eyes, and white flesh that can be used for fries, hash browns and pan frying, even with the skin left on.   Kennebec is one of the best keepers and is resistant to blight and mosaic, late blight and net necrosis.  This plant tends to sunburn easily, so grow it in a location that has some shade protection during the hottest part of the day.

Tips for growing onions

SHALLOTS

Shallots, a member of the Allium (onion) family, have an interesting, delicate flavor that has long be prized by gourmands and chefs from Here, to Oxnard, and back.  In our temperate coastal zone, shallots, along with other members of their family, are planted in the cooler months, typically late-September through Mid- March.  Shallots can adapt and grow in a range of soil conditions, yet they will produce most abundantly if grown in a well-fertilized, well-drained and moist soil. A waterlogged soil will make the bulbs rot or contribute to poor growth.  Infertile soil will lead to small bulb production.   Plant the individual bulblets with the root side down and the tops about 1” below the surface of the soil.  Plant 6-10” apart.  The more garden space that is given to each plant, the larger each resulting shallot cluster will be.  Planting too deep grows elongated bulbs that do not store well.  To grow really big bulbs, side dress the growing plants with an animal manure, a rich compost or other organic fertilizer, such as our landscape mix.

When the plants have reached their mature height of 16-20” tall, they will begin to redirect their energy into bulb formation.  At this time, peel back the soil so that the tops of the forming bulbs are exposed and stop watering your shallots, as they will mature best in a dry soil that hardens them off and contributes to the formation of tough, protective skins.  The time to harvest is when most of the tops have browned off and fallen over.  Loosen the surrounding soil with a digging fork, or very carefully with a shovel, and then gently lift the new bulbs from the soil. The skins will have not have completely developed, so it is important to be careful and avoid bruising them.   The bulbs, with their tops still attached, should be dried out in an open, well-ventilated space, for 2-3 weeks, or until the tops have completely dried.  Then you can cut the tops off with a pair of sharp shears one inch above the bulb and store for kitchen use.

If you are planning on saving any of your homegrown shallots for planting next fall, they should be spread out of a wire rack in a cool place until you are ready to plant them in the fall.  After growing and saving your own shallots for several years, you will have developed a unique strain that has adapted to your specific garden and growing style and will be developing large and more prolific shallot plants with each passing year.

Dutch Yellow- Round bulbs, with durable copper-red skins and creamy yellow flesh.  Uniform in size, this shallot is an excellent keeper. It is tender and spicy, with a pungent raw flavor that mellows and sweetens, but still retains its character when cooked.  High yielding.

Holland Red- Like the proverbial Dutchman, they’re round and fat, short and flat.  A coppery red outer skin peels easily to reveal a reddish-purple flesh.  Excellent flavor, great in sauces.  This variety can produce tenfold.

ONION SETS

Onion sets offer the home gardener the easiest and quickest way to grow onions on their own. When planting onions from sets you can expect to grow large scallions, up to one inch in diameter, that can be harvested as soon as 60 days after planting.  These scallions will have a solid, fleshy shank, 6-8” long, and an additional 12-15” of usable greens.  This makes for an excellent salad onion, as well as one that holds up great when cooked on the grill.

Sets should be planted in a well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter and/or compost.  Typically, I plant the bulblets 1” deep into the soil, and then lightly cover with 1-2” of mulch to keep the soil evenly moist while the onions are growing. After planting, keep the soil around your onions well weeded, and watered.  Onions do not like competition from weeds and will greatly benefit from a well-cultivated bed.  By continuously planting new sets throughout the season, you can lock in an extended harvest period. When planting onion sets, you should choose a sunny location in which to grow them.

Red Wethersfield- Grows a slightly bulbed shank with very thin, reddish-purple colored skin.  The white flesh is very firm and tinged with pink to purple highlights.  A fine strong flavor, from a vigorous grower.

White Ebenezer- This is a medium sized onion that has thin, translucent white skins that are hardly noticeable, so there is less waste when preparing the scallions in the kitchen.  The fine-grained flesh  makes this a variety popular for gourmet cooking.  An excellent keeper.

Yellow Rock- These are mild, sweet-flavored onions with a bronze-yellow skin, and white flesh.  A fast growing, hardy variety.

Everything you need to know about garlic (well, almost everything)

Garlic is a staple in kitchens, and of cuisines all the world over.   Long used both for its medicinal value and its ability to wake up any tired dish, garlic has been raised and traded by indigenous people for all 6000 years of life on this spaceship that we call earth.  Garlic, like the rest of the members of the Allium family (leeks, onions, and shallots), can grow in a wide range of soil conditions, but are at their happiest when they are planted into a soil that is richly composted and fertilized, well-drained, kept moist, and cultivated to keep out any competition from other plants such as weeds and grasses.

Garlic grows a shallow root system, so be careful when digging around the plants. A prepared garden bed that is in a full sun location is ideal.   Garlic can be planted here on the south coast from mid-September through early March.   When you are getting ready to plant, break the bulb into its individual cloves, and set aside the largest for your garden while using the smallest in your kitchen for cooking purposes. When planting, use the larger cloves, this will both yield the largest possible bulbs at harvest time and maximize your garden space.  Plant the cloves root side down with the tops of the cloves being 1” deep.  Gently cover the cloves with soil and then top with 1-2” of rich compost, animal manure, or mulch.  This topper will keep the soil evenly moist, suppress a lot of weed growth, and gradually feed the developing bulbs during their growing season.  While the plants are growing, keep the soil moist, as you would for any leafy green like lettuce or spinach, and do not hesitate to throw a new layer of compost on top of, and around, the growing bulbs.  Hard neck varieties grow a tall, woody, flowering stalk that usually produces little bulblets at its top.  If the plant is allowed to put its energy into these seeds, the bulb that is developing in the ground will end up being smaller, so we recommend cutting off the flower spike when it is around 9” tall.

When harvesting garlic, it is important to pay attention, because there is a definite window in which you will have the best results.  If dug too soon, the new bulbs will not have had time to form their protective skins, and as a result will bruise easily and not store well.  Observing your plants and watching the changes that they are going through will help you make an informed decision on when to harvest.  As the bulbs mature, the leaves will begin to brown and die back.  When there are still 5-6 green leaves remaining on the plant, we dig up a trial bulb and check it out.  What we look for is to see that the bulb has developed to a nice size and has a suitable buildup of protective papery wrappers around it.  If left in the ground for too long, hard neck varieties will begin to separate and grow new plants.  If you have decided that it is time to harvest, dig the plants up carefully.  We recommend using a digging fork to gently break the soil apart.  Then lift the garlics out of the ground while being careful not to tug too hard and break the stalks off of the bulbs.  Next, brush off the soil from around the roots and bulb and its root, still being careful not to bruise the garlics, as this will greatly shorten their storage time.

Drying is the essential part of curing the bulbs, so do not use water to wash them off.   Immediately move the newly harvested and cleaned garlic out of direct sunlight.  There are different ways to cure your garlic, but the most important consideration is air circulation.  You will want the curing bulbs to be drying evenly in a dark, cool place.  Some growers tie 6-10 garlic plants together and hang them up.  Others will spread out the plants to be cured on screens, drying racks or slatted shelves.  Garlic stores longer if it is cured with its leaves or stalks attached.   The plants should be left to cure from 3 weeks to 2 months, depending on the humidity and air circulation.  After thoroughly drying your garlic, trim off the roots and cut the stalks 1 1/2” above the bulb, after which you can store them in a net bag or an old onion sack.  If you have chosen to cure your garlic in bunches, you can hang them in a pantry or other convenient, cool location and use as needed.   Soft neck varieties can be braided and hung.

There are two distinct sub-species into which all modern garlic fall, these are Hard-neck varieties which produce a flower stalk and Soft-neck varieties which usually do not.   These two sub-species can are then broken down into the five main groups of garlic: Rocambole, Standard Purple Stripe, Porcelain, Artichoke, and Silverskin.

ROCAMBOLE (hardneck)-These are the most popular and widely grown of the hardneck garlics.  Rocamboles produce large cloves that have a deep, full-bodied flavor and are easy to peel, which makes them a favorite of chefs.  However, due to their loose skins, these have a shorter storage life than most other varieties.  Longer storage is possible if the bulbs are well grown and well cured before storage.  Rocambole cloves are usually rounded and blunt at the tip.  Most strains average 6-11 cloves in a single circle around he stem.  One pound of seed garlic will yield about 60 plants.(This varies widely) Clove colors range from brown to tan.

STANDARD PURPLE STRIPE (hardneck)- A variety named because of the bright purple streaks and blotches on both the bulb wrappers and the clove skins. These are regarded as the most attractive garlics and usually win “Best Baked Garlic” awards at fairs and cook-offs.  Most strains have 8-12 cloves per bulb, are longer and are crescent shaped.  This variety will store slightly longer than rocambole.  One pound of seed garlic will produce approximately 60 plants.  This is an attractive ornamental garden plant.

PORCELAIN (hardneck)- This is a variety that has been coming into its own lately.  In the past few years gardeners and gourmets alike have been turning others onto this large, easy to peel, long storing, flavorful garlic variety.

ARTICHOKE (softneck)- This is a very vigorous and large-bulbed garlic variety.  The plants are shorter than hardneck varieties and have a wider growth habit.  Artichokes are named for their pattern of overlapping cloves, reminiscent of the true artichoke.  Many Artichoke strains have 3-5 clove layers, containing 12-20 total cloves.  Outer cloves are fat and round, but irregular in shape, often with three flat sides and a paper tail at the tip.  Many Artichokes have a mild flavor, which makes them attractive to those who eat their garlic raw, for health reasons.  Clove skins adhere tightly to the garlic, one reason for their long storage life. One pound will yield approximately 80 plants.

SILVERSKIN (softneck)- This is the variety that is most often found on the shelf at the market due to its very long storage life.  They are also the highest yielding variety and do well in a wide range of climates. Bulb wrappers are fine and smooth, usually all white.  Three clove layers are common, total cloves per bulb will vary from 12-20.  One pound of seed will yield approximately 90 plants.  Outer cloves are usually flat and wide, while inner cloves are tall, narrow and concave.  Silverskins have long been the favorite of braiders because of their smooth shiny skin and symmetrical shape.  These are the last garlics harvested and may lodge (fall over) a week or more before harvest due to their weak necks.

Soft Neck Types

Inchelium Red (Artichoke group)- From Inchelium, WA, on the Colville Indian Reservation.  These bulbs are large, 3+ inches in diameter, and produce 8-20 cloves of good size.  Mild, but lasting flavor, with a hint of hot.  The dense cloves make for an excellent keeper, and the flavor has been known to become stronger during storage.  This hardy variety won a Rodale taste test of 20 garlic strains and was named “Very best of the Soft Necks.”

Early Italian Purple (Artichoke Group)- The bulb is large and white-skinned with purple stripes and numerous small cloves.  This vigorous plant is well adapted to our California coastal climate and is widely grown around Gilroy, the “Garlic Capital of the World.”

Italian Late (Silverskin group)- The bulbs of this variety are typically fat and round, and covered with an extra-tight, light colored skin that makes for an excellent keeper.  Italian Late garlic takes longer to mature than the Early Italian Purple variety and produces bulbs that are smaller as well.  This variety is good for braiding.

Nootka Rose (Silverskin group)- This is a heirloom garlic from the San Juan Islands in Washington state and produces a medium to large bulb with 15-20 cloves that are streaked with red and mahogany.  In rich soil, the cloves can lose their rosy hue.  The flavor is strong and the bulbs are sought after for braiding.

Silver Rose (Silverskin group)- This is a fast growing vareiety that produces rose-colored cloves that are wrapped inside of smooth, bright-white skins.  Silver Rose garlic does beautifully in braids and is one of the longest keepers that we provide.  There are 12-15 cloves per head.  Popular with growers in the Southwestern US.

Hard Neck Types

German Porcelain (Porcelain group)- Grows a very large bulb containing 4-5 very large, easy-to-peel cloves. This variety is #1 in taste, and stores well for a hard neck.  The white wrappers or skins have delicate purple stripes.  Does well in any climate.

German Red (Rocambole group)- Large bright purple bulb contains 8-12, easy-to-peel, round cloves that are light brown in color with some tinges of purple at their base.  Flavor is strong, hot, and spicy.  This variety keeps moderately well when properly cured and stored.  Can be grown well in our mild climate, however, develops better size and quality where the winters are cold.

Finding the perfect place for your pitaya

Known variably as pitaya, pitahaya or dragon fruit, this is an epiphytic cactus that is native to the tropical rainforest regions of Mexico, Central and South America.  In the last 5 years, sub-tropical fruit growers and gourmet chefs have “rediscovered” the pitaya, and this unique, climbing plant with juicy, hot pink fruit has been growing in popularity.  Typically found in Asian specialty markets and at local Farmer’s Markets, the fruit are 6-9” long and oval-shaped.  The outer skin is cover with thornless, scale-like bracts that give off a menacing look, but in no way should deter you from getting at the succulent delights of the inner flesh.  Try cutting the fruit into wedges and eating like a melon.   The sweet flesh is firm to the touch but melts easily once in your mouth.  These cacti are night blooming and the blossoms are open for only a single night.    If pollination occurs, the fruit will be ripe and ready for harvest in 28-30 days.   When choosing a site to plant your pitaya, look for a place that has both a sturdy supporting structure, and also offers protection from the hottest sun during the summer months.  A southeast facing fence or trellis would be perfect. Locally, many avocado growers have chosen to plant pitaya at the base of their trees, thus providing both a structure and shade for the pitaya.   When you are ready to plant your pitaya, dig a hole that is twice the size of its current container.   Into the bottom of this hole add, 2 heaping handfuls of compost, 3 cups each of landscape mix and worm castings and 2 cups of azomite.  Mix the ingredients together with some loose soil at the bottom of the hole, and then place the pitaya down on top of this.   Next, fill the hole up with the remaining soil, and while refilling, mix one handful each of compost, landscape mix and worm castings along with every 4” of added soil.   Once planted, lay out 2-3” of mulch onto the soil surface around the pitaya.  Water regularly, about once per week in the summer, but do not allow the soil to stay wet for long periods.  Remember, these are cacti and will rot if there is too much soil moisture.

 

Put some passion near your patio

Passion fruits are the rounded, to oval, tart and tangy fruits that are borne on vigorous growing, evergreen vines that can grow 15-20 feet per year. While these are fast growers, passion vines are short-lived plants, usually living for only 5-7 years.   The leaves are 3-lobed, deep green and glossy on top and are paler and dull on the undersides.   They can grow 3-8” long and may yellow and fall off during the winter months.  Flowering occurs during the spring and summer months and the display can be dramatic.  Single flowers, 2-3” wide are formed in each node, along the length, of the years new growth.   The unique, frilly flowers are quite attractive.   Fruits are ripe 70-80 days after pollination occurs.   Plant your passion vine in a full sun location, and allow it to run on a fence or strong trellis.  It is also possible to train your vine to cover an arbor or similar structure.   Passion vines can grow in a wide variety of soil conditions, but prefer a sandy loam that has excellent drainage.  If the roots and the crown are kept in wet conditions, they are known to rot and die.  A rich soil with plenty of organic matter and a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 is nice.  When you are ready to plant your vine, dig a hole that is both 18’ deep and wide.  Into the bottom of this hole, add 2 heaping handfuls of compost, 3 cups each of landscape mix and worm castings, and two cups of azomite.   Mix the above ingredients with several handfuls of soil and then place the vine down into the hole and fill the dirt back in around it.  With every 4” of soil that you add back into the hole, mix in one cup each of compost, landscape mix and worm castings.  Once the hole has been completely refilled and the soil gently packed down around the vine, add a 2-3” layer of mulch in a 4 foot circle around the newly planted vine.  This will help to keep the shallow root system cool and well fed with nutrients during the year.

Planting and growing olive trees

Olives are native to Mediterranean and tropical climates and are ideally suited to environmental conditions here in Southern California.   Mature trees can grow to be 50’ tall and can spread to 30’ wide.  However, with regular pruning, the trees can be kept to around 20 feet.  The distinctive, gnarled, branching pattern, and feathery, gray-green leaves of the olive tree make for an attractive addition to your yard.  Flowers are small and cream-colored and are usually hidden underneath the cover of the leaves.  The fruit that follow usually ripen to a deep-purple color, although some varieties ripen to green and for some, even copper.  Before buying olive trees, consult with a knowledgeable nurseryman about which varieties are suited for your area and if any are incompatible with each other and would interfere with each others pollination process.  Olives are hardy and can survive in poor soils with little water.  The most important factors are to plant in a full sun location, and into a well-drained soil.  When planting, dig a hole that is 18’ deep and wide.  Add 6 inches of soil back into the hole and mix into it, 2 heaping handfuls of compost, 5 cups of landscape mix and worm castings and two cups of azomite.  Then put the plant into the hole and fill in the remaining soil, mixing in handfuls of compost, landscape mix and worm castings after every four inches of soil, as you go.  Once established, olives can survive on minimal amounts of water, but definitely benefit from a deep watering every 4-6 weeks during the dry season.  For maximum fruit production it is important to properly prune your tree.  It is important to remember that olives never grow fruit in the same place twice and usually produce on the previous years growth.

Tips for growing lychee and longan trees

These are fruiting trees that are native to China and have been gradually introduced into our area over the last 120 years.  The trees are handsome, densely foliated, and fairly slow growing, typically reaching a height of 15 feet, here in Southern California.   Lychees need a full sun location and a well-drained soil that is rich in organic content.  Once established, a mature tree can be hardy down to 25F, while the younger trees will need to have some protection from heat, frost and high winds.  Flowering occurs in the late spring, as tiny petal-less, yellow-green flowers are produced in clusters that can grow to be 30 inches long.  The fruit ripen over the next 140 days and are 1” around, pink to strawberry–red in color and are covered with a roughly textured skin.  The edible flesh is sweet, firm and juicy, and is a translucent white color.  When you are ready to plant your lychee tree, dig a hole that is at least 24” deep and 18” wide.  Add 6 inches of soil back into the hole and then incorporate 2 heaping handfuls of compost, 6 cups each of landscape mix and worm castings and two cups of azomite into the loose soil.  Place the root ball of the tree down into the hole and add the remaining soil back around it, all the while sprinkling handfuls of compost, landscape mix and worm castings into the hole as you go.  Once planted, lay a thick layer of organic mulch onto the soil surface, under the trees drip line.  Due to the relatively weak root system of the lychee, you will need to stake the tree up for a couple of years until the roots are strong enough to hold the tree on their own. We recommend using two or three poles that are set into the ground at least 18” away from the trunk.  Using one pole that is driven in close to the trunk might break off the delicate root ball.  In the years that follow, fertilize your lychee in the spring and again in mid-summer by working 6 cups of both landscape mix and worm castings into the top 2 inches of soil at each feeding.   Water your tree so that the soil is kept moist, but is not water logged.  The thick layer of mulch is helpful for keeping the soil moisture level high. 

How to plant guava

Guavas are evergreen shrubs or small trees that can grow 10-12 feet, make a handsome addition to your landscape and provide a wealth of fruit in the early fall.   These are a sub-tropical fruit that cannot tolerate temperatures that range below freezing or get over 100F.  Here in our environment, they like a bright sunny location that has some protection from frost during the winter months.   Guavas produce edible, fragrant flowers in the spring, just as the weather is beginning to warm up.  The fruit grow throughout the spring and summer and are 2-4 inches long by the time they are ready for harvest in October.   When planting your guava into the ground, dig a hole that is both twice as deep and twice as wide as the container that it comes in.  Into the loose soil at the bottom of the freshly dug hole, incorporate two heaping handfuls of a good organic compost, 5 cups each of landscape mix and worm castings, and two cups of azomite.   Place the plant on top of this mixture, and steady it, as you fill in the remaining soil.  While backfilling, add a sprinkling of compost, landscape mix and worm castings after every few handfuls of soil.  In the following years of your guavas life, mix 6 cups of both landscape mix and worm castings into the top few inches of soil under the drip line, in the early spring and again in mid-summer.  Cover the soil with 1-3” of mulch to protect the shallow root system and to retain a moist soil.   Water your plants deeply and then allow the soil to dry out to a depth of several inches, before irrigating again.

Growing Grapes

Grapes can be a great addition to your garden.  These deciduous vines provide fruit, wine and shade.  Grapes can be planted on fences, trellises and arbors and will grow just fine in a wide range of soil types, as long as there is adequate soil moisture.  Although not ideally suited for our coastal conditions, it is possible to grow both table, and wine grapes here in Southern California.  Your most important decision is choosing a variety or varieties that are suited for your local region.  Consult with a local grower or knowledgeable nurseryman who is familiar with your area.  Once you have chosen appropriate varieties, plant your new grapes 6-10 feet apart, or singularly, and allow them to climb up onto a structure of some sort for support.   Dig a hole 18” deep and 12” around.  Into the soil at the bottom of this hole, mix two heaping handfuls of compost, 5 cups each of landscape mix and worm castings and 2 cups of azomite.   Once thoroughly mixed, place the root ball of the grape down into the hole and fill the soil back in around it.  As you are backfilling the soil, mix in an additional two heaping handfuls of compost, 3 cups of both landscape mix and worm castings and one more cup of azomite.   In subsequent years, fertilize your grapes by adding 6 cups each of landscape mix and worm castings into the soil around the base of the vines in the spring as the canes are beginning to bud out.  An additional feeding of the same quantities can be done around the first of July.   After each feeding, make sure that the ground under your vines is properly mulched.  An animal manure mulch can be applied with the first feeding in the spring, and then a low nitrogen mulch such as a simple leaf litter can be used later in the season.   Your vines will benefit from a yearly pruning, this is typically done in the late fall once all of the leaves have fallen to the ground. 

Tips for planting a fig tree

Figs are at their best when grown in a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters  and where the temperatures do not go below 25 F.   Once in the ground, fig trees will grow quickly, and can reach heights of 15 feet within five years time, the canopy will spread equally as wide.   The trees should be planted into a fertile, well-drained soil that has plenty of organic matter.  When planting, dig a hole that is twice as wide and deep as the root ball of your new tree.  Into the loose soil at the bottom of this hole, mix two heaping handfuls of compost, 3 cups each of landscape mix and worm castings and one cup of azomite.  As you are filling in the rest of hole, and burying the root mass, add an additional two heaping handfuls of compost, 3 cups of landscape mix and worm casting and 1 cup of azomite.  Water figs deeply, once a month for the first year and then once established, only water during the period when fruit are forming.  Figs tolerate soils with pH ranging from 5.5 to 8.  Plants need at least eight hours of sun a day and require heat to properly ripen the fruit during the late summer.  Figs respond well when a 2-3 inch layer of  manure  is laid down as a mulch under the drip line of the tree.  Harvest the fruits just as their skins are beginning to crack.

Grow some coffee right in your own backyard

The Coffea arabica plant is an evergreen tree that can grow up to 20 feet tall.  However,  under normal circumstances, the plants are pruned and kept under six feet tall, to make harvesting easier, and to encourage a heavier fruit set. The leaves are broad, dark-green, 3-6 inches long and have a shiny, waxy surface on them.  Ideally, coffee is grown at elevations between   ft, in sub-tropical environments where temperatures are between 32-100F.  Soils conditions are best when the soil is fertile and well watered, yet also well drained.  A south-east facing hillside, that receives 2-3 hours of direct sunlight a day would be perfect.  Here in Southern California, the coastal foothills provide the best opportunity for growing coffee, and while the elevations are typically not enough to provide for the best conditions, the other environmental factors can be met, and it is still possible to grow a good cup of coffee, at home, in your own backyard.  When you are planting your coffee plant, dig a hole that is both twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball.  Into this hole incorporate, two heaping handfuls of compost, 3 cups each of landscape mix and worm castings, and one cup of azomite.  Then place the plant down into the hole, and as you are back filling the dirt, add two more heaping handfuls of compost, 2 cups each of landscape mix and worm castings and one cup of azomite, into the soil column.  The addition of a mulch layer under the leaf canopy will keep the soil evenly moist, prevent drying and add valuable nutrients for the soils microbial life.   Your plants will begin to flower 2-4 years after planting and will produce small, sweet-smelling, white flowers that are borne in clusters. The berries are harvested when dark-red, and are usually ripe 19 weeks after pollination.

Growing cherimoya in Southern California

The cherimoya is a sub-tropical fruit tree that is native to the Andean mountain valleys of Chile.  The fruits are prized for their rich, complex flavor and their creamy custard-like flesh.  The flavor has been described as a combination of pineapple, papaya, passion fruit, banana, mango and lemon into one luscious delight.   While the trees are indigenous to the highland areas of South America, they have proven to be quite at home here in Southern California.  Ideally located in the coastal foothills within 15 miles of the coast, and at elevations of up to 1500 feet, these trees will need to be protected from temperatures that get down to 25F.  When choosing a place to plant your cherimoya, look for a southeast-facing site that has a free draining, medium soil of good fertility.   Dig your planting hole twice as wide and deep as the nursery container in which your tree comes.  Next, amend the soil in the bottom of the hole with several heaping handfuls of a good organic compost and mix into it 5 cups of both landscape mix and worm castings and two cups of azomite.  Then place your new tree down into the hole and carefully backfill the soil that you removed, stopping to add more compost, landscape mix, worm castings and azomite with every 8” of added soil. Gently pack the soil around your new tree, the soil level, in relation to the trunk, should be right around where it was, when the tree was in it’s container.  Cherimoyas have a slow developing root system, and will need to be staked up for a couple of years while they are finding their way, and growing out into their new home.  Water deeply, once a month during the warmer, dry months and let mother nature take over during the cool, rainy season. Flowering occurs in mid to late summer, and the fruit will then be ready for harvest, January through early April of the following year.   It is important to maintain uniform soil moisture from flowering through fruit harvest, this will help to optimize the quality  and lusciousness of your fruits.

Growing blueberries in the southwest

Although they are native to the eastern United States, there is growing proof that with the correct varieties, it is possible to successfully grow blueberries here in the southwest.   When selecting blueberries to grow at your place, choose varieties that are suited for our warm, wet coastal winters that annually have very few chill hours.  Also, by selecting two different, yet compatible varieties of blueberry, you will increase the quality of your pollination.  Ask your local, knowledgeable, nurseryman for help in determining which strains are right for your area. Blueberries are deciduous bushes that can grow up to 6’ tall, and be equally as wide. Plant in a sunny, well-draining location, that has a moist, cool soil, that ranges towards the acidic side.  When you are ready to plant your blueberry, dig a hole 18” deep by 18” wide.  Into the bottom of this hole, add 2 heaping handfuls of compost and 2 cups each of landscape mix, cottonseed meal, worm castings and azomite.  Mix these ingredients around with some of the excavated soil, and then place the root ball of the plant down into the hole.  Fill in the hole with the remaining soil, stopping to incorporate an additional two cups of compost, landscape mix, cottonseed meal and worm castings with every 5 inches of soil.  Once in the ground, keep a 3-4” layer of mulch under the drip-line of the plant.   For the first year in the ground, you will want to encourage foliar plant development and not let the plant expend any of its energy on fruit production.  As hard as it will be to do, you need to remove all of the flowers before they set fruit.  This difficult task will set the stage for increased fruit production in the future.   Blueberries can flower profusely, and as a result can set more fruit than they can successfully grow out to maturity.  To counter this, we advise trimming the branch tips back several inches, to the point on the branches where the fruits become evenly spaced.   Keep the plant well-watered during the period that it is producing fruit.

Tips for growing cane berries

BLACKBERRY, BOYSENBERRY AND OLALLIBERRY

Collectively known as the Cane Berries, these are generally thorny vines that tend to mound up and cover whatever structure or trellis they are growing on.   The juicy fruits are formed in small clusters on the second year’s growth.  With diligent pruning, the vine can be kept under control, and your harvest will be maximized.   Choose a sunny location that can be readily watered during the early summer months when the fruit will be growing and ripening.   In the late summer, around Labor Day, remove the canes or vines that have just finished bearing fruit.   Then train the new years new growth so that it will be able to climb up onto your trellis.  This new growth will produce fruit during the following year.   When you are ready to plant your vines, dig a hole that is 1 foot deep and wide.  Mix 1 heaping handful of compost, 2 cups of landscape mix and worm castings, and 1 cup of cottonseed meal and azomite into the bottom of the hole.  Place the vine into the hole and fill the dirt back in around the root ball.  When the hole is half way filled, add, and incorporate into the hole, one handful of compost and 1 cup each of landscape mix, cottonseed meal and worm castings.  When the planting is done, add a 2” layer of mulch around the base of the vines.  In subsequent years, scratch 2 cups each of landscape mix, cottonseed meal and worm castings into the topsoil around each of your vines.   Replenish the mulch layer annually to keep the soil alive and kicking.

Yes! You can grow bananas in Southern California

Bananas are a plant that can be grown quite successfully here in Southern California if they are given proper soil conditions and are protected from temperatures that venture below freezing.   When looking for a location to plant your banana, choose one that has a rich, well-drained soil, receives full sun and is protected from strong winds.  Most importantly, this site will need to be safe from a frost, so make it close to a structure such as your house, or near another sizable object that can store heat during the day, and then radiate it out during the night. 

To prepare the ground for planting your banana, dig out a hole that is twice the width and depth of the container that your banana is currently living in.  Into the bottom of this hole add two heaping handfuls of compost, and one pound each of landscape mix, worm castings and a half-pound of greensand.   Mix these ingredients together with one shovelful of dirt and then place the un-potted banana with its dangling root ball into the hole and bury it with the dirt that you have taken from the pit.  As you are burying your banana, mix into the dirt, an additional four handfuls of compost, one pound each of landscape mix, worm castings and azomite and a half pound of green sand.  If you have gophers in your yard, it is advisable to plant your new banana in a cage.

Bananas are shallow rooted and need moist soil conditions in order to thrive and fruit.  So, water frequently and keep a 1-2” layer of mulch over the root zone.  Your plants will bloom15-24 months after being planted. The flower stalk takes 3-4 months to mature, and once the fruit bunches have developed, remove the red flower head, 6” past the last banana that has formed. Harvest the entire banana stalk from the main plant once the first fruit turns yellow.  Hang the harvested bunch in a well-ventilated, shady area and pick-off and eat the fruit as they ripen.  After a plant has fruited, it will produce 1-3 pups, and then die back.  If allowed to grow and prosper, these new pups will produce fruit in another 15-24 months.

Tips for growing aspargus

When planting asparagus into your garden, you should choose a site that is elevated, to provide for a well-drained soil, and one that you are willing to dedicate as an asparagus patch for years to come.  Once established, these plants can continue to live and reproduce for decades.  When you buy asparagus from us, you will be buying bare root crowns that should be planted into a prepared bed as soon as possible.  For every ten asparagus crowns that you will be planting, work one half bag of compost, and five pounds each of our landscape mix and worm castings into the bed that you are preparing.  After the soil has been readied, plant the individual crowns 10-12 inches apart into the bed, burying each one 1-2 inches deep.  Water them in.  For the first year you are not going to harvest any of the spears as they come up.  Instead, allow the spears to fully develop.  They will grow 4-5 feet tall and produce a dense, ferny growth of foliage.   By allowing your asparagus to grow wild in its first year, you will be giving the plant the energy that it needs to establish a sturdy root system, and thus, increased future yields.  Adequate soil moisture is important during the first growing season.  Weekly applications of water, sufficient to wet the soil to 8 inches deep should be ample.  After the first growing season, asparagus plants do not require much water due to their extensive root systems.  In the fall, cut down any stalks that have been allowed to grow to maturity and lay them down as a mulch over your bed.  Then in mid winter cover the entire bed with an inch or two of well-composted animal manure, and/or a finished compost.  This should be enough to enrich the soil and provide for hearty growth the following year.  The individual spears can grow 2-4 inches a day, and during their season, they will need to be harvested every other day.

Tips for planting strawberries

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Around mid-fall, October/November, we should begin to receive our bare root strawberry plants and it is at this time, that those who know, will begin to plant them out into their gardens. Plant your new strawberry crowns into your prepared garden bed as soon as you can, not giving them a chance to dry out or get sick between our store and your garden.  Strawberries like to be planted into a soil that is slightly acidic and not overly wet, just kept damp.  Prior to planting, I work two handfuls of finished compost, and one small handful of both landscape mix and worm castings with the soil that I am planting each strawberry into.  When planting strawberries, I cut off all but two inches of the roots, and then bury the crowns halfway, leaving the top, growing portion of the crown above ground.  Place the plants at least 8-12 inches apart and allow them to send out runners.  Once the plants are in the ground and have begun to send out new growth, mulch the soil around the plants with straw, a rough compost, leaves or grass clippings.  Just use something that will keep the soil evenly moist and protect the plants from drying out.   If planted in the fall, strawberries will produce edible fruits from March through early June, and then if they are protected from harsh summer conditions, primarily drying out, the plants will fruit again in the late fall.   The secondary fruiting in the fall will be enhanced if you peel back the mulch layer and apply a handful of cottonseed meal around each plant sometime in mid-summer.

Strawberries are notoriously short-lived due to their tendency to build up diseases in themselves, and eventually succumb, and die out.   Despite this inevitability, it is possible to build up and maintain a perennial strawberry patch, it just takes a little work.  After the strawberry plants fruit, they will send out runners that will have a viable plant growing on the end of them.  If you take these new plants and fasten them to the ground by burying them under an inch or so of soil, they will establish and begin to bear fruit themselves the following spring.  Once your runners have taken root and are growing on their own, you can remove the older, mother plants.   If you follow this pattern, you’ll never have any plant more than two years old in the garden, and this will help prevent disease from wiping out your patch.