Monthly Archives: March 2009

Trouble with Seedlings : Damping Off

tomato seedling riddled with damping off

Scott and I aren’t experts at seedling fatality diagnostics, but we’re pretty sure that for the last two years in a row at least one of our tomato seedlings has succumbed to ‘damping off.’ Damping off or seedling rot is caused by fungi that live in the soil. When you keep the soil continuously damp, give it some high humidity and maybe some cloudy days it sets that fungi in action and ready to destroy your fragile little seedling stems.

healthy seedling

How Do You Notice Damping Off?
We first notice it when the base of the 1″ stems get thin and white, the next day they fall over and die. Sometimes the damping off will affect your seedlings before they even sprout.

How can You Prevent it?
You can prevent Damping Off by sterilizing everything before you plant your seeds. If you make your own seed soil mix you can sterlize your seed soil in the oven with this tutorial. Make sure to wash your planting flats thoroughly too. When seedlings are crowded together that also will activate the fungi, so try to only plant one seed per planting cell.

What to Do When You Spot Damping Off.
Believe it or not, there is a slim chance that you can rescue your poor seedlings from damping off. When you first spot it stop watering right around the base of the plant. Give the seedlings as much light and air as you can. However we’ve had our seedlings our in bright sunlight with low humidity and they always die on us. My recommendation would be to start new seeds immediately when you spot it because chances are slim that you’ll save your new growth.

This year due to all the house renovations we’ve undertaken and our battle with damping off, we’re going to be buying most of our tomatoes and peppers. That’s just fine, it feels good to take a year off from nuturing seedlings in pots.

Have you had any seedling fatalities this year so far?


Filed under Seeds, Soil, Sprouting

Beets for Obama

Beet in my sink
I understand you aren’t crazy about beets, President Obama, but can’t you agree that they are so pretty?
For Pres. Obama, at least beets are pretty, aren't they?
We had these chiogga beets the other night with carrots and celery root all cut up match stick like. Scott made a simple dressing of mayo+yogurt+rice wine vinegar+pepper. Delicious.

This week has been a busy week. Next week I promise more postings!


Filed under In the Kitchen, just picked, Recipes

Keeping Chickens from Seedlings

Daikon Radish shoots
Last year we learned our lesson early, the chickens ate all of our spinach starts. All of them. In a matter of moments. It was a complete masacre. So the poor chickens were relegated to this smaller picket fenced yard within our yard. However they can easily jump over that, so we built up this really attractive layer of wire fencing over the pickets to make the fence higher. But still they were able to get through the fence somehow. Which means that while already watching a three year old and a one year old, I often had to go flying outside to shoo chickens out of the garden. A lot of days I’d just give up an leave them in their coop, and while that it’s a very nice coop, it just felt like animal abuse that they could run around like ‘spring chickens’.
Pea Shoots
This year, I got creative. Over our new pea, spinach, lettuce, and daikon radish seedlings I put mounds of wire. First a layer of old flat wire fencing, then on top of that our big round metal tomato cages. It looks like these poor seedlings are doing time behind a prision fence, but at least it keep them safe. And the chickens can roam free and we can keep their egg yolks that insane orange color with all the bug and weed eating. We need their bug eating ability now to get the first harmful bugs out of yard too.

I don’t know if we are going to have enough intimidating wire to cover our entire backyard this growing season, but at least during this early spring start, I can rest a little easier.

Have you found any tricks to keep your chickens away from your seedlings?


Filed under chickens, Sprouting

The First Spring Weekend

Oh what a glorious way to enter into spring. The first tulip bloomed on the first day of spring. There were rain showers, blue, blue skies, billowy white clouds, March breezes, drinks with a new friend, dinner with an old, dear friend and days spent together outside.
First day of Spring, First open tulip
Spring Tulip
Spring Mustard
The mustard is just starting to fade.
Soon to be Cherries
Soon to be cherries.
Soon to be peaches
Soon to be peaches.
Muscari growing wild below our apple trees.
Did you have a good first weekend of spring too?


Filed under Fruit Trees, Life in Sonoma, Our Weekends, State of the Garden, What's Blooming

How to Prepare Wild Greens

About six months ago I was outside enjoying the crisp fall air with my boys and as they were playing I started to pick some filaree out the lawn for our salad that evening. My almost two year old came up to me, and in a very slow and deliberate manner asked me, “pickin’ lettuce mama?”. Somehow that comment made me fast forward about 12 years to see my two sons telling their future friends and girlfriends about how their crazy mom picks weeds out of their lawn for dinner. I just knew that in our small town, word would get out and, I would be known as the Crazy Weed Eating Mom. That’s all I need!

Then a few months later, I was watching an episode of No Reservations and Tony went to Greece (don’t you love that show?). Anyway he was talking about how foraging for ‘wild greens’ was an important part of the Greek culture. The Greeks believe that eating wild greens in abundance is what has given them such good health. And I flashed back to my days in Tuscany when I saw many little old nonnas out foraging with their sticks for wild greens. All of a sudden picking ‘wild greens’ became romantic again to me. And I vowed to stop saying that I was eating weeds. I’m not going to be the Crazy Weed Eating Mom, I’m going to be a Wild Green Forager. Or so I can hope, you know how teenagers are.

Well, when I posted my entry about wild greens in our yard the other week Linda Prout commented saying that she learned a lot about wild greens when she was living in Turkey and she was kind enough to write about how to prepare them other than just putting them in salads. The knowledge was so good that I didn’t want it to get lost in the comments and I had to share. And if you are interested in learning more, check out Linda’s website and her No Diet Blog.

Some greens are best boiled, some sauteed. For the filaree, the villagers cut it (stem and leaves) in tiny (1/8) inch pieces and saute with minced onion. After, it is drizzled with olive oil, fresh lemon juice and fresh minced garlic.

Heartier greens such as wild mustard and turnip greens are chopped up and boiled, then drained and prepared as above.

Do you cook up mallow? The mallow around here looks like the same variety in the Aegean. It is cooked the same way as the filaree, although often has tomato in it. It ended up being my all-time meze favorite.

All these greens are often topped with whole yogurt flavored with garlic and herbs.

I would love to know what other wild greens you are eating. Any nettles? The Turks were convinced they cured cancer.

I tried Linda’s suggestion on cooking the filaree and it was tasty. We haven’t tried mallow yet, though it does grown in our yard, nor wild mustard and turnip greens.

Are you a wild greens eater? How do you eat them?


Filed under Weeds

What you are doing in your garden

Spring in Sonoma
One thing that I’ve really enjoyed about having this blog is a realizing that it becomes a bit of a community. So I thought I’d take a moment to share with you what you are all up to, so you can click around and get to know each other too. I realize that this list is only a small fraction of those who visit A Sonoma Garden, but I promise to make this a regular feature so we can all meet each other.

Hortois at Garden Tips also wrote a great article on drought tolerant vegetables. If you are living in California, Australia or another dry summer place, doing anything you can to make your garden more drought tolerant is well worth the effort.

Compostings, who’s blog is always entertaining to read, is teaching us all about inoculants and how they may be necessary for your garden. Don’t know what inoculants are? Better click over to find out.

Maureen at Photos by Meg joined the Freedom Harvest Challenge put on by Path to Freedom. The challenge calls for backyard gardeners to collectively produce a million pounds of produce. 2500 people have signed up already and I’m thinking of adding our name to the list. Maureen has already produced over 48 lbs this year! Impressive!

Our own Sinfonian was featured in the Seattle Times on how to build a 2′ x 2′ potato bin. The great thing about Sinfonian’s potato bins is that they grow as the potatoes grow. As most of you know, as your potato plants grow you should mound more dirt up around the green plant to encourage more potatoes to grow. If you are looking for a compact place to grow potatoes, check out Sinfonian’s potato bin tutorial.

The Perfectly Imperfect has a beautiful picture of red daikon radish slices. Gorgeous vegetables. We are growing some this year and I can only hope they will turn out to be so pretty.

For your daily dose of cuteness, Laura just got in 100 baby chicks. So cute! Really, you must go see the pictures and the video she took of her new chicks.


Filed under Musings

Insulating our House

Our Family Room Ceiling
This is why my blogging frequency has decreased, because we are making swiss cheese of our house. When we bought this house, it was our first home purchase so we didn’t take into consideration somethings that we would consider now. Seven years ago, we wanted a unique (as in not cookie cutter) three bedroom house with a bit of character, within walking distance to town and with a big backyard. This house had all of those features. But it also had a few features which we completely overlooked. Like single paned windows that were painted shut, walls and floors that weren’t insulated, doors with gaps at the base so large that we could see if someone was standing behind it, a flat top tar & gravel roof with no western shade and no air conditioning. Needless to say, our house got mighty uncomfortable during the summer heat waves. It was like living in an oven. On the 100+ degree heat waves it would easily be 95+ degrees, inside(!). And I made the wise decision of being at my most pregnant through our oven like summers. Twice. Not smart!
Swiss Cheese Room
So we started with the windows. We replaced them with double paned windows that we could actually open. Glory Be! That helped a bit. The next year we installed ceiling fans in every room, which was lovely. The following year we replaced the doors with weather tight solid doors. That made a considerable difference. But it still got bloody hot in here during the summer. So with a crummy real estate economy and the realization that we are going nowhere soon, we decided to take the plunge and have the house insulated yesterday. After less than 24 hours we’ve already noticed a difference. This morning I didn’t go running straight for my slippers when my feet hit the ground and the walls that faced the outside weren’t bitter cold like they used to be.
New/Old Insulation
Because we never like to keep things easy nor simple, we decided to have an electrician come and replace all of our old brittle wires with new ones and also to install some overhead lighting and a new ceiling fan box in our family room. We took down the old yucky ceiling tile and took the opportunity to take out the 65 year old rock wool insulation and add not only new insulation but also new radiant barrier. Have you heard of that before? It’s like bubble wrap encased in aluminum foil and it’s supposed to keep the heat of your attic off of your insulation, so that the insulation has less of a chance of heating up and therefore transferring that heat to the room. It was fairly inexpensive and easy to install and is supposed to make a world of difference. In fact our electrician said that one of his friends installed it in her attic and she actually got rid of her air conditioner! I can only hope.
Needing new trim
And while we were at it, I decided that I didn’t like the baseboard nor the trim around the doors so we’ve been taking it all off, room by room to be replaced by nicer wider trim and baseboard. Oh, and since we’re at it the doors have 65 years worth of paint jobs on it, so we’re stripping the doors down to bare wood and giving them a clean coat of off white paint. It’s a huge laundry list of projects, but I can’t wait until they are all done. And I’m even looking forward to our summer heat for once to see if this new insulation really works.

Summer? I’m ready for it!


Filed under Our Weekends

Good Things to Know when Starting Seeds

Early Spring in Sonoma
It’s mustard time in wine country which means that spring is almost here. Which means it’s seed starting time, isn’t it? I’ve noticed that many of you have already started. Our house is just a tiny bit larger than a postage stamp and without an extra square inch to spare, we usually wait to start our seeds a little later by planting them in flats outside. Since we are a few weeks out from starting our summer seed plantings, I thought I’d root around for a nice set of resources to get us inspired for when the time comes. I found some great homemade alternatives to seed starting pots, a good recipe for seed starting soil and and easy as pie tutorial for setting up an indoor lighting system for sprouting seedlings as well as many other goodies.

When & What to Plant
First things first, you need to have a game plan of what seeds to plant and when right? Right. Like I mentioned yesterday, knowing when your last frost date is helps a lot in garden planning. Here’s a nice site to help find your approximate last frost date. When you’ve got that figured out, head over to Skippy’s Vegetable Garden (via Compostings-thanks!) and plug in your numbers into her excellent online planting calculator and it will give you actual dates of what seeds to start. Very helpful, isn’t it?

What to Grow Seeds In
Now that you’ve got your game plan, here are some cool free homemade containers to grow your seeds in. You can buy those huge flats of little seed containers and while it’s very nice to have them all on one tray, we always find new curse words to utter when trying to get the actual little seedling out to plant without having to cut the whole thing apart. And I hate having to waste a perfectly good seed tray. We tend to reuse store bought seedling pots (the 2″ guys) or use little yogurt containers with holes punched into the bottoms. But you can also use cardboard toilet paper rolls and check out this fantastic newspaper seedling pot tutorial.

What Soil to Use
Sterile seed starting soil is expensive, but using regular garden soil isn’t always the best seed growing medium either. To help those fragile little seedlings out you need a lighter and airy soil than what’s typically in your garden. You also need it to retain a lot of moisture because you don’t want your seedlings to dry out. Try this homemade seed starting potting mix that contains only three ingredients.

How to Get them Growing
If you have the luxury of a few feet of space inside to devote to seed growing, I envy you. Marc from Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op explains all about his easy seed growing lighting set up.

When You Can ‘Plant Out’
I admit that when it comes to gardening, we’re not so good at following exact dates or numbers or record keeping or planning or the like. So when we plant our seedlings into the ground we do it with a bit of intuition, a prayer of hope that we don’t have some freak late frost, and of course a rare day of free time to accomplish the task. But if you are a numbers person, this is fantastic chart to show when you can begin to plant your seedlings outside (you’ll need your last frost date from above before you click over).

Do you have any seed starting tips that you’d like to share? Any cool seed starting related websites you’ve stumbled across?


Filed under Seeds

Winter Harvest & Early Spring Planting

It’s that time of year between winter and spring, here in Sonoma. We have been getting ‘in like a lion’ rain/hail storms (thankfully) and yet the cherry plum trees are in bloom and daffodils are beginning to make there appearance throughout town.
Last Saturday was a sunny day, a rare day for us lately, so we decided to harvest most of the cabbage, the bolting kale and a few of the brussel sprouts which have been growing all winter. Because we’ve had more than our fair share of kale lately, I decided to break out the ol’ FoodSavervacuum and use it to vacuum seal blanched portions of kale to freeze for a later date. Have you used a FoodSaver before? We received one when we got married 6.5 years ago and we really like it. It keeps things fresher for much longer in the freezer. We originally used it for vaccum sealing the salmon that Scott used to catch. But we also use it for freezing large Costco sizes of meat and now for veggies too. A worthy investment if you freeze a lot of food.
Potato Growing
Into the garden went the potatoes: Red Gold, Russet Norkotah, Rose Finn Apples (Potato Garden is where we get our seed potatoes). Old German shallots and Red Wethersfield onions (for green onions), our newly aquired spinach, daikon, and carrot seeds, and lastly peas.

We took out our favorite How to Grow More Vegetables book for some spring planting inspiration this past weekend because they lay it all out for you of exactly how many seeds you should be planting of what vegetables for this time of year for a family of four, isn’t that convenient? Anyway, they listed a rather reasonable amount of seeds for each item, but when it came to peas? It suggests you plant 1800 pea seeds! One thousand and eight hundred! We looked at our measly one packet of seeds and laughed. So I suppose we’ll be about 1775 seeds short of what we should be planting this year. Since I’m not a fan of cooked peas anyway, I’m not too worried. How many pea seeds do you usually plant?

Oh, I also wanted to point out that I added a bookstore link up above, do you see it? I’ve added only books that either we own or that we have read and have liked, I’d never suggest something to you that we haven’t tried ourselves.

I hope your last week of winter is going smoothly! Oh and go here to find out when your last frost date is.


Filed under books, Preserving, Seeds