Category Archives: State of the Garden

Rainy Summer Day

Strangely enough, amidst the deepest of droughts, it rained this morning. In fact this was the third time precipitation has fallen from the sky this summer, if I’m counting correctly. Of course none of these rains have done much to help the drought nor has it even watered the plants all that well. However, us native Californians will tell you, rain in summer is just weird and miraculous!
IMG_7937IMG_7934The plants, though they didn’t get a good soaking, very much appreciated the little they did get. They all looked much happier this morning upon my usual morning stroll. One of my favorite areas are these new planting beds we had built on either side of the deck staircase. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to the nursery and picked out all new plants for an all new bed. Fun! Pineapple sage, dahlias, purple fountain grass, mexican feather grass, artimesia, lavender, black and blue salvia and a few others fill the beds.
In previous summers (2013, 2012, 2011) this bed was overflowing with sunflowers and corn and melons, this year it lays fallow, filled with weeds and dried fava beans. It’s okay… the soil needs to rest, right? Sure.
IMG_7928Radishes, along with the other seedling I planted last week are sprouting up. Thank you weird, welcome summer rain.


Filed under State of the Garden

State of the Garden

We seem to have entered into the phase of summer where it’s just plain hot & dry. The tomatoes and peppers aren’t complaining though. The tomatoes are starting to tower over our heads and are sending us inside with handfuls of red jems to enjoy. Remember we added in our drainage pipes a few weeks ago and it seems to be paying off, they are all looking very healthy and happy.
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Those metal containers? Look how happy things are growing in them. That basil, that tiny little store bought basil is almost tree like now. It’s the biggest basil we’ve ever grown. And the cucumbers are thriving too.
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The grapes, our poor little dry farmed grapes (irrigation going in next year, right?) are coming ripe. They are so fun to go visit and pick with the kids.
IMG_7916 IMG_7915I worked on this bed over the weekend. Getting out the pesky dead weeds and amending it with gypsum, which helps break up the clay soil. These zucchini got a late start, but seem to be happy and with a little bit of daily watering and some luck new seedlings will be joining them. Kale, chard, spinach, cilantro, carrots and radishes. I also added in a few biannual flower seeds that I’ll transplant out to the flower garden once they get going. Since I was going to be watering everyday, might as well group all the seedlings together! It feels good to have the time to focus on the garden once more and to feel hopeful about it again.

How are things going in your garden? Are you feeling good about the state of things?


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Gardening Minimalists

This year we are gardening minimalists. At least compared to our previous gardening efforts. You’ve heard me talk about how we had a busy winter/spring enough times. The visual proof is a garden about a third the size of our typical summer garden. But we have all the essentials. Tomatoes & peppers, a few squash, plenty of herbs. And our galvanized bins full of cucumbers and lettuce. We’ve stuck a few melon seeds in the ground to see what will happen.

We put our drainage pipes back in between the tomatoes. We went three years without doing that and we know now that for us, adding the drainage pipes produces a much nicer tomato plant. While we use drip lines for regular watering, being able to stick the hose down those pipes once a week or so, and water really deeply makes a world of difference.
It’s easy to beat ourselves up for not getting it all done as large-scale as in previous years, but we’re slowly learning to be easier on ourselves. We bought almost all our plants this year, no time for starting from seeds. And besides all that, it’s a drought year, so we’re even more justified with staying ‘small’ this growing season. We are loving growing in these raised galvanized tanks. There have been a few mutterings about wouldn’t it be dreamy to get another 8 of them and just grow as much as we can in them. I don’t know if that would really happen, but we are enjoying the two we have immensely. The way they are positioned, the sun hits them just right so they are much more photogenic, you’ll be seeing a lot of them. So we hope you like them too.

How’s your garden doing this year?


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Orderliness in the Garden

It must be as I’m getting older, but the busier my head gets, the more I crave neatness and order. There is a solid half of me that thrives in wildness, that even feels inspired by it, and yet there is a solid and loud half of me that goes a little batty when I see chaos. This is displayed in consistent mass purges (took 8+ bags to the thrift store the other day and already filled up three more) and and a real affection for putting my Felco pruners to good use in the garden.
When we first moved in we knew we needed a new deck, but we put a band-aid fix on it. We replaced just a couple of key boards that would help hold up the rest of the dry rotted boards about 3 years we figured. Our 3 year mark of living here is coming up this month (yikes!) and we knew we had to replace our deck. As house projects go ‘simply replacing the deck’ started a domino effect that became a very involved and intricate project involving moving doors, replacing siding, taking out bushes and pouring a new cement patio.

This project, we realized, is really the first project that we’ve created sort of from scratch. Though we’re using the same footprint of what was here, we had a lot of creative play with what materials and colors and slight design details we chose. And oh, what a laborious project freedom of choice can entail. We bickered and laughed and grew closer and almost strangled each other until we came up with our final game plan.

And this, what you see before you, is one half of it. Neat, straight, tidy. We cleared the shrubs, straightened out curved lines and laid landscape cloth, all drawn up on graph paper with mechanical pencils. We even hired two different contractors. This method of building something is all new to us; hob nob, rag tag, cobbled together DIYers. We feel very grown up.
As you can see we added two raised beds. We’ve missed them. We used to garden in them exclusively, but now we grow our veggies straight in the ground which comes with a fair amount of challenges we’ve never faced before. In effort to make gardening ‘simple’ again, we put in these two beds close to our back door to house things we’d like to grab quickly like lettuce, basil & parsley to name a few. As you can see we used stock tanks which conveniently come with a drainage hole at the bottom that irrigation fits right into. We also drilled a few holes in the bottom for drainage and filled it with compost, potting mix and good ol’ Sonoma dirt.
If I were to turn right around and show you what was behind us you might screech at the sight, it’s a total deck debacle. But in just a few weeks time, it’s going to look fantastic. And all of this immediate order, this direct view out my window, will hopefully bring calmness of mind to my scatterbrained self, so that I may venture peacefully further out into the inspiring wildness.


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Out the Window

We don’t maintain this side of the yard very well. There is so much of our yard in plain view that needs to be pruned and weeded and well watered. This side of our yard often gets forgotten, yet look, it’s thriving. How does that work? Without a drop of water in the summer, without much human touch, it’s growing into a wild and verdant, flower filled country jungle. I like it this way. We’ve been re-doing the area directly in back of our house into a straight-lined, open, orderly spot. In doing so I worried that somehow that would domino effect the entire yard into an orderly, squared off sort of garden. Part of me likes that order, but we moved here for the wild-ness of it all. So our new personal landscape philosophy is Order Turning Towards Wild. Areas right in front and in back will tend towards the orderly, but the further you venture, we’ll let things turn wild and untamed. At least that’s what we’re aiming for.

This is the side of the house that the children’s windows look out upon and I find it fitting that they look out onto the wild side. The bees live on this side. There is a pathway that was once maintained and that only they fit through now.

Next time I write, I’ll show you the order. For now, I leave you with the wild.



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the state of things around here


Oh boy it’s been quiet around these parts, hasn’t it? I’ve been a bit of a hermit the past few weeks. With a little vacation to Santa Cruz (Why aren’t we living the life of Capitola beach bums? I really have no good answer for that.), a new adjustment to summer routines and the last round of new window replacement happening, it’s been good to be quiet for while. Now we’ve got our summer rhythm going and the windows, the glorious, glorious new windows are done with. So let’s get back to life, shall we?

With such a dry spring and such a blasting hot summer, it’s hard to find good flowers to photograph now, but I found these two beautiful ones this morning.

A few months ago I called my mom, a fellow milkweed grower, and asked how her milkweed was doing…was it coming out of dormancy? Yes, hers had, she even sent pictures. Mine looked as dead as a doornail, but when I tugged those roots wanted to stay in the ground, so I waited and waited and sure enough, it’s a healthy and vibrant plant. Don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but this spring I realized that living out where we are, we are about two weeks behind what blooms in the town of Sonoma. And about three weeks to a month behind where my parents live in the East Bay. Interesting.

Despite a few hiccups the veggie garden is coming along. We made another important realization this spring: gophers love plastic. Well, at least gophers who live in these parts do. We’ve observed a few farms that use black plastic sheeting as mulch and weed suppressant, so we thought we’d give it a try too. We put it all down around the melons you see in the foreground and within no time it was riddled with gophers. Even using gopher sticks which have always been a great deterrent. Scott went ahead and ripped out the plastic and wha-la, the gophers retreated once more. We should have known, they do love to tunnel under our plastic, above ground pool.

The beans are growing sky high and we’re starting to be able to pick them. Hey, looks like a morning glory found it’s way to a trellis.

The raspberries, while first starting on ‘my’ half of this bed, have been migrating over to ‘Scott’s side’ of the garden. Hrmph! I’m trying not to take it personally. Apparently they like a nice well amended, double dug bed as much as any other plant does.

How are things going in your garden?


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State of the Garden


Despite the bugs and the drought, the garden is coming along indeed. The evening primrose is starting the bloom (the yellow petal or two you see), along with the mexican evening primrose (the pink). The cabbage and collards and carrots are keeping our bellies full. And this seems like it will be the year for peaches! Last year, after a hard prune, we only had enough peaches for eating and two jars of jam. This year we hope to add many more jars of jam to the pantry.

The raspberries seem to be coming alive quite nicely amongst the mexican evening primrose and statice.

Last year was a down year for blackberries for us as well, but this year is looking good so far! Blackberry Bars, here we come!

The hydrangea I needlessly purchased last July is about to bloom mixed with ladybells.

And look at this cute little petunia. Always wanting to be outside, always wanting to wear pink and always telling you that one day she’s ‘going to do ballet’.


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gardening in a dry year


It’s been a dry year here in California. One of the driest winters on record. To us, even though we had a very wet fall, it seemed like after the holidays the faucet was shut off. There was really almost no rain whatsoever after the holidays. Such a strange winter. And this spring we are certainly seeing the signs. Sure, if you squint your eyes and turn your head a little to the left, things look pretty good. Flowers are blooming, trees are leafing out. But if you look closely you’ll notice that the lawn is almost dead already, spring flowers are getting torched by this early heat (supposed to be in the 90’s tomorrow!), and we are relying heavily on irrigation…already. This is going to be a long summer.

A few years ago I wrote a post on drought friendly vegetable gardening, (wow, I used to write such different posts back then!) which is worth a read if you are struggling with water issues too. In regards to that post, we outfitted two more beds with in-line drip irrigation. We ordered 15 yards of mulch to heavily cover the irrigation and our tender crops. We are also focusing heavily on three beds this growing year instead of last years four beds. And I’m heavily mulching the flower gardens to help retain every last ounce of water in the soil. We need, however to get these beds on a timer, so that they can be watered in the evening or early morning hours. That is an easy step, we just need to put it higher on our priority list.

Luckily we have the option of putting our laundry on grey water. We’ve had this since we moved in, but it only drains out to one spot. Though I shouldn’t complain, the snowball hydrangea looks quite happy about the situation. However, my hope for the near future is that I can hook it up to a pipe that has multiple perforations in it, so that it can water a larger area along our foundation plantings.

How is the rain/water situation where you garden? Do you have any drought gardening tricks?


Filed under Mulch, Soil, State of the Garden, Water, what we've learned

Meanwhile Miscellany

Goodness, where have I been the past two weeks? Well, that is in part due to the dreaded stomach flu that my children had and in part due to the fact that my camera USB cord bit the dust. What’s a blog post without photographs? Not too interesting in my opinion, despite the fact that one of my favorite blogs has never posted a picture. However the new cable is here and my spring growth photos are ready for sharing!
: :  This week marks FIVE years of blogging for this Sonoma garden. Amazing that so much time has passed. I’m going to celebrate, so stay tuned!
: :  I cracked open the hives for the first time since late October and I had expected to find little honey and lots of brood in the top box. I was surprised to find full top boxes full of new honey! I didn’t feel it was warm enough to break apart the hive down to the brood boxes quite yet. So I took some frames of honey and moved them up into a new box on top to entice them up. Beekeeping is such a fascinating hobby, as you don’t just learn about bees, but so much more about the local ecology, such as what is blooming at the moment. Thank you eucalyptus, willow, bay, manzanita, mustard and wild radish for that new honey & pollen!
: :  We got brave and planted a whole slew of new seedlings about three weeks ago. Lettuce, radishes, chinese mustard, broccoli rabe, cabbage and the such. Last year when we did such a thing our seedlings got eaten to the ground. We suspected birds or maybe pill bugs. Maybe flea beetles, we didn’t know who was to blame. So this year we covered a section with row cover. They too got nibbled on. The culprits? Pill bugs! They got my pepper box poppy seedlings too, the buggers!
: : Have you seen Floret Flower Farm’s new blog project? She’s pairing with another flower farmer/florist on the opposite side of the country to post an arrangement each week. Sort of reminds me of the old 3191 Evening/Morning posts, remember those? Anyway, to die for creations! We have so many flowers growing here, but arranging is certainly not my gift, not like these ladies.
: : I have been scheming of how I can get myself to the Taproot Gathering next autumn in New Hampshire. One of my closest friends of 20 years just moved to New Hampshire. I have to make this happen, but how?
: : My friend and neighbor, just took a workshop from from Tumbleweed Tiny Houses and had me over for tea to talk about it and show me the books she got. And now I have tiny houses on the brain. Which is ridiculous because our family of five just moved out of a relatively tiny house and I’m quite enjoying stretching our legs out in this larger house. But wouldn’t they be fun to build? What a great little retreat or guest cabin. Then the idea of building led me back to Riana’s photostream, which I’ve been following for years. And now I have plastering and milk paint making on the brain. Which of course led me to straw bale building, which is what Scott and I really want to do some day. In the meanwhile, let’s all encourage Michelle to build a tiny house!


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Winter Hibernation

We didn’t plant a winter garden this year. Not a thing. Not even an attempt at our usual broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower. In fact we didn’t even so much as put a kale seedling in the ground. With having our summer garden go in late and our harvest extending much later than usual, we were wiped out. To tell you the truth, when we’ve wimped out on our winter garden it’s come with a lot of guilt. Where we live, we really can garden almost all year round, so the pressure is on to take advantage of that.
However I believe there is great benefits to a period of hibernation, both for the soil and for the soul. This year we didn’t allow ourselves to feel guilty. We had done enough last spring and summer, it is time to rest. And I have much suspicions that having the garden, and the gardeners, rest for the winter is going to create an extraordinary spring garden. Because now that the holidays are good and done with we are all chomping at the big to get going again.
This past weekend we were all out there in force. Weed whacking, trench digging (for new irrigation), hand weeding, mulch moving, rock hauling. All of us eager workers. The seed catalogs are worn with near constant browsing. The garden books are showing up more frequently on the coffee table. While we aren’t ready to fully give up our winter garden hibernation, spring is looking oh so sweet to us.


Filed under Holidays, State of the Garden