The 2020 Garden: A Review In Photographs

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Here is a review of the year in photographs. For each month (since I’ve had this blog in March), I chose the “most significant” photo of the month. They may not be the most beautiful photos, but they are either a special memory, or are in some other way significant to me.

March: Beginning my blog, the first tour of my apartment “garden”
April: Peas are beginning to grow in the community garden in Seattle. The asparagus and rhubarb are ripening.
May: Nate and I successful composted in a bucket on a balcony!
June: I left Seattle and moved to Palo Alto, CA
July: Starting my first seeds in Palo Alto. This was a squash.
August: The beginnings of an in-ground garden space in Palo Alto
September: A visit with Nate to the Bloedel Reserve
October: Harvesting apples with Village Harvest
November: Also harvesting persimmons!
December: Starting seeds for next year!

I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. I know I did. Here’s to 2021 and good things to come!

The Garden In December: Citrus and Greens

As this is the last week of 2020, I thought I would do one last look of the current state of the garden. Citrus and greens is the theme.

In the main in-ground garden space, the only things still growing are mustard greens and kale. They’re looking okay…the mustard greens are doing better than the kale. I can cut a few leaves to add to a bowl of soup, but it’s not a lot. I hope they’ll put on some more growth once we get more daylight.

As you saw on Sunday, though, we have some citrus ripening.

The navel orange tree…

…some kumquats….

….and the blood orange tree!

The blood orange tree, while not quite ripe yet, is loaded with fruit. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the garden is just underneath the blood orange tree, and as I was watering the garden this summer, I’m sure the blood orange was also getting a good drink this summer.

(Not pictured: limes and Meyer lemons, still producing.)

Besides the citrus trees, there’s not much to look at in the garden at this time, but I’m optimistic that by December 2021 I’ll have more to show you!

Homegrown Oranges and Orange Cake

I stayed here in Palo Alto for Christmas, and my housemates and I made as special Christmas dinner. I was in charge of the dessert, and I made an orange cake from The Moosewood Cookbook. The recipe required orange juice and orange zest. I hadn’t planned to make this cake until the morning of Christmas when most stores were closed.

Fortunately, we have a navel orange tree in our backyard!

The oranges are just about ripe, and I was able to find two ripe ones for the recipe.

One thing that amazes me about growing oranges is that they look just like the oranges you would get from the grocery store! Maybe this shouldn’t come as such a surprise, but homegrown apples and pears are always smaller and have more blemishes than apples and pears in the grocery store, and I guess I expected the same types of defects with oranges.

On the flip side, the flavor of these oranges was fine, but nothing special — exactly like what you would get at the store, despite being freshly plucked off the tree.

Here’s the finished cake:

It was a very nice cake, but not as “orangey” as I was hoping…you really had to squint to taste the orange in it, and perhaps use a bit of imagination.

Foliage Friday: Merry Christmas (Tree)!

Merry Christmas, dear readers!

Image source: here

In honor of this holiday, my Foliage Friday today is a brief exploration of the Christmas tree.

Growing up, we always only had a fake Christmas tree. Real trees were messy, and you had to go out and buy one every year, pay for it (an unnecessary expense) and dispose of it after the season was over. Too much work!

I always wished we had a real tree. I love the way they smell and I think there’s something special about picking out a unique tree each year. I’m probably over-romanticizing it, and when I finally have my own house with my own tree I will (in all likelihood) revert back to a faux tree.

There’s an old debate about which is more sustainable: a real tree or a faux tree?

The arguments in favor of real trees include the fact that faux trees are often produced in China, have to be shipped around the world (carbon emissions), are made of plastic, and sit in the landfill when people decide they want a new tree.

People used to argue that cutting down trees was bad. But that argument doesn’t seem to hold weight these days. Most trees are grown on Christmas tree farms, which are usually located on land that isn’t well-suited for growing other crops. More trees are planted for each tree that is cut down.

I think the consensus these days is that real trees are more sustainable than faux trees.

(However, my dad would probably argue that he’s had the same fake tree since the…80s? (before I was born at any rate), and there’s no point getting rid of it now. It would be wasteful to throw it out and switch to buying real trees each year. But if you’re thinking of buying a new fake tree, maybe…. think again?)

There are several different kinds of real Christmas trees to choose from. Most Christmas trees are either fir trees or spruce trees.

Fir trees include Noble Fir, Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir, and Douglas Fir.

Noble Fir
Douglas Fir

Spruce trees include Blue Spruce or Norway Spruce

Blue Spruce

How can tell these different types of trees apart? Both spruce and fir trees have needles that attach individually to the branch, unlike pine trees which have needles that attach to the branch in clusters. Fir trees have flat needles, whereas spruce trees have square needles. An easy mnemonic is: fir = flat and spruce = square.

I didn’t put up a tree this year, so instead, I’ll share another nice photo from the interwebs.

Image source: here

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Eve! Time to Start the Onions…

I know I said I would start the onion seeds in early January, but I just couldn’t wait! The chervil and parsley have done so well, that I’m eager to start more seeds. When I wake up in the morning and see a new sprout poking its head out of the soil, it’s like Christmas morning!

I’m growing Evergreen White Bunching onions and I’m trying my luck with Walla Wallas. Both of these seed packets are old so I expect a much lower germination rate. For this reason, I’m going to sow six seeds of the Evergreen White Bunching in one pot and four Walla Walla seeds in another pot. I know these numbers seem ridiculously low (I’m limiting myself four onions this year), but I don’t have much grow light room to work with, so I’m trying to grow what I can with one pot per crop. If all goes well, I can try succession planting as I move things out into the garden and make room in my grow light set up.

The Walla Walla onion seed packet says to plant them 1/2″ deep, and if starting seeds indoors, aim to plant seeds 8-12 weeks before moving them outside. At this rate, I’ll have onions planted in the ground in mid-February.

The Evergreen White Bunching says to plant them 1/4″ deep. Evergreen White Bunching onions are a green onion, which I hope will be particularly amenable to succession planting. If they germinate, I might try starting a new crop every 2-4 weeks indoors.

All planted!

I don’t want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don’t care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

I just want you for onions of my own
More than you could ever know grow
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is you onions

It doesn’t rhyme. Who cares? Merry Christmas!

Let there be light!

We had 9 hours and 35 minutes of sunlight here in Palo Alto yesterday. There were 8 hours and 25 minutes of sunlight in Seattle yesterday. Today Palo Alto, we will get 3 extra seconds of light. Seattle gets 5 extra seconds of light!

Thank goodness for grow lights.

My seed starts are enjoying their artificial light. I now have a 100% germination rate! It’s hard to tell in the photos below, but I planted two chervil seeds in the chervil pot and have two chervil seedlings….

The second sprout is that blurry green thing in the background.

…and I planted three parsley seeds in this pot, and I just saw the third parsley sprout come up yesterday!

My cactus is also really thriving under the grow light. Here’s what my cactus looked like back in August, and it hadn’t really done much until I put it under the grow light….

….and BOOM! These cacti have put on so much more growth.

Spring is coming and I am ready for it. Each day from here on out we can look forward to a few more seconds of light each day. This year on the solstice, I got my first dose of the COVID vaccine. Afterwards, I realized it was very symbolic to be vaccinated on the darkest day of the year….from here on out there will be a little more light.

I hope you all had a good winter solstice too.

My Planting Schedule: Spring 2021

I wrote about what I’m planning to grow next year. I already started the parsley and chervil to test out my seed-starting set up.

Since that is working, I’m now going to figure out when should I start the other seeds.

I got the California Master Gardener Handbook out of the local library. Here is what it says for each of the plants I’m planning to grow (these are “recommended planting dates” for the “North and North Coast region”):

  • Tomatoes – May
  • Cucumbers – April to June
  • Peas: Jan – April
  • Beans: May-June
  • Carrots: Jan – May and June-Aug
  • Beets: Feb – Aug
  • Summer squash: May – June
  • Winter squash: May
  • Onions (green) – April-Jul
  • Onions (bulb) – Jan-March

The month of May seems really late to be staring tomato seeds in zone 9b, doesn’t it? In the “Tomato” section of the book, they say to start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. Our last frost date is February 22….6-8 weeks before that is Dec 28 – Jan 11. So, am I supposed to start the seed at the beginning of January and then wait 5 months before planting them out in the garden in May? That doesn’t seem right.

I’m going to use my “gardening intuition” (ha) and pick planting dates that seem reasonable to me. I’ll learn what works and what doesn’t and I’ll adjust accordingly in years to come.

  • Early January: start onions (both bulb and green onions) indoors
  • Mid January: start echinacea indoors
  • Late January: start sweet peas indoors and direct sow peas (snow peas/snap peas) outdoors
  • Early/mid February: start tomatoes, cucumber, basil and zinnia seeds indoors
  • Late February: start winter and summer squash indoors; direct sow carrots and beets outside
  • Early March: direct sow cilantro, marigolds, and pole beans

I know some gardeners will look at this list and scoff, but I’m sticking with it. I think having an imperfect planting schedule, is better than no planting schedule, because without a planting schedule I might not get seeds in the ground at all.

If you’re curious, here’s some of my logic for my planting schedule:

  1. I’ll use our “last frost date” of February 22nd for my timing
  2. Aim to plant tomatoes in late March once soil has warmed up a bit? So start 8ish weeks prior… = early February
  3. Cucumbers, basil and zinnia seem like they’d like the conditions that tomatoes like, so I’ll use the same planting schedule for them
  4. Peas should be direct sown and tolerate the cold, so late January is ok, I guess?
  5. Beans also should be direct sown, but do not like cold soil (they will rot before they germinate if the soil is too cold), so wait until the soil is warmer to direct sow them (early March?)
  6. Carrots and beets should be direct sown, and they reasonably cold tolerant, I think?
  7. Some say summer and winter squash should be direct sown; others say you can start indoors to get a head start. I started seeds in pots and transplanted them last season, and that seemed to work well. I’ll start the seeds indoors, but transplant them outside after only 3-4 weeks. I want to plant them outside in mid-March (after our last frost), so start the seeds inside in late February
  8. Cilantro is cold tolerant, but should be direct sown after last frost?
  9. Onions should be started sooner rather than later. I want to start onions inside and let them put on quite a bit of growth before transplanting. This might be the wrong way to do, but I’m gonna do it this way anyway.

Foliage Friday: Chinese Pistache

Last week, I came across this tree on the VA campus.

How bizarre are these nests of berries?

I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. They look like birds’ nests speckled throughout the tree, and the berries are a mixture of red and green berries on thick red stalks. Could they be any more Christmas-y?

I had no idea what this tree was, and it actually took me quite a lot of googling to figure it out. It was the leaves that were the clue. There was one bunch of leaves hanging on to the tree:

These leaves are pinnate, which means there are multiple “leaflets” attached to a common stalk. A “simple leaf” is a leaf with only one leaf attached to each stalk. Compound leaves have multiple leaflets attached to a common stalk. Compound leaves can be palmate or pinnate. Palmately compound leaves are leaves in which the leaflets all join the main stalk at the sample point, like fingers attaching to the palm of your hand (kinda… sorta…). Pinnately compound leaves are leaves in which the leaflets attach at different points along the stalk, kind of like ferns. I think this resource explains it best. The leaves on the tree in the photo above are pinnately compound.

Pinnate comes from the root pinna which means “wing” or “fin” (the part of your ear that sticks up off of your head is a pinna, as in a “wing” or “fin” on your head), but pinna also means “feather,” which I think is a more appropriate interpretation in the context of pinnately compound leaves. 

So, what is this tree?

It’s a Chinese pistache or Pistacia chinensis.

If you think that name sounds like pistachio, you would be correct. They are in the same genus. The common pistachio nut tree is Pistacia vera. The fruit of this tree, however, are not edible. Most sources say the berries or drupes are red turning to blue. They look green to my eye. Very festive for this time of year.

Yet again, once I identify a tree, I start to see it everywhere. This photo was taken right next to the hospital on my bike ride in:

I’ve passed by these trees every day for the past six months, and only now have a name for them.

Exciting Update on the Parsley and Chervil Seeds!

Today (Thursday, Dec 17) will be 12 days since I planted these seeds. The seed packets say it can take 10-28 days for the parsley and 10-14 days for the chervil to germinate.

On Tuesday morning (day 10), I woke up to this in the chervil pot:

Do you see that little sprout?! I’m so excited!

I was worried about my new makeshift seed starting set up. I worried the light might not be strong enough or close enough to the soil or that I was over- or underwatering the seeds. I need not have worried.

Last night, the chervil seedling looked like this:

Growing strong!

Also, I checked the parsley pot last night, and there were not one but two sprouts poking their heads up. Here’s a photo of one. Can you see it?

I put two chervil seeds in the chervil pot and three parsley seeds in the parsley pot. They’re germinating right on schedule. I’m very happy with how this is going!

Trying To Grow Ginger (And An Update on the Thai Basil)

I noticed the other week that a knob of ginger in our ginger/garlic bowl was sprouting.

A lot of ginger and garlic from the store is treated with some sort of anti-sprouting compound to prevent this from happening and give the product a longer shelf life, but organic ginger sometimes isn’t treated and can sprout.

Naturally, when I saw the sprout I wanted to plant it to see if I could make it produce more ginger.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), the Thai basil experiement is a complete bust. It rooted nicely, but decided to die as soon as I potted them in dirt. So, no overwintered Thai basil for me. Oh well. At least I now have a free pot for the ginger.

I broke the ginger sprout off with a little less than an inch of ginger root attached, and left it on the top of my dresser for a few days to let it callous over so it wouldn’t rot when I planted it.

From what I read online, it should be planted 1-2 inches below the surface, although some sources say 4 inches deep. Some sources say water well, others say water sparingly. Most sources say ginger likes “low light conditions.” Others say put it in a bright sunny window. Almost everyone agrees it’s a slow grower.

Who knows if I’m doing it right, but here it is all planted up:

I have very low hopes for anything coming of this pot of ginger. Have you grown ginger before? What are your tricks?