Friday, August 19, 2011

Using a Soil Blocker: Start Your Fall Garden

A Soil Blocker is a great gadget for setting up your seedlings in flats
When August arrives it's time to get our cool season veggies started for fall. This year I'm getting a head start on planting seeds by using a soil blocker. The soil blocker is an easy to use and eco-friendly way to set up seedlings for your garden projects, any time of year.

August typically sneaks up too soon while I'm still distracted watching my tomatoes and peppers ripen, but this year I'm determined to give my fall garden crops a head start before the first frost hits. I was jolted into action after reading Becky Striepe's blog Eat Drink Better, on starting her seeds for fall planting.

Newspaper is a gardener' best friend!
 Luckily, I'm prepared to be a seed-sowing-machine thanks to my niece and awesome food blogger, Janina Larenas. She gave me a soil blocker, a clever device that will extrude blocks of moist potting soil ready for planting seeds; make as many as you need, when you need them. My soil blocker forms four blocks at a time, with small dimples on the top for placing the seed.

There is no need for plastic six-packs or other individual containers. I used some old flats I got free from my local nursery to set up the soil blocks and used damp newspaper to line the flats and help keep the soil moist.

Read the full post..

Friday, August 12, 2011

Heirloom Bean Project: August Update

Clockwise from left: Hidatsa Shield Figure, Good Mother Stallard, Hutterite Soup, Tiger's Eye
 It's early August and the heirloom beans I planted in May and June have been flowering and forming pods. A few of the pods are starting to mature and dry so that I can have a peek at the bean seeds. Some of the beans are really beautiful colors, and it's been exciting to see how the seeds transform from tender green beans that look very much the same, into spectacularly colorful seeds.  But more on seeds next month when it's harvest time.

Sheet, or "sandwich composting" was a great way to prepare the soil for my bean trial
 The side of our house was a perfect place to plant several types as a test to see how they do in our region (see sandwich composting post, "Soil Magic..."). I plan to choose a few to do a larger planting next summer, perhaps with the more rare bean types (such as Tiger's Eye and the Hidatsa Shield Figure).

Italian Butter Beans have abundant white flowers
The Italian Butter Bean is a runner bean, as I discovered, and has large, showy white flowers. They were beautiful on a trellis in my front yard garden, and attracted a lot of admiration on our Edible Landscaping Tour. As you can see, the carpenter bees love them too!

Italian Butter Beans pods are large and fibrous
I bought the dry Italian Butter Beans at our farmer's market from Iacopi Farms. They produce typical runner bean pods: large and fibrous.  I can't wait to see the dry seeds- they should be a soft white, similar to the Cannelini Runner that I bought from Rancho Gordo.

Good Mother Stallard grew well and have plentiful pods that will be beginning to dry soon. I hope to have enough to save seeds and have some for cooking! The dry beans are very pretty: maroon with white swirls (see photo at top).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Edible Landscaping in Silicon Valley: Reviving the Valley of Heart's Delight

Technology companies, sprawl and suburbia may have replaced the fields of prune, apricot, cherry and walnut tree orchards that once graced what is now my neighborhood, but local food production is beginning to slowly return to our region. 

Silicon Valley may again one day be referred to as the "Valley of Heart’s Delight”, its former nickname from back when the area's local landscape was dominated by rich, diverse food production and stunning natural beauty.

(To learn more about gardening with edibles see my Gardening Index page, and my Recipe Index page)

Edible Landscaping by Example
Last weekend Common Ground's 5th Annual Edible Landscaping Tour featured 10 beautiful and creative home gardens from Menlo Park to Mountain View on the SF Peninsula, all with an emphasis on organically grown vegetables and fruit. 

This popular event continues to attract a growing number of eager attendees ready to learn how to transform their suburban gardens and grow their own food.

Chez TJ's Chef Joey Elenterio and Louise Christy, Master Gardener