Summer Sprouts

We planted pole beans and cucumbers in the garden about 10 days ago and they recently sprouted!

bean cucumber
Pole beans planted around a wire cage and cucumbers planted under a trellis.

beanSprout cucumberSprout
Baby bean and cucumber sprouts.

The cucumber seeds were started under plastic bottles with the bottom removed to create a mini-greenhouse.  After the seeds had sprouted, we removed the bottles and replaced them with plastic rings cut from water bottles to keep the seedlings separated from the mulch.  This helps to keep the seedlings from staying too moist which can cause disease.

We have also been harvesting blueberries as they ripen.  Blueberries don’t ripen all at the same time so you should check every couple days and harvest the ripe ones.  It can be a little tricky to tell if blueberries are ripe, but look for berries that are completely blue/purple without any hint of green.  Blueberries can also be sweeter if left on the bush an extra day or two after they turn colors.  Just remember to pick them before the garden animals do.


Garden Update

The longer days and warmer weather are great for the garden.

The beets and carrots we planted a couple months ago are almost ready to harvest.

homegrown beets via it's jou life - homegrown carrot & beet greens via it's jou life - homegrown carrots via it's jou life -

Since beets grow partially out of the ground, you can easily tell when they are ready for harvest.  Beets can be picked small or large depending on personal preference.  Beet greens are also edible and are very nutritious as well.  To determine if carrots are ready for harvest, gently brush away the soil near the carrot top to check the carrot size.  Its always a surprise when pulling carrots because you never know whats hidden under the surface.

Our recently planted tomatoes are also growing strong and will hopefully provide us with plenty of tomatoes over the summer.

growing tomatoes via it's jou life -

Each tomato seedling is surrounded by a plastic ring made from recycled 1-gallon water bottles.  This is to keep mulch away from the base of the tomato plant to allow the stem to remain dry and helps to prevent disease.  When watering tomatoes, try to keep the leaves as dry as possible to help prevent blight.  Watering in the morning is also best so it give the leaves time to dry during the day.

Summer Seeds

Our summer seed order from Johnny’s Selected Seeds came in a few days ago!  Excited about all the different fruits and vegetables we have planned.  Click the links to read additional details.

Seed packets from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Hybrid Diploid Watermelon – Little Baby Flower F1: Small 5.5 inch fruit with dark pink flesh that is sweet and crisp with high sugar content.

Hybrid Cantaloupe – Sarah’s Choice F1: Named “Most Flavorful” by Johnny’s.  Also has resistance to powdery mildew and fusarium wilt (races 0,1 and 2).

Hybrid Zucchini Squash – Dunja F1: Organic, early and powdery mildew resistant.  Yields dark green, straight zucchinis.  Also resistant to papaya ringspot virus, watermelon mosaic virus and zucchini mosaic virus.

Hybrid Winter Squash – JWS 6823 F1 PMR: Good tasting butternut with shorter vining and smaller fruits compared to Waltham Butternut.  Resistant to powdery mildew.

Slicing Cucumbers – Marketmore 76: Long, slender, dark green cucumbers.  Begins bearing late but picks for a relatively long time.  Resistant to cucumber mosaic virus, downy mildew (specific races), powdery mildew and scab.

Specialty Cucumber – Diva: Persian cucumber that produces distinctly tender, crisp, sweet, bitter-free, and seedless cukes.  Resistant to cucumber vein yellowing virus, downy mildew (specific races), powdery mildew and scab.

Sweet Peppers – Lunchbox Pepper Mix: Mix of yellow, orange and red snack peppers.  These mini-sized peppers are remarkably sweet and flavorful.

Soybean, Green – Butterbean: Sweet, buttery, and high yielding; Butterbeans are acclaimed as the finest in green vegetable soybeans.

We chose to grow a lot of hybrid varieties because there are a lot of gardens in close proximity in our community garden and diseases can spread quickly.  Also since we have limited space in our community garden, we chose hybrid varieties what were more compact.

Weekend Gardening

Busy weekend in the garden! We bought and planted 5 varieties of tomatoes during our community garden’s annual heirloom tomato sale.  The seedlings were grown by Windrose Farms in Paso Robles.  Descriptions below are from their plant tags.

  1. Japanese Black Trifele – Black Tomato, Indeterminate, 75-80 days.  Exceptional fruit with the shape & size of a pear with rich flavor.  Abundant producer of great purplish-black, smooth fruit.  A favorite! Good for coastal gardens.
  2. Cherokee Purple – Dark Purple Tomato, Indeterminate, 80 days.  A must-have in every garden.  Beautiful 12 oz dusky rose/purple heirloom beefsteak from Tennessee, with a sweet rich flavor.
  3. Isis Candy – Bi-Color Cherry, Indeterminate, 67 days.  Delightful medium sized yellow-gold cherry tomato with red marbling.  From just a blush of red to streaks , always a sweet delicious rich fruity taste.
  4. San Marzano – Roma Tomato, Indeterminate, 80 days.  Excellent for canning, paste, or puree.  Rectangular pear-shaped, 3-1/2 in. long bright red fruit with mild flavor & meaty texture.
  5. Cosmonaut Volkov – Indeterminate, 65 days.  This Russian heirloom, named form the Russian space explorer who fell through space is the quintessential eating tomato.  A juicy, sweet, rich full-bodied early slightly flattened 8-12 oz. tomato that will produce well in cold or coastal conditions.

We choose a good mix of colors, shapes and purposes to give us good variety all summer long.  Since we are growing our tomatoes on a trellis, we choose indeterminate tomatoes that will keep growing till they die.

We also built 2 trellises (72 inches tall by 96 inches long by 30 inches long) to support the tomatoes, cucumbers and butternut squash we have planned for the summer.

Garden Trellis via it's jou life - Garden Overview via it's jou life -
Trellises in the garden.

We also saw the first red strawberries from our strawberry tower!  Looking forward to many more.

Our First Strawberries via it's jou life -
First strawberries from the tower.

{ jou farms & eats } field of greens

Wayne planted baby greens a couple months ago and we finally harvested some yesterday–so lush and plentiful! Within a few hours we made Easter dinner: Roasted organic herb chicken, baby multi-colored potatoes and the freshest of fresh, home-grown baby greens salad. Can’t wait to finish building our trellis so we can grow tomatoes and other summer goodies!

fresh baby greens in gardengreens for dinner{ Photos: Jennifer’s iPhone }

Strawberry Tower

We built a stacked redwood and cedar planter strawberry tower over the weekend to give vertical gardening a try. (Planter details will be in another post).

We used both redwood and cedar planters to see which one would hold up better.  Both are insect and rot resistant and the contrast between the red redwood and white cedar looked nice.  Planter dimensions are 15×7.5×7.5inches.  The bottom of each planter has 11 0.5inch drainage holes to allow water to exit the planters.

The planting mix we used was 1/3 screen compost (from the community garden), 1/3 organic potting soil and 1/3 organic azalea mix since strawberries like slightly acidic soil.

The strawberry varieties we planted were “Seascape” and “Sequoia”.  Be sure to check which strawberry varieties do best in your area before planting.

strawberry tower via strawberry tower 2 via

strawberry tower 3 via strawberry tower 4 via
Strawberry planting.

We started by filling each planter with soil mix and then lightly tamping the soil down to remove air pockets.  The final height of the soil was 0.75 inches from the top of the planter.  The lower soil level makes it easier to water the plants and it also prevents the soil from being washed out during watering.  It also allows us to add a layer of mulch to help retain soil moisture.

After all of the planters had been filled, we used a hand trowel to dig a shallow ditch on one side of the planter (1.5-2 inches deep) to plant the strawberries.  Ideally the strawberries should be planted so the soil level is even with middle of the crown (here is a good picture that shows proper planting depth).  Since we purchased strawberries that were in 6-packs, we just has to make sure that soil level in the planter matched the existing soil level on the strawberries when we planted.  If you wanted to plant bare-root strawberries, you would have to dig a slightly deeper hole to give the roots room to spread out.  After placing the strawberry plants in to the hole, we gently filled the soil in between the plants and lightly tamped to remove large air pockets.  We planted two strawberry plants on each side of the planter for a total of 4 plants per planter (one in each corner).  We also interplanted the two varieties just to mix things up.

The strawberry tower is supported by a 6ft metal t-post driven about 1.5 ft in to the ground where the planters cross (behind the planters so that the wind will blow the planters in to the post).  The bottom planter was set on two patio pavers to allow for better drainage and to provide a level base for the tower.  It is very important to have the base level the all directions before stacking, otherwise the tower will be unstable.

Finally we stacked the planters on top of each other, alternating directions so the boxes formed an “X” pattern.  Then we gave the planters a deep watering to help them establish deep roots.

strawberry tower 5 via
Stacked strawberry tower.

Ocean View Farms

It’s official! We’ve fully assimilated into the Santa Monica culture now that Wayne and I have our own organic garden plot at Ocean View Farms. Located near the Santa Monica airport, there are over 500 garden plots and flower gardens that occupy six acres in the hills of Mar Vista/Santa Monica West LA.

I love this urban garden community space. We have a large 13×17 feet area to grow our own organic vegetables–before we switched plots we grew eggplant, zucchini, kale, broccoli, romanesco broccoli, peas, carrots.

On a normal day we water and often exchange garden advice with veteran members who pass by. It’s a great garden community and everyone is so friendly. We pay a small fee for annual dues and put in 12 hour community work hours a year. There is a tool shed where you can check out garden tools and wheel barrows. Water and compost is also provided!

Wayne waited 3.5 years on the list. Not sure how long it takes to get a plot now. If you plan on living around the area for the next several years, it’s worth signing up! Ocean View Farms.
So far we’ve accomplished our first goal: Make a salad entirely with fresh ingredients from our garden!

Here are some casual shots I took on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the garden.

cacti trio

cacti trio

neighbor's cute mailbox

neighbor’s cute mailbox

neighbor's rustic mailbox

neighbor’s rustic mailbox

pop of pink

pop of pink

main path. wayne in the far distance. greenhouse to the right.

main path. wayne in the far distance. greenhouse to the right.

compost just around the corner

compost just around the corner

compost bins: it's quite a system they got here

compost bins: it’s quite a system they got here

our cucumber plants !

cucumber de familia

king tree + main path

king tree + main path

i'm hungry

i’m hungry

Garden Help: I got a garden, now what?!?

A friend of ours recently got a plot in a community garden and she asked for some help on getting started.

sara 1
Our friends new community garden plot.

Often when you first get a community garden plot, it is going to look a bit run down.  The previous owner probably didn’t spend any time cleaning up and the garden will most likely be covered in leaves and overgrown with leftover plants and opportunistic weeds.  But don’t get discouraged because with a little sweat and hard work, the run down garden can easily be transformed in to a highly productive and beautiful garden.

Step 1: Know the rules.

Every community garden has its own set of rules and regulations, so familiarize yourself with them before getting started to make sure you aren’t violating any rules/regulations.

Step 2: Gather tools.

The tools I suggest are the following: shovel, spading fork, bow rake, small hand trowel, small hand rake, gloves and hat.  The shovel, spading fork and bow rake are mostly used when you are first getting the garden ready for planting so if you have friends you can borrow from it will save your some money.  Most of the time during the growing season, the small hand trowel and rake will be sufficient.

Step 3: Clean up.

To get a better idea of what your piece of land looks like, remove all of the debris, leftover plants and weeds from the garden.  Start with the easy to remove debris (leaves, branches, etc.) that is just sitting on top of the soil.  Then start on the plants and weeds.  If there are any plants that you want to save, gently dig them out and put them in containers (if you don’t have any garden containers, paper grocery bags work great).  Be sure to dig far enough away from the base of the plant to limit root damage.  It might seem like a huge task, but just start on one side and work your way across, you’ll probably be surprised at how quickly the clean up goes and how much better the garden looks with just a little cleanup.  A shovel or spading fork are useful tools to help loosen the soil around weeds so they can be easily pulled out.  Be sure to follow your community garden’s policy on where to put all of the organic material you just removed from your plot.  Most community gardens have compost bins but check to see if there are noxious weeds that cannot be composted (false garlic, nutgrass and bindweed are NOT allowed in my community garden’s compost bins).

Step 4: Repairs.

Check the garden walls to see if they need any repairs.  Its much easier to fix things when there is nothing growing in the garden.  Likewise, if your garden has fencing, check to make sure there are no holes and that the posts are solidly in place.  If your garden has no walls (like my friends garden pictured above), I recommend adding a short 4-6 inch wall to keep the grass out of the garden and the garden soil in the garden.  The wall should start about 4 inches below soil level to keep roots from growing under and in to the garden (2x8s or 2x10s should be sufficient).  Walls can be built with a variety of materials (douglas fir, redwood, cedar, cinder blocks) but I HIGHLY discourage the use of pressure treated lumber.  While pressure treated lumber will last much longer than untreated lumber, it will also leach toxic chemicals in to the soil where your vegetables will be growing.  Douglas fir is the cheapest but will need to be replaced in 3-5 years depending on weather conditions.  Redwood and cedar are naturally insect and rot resistant so they will probably last 6-8 years but costs 2x as much.  Cinder blocks will last indefinitely and only cost 1.5x as much as douglas fir, but you will have to sacrifice some garden space to lay the cinder blocks (common block widths are 6 and 8 inches).  Cinder blocks also have the tendency to move around so they should be staked or buried halfway to stabilize them.  Check with your community garden on what materials are allowed and if there are any rules/regulations against garden walls or borders.

Step 5: Amend the soil.

After the walls and fences have been repaired, its time to amend the soil before planting.  Start by getting the garden soil smoothed out using a bow rake (metal garden rake).  Then add 1-2 inches of compost (from the community garden or store bought) over the entire garden.  Use the shovel or spading fork and turn the soil over to incorporate the compost in to the soil.  Then flatten everything out again using the bow rake.  I like to cover the entire garden in 2-3 inches of mulch but some people just leave the soil uncovered.  The mulch helps retain moisture in the soil as well as discourages weeds and provides food and shelter for earthworms.  I prefer to use shredded horse bedding (which is provided by my community garden), but partially composted leaves, grass clippings and even shredded paper will work.  I tend to stay away from wood chips since they don’t break down fast enough.  Check with your local county to see if there are any free compost/mulch programs in the area.  You can also try and call horse stables or check craigslist to see if anyone has chicken/rabbit/goat litter.  Fresh manure will have to be composted before use in the garden but your garden will appreciate the extra work.

Step 6: Layout.

Determine what you want to plant and do some research in to the growth habits of different varieties of plants and vegetables.  Based on space/light requirements, layout where you would like to plant everything and build garden paths accordingly.  Remember that plants will look very small and spaced too far apart when they are small, but will fill up the space when they are full grown.  Don’t plant too closely since it will encourage disease and reduce yields.  Do some research on companion planting and remember to plant some flowers to help attract bees and other beneficial insects to your garden.  I like to use old wood for paths (check craigslist for free wood, old fence boards work great) but you don’t have to use anything.  Just make sure you aren’t walking in the planting areas (compacts the soil) so make sure to mark the planting area boundaries.

Step 7: PLANT!

The fun part.  Plant seeds and seedlings, remembering to water well but not over water.  It is better to water deeply less often to encourage deep root growth instead of frequent shallow watering.  Seeds and small seedlings will need to be watered more often since their roots are very shallow and located close to the surface of the soil.  Remember to plant in season (don’t try growing cool season crops in the summer) for best results.

New Year, New Garden

After waiting 3.5 years for a community garden plot at Oceanview Farms, we finally got one June 2012.  The plot was located near a large eucalyptus tree that shaded the plot for a good portion of the day and made growing full-sun vegetables difficult.  Everything grew at a slow pace and took much longer than usual to ripen.  The only plants that grew well were lettuce and arugula, but it allowed us to get in to the garden and familiarize ourselves with how everything worked and make new garden friends.  We always had the intention of trading plots later, so we kept an eye out for garden plots that were located in full-sun and abandoned.  Lucky for us, the plot next to our friend’s plot wasn’t being used and after some investigation, we found out that the gentleman that owned the plot was planning on giving it up at the end of 2012.  So we put in a request to trade plots and as of January 2013, became the new owners of a plot in full-sun next to the green house and close to the compost bins.  But with the excitement of a new garden came lots of work to get it ready for planting.  Weeds had to be removed, walls had to be rebuilt, the ground had to be leveled and the soil needed to be amended.

First we removed everything in the garden, saving the plants we wanted so they could be replanted later on and throwing away the weeds and trash.

pre-garden 1
New garden plot after removing weeds.  The old walls were in pretty bad shape.

Then we set about rebuilding the walls so we could make the garden level.  This required us to first dig behind the old walls to remove them and then getting the trench to the proper depth and level before starting on the new walls.  Since Oceanview farms is situated on a slope, we had to build up the front wall of the garden in order to make it flat.  We built the walls using 2x8s of various lengths to try and minimize the amount of scrap lumber (mostly 2x8x8s with a few 2x8x12s).  The 2x8s were held in place by 2x4s that we cut and dug in to the ground as posts.  All of cutting was done with a handsaw and everything is held together with exterior screws in pre-drilled pilot holes.  After three Saturdays of hard work, the walls were done and the garden was all level.  Time for soil amendments.

progress 5
Digging behind the front wall.  The string marks where the new wall will go.

progress 3
Beginning to level the plot.

progress 2
Leveling two-thirds of the way done.  The front wall was built up in order to level the garden plot.

Since the garden soil is fairly sandy, we added 1-2 inches of compost over then entire plot to help it retain water.  Then we added a light layer of shredded horse bedding and mixed everything in.  Finally we covered the entire plot in 2-3 inches of shredded horse bedding to act as a mulch and gave the entire plot a deep watering.  The shredded horse bedding helps keep the soil moist which helps make the soil “alive” with micro-organisms.  It also provides food and shelter for soil amending critters like earthworms.

progress 1
Beginning to add compost over the garden.

To make the garden paths, we used old lumber from the community scrap pile.  The wood makes it easy to see where it is safe to step and it also helps to spread the weight out so the soil doesn’t become compacted while you are working in the garden.  After deciding on a layout that would maximize garden space, we cut the pieces of old lumber to the proper size and made our garden paths.  We were finally ready to plant.