Monday, October 16, 2006

Good Reads

As wintry weather approaches I am anticipating more time to pursue my other passion.

"If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need." -- Cicero

What Color Flower Are You?

You Are a Purple Flower

A purple flower tends to represent success, grace, and elegance.
At times, you are faithful like a violet.
And other times, you represent luxury, like a wisteria.
And more than you wish, you find yourself heartbroken like a lilac.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Garden fatigue

I have not posted much lately. I have to admit I was suffering from what is not a term I coined myself it seems. It started about August when the heat became relentless and being outdoors was heinous. That accompanied by my much lamented losses attributed to the local vermin and I find myself needing to give myself a kick in the pants and get back out there. I did actually throw some cilantro seeds in a pot last month and lo and behold I have another bunch to throw in salsa and taco salads, etc. in the works.

We had our first rain of the winter season last night. I had my window open as I enjoy the crisp late evening/early morning air and was awoken at about 1 a.m. by a pretty decent sounding downpour. For us located in the Central Valley it is a sound we have not heard since March.

My best intentions have me dreaming of lettuce, carrot and radish plantings. Maybe by committing these plans to writing I will have more motivation to get it done.

In the meantime, I am delighted with my Great Pumpkin (below)! I imported the photo of the beauty growing at my community plot to my computer wall paper to get in the fall spirit.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More Sunflowers

I love how cheerfully and proud sunflowers spring up sturdily almost anywhere you drop a few seeds. Especially when they are unexpected.

After spying a lone stalk topped with the familiar yellow-petalled disc in the front yard of a neighbor I asked him about it. The flower, growing beneath a tree on his front lawn, had just shown up there, he said. I was enchanted.

New to gardening at the time, it was the first time I'd been introduced to the concept of "volunteers" in the garden.

Later when my boys were toddlers we enjoyed watching volunteer Helianthus annuus, as they are officially named, spring up in the cracks between the paving stones on our back patio. The product of birdseed we had placed in the area, and misplaced as they were we let them grow until they towered over the boys.

Well I'm as enchanted by sunflowers today as I was then and every year I plant a packet beneath the large tree in our front yard. Enough late afternoon sun shines on the patch that the plants thrive there.

This year I chose Kneehigh Sunflowers Music Box Variety after last year's Giant Greystripes wound up competing with the foliage of the large tree they grew under. The packet describes them as "bushy plants (that) bloom freely in lively sunny shades from rich clear yellow to deep gold and cream with lots of pretty bicolors of bronze over gold, all with crisp petals and chocolate center discs." The description sold me (who writes this garden porn anyway?) and they have lived up to their word nicely.

A favorite in many children's garden, sunflowers are truly one of the easiest flowers to start from seed. If you too are a sunflower lover and haven't read Eve Bunting's Sunflower House, browse through a copy the next time you are in a library or bookstore. And check out this how-to article and plan to make one of your own next summer.

Community Garden partnership with Elk Grove Community Food Bank Services

I thought it was appropriate to mention this relationship after reading in Angela's Northern California Garden Blog about a how gardeners in Seattle are encouraged to donate surplus harvests to their local food bank.

The Elk Grove Community Garden and Learning Center where I maintain a plot is operated under the umbrella of Elk Grove Community Food Bank Services.

About 25 percent of the 4-by-16-foot planting beds are dedicated to families who use the Food Bank. They may "adopt" a plot to cultivate as they like.

The Garden being in its infancy however, I'm not sure if any families have come forward to claim a stake.

In the meantime, those plots are gardened by volunteer members for two reasons: to serve as demonstration plots and to provide fresh produce to the Food Bank located behind the Parks & Rec. offices at 8820 Elk Grove Blvd.

Currently many of the plots are filled with thriving squash and tomato plants donated by the Horticultural Department of Cosumnes River College.

All gardeners are encouraged to donate surplus to this cause and bins for this purpose are located in a common area. About twice weekly, produce is delivered to the Food Bank by one of our members.

Originally the garden was affiliated with the Elk Grove Community Services District however working with food bank services became a more viable and obviously more logical partnership.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Inaugural Tomato Tasting

The Elk Grove Community Garden hosted its inaugural tomato tasting on Saturday. The event featured more than a dozen varieties of tomatoes and drew dozens to the garden to learn more about community gardening.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Wise Words

“Life beats you down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.”


Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary


1 : skill acquired by experience, study, or observation art of making friends>
2 a : a branch of learning: (1) : one of the humanities (2) plural : LIBERAL ARTS b archaic : LEARNING, SCHOLARSHIP
3 : an occupation requiring knowledge or skill art of organ building>
4 a : the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced b (1) : FINE ARTS (2) : one of the fine arts (3) : a graphic art
5 a archaic : a skillful plan b : the quality or state of being artful
6 : decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter

To me, gardening is an art, don’t you agree?

* I stumbled upon this while surfing. Click here and scroll down.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Pesto 1-2-3

Ahhh... can't you just smell it? This basil, called Profumo di Genova that I wrote about here, lived up to its name nicely. It had great color, fragrance and flavor. It's another Renee's Garden item and I remembered fondly why I favor their products so much when we enjoyed this tossed with some linguini.

Radish Haul

In early July I went ahead and harvested these Rainbow Radishes called Easter Egg II from Renee's Gardens. Although they are a cooler weather crop I decided to give them a try in a windowbox-type container and planted them up in early May. Considering the warm temperatures they tasted pretty good -- I prefer them spicy -- although they were meager-sized.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pile O' 'Maters

Mostly Early Girls, a couple of Heatwaves and a handful of Sun Cherry.

I felt I needed to get these low growing tomatoes out of the garden plot as it appears I have been receiving nocturnal visits from who-knows-what variety of rodent. That's right folks, before I even got a single taste, a marauding mouse/rat/raccoon (pick your best guess) has been feasting on my bounty.

I am heartsick naturally. We're not talking little nibbles here. We're talking at least a third of almost a dozen different fruits. Oh yeah and the strawberries have been decimated as well. I had originally suspected birds were doing this damage but it is just too extensive to be the swarm of sparrows (or swallows?) that scurries nearly each time I approach. Not that they are entirely innocent. A few of the higher growing of the crop have been slightly pecked.

My fingers are crossed that whatever is responsible for this debacle is petite and not a good climber.

The community garden area, previously undeveloped, lies adjacent to a large open field which could be home to any number of culprits. Also, my plot lies about halfway into the property with the remaining half past mine vacant and overgrown. Need I say more? After this season I'll likely be relocating.

Zucchini Bread Anyone?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Friendly Visitor

Last night I had a visitor in the garden. Click on the photo to get a closer look.

He was lounging among the zinnias and marigolds that are blooming nicely.

Sunflower -- "Autumn Beauty"

Sunflower -- "Giant Greystripe"

Monday, June 26, 2006

Zucchini Fritters

On Friday I harvested two large green zucchini squash and made one of my favorite recipes -- Zucchini Fritters. These are yummy and make a great light supper with a green salad on a hot day when you don't want a big meal. The recipe is from Foods from Mother Earth and follows below.


1 large or 2 medium zucchini squash
1/2 of a medium onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup lowfat milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

1. Peel the zucchini if the skin seems tough, or else wash it well, then grate the zucchini and onion coarsely with a hand grater or food processor.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the grated zucchini, onion, eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and vegetable oil. Stir, then add the milk a little at a time, until well blended.

3. Heat a large frying pan or griddle over medium heat. Spoon the mixture into the pan to make small, round fritters. Cook until lightly browned, about five minutes, then flip to brown the other side. Serve hot with sour cream or yougurt.

Makes about 16 fritters.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Cool Reads

If like me, you find yourself needing to escape the brutal mid-day heat of the Central Valley but can't stop thinking about gardening, I recommend the following with a tall glass of iced tea:

From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden
by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart had a simple dream. She yearned for a garden filled with colorful jumbles of vegetables and flowers. After she and her husband finished graduate school, they pulled up their Texas roots and headed west to Santa Cruz, California. With little money in their pockets, they rented a modest seaside bungalow with a small backyard. It wasn't much—a twelve-hundred-square-foot patch of land with a couple of fruit trees, and a lot of dirt. A good place to start. From the Ground Up is Stewart's quirky, humorous chronicle of the blossoms and weeds in her first garden and the lessons she's learned the hard way. From planting seeds her great-grandmother sends to battling snails, gophers, and aphids, Stewart takes us on a tour of four seasons in her coastal garden. Confessing her sins and delighting in small triumphs, she dishes the dirt for both the novice and the experienced gardener. Along the way, she brings her quintessential California beach town to life—complete with harbor seals, monarch butterfly migrations, and an old-fashioned seaside amusement park just down the street. Each chapter includes helpful tips alongside the engaging story of a young woman's determination to create a garden in which the plants struggle to live up to the gardener's vision.

The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden
by William Alexander

William Alexander had a simple dream of having a vegetable garden and small orchard in his backyard. It was a dream that would lead to life-and-death battles with groundhogs, webworms, and weeds; midnight expeditions in the dead of winter to dig up fresh thyme; skirmishes with neighbors who feed the vermin (i.e., deer); the near electrocution of the tree man; and the pity of his wife and children.

Both are quick, satisfying reads.

May I also suggest a look at a few of may favorite gardening blogs:

Angela's Northern California Gardening Blog
My Bay Area Garden
In My Kitchen Garden

Monday, June 12, 2006

I am a Petunia

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

"You are a tried and trusted friend who will be there for your friends when they need you. But you have a tendency to be nervous about doing things that go against the norm."

This is cute and fun but either I didn't answer accurately or it's a little skewed. The petunia in the picture is sure pretty, but I generally don't plant these because they are a little, how shall we say, common.

So, if I am nervous about doing things that go against the norm, why don't I plant petunias like everyone else?

Saturday, June 03, 2006


I had such good luck with these Nasturtiums, a Double Dwarf Jewel Mix I planted from seed last year I was encouraged to add more varieties to the garden this year.

I was very pleased the bright yellow bloomers above endured our mild winter and self sowed to increase their numbers.

I added to the planting this year to extend it further alongside the garage in the front yard. I picked up a few starts from a local nursery and added a few that I started from seed. The group now includes some reds, oranges and a few almost burgundy colored specimens.

Since last year I have discovered these hardy beauties come in a few softer colors that I much prefer. In the backyard bed adjacent to the kitchen I transplanted a few seedlings Thursday evening. I started them from a packet of Vanilla Berry Mounding Nasturtium from Renee’s Garden.

The package describes them as buttercream-colored blossoms marked at the throat in deep strawberry. I am looking forward to seeing them bloom and hope they will spread throughout the bed.

More Then and Now

In only two and a half weeks this barrel o’ veggies has become quite lush.

A friend picked up this half wine barrel for me for a mere ten bucks at a roadside Boy Scout fundraiser.

For that price I couldn’t pass it up.

On May 16 I filled it with two yellow crookneck squash, a zucchini squash and a Brandywine tomato.

I’ve been a fan of container gardening for years. Mainly I preferred it because it spared me the back breaking labor of double-digging and amending our hard-packed clay soil. An added benefit I suppose is keeping the goods above the “snailosphere” to borrow a term from Angela’s Northern California Gardening Blog.

Today the plants are not only thriving, they are flowering and one baby crookneck has emerged.

Fresh Lettuce

With the season now in full swing I've been so busy gardening, blogging time has been scarce.

At the home garden we harvested some baby lettuce for a salad Monday. It was my first attempt growing lettuce. I planted seed called "Crunchy Lettuce Trio Blush Batavians" from Renee's Garden in a small clay bowl.

The package says it does well in both heat and cold weather. This is how it looked May 22. In my hurry to get dinner on the table I didn't snap any photos of the lettuce at harvest or served in a lemon juice, garlic and olive oil dressing. I had been seeing those baby lettuce mixes in the store and had even purchased a few, so when these grew bushy enough I simply cut the leaves about an inch or so from the base and voila! Some varieties will continue to grow for a second harvest and I'm hoping this is one of them.

As you can see the planting was quite crowded so tender baby leaves were the goal all along. I have purchased a slightly larger bowl and several types of summer lettuce seeds that reportedly do well in the heat of the season. After this had sprouted and when the weather turned warm I moved the bowl to an area where it gets only a few hours of morning sun. One of the perks of gardening in containers is location changes are easy.

At our community plot I stole a couple of strawberries today. Shh... Don't tell the kids. They weren't completely ripe but tasty nonetheless. I wanted to get them before the birds did.

Side-by-side Comparison

On the lower left is what the garden plot looked like on Day 1 back on April 26. As you can see in the photo at right taken May 29, things are coming along well.

Most of the nine tomato plants have set fruit. For some reason however the Beefsteaks are struggling both here and at the home garden. They flower but the buds wither and die, then fall sadly to the ground.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Peppers and strawberries and birds, oh my

There's no place like California to garden. A native of the northeast living here for almost twenty years, I am still amazed how early warm weather arrives each year. Even though this year's seasonal rains and harsh spring storms lingered longer than usual, I've already got produce from my hot-weather crops.

I was thrilled Thursday to find this tiny pepper dangling on my Anaheim chili.

I had been seeing some action from the volunteer strawberries that showed up mysteriously in the front yard last year. But thanks to neighborhood birds I have yet to sample the goods growing in a small bed that surrounds a large tree. No big deal, I thought. It's not like I put much effort in, heck I hadn't even planted the things. I assumed they were the product of some underdone self-made compost I put there. So I saw them as an offering to the Gardening Goddess, in exchange for the protection of the remainder of my future harvest. And besides, I sort of owed those birds something, what with that empty bird feeder swinging above taunting them for what two, maybe three years since I'd last filled it.

But then I see the same evidence of critters down at the Community Garden plot I'm renting where I'd lovingly and quite purposefully placed two Junebearing strawberry transplants. Alas it is not to be, perhaps. And like the turtles in Susan's Missouri kitchen garden, the birds never finish what they started. I have a feeling the birds take only a bite or two and leave the rest because what they have come upon are only half-red berries, not nearly ripened to their potential sweet perfection. I wish they wouldn't leave behind their half-eaten remains for me to mourn.

Why blog?

The desire to make a garden is often followed by a desire to write down your experiences there.
--Michael Pollan, from Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

After anouncing the debut of Through the Garden Gate to friends and family, someone asked me, "What exactly is a blog?"

As the above quotation suggests, the marriage between gardening and blogging seems natural but perhaps it was best explained by Angela in her Northern California Garden Blog where she answered the question "Why do I garden blog?" quite eloquently. I love the part about taking a virtual peek over a neighbor's fence.

Writing and gardening, these two ways of rendering the world in rows, have a great deal in common. -- M.P.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Garden Plot Update

Here's what the garden plot looked like yesterday. Considerable growth in less than a month. I have noticed, as many other gardeners I'm sure have, the tomatoes I have in containers at home have a little more height and just seem more vigorous. I'm sure it's because those in pots have warmed up quickly while the ones in the ground needed a little more time to get toasty. They seem to be catching up rather quickly, however.

Here's an Early Girl from the same six-pack that is thriving in a container at home. A small pot of basil started from a packet of Renee's Garden seeds is nestled below. The variety is Profumo di Genova and it is labeled a "Specialty Basil." The packet described it as an Italian import bred for basil flavor without minty/clove overtones, its compact shape and good disease resistance. The package goes on to boast: "Fancy European greengrocers offer pots of dense, leafy Profumo di Genova at the front of their market stalls so cooking gardeners can take it home and enjoy a regular supply of its spicy, fragrant leaves." The description made it too enticing to pass up, since I won't be taking that European vacation to the Italian Riviera this summer after all. Kudos to the copywriter at Renee's. I was instantly transported to an open-air farmer's market and could practically hear the sounds of a bustling crowd clamoring to spend their Euros on the best basil available. Instead, for about three American dollars I hope to enjoy some wonderful pesto later this summer from the comfort of my own patio while sipping a phenomenal Italian wine. I better start sampling vintages now to find just the right one.

In the foreground are on the left, some cilantro started from seed next to a Purple Coneflower I picked up for $1.99 at the Natural Foods Co-op.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Community Garden Plot

Here's a section of my plot at the Elk Grove Community Garden. This picture was taken April 26. I planted several types of tomatoes, peppers, some strawberries, marigolds, and some Giant Greystripe Sunflowers. Since then there has been significant growth.

Later I added Lemon Cucumber, Spacemaster Cucumber, Sugar Baby Watermelon and Jack O' Lantern Pumpkins. This past weekend I put in two types of basil -- Genovese and a lime-scented variety -- and another giant sunflower. I read that you can train cucumber vines up sunflowers. We shall see.

As it is the real estate in the bed, which measures about 16 feet by four feet, is bound to get a little crowded soon. The tomatoes, peppers, basil varieties, marigolds and strawberries were nursery transplants. The remainder I started from seed at home then transplanted later.

This is my first experience growing in a raised bed. In the past I gardened soley in large containers with the exception of a Lemon Cucumber last year and a volunteer tomato that sprouted next to it -- a product of a little underdone self-made compost.

Into the Garden

According to an ancient Chinese proverb, "Life begins the day you start a garden."

I have found that a garden sustains not only the physical but the spiritual while nourishing not only the body but the soul.