Archive for February, 2012

Quick! Click to Win a Cluck

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Quick, click this link and you might win a chicken!

I’m not kidding.  Timber Press has a contest going that ends February 17th.  If your entry is selected, you win:

  •  A $50 gift card for chicken feed or supplies from McMurray Hatchery (they sell baby chicks)
  •  One chicken coop plan from The Garden Coop (a $20 value)
  • 1 lb. of organic chicken forage blend and seeds for chicken-friendly plants from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (a $20 value)
  • A copy of Free-Range Chicken Gardens

This is a promotion, of course, for the Timber’s new release Free Ranch Chicken Gardens, which is a cute Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloombook on creating chicken friendly gardens.

Free-Range Chicken Gardens is written by Washingtonian Jessi Bloom who is a garden designer and a chicken mom.  Jessi is a proponent of free range chickens, though she realizes that isn’t a possibility for all chicken lovers.  Instead, she offers practical alternatives to giving your chickens the run of the yard.

She also covers chicken care, which chickens to choose (there are lots of varieties), protecting chickens from predators (like bald eagles!), plants chickens love and those they avoid, coop designs, and other useful topics.

Its been more than 30 years since I last gardened with chickens.  I’ve thought about doing it again but dealing with kids, cats, and dogs took priority in recent years.  After reading Jessi’s book, though, I might just give it another try.

Please, don’t tell my husband!

The Year’s First Seed Starting Workshop is a Big Success

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

it was cold and rainy, but that didn’t’ stop anyone from showing up for the year’s first seed starting workshop one evening last week at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant in Old Town San Diego.

We all knew that spring is just around the corner and with it, spring and summer vegetable gardens.

Nan Sterman with host and Cosmopolitan Hotel proprietress, Catherine Miller

I panicked a bit when the rain began, but Cosmo proprietress Catherine Miller knew just what to do.  Rather than have us work on the patio under the stars, Catherine had her fabulous staff set up tables, chairs, and lights on a covered walkway alongside one of the Cosmo’s historic dining rooms.

The group was small and very enthusiastic.  Several people were new to seed starting, others had tried seeds but with mixed results. All were eager to learn.

I began with a discussion about how seeds work, how to know which seeds to start at what time of year, and how to read a seed package.  We compared seed packets from Renee’s

Garden, Nichols Garden Seed, and Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, three of my favorite seed companies.

We planted more than a dozen types of seeds

The best containers are those that support each plant from seed to transplant size









I introduced the group to my favorite seed starting strategy, one honed by years of trial and error growing my own vegetables  and testing seeds for Organic Gardening Magazine.

My best success, I explained, comes from using containers that can support each seedling from sprout to transplant size without having to separate and repot tiny seedlings.

Then, we got busy.  I had set up big trays of seed starting mix, containers for starting seeds, and a huge array of seeds to plant.  Each person planted four or five types of tomatoes, several types of pepper, two eggplants, basil, squashes, cucumbers, pumpkin, watermelon, cilantro, chard and more.

Containers are filled with seed starting mix

Gettin' down and dirty










Part way through the evening, Cosmo’s Executive Chef Andrew Sasloe decided we needed some nourishment.  He had prepared small bites using the same kinds of vegetables we were planting.

We swooned over eggplant carbonara on crusty bread, an eggplant, squash, and tomato lasagna, and a tomatoey bruschetta,.  For dessert, there were steamed lemon custards.  These dishes that aren’t usually on the menu but they certainly should be – they were absolutely delicious.  I’m drooling at the memory.

As we got back to work I listened to the excited chatter.  No one was in a hurry, they were simply enjoying the process and taking their time.

By the end of the night, everyone had a smile on their face and big tray of pots seeded and ready to sprout.


Done! Seeds started and ready to go

One of the participants left me a voice mail message the next day.  “It was amazing and wonderful,” she said, “lots and lots of wonderful information.”  That’s music to my ears!

I’m holding six more workshops just like this one between now and the end of March.   Workshops are scheduled all over the county, including a daytime workshop at the Cosmopolitan Hotel on March 18th.

You can find a list of dates and locations  on my homepage,  Space is limited to only 15 or 20 people per workshop.  If you are thinking of signing up, I suggest doing it soon.

Happy seed starting!

Turn the Water ON

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

This is the time of year when I’m usually telling people (in the strongest terms) to turn their irrigation systems off.  Problem is, we’ve had almost no rain this winter.  Our rainfall total is far below normal. While the weather is warm, sunny, and beautiful for us humans, it isn’t so beautiful for plants.  This is when low water plants in particular should be storing up to survive next summer when its dry.  Without that winter water, they may not make it through the rest of the year.

So, as much as it pains me to say it, Turn the Water On.  If you live along the coast where the weather is pretty mild, you probably don’t need to water more than once a week.  Inland where its warmer and drier, water a bit more often.  Either way, water for a long time each time.  Water until you stick your finger in the soil and its wet all the way down – even further.  Each time, water for the same amount of time, just change the frequency.

Though its February, we may still get some rain.  Last time we went dry for this long was winter, 1991.  I remember the day the skies opened up.  It was March 20th, and my water broke (literally) at 4 in the morning.  After a Madd Hatter ride in the pouring rain to the hospital, my son, Asher was born at 9:30 am.  I’ll never forget what they called “The March Miracle.” It was a rainfall miracle for the weathermen and a “welcome to parenthood” miracle for my husband and me.