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Archive for the ‘Organic Gardening’ Category


The organic way: Be Wise Ranch has found success through tenacity and innovation

Friday, October 8th, 2010

A tall man stands in the field, surveying a vast sea of green. It is late summer, and veteran organic farmer Bill Brammer has rivulets of sweat running down his neck. The mercury passed 100 degrees around midday. This oppressive heat is hard on people but great for ripening tomatoes. At peak harvest, workers will pick more than 60,000 pounds of the juicy red fruits from these fields in a single day.

If you buy organic heirloom tomatoes, grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or Jimbo’s, chances are, your future tomatoes are growing under Brammer’s gaze. Back in spring, the organic strawberries you bought at these outlets also came from “Farmer Bill’s” fields…..(more)

Farmer Bill Brammer (center, in blue shirt) leads a tour of his tomato fields in the San Pasqual Agricultural Reserve

Farmer Bill Brammer (center, in blue shirt) leads a tour of his tomato fields in the San Pasqual Agricultural Reserve


Nan’s Garden Tip #101: Mulching Vegetable Gardens

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Want to make your vegetable garden more waterwise?  Here are two suggestions:

  • Switch to drip irrigation

Most vegetables dislike having wet leaves. In fact, wet leaves often become mildewed leaves.  Drip irrigation is far more efficient than overhead spray and it keeps leaves dry and mildew free.

  • Mulch with a three-inch thick layer of home-made compost.  If  you don’t have enough compost, use seedless straw.
  • Straw is the perfect vegetable mulch. It is lightweight, but keeps weeds down and soil moist

    Straw is the perfect vegetable mulch. It is lightweight, keeps weeds down and soil moist

Wood based mulches, stone and gravel mulches are fine for ornamental plants, but in the vegetable garden, home made compost and seedless straw are better choices.  Both insulate the soil from water loss and both are light enough for seeds to push through.

Zinnia seedlings poke up through the straw

Zinnia seedlings poke up through the straw

If you opt for straw, be sure you don‘t get hay or alfalfa or anything  that has lots of seeds.  Why?  Years ago, I mulched with straw and grew a lovely bed of wheat…. instead of tomatoes!

If you can get old straw, that’s even better.  As straw ages, the  fibers start breaking down and residual seeds begin to rot.   That’s a good thing.

And, old straw can’t be sold for animal bedding, so feed stores (the best places to get straw) often regard them as waste.  In fact, they may even give you the straw for free!

If you don’t have room to store an entire bale of straw, ask for a “flake.”  A flakes is simply a section of a bale.

This bale of straw will last me two or three seasons

This bale of straw will last me two or three seasons


On the radio this morning

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Had a great time doing my quarterly gardening radio gig on KPBS FM 89.5, Public Radio in San Diego. Host Maureen Cavanaugh is a blast to talk with, and the callers had great questions about tomatoes, how to water, the cool weather, and lots more.

Click here to listen!


What a Rat’s Nest!

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

My intent for tonight was to write about starting seeds for my summer garden.  The weather is nice and warm now, days in the 70s, nights in the 50s, just perfect for starting seeds outdoors, which is my preferred way to do it.

I have a potting shed  – well, not really where I pot.  As it turns out,  other areas of the garden are better for potting.  Instead, I use the shed   to store hand tools and start seeds.  The roof is clear corrugated fiberglass and one side wall is a big old salvaged window, making for plenty of light and just enough air circulation.

For the past five or six years, I’ve tested vegetable, flower, and herb seeds for Organic Gardening magazine.  Each spring, I get an envelope filled with all kinds of seeds.  Some years, there are themes, like the year we tested six kinds of eggplants.   There are always plenty of tomatoes, a couple kinds of peppers, cucumbers, squash, melons, and flowers.  That’s how I re-discovered my love of zinnias.  Have you seen zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Lime?’  It makes a prolific display of the most unexpected bright green flowers.  The plants bloom all summer.  ‘Benary’s Giant Coral’ is another of my favorite zinnias – – and honestly, I had give up on annuals!

Zinnia 'Benary's Giant Lime'

Zinnia 'Benary's Giant Lime'

I can’t tell you what I’m testing this year.  You’ll find out later by reading Organic Gardening.

But I digress.

This afternoon, I pulled out the year’s seeds, wrote out the labels, then went to the potting shed for planting containers.  Before I found the containers, though I found something amazing.  A rat’s nest.  Literally.

I haven’t been in that shed much in recent months, but clearly, someone else had.  The potting table was caked in  dried out red Eugenia berries surely put there for winter food storage.  When I was a kid, we’d pick the red berries to paint our faces.  These, however, looked more like dried cranberries than the plump juicy berries of my childhood.

The space beneath the potting bench was stuffed with pieces of mulch, leaves, shredded wood, and who-knew-what.

The big decision then, was whether to put off cleaning until another day, or go ahead and tackle it now.  I’d rather put it off, but where would I put my seeds to germinate? I needed the space, and I needed to make sure that the rats were no longer in that space.

So, gloves firmly in place, I went to work. The rats had pulled everything off the shelves, shredded it, and mixed it together  – hard plastic, string, jute, plastic bags, popsicle sticks used for plant labels, clothes pins that hold frost cloth, irrigation parts….  I pulled out a big funnel that  use to filter worm tea.  The rats had lined with shredded, dried sphagnum moss.  Quite honestly, it looked pretty cozy!

The rats pulled everything off the shelves to make their own brand of mulch

The rats pulled everything off the shelves to make their own brand of mulch

It was a stinky and messy job, but on the flip side, I cleaned out stuff shoved into the shed long ago.  There was a dried out 5-gallon can of wood preservative last used more than 10 years ago, I’m sure!    Old yogurt containers I use for scooping and storing stuff were brittle and crumbling.  They went into the recycling.  Out went broken plastic nursery containers and old green mesh strawberry baskets from a test I did years ago.  I turned the  baskets upside down over strawberry plants, then poked the developing berries up through the mesh.  That kept them off the ground and way from hungry slugs and sow bugs.

I was sad to find the rats had chewed up  the liner for an insulated seed starter kit that has a built in heat mat.  The brand label has long worn off but the heating element still works.  Maybe I’ll line it with heavy duty plastic now.

I filled one 30 gallon trash can and part of another.  By then it was dark and my husband was calling me for dinner.

Part way through cleaning

Part way through cleaning

Tomorrow, I’ll start my seeds.