Mar 172015
 
Lettuce and drip irrigation

by Avis Licht

row cover and drip irrigation

In warm weather you can cover your beds with row covers, and irrigate with drip irrigation

California is in its fourth year of devastating drought. All of us need to pay attention to our water use. But this does not mean that we have to give up growing some of our own food. Quite to the contrary, we can grow fruit and vegetables with much less water at home than large scale agriculture.

I have just come back from a road trip that took me to the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains and then south to the Kern River and across the San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural center of California. It was an eye opener for many reasons.  Owens Lake held significant water until 1924, when much of the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, causing Owens Lake to dry up.[2] Today, some of the flow of the river has been restored, and the lake now contains a little bit of water. Nevertheless, as of 2013, it is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.[3] 

To learn more about this read Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. Each action we take to conserve water, DOES make a difference.

We saw large reservoirs that were at 5 percent of capacity. Nearly empty. We saw farmers using huge machinery to take out fully grown orange trees and throw them on the ground to die because they don’t have enough water for irrigation. It was unbelievably sad to see.

But there are ways for you to grow food, that are water conserving and healthy for the environment and for you.

Here are 5 easy ways to conserve water for your garden and grow delicious food. Good for you and good for the earth.

1.Prepare the ground by loosening the soil and adding humus, in the form of compost and/or manure. The quality and health of the soil is vitally import to the health of your plants. Compacted soil will not absorb or retain water very well. This is a very underrated activity for water conservation. Building raised beds with wood or stone and then filling with organic topsoil is one way to do this. Another way is to dig the soil and add humus.

Small vegetable garden

Raised beds make for a healthy soil

2. Create paths and walkways through your garden. DO NOT WALK ON YOUR BEDS! I mean it. The fastest way to ruin your soil is to walk on it and compress it. You remove the air pockets and prevent air and water percolation. Try it. Step on the ground and water it. It will puddle and then most of the water will evaporate. Trust me on this.

3. Mulch, mulch, mulch.  Oh, and did I say mulch? Yes, this makes a huge difference in the evaporation rate of water through the soil surface. There are many kinds of mulch. Read about them here.

4. Plant some of your smaller herbs and veggies in pots and containers. When a pot is close to the house, it is easy to remember to water and you can use the left over water from the sink, or the shower.  I have had great success with herbs, carrots, lettuce, and peppers in containers. You can use self watering containers that let you go away for weeks at a time without worrying about your plants drying out.

A good harvest in a small place, with very little water.

A good harvest in a small place, with very little water.

5. Drip irrigation is the easiest and uses the least water of any method of irrigation. Done well, it puts the right amount of water directly to the roots of the plants and has the least evaporation rates. Check out the book by Robert Kourik on Drip Irrigation. It’s great. Combine drip with a water controller and weather station and you will be golden for putting the right amount of water on at the right time. Many water districts give rebates on these controllers.

There are other ways to gather, store and conserve water in the garden. These are five easy ways to start. Don’t worry, I’ll talk about more ways to save water in future blogs. Right now, it’s important to get started from the ground up, so to speak.

the water at the top drips down to the plants at the bottom.  Great use of space and water.

The water at the top drips down to the plants at the bottom. Great use of space and water.

Edible landscaping

Enter the Edible Landscape using a PATH.

Mar 222014
 
Douglas Iris

by Avis Licht

Borage in the rain

Borage in the rain

By the date on the calendar it’s Spring – but by weather it might be any of the seasons where you live. In warm weather areas it’s definitely time to start the garden work – from sowing seeds, getting beds ready, fertilizing your flowers and generally getting involved in the excitement of coming out of hibernation.

This is the time to make sure you have good tools that help you in your work. Visit my Store to see what tools I recommend and use myself.

 

In my garden the wisteria is blooming, the pear, cherry and apple trees are bursting with bloom. The strawberries and blueberries are putting out blossoms like crazy.

Crab Apple Blossom with bee

The bees adore this Crab Apple which blooms in early spring

I have a lot of flowers in my garden that the bees love to pollinate.  It is important to create  diversity in the garden to encourage beneficial insects, birds, and butterflies to create health and delight in the garden.

Edible flowers in early Spring bring beauty. Calendula is a powerful plant

Edible flowers in early Spring bring beauty. Calendula is a powerful plant

Native plants are starting to bloom and are a great addition to all gardens. In California where we are experiencing severe drought conditions, California natives are the perfect solution – they are happy in this climate and can flourish in the most difficult of conditions.

Douglas Iris

This Douglas Iris is native to the California Coast. I love it.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can come and learn from me directly Hands ON! in the garden! I love to share my experience. Go to the Events page for all the dates.

You can sign up NOW right here.

May 212013
 
Edible landscaping

by Avis Licht

Bamboo poles for climbing plants

For a front yard, make sure your structures are ornamental as well as useful.

 

Edible landscaping has become more popular than I ever thought it would or could. Every day we hear about some new project in cities all over the world. We’re seeing gardens that are both beautiful and have delicious, healthy produce. I mean, it only makes sense.

In Marin County the municipal water district has been encouraging people to conserve water by planting low water use plants as well as food gardens.  In May they have a tour of the best gardens that use principals that they call “Bay Friendly”:  organic, drought resistant, permeable surfaces, habitat friendly for beneficial birds and insects, and lovely to look at.

On the tour last weekend I took some photos from a few of the gardens that incorporated some good edible landscaping ideas.  See if anything inspires you for your garden. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Artichoke, plum, alstroemaria

Raised vegetable box

Raised vegetable boxes define an area and let you put good growing soil into a small area. It’s also easy to maintain.

California native plants

These California native plants look good, are low maintenance, provide flowers and habitat. They go beautifully in an edible landscape.

Native California plants

Another view of the same yard. This shows that the native plants create a small patio area and the vegetables are at the far end of the yard near the fence.

To read more about designing your edible landscape, read this post. 

 

Be sure to leave a comment or shoot me a question by going to the Ask Avis page.

Container Gardening

This suburban backyard is all raised beds and container plantings. Easy to maintain and very productive.

Chicken coop

This tiny chicken coop in an unused side yard provides fresh eggs for the owners.

Fruit trees in containers

I’ve never seen this many fruit trees in containers. Lots of varieties but also a smaller harvest from the containers. When growing in pots, be sure to give plenty of water and nutrients. It is easier to find the right growing conditions when you can move the pots to the right micro climate. Since they will be dwarf simply by being in pots you can grow more trees in a smaller area.

 

To find out more about growing in containers read my post on self watering planters.

Cauliflower

This huge cauliflower was in a raised planter. You can get huge results when you have the best soil and perfect growing conditions.

 

 

tower of strawberries

This tower of strawberry pots is fun to look at and certainly easier to harvest the strawberries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To find out more about growing strawberries read this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Back yard garden

Path, flowers and bird bath highlight the backyard garden. This yard has many fruits and vegetables, yet is entirely enchanting. At least I think so.

 

 

 

 

The Entry Patio

Entering the garden, you are led by a curving path, under fruit trees, by flowers, herbs and native plants.

Vegetable Garden

I love that this vegetable garden looks like a garden garden. It’s not just utilitarian.

 

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Mar 232012
 
Deer fence with copper art

 

Deer fence with copper art

A beautiful open fence keeps out the deer and lets in the sunlight

by Avis Licht – Designing a front yard can be a little tricky. Designing it so that it is also a productive food garden makes it even more challenging. What makes an edible landscape work, is that not only does one get food from it, but it must also be lovely to look at in all seasons.  Using a few basic  design tenants and some good gardening sense will help you get started.

1. Always note your sun/shadow in all seasons.  This can change drastically between summer and winter. Be sure to place your shade plants in shady spots, and your sun loving plants where they will find the light. In the garden in these photos, the house casts a large shadow – almost completely in winter, but only partially in summer.

Since this was the only open area for my client’s vegetables, we noted the best sun areas during the main growing season between April and October.

Finding the sun/shadow line

Note your sun/shadow in the main growing season. This photo is the new garden. (click to enlarge)

The old garden fence and site.

This is what the front yard looked like before we renewed it. (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget to look at my book on The Spring Garden Made Easy.

2.If you need a fence, be sure it looks good, lets the light into the garden and keeps the deer and other critters out. Wood fences can look good, but can also create shadows that prevent plants from getting enough light.

A simple post and wire fence that looks good

A good looking wire fence lets the light in and keeps the neighbor’s dogs out.

 

We removed the wood fence from this garden, as it cast a heavy shadow in winter when the sun was low in the sky.  Because this is California, there is a long growing season and we wanted to make good use of the little space available. Many neighbors stop by to admire the beautiful vegetables and flowers in the front yard.  Keeping this garden well tended all year makes it a neighborhood delight.  Everyone wants a fresh pea in spring and tomato in summer.There are plenty of flowers to keep it cheerful.

 

3.Create permanent beds and paths. Permanent beds create pattern and form in a garden even when the beds may be empty. The same is true for paths. They are cleaner, safer and create form in the garden.  Paths also keep people from walking on the beds. Here are a few different solutions.  Stone paths are more expensive, but last longer and are beautiful. Chipped paths look good and are inexpensive.  They also allow the water to seep into the soil for water retention.

raised stone bed

Permanent beds give form and interest even without all the plants. Chipped paths are easy to lay and inexpensive.

Stone paths are safe, beautiful, long lasting and also more expensive.  Choose a material appropriate for you and your budget.

Stone path

A winding path leads you through the garden to the front door.

4. Choose plants the grow well in your climate and in your site.  Choose appropriate sized plants. Meaning, if you have a small front yard, use dwarf or semi dwarf trees, or small shrubs. Fruit trees, blueberries, currants, strawberries mixed with flowering shrubs all make wonderful front yard plants.  They look good in most seasons.  Use perennials in your front yard and keep the annuals to a minimum. When growing vegetables in the front yard, keep them well tended if your yard is open to the neighborhood. It’s all part of being a good neighbor. The more you share the bounty, the  more your neighbors will want to imitate your garden.

Edible front yard

Summer in the edible front yard still looks great. (click to enlarge)

side view of the edible front yard

Herbs, flowers and a simple fence for the edible front yard. (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are a few ideas to help you plan your edible front yard. There will be more ideas to come. Sign up for my blog and you won’t miss anything.

Feb 082012
 
New plantings in the spring garden


by Avis Licht  –

New plantings in the spring garden

Pots near the kitchen are great for herbs

 

 

Early Spring is the time for gardeners to get ready for their early vegetable garden.Here are a few things to think about to help you get started.

SITE

1. Pick a place near the house for your vegetable garden so that you will see it everyday. Out of site is out mind for most people. Visit your garden for at least 10 minutes a day and you will keep up with the maintenance and see how plants are doing.  You’ll discover if there are any problems before it’s too late.

2. Pick a sunny site that gets at least 6 hours of sun. Most vegetables need this amount to grow well.

3. Make sure there’s water near by for irrigating.

SIZE

Raised bed gardening

Easy to reach, easy to plant, easy harvest, it's a raised bed

1. Keep it Small and Simple, as the saying goes. First time gardeners should start small and be successful.  Graduate to a larger plot next year. A couple of beds, 3 ft x 6 ft, will give plenty of delicious vegetables.

2. Consider growing your herbs in pots near the kitchen where they are easy to harvest.

SOIL

1.Whatever kind of soil you  have, be sure to loosen it and add compost. By aerating your soil and adding humus you will increase oxygen, nutrients and drainage, which will help your plants grow. You can loosen your soil by digging, rototilling or bringing in topsoil and adding it to a raised bed.

2. Check your soil for drainage. If you see standing water on the surface, or if you dig a hole and there is water in the bottom, you need to make some adjustments. Vegetables don’t like to grow in standing water.  There are several ways to improve drainage.  Dig into the hard soil with a digging fork and loosen it. Raised beds provide better drainage. You can also dig a small ditch and direct it away from the growing area. This will help move water away and improve your soil.

3. Create paths for walking in the garden.  Every time you walk on the soil you compact it. This prevents air and water from entering. Just by using paths and not walking on the beds you will increase the health of your soil and your plants.

CHOOSE YOUR VEGETABLES WISELY

Choose your plants wisely

Early spring you can sow and plant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower

1. Choose your favorite foods to grow. Zucchinis are easy to grow, but if you don’t like them, don’t grow them! Peas, carrots, beans and tomatoes taste better when harvested ripe and fresh. They are easy to grow and harvest.

2. Choose what grows best in your climate and your site. If you’re in the cool Northwest  U.S. you might want to pass up on the hot peppers and melons.  Cooler climates are good for broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, chard and kale. If you’re in a hot climate go for the peppers, melons, squash and eggplant.

3. Look for micro climates in your garden to give you more opportunities to grow plants that you might otherwise leave out. A micro climate will be a place that is sunnier ( on the south side of the house), cooler (on the north side), calmer (on the lea side of a fence or windbreak), shadier (under a tree) and so on. Check out your garden for mini climates.

RESOURCES

1.Your local nurseries will be carrying plants appropriate for your climate.  Ask them questions.

2. For the Western United States, consult Sunset Western Gardening Book.  It is amazing in it’s information for so many regions in the West.

3. Seed Catalogs and Online companies. Check out my list in the resource page.

Raised beds

Double dug beds are raised and need no edging

 

Jan 202012
 
Raised beds


By Avis Licht

Raised beds have many advantages.  They  provide better drainage,  better access, better plant growth and reduced soil compaction.  There are many ways to build a raised bed.  Let’s  see what would be best for your garden.

Raised beds

Double dug beds are raised and need no edging

The Simplest Raised Beds

These don’t need any built up edge, they only need to be double dug.

This act of digging and moving the soil aerates it and raises it up. Here’s a more detailed explanation.  This is especially effective when opening up the soil for the first time.    By creating “beds” instead of rows, you leave paths for walking and you never step on the bed.  This prevents compaction and allows water and air to penetrate the soil, making for healthier roots. It also lets you plant in a more intensive manner.

Double digging is hard work, but doesn’t need to be done every season. In another post I’ll show you the many reasons for using this method, and different ways you can incorporate  fertility.

Stone for raised beds

Raised beds using stone for both low and tall walls

Stone Raised Beds

Stone lasts forever, and looks beautiful.  It is also easy to create  curving lines in the garden.

As you can see in the photo above, you can use stone to edge your beds, it defines the line and creates a clear path.You can use it to build a wall, which is especially effective on a slope. In this garden, the curved bed was built to 2 ft high, which helps the owner who has back issues.  We  used the opportunity of the height of the bed to bring in some good organic topsoil.

If you bring in soil, be sure to loosen up the bottom of the bed.  It doesn’t help to bring in good topsoil if you don’t have good drainage.

Cost is a factor in deciding whether or not to use stone.  It can be expensive if you have to buy it, and  it takes time to install it.

buildiing curves with stone is easy

This curved bed looks good even when the garden is dormant

Wood Raised Beds

Wood is commonly used for building raised beds in the vegetable garden. Use recycled wood if possible.  Buying redwood or cedar has many implications to the environment.  If you are only raising the beds a few inches, I don’t think wood is worth the effort or the cost.

If you do use wood, be sure not to use pressure treated wood. This includes old railroad ties. The chemicals in this wood are hazardous to your health and the environment.  This article covers the pros and cons of using wood.

Bamboo raised bed

Bamboo or willow can make a great raised bed, especially if you are growing it yourself

You can even find recycled plastic for raised beds. Kits with all the materials you need can make the project simple.  Gardener’s Supply carries all kinds of raised bed kits.

 

Raised beds with stone from the site

The raised bed just planted

 

 

 

When deciding whether to use raised beds in your edible landscape consider your site, soil, resources and aesthetics.

 

 

 

Vegetable garden

The raised bed a year later-- vegetables and flowers

Jan 032012
 
Deer fence with copper sculpture

by Avis Licht

Deer fence with copper sculpture

A front yard fence that is beautiful and functional

Yesterday I talked about the steps involved in making a landscape plan.  Today I want to share with you a small front yard garden that used those guidelines.

The first parameters you need to look at are your climate, sun/shade, slope, access, existing structures and plantings.  Don’t forget that the sun moves not only east and west, but north and south. The sun is high in the sky in summer and low on the horizon in winter.  Be sure to locate north and watch the sun/shade patterns in your garden over time.  You will be amazed how little sun you have in the winter compared to summer if you have any tall trees or structures.

Path divides garden into shade and sun microclimate

The path divides the garden into edibles and ornamentals based on the sun

In the photo above you can see a 2 story house that creates a lot of shade on the garden. The garden is on the north side of the house.  This means that in winter almost the entire garden is in shade.  In summer the garden has plenty of sun from the path to the fence. Using this information, I created vegetable beds in the sunny part of the garden for Spring to Fall crops.  The beds closest to the house are landscaped with shade loving ornamental shrubs and flowers.

Raised stone bed and bird bath

Using beds with stone to create form and structure keeps the garden looking good all year

The yard is curved to use as much of the available ground the gets sun in the early Spring.  The fence is 6 feet high and keeps the deer out.  The fence is also used to grow climbing vegetables such as peas, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes. Because it is on the north side of the garden it doesn’t shade the other beds.

Once you’ve determined your site functions, based on climate and position, it’s time to start looking at your desires and finances. In this case the owner was a single person with a limited income as a teacher, but who hopes to live here the rest of her life and wanted to make it a special place to come home to every day.  She wanted something beautiful as well as functional.   The vegetable garden is big enough to supply plenty of veggies for her and her rabbits, as well as strawberries, blueberries and apple and pear trees. Once the garden was installed, it is easy to maintain.  The initial investment will pay off many times over in the joy of coming home to a beautiful garden, in addition to the healthy food.

I always recommend that my clients balance their desires, with their budget and their long term goals. If you plan on living in your home for a long time, it is worth spending more money on a strong and safe infrastructure like paths, fences and retaining walls. If you think you may be leaving soon, or are a renter, consider simple beds, containers and annual plantings.

Baby lettuce in raised bed

Vegetables in the raised bed

The raised bed has several functions.  Not only is it a beautiful form that looks good in all seasons, it is strong enough for the owner to sit on while gardening.  For someone with a bad back  this allows for  much easier access to the beds.  We lined the bottom of the bed with hardware cloth, which is a 1/2 inch wire mesh that keeps the gophers out of the bed, which were a huge problem. We also brought in some excellent organic topsoil to fill the raised beds, which produced a wonderful, bountiful harvest.

In considering the “sustainability” factor, we looked at two levels of sustainability.  On a personal level, the garden had to be small enough that she could maintain it in an ongoing basis and that she could afford it. We definitely feel that we accomplished that goal.

On the north side of the house: shade loving plants

Observe your site and put the right plant in the right place

On a “global” level we kept the materials as simple as possible.  The paths are permeable, and covered with old sheets and towels that keep the weeds down, but eventually decompose.  They are covered with free chips from the local tree service.  The beds are built with locally sourced stone.  The irrigation is drip, using a controller that is connected to a local weather station that determines how much to irrigate based on evapotranspiration rates.  And finally, we installed a 2,000 gallon rain water harvesting tank, that stores winter rain from her roof runoff.  This water can be used as back up in times of drought or for fire  safety. In California we are faced with drought, fire and earthquakes.

There’s a lot of information in this post, but it will give you some ideas that you can use in your own garden.  Take time, don’t rush it. The more observation you do in your garden at the front end, the less changes you’ll have to make at the back end.  Your edible landscape is worth the effort.

A welcoming entry into the garden

Copper gate invites you into the garden

 

 

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