Mari's Dirty Fingers

A Newbie's Garden Experiment

California Natives

My anniversary is in May.  My husband and I have spent the last few ones pursuing activities we both like.  This year we decided to spend it in and around San Diego picking out new additions to the school’s California native plant garden and learning about Tilapia hydroponics.  My husband has a survivalist/self-sufficient streak that overlaps my gardening/homesteading interests.  I don’t know if our relationship is complimentary or codependent.

Romantic right?  For us it actually is.  My husband and I are usually so busy with the needs and interests of our boys that we run out of time for ourselves.  The two hour drive to San Diego, lunch, coffee with sweets, and the two hour drive back is probably the most alone time my husband and I spend all year. 

Our first stop was to Las Pilitas Nursery in Escondido, California.  This nursery only sells California native plants.  Their website is amazing with all kinds of information on every plant they sell including how many of each plant they have for purchase. 

This place rocks!

This place rocks!

They have an online garden planner that helps narrow your search of suitable plants based on the amount of sun exposure, soil type, and frequency of watering of your garden.  They include pictures of what the plants will look like when they mature.  This is really helpful if like me, you purchase the less expensive one gallon plants.  It’s nice to have an idea of what their full grown potential is.  The folks that run the nursery are amazingly knowledgeable, approachable, and helpful.

The entrance and sorounding grounds are all feature CA native, plants, shrubs, and trees.

The entrance and surrounding grounds feature CA native plants, shrubs, and trees.

Last year the students planted about a dozen plants in our CA native garden.  We had two die, but the rest are now big, beautiful, and blooming or preparing to bloom.  I try to pick plants that produce attractive flowers.  Mostly because flowers are nice to look at , but also because they attract wildlife.  It’s always interesting to see city kids flip out when they see a butterfly, bee, beetle, or hummingbird.  They go nuts when they get a glimpse of our resident Western fence lizard.

This year we will be expanding our native garden and replacing the non-native hedges along the building.  My hubby is slowly removing them.  Here is a picture of some of the new babies that students will plant.  I’ll post some before and after pictures later on.

New plants to add to our CA native plant garden.

New plants to add to our CA native plant garden.

Next week I’ll write about the Tilapia hydroponics talk we attended that same day.

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Reused Garden Fence

A few months ago we cleared a section of lawn to make a corn patch.  Parents would walk in that area to look at their children through the gates as they lined up in the morning.  I was worried that they would step on our new plantings, so I put up a 1 foot high twig fence.  Now that the corn and watermelon are planted, I wanted a more sturdy barrier to protect that area.

I had an old picket fence that I wanted to reuse for that.  We always try to find ways to reuse materials for the garden.  It’s mostly to teach the importance of Reduce Reuse Recycle.   Lack of funding is another reason we reuse materials.  Necessity is the mother of invention after all.  Here was the plan.

Drawing of the what I want the reused fence to look like with plans for garden art.

Drawing of the reused fence with plans for garden art.

First my hubby cleared the mulch and marked off where the posts would be placed. The old fence can be seen on the left side of the picture below.  Please note the awesomeness of the corn! We added watermelon mounds on the four corners of the corn patch this week.

The before shot. Moving mulch to dig post holes.

The before shot. Moving mulch to dig post holes.

While he dug the holes I started painting the fence.

The first post in  the ground.

The first post in the ground.

Adding a bright new color to an old fence

Adding a bright new color to an old fence

We finished painting after the fence was attached.  Looks pretty cool.  I can add something new to the list of things I can do! I have another old fence of this same size and maybe I’ll extend this one.

I will have a first grade class make butterfly garden art to display on the fence as well as planting some morning glory to climb it.

Finished Project

Finished Project

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Touring the School Garden

9 boxes and a flower garden

9 boxes and a flower garden

Let me give you a tour of the garden as it looks right now.  Each garden box is assigned to a different classroom and is in a different stage of prepping, planting, and harvesting.  Many are covered by bird netting to protect them from bird and human pests.  We are in planting zone 10, so we are busy all year round.  I’ll write a separate post describing the demographics of this urban school and the importance of a school garden for this area. Today is just about showing off what a great job the students have done!

Box 1  Planted 3/21/13

Radish, pole beans, carrots, cilantro, loose leaf lettuce, Black Plum tomato, and zucchini

Second Grade Box

Second grade box

Box 2  Planted 2/15/13

Loose leaf lettuce, radish, carrots, beets, onions, Ibes bush bean (indigenous to Yucatan, Mexico)

Second Grade Box

Second grade box

Box 3  Planted 3/13/13

zucchini, Thai basil, bush beans, beets, carrots, radish, lettuce

Second Grade Box

Second grade box

Box 4  Planted 1/10/13

Radish, lettuce, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choi (yellow flowers), and a volunteer sunflower

Third grade box

Third grade box

Box 5  Planted 11/15/12

Strawberries, loose leaf lettuce, carrots, radish, onions, and volunteer nasturtium

Second Grade Box

Second Grade Box

Box 6  Planted 1/15/13

Peas, loose leaf lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, strawberries

High garden box is wheelchair accessible for the special education class.

High garden box is wheelchair accessible for the special education class.

Box 7  Planted 3/6/13

Zucchini, soy bean, Thai basil, bush beans, carrots, radish, lettuce

First Grade Garden Box

First Grade Garden Box

Box 8  Planted sometime in December 2012

Brussel sprouts, carrots, peas, lettuce, radish, nasturtium, and some purple flowers

Third grade box

Third grade box

Box 9  Planted sometime in December 2012

Kale, lettuce, carrots, Narcissus flower, and some purple flowers

Third Grade Box

Third Grade Box

The Corn Field  Transplanted 3/11/13

Corn Field

Corn Field

The California Native Plant Garden

Original plantings May 2012.  Additional plantings March 2013. I will make a separate post for the natives once everything is in full spring bloom.

California Native Plant Garden

California Native Plant Garden

Hope you enjoyed the tour and I wish you happy gardening!

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STRAW berries! Now I get it.

This is my first time growing strawberries.  I looked up a ton of information before I tried planting them with the school kids.  Telling them our strawberries died because I didn’t know what I was doing would suck.  I used strawberryplants.org for most of my information. The major things I learned from my research were:

  1. Plant varieties of strawberries known to do well in your area
  2. Plant them according to your zone (Zone 10 December-February)
  3. Prepare your soil (strawberries like it acidic)
  4. Mulch to avoid fruit rot

Following these tips I bought Eversweet and Temptation strawberry varieties.  I amended the garden bed with acidic soil for berries.  The kids planted them in late November.  The plants looked healthy and grew. We began to see flowers.  Everything was perfect.  For a while. Then the weather warmed up and the plants began producing strawberries.  Unfortunately many rotted on the plant before they could ripen.

Many strawberries got moldy or leathery before they could ripen and picked.

Moldy or leathery strawberries before ripening

Yikes! I needed to fix this ASAP.  I went back to my notes and realized I still hadn’t finished mulching my strawberries.  I had kept the branches of my Christmas tree in the garage because pine needle mulch makes soil more acidic and therefore would be good for the strawberries.  I started mulching after Christmas but then got busy with other garden stuff and hadn’t gotten around to finishing.  Bad move.

The “straw” in strawberries points to how important mulching is to this fruit.  Most of the problems and diseases that spoil strawberries are caused by the fruit touching the soil.

Strawberry bed before

Strawberry bed before

Well, I had to try to fix my mistake.  I started by removing all the old leaves and bad fruit.  Hopefully this would help improve air circulation and reduce the spread of mold.  Then I mulched  everything with pine needles.

Strawberry bed after

Strawberry bed after

I made sure all the remaining strawberry leaves and fruit were completely off the soil and on a soft pine needle bed.  It’s only been a week,  but the remaining strawberries are ripening just fine.  It looks like I dodged a bullet and won’t have to give the kids bad news after all.

IMG_0136

Strawberry growing well on pine needle mulch

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The Updates are Coming! The Updates are Coming!

I like visiting blogs as part of my gardening research. The big websites have valuable tried and true methods, but I love the innovation and experimentation of individual  people.   What I don’t like about some blogs is that you only see the enthusiastic beginnings of projects and never the end results.  I’m as interested in the failed attempts as I am in the successes.  There are lessons to be learned with both.  So, here’s where all my  pre-spring manic gardening attempts are as of today.  You can click on the bold title to link back to the original post.

Children of the Corn

Recap: Started corn indoors on 2/21/13 in newspaper pots for later transplanting in school garden.

Of the 45 corn seeds, only 37 germinated  (82%) and survived to be planted in the garden. We cleared a 7′ x 7′ section of lawn and mixed in a couple of wheelbarrows of compost. At almost 3 weeks old the corn roots were just starting to break through the newspaper pots.

corn growing

Corn at 2 weeks

Future home of the Corn

Future Home of the Corn

Students planted corn about 1 foot apart and then gave them a nice deep watering on 3/11/13. The teacher also planted some of the corn.  She is convinced she has a black thumb and says she kills everything she plants. She is very excited (but doubtful) to see the corn grow. 

Corn ready for transplanting

Corn ready for transplanting

Corn Field in the Morning Sun.

Corn Field in the Morning Sun

Prepping for March

Recap: Started tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squash indoors in anticipation of warmer spring weather.

This update is mostly about yield.  I read that eggplant and peppers are difficult to grow from seeds and have low germination rates.  They require 1-3 weeks and 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate.  I kept my seeds covered with saran wrap under a 60 watt bulb. Here is a picture of what germinated (below).  Some eggplant and pepper seeds germinated after a few days and others are still emerging after 2 weeks.  All the squash emerged and will be planted into the ground next week.

Column Left to Right: 1-2 Eggplant, 3-4 Grand Bell Pepper, 5 CA wonder Bell Pepper, 6 Zucchini Squash

Germination Rates:

Eggplant 5 out of 12 (42%)

Pepper Grand Bell Mix 6 out of 12 (50%)

Pepper California Wonder 3 out of 6 (50%)

Zucchini Squash 6 out of 6 (100%)

Germination rates were actually higher but some plants died a day or two after they sprouted, so I’m not including those.  Even though the rate for eggplants and peppers are low, it’s still a great deal to grow plants from seed. I paid $0.25  for each seed packet at the Dollar Tree and I will end up with 12 plants for the school garden that would  normally cost me a few dollars each.

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The Black Plum tomatoes where done in 2 batches. The first batch was started in egg cartons then transplanted to milk carton pots after the first true leaves appeared.  The second batch was sown straight into the milk cartons.  As you can see, the transplanted batch made for small weak plants while the second batch are all bigger and stronger.  If you have the space then I recommend you start individual seeds in larger containers over egg carton transplants.  I have never tried using commercial seed starting plugs so I have no opinion on those.

Left side: sown in egg carton then transplanted to milk carton. Right: sown straight in milk carton.

Left side: sown in egg carton then transplanted to milk carton. Right: sown straight into milk carton.

Bottom line: GET YOUR FINGERS DIRTY AND GROW SOME FOOD!

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