eBook Annoucement and Fall and Winter Garden Update: Zone 8

Some of you have been asking about the status of the garden now that we’re moving into the colder months. As a result, today’s post will be a gratuitous display of the wonderful things happening on my little postage stamp of property in California and a promotion for my new eBook, which was inspired by the fruits of my labor! It’s hard to say that we’re truly doing “fall and winter gardening” here in California, but this is my version of it. Take note if you wish! Sorry to folks who are in colder climates. This probably won’t help you much.

As I might have bragged about mentioned before, we harvested a whopping 13 pumpkins from the front yard at the end of the summer! It was so exciting to see that our first year of growing them (especially from seed!) was such a success, and because we have so many to eat, I’m eager to share the recipes I’ve come up with! 

Stay tuned for an opportunity to download my next short eBook:

10 Delicious Pumpkin Recipes for Vegan and Vegetarian Foodies!

fall and winter gardening

 

I am making a public statement right now that I will have this eBook ready for download by TUESDAY next week. Ok, it’s etched in stone. I will make it happen people!

Important!

If you’re on the mailing list, you’ll get a link to your free copy right in your inbox on Tuesday along with updates and news from me! If you are not on the list, I suggest you subscribe today so that you can get both of my ebooks for FREE.

Once I make this pumpkin eBook available to subscribers for download, Nine Easy Steps to Delicious Gluten-free Living (my first eBook) will only be available for purchase through Kindle.

Take advantage today and get BOTH eBooks for free!

Garden Update

We have found a way to grow food on all sides of our house — well technically the neighbors were growing the blackberries and they came over to our side of the fence, so we just trellised them and enjoyed the spoils! I just love living in such a rich climate where beautiful food can grow pretty-much year-round.

Sadly, the blackberries have run their course for the season, but we are still maintaining some fruitful plants on the other three sides, especially the front and back. The side has a little herb garden with tarragon, thyme, parsley, cilantro, basil, sage, and rosemary.

 fall and winter gardening

If you’ll kindly ignore Dexter’s “territory” in the bottom left of this picture, I can assure you that our back yard garden is doing quite nicely! I’m excited to report that in November, we are still getting tomatoes. Heirlooms, cherries, and teeny tiny ones that I thought were cherries, but might be currants. We’re also still getting some okra (not shown). Other than that, we’re rocking and rolling with the list you see above (great for fall and winter planting in Zone 8) and I couldn’t be more pleased (unless someone we know hadn’t destroyed a prosperous green bean plant. I might be a tiny bit happier if I still had that plant).

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The front is also doing really well. Our green beans out front are still going strong, basically outgrowing the trellis and folding in on themselves. We just harvested a good batch yesterday morning, but I’m not quite sure what else will come of those  guys. Everything is still very green and happy though, so it will stay there til it’s not. (Pictured on the far right of the picture above.)

One lesson we learned in our first year of front yard gardening is that our neighbors’ redwood tree made it pretty challenging to grow food in our center planter bed. We’ve decided to grow low-maintenance ornamental perennials there going-forward. We have some green ground cover, some small flowers, and some taller plants that will eventually become bushy and full of orange and purple flowers. We had some pollination challenges in the front with our zucchini this year, so my hope is that these beautiful flowering bushes will bring pollinators next spring. Fingers crossed!

fall and winter gardening

We had a lot of space we needed to fill in the bed where the pumpkins grew, and we lucked out with the New Zealand spinach. Have you ever grown New Zealand spinach?? It’s amazing. It’s hardy, so the leaf miners don’t like it (they’re already going after my chard in the back), and it’s a crawler, so it fills in all the space you need it to without choking out its neighbors (shown above between all the Brussels). It’s also fast-growing and delicious both raw in salads and cooked as a side or in eggs. I’ve grown so accustomed to it in just a couple of months that now I prefer it to regular spinach. It has its own salty flavor that I’m sure you’ll love, so if you can find it, I recommend adding it to your winter garden of hardy greens!

 

fall and winter gardening

The whole front yard including our growing succulent garden and our new bougainvillea

 

 

Transforming Your Front Yard into an Edible Landscape

Apparently I’m on a “gif kick.”

I’ve been really excited to share the progress of my new front yard garden for quite some time, and since I figured out how to embed a gif last week, I thought it only fitting to make one showing you the work we did in the front yard! We transformed it from a water-wasting lawn into a beautiful edible landscape!

This was a big endeavor for such a tiny yard, but I’m going to give you a very short run-down of one way you might begin tackling a project like this at home.

How to Transform Your Front Yard into an Edible Landscape

Plan Plan Plan

This is a big and very important first step. In fact, the conversations my husband and I had over planning our yard probably spanned 2 to 3 times the amount of time it took us to actually build what we wanted. We made sketches to scale, cruised various neighborhoods for ideas taking pictures of what other people had done, considered the available sunlight for the space, and came up with quite a few designs before we finally landed on our decision. We also changed it at the last minute after purchasing the materials!

Timing

Planning out our schedules was also essential for making this project happen. One weekend involved renting a till to dig up the lawn. Then we covered it with thick plastic to suffocate the remaining sod. We left the plastic on for a few weeks, mostly because of the limits in our schedule. The actual garden construction took a total of about 6 full days.

Strategy

Like I said before, this is only one way to do it. A simple google search will tell you that we did it all wrong, and that a “lasagna layering” approach would have been better than tilling – and that tilling is the worst possible thing you could ever do, EVER – but this has yielded a great result for us, which you can see for yourself. You could also lose your mind sifting through everything on the internet about how to get rid of grass in your lawn without Roundup.

Our strategy was to build the beds first, then lay down the weed paper only on the part of the lawn that would be covered with pebbles and rocks. We thoroughly broke up the existing soil inside the beds and added in new dirt and compost before planting. So far, that strategy has resulted in a few weeds, but nothing unmanageable, and it’s worked out well for us.

We did have to have some dirt  hauled away, which was not cheap, so keep that in mind if you don’t have a plan for the dirt you may need to remove. One option could have been to keep the sod intact and try to remove it and offer it for free on Craigslist. We might do that when we remove the remaining lawn from the back yard.

Crop

Planning your crop is another biggie. It’s worth your time to ask questions of your local nursery and do some research as to how much space, sun, and water your various crops need so you can plant your garden in a way that makes sense for the best yield.

And then Plan Some More: Layout

edible landscapeMake sure you know the type of sunlight that your space will be getting, and that will help you determine how you want to set up your garden. Our front yard gets filtered light during various times of day, and since our main objective was to have a successful pumpkin and winter squash crop (delicata), we wanted those plants to be in the spot with the absolute highest sun exposure. Keep this type of logic at the forefront of your mind when laying out the space and planning your crop.

We chose to do very few rows in our front yard, in the “edible landscape” style of Rosalind Creasy, and we intermixed some small, colorful flowers to break up all the green. Think about your color palette when choosing any ornamental accents you might want to add. Our house is full of earthy tones, and since we knew that golden squash blossoms would be coming in, we added even more golds, oranges, and purples.

Estimate the Cost Supplies (Prepare a Budget)

You’ll need to know the look you’re going for and what your ultimate goals are in order to properly select your materials and understand the cost. DON’T FORGET TO FACTOR IN THE COST OF THE DIRT. It can add up very quickly if you’re planning for big beds.

As a California dweller, I am very water conscious (as an Earth dweller, you should be too), so I wanted dryscaping where food wouldn’t be planted – rocks, stone, and/or mulch as opposed to grass or something else that needs to be watered.

I chose to cut a nice Mexican pebble with a much less expensive pea gravel (half of each to equal 1 cubic yard for my tiny lawn) to cut costs but stay true to the look I had in mind. Mulch is a less expensive option if you buy it by the cubic yard. I also added larger polished river rock around the edges of the stacked flagstone-walled beds. What you choose will depend on your budget, the size edible landscapeof your lawn and the aesthetic you want to achieve.

The flagstone was by far the most expensive part of this project, so choose wisely to stay within your means. We were barely able to complete the walls of these four beds with a pallet of flagstone about 2.5 feet tall. Other options are wooden beds, not to raise the beds at all for a flatter look, or small boulders to delineate the space instead of stacked stones. I’ve also seen beautiful dryscaped lawns full of various potted plants and wine barrels.

To the right I have some great examples from around my neighborhood.

 

Experiment with Seed vs Seedling

edible landscape

These little guys burst out of the soil so quickly and with such force, I wished I’d started them outside. I started my yellow zucchini outside after this, and they’re doing great!

This year was my first real venture in starting from seed, and I have to say that it was only partially worth it to start my seeds indoors, especially the pumpkin and delicata squash. The mistakes I made were many (and resulted in a lot of wasted seeds), but the main lesson I learned was that a big seed like a pumpkin or squash is perfectly happy to be direct sowed. I direct sowed 6 yellow zucchini seeds (3 in the front, 3 in the back), and 5 out of 6 have turned into very nice sized plants (which I’ve shared with friends, because who needs 5 zucchini plants?). I also direct sowed carrot seeds which are thriving in the front yard. That being said, some seeds do need to start inside. I successfully transplanted leeks from seed, and they are also thriving in the front yard. The majority of what you see in the pictures started as seedlings. That’s a slightly more expensive way to go, but if you’re new to gardening, I’d recommend starting your first year with seedlings to increase your chances for success. All told, we probably spent less than $100 on all the plants. It was  the construction, supplies, and dirt that racked up the cost.

Crops in our Edible Landscape:

And remember, this is a very tiny front yard. We were able to pack all this in, no problem, so don’t be shy!

  • Sugar pie pumpkins (2 large vines)
  • Delicata squash (1 large vine)
  • Sugar snap peas (in three places)
  • Carrots
  • Leeks
  • Lemon thyme
  • Fennel
  • Spinach
  • Cucumber
  • Basil (in 6 places)
  • Scallions
  • Yellow bell peppers
  • Pineapple sage
  • Japanese eggplant
  • Jalapeno
  • Sweet heirloom peppers
  • Yellow Zucchini
  • Grey Zucchini
  • Cilantro
  • Black Fig Tree
  • Multiple ornamental flowers

Do you have plans to start growing food at your home? Have you considered repurposing your front lawn? There are so many beautiful ways to do it, and they’re all so much better for the environment than wasting water on grass! Please share your questions below, and I’ll be happy to help guide you toward your new edible landscape!

edible landscape

Starting a Garden with Heirloom Seeds at Petaluma Seed Bank

Last spring, I built my first planter box, filling it with seedlings from my local nursery. I planted curly kale, celery, bush beans, asparagus, red chard, and strawberries. It was so much fun to watch the plants grow and change, and lucky for me, there aren’t huge numbers of pests in my backyard to ruin the good time. I literally had no idea what I was doing, beyond putting dirt in the box and planting the little guys; I just went for it!

the proud little garden helper dug in the dirt with me for our first garden project

the proud little garden helper dug in the dirt with me for our first vegetable project

Almost a year later, having planted many new seedlings and enjoyed the harvest from every corner of my back yard, I’d say I’ve learned a lot (including that kale can grow REALLY tall and look like a mini-tree in the planter box, and bush beans should not go behind them in their shade). We’ve had some ups and downs in our garden, but for the most part, it feels good to know that I am capable of growing at least some of my own food!

That being said, there’s one thing that’s still very much intimidating — starting from seed!

As a very sweet and thoughtful housewarming gift last year, some good friends gave me an herb planter and some seed packets — tarragon, thyme, sage, oregano, and basil. (Just for some perspective, before moving to California, I couldn’t keep a fern alive, much less start with a seed and grow it into something worthwhile. The thought of putting in the effort and failing is a very big hurdle for me to clear in my mind.)

I tried my very timid hand at all but the basil (just couldn’t pull the trigger on that one, so I threw the seeds into a smoothie). I started them indoors in little pots, and tried carefully not to over-water, as I’m wont to do. While the sage and oregano are doing great in my herb garden more than a year later, the tarragon and thyme have never reached usable volume, and in fact, I’ve presumed them dead more than once, only to see them return, still pathetic, still tiny, but alive.

I’ve read some great tips online about how to start vegetables from seed, but for some reason (read impatience, fear of failure, and too many directions), I have just had the hardest time attempting it for myself.

This weekend, I was finally convinced to take the plunge! My mother-in-law mentioned the Petaluma Seed Bank, suggesting that I stop by to see all the heirloom seeds they have for sale. I wasn’t going to buy anything, but she made it sound so neat that I wanted to check it out. When I walked in, I knew I wouldn’t be walking out empty-handed.

seedbank3

Here’s the view from the front door. Giant dried gourds are hanging from ceiling on the left.

The selection is overwhelming, and the building is amazing! (In the bathroom, they have a poster with at least 25 garlic varieties and their pictures. So cool!)

seedbank5

 

 

 

“We offer over 1,500 varieties of heirloom seeds, garlic, tools, books, and hundreds of local hand-made gifts and food items. Remember—everything we offer is pure, natural, and non-GMO!” (source)

The short story:

  • The building, which used to be the Sonoma County Bank, is a beautiful focal point of the downtown Petaluma area, and is the perfect spot for such a wonderful attraction
  • Any homestead or gardening magazine your imagination could ever dream up is right there on the rack when you first walk in (including RABBIT USA Magazine, which had an adorable front cover)
  • Any gardening tool, growing equipment, lighting, how-to guide, seasonal planting chart, or locally made sun hat your heart could fancy can be found inside these walls
  • Culinary herbal blends, seasoned salts, aromatic sugars, and infusions are waiting for you at the back of the store, ready to be added to your goodie bag
  • The staff is extremely knowledgeable about what should grow where, when, and how, and they’re happy to help a novice like me

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After about 20 minutes of open-mouthed gawking and feeling totally overwhelmed with choices, I selected two varieties of cherry tomatoes, sugar pie pumpkins, delicata squash, giant celery root, and giant leeks (all heirloom). I also grabbed an indoor starter tray, and with trepidation, approached the counter with an arsenal of questions. The friendly woman behind the counter waited patiently as I wrote down every word she said, took a deep breath, and made my purchase.

I also scooped up this tasty culinary salt, as my interest was peaked after listening to a Salt Tasting Here and Now episode last week with Chef Kathy Gunst. I can’t wait to sprinkle it on something.

 

smoked salt2

This is going to be a very exciting experiment, and I anticipate I’ll learn quite a bit from it. I have to wait to plant some of what I purchased, as the last frost is estimated at April 15th this year, but the leeks and celery root are ready to go.

Stay tuned for updates as these little guys take off! And any lessons I learn along the way, you’ll be the first to know.

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Your Turn:

Do you have a garden or interest in starting one? Have you ever planted a garden from seed? What tips do you have to share? Any thoughts on the best way to start? Share your thoughts below!

 

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