Sunday, August 28, 2005

First Serious Sign of Autumn: Greenhouse Dreaming

The drifting leaves and flocking birds, just another data point. The back-to-school sales and harvest-theme knick-knacks in the drugstore, no big deal. The day that I notice "Hey, it's almost dark out!" and the clock reads much earlier than I thought it would, that's what tells me that fall is coming. Because hard on the heels of that thought is, "What am I doing for a greenhouse this winter?! I don't have lettuce seedlings started! I haven't planted carrots or beets! I need to get compost and top-dress things again before it gets rainy! AAAAAAGH!"

A little high-strung? Moi? Pas du temp! Okay, maybe sometimes...

This year is the first time that I get to contemplate *serious* greenhousery, as this is our first year of owning our own place. Hurray! Since we purchased in February, it will be our first fall and winter here, so it's time to garden!
San Jose makeshift greenhouse
At the old place in San Jose, I sketched out a quick PVC-frame greenhouse to cover with 10 - 12 mm "painter's dropcloth" type plastic. With some timely spousal assistance, it was built and put into service, and extended the tomato season nicely. To anchor it to the ground, we simply used cable-ties to attach it to metal garden stakes. Unfortunately I didn't plan adequately for roof bracing, to keep puddles of rainwater from collecting in the two large 3 x 3 areas of the roof. The weight of the puddled water, plus some nasty wind action, actually snapped the joints, which are a more brittle material than the PVC poles. Bah!

There are zillions of different DIY greenhouses out there. We need one will be attractive enough not to generate complaints from neighbors or the managers of the complex, relatively easy to assemble in a weekend, and of course, not scandalously expensive. A plethora of greenhouse kits are available out there for all sizes and budgets. The two sites we found particularly helpful were Greenhouse Kits and ACF Greenhouses. We narrowed it down to the Rion GH40 or
the HG Enthusiast

Both were in a similar size (6 ft x 8 ft) and price range. Being nerds, as well as practicalists, we were already leaning toward the HG greenhouse because of the 4 ft expansion kits that allow one to extend the greenhouse. Then a comment on the Greenhouse Kits page showing the Rion gave me a scare, with someone describing how they liked it but it took 'several weekends' to put up and they had a number of missing or damaged small parts which they had to get replaced. In contrast, the HG parent site offered an extremely compelling video, showing the flexibility and shatter resistance of the material, plus the ease of assembly (by a pair of *cough* older adults such as ourselves). Testimonials on the various greenhouse vendor pages, and the on the manufacturer's site, indicated that assembly would take 3 to 5 hours, not 'several weekends'. This, with the expansion capability, provided the final nudge to choosing the HG model.

It's pretty common for us to save $50 - $200+ on a big-ticket item by investing an hour or so in Froogle searches, but greenhouse kits are sufficiently unusual that the effort provided no deals, but did illuminate some vendor differences. We found that ACF Greenhouses offered a free fitted shade cover (usually an extra $60 - $80) as well as the standard free shipping, through August 31st. Sold!

Now I'm really hyper about the garden, and wondering if we should put the greenhouse all on the patio squares or raise a border by the garden beds to make it half on dirt, half on the patio. That way we could simply leave all the peppers in the ground, and possibly the cucumber trellis as well, and winter them over that way. That gives us a good chance of overwintering significant numbers of aphids though (ugh!) or spider mites (double ugh!) as there will surely be one or two on the plants. I'm also not sure about pollination for the peppers-- out of the wind, would they be self-pollinating? I have visions of putting in a bee skep for next spring, and having a bee entrance into the greenhouse from the skep, as well as an outdoor entrance. I've studied bee keeping extensively, but have never actually done it. I broached the subject to my neighbors, most of whom are also gardeners, and they are all rather enthusiastic! But I'd best do a lot more homework before planning any bee activity in my backyard. That's a topic for a future post!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Garden Desktop: Mexican Sunflowers

I'll be posting an image every couple of weeks, linked to a 1024x768 version suitable for use as a desktop background. Feel free to brighten up your desktop with my garden! But no commercial use, please. The photo is a link to the desktop wallpaper-sized version.

'Mexican Giant' Sunflowers from Parks Seeds, growing along the back fence. This picture, taken in early August, shows the tops of the flower heads at over 10 feet. They've since grown even higher, and branched out multiple flower heads on long stalks at the 5 and 7 foot levels. The smaller branchlets make great cut flowers.

Giant Mexican Sunflowers

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Hydroponic Veggie Garden in San Jose 2004

I thought I'd pull something from the as-yet-unposted archives, namely a picture of part of my hydroponic garden in San Jose last year. We didn't really have a space to garden, so I thought I'd try hydroponics rather than digging up decorative gravel! The excuse-- I gave a fellow blogger a quick demo on posting images to a hosted blog!

Saturday, August 13, 2005


I keep getting questions from my friends about some of the gardening books I mention in conversation. I've taken the plunge and spent a couple of hours decocting Amazon's unwieldy HTML nuggets into simple book links. Have at! I'll post reviews of new garden books (and some old favorites) on the site, and put together an Urban Gardener's Bookshelf.

Friends seeing this on mirror sites, you'll need to go to the source site, My Bay Area Garden, to see the link sidebar.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

You Say Tomato, I Say Tom-Uh-Oh

So I have the inevitable summer shower of tomatos, and while I've made up 'goodie bags' for various of my spouse's coworkers and my own, it's time to Get Serious. I am going to try canning this year, and making some of my own salsa and tomato sauce (chunky marinara). I have the old standby, the Ball Food Book, but of course the 'net offers a plethora of options. I am, of course, enjoying the fresh, eat-em-off-the-vine, warm from the sun goodness which is WHY we raise tomatoes in the first place. A visiting techie friend definitely appreciated that ambience, and yet I still have LOTS of tomatoes. This has been Health is Optional week for me, as I fried up an entire package of turkey 'bacon' until crisp and have had either a BLT or a green salad with chopped fresh tomato and 'bacon' crumbles every day for the past couple of days. I still have one serving of the stuff left. I'm not done yet! (happy sigh) I use the Louis Rich even though it looks more fake than the Jenny-O, because it's not quite as horrendous on the sodium count. But I digress.

I adore the sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil and spices that I get from Costco. I go through about one 32 oz jar in an entire year. I don't feel good about turning my horde of wonderful eating-fresh tomatoes into that jar, however. What I do want to try is drying (sun, oven, or otherwise) some of the wonderful little yellow SunGold cherry tomatoes. I think those could be lovely in some recipes where sundried standard tomatoes would be too strong. They might also be wonderful to snack on. :-)

Another option, which I suspected not, but which intrigues me mightily, is smoke-dried tomatoes. Wowie zowie! Those sound *great*, and I definitely would put some of my redly rampant romas or eminently esculent early-girls into the smoker. I note with interest his mention of the Minion method, but unfortunately it is a briquette-based fireup technique rather than advice on rounding up agreeably pliable minions to Do the Actual Work. Tsk.

The Ball book has an interesting recipe for yellow tomato honey 'butter', eg a fruit butter like an apple butter. That sounds quite pleasant as well, and I think the easiest thing to do right now is finish taking the SunGolds off the clusters and pop them into the freezer. I'll think about drying the next batch. This batch will be sauced or salsa'd for preservation. A night or two in the freezer, double-bagged, won't hurt them. Some of them are SO ripe that I fear leaving them in the fridge for another day or so until I can process them will lead to some spoilage.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Mystery Moth: a Skipper (Plus Wildscaping Inspiration)

The nice folks at "What's That Bug?" promptly replied: "This is a skipper. Not a moth nor a butterfly, but between. Not a problem in the garden." However a friend commenting on my LJ, which carries this blog and Mobilis, my tech blog, said: "Saturniid for sure; probably citheronia. ... Sadly, this silk moth and its ravenous kids will eat anything softish and leafy, even flowers."

Um, eek. There's clearly some difference of opinion here, and for my garden's sake, let's do some research. My friend's post included some links to images, which I was relieved to see were not a good match for my little visitor. I went image googling for 'skipper' and found some other info. Skippers are Hesperiid (Hesperidae) in order Lepidoptera, and I can't find any warnings about any particular damage due to them.

One fortuitous find was a lovely site about Southern California landscaping with and for wildlife/wild plants that featured a skipper photo on its goldenrod page. These folks seem very knowledgeable about insect species, and have an excellent handout on species for butterfly gardening. Most folks talking about butterfly gardens don't know that you have to plant for both the adult and the caterpillar, as often the species of plants required (or preferred) for the young are different than those sipped by the nectar-eating adult. These folks really have their info together!

I'm also finding lots of things about their site that resonate with what I'd like to do with My Bay Area Garden. I really think that a locally-focused site, with lots of links to things of personal interest to the site poster(s), has a lot of potential to be a great resource. Not all things to everyone, but definitely something of strong interest to a few. Thanks for the inspiration!
As I geek around more with the template for this site, and figure out how to add a 'blogroll' sidebar on the right-hand side, I'll be sure to link in the folks at Wildscaping.

Mystery Moth

When I saw this moth, I thought of hawk moths, and found the What's That Bug? pages whilelooking for images of them. Nope, some similarities, but nobody quite like this guy (or gal). I saw a couple of them today, and haven't seen them before AT ALL. However, we recently (cough) said enough is enough and set out self-contained ant baits, because we had ants in ANY flower, so I think we've not been on anybody's pollination route. We're seeing bees and maybe some clearwing moths too now.

The moth makes a definite flutter, a thwfffflflflfl sound which is almost on the verge of being a buzz. Didn't see it doing any hovering, a la the hummingbird moths (wow, they are cool, didn't know about them!). That's a cornflower that the moth is on, about 1.5 inches across, so that gives you an idea of the moth's size.

Really pretty little moth! Catches the eye in the garden. I hope it's not up to something nefarious. ;-)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Hanging Garden of Sunnyvale

Some vining cultivars, such as melons, require additional support for their bounty, a tie or a hammock so that the produce does not pull off the stem. Squashes most notably don't, automatically scaling the thickness of the stem to the size of the squash. That said, without a good foundation to which the vines can attach, the weight of a big squash or pumpkin can pull the plant down, damaging or in some cases even snapping the stem and cutting its own development short of full maturity.

Let's see this in action, with a quick peek at a banana squash hiding in the vegetation along the fence.

QuickTime Movie, 640x480 fine, 185 Mb

All movies were shot with a Sony DSCP200, in 640x480 'fine' resolution mode. I'm hoping that they can be embedded in a smaller size, as above-- but do try resizing them if you're playing them. This is an experiment in progress: so new to videoblogging that the packaging tape is still on me! When I try to embed the movie, it hangs Safari (joy); am experimenting with a technique I've seen called a 'poster movie', eg a 1 frame quicktime embed that is a link to the full movie.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Welcome, and thanks for stopping by!

I've been keeping garden pages hither, thither, and yon, and will henceforth put there here, in one place, going forward. Watch for archive content, though it will be mostly pictures and little rants.

My garden philosophy is to try to grow things that are too fragile, expensive, or hard to find in stores. I love to try heirloom varieties, and save seeds when I can. A good example of this is yellow wax beans. A New England favorite, they show up for only 2 - 4 weeks in stores out here, and usually cost $2.99 - 3.99 a pound. That's a bit spendy! Why not grow my own? And I've now picked several pints of them, and had lovely 'squeaky beans' with dinner, all for the cost of a single packet of seed. I also grow my own sugar peas for the same reason. I don't grow English peas, eg the kind one takes out of the pod, because I can get excellent quality frozen ones cheaply, and I have limited space here.

I live in a the 'by the Bay' zone 9a climate, with cool nights, scorching days, and a moderate to strong afternoon breeze most days. Are you a Bay Area gardener? What's your microclimate? I'd be happy to link to other Bay Area gardeners' blogs or web pages.

I've been doing some videoblogging of 3 - 5 minute How-To's in my garden, and will post links here as soon as I figure out exactly how to get them up here the way I want. I've seen sites where the still picture of the video, as a thumbnail, links to the actual video, and some where the fullsize video sits there and then plays in-place on the page. I have a bunch of video uploaded to my site, and now I need to get it linked in here!