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The Garden Blog

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Ann garden April 28 2011

Happy May Day! As the celebration of agriculture and spring (and my mother's birthday!), it's the perfect time to catch up on what's new in the garden, right? As you can see from the photo, the tomato seedlings I put into the ground the first week of April have each grown about a foot. To keep them company, I recently added some basil seedlings I picked up at the Santa Barbara farmers market and Italian parsley and celery seedlings from the farmers market I go to in Santa Monica on Saturdays (Cloverfield and Pico). All are good companions for the tomatoes. Speaking of which: If you want a great reference for companion planting, try Carrots Love Tomatoes. Jeff got me a copy for Christmas and I've been referencing it all the time as I add to the garden.

The celery is something new for me. I'd never really considered growing it because I assumed you just waited until the whole plant emerged and picked it by the root and that was it. Seemed like a lot of work for just one bunch of celery. But then I heard this tip from a fellow gardener: There is no need to pick celery by the root. The plant can grow for more than a year. Just pick the ribs off and leave the little ribs connected to the roots in the ground to grow more celery. 

I love the idea that I can just take a few stalks at a time and let the plant keep growing. Similarly, here's a great tip to keep your tomato plants going from the folks at Tomatomania: With tomatoes growing fast and sturdy side branching inevitable, this year try creating a new plant with a cutting. Cut a six or seven-inch stem, soak the stem in water for a couple days, plant out (deeply) next to the parent or in a container.  Keep moist for a week or so

Ann garden April 9There is something about the spring that brings about thoughts of beginnings and endings. These are, of course, often exacerbated by events in our lives. For instance, tomorrow I'm attending the funeral for a friend who died recently after a sudden illness, while this morning I visited friends with a 15-month old. Ending meet beginning.

I was visiting my friends today to look at their yard and give suggestions on where they might put in a vegetable garden. Looking at some of the spaces they were considering made me realize how far my garden has come in just three years. Above is a photo taken a week ago. There's a lot to look at: the garlic on the right, which is about ready to be harvested; the rose bushes, continuing to bloom; the strawberry and tomato seedlings in the middle, which were just planted; the olive trees on the far left...

Ann garden first year

This is that same space (and those same olive trees) right after I first started working on it almost three years ago. Pretty dramatic difference, right? Perhaps it's that ability to bring life where there was none before that makes gardening such an enjoyable activity. It is definitely part of it and also something that brings solace during those times when an ending comes as unexpectedly as it did with my friend Nancy.

Tomatomania 2011There are times in a gardener's life when a little inspiration is needed. At least that's the case with this gardener. Maybe it was the disappointment of last summer and fall -- with the gloomy weather inhibiting the usual bounty and the marauding squirrel taking off with everything else -- but I feel like I've been in maintenance mode for awhile now. I have done what needs to be done: keeping weeds at bay, cutting back the trumpet vine and roses (which never stopped blooming) and harvesting greens (mostly arugula). But I haven't put anything new into the garden in awhile.

That's where Tomatomania comes in.  I'd been posting their upcoming events on our Facebook page for awhile and, today, when they were in Encino, I made my way out there. It's hard not to be inspired when you're looking out at skads and skads of tomato seedlings. So I went a little wild and got some for the family as well. Jeff got the German Johnson (a coastal variety) for the bar garden at Big Dean's; my Mom (the traditionalist) got the Brandywine; sis and niece got the Pink Brandywine (a bit of sass added to tradition); and for my dad got the Pink Ping-Pong (just because). For myself, I got the Rose, the Purple Russian and Pineapple. As an added bonus, they were selling some organic seascape strawberry seedlings so I picked up two of those, plus some marigolds and soil amendments and bamboo sticks to support the tomatoes.

Now I can't wait to get to the garden and get them all in the ground. (Speaking of which, here are some great tips on getting the most out of those seedlings from Scott at Tomatomania.) Unfortunately, two things will make me wait: We're still experiencing cool rainy weather here in Southern California (not the best environment for tomato seedlings) and I'll be spending this week in Puerto Vallarta and want to put them in a week when I can check in a little more often (again, see Scott's tips). That's okay -- even if I have to wait a week to get these started it's nice to feel the excitement and eagerness come back. Hello Spring!

Ann garden mid febAh, February. Here in Southern California, we've swung wildly weather-wise between blue skies and high temperatures in the 80s to rain and lows in the 40s. Brrr. And, yes, all of you who live in colder climates, it really is brrr as our houses are not built for anything outside of the 70-80 degree range.

In my community garden, this transition time has been marked by the fact that the Christmas poinsettia is still going strong but has been joined by the first blooms of my sweet peas. I say "my" sweet peas even though I didn't actually plant them. I meant to plant them but somehow November slipped by without me getting any seeds. Luckily I have a neighbor gardener who planted them and one day in January I found a volunteer. I gave the seedling the appropriate structure and, voila, I have sweet peas after all. I've also enjoyed a ton of lettuce and arugula and spicy greens this winter, and the soil I used the cover crop on is looking (and feeling) like it's ready for the beginning of spring and the crops that come with it. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, soon it will be time for tomatomania. Details to come.

Cafe Press dog t shirt

Until then, I am happy to share the details of our new store on Cafe Press, which has all sorts of Gardens to Tables logo items to create. We have two sizes of the logo up on the site that you can attach to an apron, a farmers market tote, a t-shirt -- or even a little cozy for your little dog. I mean, really, what little dog doesn't want to prance around in Gardens to Tables wear as a way to remind them of our motto: grow what you make, make what you grow. Enjoy! 

Ann garden Jan 17 2011 Yes, I know we're 17 days into the new year but this was the first day of 2011 that I got to really go in and clean out my garden. And it felt good. So I thought I'd share. The month of December here in Southern California could be summed up in one word: rain. While a pain, especially during the hustle-and-bustle of the holidays (which seemed especially hustley-and-bustley this year), it was great for the garden and for the cover crop I put on the two beds and in and around some other spaces as well. As the rain stopped right around the 1st, I went in and tilled the cover crop and today went in an tilled some more and started flattening out the soil. I also cut back the trumpet vine and picked a heck of a lot of weeds. Note to self: weeds like rain, too.

Ann garden Jan 17 2011

Instead of leaving perfectly pristine beds, I've left a couple interesting-looking volunteers. In the far corner, I have what appears to be a few sweet pea vines whose seeds must have blown over from a neighbor garden. And in between the two beds, I have a volunteer tomato. There are also various flowers that we'll leave up for the bees and beneficial insects. Crop-wise, it's the lettuces -- including my fave, arugula -- that are doing well. Naturally that's where I've placed my crow decoys to make sure that the garden's marauding squirrel family doesn't decide to enjoy the lettuce before I do. The little lettuce patch is in the same bed as one of my rose bushes, which is still in bloom. Today I decided that roses have a lot in common with cats -- they're both pretty, independent and, even when you're trying to be nice to them (say, pulling the weeds around the base), they sometimes give you a little scratch. Deep (the thought, not the scratch), right? Heck, we're just a couple weeks into the new year. Who KNOWS what I'll think of next.

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