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Growing Winter Strawberries in Southern California Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

StrawberriesOctober 17, 2009: Here is an update on this post, which first ran on October 1, in which a question came in from "Nancy" about growing winter strawberries in Southern California -- with added information on how things turned out and the best place to order winter strawberries. Click "read more" for the whole post:

I'm a home gardener and am determined to grow my own strawberries this winter/spring. We've just put in eight raised gardening beds for winter crops, onions and lettuce, and I want to use one of the beds solely for strawberries. One of my reference tools is Pat Welsh's Southern California Gardening book and her very specific instructions for growing strawberries in Southern California. According to her, I need pre-chilled, locally adapted bare root plants that need to go in the ground between November 1 and 10. She also goes on to say that as a general rule "don't order strawberries other than alpine varieties, from catalogues, because they usually don't carry varieties that are adapted to our climate."

My question is: where do I buy the bare root plants, local varieties for San Diego, in small quantities? I have searched the web for California strawberry plants, even up in Watsonville (strawberry capital of the world), and I have found some plants, but with a minimum order of 1500! Can you please help me find a source for my strawberries?

For the answer, we contacted Nick Sakovich, who ran the Master Gardener program in Ventura and Santa Barbara and was a farm advisor for the University of California in Orange, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and now lives – and gardens -- on the Big Island of Hawaii (click "read more" for the rest of the article):

Using Biodynamics in the Home Garden Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Jeff Dawson of UbuntuJeff Dawson is the master gardener and creator of the biodynamic gardens for Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio in Napa, California. Considered a “biodynamic guru,” Dawson also established the gardens at Fetzer Vineyards and Kendall Jackson Vineyards and served as the Curator of Gardens for Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts.

Here he helps us understand just what biodynamics is and how it can be used in the home or community garden:

Q: What is biodynamics and can people practice it at home?

A: Biodynamics is a complex subject and practice. It requires a specific set of preparations, including composting and creating specific fertilizers. It also encompassed crushing up crystal and mixing it into the animal dung. This is because the crystal brings in heat and light to the plants. All in all, it is not something the average person can practice at home.

Q: Is there any single part of biodynamics that people can practice at home?

A: Yes, there is one small part called “gardening by the moon” but it takes a lot of skill with timing and consistency. “Gardening by the moon” is based on calendars. There are 12 constellations broken up into four parts -- fire, earth, water and air signs. With biodynamic gardening, you cultivate and harvest in accordance of these moons. Earth=roots/soil, Water=leaves, Air=flowers, and Fire=fruit. So, if you were looking to cultivate soil, you would want to do so during the Earth moon. Moon signs, contrary to popular astrological belief, last about 2 ½ days. If you were to plant beets two days before the full moon they would come out instantly as they would be drawn up through something we call “suctional force.”

Direct from Garden to Kitchen at Brix Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

It’s pretty much a given today that the top chefs are looking to use the freshest produce in their cooking. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to follow chefs as they traveled to local farms or scoured farmers markets and talked to the gardeners to find just the right ingredients for that night’s meal.

Brix, the well-regarded restaurant in the Napa Valley town of Yountville, has taken that symbiotic relationship of gardener and chef a step further by having its own two (actually 16, if you include the vineyard and orchard) acres on the property set aside for produce to be used in the restaurant.

I recently talked to Guillermo “Memo” Rodriguez (above), the master gardener at Brix and started by asking what the chefs had come to pick from his garden that day. The answer was English peas, plus some tarragon and parsley and thyme for an English-pea risotto that Executive Chef Anne Gingrass-Paik was looking to put back on the menu. The peas were also being used in a chicken pasta that was already on the menu. (If anyone was lucky enough to eat that dish at Brix on May 29, please let me know how it was …)

A Word (or Two) About Kelp Emulsion Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

At the organic gardening workshop I attended at Esalen earlier this year, the leaders of the workshop seemed united in their fervent fondness of the wonders of kelp emulsion. It was brought up as something to spray on soil and the plants themselves when transplanting and seemed to be both a fertilizer and good at keeping fungus away -- which is a VERY good thing indeed in climates such as ours along the coast of California with its often heavy marine layer.

When I picked up my watermelon seedlings at the nursery in Templeton I asked the gal checking me out about it and she said she picked hers up at Osh. So I went to my local Osh and asked them about it and they didn't even know what it was. (Note: Templeton is a farming town and West Los Angeles is not.)

I was able to find a bottle at my local nursery: Merrihew's in Santa Monica. It is labeled as Seaweed Extract or "Liquified Organic Kelp" and wasn't cheap ($15 for the bottle) but you use very little -- an ounce per gallon of water -- so I have a feeling it will last a very long time.

I asked organic farming expert Amigo Bob Cantisano what the deal was with kelp emulsion and here's what he said: "Kelp extract has a nearly 60 year history of being a very effective liquid feed for plants. This is due to a number of factors including that kelp contains nearly 70 trace minerals, high levels of growth hormones, plant auxins and cytokinins. All of these are natural stimulants to plant growth and some have the ability to increase plants resistance to cold, heat, and some diseases. Some of these components also increase plant respiratory activity, sugar development, cell multiplications pollen fertility and more.  Others stimulate soil biology. There is a plethora of information on kelp on the web where you can learn much more about it. There are even fairly large books on the subject."

So there you have it.

A Mania for Tomatoes Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Tomatomania in Encino There’s something about summer and growing tomatoes. Maybe it’s because they really only grow in the summer or because they taste so much better (so much better) than anything available in the stores, but there’s something really satisfying about a summer tomato you’ve grown yourself.

There are those, of course, who take their tomato growing to the extremes, such as the guy chronicled in the Los Angeles Times last year who grew something like 10,000 tomatoes in his San Fernando Valley yard. It was in reading that article that I discovered Tomatomania – no, not this particular gentleman’s mania for tomatoes, but the Tomatomania seedling sales, listed at

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