Planting the spring herb beds

I had a great day today in the garden working my herb beds.

Here’s a previous shot of the shadier herb bed. As you can see the thyme is heavily overgrown. First task was cutting it back, along with the lemon balm, and weeding as best as I could.

Thyme is a great herb, I grow two types, big-leaf and French. Problem is, a little thyme goes a long way, even fresh, so the growth I had wasn’t helpful.

The thyme conquered- it was time to place the four new plants that go into this bed.

I have a few interesting survivors in this bed, some chives that refused to die, a lone parsley seedling that sprouted when all the others wouldn’t, and a shiso that refused to die.

That’s the bi-colored shiso that I ripped out last year. As you can see- it has returned. Oh well.

Next to the thyme is the culantro- next to the octopus is the anise hyssop- next to the lemon balm is the lemongrass, and up in the corner is the borage. I gave everything a deep watering, and then in the next couple of days I’ll put down some mulch.

The sunny herb bed was also overgrown. I trimmed the oregano, and hacked away at the hyssop and sage. Then it was just a matter of placing my plants.

I put the purple basil next to the Thai basil, and the lemon grass next to the oregano. Yes I have two lemongrasses. I like the taste, but it also has a way of repelling pests (not unlike the borage) and I hope by having one in each bed I can have less pest problems as it gets warmer.

There are absolutely no guarantees when it comes to basil in San Francisco I’m afraid. As you can see the Thai basil is a chewed up mess- but it’s alive so I’ll take it. The purple basil will also be a gamble- but much less of one then Italian or sweet basil which is iffy at the best of times. Sadly the local garden center is not stocking African blue bush basil this year- or at least not yet. That’s the only basil that I’ve had very good luck with.

I’m not screwing around with the shiso. In my garden at least it has a tendency to get really buggy, and I’d like to have more for eating so pots it is! And the pots can go on the new herb tables!

I have resown the mitsuba, I have two parsley’s- one of which is going to seed, so I have to work on that. The two shiso, the chervil, the tarragon, and the two chive pots. The other herb I had to wrestle with today was my dill.

As you can see, it was a mess. So I pulled it and sowed some more.

It’s a beautiful pot of dirt. Dill is a pain in the ass, as it doesn’t transplant well. So I can buy dill seedlings but unless I keep them in the original pot I won’t get much dill, as once transplanted it tends to swiftly die. Growing dill from seed isn’t difficult, but you have to tenderly press the seeds into the soil because they need light to germinate. Not to mention it tends to get really buggy, and it attracts scale insects and aphids. Like I said, a pain. But it will work, and I use a lot of dill when I pickle so I guess I’ll just have to keep re-seeding it.

I’m looking forward to the lovely blue flowers of the borage, bees love them, but other bugs don’t.

It can also get really gigantic and I’m looking forward to my dad making triffid jokes again.

I am a Neanderthal of simple pleasures.

Some late additions and potential problems

I finally bit the bullet and grabbed myself a pepper, among other things. I am growing the lipsticks from seed but it’ll be a month til the largest is large enough for the pepper pot. In the meantime this sweet Italian bulls horn should do well.

It’s a little runty so it got a stake. I wish I could be optimistic but after weeks of warm weather San Francisco’s inherent unpredictability has reared it’s head and we’ve now had two days of wet drizzle.

I have no words. Well I have plenty of words but they’re not really fit to print.

I also got a tarragon- again. I’ve had such bad luck with tarragon that I thought it was time to just put it in a pot. Sometimes all your plans for a fancy herb bed run up against reality. Oh well, hopefully it will do better as a pot herb.

This is ginger mint. I am something of a mint fanatic, and I love growing mint from cuttings and giving them away as gifts. The more weird the mint the better. Ginger mint sounds tailor made for tea, but I’ll have to wait a little while before I take cuttings.

Some of my cuttings are taking really well- others are lost causes. But that’s what happens when you try to grow from cuttings, it’s always a gamble.

These are the ones that have taken. A good way of telling if they’re taking is if the plant still looks fresh and not wilted or brown, and to check the bottom for root growth.

Now that’s a successful cutting!

These are my last two plants, some Persian cucumbers for the cucumber patch and a lost little pumpkin. I wish I could say wow I don’t have room for a pumpkin! But unfortunately I most likely will have room for a pumpkin shortly.

That’s the remains of another cauliflower- and two of the back Bok choys went with it. And now that it’s drizzling again, the cabbage flies are going to be even more emboldened. Cabbage flies of course only eat cabbages- so my squashes will be perfectly safe.

The slugs of course, are in hyperdrive. Now you can totally go out at night with a flashlight and just kill all the slugs you see- and that is the most natural way to do it- but it is gross as hell, and I like sleeping at night.

So I took half a container of sluggo and went nuclear. I tossed those pellets around the garden like it was going out of style. Every bed, every green area, every pot.

There’s no kill quite like overkill, and I’m hoping the slugs get the message.

Smushing aphids might be gross but it’s the best way the control their numbers so smush I must. I try not to spray the sun gold with neem oil because the tomato flowers attract bees and the aphids are attracting ladybugs.

At least the local criminal is enjoying the rain and the work I’m doing. If only feral cats could be trained to eat cabbage fly…

New plants, new bed, and bad news

So this was a good day, mostly. I got my new fabric bed in the mail a few days ago but I underestimated its size and realized I needed more soil than I actually had.

A trip to the garden center was in order.

I got some blue lake green beans sets along with a replacement for my ailing chervil, a basil gamble and one last squash plant.

First a note on the chervil.

That does not look healthy. It’s the fact that it’s in a bed. This area of the garden, the shade herb bed, is shady in fall and winter. It’s also shadier in spring and summer. But we’ve been having very bright and windy days and that’s just been murder on the chervil. Murder on the parsley too, but that’s solvable.

The thyme doesn’t give a shit it’s huge.

To solve the evaporation problem on the parsley side, the answer is, as always, more mulch.

Just got to lay it on. As for the chervil…

Sometimes you just got to get a new plant. Healthy plant in a pot which will help with water conservation, and on the shade herb table in the shadiest possible spot in the garden. It’s a nice delicate herb chervil, hope this one takes.

In the long shot category, we have basil.

I have completely given up on Italian basil, and if I were to un-give up on it, it would go into a pot. They didn’t have any blue bush basil which is a shame, but they had some very healthy looking Thai basil. Slightly different flavor, but a heartier plant, which as you can see I’ve mulched the absolute heck out of. It’s still a crazy gamble, but it’s been so sunny… well, all gardening is a gamble really.

The squash was fun though.

See I’ve been growing pretty much all plain green zucchini, largely because it’s easier and mom likes them. But it occurred to me that I had a space for one more plant, and dad likes grey squash, so I got a “Magda” zucchini for him. It was a really healthy looking plant, and it’s a cinch to grow so no skin off my nose to put in an extra plant.

The beans went in easy, as beans tend to, I still mulched the heck out of them of course.

I also put some stakes down for them, I also have some netting that I think I’m gonna use for the trionfo beans.

The main issue today was turnips. They’d been growing slow, and were starting to bolt, no surprise there. One of the reasons I got this fabric bed to stash in the shadiest part of my garden was so I could grow the more temperature sensitive crops like lettuces and arugula and turnips in a shaded area of the garden.

The problem was cabbage fly. I had eaten a lovely turnip a week ago, small but tender, and was all set to pick the biggest few for tonight’s dinner. Only to discover all but one eaten up by cabbage fly maggots.

The one survivor was added to dinner, the rest were added to the compost bin. This is not my first tangle with cabbage fly. Years ago I had a whole lot of really beautiful turnips ruined by them. They’d been scarce as of late, and I thought I could get away with it, but it looks like our really wet start to spring helped the damn flies get off to a good start. Of course, while the damage cabbage fly can do to turnips is the most dramatic due to them eating the roots all up, cabbage fly can damage the roots of any brassica. SO tomorrow’s big task is going to be checking the roots of all my cabbage family crops for maggots or eggs and hand destroying and spraying the lot of them. And sadly I have a lot of brassicas.

This is the new bed. There was clearly a sewing error as you can see it’s a little lopsided. As I got it fairly cheap I suppose it would be bad form to complain about a minor cosmetic error so who cares.

I have quite a few plants I’m putting into this bed, including a few types of fancier lettuce, but these are some of my favorite Japanese vegetables that I picked up from the ferry building a few days ago and can’t wait to grow. Of course both are cabbage family crops so now that I know the cabbage flies are out I’m going to have to be extra vigilant. Both of these plants are quick growers, so it should be only a month from sprouting to harvest and then I can sow again. In between most of the lettuces I sowed some extra french breakfast radishes. I had sowed some radishes in front of the peas, and due to the extreme wet only about three came up.

This guy was my first to eating size. I cleaned it up and gave it to dad and he ate the whole thing leaves and all.

God bless him.

Well soon I’ll have many more, radishes are one of those plants you can tuck anywhere and they’ll mostly grow no matter what you do. Of course they are cabbage adjacent so I will once again have to be a little diligent sweeping for fly eggs.

In other not so good news, the red aphids have returned to the sun gold, and in the course of hand picking them, I made a truly bone-headed error.

This is the rose tip of my watering can, and as you can see, the inner part that has the little holes in it is missing. That’s because I set the can down to remove the aphids from the sun gold (and they only were on the sun gold which was weird) and I stepped on it. I heard a *ping* as the inner part went flying somewhere and I have no idea where it went. So while I will scour the garden in the morning hoping to find my missing part, I have a good idea I’m going to have to replace my watering can tip, possibly my watering can.

In the meantime, I have this little fellow playing back up. So what if he doesn’t hold much water, he has the right tip and he doesn’t just barf water out like a plain spout does. I could blame the aphids for this latest clumsy mistake, but I think it’s just my complete inability to see where I’m stepping.

I will of course blame the aphids anyways.

April bugs have returned

But not the bugs I want sadly. The bees have been showing up but as a trickle and not a roar. Nothing I can do about that- it was such a wet and cold winter that I suspect the big buzzers are still shaking it all off. Still- I have herbs flowering or about to flower- and soon I’ll have sunflowers and poppies.

The cabbage moths however, are back in force. Those little white butterflies are not the vegetable growers friend. Far from it. Luckily as far as turnips go- who cares. It’s not like I’m eating the leaves. I’ve already eaten one of the turnips, it was delicious, but before I pick more I’m waiting for them to get a little bigger.

Unfortunately I most certainly will be eating the Bok Choy leaves. I put down sluggo in case this is slug damage but as I was doing so I saw the white butterfly of doom flying around my head. Tried to kill it but it got away. I’m just trying to be diligent about checking the leaves for caterpillars but they’re little green things the same color as most plant’s leaves so it’s always hit or miss if you can actually find them.

There was some sort of cocoon on one of my carrots. I wasn’t so worried for my carrots, not much eats carrots except for carrot fly and it’s still too cold for them. Still I destroyed the cocoon to protect my other plants.

Some bugs are fairly harmless however. This lovely bit of froth conceals the spittlebug or frog hopper. Now if their numbers go crazy they can damage plants but they’re pretty harmless so I don’t go crazy killing them. I wish all the bugs in my garden were as harmless as these guys.

Speaking of harmless- sow bugs! Or rollypollies or pull bugs or wood louse. They’re isopods! They’re super cool! They don’t really do much and they aren’t mega creepy like earwigs so I don’t really care.

Also they make me smile so that’s nice.

Something has been nibbling on one of my potatoes which is fairly hilarious since I’m fairly sure potato leaves are mildly toxic. Probably something in the rodentia family so not much I can do about that.

What’s really annoying and I have no pictures of is the green aphids that keep getting up on my pepper seedlings. Aphids aren’t great but green aphids are like the easy mode of aphids so it’s easy enough to squish as many of them as you can and then just spray the plants down with neem oil. It’s more annoying then anything.

Of course the way the aphids are climbing the bench to get to the seedling are ants. Here’s a few on my first really spectacular squash blossom. I had to cut back some of the moldy leaves on the squash monster and mulch heavily but it seems to be taking well.

Here’s hoping to more bees and less pests.

And maybe some netting for my Bok Choy.

Damn cabbage moths.

April planting part 1

Well almost April, as it’s March 31st. But it’s basically April, and it’s time for some planting.

But I’m exhausted- so it’s part 1 and tomorrow I’ll finish it up.

First off before I planted anything, hell, before I even went to the garden center, I mulched.

Here’s some mulch around the baby green beans, and there’s also fresh mulch around the baby zucchini and purple peas. Water retention- weed suppression- mulch is good.

Unfortunately I made the executive decision to kill the mystery mole pepper. It’s just a mess. It was falling over and has looked like death for weeks.

RIP pepper plant. I’ll get another pepper (or peppers…) later this year- I have the little lipstick pepper seedlings growing, though those won’t be ready for transplant til May or so.

I really wanted a 6 pack of haricot vert seedlings- that’s what I got last year and they’re great green pole beans, but for whatever reason they did not have them today.

They had… a lot else.

I’ll discuss the gigantic squash plant(s) and tomatoes tomorrow, along with the belle of the ball, a Marion blackberry- but it was also herb time. That’s what I had the energy to plant today- tomorrow is vegetable and fruit time.

Here’s my new chamomile. I’m a confirmed insomniac, so I drink a fair amount of teas and tisanes. Might as well grow my own.

I also got a few new curly leaf parsley, as my current ones seem to be going the way of the dodo. What I love is that the parsley types have such grand names. The type I tried to grow from seed was just “green moss” but the two plants I put in were “green river” and “Aphrodite”.

Aphrodite!

There’s my new “Aphrodite” parsley. You can see the sort of meh plants next door- the “green river is farther to the left.

My final herb was one I’ve always wanted to grow, not for culinary use per se, but because it smells good and can attract bees- and for its long long history.

This beautiful mint is pennyroyal. Pennyroyal is an ancient medical herb that in the days before modern medicine would have been a major part of the herbalists toolkit. It is also somewhat toxic. Not as much as other herbs- if I really wanted to eat some I’d probably be ok- but it can damage the liver. I like it as a sort of botanical momento mori- a reminder of how important some of these herbs were to our ancestors. And it’s flowers attract bees! So more bee food- and a nice smell. That works.

I’ve marked out where the veggies and fruit are going in tomorrow, but I’m so tired so that will be tomorrow’s task.

Soon.

Too much rain!

I hesitate to even say that. It’s too close to a jinx. After years and years of dry or barely wet winters, drought after drought, it seems… unseemly to complain about rain.

But oh god I am sick of it. It’s clear today, but it’ll start up again tomorrow, and my poor plants are getting hammered.

I’ve never grown a lemon grass plant before so I don’t know for sure- but I’m pretty sure this is not the best sign. The plant is too tall to stash in the mini-greenhouse so out it sits- getting overwatered.

The Mitsuba is yellowing a bit- which will become a recurring theme. As a woodland plant, it doesn’t mind the rain- but like a lot of the plants in the back- it needs some fertilizer. All the rain is washing away the nitrogen from the soil. So yellow plants.

Even the hardy parsley looks a little wilted. Luckily fixing a parsley plant on the fritz is pretty easy- light fertilize, cut away the yellow leaves, harvest the good leaves so new growth can form. Not sure how to do that with the lemon grass.

Honestly though? The lemon grass was planted for one reason and one reason only: it repels mosquitoes. So since I’m not really using it culinarily, if this one is just dead from rain I’ll just plant another one to ward off the wee bloodsuckers.

And maybe I’ll look up how to harvest and use fresh lemon grass because I do like the flavor.

Lemon balm is also supposed to ward off mosquitoes, and it also makes very nice tea. It seems to have developed spots on its top leaves, though the bottom growth is coming on fine. It’s a mint so my strategy is to leave it alone. Mint will figure itself out!

Mint always wins.

Ah cilantro. Also getting spotty- but the spots seems to be a cosmetic blemish as the leaves taste as good as they always do. It also needs a light fertilize like the parsley, but the center growth is pretty good so I’m not going to fiddle with it much.

The poor pepper plant looks positively pathetic. What it needs is some sun and time to dry out- what it’s getting is a deluge. The wind keeps knocking it out of its ties, so I keep having to go out and re-tie it. I was really hoping my pepper would last til summer and start growing again, but I’ll be surprised if it survives the month.

Oh well.

In better news, the bees are starting to appear! This is a bumble bee who got caught out in the rain a few days ago, poor girl, and wisely decided to take a load off under the sheltering leaf of my sorrel plant. Smart bee! Wet bee!

It’s not the first bee of 2019 but it’s the first bee I’ve been able to photograph. Gonna have to start fixing the bee house for little miss bumble’s mason cousins.

Squarely in the “loving it” category are both my new potted mints. I was worried about transplant shock but they clearly weren’t. New growth already and they smell fantastic. If only all my plants were as water loving as mint.

Finally- the last Bok Choy’s are in line to get eaten this coming week and they look amazing. A little slug eaten ok, but with this much rain it was inevitable. I have a small fabric bed coming in which I think I shall plant solely with Joi Choi- it’s a really good producer that doesn’t bolt in the heat like the purple type did. I finally figured that out- we had like two hot days in January that messed up the plants. Considering how variable San Francisco weather is, I’m not going to plant any variety that’s that sensitive to changes in temperature. But how can you learn these things except by experimenting? Lesson learned.

Here’s to March!

Captain’s log: December 8th 2018

There’s just not a ton to do in the garden with everything so wet and more rain coming soon- but it’s dried out enough that I can take stock of what needs to be done after the next does of wet.

Honestly there are a few things I should be doing *this* weekend but it’s the home stretch of my last semester at University so it’s study time first and garden time last.

First the good news- all the Pac Choi are doing great. Which is as expected, cabbages in general are good growers this time of year, and they’ve all been watered well!

And here’s the other great news- the first of the romaine seedlings have begun to sprout!

The green onions and leeks haven’t sprouted yet but that’s to be expected, lettuce comes up much quicker than onions.

What’s also coming up is weeds! Weeds everywhere, though none as spectacular as the oxalis I pulled last week.

As far as work I have to do in the next few weeks, some of it is wait and see.

The cut back dill plant is very green in the middle, though the other fronds look all mealy and gross- so it will either bounce back by the new year, or it won’t.

I’ve just had terrible luck with dill, which is annoying because I use so much of it when I cook, it would be really nice to have a reliable plant in the back.

Oh boy did I let the mint thunderdome get kinda overgrown. So I’ve got to cut back all the tendrils and twigs and maybe give it a dose of fish emulsion when I give some to the dill.

Then it should be fine, as mint is an undying force.

I’ve been procrastinating on pulling my moldy heat damaged lettuces so there’s a chore for later.

I think I’ll put some snap peas in the top patch. Perfect winter pea, good snacking potential, and most importantly- really easy to grow.

Unlike fucking lettuce apparently

The sorrel is getting gigantic, definitely ready to harvest after the next dose of rain.

Now the (maybe) hatch peppers are interesting. The shishito plant will have to be cut back heavily if I’m to get any peppers next year. The red bell pepper plant is really infested. But the hatch pepper, while weird, is yummy. So I’ll cut it back after I harvest the last of them, but unlike the bells which are getting pulled- I’m gonna keep the hatches.

Whoooo December tomatoes! I have so many growing December tomatoes! I don’t know if they’ll ever ripen but… December tomatoes!

It’s also looking like in a few months I’m going to be overrun by carrots.

This is not a bad thing.

And as expected- the ishkabibble parsley plant has really perked up now that it’s in a pot. It is kinda being caressed by the lemongrass but it’s just going to have to get used to that, I have only so much room on the shade herb table.

Which reminds me of the maintenance I have to do on this site- my map of the garden is wildly out of date- so this week I’m definitely going to draw a new one and post it.

It’ll probably be out of date again within a month- oh well.