Yerba Buena

So one of the perks of my job is getting to see all sorts of really interesting plants the days they come in. Because before I was only really at my local garden center every so often for soils and plants- I’m sure I missed plenty of really interesting things just because they’d all sold out before I could get to see them.

Here’s a good example.

This beautiful trailing mint is Yerba Buena. If you know anything about the history of my hometown, you’ll probably know that during the years of Spanish occupation- San Francisco’s name *was* Yerba Buena. The name only became San Francisco after the Mexican-American war.

Literally translated, Yerba Buena (there’s some real nomenclature confusion with this one, the scientific names are many- some say it’s in genus Satureja, others say Micromeria or Clinopodium. My plant label says Satureja but apparently molecular evidence says otherwise.) means “good herb”. When the Spanish missionaries first stumbled upon the area of land that would become San Francisco, they found this plant in abundance, a creeping perennial that grows all over Northern California.

To add to the nomenclature confusion- it is sometimes referred to as “Indian mint” which is a common name that can refer to many different plants. It was used as food and medicine by the indigenous Ohlone, and to this day makes a really nice tea that various herbal medicine types claim will cure your ills.

I don’t need a cure all- but I love mint and mint relatives, especially this glorious specimen. The smell is incredibly pleasant- minty but not like a sharp minty smell, more soft and… honestly it defies description. This is a plant which odds are will just not be available to you unless you live in Northern California, but I highly recommend it if you can find it. It likes shade and is a real creeper- cascading over a pot so delicately.

Can’t wait to try to make tea from it, can’t wait to see if I can propagate it from cuttings.

I love my new job!

Fun with cuttings

So I like to take cuttings from my mint plants and grow more mint. Some of this is so I can finally ditch the mint thunderdome and put something else in that pot- but a lot of it is so I can give home grown mint plants as gifts to friends.

Like this lovely strawberry mint. It’s easy to grow mint from cuttings- but it’s never a one hundred percent success. In fact-

Those are my successful cuttings so far- minus the few I’ve given as gifts already.

Here’s a stack of all the failures! Cuttings are always a gamble- but mint in particular has a higher chance of success than most other plants.

It’s a fairly simple procedure. You just snip off some mint, right under some leaves, usually a piece a few inches long. Then you strip all but the top-most leaves off, and stick it in some dirt. I put a pinch of sure-start on the stem. Then you just keep it wet and wait!

Here’s my new hopefuls- 2 more pineapple mint, and 4 lovely ginger mints from the new plant I put in.

Hopefully I’ll have more mint to give soon!

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…

Imprisoning my tomatoes

Tomatoes are difficult plants. They attract many pests, can also develop nasty fungal diseases, if your summers are too cool they may never set fruit, and while to a degree they can self-pollenate without bees you will get a bad yield- but on top of all that they need a lot of support. They can absolutely collapse under their own weight, and that’s before they set heavy fruit.

So you have to send your tomatoes to jail.

Those are two very old and very rusted old tomato cages that I’m fairly sure l date back to my parent’s garden. For whatever reason they were never recycled and are quite past their use-by date… but they fit into the two wider pots so…

It did take a bit of bending to fit them in- and the plants are so small compared to the cages, But eh hopefully the sweet 100 and Black Krim will grow into their support.

The sungold is growing well, and it has a v-shaped bean support as a backbone.

The sungold is the, pardon the pun, gold standard San Francisco cherry tomato for a reason, and despite the awkward fit I’m sure it’ll take to its support well.

The San Francisco fog also got a bean support and it too seems to be fine with some unorthodox trellising. It’s not as vigorous a plant as the sungold but considering the gloom and rain it’s chugging along marvelously. Besides in April/May what you really want from your tomatoes is steady growth so it can put out flowers by June. Any early flowers or fruits is a bonus, but not expected.

The sauce pot was a difficult criminal however.

So the three Romas came with three small stakes barely holding the plants up, which was enough for the small pot they were sold in. Once moved to the sauce pot however there was just no way those small three stakes were sufficient. At first I put three bamboo stakes in, but today I put in a forth, and I’ve strung soft-ties all around the four outer stakes to suspend the leaves over it.

It’s a mess! It’s an absolute mess! But it’s too big for a tomato cage- even if I had a third, which I do not- and the one remaining v-shaped bean support is just not up to the task of the Romas.

So once again, I Gerry-rigged something. I have a sneaking suspicion this is going to be a process and there’s a good chance I’ll have to change it up a few times.

The really good news about the sauce pot, despite everything is that it’s three vigorous plants, and one of them is already flowering.

I mean- there’s barely any bees out yet, too wet by half- but it’s telling that the plant has the health to flower early despite what could have been a traumatic transplant. So despite the fact that the odds are this flower will never turn into a tomato- it’s a good sign.

Viva la sauce pot!

April planting part 2

It’s almost all in. I say almost because despite the fact that rain wasn’t forecast until tomorrow… it started today. So I got most of my plants in anyways.

The blackberry will have to wait until the rain stops- but at least the tomatoes and the mess of zucchini are in.

The zucchini was an adventure however.

For one thing the root ball was very stuck in.

Yeah, not gonna be able to separate that.

On top of that, the other problem is this bed that has the best room for the squash ball is fairly shallow. I tried to separate the roots so I could have a few plants in different areas- but that dog wouldn’t hunt. Faced with lots of roots… I improvised.

I took a bag of potting soil and mounded it up into a hill. Then I dug as deep a hole I could and put the sure start inside. And then I planted my squash ball and hoped for the best.

I still have to mulch the hill, but as mentioned, we’ve had a rain delay.

Mount squash. It’s gonna be real interesting to see how good a neighbor the zucchini monster is going to be to the romaine lettuce and the green onions. Not so worried about the scallions mind, as long as they have some vertical room they’ll grow. Hope the romaine don’t get squashed.

Heh. Squashed by squash.

I might have to find some sort of trellis system- but I have to do more research.

The tomatoes were much more straight forward.

The Roma mega pot went into the big green pot. Similar to the squash pot it’s three plants in one big root ball, which is also semi-crazy but the plants are super healthy and Roma tomatoes are like the gold standard paste types so I’m affectionately referring to the red pot as the sauce pot from now on.

I put all the soil around the pot while the pot was still on the plants, then removed the mega pot and put down my sure start and planted the big boy.

I mulched it and put some extra stakes in.

I’m gonna string some soft ties around the stakes to support the stalks. it’s a Gerry-rig but I’m known for that!

As for my other tomatoes, it was much easier.

I bought a sweet 100- your bog standard red cherry variety, and a funky heirloom called “black krim’. I chose the black krim because it’s a globe but not a beefsteak and it was developed in Russia. I.e., if we have a cool summer it should still produce since it was bred to perform in an even colder climate than ours.

Also the fruits look SUPER COOL. Like red with black streaks. I’ve also totally bought these at farmer’s markets before, and they are super delish.

I pulled the sassy salad from the green pot- it was going to seed anyways because of the increasing sunshine- and some sure start later- the black krim was in.

It’s a pretty runty plant so far- I have to figure out how I’m going to cage it- but it looks healthy.

The sweet 100 went into my new extra large terra-cotta pot, along with granular fertilizer, sure start and lots of potting soil. I think the old tomato cages will do for this one- on Wednesday when the rain breaks I’ll assess my options.

I’ve got my eye on you miss blackberry- and while I’m probably going to have to buy you a friend in a week- you’re getting planted soon enough- wait your turn!

God I’m so excited about putting in a blackberry.

Stupid rain delays!

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.