Mid-June planting and sowing

I got a few interesting herbs at work a few days ago, but due to the heat wave I had to wait to plant them. They just sat on my work table which is slightly under the overhang of the back of the house so they didn’t get scorched.

You will note the second tarragon. My original tarragon is doing great, but it’s very low and shrubby. I like big twigs of tarragon for throwing into sauces and stews and soups, so I got a second one that was growing a tad taller.

I eat enough tarragon that it makes sense to have multiple plants.

I also got one of the best smelling mints I’ve ever had- Moroccan mint.

It’s s type of spearmint but it has a really deep and complicated scent. They make tea of it fairly commonly, I used to drink a lot of Moroccan mint tea, now I can make my own.

And yes, I bought a second Yerba Buena. I put her in the corner of the sunflower patch, so she can dramatically drape over the corner.

My most interesting purchase by far was the coyote mint.

Coyote mint isn’t a true mint, and isn’t really even a culinary herb at all. It’s a California native plant that smells like mint. It’s so native to me, it grows wild around the Russian River! It’s flowers should help feed the local bees too- I haven’t seen a sweat bee yet this year and I do worry.

I finally picked the cream of the lipstick pepper seedlings and put it in its forever home. I pulled the underperforming jalapeño to make room. Hot peppers are just not great out here, but lipstick peppers are sweet peppers so hopefully…

I used some microryzae in the pepper pot, maybe that means the roots will grow quicker.

I also took stock of my shade bed and sowed those nice black lettuce seeds that a pen pal sent me in the mail from Ohio.

And also some red scallions and some parsnips.

Now there’s some fancy dirt. I also don’t have to worry about keeping it moist, because in true San Francisco fashion, after our ridiculous heat wave… it rained this morning.

In June.

I give up.

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…

Captain’s log: November 24th 2018 (getting ready for winter edition)

The rains have ceased- for now. Starting Tuesday we’re going to have some more storms so I thought it was time to get more soil and get to work.

I went to my local garden center to get my winter herbs and plants. Now that the wet season has begun its time to plan for the big 4×4 bed that used to have fava beans.

I’m thinking a multi-crop bed with Pac Choi in the middle and romaine on one end and scallions on the other. Romaine and scallions I’m going to grow by seed, as I think I know what has killed my lettuce on the top bed- but that’s another post.

Besides lovely plants the garden center had another attraction

He was a very good boy. As his owner informed me- he’s not fat, he’s fluffy.

Many bags of soil later, I returned home to less time than I’d hoped I’d have to get things in the ground. As romantic as gardening in the dark sounds, I think I’ll just be smart and finish up tomorrow.

The number one herb I use most in the kitchen but do not grow is dill, so I thought I’d remedy that.

Luckily the dill plants were beautiful and so was the pottery. See, dill is one of those herbs which doesn’t play too well with others, so it grows better in a pot. And if you want a lot of dill, it better be a big pot.

Dill likes sun, but cooler temps. I had a dill plant in summer, which was a huge mistake, got very buggy, this one should do well.

Into the full sun bed I put some winter savory

Savory is a really nice herb that most people don’t use regularly. Perfect for stews and winter dishes, also nice to pickle with.

I cleared the chives and dead tarragon, and replaced them with a little cilantro, a medium lemon balm, and a tarragon who’s been put in plant jail.

See- when I pulled the dead tarragon I found that the roots were almost as bad as mint, and had taken over half the bed. That was some backbreaking work, and I’m not doing that again so into plant jail with you!

(In retrospect I should have put the lemon balm in a pot too- but as I am growing it to make mosquito repellant, I don’t mind if it gets over grown.)

(Mark my words I am going to regret that decision it’s a mint)

My last bit of work before it gets dark was to replace some of the spinach and Swiss chard.

Now the voids have new plants.

The Swiss chard variety that looked the best in the store was called “pink lipstick” and had pink roots!

Pink roots!!!

I have more work for tomorrow- the Pac Choi awaits. Though I’ll wait to sow the seeds til after the deluge, so they don’t get washed away.

The 4×4 bed has laid fallow for too long!

Soon.

More herb maintenance

As we get more into fall, my herbs have been looking a little ratty. I already trimmed my basil back, but a lot of my herbs have red or yellow leaves and are generally a little messy.

To say nothing of the dying shiso behemoth. Add to that a fennel going to seed, and I knew I had some work to do.

So I pulled the fennel and the shiso(s) and cut back all the flowery bits on all the other herbs along with any red or yellow leaves.

Then it was a matter of fertilizing, to prevent future discolored leaves. I use a pretty powerful kelp based fertilizer for my peppers and tomatoes- but frankly that’s horribly overpowered for herbs. For herbs I use fish emulsion.

Now there are a few problems with fish emulsion- chief of which is it smells horrific. Just… awful. But it really works and it wont burn your plants with too much nitrogen.

Think of fish emulsion as the scientific version of what a lot of grandmothers used to do when they’d bury a fish head under their roses.

Also what the Roman’s used to put on their food

The hyssop is growing well after I pinched it’s flowers:

Lots of new growth coming up. The thyme was bushy as always- I thought I was being clever putting in two plants and while I do use a lot of thyme, thyme is like mint in that it will always get overgrown.

The tarragon also needed to be pinched back, and the sage needed some undergrowth to be cleaned up.

The Oregano continues to grow mightily, which reminds me, I haven’t made tomato sauce in a while…

Anyways it’s the right time of year for this maintenance, and a good weekend to get it done.

Captain’s log: August 19th 2018

In the distance is a palm tree. All the backyards on this block are connected, which is why we have such a feral cat problem. But it also means many years ago someone a few houses down planted a goddamn palm tree like it’s goddamn Los Angeles or something and now- in this foul freezing weather, it’s tropical-ness is taunting me.

I pulled the bolting giant flat leaf parsleys. Lesson learned. Curly leaf goes in the plot- flat leaf goes in a pot- never get giant anything, and if you do- don’t get two of them. As much parsley as I use, there is such a thing as too much parsley.

I’m going to have to cut back the blue basil eventually- but oh look at the beautiful bee. (and all her friends that were buzzing around too quick to be photographed!) There was also my favorite flying insect, those long black beneficial wasps that eat grubs. I haven’t seen one this season yet, very excited for them to get to business and eat grubs for me. I am 100% team buzzing insect.

I cut back the icky yellow zucchini leaves and was rewarded by vigorous new growth. There are three buds, which is good news, and the leaves don’t look cruddy and crusty which means I cut the nasty leaves off in time.

I had a little undignified panic attack about the tomato this morning. Made the mistake of reading my Pam Peirce book on gardening in San Francisco. Got convinced my tomato was diseased instead of just cold and wet. Mom snapped me out of it by reminding me that the neighbors plant isn’t doing great either, and even in the good old days her and dad didn’t always have the best luck with tomatoes. Growing tomatoes in San Francisco is a crap shoot under the best of conditions. I think tomorrow I’ll go to my local garden center and pass some photos around and get some expert opinions. Could be my current strategy of cutting off the worst of it and hoping for warmer weather is correct! Could be it *is* fungal and I need some copper fungicide or something to spray on it. Could be it’s one of the bad tomato diseases and I’ll have to throw out the plant, throw away the dirt, and sterilize the pot! (Please not this option). Nothing I can do about it today. But doesn’t it look like one of those baby tomatoes is starting to ripen? A Neanderthal can dream!

I got the last of the bean harvest today. I think in the next few days I’ll tear down the vines and the Gerry-rigged trellis. What a success the beans were! I still have bags in the fridge waiting to be pickled and cooked. It produced for almost two whole months. Imagine if I’d staggered the planting’s and had a second double bed! I’d be getting beans till September! I definitely have some planning to do.

I picked some tarragon and chives to make some cornichon style pickled beans tonight, along with the last two purple beans.

The carrots might have aphids on and off- but the roots themselves look fine, it’s just the stems and leaves. And since you don’t eat the leaves of a carrot- I’ve decided I officially DGAF. I’m spraying the darn things and it’s working- and in a month I should have some good carrots.

The peppers are somewhat of a disappointment. Only Two out of Six of the plants are fruiting… and…

Holy crap both of the sweet red bell pepper plants are fruiting!

Four out of Six!!!!! Four out of Six!!!!!

God bless peppers and their incredible resilience in the face of crummy weather.

Also want to apologize to all the birds in my apple tree that flew out in alarm after I shouted in joy upon discovering the baby peppers.

Four out of Six!!!!

Herbal varieties

No not that kind of herb.

So if you’re lucky enough to live in an area that has a wide selection at your local garden center- or even if you’re working from seeds, or cuttings or a plant your neighbor gave you, what variety of herb or veggie you plant matters for a few reasons. I’m focusing on herbs today.

Where you are matters, as certain types of herb/veg do better in one type of climate over another. Where you are within a certain zone matters too, its not just San Francisco that has micro-climates. Herbs can be very particular about climate, soil, water- so herbs that supposedly do well in one place, that are even sold in one place, might not do well in the ground or a raised bed rather than a pot. Take culinary sage (Salvia officinalis), the usual variety of sage you find in a pot for sale at your grocery store. Fine in a pot indoors for me- but it’s never done well out back, no matter if it’s in a pot or in a raised bed. Gets all scraggly and while it doesn’t die it doesn’t really grow either. But this sage:

Has always done great in my garden. I had one plant like 15 years ago just in the depleted dirt that grew like nuts, even survived a transplant to a better bed, lived like 7 years. Had a second one in the old bed that didn’t survive the transplant to the new bed that also did well… until the failed transplant. This is plant number 3, well positioned to last another 7 or more years. It’s called “Berggarten” sage, and it’s a much more hearty variety than the thinner leaf culinary sage variety. Funny thing is- its still Salvia officinalis, just a specific named cultivar.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is also an herb that’s never done well in my garden. Genovese basil- nope. Purple basil- nope. Thai basil? Nope. It gets all wilt-y after a week and doesn’t survive the transplant into a bed. Now in the future I know to either start those varieties by seed or keep it in the pot I get it in- but I really wanted a basil in my full sun herb bed. Solution? This guy:

Which as you can see is doing really really really well.

This is African Blue Basil. It’s a sterile hybrid between African Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum) and Purple Basil. Also known as bush basil it is an indestructible juggernaut of a plant. I’d seriously consider it as a border type plant for a yard situation. The only thing that can really kill it is the one two punch of poor soil and a bad frost (this happened once almost 7 years ago, I have learned since then.) It’ll become a perennial if you baby it enough. The greatest thing is- despite the fact that it’s sterile, the flowers still attract bees- native bees in fact, not just European honey bees. It also tastes great, makes good pesto and sauces- and most importantly, doesn’t die the second a breeze hits it.

The other reason variety matters is taste. Not all varieties taste the same- in fact some herbs are called one thing colloquially but scientifically are another thing entirely. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa)  is a good example of this. Culinary Tarragon is also known as French Tarragon, and odds are any recipe you have that calls for tarragon calls for this. There are two other varieties however, Russian Tarragon which is tarragon, but a more wild variety; and Mexican Tarragon (Tagetes lucida) Which is a totally different species, and native to the new world. Now Mexican Tarragon is nice, and has been used historically as a Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa replacement, but I personally don’t think the flavor is as strong as actual tarragon.

This is French Tarragon and I had to wait for my local garden center to get it in, as they only had Russian Tarragon in for a long while. This is a totally subjective choice of course. You can have the exact opposite problem as me, and prefer one of the other tarragons- and have to wait on them. But it does go to show that variety is important, and one kind of herb, even if it’s technically the same species as with the sages- won’t necessarily perform the same in your garden- or on the plate.