April 2013: IPM and Fennel!

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Karen’s Corner: Notes from our founder

As a child, raised in the suburbs of Southern California, I grew up thinking that everyone in the world was spending their Saturdays mowing their lawn. Like clockwork, at 8:00 AM, we were awakened by the first of that would become a constant drone of humming mowers.  My dad was in a good-hearted yet fierce competition with our next door neighbor to see who could grow the most pristine dichondra on the block. They both spent hours fertilizing, weeding and watering their deep green velvety lawn, eventually meeting at the end of the day to admire their work over a cold beer.

These days, more and more San Diegans’ are carving out a patch of lawn for fruit trees, garden spaces, chicken coops or composting areas.  There are now 4 front yard gardens on my block (including ours) and more on the next block up the street. Often front yards have the best sun exposure and are perfectly suited for a veggie garden. Yet, I often hear people ask, “what will the neighbors think?”  Based on my experience, your neighbors will be curious at first, then they’ll wander over and ask a bunch of questions, then tell you how beautiful it looks.

Reinventing our food system is now part of the national dialogue. It is a critical issue just as escalating healthcare costs, food security, child nutrition and obesity are.  With over 20 million acres of America’s soil planted in lawn, it’s time for a shift in our wasteful landscape practices. Why not give up a little of that lawn, plant a fruit tree or a patch of veggies?  Nothing beats home grown taste and vegetable gardens are quite beautiful! Like my father, my husband and I spend our Saturdays working in the front yard. At the end of a long hard day, neighbors stop to admire our vegetable garden where we share a cold beer, all without the roar of a lawn mower.

Good growing to you ~ KC

April in the Garden

With the onset of warmer weather, our gardens begin to grow quickly, and with that early growth come the insects. The first to appear are usually the aphids and slugs, then the spider mites and caterpillars, with earwigs showing up in early summer, grasshoppers in mid summer and finally the dreaded tomato hornworms.  What’s an organic gardener to do?

First, and most importantly, know what you are up against.  You cannot control every insect with the same strategy. We’ve found the best way to control garden pests is a strategy similar to Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM consists of a combination of techniques, including using resistant varieties, biological control, habitat   modification and the use of organic pesticides if needed (IPM practices can also include harmful chemical products, but we choose not to use them as they can have detrimental effects on human, animal and soil health).  By keeping your soil healthy, your plants fed and your soil moisture even, you will have fewer insect problems.  But when you do, we recommend you start with the mildest form of control, moving to stronger methods if needed. Planting flowers among your veggies will encourage beneficial insects such as predatory wasps and ladybugs to visit your garden and chow down on unwanted invaders. 

Biological controls such as BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) will put an end to those terrifying tomato hornworms and Sluggo works great on snails and slugs. There are a multitude of OMRI certified insecticides that can be used safely in the garden as long as they are applied correctly.  Just remember, holes in your lettuce is not the end of the world, and if you end up with a bug on your plate, well it’s better than “pink slime” isn’t it? For more information, check out this Organic Pest Control & Product Finder.

What’s Sprouting UP

This month we finished up the Cucina Urbana rooftop kitchen garden and it looks absolutely stunning! Hauling 10 foot sections of lumber and yards of garden soil up an elevator was a first for us, but I think Kevin and the gang did a stellar job.  You can see the whole process from the first day to planting on our Facebook page.

Our next exciting project is installing part of an exhibit at The New Children’s Museum downtown.  Watch for more info and photos of this project aptly named “Feast! The Art of Playing With Your Food”.  The Grand Opening will be in October.  Stay tuned!

What’s Fresh?

FENNEL! This versatile vegetable is easy to grow and adds flavor and crunch to almost any meal.  For those of you who have not tried fennel, it has a very mild licorice, leaning toward celery flavor.  If you plant it in your garden, let one plant go to seed and you’ll have fennel forever!  If you harvest the bulb by cutting it off the root, the plant will form more bulbs, and some roots will even overwinter.  Fennel can be difficult to transplant, so direct seed if you can in early spring. It’s a beautiful garden plant and attracts Swallowtail butterflies that  lay their eggs on the ferny growth.  The caterpillars just eat the foliage, so you can harvest the bulb,  leave the greens in the garden and caterpillars will eat their fill while you enjoy your precious harvest. Try thinly sliced fennel with fresh chopped orange segments.  Throw on a bit of finely minced red onion and some good olive oil and you’ve got a salad that can’t be beat!

Helpful Tips

COMPANION PLANTING: above ground and below. We always add flowers when planting our vegetable gardens.  The splashes of color are a treat to our senses and they attract beneficial insects such as Lacewings and tiny Trichogramma Wasps that will make a meal of aphids and cabbage loopers. Below ground the diversity of the plants will promote a good healthy soil biology, as different fungi and bacteria are attracted to different varieties of plants. Give your garden a boost this year by planting some flowers among your veggies!

FRUIT THINNING: It’s time to reduce the stress on your fruit trees by removing high concentrations of fruit on the branches. Fruit Thinning is important to the health of your fruit trees, especially  young trees, and will promote better fruit quality this year and next.  Broken branches and inferior fruit may result if there is too much fruit on one branch.
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