California Farm and Garden

Here you’ll find farming and gardening terms, and green concepts.

Annual – a plant that grows, flowers, seeds, and dies within a single year or growing season. A summer annual completes its life cycle entirely in the warmer months, whereas a winter annual sprouts in the fall, lives throughout the winter and blooms and dies in spring. Examples include: corn, wheat, peas, beans, and melons. A term used in contrast to “biennial” and “perennial.”

Biennial – a plant that grows and dies within two years or growing seasons. The plant often needs vernalization or a dormancy period between seasons, which is necessary for the plant to flower, fruit, and seed. Examples include: lettuce, spinach, carrot, parsley, and leek. A term used in contrast to “annual” and “perennial.”

Bolt or Bolting – a plant that has gone to seed, often rending its edible leaves bitter. The plant’s energy has switched focus from leaf-growing to producing flowers and seeds.

Citrus – a genus of flowering plants that includes many variations. Most of our current citrus are heirloom mixes or hybrids of four main ancestors. This genus includes the lemon, orange, pummelo, citron, lime, mandarin, and grapefruit.

Companion Planting – the concept of planting different plants together because of their complementary behaviors, minerals, structure, or attractiveness to pollinators or even pests. For example, if you plant lettuce, broccoli and sage together: the broccoli will shade the lettuce, the lettuce will increase the broccoli’s productivity, and the sage will deter slugs on the lettuce.

Compost & Compostingthe process of decomposing plant matter into humus. This transition requires a unique balance of oxygen, water, carbon, nitrogen-rich materials, and heat derived from the microbial activities of creatures like bacteria and earthworms. Compost is often used as nutrient-rich fertilizer and is popular due to its organic, sustainable properties.

Drip Irrigation a punctured tube that slowly emits water directly to the root zone. Drip irrigation is more effective at watering their intended plants and wastes less water.

Food Desert – areas of the United States that lack access to a grocery store, farmers market, or other source of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole foods. The USDA defines a “low-access community” as involving at least 500 people or 33% of the population residing more than a mile from a grocery store.

Food Insecure – a person or family who is not always sure from where their next meal will come. Food-insecure people in San Diego make up 14% of the population, which is also the national average.

GMOs – Genetically Modified Organisms. Humans extract genes from one organism and insert them into another, unrelated organism. A more sophisticated take on hybridization, the genes are selected and inserted because of cultivated characteristics. For example, conventional American corn is genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant, allowing commercial farmers to spray their fields liberally with herbicide to kill competing weeds. Conventional American corn is also bred with an insecticide in its genes, making the plant resistant to particular corn-devouring insects. GMO products remain controversial regarding their disputed health side-effects.

Heirloom – an older variety, passed down through generations. These plants are pollinated naturally, without human intervention (unlike hybrid or GMO plants). The resulting fruits can vary in flavor, shape, color, and size.

Humus – the organic material result of the decomposition of plant matter. Humus is the ideal result of composting and is a highly-effective fertilizer.

Hybrid – a variety that’s been cultivated by gardeners and farmers to have certain characteristics. These plants tend to be hardier, more disease-resistant, and produce consistent fruit – whatever characteristic has been bred into the variety.

Micro-sprayerssprinklers that are plugged into an irrigation line and work by spraying a small, focused circumference of water low to the ground. Micro-sprayers are more effective at watering their intended plants and waste less water.

Mulching – organic materials spread around plants with multiple uses. Can consist of peat, hay, wood chips, compost, or grass clippings. Mulch blocks weeds, prevents water evaporation from the soil, reduces soil compaction, and encourages microbial activity.

Neonicotinoid – a type of insecticide related to nicotine that targets neuro-receptors. Imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, is the most widely-used insecticide worldwide (used under many brand names). Certain neonicotinoids are banned in the European Union for the risk they pose to bees and their contribution to the widespread colony-collapse disorder.

OMRI Listed/Certified – a product favorably reviewed by the Organic Materials Review Institute. This nonprofit independently reviews agricultural products intended for use in certified organic farming and production. OMRI reviews the products against the organic standards. OMRI Listed or Certified products are considered acceptable for organic use.

Organic – grown without artificial pesticides or artificial chemicals.

Perenniala plant that grows and dies within a period longer than 2 years. This is a broad term that includes ferns, trees, shrubs, and woody herbs. Native habitats and contrasting growing climates make perennials a varied group. For example, tomatoes are years-old perennials in their native tropics, but in colder climates are grown instead as annuals. Perennial plants have long root systems, which make them adept at gathering water and nutrients deep in the soil. Examples include: potato, peony, basil, asparagus, rhubarb. A term used in contrast to “annual” and “biennial”.

Pesticide – a substance used to control or kill any insect or plant considered a pest. While some insects are beneficial, many weaken or destroy crops, often in large numbers. There are many kinds of pesticides including neonicotinoids, OMRI-certified (safe for organic farming) products, and liquid soap, which can deter powdery mildew.

Seasonal transitions – removal of plants from previous season and replanting with plants for the upcoming season. Southern California has two growing seasons -warm and cool- during which certain plants grow best. Therefore, transition periods are in spring and fall.

Stone Fruit – also known as a “drupe”, a stone fruit produces a seed encased in a pit, encased in fleshy fruit. Its defining characteristic is that the pit is derived from the ovary wall of the flower. Examples include coconut, mango, date, coffee, and most of the Prunus genus, such as almond, plum, and peach.

Succession Planting – either a staggered planting of a crop or planting another crop immediately after harvesting. The goal is to be growing and harvesting as frequently as possible.

Sustainable (sustainability) – able to be used without being completely consumed. Methods that do not destroy resources. Able to continue for a long time.

Thinning – the removal of a portion of seedlings or plants that are growing too closely together.

Urban Farmingthe practice of agriculture in a city setting. It is designed to be as productive as possible on a smaller scale than rural commercial farms. Urban Farming efforts have various goals: retail profit, community gardening and/or involvement, providing fresh produce and/or food security for families, eliminating “food deserts,” and supplying food banks, shelters, or restaurants. The Urban Farming umbrella may include horticulture, beekeeping, flower growing, animal husbandry, aquaculture, composting systems, and edible orchards. Urban Farming brings revitalized soil, vegetables, and herbs to places dominated by cars and concrete. It offers education, local nutrition, and a visceral connection with the land.

Vernalization – the process by which plants benefit from a winter dormancy period and then flower in spring. The duration and temperature necessary varies by plant and is called “chill hours.” Many plants will not flower without vernalization.