March 2014: California Drought Tips For Your Garden…And Kumquats!

Gardening tips, recipes and helpful information you can use!!

Karen’s Corner: Notes from our founder

Our California drought is making National news, reminding us why farming and gardening organically is so important. What do organic gardening techniques have to do with drought? Everything! Good soil health is key to it’s ability to retain moisture. Soil that is full of organic material, such as compost and composted animal manure contains more soil biology and air space for water molecules to collect in. Imagine your soil is a sponge with pockets of air that become filled with water when it rains. As roots penetrate the porous soil, they have access to these  little water pockets. Walking on your garden will compress the soil making it unable retain air or water. Building raised beds, or creating set pathways will help with this problem. Mulching your garden, around the plants and in walkways will help keep the soil moist and reduce evaporation.

Of course there are dozens of other reasons to grow organically, including food safety. Did you know that strawberries are the most chemically intensive crop in California, containing methyl bromide, a toxic, ozone-depleting chemical, to eradicate all fungi, nematodes, microorganisms and weeds, effectively killing every living thing in the soil where strawberry plants are grown? No thank you… I have strawberries growing right out my front door – ready for cereal or dessert most of the year. For more info on “The Dirty Dozen” check out this web site:

It is possible to grow a garden in times of drought. Keep it organic and you’re doing your part for the planet and your health.

Good growing to you (organically, of course!) ~ KC

In the Garden:

The days are getting longer and spring is in the air! Thoughts of the first homegrown tomato of the season makes your mouth water. We are sowing flats fast and furiously getting seedlings ready for planting, but in the meantime, you might like to try starting some of your own. Here are five easy seed starting tips to get you going.

1. Make sure it’s the right season. As a general rule, there are warm season and cool season crops. Tomatoes, peppers, and beans are warm season crops, while lettuces, broccoli, and beets are cool season crops. Things can get a little tricky since San Diego has an extended growing season, but here is a handy Planting Calendar from The Master Gardener’s Association of San Diego that makes choosing the correct plants a breeze.

2. Plant what you like to eat. This is pretty self explanatory, but don’t plant lettuce because it’s easy to grow if you are never going to eat it. Don’t waste your time. ‘Nuff said.

3. Choose a trusted seed source. Save yourself some heartache and go with a tried and true supplier for seeds. Make sure to note the germination rate. Don’t forget that seed viability varies; some go bad sooner than others. A Way to Garden has an interesting article on Estimating Viability. Your best bet is to perform a germination test.

4. Reuse containers. No need to get fancy-schmancy with your seed starting set-up. Reuse yogurt cups, milk cartons, to-go containers- anything that will hold soil and that is about 2-3 inches deep will work. Just make sure your container has good drainage.

5. Soil Matters. To ensure that you give your seedlings the best start possible, make sure to begin with the right growing medium. You want something with fine particles, good drainage, and not too rich with nutrients. Your local nursery or garden center should have something labeled as a “seed starting mix” or you can try making your own mix. Don’t forget to add a healthy dose of love!

If you read through these tips and thought to yourself, “Hey, I can totally do that”, here is one more seed starting article to help get you moving. Remember, the most important thing is to just get out there and get your hands dirty!

What’s Fresh?

KUMQUATS have taken center stage the San Diego food scene right now. These cute little 1-½ inch fruits really tantalize your taste buds with a giant burst of both sweet and tart flavor. But did you know that there are actually several different varieties? Our favorites at UP are the Meiwa (Fortunella crassifolia) and Nagami (Fortunella japonica) varieties. Kumquats are very cold tolerant, withstanding temperatures below freezing. They will flower in the summer and produce mature fruits in late winter. Meiwa fruits are preferred for fresh eating and tend to be more spherical and round, rather than oval or oblong. They have a thick rind, which make the fruits seem sweeter. They have few seeds, or might even be seedless. Nagami fruits are oval and have a thin rind, making them seem more tart. Each fruit can contain 3-6 seeds.

Cooking with these flavor-packed, bite-sized orange globes might seem a bit daunting, but we suggest thinly slicing them in a Kale Kumquat Salad, roughly chopping them to make Candied Kumquats or Kumquat Honey Marmalade, or simply popping them into your favorite adult beverage and making your own Kumquat infused Vodka or Gin.

Helpful Tips:

With the drought on our minds, here are some tips and tidbits that you might find useful.

• Salt damage on avocados and strawberries will become more apparent due to the reduced rainfall. Less water means that the salts will concentrate in the water table. Leaves will look brown on the edges or sometimes mottled yellow and will fall off prematurely. One low-tech solution is to set out buckets to collect rainwater and give them a good drench.

• Check for plant varieties that list drought tolerance. They will perform well in the garden while helping conserve precious water. Try searching for “drought” on reputable seed websites such as High Mowing Organic Seeds or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

• Plants might start to look droopy and wilty in the heat of the day. Your veggies will perk up again during the cool hours of the evening and morning as long as you keep your watering schedule consistent.

• If you are watering by hand, water early in the mornings or in the cooler evenings. Avoiding the heat of the day will reduce evaporation.

What’s Sprouting at UP:

Want to grow food but don’t think you have the space? Well, think again! UP has been busy installing some patio gardens that make extremely efficient use of small spaces. Our new client, Dayl, surprised her husband with a gorgeous new patio garden for their anniversary and Valentine’s Day. How’s that for saying I love you?

These patio garden boxes were assembled and filled with our premium garden soil mix. We planted a nice mix of leafy greens (kale, lettuce, spinach, and arugula) as well as some bunching onions, celery, cilantro and parsley. Edible flowers added a touch of color to round out the project. We also converted two existing large flower pots into mini-herb gardens. The final touch was transplanting a new Meyer Lemon tree. Dayl prefers to hand water her planter boxes, but we are more than happy to install a simple automated system if you would prefer. This project came out wonderfully and we hope that our new clients enjoy their patio garden for years to come.

Here We Grow Again:

Erin joined the California Farm and Garden team in late 2013, bringing with him extensive knowledge of small-scale organic farming. Before joining the team, he worked for Maple Rock Farm, one of the largest organic produce farms in San Juan County, Washington. He’s a graduate of the University of Colorado and holds a B.A. in Geography and is an avid outdoorsman. You’ll find Erin working on our home garden installations and maintenance projects.


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