(Blowing dust from the keyboard) I’ve been gone for more than a little while - my last post was in July and I’d like to chalk things up to a busy summer cultivating the fields, but I think that that excuse is a few months past honest. 

One of the things that I have done is develop a new website where I can organize my content so that it can more easily be used as a resource for the would-be gardener. 

Since July, the garden beds have moved from summer veg into cool-season crops. Cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, romanesco, potatoes, garlic, leeks, carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, and dill are currently flourishing in the cool, moist weather that we’ve been having. The searingly-hot Southern Californian summer is fast approaching. Transplanting tomatoes into the bed where I am currently growing cabbage is but three weeks away. 

I’ve also been bringing the camera into the kitchen and using it to make short films. My next post will be a short film that I’ve just made. 

Thank you to those who encouraged me to keep posting. 

I was always planning on continuing but the nudges were inspiring. With camera snapping and keys clicking, I am in the saddle once again!

See these insects getting “intimate”? They are bagrada bugs (Bagrada hilaris) and they can be a severe pain in my neck. I have recently observed several bagrada bugs on the weedy mustards surrounding the farm and while I have learned to manage the insects organically, I am never thrilled when they turn up. 

If you’re from anywhere in North America that isn’t Southern California or Arizona then bagrada bus are most likely unfamiliar to you. The insect’s native range lies in southern and eastern Africa and in the southern regions of Europe and Asia. The first documented appearance of the this insect on the North American continent occurred in 2008 in Los Angeles County. Shortly after their North American debut, the pest descended on my crops, laying waste mainly to the brassicaceous plants (the mustard family - cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radish, etc…) that they prefer.

Bagrada bugs are gregarious, have a short generation time, and they love to mate. They suck the sap from the tender tissues of crops killing seedlings and rendering more mature plants ugly and/or unproductive. Unfortunately, they are also fairly resistant to common organic pesticides - a worthy opponent, indeed!

I’ll share my strategies for particularly pesky pests like bagrada bugs in my next post.

If you’ve dealt with this pest, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Learn more about the bagrada bug here. http://cisr.ucr.edu/bagrada_bug.html

Grow Some Potatoes!

A store-bought potato is a mere shadow of its home-grown counterpart. I recommend growing fingerling and waxy varieties as these are the most delicious and most expensive at the market. If you tend to purchase these types of potatoes this might just be a crop where a small-scale planting can save you some money. A pound of seed potatoes will cost you around $5 and will ideally yield around 10 pounds of mature tubers.

What a Potato Prefers

  • Season:A cool season crop; hot soil (around 26oC/80oF) causes plants to stop producing tubers
  • Sun: Full blast
  • Moisture:Well-drained and consistently moist
  • Soil Fertility: Mid-range feeders; will grow in moderate fertility but will flourish in rich soil
  • Soil pH:Acidic 
  • Other Soil Characteristics: Loose and free of stones
  • What to Plant: Seed potatoes
  • Spacing: 12 inches between seed pieces; 2 - 3 feet between rows
  • Planting Depth: 1 inch

photos of potato-growing steps are here

How to Grow Some Potatoes…

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All oiled up, covered in salt and pepper, and ready to throw in the oven!

Potatoes are nutrient and calorie dense, easy to grow and propagate, and store well in both the field and home. These characteristics have made this particular tuber a champion food of the peasantry and a crop that has been pivotal in shaping history. Potatoes enjoy a cool environment that approximates their ancestral (domesticated) home in the Peruvian Andes where they have been grown since before the time of the Incas. This is where generations of painstaking observation and skilled cultivation have provided humanity with thousands of varieties of starchy, tuberous deliciousness. Surely, at least one variety will suit your garden and your palate.  

Check-out these traditional agroecosystems up in the Peruvian Andes. 

Garden Pests - Manage Those Aphids

It’s early in the morning. The cup of coffee in your hand is delicious and helps to insulate your hands from the pleasantly crisp morning air. You stroll among the rows upon rows of thriving vegetable plants that you have helped bring into existence feeling proud of this most magnificent accomplishment. You hook a thumb through a belt loop and draw a long breath to puff out your chest. Your garden is positively thriving. You look fondly at the dew drops clinging to small leaves of lettuce and… what the #*!$ is uglying-up those leaves!?! A perfect morning RUINED (well maybe not ruined but no longer quite as perfect).

How to Prevent Pests from Spoiling a Perfect Morning

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about growing lettuce, it is a fairly easy crop to grow and isn’t all that prone to pest issues. The two pests that I have had some trouble with are aphids and slugs. What follows are some simple ways that you might deal with aphids. Advice for slugs coming soon (this is turning into a serious tome). As with all pest-control issues try to learn to accept a few pests in the garden. You can only hope to MANAGE pest populations; eradication is unnecessary and often an unrealistic goal. 

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Grow Some Lettuce! - Baby Greens

On Monday I wrote about growing head lettuce. Here are a few more details on how to grow it to cut as greens…

Growing lettuce to cut and use as a greens mix is a great option for several reasons. Where it takes seventy days or so to grow a head, baby lettuces are ready in as few as thirty days. After you cut that lettuce back and eat a supremely sublime salad, the greens will grow again, not once, not twice, but at least thrice. The flavour of baby lettuces is far more mild than the mature version (and that may or may not be an advantage) though you do sacrifice a bit of crunch. Finally, a bed of baby lettuce is a beautiful thing!

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Speaking of lettuce… look at this butterhead! Learn to grow your own right here.

Speaking of lettuce… look at this butterhead! Learn to grow your own right here.

Grow Some Lettuce!

Sure, iceberg and romaine are both crunchy and do little to offend the palate but your salad frontiers need not end here. There are hundreds of varieties of lettuce and nearly all are easy to grow. These varieties range in flavour from mild to sweet to bitter, and in colour from pale green to the blood red. My favorites include “Brune d’Hiver” (Reddish-brown butterhead), “Forellenschluss”! (A speckled romaine) and “Mascara” (a purple-red leaf variety with deeply-divided, wavy leaves). 

Lettuce is easy to grow is thus a great starter crop with which to hone your skills. It prefers cool to moderate temperatures but otherwise doesn’t ask too much of you the gardener. Like almost all vegetables it prefers a well drained soil and consistent moisture; however, unlike other crops lettuce will tolerate a fair bit of shade (though it does best in full to partial sun). 

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Farm stand today - some beautiful food for sale! The photo of the harvest board should give you a good idea of what’s in season in Southern California right now.

I’ve got a farm stand coming up this Saturday. This means lots of harvesting, washing, packing, stacking, and pricing to do. I will be pulling beets, radishes, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, mustard greens and perhaps a few stalks of sugarcane from the farm. The Arboretum’s orchards will offer up “Valencia” oranges, “Bacon” and “Hass” avocados, and “Meyer” lemons. 
This is a photo of a farm stand in the late autumn of last year. Working our way from the foreground to the background we have: “Valencia” oranges, pomegranates, “Hachiya” and “Fuyu” persimmons, bananas, eggplants, and way in the back we have some bell peppers and pumpkins.     

I’ve got a farm stand coming up this Saturday. This means lots of harvesting, washing, packing, stacking, and pricing to do. I will be pulling beets, radishes, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, mustard greens and perhaps a few stalks of sugarcane from the farm. The Arboretum’s orchards will offer up “Valencia” oranges, “Bacon” and “Hass” avocados, and “Meyer” lemons. 

This is a photo of a farm stand in the late autumn of last year. Working our way from the foreground to the background we have: “Valencia” oranges, pomegranates, “Hachiya” and “Fuyu” persimmons, bananas, eggplants, and way in the back we have some bell peppers and pumpkins.