Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Plant of the Week: Baby Tomatoes!

I just can't help it. It's that time of year when all you can do is wait in anticipation for harvest time (cut short by a few weeks by frying up some green tomatoes). This little one is an Early Girl who got a late start. (Does that make her a Punctual Girl?) For information on growing tomatoes, check out my very first post to this blog. This week I'm not detailing growing information, just getting lost in daydreams of too many tomatoes and not enough recipes! However, here's a few places to get some great seeds and starts: Spiral Gardens, Kassenhoff Growers, or the Seed Savers Exchange.

And hey, why not? Let's throw in a recipe for fried green tomatoes:

Prepare 3 shallow bowls: fill one halfway with milk, one halfway with flour and one halfway with either cornmeal and your choice of spices, salt and pepper OR a cornmeal based fish fry.
Slice 2 or 3 large green tomatoes about 1/4" thick and dredge through the flour.
Dip in milk and dredge through the cornmeal mixture.
Meanwhile, start a frying pan on the stove with high heat and more oil than you want to use (1/4" to 1/2" deep). Any oil is fine, I use olive.
Fry the smothered tomatoes until they're brown on each side. Set them on a little stack of paper-towels and dab them a bit to get rid of the excess oil.
Eat plain, with mayonnaise, or make a fancy aioli.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Watch Out Boys, She'll Chew You Up!

I'm speaking, of course of ladybugs! My aunt referred me to this amazing project out of Cornell University called The Lost Ladybug Project. They're looking for help in cataloging native lady beetles (the "proper" common name) and studying the spread of exotic species. The website beams with fun information and instructions on finding and taking photos of lady beetles and sending it in.
Did you know that lady beetles were named after the Virgin Mary when a swarm miraculously arrived to devour the aphids that were destroying the crops in Europe? The farmers, so grateful for an answer to their prayers, named their new friends "Our Lady Beetles."
It seems that native species are in decline in the US, however so scientists are interested in discovering the extent of the loss and perhaps coming to a conclusion as to why. The little lady above posed for my contribution. I think she's a Hippodamia convergens. Do your part! Find some ladybugs and be a scientist for a day!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Bulb Catalogs Have Arrived!

I have been looking, musing and looking again at the pages of my new bulb catalogs! Here's how it typically goes: look at every page, dog ear a few, flip back, fold the dog ear back, circle a few items, each round more emphatic until you can't read the typle, order the bulbs after 2 months of deliberations, and wait impatiently for the garden to match the beautiful pages that by this point have become folded and wrinkled from handling and spots of spilled tea. This year I'm going to order some mariposa lilies and some pink brodiaea and maybe even some daffodils because who can resist?! What bulbs are you planning on planting this fall?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Garden Gate

What fun to have completed the front fence and gate to match our Storybook style house! We like open designs to let the stray cats and bumblebees through and I wanted an excuse to shop for cool hardware! Check out these cool little decorative nail-heads...

Plus, it was just nice to get back into the shop again and feel like a tough girl. All in all, a creative little project in which the only problem is I don't have an excuse to make another one! (not yet, anyway...)

Volunteers Found!

Apparently, the local birds and squirrels are looking to take my Coastal Sage Scrub plant community and turn it into a Mixed Evergreen Forest, judging from the number of volunteer oak seedlings that have sprung up in the side yard. I love thinking about the journey this seed took, where it came from, and if this is how oak woodlands are created.

Plant of the Week: San Miguel Island Buckwheat

The Idora Design headquarters garden will prominently feature Eriogonum grande rubescens. Why, you ask? Well, this evergreen perennial forms a mat of pretty spoon-shaped leaves and begs for attention by sending a fireworks display of pink flowers two feet up into the air. It doesn't stop there, either. The flowers slowly fade to rust, suggesting the deepening of the seasons as winter nears and contrasting with the fuzzy white undersides of the leaves. Did I mention that it attracts all sorts of fun pollinators such as hover flies or the square spotted blue butterfly?

Soil: well drained to clay
Sun: yes.
Height: less than a foot with foliage, up to two feet with flower stalks
Plant: start with a 4" or 1 gallon container and plant any time you like. They're tough ladies.
Buy it: at Annie's, of course! You can also try your local nursery if they seem to have caught the native bug. (ask them anyway and maybe they'll catch it!)
Good for: adding a splash of pink to the garden, contrasting with light foliage plants like dudleya pulverulenta, and attracting beneficial insects!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Field Trip: Death Valley Road

Here you are, driving along a solitary desert road and not feeling very impressed with the scenery. Sure there's some sagebrush and picturesque clouds, but STOP THE CAR! you see a spot of fuscia, the brakes go screech and out you jump. Feet hitting the dusty gravel, your eyes begin to focus on the minutiae of desert life. A cactus here, a lizard there. The details are breathtaking.

Insects congregated around spots of color. These creepy-crawlies looked like giant aphids with three spots of scarlet down their backs. Too busy to stop and chat, they weren't about to tell me what their names were.

Little orange lovelies stood by the roadside waving us farther along, as if we were part of a grand parade until we rounded a corner and came across a sudden change in micro climate.

With no warning, we found ourselves in the company of Joshua trees as far as the eye could see. A young red-tailed hawk circled the air above us and I was absolutely speechless.

It's safe to say I've found a new obsession.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Field Trip: Convict Lake

What an amazing time we had exploring the Eastern Sierra! Here we are standing in the midst of Convict Lake, made giddy by the view. I can't get over how different the Eastern side seems from the Western side that I'm so used to. I'll be posting photos of our adventures throughout the week, but I'll begin with the hike we took around the lake with friends and family who congregated here for my cousin's wedding.

As we hiked farther above the lake, these castillejas were dotting the landscape with bright bits of red. It's always so thrilling to discover a plant you've only read about! They were resting on the hillside along with what I think is some sort of yellow buckwheat.

I'm still so excited about what we saw, that I'm having a hard time editing down my photos! I'll end with a few more- one of the spectacular view facing the Sierra range...

And a sweet little oenothera, or evening primrose dressed up in her finest just for our visit.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Plant of the Week: Parry's Agave

Ok, Ok so it's not native to California, but I'm drooling over Agave parryii's dramatic blue and dark purple contrast and the spine imprints on the backs of the leaves. Hot! This fella is native to New Mexico and through much of the Southwest. As you can imagine, drought tolerance is an added bonus.
In a few years it will send up a very tall flower stalk, bloom some yellow flowers and leave a few children behind to start it all over before perishing.

Soil: well drained. Add small chunks of lava rock if your soil veers on the clay side of things
Sun: full-blast, South or West-facing
Height: gets up to 2.5' wide and tall. The flower stalks can tower to 12'!
Plant: in the late springtime, after root-rotting winter rains
Buy it: Cactus Jungle in Berkeley. It's beautifully curated and they have greyhounds!
Good for: contrasting color with plants like dudleya pulverulenta or eriogonum grande rubescens and for folks who are forgetful when it comes to watering.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

10 Minute Sculpture

So I rewarded myself for weeding by putting up a quick sculpture this afternoon. I'm sure I'm not the first to think of this, but take a stick of rebar, scrunch it down into the ground and thread with terracotta pots. Viola! You've got yourself a ten minute sculpture and a great little high-rise apartment building for spiders (please wear gloves). A bit of Brancusi provencial, no?
The material at the base of the pots are bits of tumbled ceramic from Building Resources. They are a non-profit that encourages the reuse of building materials. And they're just super nice, passionate people to boot.

Stick Cheesy "Bee" Play on Words Here

With many thanks to Larner Seeds, I am happy to have finally found a book regarding the preservation of California native bees: the Pollinator Conservation Handbook. The Xerxes Society and The Bee Works teamed up to help out us gardeners who aren't fluent in entomologese. Sure, it's an instructional book, but it's quite entertaining- explaining (almost) all you need to know to begin your pollinator crusade. It introduces the unique characteristics of our local pollinators and explains what habitats they require. And because it focuses on all native pollinators, it can quickly make a bee geek into a beetle nerd. After reading this book, I impulsively purchased three insect identification books and I'm endlessly spouting off my new knowledge, audience or no. Did you know that most native bees live in the soil? (all I hear are crickets...)
My only burning question after completing the book relates to the question of mulch vs. bee habitat. Mulch is a miracle worker in the garden, conserving water, supressing weeds and slowly enriching the soil as it breaks down. However, the ground that you're covering is also critical bee habitat. Oh, the dilemma! I found an article in the latest issue of Bay Nature that suggests leaving 50% of your garden bare and the remaining mulched. It's a place to start, however my last month of pulling weeds has informed me that most folks want to mimimize that sort of thing entirely. (If I had done it before they all flowered and spread themselves throughout the greater Oakland area, my job wouldn't have been nearly as difficult, but I digress...) I'm sure there's a more nuanced solution out there- any suggestions?

The photo shows my newest, favoritest bee at the moment: the black carpenter bee.