An Alameda Garden: 2011

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Are You Pinterested?

I confess that I have reached a point of near-saturation as far as social networking goes. There are only so many sites you can check in on, post on, and maintain some interest in in order to connect with people you may or may not actually know. But I recently discovered a site that I'm truly having fun with: Pinterest. Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that functions as a social network. It allows you to "pin" things that you see on the Internet to "boards" that you create on the topics that interest you. Your pinned items are seen by others and can be "repinned" so that a lot of sharing goes on. As with Twitter, you can choose to follow people with similar interests to see what they're pinning and, likewise, people can follow you and see what you're pinning.

When I first heard about Pinterest, my initial reaction was, "what's the point?" But it only took me a short time of playing around in Pinterest to get it. Pinterest is a place where ideas can spark and catch fire. As I started pinning garden-related photos, I found lots of ideas swirling around of things I wanted to try in my garden, things I wanted to write about, things I wanted to research further. I'm interested in Mexican and Spanish style in the garden and I spent some time looking for images of that. I've also been thinking about fairies lately and I had a lot of fun exploring photos of fairy gardens. And naturally, I'm interested in edible gardening so I looked for those images too. All of them went onto my "Garden Scenes I Love" board. And there's no limit to the boards you can have, so I'm also working on boards for "Crafts", "For the Home", and "Places I'd Like to Go."

I think Pinterest could be a fun and worthwhile place to play around. If you'd like to follow me on Pinterest, just click the following button:

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Monday, October 31, 2011

I'm Back (Though I Was Never Really Gone)

It's hard to believe I haven't posted here since June 28th. This summer seems to have passed in a blur and we're already well into autumn. All I can say is that this blog has been up and running for five years now and this was a much-needed break.

In case you're wondering what I was doing while I wasn't blogging, the bulk of my time went into writing the book I announced last MayCalifornia Fruit and Vegetable Gardening. This is my first book and writing it was really fun and really, really exhausting. It will be published in February so I'm now working on marketing plans. In a distant past life I was a marketing communications writer for a few years, so this process is a little like using muscles I haven't used in ages--exhilarating and painful. In the next few months I'll be developing a website for the book, but for now you can go to to check it out and pre-order it. And to follow the process to publication and beyond and also pick up lots of links to great edible gardening sources, you can Like the Facebook page for the book.

Besides writing the book I traveled to Indianapolis in August for the Garden Writers Association Symposium. I met lots of terrific fellow garden writers, toured some beautiful gardens, and discovered that the myth of Midwesterners being exceptionally nice people is really true. Then I went to Michigan to visit my dad and stepmom and explored my dad's native habitat in the U.P. I also left a few dollars behind in the Indian casinos. Enough said.

If there's one thing I wasn't doing during my blogging break it was gardening and it shows. My gardens are a weedy disaster right now. But I'm anxious to clear out the debris from this year's garden and start planning next year's garden. I got started this weekend and there's much work ahead. I have plans to redo my front yard with a mix of edibles and ornamentals and I'm hoping to return my back yard to some kind of order and make it a place to really relax. More on that in future posts.

It feels good be blogging again!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sad Story of Chicken Slaughter

This is very sad and way too close to home. If the kids that have been arrested are responsible, I hope they get the help they need. Killing animals like this is a bad, bad sign.

If you want to donate to the Growing Youth Project to help them replace the chickens, you can do so on their web page.

(Hat tip: Paolo Lucchesi, SFGate)
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Friday, May 27, 2011

UC Botanical Garden Releases Guide to the Local Wildlife

The more I garden, the more I learn about wildlife. Flora and fauna are inseparable and you can't truly appreciate one without the other. So it makes perfect sense that UC Botanical Garden has created a guide to the wildlife commonly found in the surrounding East Bay hills.

I went to the launch party for this handy little publication last week and enjoyed hearing Garden Director Paul Licht explain how the publication came to be. Years in the making and beautifully illustrated by local artist Dana Gardner, the guide is laminated and folds up to fit easily in a pocket to take with you on nature walks. It identifies over a hundred birds, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects that you're likely to find in the Botanical Garden and throughout the hills of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

 The launch party gave me an excuse to take some time out to ramble around the garden as well. And as if on cue, a little bit of wildlife made an appearance. And with the help of the Illustrated Guide to Common Animals of the East Bay Hills, I was able to identify these guys as a Western Fence Lizard and a Bumblebee. (Actually, I kinda already knew that last one.)

It is a gorgeous time for a visit to the Botanical Garden. The Garden of Old Roses is heavily in bloom and the scent is overwhelming. And on a tip from Vanessa Crews, the Garden's Development Director, I made a point of checking out the puyas in the South American gardens.  I'd never seen these in bloom before and--just wow!

The water garden in the Asian gardens are brilliant now too. The iris are in bloom, as are the water lilies. The spot is cool and serene, really a lovely place to sit for a while and reflect.

I wish I'd had more time to spend in the Botanical Garden but I'm a member now and I hope to make it back over there more often.

The Illustrated Guide to Common Animals of the East Bay Hills is available for purchase in the Gift Shop of the UC Botanical Garden for $8.95.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

High Tech for Gardeners

I'm beginning to suspect that a lot of gardeners are getting seriously tech-savvy lately, and what's more, manufacturers and retailers are taking note. If you are at all so inclined, you should check out an article in today's NY Times by Farhad Manjoo discussing an assortment of high-tech tools for the garden. He covers everything from climate-sensitive irrigation control to Roomba-like lawn mowers to (my personal favorite and something I might actually invest in) squirrel-and-other-rodent deterrents. Although I've generally avoided bringing anything electronic into my garden other than my mp3 player, some of these tools may actually be worth the price.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Alameda Gardener Turns Book Author!

If anybody's been wondering why I haven't been blogging for the past several weeks, I swear I have a good excuse. I've been busy. Really busy. And mostly I've been busy with boring work and life stuff. But there's been one item on my on-going to-do list that I'm pretty excited about. After several weeks of ironing out details, today I signed a contract with Cool Springs Press to write a book! Its working title is California Fruit and Vegetable Gardening and it will be released next February. The manuscript is due mid-July, which means ... well, it means I'm already behind schedule. But I'm not worried. I'm very excited about this opportunity and the geek in me that loves doing research is all a-twitter at the good times ahead.

I'll be posting updates to this Facebook page as the book comes together, so feel free to check in and follow along. Notes of encouragement, questions about gardening, or cruel taunts that I'll be spending most of my summer glued to my computer are all welcome and appreciated. 

Let the writing/gardening fun begin!

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Opening Day at SF Flower & Garden Show 2011

The first day of the SF Flower & Garden Show always seems a little overwhelming. There's so much to see and I get a very bad case of "I want-itis" when I see all the cool new plants and outdoor stuff. I decided to postpone any actual purchasing until later in the week and just focus the first day on viewing the demo gardens. Unlike previous years, there was no one garden that completely wow-ed me, but there were elements that I really liked about almost every garden. Here's a small sample of what I saw:

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Forget the Rain--The SF Garden Show Starts Today!

Since you can't be out in the garden in this weather anyway, you might as well be at the SF Flower & Garden Show. There will be amazing demo gardens and lots of great seminars. There's a big focus this year on edible gardening and even cooking demos from Bay Area chefs. SFGate has a helpful write-up of the highlights and you can get the full seminar schedule on the SF Garden Show web site. The Show runs through Sunday.

Courtesy of the SF Flower & Garden Show

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Monday, March 21, 2011

This One's for Daffodil Lovers

It's the first full day of spring, so it seems appropriate to focus on one of spring's icons: daffodils. If you're a fan of these cheery flowers (seriously, who can look at a daffodil and not feel just a little bit happier?), head over to Charlotte Germane's blog Daffodil Planter, which is hosting the second annual Daffodil Blogorama. There you'll find links to about a dozen daffodil-related posts, including my post on propagating daffodils by scaling. There's also a fun giveaway you can enter for. Check it out.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Too Many Vegetables in Your Garden? There's an App for That!

If you find that your vegetable garden this year turns out to be a little too bountiful, the solution may be as close as your cell phone., a charitable organization dedicated to linking gardeners with extra produce to almost 3500 food pantries throughout the country, released a free iPhone app last year that can quickly tell you which nearby food banks can use your surplus harvest. You can get the same info on the iPhone app that you can find on's web site--location and phone number of the food pantry, days and times they are open to receive donations, and additional grocery items they may be in need of (in case you find a great sale at the grocery store, for example).

And will soon be releasing an Android app that does the same thing as the iPhone app. I love it when technology and gardening cross-pollinate!

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Radioactive Spinach in Japan

I've been wondering all week about the food safety issue in Japan as they've struggled to contain the myriad problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plants. There has been very little discussion in the media of the potential effects of radiation on the food supply but this morning the New York Times reports that higher than normal levels of radiation have been found in milk and spinach in the area near the plants.

As it stands right now, the amount of radiation found in spinach in the amount consumed by the average Japanese person in a year would equal the same amount of radiation in a CAT scan. That doesn't sound too scary, but nobody seems to talk about the cumulative effect of all this radiation--if you get a little from the air, a little from the water, a little from food, what does it all add up to? And if there is radiation in spinach after just one week of exposure, how much will be in crops grown in soil and water with longer or higher rates of exposure? Nobody's saying.

Here are some specifics from the article:

"Food safety inspectors said the amount of iodine-131 found in the tested milk was five times higher than levels deemed safe. They said the iodine found in the spinach was more than seven times higher. The spinach also contained slightly higher amounts of cesium-137.

Iodine-131 and cesium-137 are two of the more dangerous elements that are feared to have been released from the plants in Fukushima. Iodine-131 can be dangerous to human health, especially if absorbed through milk and milk products, because it can accumulate in the thyroid and cause cancer. Cesium-137 can damage cells and lead to an increased risk of cancer."
 I know Ann Coulter says radiation is good for you, but she's, well, a liar and an idiot. This is a serious concern for the people of Japan.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Straight-Up Info on Upside-Down Tomatoes

I tried last year to grow one tomato plant in a topsy-turvy planter and it was a dismal failure. (Let's just say the result was nothing like the product image shown here.) But not being a quitter (except when it comes to diets, housework, or well, many other things), I plan on giving upside-down tomato-growing another go this year. This article from GardenWise has lots of good information on this growing method, including some interesting benefits of hanging your plants upside down. It also seems that the choice of tomato plant is key. I'm not sure which variety I'll use and I'm still a few weeks away from potting up any tomato plants, but in the meantime I'll be scouting out the best hanging location. Bottoms up!

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Food Prices Are Rising So Plant Your Veggies Now: Local Resources to Help You Grow

According to an article today on, food prices, which have been rising, are expected to rise even higher in the coming months. The main reason they cite is the harsh winter that the country has experienced, but fast-rising gas prices are certainly a contributing factor as well. Add it all up and the situation is not looking bright for an already troubled economy.

Although there are many things we can't control in our personal economies, food is usually one category we can take more control over, and one of the best ways to do that is to grow some of your own food. Even a newbie gardener can grow a lot of food--the best and biggest crop of tomatoes I've grown was the first six-pack of tomatoes I ever planted.

Now is the perfect time to start planning your vegetable garden. If you want to plant seeds (which is certainly the most cost-effective method), you can start them indoors right now. Check out the new seed-exchange library at the Alameda Free Library for seeds that you can take and use (and hopefully collect your own seeds to bring back after you harvest). If you need growing advice, you can check in with Alameda Backyard Growers, a network of new and experienced growers dedicated to encouraging people to grow food and donate their excess bounty to the local food bank.

You can also visit the "Grow and Eat Local" Resource Fair for the Backyard Farmer and Urban Consumer this Saturday (3/19) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the main branch of the Alameda Library. You'll find tips and advice for growing an edible garden and meet local folks who raise chickens and keep bees.

The veggies you plant now should mean more money in your pocket later (not to mention tastier, healthier food to eat)!

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Garden Magazines Aren't What They Used to Be and That's the Good News

It used to be that American garden magazines were pretty ho-hum--lots of pretty pictures, but as for advice and inspiration they tended to be tame. To some extent, that's still the case. Fine Gardening, for instance, has solid, reliable information and would be one of the first places I'd turn to for how-to guidance. And yet, I confess I find the magazine a little dull. Sunset also offers good information (although if you ask me far too little of each issue is devoted to gardening) but it focuses on professionally landscaped gardens that I think reflect a certain sameness. I like that Better Homes & Gardens offers more real-people gardens as opposed to the pro landscapes, but again there's only enough garden info in each issue to whet the appetite and leave you begging for more.

In addition, I really grew tired of the Northeast and Southern bias of so many garden publications. Hey guys, we garden here out west too! A lot, as a matter of fact. Only Sunset seemed to be aware of that.

But in the past few months I've come across a few magazines (two recently redesigned and one new) that I really like and look forward to reading. The visuals are great, the information seems solid, and the scope and attitude of each seem to be pushing the boundaries a bit. For an interesting read, check out the following mags:
  • Organic Gardening. With the tag line "Living lightly from the ground up," OG is as much about gardening as a lifestyle as it is about actual gardening. And it doesn't assume that you have 40 acres to garden on either. One recent article about raising potatoes tested 7 ways to grow them, 4 of which were container methods. I've been subscribing to this one for a year or two and I've found every issue more than worth the cost.

  • Garden Design. With a focus on design, you know this recently revamped magazine's going to be all about the pretty pictures. But there's some great writing and fresh thinking here too. And they do seem to really like, you know, plants. My sister got me a gift subscription to GD  (thank you, Laurie!) and so far it's a hit with me.  

  • Urban Farm. I came across this new magazine (it debuted last fall) at the close-out sale of my local Borders bookstore. Seed-starting, bee-keeping, chicken coops, fruit tree grafting--Urban Farm isn't afraid to get its hands dirty and presumes its readers are willing to try just about anything. Good for them! This magazine is targeting all those urbanites who are new to vegetable gardening but want to think big even in a small garden. To which I say, Amen! I'm going to be subscribing to this one.
Are there any other good garden mags I'm missing?

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Alameda Backyard Growers Hosts "A Year in the Garden"

The Alameda Backyard Growers is hosting an event celebrating the organization's first year tomorrow night (Thursday, 3/10) at the Alameda Main Library (1550 Oak Street). The event, scheduled to run from 6 to 8 pm, includes a community potluck, a seed swap, and a discussion of the year in gardening. I joined the Alameda Backyard Growers on their web site a couple months ago but this is the first event I'll be able to attend and I'm really looking forward to hearing what they've got going. Come and join in!

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