An Alameda Garden: March 2011

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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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Say Good-Bye to North Oakland CVS Garden Center

The former-Super-Longs-turned-CVS-with-the-really-good-garden-center will be closing by the end of June and I'm bummed. This was actually that rare occurrence of a well-maintained garden center in a chain store, a phenomenon you see come along with the frequency of Haley's comet. I've gotten great plants there and when they were taken over by CVS it was doubly gratifying to be able to use CVS Extra Bucks to score bigger savings on them. Not to mention that this was the kind of store where you could buy plants, hardware, fabric, milk, and fresh produce all in one stop--the closest thing I've ever seen to a general store in an urban setting. This store will be missed! I'd be ranting about the idiocy of chain store management, but it turns out this is not a CVS decision. The owner of the shopping center where the store is located wants to tear down and completely redevelop the center so the store's lease is not being renewed. Why can't shopping center owners ever leave well enough alone?

My one consolation is that there may be good going-out-of-business-sale bargains to be had on plants and other garden needs. Cold comfort, frankly, but I'll take what I can get.

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Friday, March 04, 2011

$40 Worth of Plants & More for $20 at Broadway Terrace Nursery with Groupon Deal

Check out this Groupon bargain: For the next two and a half days you can get $40 worth of plants, tools, or other gardening stuff at Broadway Terrace Nursery in Oakland. I've never been to this nursery but I'll definitely use this opportunity to check it out.

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