An Alameda Garden: February 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Somewhere a Hummingbird Is Snoring

Seriously. I knew that hummingbirds can actually be quite loud. In my garden they are second only to the crows in making a ruckus. But I never imagined that they snore. Or that if they snored, it would be this loud. I suppose it's no surprise that this little birdie is sleeping alone. The sound completely freaked out my cat. Birds everywhere are probably wondering when Breathe Right is going to make some strips small enough to go across those little beaks. Enjoy:

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

All the Edible Gardening News That's Fit to Pin

Want a great place to go to find an ever-growing collection of articles on growing edibles? Follow the Vegetable Garden Bloggers & Writers United board on Pinterest. With more than 20 garden writers (including me) contributing their posts on vegetable gardening, you'll discover a wide selection of topics and very solid information from people who never get tired of exploring the world of edible gardening.

I've written about the fun I'm having with Pinterest before. If you'd like to follow my boards, click the following button.

Follow Me on Pinterest
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Can Your Soil Pass the Acid Test?

I've been clearing out a bed this week that I intend to plant with a mix of ornamentals and edibles, the main feature of which will be two or three blueberry bushes. Blueberries, like a great many other edibles, are acid-loving plants and I wasn't sure my sandy soil would measure up (or down, as the case may be). It was time to do a little testing to see what the pH level of my soil is.

Don't get scared off about soil tests and pH levels. This isn't rocket science--it's not even as hard as high school chemistry. pH is simply a measure of acidity and alkalinity using a scale that runs from 0 to 14. The midpoint, 7, is considered neutral. Below 7 all the way to 0 indicates increasing acidity. Above 7 up to 14 indicates increasing alkalinity (also called basicity). The soil pH level matters because essential nutrients in the soil are most available to plants when they are in the proper pH environment--with 5.5 to 6.5 being the most commonly appropriate range.

Testing your soil's pH level is a simple and inexpensive process. I purchased a soil test kit produced by Ferry-Morse at my local hardware store for $4.99. The kit tests pH level as well as macronutrient levels (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium), which I'll test separately at a later date. For the pH test, all you have to do is take a small sample of soil from 4 inches below the soil line, put it in the test tube with the green cap, open the green capsule and pour the contents on top of the soil, then fill it with water, cap and shake, and let sit for a minute. Very quickly, the soil settles in the tube and the water on top of it turns a color that you can match to the color scale on the package.

It doesn't show very well in this photo but my soil tested somewhere between 7.0 and 8.0, indicating that the soil is quite a bit more alkaline than the range that blueberries want (4.5 to 5.5). These simple home test kits don't give you a very exact reading, but it's enough to head you in the right direction in terms of how to amend your soil. If you want a more exact reading, check out the standard soil test you can have done by mail at the University of Massachusettts for only $10. (2015 Update: This test now costs $15).

Most edibles prefer somewhat acidic soil. Here's a sample of some of the acid-loving fruits and veggies you may be growing that might need some tweaking of their soil pH:

Brussels sprouts--5.5-6.5
Sweet potatoes--5.0-6.5

In addition, ornamentals such as roses, azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, begonias, and most bulbs are just a few of the flowers that like acidic soil.

So once you determine your pH level, what do you do? If you need to make your soil more alkaline (or basic), the amendments that are most commonly added are agricultural lime and wood ash. If you need to make your soil more acidic, most people add peat, but pine needles, pine sawdust, and coffee grounds will also do the trick. It takes time to measurably adjust the pH level of your soil, but providing the right pH environment should make a noticeable difference in the health of your plants and the harvest that results.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gary Oppenheimer on "Changing the Way We Eat"

On January 21st in Manhattan, Gary Oppenheimer, founder of, spoke at a TEDx event on the subjects of our food system, hunger in America, and the difference that a home gardener can make. Give a listen to this inspiring and thought-provoking presentation:

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bringing Back the Blogroll

Sometime in the past couple years, the blogroll I used to have here that linked to my favorite garden blogs disappeared. I think I took it down with the intention of updating it and bringing it back, and well, it just stayed down. But it's time to bring it back. There are some great blogs out there that have amazing ideas for your garden and lots to say (sometimes with lots of attitude) about gardening in general. So check out my new, updated, two-part blogroll--one part listing California blogs and one part listing blogs from everywhere else. (You'll find it located in the middle column.) I guarantee you'll find some great writing and lots of inspiration to keep your garden exciting and always evolving.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wrapping Your Valentine in Nature

Whatever you're giving your valentine this year, wouldn't it seem more special if it came wrapped like this? 

These lovely wraps come from designer Justina Blakeney, who has taken the idea of compostable gift wrapping one step further.

Maybe it's time to put the quick-and-easy gift bags away and harvest your wrapping paper and ribbon from the garden.

Photo credits: Justina Blakeney

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