Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Garden Hacks Hearing the Inner Call of the Garden

I have always loved to garden.  But after buying our first house in Richmond,CA  I have become (dare I say it) obsessed with gardening.  Living in Northern California with our Mediterranean climate means a lot of time outdoors.  So it makes sense to create attractive outdoor spaces.  But once that dirt was my own…look out!  I was a woman with a mission.  And that mission was to grow as much food as possible.  One might attribute that to my inner homesteader, my love of cooking and preserving, the local food movement or my proximity to Bezerkley.  Regardless it stuck.

My first challenge was to hear the secret inner call of my own personal yard. To say that Northern California weather varies by area is a huge understatement.   The temps often vary 30+ degrees between the coast and inland.  Taking in the huge number of other factors that can affect the garden such as fog, wind, slope, drainage, clay and you realize… we are not in Kansas anymore. Not to say gardening in Kansas is easy, but the sheer variations and possibilities of the Northern California Landscape demanded I up my game.
In this ever progressing journey I’ve learned a few tricks or “hacks” as I like to call them.

Hearing the Inner call of the Garden:
In order to discover what will thrive in your garden, you need to experiment and observe.  My first rule of thumb is to spend some time EVERY day in the garden getting in tune with what is going on.  You will discover such things as where the sun rises and falls and how that changes over the year, what thrives, what weeds are invasive,  are there snails, butterflies, gophers, does your soil hold water among other things.
As you are observing, it is worth recording and organizing your observations.  This way you can experiment with new things and find what works in your garden

Organizing Hacks
Below are some the tricks I use

Garden Journal:  I highly recommend keeping a garden journal. Moleskin puts out a dedicated garden journal but obviously any notebook would work just as well.   My journal is mostly a diary with entries by date.   This particularly helps me remember optimal times to plant seeds.  If you are more of a graphic person you could use drawings or graphs.  The key is to document what works and what doesn’t.   I always think I’ll remember exactly when I planted or what or the Latin name is of that particular plant that did so well, but invariably I don’t.  This leads me to another hack;

Saving Plant tags:  When I plant a seedling from a nursery,  I always put the original plant tag in with the plant.  This is especially true with plants I’ve never grown before.  I’m terrible with names and by the time I’m journaling that a plant is a winner I’ve most likely forgotten what it was.  When I find a winner, I usually put the tag in a pouch in my journal.  That way I have a library of things that work in my garden.

Seed Organizer:  Seeds are one of the best ways to experiment in my opinion.  It is easier to risk total failure if you have only invested is $3 in seeds.  Note that seeds seem to accumulate.  This is why you will need some way to store them.  I use a plastic bin with a top.  The seeds are sorted alphabetically using index card dividers.  I put the seed packs in Ziploc bags and label them with a Sharpie.  The waterproof box and bags protect against moisture, if I happen to leave the box out in the rain or within sprinklers distance by mistake.  I find looking through the organizer is a great way to brainstorm what to plant next.   This also helps if you do any bulk ordering of seeds, you can sit down in one place and see what needs re-ordering.

Plant Markers for seeds: It’s hard to keep track of what seeds were planted where and when.  For this I use popcicle sticks as plant markers.  I have a huge pack of blank ones from the dollar store.  When I plant something, I write the plant name and the date I planted.  This helps when you are journaling to calculate germination time etc.

Storing all those organizational Tools:  All the above tools only work if you use them. My garden is at the base of a big hill.  I realized I wasn’t using the journal or the plant markers because I’d forget them in the house at the top of the hill.  My solution was to install an old mailbox on our fence.  It keeps everything dry and in one place.  In it I keep;  my journal and a pen, clippers, sharpie, popcicle sticks, twine and a trowel. 

I hope these were useful

Happy Gardening!