Magic of the backyard


There is something pretty magical about being able to go outside into the backyard in the middle of November, harvest some vegetables, come back in and fix most of a meal with them.

Citrus growers

Book page

According to the Four Winds website you can now order from them directly online and have the order shipped to your home. You can also find online a list of nurseries that carry their citrus.

Grow Our Food


Shirley and I took off today to drive to Davis for, surprisingly, NOT an ultimate tournament. She offered to rosham to drive, but I quickly realized that my V8 was going to suck up a lot more gas than her sprite car, and so quickly lost the rosham by not playing. We were heading off to UC Davis' Good Life Garden event "Grow our food." Traffic sucked on the way up, with our pulling a U-turn on the 101 (okay, not really, but close enough) and went up the 880. Traffic was sucky suck going into the City. We were, fortunately, heading out, once we managed to escape 101.

One of the advantages of driving two hours to an event is that you have two hours to talk on the drive. Of course, it helps if you like the person you're driving with for those two hours. And Shirley? Most definitely.

There were three speakers at the event: Georgeanne Brennan, Ethne Clark, and David Howard: an author, an author, and Prince Charles' former head gardener. We listened to the first two speakers, then sampled a whole bunch of foods from local artisans and shops (where "local" means "Davis" and "Vacaville" and "Sacramento").

Georgeanne Brennan had, back in the late sixties, bought a small house in Provence and moved to France to live there. She described to us how everyone had a continuous kitchen garden: planting and harvesting at the same time, and always having something for the garden at dinner. Some houses had more than just a kitchen garden, they had a market garden, where they would grow more vegetables than they could eat and sell the excess at the local market. Georgeanne had several stories about her American adventures in France, and let us know about her book, a Pig in Provence.

Ethne Clark had lived in London, and also had American living in a foreign country experience, and gave a presentation about gardens through the ages. Ethne's presentation was, although informative and entertaining, shaky. She seemed nervous but still presented fairly well. I've certainly been in the "I'm fine, just let me talk, ignore my shaky voice" presentation situation.

There were about 150 people at the presentation. All of us filed out of the lecture hall and wandered out to the lawn to taste the various local foods. I really liked the smoked fish from Laszlo’s Gourmet Smoked Fish. Shirley had the smoked prawns, and said it was good, too. I had only the salmon and trout. I did, however, break from my vegetarian diet (for the second time this week, and also had a couple slices of sausages from Morant’s Old Fashioned Sausage which were really good, too.

Other local providers included Grateful Bread Company, whose bread was tasty, and Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates who had some of the most delicious chocolates. Ginger Elizabeth commented to me that chocolate and tea go together flavor-wise, and are a great alternative to chocolate and coffee, if you don't like coffee. She was way right, and the truffles she offered were amazing.

Shirley was way braver than I was when it came to the caviar from Sterling Caviar. I don't particularly like roe, so I didn't try any myself, She commented that, although it was tasty, she couldn't really taste the caviar much, with all the other flavors in the sample (which included special baked bread and a dip of some sort).

The mini-cupcakes from Babycakes Bakery were, uh, odd. When I was taking one from the table, I asked the woman behind the table if she had a business card, as I really felt I was going to like the chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting. Her reply? "I couldn't be bothered to get any for this." Uh, okay. I guess.

The cupcake had a surprise in the middle for me: unmixed batter. I think I'll go to Hannah's bakery first.

I really liked the cheese from the Nugget Supermarket, though I couldn't say it was anything that I would order online and ship to the Dillers to try. I'm still looking for some cheese that makes me feel like sharing with them. And the olive oil from UC Davis, manufactured from olive trees on campus? Avoid the one on the right, it's way bitter.

Neither Shirley nor I bothered with the wines or beers. I'm not sure exactly why she didn't, but, well, if it's not great whiskey or Oreana, well, I'm not really interested. And beer? Yeah, WAY not interested.

After pretty much getting our fill of tasty food, we wandered back into the lecture hall, where I talked to a woman who had asked for gardening resources before the food break. She had just started gardening and was excited about the experience. I told her about the Master Gardening program, and told her to contact them.

Last up in the evening was David Howard, who, in a fabulous English accent, told us about his life story. He told us about his wanting to be a gardener at age six, his working for the Queen at 16, his becoming an organic garden and his eventual becoming head gardener for Prince Charles. The presentation was fabulous, entertaining and interesting. As Shirley asked me as we left, "Are all Englishmen good story tellers?"

I think all the ones who have left England might be.

The drive home was as good as the drive up: full of interesting conversation with Shirley. The longest topic on the way back was Shirley's post-graduate plans, in all of their many-numbered glory. Shirley currently has the curse of choice: so many options that

Having spent the last few months spinning my wheels with projects I could start, stalled by the indecision of which one to actually do (and FINALLY choosing pounds), I could completely relate to Shirley's dilemma. I, unfortunately, gave her conflicting advice, which I wasn't sure I should do. I told Shirley that, hey, you know, there really isn't a wrong decision in life: try something out, if it doesn't work, change it, but all of the choices she had were fine choices. Except that isn't quite true if you have a goal, then some options would be bad choices if they don't lead to the goal.

I also told her to pick the choice that makes her happy. I told her how I thought just out of college that, hey, it would be okay to sacrifice the next ten years working hard, in order to make enough money so that I didn't have to work as much. Except that it didn't quite work out that way, and I ended up sacrificing those ten years working hard, missing out on a lot of life. Missing out in a way that I couldn't recover.



Except that you have to take those paths yourself. It doesn't matter that someone else learned those lessons, they don't really translate. If you had told me when I was 23 to choose the work that made me happy, I would have had no idea what that job was. I'm at good place because of the pain I went through when I was younger. Having the financial means to order whatever is on the menu without worrying about the price (a goal I recall of Allyse Manoff's when she and I were working together way back when), as an example, has pretty much always been important to me, but not for the sake of keeping up with the Jones. Instead, I've liked to have the financial means to do what I want to do (ultimate tournaments, work on projects, garden, etc.), without worrying about making next month's rent.

I couldn't figure out how to convey that to her, without sounding cliche.

I still don't know how to say it.

I do know that I very much enjoyed spending four hours on a Saturday hanging out with Shirley. Friends are an important part of that "good place" I'm in.

Notes from Cool veggie gardening workshop


I went to the cool season vegetable gardening class given by fellow Master Gardeners Ann and Alice, most Ann for the presentation part. Cool season vegetables are those that do well in the Bay Area's mild winter, where the average daytime temperatures are between 50° and 70° F. These vegetables in clude green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, mustards, etc.), broccoli, onions, garlic, beets and radishes.

Advantages to planting a cool season (i.e. winter) garden include:

  • minimal watering needs
  • fewer pests, including bugs and weeds
  • food in the winter time!
  • winter food tastes better: harsh vegetables are more mild (e.g. radishes, arugula)
  • winter vegetables are typically higher in nutritional value
  • slower growing rates mean harvesting is easier (not ALL AT ONCE)

Disadvantages include

  • starting the garden, which happens in August and the ground is warm. Winter plants may have to vie with summer plants for space in the garden
  • difficult to keep soil moist in hotter weather
  • watering is unsure because rains can help, or not
  • direct seeding can be difficult
  • weather might be difficult (e.g. frosts)
  • nails and slugs are more prevalent


  • If direct seeding in August, plant in shade that will go away in September or October, say a bean or squash plant's shade.
  • Use row covers to keep insects away and the soil moist. Water through the row cover. Don't put the row cover on too tight, allow growing room for the plants
  • There are two planting times, one at the beginning of the cool weather season when the ground is warm, but the air temperatures are cooling, and one when the ground is cool(er) but the air temperatures are warming. Try planting for both.
  • Watch local nurseries for seedlings to transplant: they'll help determine when to plant.
  • Amend the soil with a nitrogen additive before transplanting seedlings.
  • Use a mulch.
  • Carrots, beets and radishes (see a trend?) need to be directly sown into the ground. They don't transplant well.
  • Don't plant anything where you eat the flower (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts) in full shade. You need the sun for those, or you'll get a lot of leaves and no fruiting plants.
  • It's okay to plant green, leafy vegetables in part to full shade. These include kale, spinach, arugula, lettuce, and the weed miner's lettuce.

I found other vegetable recommendation on the Master Gardener website, with some planting date information. Nothing as nice as the chart on the handout at the workshop, but they ran out of the handouts and I didn't really need another piece of paper.

I think this is where my cool weather garden is going in, as I can start it now.


Book page

Date: Mon, 12 May 2008 19:07:53 -0700
From: Bracey Tiede
To: leeannray
Cc: master-gardeners
Subject: RE: [master-gardeners] Propagating cuttings

Hi Lee Ann,

I've not used hormones for rooting but instead paid close attention to the
proper timing on when to take the cuttings.

Books can give you that info and websites too.

There is a UC database of when to take cuttings of specific plants to be
successful and how to treat them.

There is also one for propagating native plants at

Click on Search Protocols, continential US and then start your search. It's
both seed and cutting info.



From: master-gardeners
Sent: Monday, May 12, 2008 6:58 PM
To: master-gardeners
Subject: [master-gardeners] Propagating cuttings

Greetings all,

I am looking to do some propagating from softwood and semi-hardwood stem
cuttings this summer and am wondering if anyone has any favorite rooting
hormone they have had good results with.

The MG handbook has a section on pg 100 - 104, but no recommendation of
brand. I know much depends on the type of cutting as well as seasonal
timing, maybe even the phase of the moon.

I have tried Rootone, both liquid and powder, and was really disappointed
with the success rate...and the disposal of the used liquid is an issue. My
mentor, Louis Saso, swore by Hormex Powder #1 but the man had a green thumb
like nobody's business and could coax a rose to grow from a brick.

Anybody tried old-school soaking their cuttings in willow bark water?

Enquiring minds would like to know,

Lee Ann Ray

Midnight gardening


I'm not sure why, but, once again, I find myself gardening after dark.

I'm heading to Austin tomorrow for the SxSW Interactive conference (read: full-on web geek mode). I have a list around 25 items long of tasks I want to finish before I leave, and one of those is plant the blueberries I bought last week with Mom. We bought them, but I haven't planted them yet. We didn't plan them as

So, the first hour was spent building the new compost pile so that I could get to the good compost so that I could plant my blueberries. Always with the cascading list of tasks, never just do X and be done.

I managed four of the seven blueberry bushes planted. I hope the weather isn't too hot this weekend while I'm gone, and that the other three survive until I arrive home.

Soon to be a Master Gardener


Mid-September, I attended the introduction meeting for the Master Gardeners program of Santa Clara County. I've been gardening in the back yard ever since Chris Doyle tore up the concrete and I dumped 12 cubic yards of compost on the spot five years ago, and container gardening for years and years before that. Mom had a lot to do with my green thumbs, though I'm sure she takes no credit for the bitter zucchini incident.

Speaking of bitter zucchini, during my MG interview, which is part of the application process, I mentioned I heard of the MG program through the local co-op, which I contacted at Mom's suggestion when I had the bitter zucchini in the yard. One of the women interviewing turned to me and asked me when the incident happened. When I answered two summers ago, she grinned in delight, then exclaimed I was famous, everyone knew the bitter zucchini story in the office. Everyone!

Great! Not the way I really want to be famous, but I guess it's better than, say, Mrs. Smith going in and saying, yeah, she's the one who was poisoned by the bitter zucchini.

After finally processing that ginormous stack of mail, I found the envelope with the letter of acceptance into the program. I'm very excited. I'll finally learn the "right" way to plant a garden and (my trees will like this) prune a tree.

Megan asked if she needs to address me as Master now. I giggled and said no, but I get to put an "M.G." after my name when I'm done.

Master Gardening

Book page

Master Gardening resources

Companion Gardening explanation

Book page


Companion Planting, Ecogardening Factsheets - Cornell Gardening Resources

Companion Planting
Ecogardening Factsheet #10, Winter 1994

Most people think of plants as very passive organisms. They grow almost unperceptively, and only once a year do they flower or produce edible products. However, plants are very active in ways that are not so obvious to the casual observer. For example, plants change the chemistry of the soil, and influence the types of microorganisms that grow there. They actively compete with other plants for space. Some will poison their neighbor's offspring to maintain a competitive advantage, while others change the environment in ways that benefit other species. Plants wage a constant battle with insects, relying heavily on chemical warfare.

Naturalists have known about these properties of plants for thousands of years. For example, about 2,000 years ago the Roman agriculturalist, Varro, declared "Large walnut trees close by, make the border of the farm sterile." Chemicals in oak leaves retard the development of insects that feed on them. Some insecticides are derived from plants; examples include rotenone, sabadilla and ryania. But not all effects of plants are deleterious on other organisms. Alfalfa and clover enrich the soil with nitrogen that they capture from the air. Certain trees move groundwater to the soil surface where shallow-rooted plants can grow even under droughty conditions. Groups of plants which grow well together are called "companions."

Perhaps the best historical example of companion planting is the "Three Sisters" in which corn, beans, and squash are planted together in a hill. Native Americans developed this system to provide food for a balanced diet from a single plot of land. Each of the crops is compatible with the others in some way. The tall corn stalks provide a support structure for the climbing beans. The beans do not compete strongly with the corn for nutrients since as legumes, they can supply their own nitrogen. Squash provides a dense ground cover that shades out many weeds which otherwise would compete with the corn and beans.

Modern agriculture tends to rely heavily upon specialized machinery and synthetic inputs, and have rendered companion systems such as the "Three Sisters" obsolete. Obviously, it would be difficult to harvest corn, beans and squash simultaneously with a machine, especially when they are not planted separately in rows. However, interest is growing in using these special properties of plants to our advantage when growing food. Home gardeners, unencumbered by the need for specialized equipment or row crop production, have rediscovered some of the beneficial interrelationships among plants. This knowledge, coupled with a long tradition of folklore, is being utilized to improve home garden production.

How can you use these special plant properties?

Selecting a cover crop

Certain cover crops concentrate specific nutrients in their tissues. Deeply rooted plants move nutrients from the subsoil to the aboveground parts, and when the plants decompose, the nutrients become available for subsequent crops. Potassium levels can be increased significantly by selecting a good preplant cover crop. Buckwheat, grain rye, and sudangrass are good preplant covers.

Plants in the legume family are capable of gathering unusable nitrogen from the air and converting it into usable nitrogen in root nodules, with the help of special bacteria. Legumes increase soil fertility as they decompose, thus releasing the stored nitrogen. An alfalfa sod that is plowed under will provide 150 to 200 lbs of nitrogen per acre the following year, 60 to 80 lbs the year after, and 30 to 40 lbs the year after that. In fact, any cover crop that is plowed under will release nitrogen as the crop decomposes. This is the origin of the term "green manure."

Many plants produce substances that are toxic to other plants. The study of this phenomenon is called "allelopathy." Varro's observation was explained by the discovery of a substance called juglone - a natural herbicide produced by the roots of walnut trees. Many plants have allelopathic effects including sunflowers, cucumbers, oats, alfalfa, rye and tobacco. When these crops are planted prior to other crops, weed pressure is reduced.

Enhancing environmental conditions for growth

Maple trees can move groundwater from their lower roots to the upper roots, where it is exuded into the soil. Herbaceous plants can use this groundwater when conditions are dry. Shade tolerant plants often grow better under the trees than away from them.

Certain garden plants grow better if provided with some shade, while others need to be elevated above the ground to capture sunlight. Leaf lettuce grows well in the shade provided by taller crops. Rhododendrons and azaleas thrive under pine trees. Corn growers will often seed clover between rows so it will germinate after the corn is established. The clover grows throughout the fall and winter after the corn is harvested, increasing soil nitrogen when it decomposes the following spring.

Grasses often are planted between rows of perennial crops such as fruit trees. The grass alleys cool the soil, prevent erosion, improve water penetration, exclude weeds, and harbor beneficial insects.

Reducing pest damage

Most plants produce defensive chemicals that help fend off insects and diseases. These chemicals may be insect poisons, feeding deterrents or have fungicidal properties. The roots of some French and African marigolds contain a substance which is toxic to certain types of nematodes. Nematodes are soil inhabiting microscopic roundworms that damage many species of plants. Certain nematodes can be eliminated from a site by growing a thick crop of marigolds for one season prior to planting the vegetable or fruit crop, or by interplanting marigolds between crop rows.

Destructive insects often locate their food by smell. Many plants, especially culinary herbs, produce strong scents which may confuse insect pests looking for a host to feed on. Garden vegetable plants such as garlic, onions, chives, and herbs such as catnip, horehound, wormwood, basil, tansy, and mints all produce scents which seem to repel insects or mask the scents which attract insects. A certain level of insect protection can be achieved by carefully interplanting some of these as companions to vegetables.

Many insect pests have specific food preferences while others feed on a wide assortment of hosts. Even those species which feed on a wide variety of hosts, such as Japanese beetles, have preferences for certain plants. It is possible to plant a preferred host as a trap crop near the plant that is being protected. Once the insects have settled on the "trap" crop, they can be killed periodically by spraying, without having to treat the protected plants.

Many insects are helpful because they eat or parasitize harmful insects. Most species of wasps and spiders are beneficial as are ground beetles, praying mantids, lady bugs, pirate bugs, and several species of flies. It is possible to attract beneficial insects by planting flowers near the garden. Dill, parsley, carrot, coriander, angelica, and parsnip feature flat topped clusters of small flowers that have strong fragrances. They also seem to attract large numbers of beneficial insects, particularly predatory wasps and flies. This characteristic makes them good candidates for companion planting.

Some Practical Steps

Avoid monoculture in terms of space and time. A one-hundred foot long row of broccoli presents a large target for a cabbage moth that is flying by, but the same number of cabbage plants scattered over several thousand square feet, and interplanted with other crops, is less obvious and attractive to the insect. Pests which routinely plague large, commercial plantings of crops may never be a problem in the diversified home garden.

Know thy friends and avoid killing them inadvertently. Learn to recognize beneficial insects as well as the pests, and note which plants are attractive to beneficial insects. Less than 1% of insects are garden pests.

Plant dill, marigolds, chives, onions, parsley, basil and other flowers throughout the garden. Allow parsley, carrot and celery to remain in the ground over the winter. They will produce flowers the second season and attract beneficial insects. Also, plant strong smelling herbs among vegetable crops.

Try some combinations that folklore says are effective companions. Chives could be planted at the base of roses to repel aphids, garlic could be planted at the base of peach trees to repel borers; basil planted among tomatoes may repel tomato hornworms; nasturtiums grown near squash may repel squash bugs; tomatoes planted among asparagus may repel asparagus beetles; and marigolds, mint, thyme, or chamomile may repel cabbage moths. Radishes make excellent trap crops for cucumber beetles among squash and cucumbers. Radishes also attract flea beetles when planted near cole crops. Garden borders planted with low growing thyme or lavender may deter slugs. Tansy and pennyroyal repel ants.

Observe your plantings carefully, and write down combinations that seem to work for pest control and growth enhancement. Communicate your observations with others. Try to replicate your observations or have others try the same combinations. Testimonials that are shared by many observers often turn out to be valid. Scientists have not spent much time looking at these relationships among plants and their community; furthermore, the number of possible combinations is enormous. You can be the first one to discover a new set of compatible plants!

Bad Science

Unfortunately, much of the popular literature that discusses companion planting is based upon some very bad science, in particular, the "sensitive crystallization method" which was originated by Dr. Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer in the 1930's. Dr. Pfeiffer was a student of Dr. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of "Biodynamics." The sensitive crystallization method utilizes chromatography to discover why plants make good or bad companions.

Dr. Pfeiffer made chromatograms of many different plants, both individually and in combination. He concluded that mixtures of plants which formed clear and bright chromatograms were mutually beneficial, while mixtures that formed cloudy or dull chromatograms were antagonistic. Thus, the notion that "carrots love tomatoes" but "beans dislike fennel" is based upon an analytical laboratory procedure and not on direct observation of the plants in nature. No legitimate scientist believes that this method can determine compatibility among plant species.

Dr. Pfeiffer also made chromatograms of many other substances including chemical fertilizers and compost. According to Louise Riotte in her book Carrots Love Tomatoes, "the chemical (fertilizer) yielded chromatograms that were dull and lifeless but the ones made from the compost were brilliant with color." Ms. Riotte continues by asking "Could this have been because of the living microorganisms continued in the compost? This supposition seems logical."

Unfortunately, the supposition is not the least bit logical from a scientific viewpoint, and has no relevance for determining plant nutritional needs. It is this type of bad science that has created a hostility between the scientific community and many proponents of biodynamic gardening.

Prepared by:

Robert Beyfuss, Progr Ldr A&NR, Greene County Cooperative Extension, Education Ctr, HCR3, Box 906, Cairo, NY 12413-9503

Marvin Pritts, Associate Professor, Department of Fruit and Vegetable Science, Cornell Univeristy, Ithaca, NY 14853

� Copyright, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University.

Website design: Craig Cramer

Mention of trade names and commercial products is for educational purposes; no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by Cornell Cooperative Extension or Cornell University is implied. Pesticide recommendations are for informational purposes only and manufacturers' recommendations change. Read the manufacturers' instructions carefully before use. Cornell Cooperative Extension and Cornell University assumes no responsibility for the use of any pesticide or chemicals. Some of the links provided are not maintained by Cornell Cooperative Extension and Cornell University. Cornell Cooperative Extension and Cornell University are not responsible for information on these websites. They are included for information purposes only and no endorsement by Cornell Cooperative Extension or Cornell University is implied. Cornell Cooperative Extension provides equal program and employment opportunities.

Companion Gardening

Book page

Various pages on companion gardening.