Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Gardening in the time of COVID

2019 summer veggie garden, with Alta cameo. 
Phew. Long time no talk. Nothing like a global pandemic to bring back the blog, amiright?

A lot of friends have been reaching out in the last few days about how they should start gardening. I think folks are worried about access to fresh foods (I am after all those empty shelves. Jeepers.) and wanting a break from the craziness (gardening is therapy, and I won't hear otherwise).  Here are a few resources that I think can help folks right now.

Where to buy seeds and seed starts

My favorite place to buy seeds is Baker Creek seeds (they have lots of varieties you won't be able to find anywhere else), but I also really like Renee's Garden, Jonny's Selected Seeds, Botanical Interests, and Kitazawa (Asian varieties). Seeds are still coming in the mail, so order away.

If you're in the Bay Area, I highly recommend Kasenoff Growers for your seed starts. It's a hyper local business, grown in an empty lot in West Oakland. They normally sell their seed starts at the Temescal Farmers market but are taking extra precaution at this time and are excepting orders for pickup at their growing space. You can email them to place an order. Here's their inventory list right now.

How to prep your soil for plants

If you are just starting out, are in the Bay Area, and thinking about going with raised beds, I highly recommend American Soil and Stone's Local Hero Veggie Mix. Use this mix strait in what ever raised beds you build. I''m not sure if American Soil is open right now, but if it is or when it is, this soild blend worked great for me. They may well be taking orders for delivery and pickup as I know some businesses are, especially as it relates to food (growing edible plants).

If you're in Alameda, I do know that Encinal Nursery is accepting delivery and pickup orders over the phone. They have mostly bag soil, but will likely be able to recommend something that will work.

If this isn't your first time gardening or you aren't planning on going the raised bed route, I'm a big fan of the no dig garden method. In summary, you place compost on top, rake it over your bed, and let the nutrients slowly creep down into the soil. And you DON'T DIG. It's a lot less work and overtime it leads to healthier soil and so many fewer weeds. There are lots of resources online about no dig gardening, beyond the one I linked, so Google away.

To prep my garden beds this year, I'm going to be spreading compost and earthworm castings (since I started using earthworm castings, I have had almost no issues with garden pests. Knock on wood) over my veggie beds, raking it, watering it, and leaving it be for a few weeks. And I will be buying at Encinal Nursery and asking for delivery. And then lysoling (no idea how to spell this new word added to my vocab) the crap out of the bags.

My favorite varieties 

I am in USDA hardiness zone 10a and Sunset zone 14 ish. At least that zone sounds the most likely my growing season although our winters are on average warmer. I might not have the same zones as you so you might not be able to grow everything here, but hopefully something. For example, most folks in SF shouldn't try too many tomatoes (although I believe Cherry tomatoes grow great) or eggplants, but beans, herbs, peas, and green should be easy peasy. I also linked to a few of the varieties if I've only been able to find them at one retailer. 


Lacinato Kale
Rainbow Chard
*My greens are honestly pretty basic, but these are always my faves. 


Large Italian Leaf Parsley
Slo Bolt Cilantro
Geneovese Basil
Thai Basil 


Tomato Gold Medal
Tomato Pink Brandywine
Tomato Berkeley Tie Dye (Green or other)
Tomato Get Stuffed -- Stuffing tomato! Super fun.
Tomato Lucid Gem
Sungold Tomato (cherry!) And my daughter's favorite. She hides the tomato vines and picks them off.


Costata Romanesco or Johnny's Pantheon F1 hybrid. This is by far the tastiest squash I've ever eaten.
Cocozella Di Napoli Squash - it produces and produces and produces. And produces again.


Soyu Long
Tokyo Green
Tasty Green


Rosa Bianca
Ping Tung


Ha Ogen

Pole Beans

Purple Podded Pole bean
Rattlesnake Pole
Emerite Pole (aka haricrot vert)


Spring Blush
Magnolia Blossom Tendril

How to water

You can certainly water by hand, but I recommend drip irrigation if you can manage it. It uses less water, can be set on a timer, and is better for your plants as they slowly get to drink rather than chugging. 

How to build raised beds

I wrote about how we built our raised beds before, but folks might not want to use roof tiles. It's an odd thing to buy right now and might be hard to come by. Most commonly, raised beds are built out of wood, but stick to rot resistant varieties like cedar, redwood, and pine. Empress of Dirt has a really thorough explanation of how to choose your wood. My brother in law also built his out of fencing, which I thought was pretty genius. 

Also, if you want to have a weed barrier in your beds, the cheapest, easiest, and best for the environment is cardboard. You know all those boxes you've been getting in the mail? Break 'em down and spread them on the base of your bed before putting your new soil on top. 

Keep your questions coming friends! And let's garden away our anxiety and make some veggie and fruit babies. 

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