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Garden Tips February 2015

Garden Tips February 2015

Gardens a Reflection of their Owners

I took a walk through one of the Community Gardens the other day. If gardens are a reflection of their owners, there are a lot of sleeping owners out there.  Of the tens of plots in the community garden only a handful are being maintained at this time. Those that are being cared for are flourishing and likely to produce plenty of greens, flowers, nitrogen fixing roots and satisfaction for their gardeners.  These tips will be a few ideas that might get the other plots back in action and inspire a spring and summer that starts early.  After all, this is California, we can garden year round.  Here are the tips.

1.       The first thing to work on is the soil.  If there is not good friable soil, the seeds, seedlings and plants that are put in will have to work all the harder to get established and start producing.  Add well composted organic matter. If your soil has shrunk or compacted it might be necessary to add more soil. Fill up your beds.  Remember this, the size of the canopy you want in a plant needs to have an equal amount of root space to fill into.  Want big healthy producing plants, give them lots of rich fluffy soil to grow up in.

2.       Compost does not equal fertilizer.  If it is well composted the best it will do is about 1% nitrogen (the most important nutrient) if it is not composted, it will use soil nutrients to break down.  Nutrients your plants need to grow.  Study compost and how to make it, and your  garden will prosper.  It helps the soil retain air, moisture and fluff.  All are important keys to root health.

3.       Adding organic fertilizer will add nutrition to the soil and thus the plants.  Bone meal, blood meal, chicken manure, fish emulsion, alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal, rock phosphate,  green sand and feather meal are fertilizers.  Each in its own way adds different nutrients that plants need for growth, bloom, vigor and vitality.  Study and you will grow as a gardener.  Try creating your own organic fertilizer recipes.

4.       I wrote last month about how playing in and outside the garden is valuable.  I like Petanque (the French boules game).  I think a swing set or like entertainment for children (when not helping with the gardening) is not a bad thing in a community garden.  Even if there is not a child or senior (in the case of a swing chair) swinging, it reads that we are child and senior friendly.  Isn’t that a good thing?

5.       Keeping everything tidy is encouraging for all.  As an exercise, clean up someone else’s path without them knowing it.  Try offering a helping hand with a neighbor when you are both in the garden. They may refuse but they won’t forget that you offered.

6.       Recycling is always present.  Stretch your brain by thinking up new ways to use otherwise ground up recyclables.  For example, egg carton seed starting containers, clear plastic containers to cover seedlings, quart yogurt tubs with lids for fertilizer carried in a shopping bag and garden tools tied together with plastic bags twisted or braided into rope.  There must be hundreds of ways to distract birds with shiny scary things hanging from string. Note: birds adapt easily and will get used to a scare tactic in an amazingly short time.  Keep changing them to keep the birds at bay.

7.       Set up a weather station.  At least with a minimum / maximum thermometer to read and record the temperature days.  By recording this and comparing it with the temperature days information on the UC Davis , one can get an idea when the insect eggs will hatch in your particular garden.  Right after they hatch is the best time to control them, not after you see half of your crop eaten.

8.       Set up a seed exchange. Don’t waste time complaining about big seed companies. Law firms will do that.  Just start and keep trading your own seeds. It is far more interesting and rewarding.  If you do some cross pollinating and come up with a new variety of fruit, vegetable or flower then more power to you.

9.       Keep and share your garden log (men) journal (women) so you know what you did right, what you learned, what didn’t go so well and what happened that was amazing in the community.  Your grandchildren will love it.

10.   Have an awards event announcement this month.  Set a date around Thanksgiving for the awards. This will incentivize gardeners to achieve more in the category they aspire for.  Awards can be given for Best Gardener, Best Helper, Water Guru, Best Preserves, Tech Master, Lighting Wizard, Librarian, Garden Diplomat, Media Relations Genius, Best Garden Sculptor and Most Likely Kid to be an Organic Farmer. My Grandmother inspired me to be a gardener when I was 5 years old by walking me around her garden.  Now is the time to inspire the next generations to be gardeners as well.

Good Gardening

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687 (cell), by email at  Visit his website at

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