Join CompostGal’s Lori Caldwell for Gardening 101

By Lori Caldwell, CompostGal

Lori Caldwell of CompostGal has given talks for Sustainable Solano on container gardening, perennial edibles and much more! Her next talk will be a Gardening 101 class on March 19.

Dear Fellow Gardeners or Gardeners-yet-to-Bloom,

If you’ve never gardened before or just need a refresher prior to next season, then please join us on March 19 for Gardening 101. I’ll be discussing the process from soil to fruit, touching on the terminology and all the tips and tricks I’ve used over the years. While it’s still “winter,” it’s time to start planning for your spring and summer gardens!

The idea of being a successful gardener to some may seem like a daunting enterprise. Maybe you think it’s too expensive or that you possess a “brown thumb?” Seeds or starts? In-ground or containers? Hand-watering? Drip irrigation?

Gardening is not perfect, but it is fun and rewarding. You will kill plants! There will be bugs, good and bad ones (more good than bad, promise). However, when the year is good, it’s really good! It is worth the journey for sure! Come along with me!

See you in the garden,
Lori Caldwell aka CompostGal

About me:

Gardening has always been part of my life. From houseplants to fruit trees, my family always had something growing. Seeing them tend to their plants gave me the idea that those plants had value. I remember the smell and feel of freshly turned earth, the scent of chemical fertilizers (yikes) and being small and looking up at towering tomato plants.

Grandpa’s garden (Pittsburgh, PA) circa 1970s

I’ve been happily teaching sustainable gardening classes since 2007. Some of my other fun jobs are gardening maintanance and garden consultations. If you need help, please feel free to contact me!

Find videos and handouts from Lori’s past talks and more plant resources here.
Want to connect with Lori? Find her information on our Sustainable Landscaping Professionals List!

The Solano Sustainable Backyards program and the talk are generously funded by the Solano County Water Agency.

Perennial Edible Gardening

By Lori Caldwell, CompostGal

Lori Caldwell once again answers your gardening questions — this time from her talk on Perennial Edible Gardening. You can watch Lori’s talk in the video here and read her responses to your additional questions below.

Watch Lori’s previous talk and answers to more questions on Big Gardens in Small Spaces: Container Gardening here.
Want to connect with Lori? Find her information on our Sustainable Landscaping Professionals List!

Thanks so much for all the great questions and discussions!

How many years do artichoke plants produce edible fruit?

You can expect about 3-6 years of fruit.  There are some maintenance tips I’d like to pass on:

  • Don’t overwater or over mulch the artichokes. They are pretty drought tolerant.
  • Cut the ripe artichokes often to encourage more to grow.
  • Feel free to let a couple of artichokes go to flower. They are beautiful and the bees love them!
  • Do a hard cut back of the plant at the end of the growing season or before winter comes. Leave about a foot of stem

Can artichokes survive the snow for a short time?

They can but only if you prep them for the cold season.  Cut the stems the stack on top of the main stem.  Put a coarse mulch around the base and top of the cut plant.  This should help insulate the plant from lower temps.

What frequency do you deep water, for how many minutes?

It depends on a couple of things:  the type of plant (tree/shrub, annual) and your soil type (sandy/clay)

Here’s a great PDF watering schedule link:

It’s specific to the San Francisco Bay Area, so adjustments would need to be made for other areas/climates.

What’s a good, tall, perennial edible that will grow well in the morning to just afternoon shade and pretty harsh afternoon sun?

  • Tree collards work great in all types of climate and sun/shade conditions.
  • Blackberries, especially if you can get the thornless variety, could work well, too.
  • Pineapple guavas are drought tolerant and can be trained for espalier. They can handle the heat and are quite drought tolerant.

Would starting an apple tree in a container be advisable?  If so, when is the best time to transplant into the ground?

You could start an apple tree in a container for sure! I’d recommend getting the largest container (10 gallons or larger) and if you can, a tree on dwarf root stock. A dwarf could last maybe 1-2 seasons in the large container. However, a traditional root stock tree may only make it 1 season before having to transplant. The roots would be fast growing and fill the space quickly.

Fall and Winter (depending on snow of course) is a great time to transplant:

  • Easier access to water from winter rains
  • Cooler temps will help the tree adjust much easier and prepare it for hotter days
  • The soil may be more forgiving to work with

What dwarf citrus trees do you recommend for a small garden?

Any and all of them! My first question is what do you like to eat? What will you use this citrus for? Depending on where you live you should check to see what varieties grow well in your Hardiness Zone or your Sunset Zone. Most citrus trees varieties have certain heat and cold tolerance:

  • Lemons and limes can handle cooler temps
  • Valencia oranges require a lot of heat, but cannot handle cold temps

If you have issues with space, consider getting an espalier citrus. It will orient itself along a wall or fence (you just have to keep pruning to maintain the “flat” shape).

I’m very happy with my Meyer lemon and Rangpur lime. I’ve had them in 10 gallon pots for the past couple of years and they are about to get a container upgrade.

Fig Questions:

How often should a fig be watered?

The goal is going to be deep watering on an infrequent schedule.  The roots will go deeper with this type of watering.

Here’s a great PDF watering schedule link:

It’s specific to the San Francisco Bay Area, so adjustments would need to be made for other areas/climates.

Can you grow figs in Zone 8?

Yes you can!  Looks like Zone 8 is at the end of the range that favor keeping figs outdoors year round!

What makes fig drop their fruit before they are ripe?

It can be a couple of factors:

  • Not enough water : be sure to water regularly, especially during the fruiting period
  • Lack of phosphorus in the soil at the time of fruiting. Application just as the fruits start to appear should help.

Passionfruit? How do you prune?  How do you propagate?

Such a beautiful plant and flower! You prune them every year after harvesting the fruit.  Cut them back to about 1/3.  Prune dead branches especially. I’ve never propagated passionfruit before. If I had to guess:  root green stems in water? Dry out a fruit and plant by seed? There is also the option of rooting woody stems with rooting hormone.

Do you advocate planting onions and garlic around the plants that attract aphids?

I do! Onions are great companions for plants like broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes and lettuce. Not only do onions repel aphids, but also cabbage worms!

Can you deter aphids if it’s above/below a certain air temperature?

Sorry, aphids are pretty hardy pests in the range here in the Bay Area.  I’ve seen them in Vegas in the summer too.  I wish there was a way to deter them! Remember, you do actually need some level of pests in your garden in order to attract beneficial insects.

I have bark mulch around my trees. Do I need to scrape it back before amending the soil around the tree?

Yes, pulling it back would make amending it much easier. Actually, most plants should have a bit of space between the main stem/stalk and mulch. Too close could be too much water at the root base.

Any recommendations on which phosphorus to use?

I use Bone Meal for my garden mostly. Lately, I’ve been doing some research for my clients who are vegan/vegetarian and don’t want animal products in their gardens. I’ve discovered rock phosphate as an alternative.

  • Contains a slower release phosphorus so it’ll last longer in your soil. 1 application per season should be sufficient for your flowering and fruiting edibles/plants.
  • It also contains calcium as a bonus trace element.

Can an orange tree be grown in an 11-square-foot pot?

The smallest container that I’ve seen an orange in is 5 gallons. But that will only last a year at the most. A larger container (10 gallons+) will certainly keep a tree for longer to indefinitely. Regardless of the size, an orange tree will still need lots of nitrogen, well-drained soil and consistent watering.

Enjoy the talk? Take this survey to help us determine future sustainable landscaping classes.

The Solano Sustainable Backyards program and the talk are generously funded by the Solano County Water Agency.

Solano Community Foundation Funding Supports Sustainable Solano & Local Food

By Sustainable Solano

As a nonprofit organization, Sustainable Solano continuously seeks funding from various grants and other sources that can support the work we do. But there is something that deepens our connection to the local community when funding comes from a local source.

We are grateful to the Solano Community Foundation and its donors for their ongoing support of our work, including two recent funding awards that will help us continue our work supporting our local food system and access to healthy food within our communities.

The SCF has provided a $25,000 grant that Sustainable Solano will use to support our Solano Gardens program. Solano Gardens establishes and revitalizes edible gardens in communities that have limited access to healthy, fresh produce. Using permaculture principles that support healthy soil, rainwater capture and water conservation, these gardens provide a source of fresh produce, a hub for information about sustainable urban agriculture and a place to build relationships. To date, Solano Gardens has established nine gardens at schools, places of worship and multi-unit housing, such as an apartment complex and a veterans home. These gardens were funded by Solano County as part of the Solano Community Health Improvement Plan. With further funding in question, we are so grateful that SCF stepped in at this crucial time so we can continue to create new gardens around the county in communities that need them and offer ongoing support to existing gardens and the community champions who make those gardens vibrant and sustainable. Know of a site that could benefit from this program? Fill out our Sustainable Landscaping Interest Form to let us know about it!

Of course, food security does not only come from growing our own food. The pandemic’s effects on the industrial agriculture system showed us the flaws and where supply chains broke down. That is another reason it is so important to support our local farmers through buying directly from them or from retailers and restaurants who source from local farms. This is a big part of our local food system work, but the wildfires that tore through western Solano County raised a new, more immediate concern for our Solano farmers who had already been adjusting to the pandemic.

We started raising funds through Bounty of the County: Stronger Together to help the farms hurt by the wildfires, and now SCF has stepped forward to offer $25,000 in disaster relief funding that can advance those efforts. While the Bounty of the County fire relief funds will go to farmers for immediate needs, we will use the funds from SCF to help farmers in the second stage of recovery based on what we are hearing from the farmers themselves that they most need to rebuild. You can learn more in our blog on how we plan to support wildfire relief and future resilience for our local farmers.

In this time of giving thanks during a year with so many challenges and uncertainties, we are truly thankful for the partner we have in the Solano Community Foundation and the support it provides to Sustainable Solano and the residents of Solano County through its mission of private giving for public good.

Seasonal Planting for Raised Beds & the Benefits of No-Till Gardening

By Rachel Brinkerhoff, Dog Island Farm and Grow a Pear Nursery

Rachel Brinkerhoff, co-owner of Dog Island Farm/Grow a Pear Nursery, is a California licensed landscape architect with over 20 years of professional experience and is a Rescape (formally known as Bay Friendly) Qualified Professional. She has been vegetable gardening for over 35 years. Rachel taught this class to a large audience and wrote this blog to address questions she didn’t have time for during the talk. You can watch Rachel’s talk in the video here and read her responses to your questions below.

Hello Gardeners!

Thank you so much for attending the Seasonal Planting for Raised Beds & Benefits of No-Till Gardening webinar. We had a ton of questions that I unfortunately couldn’t get to, so I’ve put together this Q&A to answer some of them for you.

Do you have recommended books for the beginning gardener?

My go-to gardening book for the last 15 years that I go to all the time is The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith. If you can only have one book, this is the book you need.

For gardening specific to the SF Bay Area I also recommend Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Pierce.

How often do you recommend fertilizing during crop growth and what organic all-purpose fertilizer do you recommend?

This really depends on what your soil is lacking and the type of fertilizer you’re using. I generally do not recommend using an all-purpose fertilizer because if you don’t know what your soil needs you may throw off the nutrient balance. Always test your soil with a lab and ask for recommendations. They will tell you what your soil needs and how much to use.

Is there a table or website to see which plants need which nutrients? For example, which plants need extra phosphorous?

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible mentioned above has all of this information for each type of vegetable species.

Is there research about no-till being better?

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has a ton of information on their website regarding the benefits of no-till. Here’s a page to get you started:

The barrier under the raised beds only lasts 2 years, and then gophers eat through. Will digging out the soil ruin the quality?

If you’re finding that the gopher barrier isn’t lasting due to corrosion, switch to a plastic-coated hardware cloth which won’t break down as fast.

What is the difference between tilling and aeration?

Healthy soils that haven’t been compacted will have natural aeration due to worm/insect tunnels, decomposing roots and other organic matter. Tilling is the process of mixing the top layers of soil by mechanical means either with a rototiller or with a shovel.

How do you improve heavy clay soil?

Applying gypsum and lots of organic matter will help improve heavy clay soil.

 In sheet mulching is there an alternative to using paper and cardboard?

The reason you want to use thick layers of newspaper or cardboard is because it will create a strong barrier at first to keep weeds down but then eventually break down and compost into the soil.

Do you recommend the lasagna method for raised bed or just top dress the soil?

Lasagna gardening is great for both in-ground planting and raised beds.

Do you recommend hugelkultur for raised beds?

Hugelkultur was developed in Germany, which doesn’t have the dry summers that we have in the SF Bay Area. Without the summer rains, hugelkultur doesn’t work well here.

Can we use peat moss as an amendment in raised beds?

You can use peat moss but it’s not recommended to use more than 10% due to its high acidity. It is great for retaining moisture in beds but I wouldn’t recommend using it as an amendment to provide nutrients.

When can you grow tomatoes?

Tomatoes are a summer crop so you want to plant them in late spring.

What is the secret to growing Brussels sprouts? I’ve started them in fall and sprouts start forming in later winter and before they are mature the plant bolts in spring.

The secret to Brussels sprouts is that they must be planted out as transplants no later than mid-August.

Can you grow Scarlet Runner Beans in fall?

You can plant them in late summer, though winter frosts will kill the tops. They will resprout in the spring.

Growing cantaloupes in zone 9B? Any suggestions for a successful, good tasting crop?

LOTS of soil amendment and water very well during the growing and fruiting season. Make sure they are getting plenty of heat as well.

When should I plant asparagus root?

Late winter or early spring.

Do you have a good companion plant resource?

From our farm blog:

How to start a raised bed on dead grass?

Sheet mulch the grass area first and then build the bed over it.

If you put raised beds on clay soil, would you want to use something at the bottom to increase drainage?

No need to increase drainage if the bottom is open.

Is newer pressure-treated wood safe for using to build raised beds?

No. PTDF wood is treated with copper compounds, which are detrimental to soil organisms.

How often to irrigate raised beds?

This will depend on the type of soil mix you use to fill them. Some will require watering every day while others might be fine with every other day watering.

Enjoy the talk? Take this survey to help us determine future sustainable landscaping classes.

The Solano Sustainable Backyards program and the talk are generously funded by the Solano County Water Agency.

Share Your Inspired Gardens!

By Sustainable Solano

We know that many of you attend our demonstration garden tours, hands-on workshops, talks and classes with your own gardens in mind. Maybe you’re considering converting your lawn into something waterwise. Maybe it’s learning about groups of plants that work together to support each other. Maybe it’s the desire to grow food for your family and your community.

Often, we hear anecdotally about what inspired people to take action, from downspouts routed to swales to laying lots and lots of mulch. Now, we want to share your inspired gardens so your projects can inspire others! We’ve launched a new Inspired Gardens section on our Solano Sustainable Backyards page, starting with Colette and Daniel’s “Der Biergarten.” Sustainable Solano’s Land & Water Caretakers class worked with Colette and Daniel on their class design project, giving us a chance to get to know them and talk about their desires for the property. We wanted to share the beautiful transformation Colette and Daniel made to their garden that brings in various sustainable practices. You can find more on their garden here.

Do you have an Inspired Garden to share that reflects some of what you’ve learned? Tell us about it! Please submit:  Your first name, location, what inspired you, what action you took and 1-3 photos to

Your inspired garden entry will be posted on our website to inspire others. If you live in Solano County or nearby counties, then you will be entered in an upcoming monthly drawing to receive a gift card from a local nursery of your choice:

  • Lemuria
  • Mid City
  • Morningsun Herb Farm
  • Grow a Pear

The winner will be announced each month during our online classes. Entries will remain in the monthly drawing and removed only once they win. Let us know how you’ve moved from inspiration to action!

Learn How to Plant Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables in New Video Tutorials

By Gabriela Estrada, Solano Gardens Program Manager

Scott Dodson of Scotty’s Organic Gardening covers spring garden basics from prepping to planting

This spring, interest in gardening has surged with so many people staying at home. We wanted to help with what to do to get the most out of your seasonal garden beds.

Sustainable Solano has re-envisioned a lot of our programs to fit the current stay-at-home guidelines under COVID-19. We wanted this new vision of our programs to be a resource for the community, and we wanted it to be as accessible as possible. With this in mind, all the program managers began to think about tools that we could offer to the greater Solano County community (and possibly beyond).

For Solano Gardens, a program that focuses on food production in urban areas, we’ve created a series of educational videos that could support individuals getting started on their very own vegetable garden either at home or in their nearest community garden! The video tutorials are from Scott Dodson of Scotty’s Organic Gardening. Scott is the designer behind our gardens at Solano County schools, churches and other community sites. These videos focus on supporting beginners who want to grow their own annual fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, peas, watermelons, etc.), but who don’t know how to get started.

The video series begins with spring gardening (the current growing season), but thanks to generous support from Solano County, Scott will continue this video series and offer seasonal tricks and tips for year-round growing.

You can watch the videos on this page, which includes links to other resources, or in the playlist below.


Future video tutorials will include summer, fall and winter gardening, pruning and plant propagation. If you have any topics you think should be included in this video series, be sure to send me an email at

Want to start growing at Swenson Community Garden in Benicia (where these videos are filmed and garden beds are still available)? Learn more about joining Benicia Community Gardens here.