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.

Vital Cycles Brings Permaculture Instruction to Solano County

By Anne Freiwald & Lydia Neilsen, Vital Cycles

Vital Cycles is Anne Freiwald and Lydia Neilsen, permaculture educators based in Santa Cruz County. They bring together extensive backgrounds in community health and permaculture education and activism, and have taught classes to our local community through Sustainable Solano.

We are thrilled to be part of the diverse offerings Sustainable Solano provides the community! We have been consistently impressed and inspired by the commitment of Sustainable Solano and the larger community to regenerative practices and community resilience. Join us this January 2021 for Sustainable Solano’s first Permaculture Design Certificate Course (PDC), which we are kicking off with four free introductory classes so you can get to know us and get a taste of what permaculture is all about. See this link for more details.

Our first offering, Permaculture 101: Patterns and Principles, focused on three of our favorite patterns: the meander, dendritic branching and the keyhole bed design. Patterns provide tools for understanding the big picture as well as design ideas to integrate. Permaculture principles represent stories and ways of understanding that offer deeper perspective on how we interpret our landscapes and make design decisions. This shift in thinking is critical to our roles as members of and tenders within the ecosystems we inhabit. Missed this one? Check it out in the video above, or here.

This Saturday, Nov. 7, from 11 am-12:30 pm we will be taking a deep exploration of Soil, Water, and Plants. As gardeners, we are working with these three all the time, but do we really understand the nature of their interactions? How can we honor and enhance their interconnections and synergy on a backyard scale? How do they regulate carbon in our atmosphere and what is their role in maintaining local and global climate? Join us for an integrated perspective and practical examples for working with soil, water and plants, so that we can all move towards dynamic stability through ecological co-creation. Register here.

Our following talks will be on the parallels between our natural and internal worlds, particularly the cycles of sleep and water, and community and the permaculture concept of guilds (plants that work together to support one another). The sleep and water talk will be Dec. 12 and the guilds and community talk on Jan. 9 (registration will open soon). We hope you’ll join us for all of these informative talks and dive deeper into the study of permaculture with the PDC this January in Benicia!

Thank You to SCWA for Supporting Solano’s Sustainable Landscapes & Communities

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

Volunteers install a demonstration food forest in Vacaville through the Solano Sustainable Backyards program

Water, air, healthy food, the desire for connection with each other and our ecosystem — we all need these basics to survive and thrive. The Solano Sustainable Backyards program educates the community on the benefits of living in harmony with our ecosystem and the importance of building healthy soil, growing food, trees and providing habitat while using our precious resources efficiently. It is with deep gratitude as manager of this program that I write this blog. This work has given me a meaningful way to serve a community that I have grown to love.

Since 2016 we have received funding from the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) to install demonstration food forest gardens throughout the county through the Solano Sustainable Backyards Program.  These gardens are all designed around saving water but they are so much more. All of the sites started as either a lawn or a barren space and through community education events were transformed into food forest gardens.

Community members and volunteers joined us on Oct. 17-18 to install a demonstration food forest in Vacaville called Blooming Beneficial Biome. This was the first in-person installation since the pandemic began, and we were grateful for everyone who turned out to create this vibrant ecosystem. People are initially drawn to garden installations to learn how to transform their landscapes. While digging swales, moving mulch and planting, many meaningful conversations take place and the day ends with new friendships.

These food forest gardens serve as a community space where people gather to share personal stories while participating in the creation of a garden. These gardens use water efficiently to create an ecosystem that provides habitat and food and a sacred place to take solace from a chaotic world.

SCWA produced two promotional videos that highlight our collaborative partnership that spreads the message of saving water while creating ecosystem and community.

The food forest keepers are the residents that care for these gardens. You can often find them attending our educational workshops, passing on excess food within their communities and sharing their wisdom and experience. Each keeper has unique strengths and abilities to serve the community, as evidenced by the work they do. Heather established Food is Free Solano and provides excess produce to food stand sites throughout the county; Stacy is always inviting us into his food forest to teach people about his yard transformation, including in this year’s virtual garden tour; Carla recently hosted an outdoor film screening of Kiss the Ground in her yard. Many times when I visit a garden I am given some precious gift of food. Melissa gave me a bottle of strawberry rose jam; Nam, a jar of lemon preserves. This is a community of people that truly care for one another and pass on their excess.

Sustainable Solano started as Benicia Community Gardens, growing into backyard food forests in Benicia. Based on the success of Benicia Sustainable Backyards, SCWA provided the funds for our organization to serve all of Solano County’s communities in exponential ways. This has led to many other programs that continue to provide resources for Solano County while creating meaningful relationships.

The Solano Sustainable Backyards program started as individual private sites within the community, but is expanding to grow the Resilient Neighborhood concept. Resilient Neighborhoods highlight ecological features while building community connection to make a neighborhood better equipped to face the ongoing challenges of our time. We continue to listen to the community to see what resources they need to transform their landscapes and then we look for ways to support. This fall we are planning our first demonstration food forest installation taught in Spanish! We also are looking at future opportunities to transform larger public land that would serve as sites for education about healthy ecosystems.

May our partnership with the Solano County Water Agency and the communities we serve continue to have a positive ripple effect in our world. Thank you SCWA!

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!

More Sustainable Landscaping Education Programs Planned for Benicia

By Allison Nagel, Workforce Development Program Manager

Students in the 2020 Land & Water Caretakers certification course do a soil test at the project site

As we plan for an exciting slate of programs based in Benicia for 2021, we want your insight on what sort of workshops we should hold in the city — what is most interesting to potential participants as well as property owners. These workshops will help to strengthen and expand the programs we piloted in Benicia at the beginning of this year.

These Benicia programs support our goals of public education through class instruction and public workshops, targeted sustainable landscape professional education for adults and high school interns, and measurable improvements for the city of Benicia, including water savings, improved soil health through mulching and keeping organic matter on-site, and planting trees and understory plants for carbon sequestration, food production and heat island mitigation through shade and evapotranspiration, which moves water through the plant from the soil to the leaves where it can evaporate and cool the air.

Our Youth Leadership and Workforce Development programs in Benicia launched in January, bringing instruction and certification programs through adult education and high school internships. We offered our Land & Water Caretakers program in partnership with Benicia Adult Education to participants from around the county looking to build their sustainable landscaping design skills for use in their careers, seeking new work and at their own homes and in their communities. Working with Liberty High School’s award-winning Learning Through Interests program, we offered an internship that taught students about sustainable landscaping and systems thinking while building hands-on skills that they could put to use in further study or future careers.

Participants in both programs worked on creating demonstration food forest gardens in Benicia: Wild Cherry Way and Giardino su una Colina (Garden on a Hill). Shawn Carter and Maleik Dion of Resilient Solutionaries were the course instructors for both programs and designers for Giardino su una Colina, and Lauren Bennett was the designer for Wild Cherry Way.

At Wild Cherry Way, the Adult Education Caretakers worked alongside their class instructor and garden designer to create a backyard food forest complete with three fruit trees and a laundry-to-landscape greywater system. The Caretakers went through the design process and then joined in three public workshops to dig swales for roofwater capture, work on the greywater system and put in the plants and drip irrigation. It all added up to nearly 33,000 gallons of possible annual water savings for the property. The Caretakers then took what they had learned from that process and created a design for another Benicia property based on their knowledge and what the homeowners wanted for their backyard. Funding for the program and the public workshops came from the second amendment to the Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement, the Solano County Water Agency and student fees. Republic Services donated compost for the Wild Cherry Way project.

Liberty High School students in the Land & Water Caretakers internship work on their project site

At Giardino su una Colina, the Liberty High Caretakers went through a similar process with their instructor, learning about permaculture design, meeting with the homeowner, and, through a front-yard lawn conversion, creating a demonstration food forest that introduced the concept to neighbors and others. The students dug swales for roofwater capture, sheet mulched, constructed guilds of plants that work together and replaced the sprinkler system with drip irrigation, resulting in a possible annual water savings of more than 96,000 gallons for the site. Students then used what they learned to design their own guilds and create a sample design to earn the certification. Funding for the program came from the second amendment to the Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement, and Republic Services provided lunch from Benicia restaurants for the days the students worked on the installation.

There were challenges, perhaps most noticeably how the shutdown from COVID-19 affected the conclusion of both the adult education and internship programs, with final presentations moving online and the cancellation of planned field trips. We are already planning for our next Land & Water Caretakers course through Benicia Adult Education and high school fellowships for this coming January. We are also planning to offer Sustainable Solano’s first Permaculture Design Certificate course in Benicia starting in January! You can find more information here and we will provide exciting updates in the coming months.

For all of these programs, we are figuring out what we can offer online and how to best hold outdoor workshops that are safe and adhere to the guidelines from Solano Public Health, the state and the CDC. We also want your insight on what to offer. While this year’s Caretakers courses focused heavily on permaculture design, for the coming year we are trying to offer a variety of workshops in Benicia that would be open to the public as well as those enrolled in the Caretakers certification programs. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to convert a sprinkler system to drip irrigation, or you want to create a guild of supporting plants around an existing fruit tree, or capture all of that rainwater off the roof during the rainy season.

If there are workshops you would like to see in the year ahead, please let us know by taking this quick Benicia Workshop survey. And if you are a Benicia resident interested in hosting a workshop either on your own property or a community site, such as a church or school, please fill out our Sustainable Landscaping Interest Form.

Questions? Contact Program Manager Allison Nagel at