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.

Winter Fruit Tree Care

By Kristina Fink, Lemuria Nursery

Kristina Fink’s expertise on deciduous fruit tree care comes from being the fourth generation at the family-run Lemuria Nursery in Dixon. Lemuria Nursery is the largest wholesale grower in Solano County that is open to the public. Nursery owners and operators since 1939, the Fink family has carried on four generations of plant knowledge to the industry with the fifth generation right under their wing.  You can watch Kristina’s talk in the video here and read her responses to your questions below.

Find additional winter fruit tree care resources on our Plant Resources page.

Tell us more about Lemuria Nursery.

Not only does our family grow exciting new cultivars, but also the old reliables that have withstood the changing times of our marketplace! From low water, drought tolerant plants to now more edible landscaping, we continue to embrace the challenges that come with each year. During the month of January, our year kicks off with bare root fruit trees from Dave Wilson Nursery. Once spring comes, we create endless possibilities for your garden and yard, supplying perennials, grasses, succulents, shrubs, ground covers, natives, shade trees, Japanese maples, edibles … and the list keeps growing! Next time you’re in need of plant help or just advice, give us a call at Lemuria. Our family is here to serve you Monday-Saturday, 8am-4pm, closed Sundays!

What is a chill hour?

A chill hour is approximated as 1 hour below 45 degrees in late fall-early winter.

Fertilizer: when, how often, which type?

We recommend fertilizing our deciduous fruit trees once a year in the spring to help with new growth. We prefer to use a slow-release, all purpose organic fertilizer. (Any product will do but we sell Down to Earth and G&B Organics)

When do you add compost? And how much?

During the planting of your bare root tree it’s best to use 1/3 amendment, and 2/3 native soil.

How to treat peach leaf curl?

Spray with liquid copper during the dormant season (winter).

I have a six-year-old cherry tree that isnt producing fruit. What could be the problem?

Sounds like she needs a mate for her cherry (most cherrys do) or not enough chill hours depending on what variety!

Hopefully this information is helpful!

 

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.

Seeking Suisun City, Fairfield & Vacaville Residents Interested in Yard Transformation

By Gabriela Estrada & Nicole Newell, Program Managers

Do you live in Suisun City, Fairfield or Vacaville? Are you interested in working with your neighbors and community to install a demonstration food forest garden or other sustainable landscaping elements in the coming months at your home or a community site, like a place of worship or school?

Sustainable Solano is currently looking for private or public sites and residents that are interested in working with their neighbors to transform these properties to grow food, create habitat and build healthy soil, while using water efficiently. The search for these sites is targeted in specific neighborhoods that are vulnerable to flood and fire.

We envision neighborhoods better equipped to adapt and thrive in the face of environmental, social and economic changes. The need for strong communities where people know and care for their neighbors is more apparent than ever, and projects such as these through our Resilient Neighborhoods and Solano Sustainable Backyards programs can help to build resilience in our neighborhoods as we connect with one another.

Suisun City and Fairfield

We are looking for residents in Suisun City and Fairfield (in the areas outlined in red in the map below) that are interested in working collaboratively to transform their neighborhoods into robust regenerative urban ecosystems that mimic nature in performing valuable functions like producing food, filtering air and cycling water. We are looking for sites to create beautiful and productive gardens that build healthy soil while using water wisely.

Vacaville

In August 2020, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire affected many Vacaville residents. We are looking to identify a private property in Vacaville that was damaged by the fires to begin to restore the ecological health of the land through the installation of a demonstration garden that would incorporate best practices for designing in a fire zone.

All of these projects will be done through public, educational installations that share knowledge and techniques used to address flooding or fire risk as well as sustainable landscaping principles. If you live within the highlighted areas of the map of Fairfield and Suisun City or your yard was damaged in the LNU Fire and you are interested in creating waterwise, edible food forest gardens, please fill out the Sustainable Landscape Interest Form or contact nicole@sustainablesolano.org. Once we receive the form, we will be looking to schedule site assessments for properties that suit the programs. By February, we hope to select multiple sites for yard transformations.

We are looking forward to hearing about your vision for your neighborhood!

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:

https://www.urbanfarmerstore.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/SFBay_Irrigation_Schedule1.pdf

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:

https://www.urbanfarmerstore.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/SFBay_Irrigation_Schedule1.pdf

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!