A Call to Action to Save the Monarchs

By Annina Puccio and Ann Whittemore, co-founders and co-directors of the Monarch Milkweed Project

Annina Puccio and Ann Whittemore started the Monarch Milkweed Project out of Benicia, CA, to increase the supply of milkweed available to Western Monarch butterflies as they make their way along their migratory path. Join the Monarch Milkweed Project and Sustainable Solano on Sept. 17 for an informative talk on Monarch butterflies, their population decline and how you can help! Register here

In all the animal kingdom, Monarch butterflies are unique insects: No other insect in the world migrates such a distance, over four or five generations, to places it has never been before. Did you know that a group of Monarchs is called a “Kaleidoscope of Monarchs?”

Monarchs play a crucial role in regulating our ecosystems and pollinating plants — including the crops we rely on for food. Indeed, one out of every three bites of food we eat is thanks to pollinators like the Monarch butterfly. Without pollinators, our entire food web could unravel.

After two years of record-setting lows of 30,000 and less Western Monarch butterflies (2018/19), this past year (2020) fewer than 2,000 of these orange-and-black beauties were counted in their winter groves.

The most recent population count shows a heartbreaking decline of 99.9% for Monarchs, who are dying off due to pesticides and habitat loss. Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed Monarchs need protection, but our government hasn’t acted yet and is saying that Monarchs won’t be put on the endangered list until 2024. That will be too late.

If we want future generations to live in a world that still has Monarchs, we have to act now.

In March and June of this year, the MONARCH Act (S.809 Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act of 2021) and S.806 The Monarch and Pollinator Highway (MPH) Act were introduced in the Senate, but have not yet been voted on. They would provide millions of dollars a year to protect and save the Western Monarch butterfly. The MONARCH Act and the MPH Act both need to be brought to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote.

We urge you to contact Senators Diane Feinstein and Alex Padilla and ask them to make the MONARCH Act and The Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act a priority!

We also ask that you contact our Representative in the House, Mike Thompson, and ask that the Western Monarch be protected now! The two bills have also been introduced in the House: The Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act and The MONARCH Act (House Bill USHB.1983). Congressman Thompson is a co-sponsor of these bills. Call Congressman Thompson and thank him for his support, and ask that these bills be brought to the House floor for a vote.

Also contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and urge them to put the Western Monarch on the Endangered Species list now and provide funds and protections to save these insects!

Contact information

    • Senator Diane Feinstein: (202) 224-3841
    • Senator Alex Padilla: (202) 224-3553
    • Congressman Mike Thompson: (202) 225-3311
    • Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland: (202) 208-3100
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Lori Marshall – Office of Public Affairs (703) 358-2541

Please also encourage your friends and all who love the Western Monarch Butterfly to call these numbers. The more of us who call, the more likely they will take swift action.

SUGGESTED SCRIPT for Senators and Representative:

“I am calling from the San Francisco Bay Area in (your local city) as a constituent and am concerned about the Western Monarch butterfly. I thank you for co-sponsoring the two Monarch Acts that are working their way through Congress. The Western Monarch count in 2020 was less than 2,000 butterflies, and this butterfly should be put on the Endangered Species List NOW and protected. If pollinators like butterflies and bees go extinct this will severely affect our crops and our food supply not to mention that these beautiful butterflies will be missed by all. Please help bring the MONARCH Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act of 2021 and the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act to a floor vote NOW. This is urgent and cannot wait. Thank you for your time.”

SUGGESTED SCRIPT for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and for Secretary Deb Haaland’s office:

“I am calling from the San Francisco Bay Area in (your local city) as a concerned citizen and am concerned about the Western Monarch butterfly. The Western Monarch count in 2020 was less than 2,000 butterflies, and this butterfly should be put on the Endangered Species List NOW and protected. If pollinators like butterflies and bees go extinct this will severely affect our crops and our food supply not to mention that these beautiful butterflies will be missed by all. Please do not wait but use your authority to save these insects now. This is urgent and cannot wait. Thank you for your time.”

Learn more about the Monarch Milkweed Project here

The Sustainable Rose Garden

By Katie Rivera, permaculturist and educator

Katie Rivera, a recent Permaculture Design Certificate recipient and part of the team who designed the Rio Vista Veterans Residence demonstration food forest garden, shares this blog with us about how to grow beautiful roses sustainably. Katie will talk about her research and design process for a rose garden proposed for the Rio Vista Veterans Residence in a Zoom talk on sustainable rose gardening July 27 (Register here!). Join her for interesting facts about growing disease resistant, low maintenance roses and specific ideas and suggestions from the Veterans Memorial Rose Garden design.

Katie Rivera at Cordelia Community Park

I love roses! There is no other flower that can be a shrub, tree, or vine and give you as many choices of colors and fragrances than a rose. Wouldn’t it be nice to grow your own roses and have them thrive? Over the last couple of decades, researchers, rose cultivators and hybridizers have been working hard to get away from using harmful pesticides on their roses. Trials are being done all over the world to identify roses that are disease resistant, use less water, and require minimal care. Thankfully, these experts are sharing their findings with us! This is a great time to grow beautiful roses with just a bit of know-how and very little maintenance.

Rose Development In History

Let’s start with a little history about roses and their names.

Roses have been grown, survived and proven themselves over millions of years on their own without any kind of maintenance or intervention. “Species” roses are the oldest with only five petals. Any existing rose can be crossed with any other rose to come up with a new hybrid rose. A rose hybridized before 1867 is considered a “heritage” rose. Any rose after that date is called a “modern” rose. And roses grown post-2000 are designated “new millennial” roses. Roses that share a common flower form are considered to be in the same class.

The rose is America’s national flower. Did you know that? Well, I learned something new! In 1986, Congress designated the rose as the National Floral Emblem of the United States. Believe it or not, our first president, George Washington, was a rose breeder! The rose ‘Mary Washington’ was bred and named after George’s mother and is still grown today.

So growing roses should be easy peasy, right? Well, yes, if you grow the right rose in the right location with the right conditions. Getting all these components just ‘right’ is what sustainable gardening is all about.

Sustainable Gardening Best Practices

So what is Sustainable Gardening?

According to John Starnes in Probiotic Rose Growing, the healthiest and most stable ecologies in the natural world are complex, multi-tiered ones, with predator and prey creating sustainable balances. Why would our rose gardens be any different or deserve less?

  • Observation and taking note of what works and what does not is what sustainable gardening encompasses. We must be aware of what is going on in the garden and try to simulate nature in all its wonderful glory.
  • There are many components to watch and take note of in the garden, starting with the soil, water, sun, heat, cold, wind. The list will be specific to your unique site. Then the conscientious gardener must make informed plant decisions using the most organic solutions possible. Where there’s a will to do it ‘right,’ there’s a way!
  • Amending the soil might be the first step, but you won’t know until checking the planting area for pH levels (6-6.5 is ideal for roses) and available nutrients.
  • In regards to insect predators, the goal is to use an approach called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to manage pests rather than eliminate them, while at the same time exerting minimal impact on the environment.
  • Roses thrive with mulch. It slowly breaks down and continuously feeds the soil. In addition, mulch helps retain moisture and blocks weeds. It’s a must!
  • Combining roses with annuals, grasses, perennials, shrubs and vines is a great way to create color combinations, make more interesting and creative borders, and attract beneficial insects into the garden. Beauty and benefits? What’s not to like?

Companion Plants for Roses

Trumpet , Oriental and Orienpet Lilies
Delphiniums
Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage)
Centaurea montana (Mountain Bluet)
Salvia ‘Blue Hills’
Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles’
Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’
Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’
Polemonium sps.
Purple Pasqueflower
Platycondon ‘Sentimental’
Nepeta ‘Blue Carpet’
Vining Clematis of all kinds, especially ‘Betty Corning’ and Bush Clematis

*This list comes from William Radler’s Favorite Perennials to Grow as Companions to Roses

Soil Basics

Sustainable gardening requires that we develop a healthy respect for the soil as a living organism. Soil is the base we depend on to build our gardens. We must start there before we can begin to grow anything. A good soil is alive with micro- and macro- organisms devouring each other!

Research shows that roses with healthy populations of mycorrhizae are more vigorous, with increased drought- and disease-resistance and the ability to take up more nutrients and water. Myco means fungus. Rhiza means root. So the term refers to the symbiotic relationship between the two. (See resource list for lacto serum and ‘Poop Soup’ recipes.)

Nearly all water and nutrients taken up by roses come from the soil. Therefore, we must try to understand the nature of our native soil and then manage it to provide our roses with what they need.
Soil scientists have determined that the ideal soil texture for growing roses is 60% sand, 20% silt, and 20% clay. These elements are inorganic matter. The composition of good garden soil or humus contains 45% of this inorganic matter, 5% organic matter, 25% water, and 25% air.

The easiest way to improve the water and nutrient retention in your soil is to increase the amount of organic matter. As a rule, the greater the variety of organic material used, the greater the variety of potential nutrient release for future plant use.

Water Basics

Humus can hold up to 20 times its weight in water! One square foot of this quality soil can contain up to 40 gallons of water. Think of it like a sponge (only much better). So it makes sense in terms of water conservation and efficiency to improve the soil so it can retain more water for plants.

Drip irrigation, which only provides water to the plants or areas that need it, can substantially cut back on your usage and help limit the growth of unwanted weeds.

Using synthetic fertilizers actually dries out the soil and causes you to use more water just to keep the plants alive and growing. Besides destroying the health of the soil, pesticides and chemical fertilizers contaminate streams, kill microbial life, leach into waterways, and build up harmful ecological deposits.

Planting Roses the Right Way

A rose that is happy in its conditions, with plenty of sunshine and healthy soil, is going to be naturally healthy and disease resistant in your garden eliminating any need for harsh chemicals (P. Kukielski).

Sounds pretty simple, right? Of course right! This is all you need to do! Yes, you do have a role to play. You can’t plant it and forget it. Make sure you don’t leave any of these important steps out:

Pick the right rose, plant it properly, and care for it well (you won’t need chemicals).

Know that roses thrive in sun, good soil, drainage, and they need air, more water the first year, and regular mulching.

Basic planting steps:

  1. Amend the soil in the planting bed.
  2. Dig a hole slightly larger and deeper than the root ball or bare roots of the rose.
  3. Add compost to the dirt removed from the planting hole at a ratio of ⅓ compost to ⅔ soil.
  4. Prepare the hole and plant the rose:
    • Container rose – backfill hole with compost soil to the bottom of the pot then place plant in the hole and fill in around the root ball. Tamp in well. Soil should be even with natural soil level.
    • Bare root rose – create a small mound in the hole and spread the roots over the mound, then backfill with soil compost mixture. Tamp in well. The soil should be even with the natural bed level.
  5. Water well.
  6. Top with 3-inch mulch layer.
Katie’s design proposal for a Veterans Memorial Rose Garden

Identifying Sustainable Roses

The best tool I found on picking disease-resistant (not disease free), sustainable roses was Peter E. Kukilski’s book, Roses Without Chemicals. In this book he lists 150 roses, rates them for disease resistance, flowering and fragrance. And with each of these roses, he also suggests companion plants to accent the unique color and growth of the rose. Peter includes lists of roses by region and climate and has fabulous color pictures throughout.

I would also suggest visiting rose gardens, talking to local rose growers, and asking nursery owners which roses do best in your area.

Following are some resource links and lists on the topic of sustainable rose growing.

May you enjoy years of growing and sharing your very own sustainable roses!

Recipes to Inoculate Your Roses

LAB Serum (also known as Lacto)

Can be applied to plants and soil — get the recipe here

Poop Soup

    • Fill a 5 gallon bucket with 4 gallons of well water or city water aged 2 days.
    • Add 1 gallon of FRESH horse poop, stir daily for 1 week.
    • Then add 2 cups Calf Manna, 1 cup compost starter, 2 cups good garden soil or fresh compost, 2 tablets of Primal Defense (available at health food stores or online)
    • 2 cups of sugar.
    • Stir, let brew for 1 day, then sprinkle lightly all over your rose garden, both the plants and the soil.

Websites

Our Water Our World: Roses
ourwaterourworld.org/roses/

Rose Solutions
rosesolutions.net/sus_roses.html

American Rose Trials for Sustainability
americanrosetrialsforsustainability.org

Earth-Kind Rose Trials
aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkindroses/

Help Me Find Roses
helpmefind.com/roses

The New Millennial Rose Garden
millennialrosegarden.com

Paul Zimmerman Roses Forum
paulzimmermanroses.com

Peter Beales Roses Forum
classicroses.co.uk/forum

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:

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.

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: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs141p2_015627.pdf

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: http://dogislandfarm.com/fridays-gardening-tips-how-to-layout_30/

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.

Avant Garden Scavenger Hunt Offers Fun Outside Activity Amid the Pandemic

By Maggie Kolk, Sustainable Solano board member and Avant Garden coordinator

These cousins take a break from the scavenger hunt to eat

The premier Kids in the Garden event was a scavenger hunt at Benicia’s Avant Garden, COVID-19 version. It proved to be a super successful, fun, educational and tasty event.

Bright orange ribbons rippled in the morning breeze identifying the ready garden plots as eager young hunters assembled to make their way through maze of Avant Garden. With yellow cards for ticking off their discoveries in one hand and bags to retrieve goodies in the other, 12 masked explorers between the ages of 5 and 11 gathered, in a COVID-19-compliant manner, on a sunny July day to escape the confines of pandemic restrictions and have some plain old outdoor fun. Raised garden beds chockful of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and yellow squash and the larger Avant share plot scattered with Halloween-sized orange pumpkins and red peppers, were fair game for the young hunters.

As Avant Garden coordinator, I organized the scavenger hunt with the help of Raquelmarie Clark of WAHEO: We Always Help Each Other, who recruited the young hunters through her social media connections.

The group met at the big freshly painted picnic tables to collect their hunting tools: lists of garden veggies, pencils and paper collection sacks. With instructions to collect only from the orange ribbon areas, they set out to identify or collect their treasurers. Eleven-year-old Toni, with cell phone in hand, was assigned the role of chief Googler to help with mystery plant identification. Shouts of “I found a tomato!” and “There’s a zucchini!” or “Can I eat this?” could be heard as the girls and boys filled their bags with freshly picked veggies. Mid-scavenger hunt, a dad arrived with arms full of goodies to celebrate the fifth birthday of one the young collectors. The kids gathered around to enjoy juice, cookies and fruit and shower the birthday boy with good wishes.

When time was called, with overfilled bags in hand, the hunters huddled around to share their stories and bounties, which included large pumpkins, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and a few peppers. Zucchini muffins made with zucchini from the garden were enjoyed by everyone before the final project of the morning. Each child was given a pot filled with soil along with seeds for planting marigolds. While planting the seeds, a pop quiz on what plants needs to grow was enthusiastically answered with shouts of “water! … dirt! … sunlight! … and love!”

Everyone, parents and kids alike, left Avant Garden with contented smiles and shouts of appreciation, looking forward to the next Kids in the Garden event, which is planned for Oct. 3. Kids in the Garden events are for kids ages 8-12 (kids under 8 may attend but must be accompanied by an adult over 18).  Attendance is limited to 12. Registration is first come-first served. Register here!