Seven Mediterranean Food Plants for the Dry Edible Garden

Pomegranates are common fruits for southern California.

The dry edible garden is rooted in classical civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians shared their ancient local food crops throughout the western world. Some of the best are grapes, pomegranates, date palms, rosemary, artichokes, cardoons, and figs. All are still vital to contemporary agriculture in deserts and dry places around the world and make great choices for arid-zone gardens.

Growing Mediterranean Edibles

Because most of these Mediterranean edibles are not very cold hardy, you need to know their tolerances before trying to grow any outdoors. Further north, grow dwarf varieties in containers that can be brought indoors for the winter. Water-holding, Black Gold Moisture Supreme potting soil is an ideal mix for contained arid food plants.

One potential problem is that some of these plants, such as date palms, need long-term high heat for their fruit to ripen properly. Though fruits might appear in cooler temps, they aren’t nearly as sweet or just won’t fully ripen.

If you live where they are hardy, grapes, pomegranates, date palms, rosemary, artichokes, cardoons, and figs make outstanding landscape plants that thrive despite limited water and high heat. Keep in mind that sufficient irrigation is required, particularly in porous, fast draining soils, if they are to produce quality fruit. Here are additional tips for growing each.

1. 2. Artichokes and Cardoons

Artichokes have naturalized in arid coastal California, proving their adaptability. (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

Out in the garden, the easiest arid vegetables to start with are artichokes and their close relative, cardoon. Both act as ornamental and edible perennials. The artichoke we eat is the flower bud, which should be harvested when buds are full-sized with tight bracts. For a big floral show, leave the buds to mature into huge, purple thistle-like blooms. This plant also bears fabulous lobed grayish foliage that’s exceptional for gray gardens. [Click here to learn more about growing artichokes.]

Cardoons have flavorful stems that can be blanched and eaten. The bold silvery leaves also look great when planted in arid flower gardens, and are followed by large, purplish, thistle-like flowers.

3. Date Palms

Fresh dates on a date palm tree.

Mediterranean date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) reach up to 100-feet and like heat and drought. They are hardy to USDA Zones 8b11, so they can only be grown in the hot and dry American landscapes of Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Florida. Full sun and well-drained dry soil are required for good growth. Male and female flowers exist on separate plants, so at least one male and female plant are needed for cross-pollination and fruit set.

(Editor’s Note: If space is limited, try growing the Southeast Asian pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii), which reaches 8-10 feet, can be container grown, and is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11. Its dark purplish fruits are thin-skinned but edible.)

4. Figs

Many figs grow well in large containers.

Dwarf forms of fig (Ficus carica) are specially bred for small-space areas. They grow well in containers that are fit for small city gardens or high-density neighborhoods in hot climates. Hardiness depends on the variety. Some are hardy to USDA Zone 6, as is the case with ‘Chicago Hardy’, while most others are hardy to USDA Zones 8-11. Here too, learn if their fruit cycle works locally by checking with your local garden center. You want the plant to thrive in a large patio container during summer, then plan for winter protection strategies. You may need wheels or a good dolly to bring pots indoors.

5. Grapes

The green hose marks the single watering point for this grapevine in the high desert. (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

Common grapes (Vitis vinifera) are amazing vines that provide both extensive shade and an annual crop of fruit grown for fresh eating or winemaking. Grapevine covered ramadas were landscape fixtures in early California and served as the first true “outdoor rooms” in the region.

The beauty of grapes is that they have one stem per plant, making irrigation of single plants easy. Drip irrigation helps sustain vines that survive an average of 30-40 years and become enormous over time, even with pruning. Grapes offer more than fruit; the young leaves are easily canned for homemade stuffed grape leaves (dolmas) from scratch.

6. Pomegranates

Grapes have been cultivated in the Mediterranean since ancient times.

Today’s pomegranate (Punica granatum) trees come in a huge range of sizes, with smaller trees for city yards or larger trees for orchards or spacious landscape plantings.  So long as the local climate is within the cold tolerance range (USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11) and summers are not humid and rainy, pomegranates should thrive.

They grow well in poor, dry, rocky soils, but benefit from soils fortified with organic matter. (Commercial growers know that to achieve the largest juiciest fruits regular moisture and nutrition are needed.)  If the soil drains well, a pomegranate will appreciate added soil amendment.  The best choice is to blend Black Gold Garden Compost into the soil at planting time.  This helps young potted trees transition from potting soil to native soil. [Click here to learn more about growing pomegranates.]

7. Rosemary

A rosemary shrub in flower.

The herb rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a large evergreen shrub that grows well in arid regions and tolerates intense sun.  It has many uses. Enjoy it as a culinary herb, cut flower, and or essential oil scent. The fresh stems also make great flavored kebob sticks and/or barbecue brushes. Plant potted rosemary in Black Gold potting soil and place on a sunny, west-facing patio or deck.

Quality potting soils with high water-holding capacity are the best choice for growing edible plants with fewer irrigation demands. Good mixes rich in organics hold more water for longer than low-grade potting mixes. That means you can grow more with less water, and harvest fruit and veggies at a fraction of the price of shipped fruit from grocery stores.

Soil Matters to Lavender


Distinguished by long thin wand-like flower stems, English lavender is the hardiest of them all.

The Serenity Prayer asks us to “accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, with the wisdom to know the difference.”  If you’ve tried growing lavender with little success, maybe it’s time to identify what you can change to make this year’s garden a fragrant bee filled blend of drought-resistant lavenders for landscaping. It only takes a little wisdom to make a difference.

french lavender
French lavender is the commercially grown species popular throughout southern Europe.


Lavender comes from Europe where it has been grown in the South of France since Roman times.  There, the Mediterranean climate mirrors that of California where winters are wet and mild with long dry seasons extending from May to as late as December. These plants are naturally adapted to loose friable soils, sandy loam and fill soils that don’t pack down.  In areas with persistent humidity, extensive summer rain, and dense acid soils, lavenders languish.

A Need for Porous Ground

Naturally, fast-draining soils ensure the roots are exposed to plenty of oxygen during the growing season, and if irrigated or rain falls, it moves in and out of the root zone quickly.  Such porous ground, particularly on a south-facing slope, helps to counteract the slow soil surface evaporation caused by humid climates with stagnant air.

spanish lavender
Larger flowers and a shorter stature define the heat-tolerant Spanish lavender.

In northern California where rainfall can be very heavy in winter and soils are dense and extremely rich, lavender struggles despite its preference for the climate.  Fields now growing commercial lavender are plowed into mounded rows well above grade to enhance drainage and keep the root zone sufficiently aerated.

Amending Soil

Fortunately, the soil is among the things we can change by adding amendments that open its structure.  Prepare the natural soil by blending it with pumice and Black Gold Garden Compost Blend.  Use this enhanced mix to raise up the soil surface so the crown or base of the stem of the plant is above the surrounding grade.  This is also a good way to create soils that are perfect for rocky outcrops and raised beds where lavender thrives.

In San Francisco where conditions are cool and damp, growers prefer to mulch their lavenders with minerals such as washed sand or decorative gravel that help reflect heat back onto the plant. This porous material also creates a dry barrier between damp soil and the plant foliage to discourage mold.

Choosing a Lavender

All three species have yielded endless horticultural varieties to choose from.

Before you select a lavender for marginal areas, consult a local expert to find the best species and or variety to match your microclimate and soil conditions.  They vary in cold hardiness, size, and color from the cold-tolerant English lavender to a Spanish lavender to fill that super hot spot.  And for those romantics who love the notion of true French lavender in the garden, these plants will be the genesis of homemade tinctures, fragrant waters, sachets, potpourri, soap and a wide range of natural herbal cosmetics.

Once you know what to plant, select a sun-filled area and improve the soil for drainage, then plant in spring so there’s plenty of time to adapt your ground before the summer heat and fragrant flowers to come.

How to Manage Mice in Raised Planters

Young tomato seedlings in my Grow Box  – note the water-fill opening and mouse access on front.

As the heat of “dead summer”  begins its slow ebb into fall, it’s planting time in California and the Southwest.  While most folks across the US plant in spring, here the mild fall is our second growing season for food crops.  What we grow now feeds us into the holidays with roots and greens and maybe even squash or peppers with the right system and climate.  I grow many ways, in raised beds with row covers, in the greenhouse and out in the open air, depending on the season and crop.  This allows me to compare the methods for different crops at different times of the year.

By June, my tomato plants were healthy and happy!

Planting Grow Boxes

Last year I tested Grow Boxes in the greenhouse attached to the south side of my home.  With such low humidity in the desert, these boxes with their 4-gallon reservoir keep plants far better hydrated than any other method.  The box is designed so plants produce long trailing roots that dangle into a large water reservoir sucking up all the moisture they need rather than being limited to watering times.  Last year I planted the boxes with tomato seedlings in February when high UV in the desert allows greenhouse growing in the high desert and year around in the low desert.

I selected ordinary tomato varieties to evaluate how well the boxes work here.  Because indeterminate tomato varieties are long blooming, I wanted to determine if my tomatoes could indeed become perennial and produce year around without frost.  I was thrilled to find the seedlings literally exploded out of the boxes and never stopped growing or producing new fruit until that sudden August decline.  The tomato plants quit taking up water, became discolored and generally failed for no particular reason.  And whenever I don’t know the reason, my mentor always advised, “dig a hole”.

Grow box Sept
Grow box with tomato roots

Managing Mice in Grow Boxes

The cause was revealed when I disassembled the boxes to take my first glimpse at the roots that should dangle down into the water reservoir.  They were gone!  I discovered this was due to a design flaw of the Grow Box: reservoir accessibility to mice in my greenhouse during our blistering desert summers when they are keen on cool, moist places.  The Grow Box opening for water access is easy for any small rodent or insect to enter.  When water was low or dry in between fill-ups, the mice entered the reservoir and literally ate all the dangling roots, explaining why my tomatoes suddenly quit taking up water.   We finally captured the mice, but there may be more in the future.  I’ll be fashioning a hardware cloth cover for the fill holes of my six Grow Boxes to keep smaller creatures out, or the very same thing will happen again in this rodent-rich desert, particularly if grown outdoors on porch or patio!

roots consumed
Grow Box with tomato roots eaten by mice

This year I upgraded and replaced the potting soil with Black Gold Moisture Supreme Container Mix with RESiLIENCE®, which I hope will enhance the wicking crucial to the function of the Grow Box.  This year I will test fall-planted vegetables in the greenhouse Grow Boxes to learn whether the fruit will ripen in November, despite cooler weather and shorter days. Only testing will prove whether plants that require pollination and long, hot days to ripen can be coaxed to fruit in the short, dark, cool winter.

Here in the desert, and everywhere else that is difficult to grow things, these quasi-hydroponic Grow Boxes are an ideal way to keep plants fully hydrated and healthy.  They are a useful solution to grow efficiently in drought.  And now with Moisture Supreme, they will be better able to take the heat, and perhaps I will finally learn whether or not indeterminate tomatoes can indeed be grown year round in my greenhouse.

Growing Cabbage, Kale, & Collards: Fresh Super Foods

A single large clay pot easily supports cabbage, parsley and Swiss chard for porch or patio.

Until recently, collard greens were known only in the South and among African Americans who brought this “soul food” into northern cities during the Great Migration a century ago.  Today collards and kales are heralded as “fresh super foods” due to the high nutritional value of these large-leaved members of the cabbage family. These “pot greens” are eaten stewed, steamed, or wilted for a quick healthy meal.

Curly leaf kale is actually sweeter after it’s exposed to frost making this an ideal Fall crop.

Brassica is a genus with dozens of variants, most being from the original species, Brassica oleracea.   Among them are cauliflower and broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens.  Such close relations mean virtually all of them are grown the same way in western gardens.

Let back-to-school ornamental kale and cabbage displays in the grocery store be your reminder that it is Brassica season.  August is the time to start your fall and winter garden, which can feed a family with healthy greens even after frost sets in.  If row covers are used, plants can remain productive despite significant late-fall cold inland and at higher elevations.  The key is sowing your brassicas while it’s warm enough stimulate good germination and maturation of seedlings, indoors or out.

Start Them Indoors

Brassicas can best be grown from seed sown indoors in advance while conditions are too warm to plant outdoors.  Time their indoor planting so they’re ready to plant out into the garden when temperatures cool off in September.  Seed germinates best between 65 to 75º F but will sprout at lower temperatures, though it may take more time.

Collard greens are a staple of the old South that’s catching on everywhere for plentiful pot greens.

Sow the small seeds in Black Gold Seedling Mix with RESiLIENCE® to provide a clean, moisture-holding media for optimal germination.  After the seedlings germinate, carefully move them to individual pots of Black Gold Moisture Supreme Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE®.  Be careful transplanting these vegetables because damage to stems can introduce unwanted disease.

Sow Them in the Ground

Cabbage family greens also germinate nicely out in the garden while the soil is warm.  It’s an old custom to cover seedbeds in wet burlap on hot dry days to keep them moist and shaded during germination.  Some gardeners create shade covers to aid seedling development.

Pick a “mess” of greens from the garden for a quick, easy and highly nutritious meal.

If you grow a “mess of greens”, it’s enough to feed a family for months since leaves are cut while the plant lives on to make more foliage.  A big pile of leaves lose a lot of volume in the cooking process, so don’t underestimate the numbers of plants needed. Err on the side of overdoing it.  Space the plants as stipulated on the seed packet since these will be very large at maturity.

Recondition soil before you introduce your Brassica seeds or seedlings into the garden.  The ground may be depleted by summer crops, so it’s important to boost fertility.  Greens depend on nitrogen, the nutrient responsible for stem and leaf development in plants.  Make sure you fork in Black Gold Garden Compost Blend before planting.

Grow Them in Pots

Flowering cabbage, yet another Brassica, is often grown in pots with annual flowers for winter gardens.  This demonstrates how well-adapted leafy greens are to pots and troughs on your porch, patio or deck.  Blend your greens with violas and calendulas, both easy-to-grow cool-season annual flowers with edible blossoms.

Too many Americans have grown up without ever tasting real “pot greens”, but when picked fresh their rich sweet flavor will soon become a family favorite. (Keep in mind that most greens actually tastes better after it’s exposed to frost!)  What’s even more surprising is it takes less than an hour to harvest and cook greens into a healthy, garden-fresh meal.  That makes it a time saver that doesn’t sacrifice nutrition.

This year, grow a wide range of these super foods in your fall and winter garden, so there’s always fresh picked fast food in your kitchen at the end of a busy day.

Summer Vegetable Garden Nutrient Deficiencies

The yellowing of this formerly green pepper plant is a sign of nitrogen deficiency that often crops up at the end of the growing season when soil is depleted.

Organic gardeners must be readers of signs, which are the silent and often subtle ways plants communicate their needs to us. Summer vegetable garden nutrient deficiencies appear as changes that indicate something isn’t right.  They’ll show up during the heat of midsummer vegetable gardens because plants are working overtime to mature and reproduce, which requires optimal nutrition.

BG Earthworm Casting frontIt’s not unusual to find signs of nutrient deficiency in raised beds.  This is because the original potting soil may have been poor quality, or has simply worn out over the first year or two because vegetable plants are heavy feeders.  If the soil is depleted, the plants weaken, resulting in minimal yields, small size and perpetual problems with pests and diseases.  Raised beds must be liberally fortified with organic amendments and fertilizers each year to compensate for what was consumed by the plants over the previous growing season.

When garden soil is lacking one or more nutrients, plants often show it by changing color.  Their emerald foliage may fade to yellow green or develop yellowing is visible in stripes.  Sometimes just the leaf veins are green with yellow spaces, or the veins are yellow with green spaces. Poor leaf color can indicate disease, but often it is due to chlorosis, a result of a macro- or micronutrient deficiency. Macronutrients are needed in larger quantities and micronutrients are taken up in smaller quantities, but both are needed for good growth.

So what are these nutrients?

Macronutrients:  Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.

Micronutrients:  Boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum and nickel.

If your plant is experiencing chlorosis, or you see other curious signs, you may never know exactly what nutrient is absent or deficient.  The best solution is a shotgun approach using amendments or fertilizers known to be rich in a wide range of nutrients.

macroNutMagnesiumBlack Gold Earthworm Castings is perfect for solving micronutrient deficiency.  Castings are rich in all sorts of minerals derived from the fertile soils where worms lived, and these can be easily introduced to your soil and root zone.  For a larger scale application, cultivate dry castings into the soil around each plant or along each row, then water generously so the material works it way deeper down.

For smaller gardens and raised beds, an application in solution generates more rapid results.  Mix castings into a bucket of water, then ladle or pour out this “soup” onto the soil around each plant.  Be generous because this is not a concentrated fertilizer, so it won’t burn. It’s impossible to overdo it.

Sometimes young gardens that haven’t benefitted from years of soil amendments can experience macronutrient deficiencies, such as low nitrogen.  Because nitrogen is responsible for leaf and stem growth, the plant will show signs of being stunted or it simply languishes when it should be thriving.  To test for a nitrogen deficiency in organic gardens, work alfalfa meal into the soil and water generously.  If the plants begin to put on new growth and larger more lush leaves within a few weeks after application, you’ll know it’s a nitrogen problem.

BG-Fert-All-Purpose-OMRI-120608Both macro and micro nutrient problems can be avoided altogether by adding quantities of rich organic amendments such as Black Gold Garden Compost and an all-purpose fertilizer in both spring and fall.

Avoid resorting to poor-quality, less natural fertilizers as a quick fix to nutrient deficiency because it’s only short term and not beneficial to the soil food web.  It’s much like eating a doughnut for energy, which won’t last long, then you feel lethargic and crash from low blood sugar. It matters what you eat, how much you consume, and how often you dine.  Be diligent, because feeding your organic garden generously in spring and fall with slower acting organic amendments and fertilizers ensures it remains chlorosis free and consistently fertile all year, every year.

vegetables 026 (2)
Here is the same pepper several weeks after fertilization and good care.


Mighty Marigolds for Organic Gardening

The marigold that combats root knot nematodes best is the French Marigold (Tagetes patula).
The marigold that combats root knot nematodes best is the French Marigold.

A single flower crops up time and again in vegetable gardens, old and new.  Our grandparents may not have known why they were included, but they carried on this tradition “to keep bugs out”. But marigolds don’t control pests that bedevil foliage, so why did this practice become so ingrained in the home garden?  Agricultural studies have finally revealed the reasons for marigold planting in organic vegetable gardens and how they actually contribute to plant health. Continue reading “Mighty Marigolds for Organic Gardening”

Growing Strawberries with Success

Sometimes old-time gardening advice is the best advice. When I searched for the most complete tips for growing the best strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa), I eventually turned to two classic gardening books, How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method (J.I. Rodale, 1961) and the Cyclopedia of Horticulture (L.H. Bailey, 1902). Both offered a wealth of information on strawberry growing. In fact, my new strawberry patch is already producing good fruit!

Preparing Strawberry Beds

A little bit of seed-free straw or hay makes a great bedding for strawberry plants.
Fresh strawberries for the picking

When preparing my beds for my strawberries, I took Rodale and Bailey’s advice and chose a large space, which I amended and mounded so the ground would be rich and light while offering superb drainage. According to Rodale, “Strawberries need rich, moisture-retentive but light soil in a warm position.” He suggested planting them on a South-facing slope, so I provided the next best thing by creating a mounded bed in full sun. This year I amended with Black Gold Garden Soil, which feeds plants for up to 6 months, and topped the beds off with a layer of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. In the fall I will add a little fertilizer formulated for fruit and berries.

My mounded strawberry beds were raised to a height of 6 inches to ensure excellent drainage. Then I top dressed with a little seed-free hay to make sure any developing strawberries would not rot on the moist ground. I plan to add some hay or light mulch once again in the fall to keep plants protected through winter and in spring. Strawberry plants can be hit by spring frosts, so it pays to protect them for the season.

Spacing Strawberries

Spacing strawberries properly is important because better spacing will ensure larger berries. As L.H. Bailey put it, ” For the very finest berries, each plant is allowed a space or hill by itself.” Truly, cramming strawberry plants together will yield smaller berries, so for each of my plants I allotted an 18″ x 18″ space around each. This has proven to be ideal. My plants are already sending out new shoots and producing sizable berries.

Irrigating Strawberries

Keeping berries well irrigated is also essential for good crops. I make sure the soil is slightly moist to a thumb’s depth before watering again. Too much water can encourage root and fruit rot while too little can cause developing fruits to be aborted, so maintaining a good moisture balance is essential.

Choosing and Harvesting Strawberries

A bowl of freshly harvested strawberries.

Strawberries harvested at the right time should be sweet and red through and though Successfully growing strawberries starts with choosing a great variety. Some strawberries are June bearing (single season)–meaning they produce just one large crop early in the season–while others are everbearing (day neutral)–meaning they produce one large spring crop and then continue producing intermittently through summer and especially in fall. Additionally, varieties may be early-, midseason-, mid-late season-, or late-bearing. I turned to my favorite source for superb berries, Nourse Farms, based in Whately, MA. Their stock is reasonable, always healthy, and they have a great selection. This year I chose the flavorful, everbearing ‘Albion‘.

Replanting Strawberry Runners

Straw creates a nice protective base for strawberries.

The last important piece to understand about strawberries is how to maintain their runners and when to replant. Strawberry parent plants need to be replaced around every three years. Strawberries send out runners, each runner terminating in a new plant. The runners need to be managed to keep plants from becoming overcrowded (once again try to maintain reasonable space between plants to encourage larger berries), but the new plantlets produced by runners can eventually be nurtured to used to replace tired parent plants. Unwanted runners can simply be snipped away or moved to create an even larger berry patch.

A perfectly formed and ripened strawberry is a wonderful thing. Berries with fully developed sugars should be red through and through and have a balanced tart and sweet flavor. When strawberry season is on, I always take the time to make strawberry rhubarb crumble (recipe below). It’s my family’s favorite way to enjoy garden-grown strawberries, aside from eating them fresh with cream. There’s nothing like picking our own for whatever strawberry delight we might create during strawberry season. Thanks Rodale and Bailey!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Fresh strawberry rhubarb crumble is a delicious way to enjoy garden-fresh strawberries.


5 cups quartered fresh strawberries

3 cups thinly sliced fresh rhubarb

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup tapioca

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice and a tsp of finely grated zest

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour

3/4 cup old-fashioned oats

2/3 cup packed light brown sugar

Pinch salt

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, sliced into thin pats



Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 7-by-11-inch baking dish.

Mix the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, tapioca, lemon juice and zest together in a large bowl, and pour the mixture into the greased baking dish.

Add the flour, oats, light brown sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl and whisk together. Place the diced butter to the mixture, and work it together with your fingers until it’s crumbly. Evenly distribute the crumb mixture on top of the fruit.

Bake the crisp in the oven for 40 minutes. The fruit filling should bubble along the sides and the top should be golden brown.

Serve it with ice cream if warm or whipped cream if cold.

* The same filling can be placed in a double pie crust and baked for the same period of time, if you’d prefer pie.

Old gardening books can sometimes offer the best growing advice!
Old gardening books can sometimes yield the best growing advice!

Edible Gardening Everywhere in the Garden

Freeman Garden raised beds for Darcy
My neighbor Ron removed a large section of his front lawn and created an attractive series of raised beds for vegetable gardening.

It was not very many years ago when gardeners had distinct areas for vegetables and flowers. There was a vegetable garden and a flower garden and the two did not mix. In addition to those two distinct areas for vegetables and flowers, if a gardener grew roses they had another bed that was exclusively for roses. But this is changing. Now edible gardening can be everywhere!

vertical window garden
This vertical garden from an old window frame has landscape fabric pockets in which herbs were planted.

Mixing Ornamentals and Edibles

The times have changed in many ways regarding how people garden, and now it is often more of a mix with vegetables and ornamentals planted together. With home lots becoming smaller, plant breeders have realized they need to change the scope of the plants they release to home gardeners. New edible plants have even been developed especially for container gardening and small space areas. This is exactly what many homeowners need.

When I talk to other gardeners and visit other gardens, I notice a huge increase in the growing of vegetables. People are concerned about pesticides on what they eat and there is also a heightened interest in environmental issues, such as where something was grown and how transportation enters into the picture. Growing local has certainly been a phrase that has new meaning and is now in everyday vocabulary.

In my own neighborhood, gardeners have reduced or even eliminated the space devoted to lawns and have often converted it into vegetable gardens with ornamental plantings as well. My neighbor Ron removed a large section of his front lawn and created a series of raised beds for vegetable gardening.

BRAZELBERRIES raspberry shortcake in square terra cotta pot
Brazelberries Raspberry Shortcake grows beautifully in ample containers.

Raised Beds

Raised beds can create an environment in which the homeowner can control the soil for optimum harvest results. Many of us have spaces where the soil is not conducive to vegetable gardening but by amending it in a raised bed, the right growing conditions can be obtained. This can be an easy fix with buying good topsoil and adding Black Gold Garden Compost Blend along with a good fertilizer formulated for vegetables. A new gardening space is thus instantly created. In neighbor Ron’s garden, due to an ever present deer problem, he also built a fence around the raised beds and then espaliered apple trees on the fence wires.

Edibles in Containers

There has been a noticeable increase in vegetables and berries for containers. It was not long ago that I had never or rarely seen vegetables or berries growing in containers. Containers were meant for growing flowers! In 2012, with the introduction of BrazelBerries®, all of a sudden there was a series of different berries that were bred specifically for growing in containers. Container gardening reached a new level with the blending of berries and flowers. Raspberry Shortcake™ is a dwarf and thornless raspberry that is ideal for growing in containers. For those with a deck or balcony, they could now grow their own raspberries. Jelly Bean™ is a super dwarf and hardy

blueberry that is also easily grown in a container. It provides almost year round color with the typical white blueberry flowers in spring and the bright green leaves in early spring that become darker shades of greens and reds as the season progresses. The berries are large-sized and appear in mid-summer. Both of these berries would benefit from using Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil in the container.

Gardeners are very innovative and my neighbor, Janet, attached a wooden planter to the railing on her deck and planted lettuce. She said it was a delight to be able to walk out from her kitchen onto the deck and cut lettuce for salad. In another garden that I visited, a vertical garden from an old window frame had been created with landscape fabric used to create pockets in which herbs were planted. Black Gold Natural & Organics Potting Soil would be ideal for both of these conditions.

There are no rules to mixing up berries, vegetables and flowers. Be aware of the environmental conditions as most vegetables need full sun or at least six hours per day. Also, remember that since these plants are in containers, they will tend to dry out on sunny and windy days so be aware of moisture needs.

Check out your local garden center and you might be pleasantly surprised at what is available for even small spaces. You can not only enjoy your plants but in many cases can reap the harvest.


Nerd Night Lettuce
My neighbor Janet attached a wooden planter to the railing on her deck and planted beautiful, fresh lettuce.

New Tomatoes for 2014

‘Green Tiger’ grape tomato is tangy and sweet. (Photo care of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)

Tomatoes are the major players in my vegetable garden each year. This is not only because they are delicious summer staples, but they are also expensive and diverse varieties are harder to come by at stores and even farmers markets. It’s so much nicer to pick them straight from the garden anyway. That’s why cool new tomatoes are the first veggie introductions I look for each season.

Continue reading “New Tomatoes for 2014”

Planting Bare Root Fruit Trees

Well-planted and maintained bare-root fruit trees will produce good fruit on a couple of years.

Out West, where the bare root season arrives early, February is time for planting fruit trees, and January is the time to prepare. New gardeners often miss this crucial planting time because it falls so early here. Bare root season is the best time to buy fruit trees at their lowest price of the year. Trees grown from bare root stock produce more adventurous roots because they’ve never been hampered by the nursery pot. Instead they’re grown in a field, dug while dormant, then the soil is washed off and shipping ensues.


Buying Bare Root Fruit Trees


Cherries require more winter chilling that other fruit tree types, which are better suited to warmer regions.

There are three ways to buy bare root fruit trees. The first is through mail order. Because bare root trees are so lightweight, they’re perfect for purchasing through catalogs, like Raintree Nursery which offers the widest range of bare root fruit tree varieties available.

Next comes your local independent garden center. These folks will order in bare root stock for varieties that they know are well adapted to the local climate. For example, late-blooming varieties may be chosen in areas where early frosts may damage early blooming trees and diminish fruit set. This kind of regional selection makes choosing garden center fruit trees a no-brainer.

Our garden compost blend will help bare root fruit trees become better established.

National chain home improvement stores tend to stock more standard varieties sold from coast to coast. These may not be ideal for your landscape, so research varieties before you buy. For example, a store may sell bare root cherry trees in a climate that lacks the winter chill necessary to make them produce fruit. You won’t realize this until years later when the tree fails to fruit at all. It’s a risk you can’t afford.

Bare root trees save you big money because they haven’t been potted, so you’re not paying more for pots, or increased shipping costs. And if you get your bare roots fresh and early, you might even be getting a better product. Those bare root trees left over after the season are usually potted up at the nursery and put on sale at higher prices. These may be the poorest trees of the lot, passed over by savvy buyers.

Planting Bare Root Fruit Trees


Once you have your bare root trees selected and have brought them home, be sure not to let the roots dry out. Many even recommend soaking the bare roots for several hours in a bucket of tepid water before planting.

Improve your planting hole soil by mixing in generous quantities of Black Gold amendments, such as compost and garden soil.

The next step is to plant them in enriched landscape soil. Because bare roots do not come with a rootball, they lack feeder roots and have a diminished root zone. Enriching the soil well will give them a better start. Begin by digging a hole that’s twice the width of the root spread and to a depth that will just reach the root flair at the base of the trunk. Next, enrich the extracted soil by blending it with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend or Black Gold Garden Soil. It’s also important to add a starter & transplant fertilizer to help build strong roots and reduce transplant shock.

graft union
There’s a line on the bare root tree, below the graft union and just above the root flair, which shows where the soil level should be for planting.

Planting trees correctly is essential for their long term happiness. When planting the tree, tease the roots out, making sure no major roots overlap, and then cover them firmly and completely, making sure the root flair is just covered at the point where it meets the trunk. You also need to be aware of the tree graft near the base of the trunk. The graft is not too hard to spot; just look for a line or mark at the base of the tree where the straight rootstock was grafted with the varietal wood (or “scion”). It’s wise to cover the graft union with protective wrap to protect against summer sunburn or winter sun scald.

Be sure to create a watering basin in the soil around the newly planted tree, and fill it to the top with water to help settle the new soil around the roots. Staking newly planted bare root trees is also wise as they won’t be sure-footed until they set strong, new roots. Continue to give it good care, and watch the bare stick come to life with flowers, leaves and fruits that get bigger and better each year.