Posts from the ‘edible garden’ category

Landscaping in Times of Drought

I remember when I was a kid in the 70s. There was an oil embargo that I don’t really remember. Then there was a second oil crisis in the late 70’s that had cars lining up for gas for miles. My dad hated Jimmy Carter. And California was in an extreme drought. The drought of the century. There was water rationing – and lawns were on the chopping block. It’s funny how history repeats itself. Today, we’re fighting wars for oil. My dad hates Obama. And California is in the drought of the century.

Back then our neighbor, Mr. Heron, was the first to take charge of the drought situation. He tore out the front lawn and put in that quintessentially 70s granite pebble. The front path dissected the front yard perfectly, and he planted a brick encircled mulberry tree in the center of each of the squares that were once lawn. When he was done, all of the neighbors gathered in front of his house to admire his handywork and water-wise efforts. But maybe not the overall aesthetic of his creation. As we walked back to our house, my dad shook his head. Forget simply keeping up with the Joneses – or Herons in this case. He new he could do better than that.

My dad was a firefighter, and there are two things you should know about firefighters. They are heroes, it’s true, but they also have a lot of freaking time off! One of his fellow firefighters designed gardens on the side. So he and my dad got together and designed our front yard. They put in walls and a courtyard with an arbor, that in my now professional opinion, should have been much bigger to make use of much needed shade, as well as further reducing the area dedicated to lawn. They widened the entry path in a very 1970s staggered aggregate and regular concrete pattern, and created deeper planting beds to reduce the size of the lawn. Even as a little kid, I was fascinated by the process, and in love with the transformation the landscape made to an otherwise plain ranch house. I think this is where I first got my love for landscape design that would lead me to where I am now.

Our front yard was the talk of the suburb. People would drive by – even stop – to admire the beautifully landscaped garden. They’d ask questions about the raphiolepis and agapanthus that bloomed beautifully but required very little water.  Of course these plants were destined to become parking lot plants because of their reliability. My dad’s alternative to lawn was a revolutionary groundcover called Dichondra! It promised to be dark green, low water and no maintenance. What it also meant for us was that we could no longer play in the front yard. Every step on the cushiony clovery mat of dichondra left a footprint – evidence for my dad to know exactly who walked on his low-water alternative to that hideous granite cobble in Mr. Heron’s yard. It also didn’t fare as well as promised in our hot valley sun. He converted the area back to lawn when the drought crisis ended…

While history has a habit of repeating itself, it behooves us to build on what we’ve learned, and not return to our old ways. We Californians live in a drought-prone land. Our population is growing. Water is our most precious resource – and there will be times when its more scarce than others. We believe our job here at Lazar Landscape is to take the “I can do better than that” approach to designing and building outdoor living spaces – gardens and landscapes – and make them water wise. Stay tuned for future posts from us where we explore residential landscapes without lawns, lawn alternatives, beautiful drought-tolerant plants, implementing smarter irrigation systems, and even ideas for responsible sod lawns.

An update on my veggie garden

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Well I am happy to report that my veggie garden is growing quickly! I must say the past rain (wish there was more in our future) really helped my watering schedule and I think was the key to getting our garden established.  We’ve also grown our garden since we last talked – we added a poblano pepper plant and I potted a couple blueberry plants. The blueberries are already producing; in fact I better go out and check tonight! I bought two varieties of blueberries because even though they are self-pollinating – they do better with another variety close by to cross pollinate resulting in a healthier crop, so far they are delicious! I was also just gifted two more tomato plants so it looks like I need to get a few more pots for them – because if you got ‘em grow ‘em and I’ve run out of room in my raised beds!

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In the garden right now my tomato plants are full of flowers and have at least quadrupled in size. I just noticed some grape tomatoes are already starting to sprout – It’s so exciting. It’s definitely time for me to get out there and do some pruning on the tomato plants. When you look closely at a tomato plant you see the stem and its’ branches – which hopefully have flower buds popping now- but you will also notice some additional branches sprouting between the stem and branch. These branches only grow leaves and are referred to as suckers. They are not fruit producing and the plant uses a lot of energy to produce them, so my cutting them back you encourage more energy and growth to be directed to the branches that are tomato producing, resulting in a healthier crop. So that’s definitely on my garden to-do list this weekend.

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My zucchini plant has grown so much – I think it’s more than quadrupled in size. And this weekend, while watering, I noticed a blossom on the zucchini plant – hopefully a sign of zucchini to come!  Even though watering is considered a chore, it really gives me the opportunity to see what happening in the raised beds and I have totally enjoyed it.  It’s really exciting that not only are the plants growing – they are showing signs of what’s to come. 

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Our red pepper plant and the banana pepper plant both have flowering blossoms on their stocks, while the jalapeño shows signs of blossoms to come and the poblano is just a little behind since it’s a more recent transplant.

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Finally, I’m also quite impressed that the cilantro seeds I planted.  I couldn’t find any cilantro plants so I decided to start from seed.  I was unsure how it would go because starting from seed seems like daunting task to me, but they are thriving! The person who gifted me the tomato plants grew all hers from seed – and most of them sprouted, which is why she had extra to share.  I’m so impressed, maybe that will be my goal next year – to start everything by seed.  We haven’t used any cilantro yet, but we are already regularly using our basil plant and it is delicious!

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If you haven’t planted your veggie garden yet– there’s still time!   Even if all you can do is get out there and plant a few tomato plants in pots to tend to – it will be totally worth it!

My raised vegetable beds

Are you ready for it? Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to get your veggie garden growing! Whether you just have a few pots to get started with, or raised beds to fill, get your tomatoes in the ground now to enjoy the fruits of your labor sooner rather than later.

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When searching for raised vegetable bed inspiration online a couple years ago we discovered a local company, Art of the Garden, trying to make it easier to install raised beds in your garden. Their product, the M-brace, is a set of four metal braces that hold your stacked redwood boards in place, up to 14” tall, and that’s it – no tools required! They have fun designs, or come in solid pieces and they are made locally from recycled metal. It’s an awesome concept and after installing them in many of our clients’ gardens I always knew I would be using them once I was ready to build my raised beds. Last year I planted some tomatoes and herbs in pots to test my success with vegetables. This year I have bigger goals, so I contacted Art of the Garden to get my project started.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear they are developing a new product line that allows you to build veggie beds up to 24” tall, the only difference being some tools required. I have always wanted to do two foot high raised beds because we have two small dogs that tend to get in whatever they can. This seemed like the perfect solution and I was so happy they would share the Garden HighRiser prototype with me. Very soon they will be launching the product line and I can say I highly recommend using them in your garden. We were able to construct our beds in one weekend, really one day with some extra help and I am so pleased with the results!

The extra help is always a bonus - it's great to have good friends, especially the ones who bring toys.

The extra help is always a bonus – it’s great to have good friends, especially the ones who bring toys.

The tools and supplies required to construct raised beds using the HighRiser is the HighRiser braces, 2” thick redwood boards (you can use different heights of boards, we went with stacked 2 x12s to get our 24” tall), #12 lumber screws, a drill, gopher wire and soil and plants to fill the beds once they are constructed. To make things easier we bought our redwood at Lowes where they will cut the wood for you. I decided I wanted to make two 4’ square veggie beds in my space as opposed to one long one. I just thought it would look cute and be easy to garden in.

In the beginning, setting the first bed up.

In the beginning, setting the first bed up.

The upper boards don't fit debacle photo.

The upper boards don’t fit debacle photo.

We had to start our project first by clearing away the rocks where our beds would go and measuring everything out. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be from the start. Working with the HighRisers was really easy. We were able to assemble the braces to the first round of 2x12s and still move the beds around into position. For extra stabilization we buried the frames a little and checked our levels before committing to their final location. We did run into a little trouble at first because we tightened the braces to the lower 2x12s all the way and we couldn’t fit the next boards on top. Finally, by my friends genius advice, we realized if we loosen the braces on the lower boards a little we could then fit the top boards on, level and secure it all together at once. Thanks Jess, we needed that. Needless to say the second veggie bed we constructed went a little quicker than the first one we built, but I think that is totally normal when doing projects for the first time (think about when you first put something together from Ikea haha). And just like that we had our Raised beds built.

The "hey we got this figured out!" photo

The “hey we got this figured out!” photo

Next we added gopher wire to the bottom of the beds before filling them with soil. Although, knock on wood we don’t seem to have a gopher problem, it would be a bummer to not have put it and then run into a big problem later. We decided to by bags of soil to empty into the beds as opposed to getting yards of soil delivered. We needed 64 cubic feet of soil total (4’ wide beds that are 2‘ tall), 32 cubic feet for each raised bed. Luckily Lowes was having a sale that weekend to kick off spring so it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been, because that is a lot of soil!

On soil patrol.

On soil patrol.

Mustang by the almost all planted veggie beds!

Mustang by the almost all planted veggie beds!

We are going to hand water our raised beds. I watered my tomatoes by hand last year and I feel comfortable I will be able to handle the watering schedule. I figure if you find something you love to do, why wouldn’t you want to do it every day. Plus I hear Zucchinis can happen out of nowhere so you should be diligent.

The final product!

The final product!

I said I had bigger goals this year with my vegetable gardening and I meant it! I’m hoping to share my trials and tribulations in veggie gardening with you all season. Since I had such success last year with growing tomatoes I’m doing more of those this year including – Roma, Grape, Celebrity and an Heirloom variety. I’ve also added Peppers to the mix – I hear they like the heat and it’s hot at my house so I’m attempting to grow Jalapeños, Banana and Red Peppers. I’ve also got a Zucchini plant and various herbs. It’s been about 2 weeks since we built and planted our raised beds and the recent rain has really helped my watering schedule and the plants seem to be happy and growing, so far so good. And I seriously could not be happier with my HighRiser Veggie beds they have completely transformed my yard!

Finally enjoying the sun after all the rain.  Can't you tell the veggies have already grown a lot!?

Finally enjoying the sun after all the rain. Can’t you tell the veggies have already grown a lot!?

TOMATOES!!! And More Confessions of a Delinquent Gardener

Well, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve added to our blog, which means I can add delinquent blogger to my list. But I have good reason! We’ve been busting at the seams over here at Lazar Landscape. Our roster is full of new and interesting landscape projects – and wonderful clients to go with them. I look forward to sharing as we move through the design phase – and into construction. There hasn’t been a dull moment all summer, and now here we are in fall – my favorite time of year!

photo 3In May I wrote about attempting to grow tomatoes in my San Francisco garden. As you know, I’m a delinquent gardener, so I didn’t really get around to planting my tomatoes until the middle of June. I planted a grafted cherry tomato, a regular cherry tomato, and an early girl in my recently acquired faux bois tree planter. They looked absolutely darling, and I liked the idea of growing a cherry tree. Get it – cherry tomatoes in a faux bois tree?  A couple of weeks after that, I picked up a tomato cultivar called “Bloody Butcher.” I bought the bloody butcher a few days before I was scheduled to have foot surgery, and didn’t quite get around to planting it, but I did nestle it into my Meyer Lemon container hoping it might get some water. Then I had my surgery, which was a lot more debilitating than I had lead myself to believe. That combined with one of the gloomiest summers I can remember in San Francisco, and a tremendous influx of really fun and challenging projects here at Lazar Landscape, and I reverted to my most delinquent garden state yet. Who wants to hobble down two flights of stairs to water and tend to tomatoes that would never fruit? Certainly not this delinquent gardener.

photo 4So imagine my surprise when I finally made my way down to that garden, expecting the worst, to find cherry tomato vines in full production – literally bursting with shiny red fruit. The plants themselves look like h-e-double-toothpicks from lack of regular water, but the fruit provides mouthfuls of firm and sweet and sun-warmed goodness. The bloody butcher sent its roots through its four-inch container walls down into the fertile soil where my Meyer Lemon grows – and it too is loaded with, as yet, unripened, but beautiful fruit. I hope our warm autumn weather holds to see if these beauties will ripen.

I love it when an experiment is successful, and I’m looking forward to next season. I’ll start a little earlier, and try to be a little less delinquent. And now when people ask me, I can tell them you really can grow great tomatoes in San Francisco without even trying.

 

 

What to do with all those herbs!

From my tiny little 4” plants I have a plethora of herbs. I just started by growing 3 kinds this year, but they have really taken off – I guess regular water is a good thing! I try to use them all on a regular basis, but I think I have to start really using them. I figured I’m not the only one who finds themselves in this predicament so I thought I’d share a few ways to use your herbs!

This year I am container gardening - here's my herb pot!  Next year I'm hoping for a raised bed!

This year I am container gardening – here’s my herb pot! Next year I’m hoping for a raised bed!

My basil has really taken off. I bought an Italian variety just from my local Trader Joes during a shopping trip. The moment you touch it, you smell it and its heavenly. I’ve been pinching back the flowers to keep producing more leaves, and cutting it down to use it for cooking and like any basil plant it keeps producing more and more. This week I have decided I need to do something major with it, because let’s face it, then I’ll get even more!

Basil up close and personal.  This will make great pesto!

Basil up close and personal. This will make great pesto!

I found this great recipe for pesto so that’s definitely on my weekend to do list – I’m sure I have enough! I got to thinking about pesto because I was recently at an engagement party that had some great appetizers, including turkey sliders topped with tomatoes, cucumbers and pesto. I found out all those things were made with veggies and herbs from their amazing garden. As the host put it, you got it you use it! I even left with a cucumber and zucchini, so I guess my personal freak out of what to do with my little herbs is not alone, even serious vegetable gardeners find they have such large crops they have to share. Makes me so excited to do more! My cousin started her own vegetable garden this year and has been producing like crazy! She also had a great tip for the plethora of basil you produce. Chop some garlic and basil and place portions in an ice cube tray, then add olive oil and freeze for future use. How easy is that to have on hand for cooking!

My other garden herb that has taken off is my mint. It does have a reputation for doing so. But I have a BBQ to go to and it’s supposed to be warm so I think it’s time for some infused water!! I’m thinking cucumber – lime – mint or Strawberry – orange – mint. Sounds refreshing, huh! I have some cucumbers left over from the farmers market so that may win out. Also, mint could be added chopped up and placed in your ice cube tray with water to help chill some infused drinks. Just another little tip from my wonderful cousin.

Now I said I started growing 3 herbs this year. I can’t seem to produce enough of my 3rd, cilantro, because we keep making tacos – fish, chicken, bean – we just can’t get enough! I guess having excess of 2 out of 3 isn’t bad, we love cooking mexican food I guess! It is really nice always having a little cilantro on hand.

mmm, tacos are one of our favs!

mmm, tacos are one of our favs!

Stay cool this weekend. And remember if you simply can’t eat or use all your own crops share your bounty from your garden with friends and family – I’m sure they will always appreciate it – I know I do!

Organic Gardening

Now that we’ve been living in our house for about 3 months, we’ve discovered what regular garden maintenance requires.  And it’s a lot.  It’s a lot of man-power, time and even research.  I say research because so far we’ve had to deal with powdery mildew infestations and lawn issues that I realized I wasn’t exactly sure how to deal with.  That’s when I decided I needed to find organic gardening solutions to these issues for our gardens health, our health and our two dogs, who spend a lot of time in the garden.

My first attempt was when I realized a couple months ago that one of our Crape Myrtles was showing signs of powdery mildew.  I noticed it one week and over the next couple of weeks I realized it had spread to other trees and I needed to deal with it.

Powdery Mildew on the leaves of one of our Crape Mrytles

Powdery Mildew on the leaves of one of our Crape Mrytles

Powdery mildew on the flower buds of a Crape Myrtle

Powdery mildew on the flower buds of a Crape Myrtle

Once this tree started to be infected I  knew I had to do something because it had spread across the yard

Once this tree started to be infected I knew I had to do something because it had spread across the yard

The Leaves get a white mildew coat and it begins to kill the branches and can continue to spread through out your garden.

The Leaves get a white mildew coat and it begins to kill the branches and can continue to spread through out your garden.

 

 

 

 

The First articles I read talked about water being the best “organic control”, spray it in the morning and the sun will help to dry it out because powdery mildew does not like water.  I tried that, but it was hard to remember before work to get out there and spray the trees down.  You have to spray in the morning because in the evening the water will actually spread the mildew because the sun wouldn’t have time to dry it out.  Next I tried to just cut out the infested branches.  I ended up cutting out a lot of the first tree I noticed the infestation.  It looked a little odd, but I really wanted to be done with it!  And then I noticed it had spread to other trees and I couldn’t butcher them all.  So I did some research and bought a container of Neem Oil.

Neem Oil to the rescue, easily purchased at Home Depot

Neem Oil to the rescue, easily purchased at Home Depot

It’s an organic oil used to treat a plethora of diseases and pest.  I followed the instructions on the bottle and sprayed all the infected branches and waited 7 days and sprayed again.  After the first week, I could tell the trees looked better already and after the second spray I am happy to say we are powdery mildew free! The powdery mildew has had no effect on our blooms and the tree I first cut branches out is now showing new growth of blooming branches!  I call that an organic gardening success and if we do have another infestation I know just what I need to treat the powdery mildew!

Mildew Free Leaves!

Mildew Free Leaves!

New growth and buds on the Crape Myrtle I first noticed the Powdery Mildew in.

New growth and buds on the Crape Myrtle I first noticed the Powdery Mildew in.

 

Our next organic gardening success was with our lawn.  I noticed it was getting big brown spots (in addition to a few pet spots) and decided to check the coverage and time we had our controller set to.  That’s when I realized a few heads needed some adjusting and our time for watering was way off for this heat.  I did the adjustments and set the clock for the hotter weather, but still felt like this lawn looked so lush and green when we first moved in we must need to treat it with something else.  I asked some experts in the office and headed to OSH for some organic lawn fertilizer, Dr. Earth to the rescue.

Dr. Earth Lawn Fertilizer

Dr. Earth Lawn Fertilizer

It’s completely safe for humans and pets and it worked great.  The best thing for me is that we bought a large bag and on the back of it is a schedule for fertilizing your lawn each season.  Some seasons require applying a greater amount of fertilizer than others.  Now it makes me happy to look out and see a consistently green lawn.  Don’t get me wrong it still has some problem areas, but overall the look completely improved after the fertilizer application.  It did require more watering, especially since it’s been hot, and you want to water it in after first applying it.  My pets had no issues with the product and it was so easy to use that I’m glad I’ve got a plan for every season.

On a side note, I’m totally excited because I decided to try to grow tomatoes.  I bought a couple varieties I researched were easy to grow, Early Girl and a Husky Cherry tomato variety.  I bought some organic soil and planted them in some garden pots and have been keeping them watered.  I planted late in the season, but the warm weather lasts awhile so I figured it is worth it to try.   And so far I’ve got 3 tomatoes starting to grow on my Early girl and counting!  And I’ve been cooking with the herbs I planted at the same time.  Success!

Mustang, protector of the 3 tomatoes and one of my gardening companions.

Mustang, protector of the 3 tomatoes and one of my gardening companions.

Like I said, having a garden takes a lot of work, there is always something that needs your attention, but I’m really excited that I’ve had some success in my adventures in garden maintenance, especially finding organic gardening products that are helping me along the way.

 

Flowerland Nursery – This Land was Made for You and Me!

FLOWERLAND FLOWERLAND I don’t know what it is about places that end in “land,” but I love them. I’m talking about places that name a thing that I love and end it in land, which equals the land of the thing that I love. When I was a kid and just started driving, I spent $600 on a 1960 American Rambler. We called it the Pambler. It was a giant hunk of steel – all bench seating. I could fit nine of my friends and I pretty comfortably – and we rambled. A lot. We often rambled past a place called Donutland. You see – one of my favorite things turned into a land! I never got to go, but Playland by the beach in San Francisco, but I imagine it was everything I would want a land of play to be.  So imagine my delight when I walked into Flowerland Nursery last week. It’s a land of nursery enchantment!

nursery and store signFlowerland Nursery on Solano Avenue in Albany has been a nursery forever. The architecture suggests it opened in the 1950s or 60s. The original signage is such a treasure, you can’t wait to see what’s inside. And, wowie! what a fantastic experience once you go in. Before I talk about the wonders of this little east bay nursery, I have to say I tried going to Flowerland when I first started working in the east bay a million years ago, and it seemed like it was in decline – my coworker described it as random and rundown. I thought then that someone with a vision should take over and bring it back to its original glory. I never went back until now.

Lo and behold, new owners took over Flowerland nursery about four years ago – and I didn’t get the memo. I’m sorry I was late to the party, but I plan on going back to this east bay treasure regularly. It’s hard to say what I like most about Flowerland because I didn’t see anything I didn’t like, but I’ll give it a go.

tomatoes make good friendsFor starters, you’re walking around in a little piece of local history. It’s harder and harder to find original, neighborhood nurseries, especially any this awesome – and this one is right on Solano Avenue. I already mentioned the original signage. The folks at Flowerland have fine tuned the design of the nursery seamlessly around the awesome original details. The nursery and store are designed well and you just get the feeling that everything is where it should be. Café lights have been added to the original metal shade structures – it seems like they close at 5.30, so I’ll have to wait until winter to see them all lit up.

coffee trailer and chairsNeed a coffee or a snack? The Local 123 airstream has a permanent spot in the nursery and the airstream fits in flawlessly with the vibe of the nursery. Who doesn’t want to make their garden wish list while sipping a latte?

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I really love the organization of the space. It isn’t a huge nursery by any stretch of the imagination, but they cover all of the bases. There is a focus on food producers, from veggies, to herbs, to fruit trees. They have one of the best selections of heirloom tomatoes going. This is the year I decided to try growing tomatoes in San Francisco again. I planted the tried and true early girls, but I couldn’t resist heirloom tomatoes with names like ‘Bloody Butcher’  Lots of varieties that are particularly well-suited to the zone 17 east bay climate. The in-house signage is informative and vintage-inspired.

fuchsia procumbensThe plant material is great! They have an eye for interesting and unique They also have a large selection of 4” plant material – and all are reasonably priced. My favorite scores of the day were a 4” Fuchsia procumbens and a 4” Rhodochiton astrosanguieum, two plants I’ve been searching for FOREVER. Also, a big shout-out to Annie’s Annuals for growing funky plants!

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The “store” portion of Flowerland nursery is darling, and hosts a bevy of begonias, bromeliads and other interesting houseplants. They have great gardening tools and organic fertilizers. And if you’re into terrariums, this is your place. They have lots of miniature plants – and miniatures to create your own scenes.  So much fun. They appear to have an olive oil program – bring your own bottle and they’ll fill it for you. I’m not sure of the origin of the olive oil – but how awesome is that? The shop is a perfect place to shop for the green thumbs in your life. I haven’t even mentioned the perfect, omnipresent nursery dog!this guy

If you find yourself in east bay and are in the mood for retail therapy of the flora variety – head on down to Flowerland Nursery on Solano Avenue in Albany. You won’t be disappointed!

It’s grilling season – time for an outdoor kitchen!

When considering a garden project one common question we ask new clients is: what about an outdoor kitchen?  This time of year is the reason why Californians cook outside – we take advantage of the warm weather and longer days.  Plus it doesn’t feel like such a chore grilling outside – clean-up is minimal and a glass of wine in the garden is always appreciated and enjoyed after a long day inside the office.

There are a lot of possibilities when considering a built in BBQ and outdoor kitchen, personal preference is definitely the controlling factor.  How much grilling will you be doing? What about additional bar seating and countertop space?  Do you need a sink for clean up?  Do you want a refrigerator for prepped food or drinks for the party?   What about keeping food warm? What about a side burner for your beans? Are you answering yes to all of the above? It’s all possible in your outdoor kitchen.  I’ve even recently heard about a blender that can be sunk and built into a countertop for margaritas!

We’ve built many custom built in BBQs for our clients.  Every one is different from accessories to counter tops to wall materials.  Right now we are starting construction on an outdoor kitchen that is going to include building in a big green egg!  Here are some custom built in BBQS we’ve constructed for our clients:

This stucco BBQ has a custom Brazilian slate slab countertop.  The client included an outlet for additional appliances.

This stucco BBQ has a custom Brazilian slate slab countertop. The client included an outlet for additional appliances.

This fully loaded BBQ includes a light for the late night BBQ session.

This fully loaded BBQ includes a light for the late night BBQ session.

This outdoor kitchen includes an arbor for added shade during the day and down lights for the evening.

This outdoor kitchen includes an arbor for added shade during the day and down lights for the evening.

This fully loaded outdoor kitchen includes a circular bar with additional storage underneath.

This fully loaded outdoor kitchen includes a circular bar with additional storage underneath.

This simple BBQ matches the landscape with brick walls and a granite countertop to compliment the bluestone patio.

This simple BBQ matches the landscape with brick walls and a granite countertop to compliment the bluestone patio.

Now that's some great bar seating - gotta keep company with the cook!

Now that’s some great bar seating – gotta keep company with the cook!

No outdoor kitchen is complete without a place to sit!  This homeowner went bold with blue tile countertops.

No outdoor kitchen is complete without a place to sit! This homeowner went bold with blue tile countertops.

Many people order new BBQs when planning their outdoor kitchen, however if you love your current grill there are many options to build the countertops around your existing grill and simply slide it in to a permanent structure.  Or maybe instead of a building a custom unit, you just want your design to include a specific spot for your grill like in these projects:

This grill found its permanent home in this structure - even had a large warming drawer on the side - no one likes cold food here!

This grill found its permanent home in this structure – even had a large warming drawer on the side – no one likes cold food here!

This garden has the perfect cut out for their BBQ - now it has a permanent place, but is still a moveable fixture!

This garden has the perfect cut out for their BBQ – now it has a permanent place, but is still a moveable fixture!

This homeowner already had this great prefab unit in their garden, with a coat of paint on the stucco and a spot in the garden (including a permanent gas line) it looks like it was built in!

This homeowner already had this great prefab unit in their garden, with a coat of paint on the stucco and a spot in the garden (including a permanent gas line) it looks like it was built in!

As I’ve mentioned there are many options when considering adding an outdoor kitchen and Built in BBQ to your garden.  It’s important to decide what you want in your kitchen if you’re ready to make it a permanent fixture in your garden.  Whether you’re ready for your own custom Built in BBQ or you’re just ready to grill, be sure to check out our previous blog – 5 tips for cleaning your gas grill – it will for sure come in handy this season – Enjoy your time outside and Happy grilling!

Strawberries… A Dream or Reality?

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Last weekend our family took a trip to Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, CA where you can pick your own strawberries. I had always wanted to make it down there on our way to the Boardwalk, but we ended up staying far longer than expected at the berry farm.  Whenever I go to the farmers market, my favorite are the small, sweet strawberries that are tender and still have a thin green stem attached. I wanted to prove to my daughter that strawberries are sweet and delicious, not lime green seedy and sour, like she’s used to from the grocery store.  I had envisioned fields and fields of romantic rolling hills filled with deep, ruby red berries as my daughter frolicked around with her straw basket full to the brim.

When we arrived, there were two rectangles of berry patches separated by a dirt path, with elevated neat rows of strawberries growing on black plastic berms. They were located on a flat open patch, surrounded by dirt on all sides and exposed to the wind coming off the Pacific. It wasn’t exactly the wild and wandering experience I had imagined as I watched so many people packed into these two square plots. How could there be enough small sweet strawberries for everyone?

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As we braved the cold winds coming from the ocean, zipped up our jackets and got our pigtails in order, we started looking. Even though we chose rows that had other people ahead of us, there were still red little gems hiding in the leaves. Instead of a cursory look from above, we squatted down in front of a plant and spent time gently looking in between and below the green leaves. We couldn’t stop picking! There was one, and then another, and then we had to taste test of course! My daughter was so excited about her new discoveries at every turn that two hours passed quickly. We left with a cardboard flat of $20 in strawberries, enough to share with three families for a week. Our shoes were muddy, faces and hands stained red, and our bellies full. The idea of going on a ferris wheel made us queasy. We opted for the beach instead, where my daughter ate even more strawberries.

When we got back, I read more about the farming techniques Swanton uses and understood why it wasn’t the expansive wild experience I had imagined. Strawberries can be fussy. Especially organic farming methods, like those used at Swanton, where they have to battle snails, gophers, wild pigs, birds, and deer in humane and non-poisonous ways. Weeds are not treated with chemicals, but manually eradicated, several times before the strawberry plants are even in the ground. The soil for strawberries is prepared for two years before the plants go in, with several rounds of cover crops and compost tilled in. The strawberries are more susceptible to disease and rot if they are left to grow on the ground, so the elevated black plastic rows are vital for survival. Swanton aims for flavor over quantity so they are careful about the amount of water they give to the strawberries and the varieties they grow. The more water, the less flavor the berry will have. You can read more about the organic farming methods at Swanton here, http://www.swantonberryfarm.com/pages/farming_practices2.html

This trip has made me reflect more about my tendency to dream without follow through. I always had visions of making my entire garden dedicated to edibles. After being in my house for six years, I admit, my brother in law does most of the work with the edibles and I am grateful for the ornamental sages, bamboos, and daphnes that don’t require my constant attention. We planted a cell pack of strawberries three years ago in our raised veggie boxes, and I’m surprised they are still alive. We get a few berries, here and there, which are a good teaching tool for the kids, but they are nothing like the prolific berries at Swanton that are cared for endlessly and planted fresh each year. It has made me reflect on the sad state of our blueberry bushes that I failed to amend with peat moss this year, thus yielding very little berries and spindly, less than impressive growth. I appreciate all the work farmers do to create tasty, beautiful fruits and vegetables at the farmers market even more now. And I applaud my clients that have an interest in incorporating edibles in their gardens. If they are new to growing edibles, I might suggest they start with one veggie box and expand from there.

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Growing Tomatoes in San Francisco

future cherries

future cherries

 

There isn’t very much I don’t absolutely love about living in San Francisco. But sometimes around this time of year, when the weather is heating up in my Oakland office, when I drive to a project in Lafayette or Walnut Creek, when I visit friends and family down the peninsula or up in wine country, I miss hot summer days. I miss nighttime swimming. I miss driving or biking to ice cream in short sleeves. I think what I miss the most is vine-ripened, sun-warmed tomatoes. They are the taste of summer, and I haven’t grown them since I moved to San Francisco over fifteen years ago.  That’s about to change.

There are many obstacles when it comes to growing tomatoes in San Francisco. My little postage stamp garden is ripe with challenges in growing a great tomato, but I’m tired of waiting or begging my folks in warmer climes for their castoffs. I need tomatoes and I need them now! The first, most obvious challenge is the San Francisco “summer.” Local tomatoes are like a properly layered tourist in June – pretty scarce. I bet folks in San Francisco’s “banana belt”: Mission or Bernal Hill and maybe Potrero can pull off some tasty tomatoes, but my little garden sits pretty much at the opening of the fog-machine we call the Pacific Ocean.

raw tomato sauceMy second problem is that, while my soil is loamy luscious goodness in texture, it is also laced with lead… We’re not eating anything that comes from this soil. I’ll be growing tomatoes and herbs in containers, thank you very much. A couple of years ago, my backyard neighbor tried to use one of those topsy turvy numbers, which seems like a good idea until you remember that the fog machine is fueled my pretty obnoxious winds. My heart went out to him while I was cracking up watching him try to wrestle the spinning plant with leaves flying off. That experiment lasted about five days. Sometimes I wonder if Ginsberg was referencing the wind when “Howl” was published.

My third problem with growing tomatoes was mentioned with my first problem. I call my garden my postage stamp garden. And while my little garden south facing, I have a pine tree looming, threatening to eat up what little sun I get.

future cherry tree!

future cherry tree!

But I have to try! Some of my favorite things about gardening are the trial and error; the survival of the fittest; and the surprise success stories. I’m going to dedicate tomato space next to my Meyer Lemon – the sunniest part of the garden. And I’m going to plant them in my faux bois (funky concrete) tree for added whimsy – because I can’t grow actual cherries either. I might as well pull something off a tree!

Many have tried growing tomatoes in San Francisco before me, so I’m going with some tried and true varieties, “Early Girl,” and “Black Krim.” I’m pretty late to the scion game (all due to my denial about not growing tomatoes I’m sure) but I’m going to try a grafted tomato this year as well. If you haven’t heard about tomato grafting – it’s the same science used on woodier plants like fruit trees. Commercial farmers graft many different varieties of vegetable plants. The idea is that more tender, tasty, productive and/or disease prone plants are grafted onto hardier stock that will ideally produce better fruit. I’m a little skeptical, but what the heck? I want to find the perfect tomato for my garden and my life!

I’ll be back with an update in August or September. Fingers crossed!