Monday, November 19, 2012

Educators!  This week is your last opportunity to apply for the Water Education Water Awareness Committee's Edu-Grant offerring up to a $750 grant for a water-related classroom activity.  The deadline to apply is this Wednesday, November 21st.  Check out for the application and additional information.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012



The Water Discovery Field Trip Program is gearing up for the next school year!  The program is offerred to students in grades k-12 and focuses on the watershed and environment.  The field trips take place at the Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational Park located in Chino, California.

The Inland Empire Utilities Agency and the Santa Ana Watershed Association offer a Bussing Mini-Grant up to $500 for bussing to and from the Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational Park to participate in the Water Discovery Program.

Visit for information and guidelines or contact Andrea Carruthers at 909.993.1935 or by email at

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Attention all Educators!  The Water Education Water Awareness Committee (WEWAC) will be hosting a Project WET Workshop (Water Education for Teachers) on Wednesday, October 17th from 8am to 3pm. 
At the Project WET Workshop, you'll learn about exciting, grade-level, hands-on water activities, and receive FREE water education materials for your class. Lunch will be provided.
Substitute teacher costs for the day will be reimbursed to most schools. If substitute reimbursement is necessary for you to attend this workshop, please verify by calling and discussing this with WEWAC members.
Enrollment is limited. PLEASE REGISTER by October 3, 2012. Upon receipt of your registration, availability will be confirmed and a confirmation notice will be sent to you along with a map to the workshop location in Rancho Cucamonga.
If you have any questions please call Cindy DeChaine at (909) 621-5568.
Visit for more information and for registration form.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Grant Opportunity for Educators!
The Water Education Water Awareness Committee (WEWAC) is offering a grant opportunity for educators.  The grant is geared toward those who are conducting an educational water-related activity.  The grant funding offers a maximum of $750 per awarded applicant.  Visit to receive a grant application.  Grant submittal deadline is November 8, 2012.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Upland High School Garden Dedication

On Tuesday, June 5th, the folks at Upland High School celebrated the completion of their garden by hosting a garden dedication. English teacher, Mrs. Jennifer McAdams, and Environmental Science teacher, Mr. Bo Whieldon, were instrumental in securing the grant from the Garden in Every School program as well as ensuring the successful completion of the garden.

However, Mrs. McAdams and Mr. Whieldon are quick to point out that the kids deserve all of the credit. The English and Environmental Science students wrote grants, fundraised, created promotional videos, constructed vegetable beds, installed irrigation, raked mulch, planted trees & seeds, built a fence, dug up rocks (sometimes boulders!), and watered and weeded the garden. They did a super job and should be very proud of themselves!

During the dedication ceremony IEUA President, Mr. Terry Catlin, spoke to the crowd about how pleased he was with the school garden and the importance of teaching the next generation about water conservation.

Student Body President and gardener extraordinaire, Garrett Lee, spoke about the benefits of the garden and how working on it has influenced what he will study in college.

Mr. Rick Abilez, Grounds Foreman Supervisor for Upland Unified School District, was honored by being recognized for his assistance and enthusiasm with the Garden in Every School program. Mr. Andrew Kanzler, the Garden in Every School Coordinator, presented Mr. Abilez with a certificate of gratitude at the end of the ceremony and praised his hard work and willingness to help.

Toward the end of the event, the participants moved from the cafeteria to the garden for the ribbon cutting ceremony--Mrs. McAdams did the honors! Representatives from several public agencies were there to commemorate the garden as well, including the Superintendent of Upland Unified School District, Mr. Gary Rutherford, Upland City Council Member, Mr. Gino Filippi, and IEUA President, Mr. Terry Catlin.

The kids were excited to share their knowledge and experience with us regarding the garden and they were generous enough to share the fruits of their labor!

Several students emptied out the potato bins they planted in January and passed out fresh potatoes.

It was great day and a great experience, not only for the teachers and kids, but for the Garden in Every School staff as well. Working with the people at Upland High School was a joy and makes us excited to build more school gardens! We wish them the best of luck with their garden and future endeavors.

The Three Sisters: Squash, Beans, and Corn (Maize)

An agricultural staple of the North American Native American diet was the intercropping of squash, beans, and corn. The combination of these plant types was so important to Native American culture that it took on a spiritual nature. In the Iriquois mythology, squash, beans, and corn are three inseperable sisters who must grow together and depend on each other for survival. The Three Sisters agricultural technique was practiced by Native Americans from Mesoamerica all the way to the Great Lakes in Michigan.
 Photo provided by Sarah Braun
The Three Sisters intercropping system is efficient both ecologically and nutritionally. Typically the three plants are planted together at the top of a raised mound. The corn provides a tall sturdy base for the beans to climb allowing them access to sunlight; the beans in turn fortify the corn stalk making it less vulnerable to wind. The squash leaves grow and spread along the ground which blocks sunlight from reaching the earth creating natural weed suppression. The shade provided by the squash leaves also creates a cool microclimate under the canopy of the leaves and helps the soil retain moisture allowing roots access to water for a longer period of time. Beans fix nitrogen into the soil, which provides added nutrients for the squash and corn plants. Some tribes add a fourth sister, a bee plant, which attracts pollinators to the plants and adds to the ecological richness of the intercropping. This symbiotic planting will allow all three crops to extend their growing season while using less water and nitrogen imputs.
Nutritionally, this is an efficient combination because beans contain amino acids that are lacking in the corn plant. When eaten together they create a more balanced diet (

If you would like to plant your own Three Sisters garden, follow the design provided by Renee's Garden in the following link:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Le' go my Oregano

Oregano is a very pungent and aromatic herb from the Mediterranean Region. There are several species of oregano, but the most common seed available to home growers is Origanum Marjoram (Common Oregano). Oregano loves a warm, dry climate and will grow as a perennial in mediterrenean and other dry climates. It can withstand some cool weather, but it will typically die off if the temperature drops for sustained periods of time. Oregano oil is well renowned for its anti-microbial and health properties due to its key constituents: thymol and carvacrol
                                           Photo of Oregano provided by Hidetsugu Tonomura

Oregano can be grown in the ground or in a pot, but be careful, this herb spreads quickly.

Photo of Groundcover Oregano provided by Mestra Ashara

RECIPE: Fingerling Potatoes with Oregano Pesto
Like many herbs, oregano can be used fresh, dried, or pressed for its oils. In our featured recipe, fresh oregano and other greens are blended together into a lemony, nutty, and fragrant Pesto and tossed with fingerling potatotes.
Photo of Drying Oregano provided by Ian Sommerville

Recipe is from Marquita Farms: Oregano Recipes (
Any kind of potatoes will work in place of the fingerlings. Just cut them up into 2-inch chunks.
2 cups torn spinach leaves
2 cups fresh parsley leaves
1 cup fresh oregano leaves
2 tbsp. grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. sliced almonds, toasted
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp. olive oil
16 fingerling poatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Combine first 8 ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. With food processor on, slowly add oil through food chute; process until well-blended. Set aside. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place potatoes on a jelly-roll pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Place potatoes in a large bowl; add 1/3 cup pesto, tossing gently to coat.

Monday, April 30, 2012

It's About Thyme

Thyme is a mediterranean herb that is characterized by variety. The genus Thymus contains approximately 350 species of thyme, but the one we're mostly familiar with is Thymus mongolicus (Common Thyme), which is primarily used in culinary applications. Depending on the species, thyme is a woody, perennial low-lying plant or a small, subshrub. It developed in the Mediterranean Region, in the temperate coastal regions of southern Europe and northern Africa. Humans are not the only species to use thyme as a food source; the larvae of certain butterflies and moths (Coleophora niveicostella, Coleophora serpylletorum and Coleophora struella) feed exclusively on Thymus.
Photo of Thyme provided by Andy Ciordia

In addition to being a culinary staple, thyme has incredible properties that make it a great plant for drought-tolerant gardens. One species of thyme in particular, Thymus Serpyllum, also know as Creeping or Magic Carpet Thyme, spreads along the earth as a low-lying groundcover. Groundcovers are particular helpful at increasing soil stability, moisture retention, and weed suppression. Also, Creeping Thyme is a perennial that flowers all summer and looks beautiful when it creates a bed of flowers.
Photo of Creeping Thyme provided by Andrea_44

RECIPES: Zucchini and Thyme & Green Beans with Almonds and Thyme
Thyme is used as a spice in meat and veggies dishes, and also in sauces, soups, and as a garnish. We've chosen a couple of recipes (see links below) that you can try over the summer as they are paired with seasonally appropriate vegetables. Zucchini are notoriously prolific in the summer, as are green beans. Please enjoy and let us know if you liked these recipes!

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Wise Sage

Sage, or Salvia, is the largest genus in the Lamiaceae (mint) family. There are approximately 700-900 species of sage, but the species used most often for culinary applications is referred to as garden sage or Common Sage (Salvia officinalis). Sage is identified by its green/gray leaves and blue to purple colored flowers. It is a perennial, evergreen subshrub with woody stems. It actually does originate from the Mediterranean region, but has since spread, or naturalized, all over the world. Sage is renowned for its culinary and medicinal applications. It has numerous uses in fresh and dry forms, and it it also useful as an essential oil. See Salvia Officinalis for more information.

Photo of Sage provided by feministjulie

There are several other species of sage that are useful for more than just cooking and medicinal applications. Most of the California coastline and some inland areas, particularly in the central and southern parts of the state, are home to coastal sage scrub (see map of California for locations). 'Sage scrub' is a catch-all term that encompasses several plant species, not just those in the genus Salvia. For example, the scientific name for California Sagebrush is Artemisia californica, which is outside of the genus Salvia. The most common species of Salvia that grow in the coastal sage scrub areas are Black Sage (Salvia mellifera), White Sage (Salvia apiana), and Purple Sage (Salvia leucophylla). The coastal sage scrub range has been reduced over time because of development practices. In many counties and cities, it has been given a protected status and permits are required to remove it for further development. In addition to preserving coastal sage scrub for its unique character, these plant species are protected because they provide habitat for several animal and insect species. Most notably, the California gnatcatcher is a federally-listed threatened species, and requires coastal sage scrub (critical habitat) for its survival. Other species commonly found in coastal sage scrub are: Red-Diamond Rattlesnakes, Orange-Throated Whiptails, Cactus Wrens, and Sage Sparrows (see picture below).
Photo of Sage Sparrow provided by Dominic Sherony

RECIPE: Burnt Butter and Sage Sauce (with pasta or gnocchi)

Common Sage has a strong, peppery taste that can be quite pungent and earthy. It is usually used in meat rubs, stuffings, and sauces. The recipe that we're showcasing today uses sage as the main flavorant for a burnt butter sauce, which is absolutely delicious. There are several variations of this recipe. The one from the Food Network link (provided below) includes red pepper flakes, but you can omit it if you like (check the comments to see how other chefs personalized this recipe). If you're not sure what to pair it with, I really enjoy this sauce with pumpkin or squash ravioli. Homemade potato or sweet potato gnocci is fabulous as well.

The sauce is easy make. First add the indicated amount of butter to the pan and cook on medium-high heat until it starts to brown and the aroma deepens. Then add the sage directly to the butter. The sage will immediately begin to fry and crisp up. If you are going to add gnocchi or pasta make sure you time it to finish at the same time as the sauce (it only takes a minute or two to make). Toss the pasta/gnocchi with the sauce and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rosemary, the Dew of the Sea

Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, is a woody, perennial herb that is part of the Lamiaceae family (aka the mint family). The name rosemary derives from the latin rosmarinus, which broken down further means ros~dew, and marinus~sea. Many contend that rosemary was given this name because it required very little water to survive and could literally sustain itself and even thrive on moist on-shore breezes.

Photo of Rosemary provided by Cinnamon Cooper

Rosemary is a plant that can grow under many climactic circumstances, however it originated in the mediterranean climates of Europe and parts of Asia. It maintains its hardiness in cool temperatures and can withstand droughts, but it is best situated in warm, mediterranean climates. Rosemary can flower year round with the proper climate; it produces petals in white, purple, and blue--these are also edible, or they can be used for garnish. Rosemary can be started from seed or you can take a cutting of an existing plant and plant it in your own backyard.

To use the cutting technique, look for a stem without flowers that is about 4-7 inches long. Clip the base of the stem at a 45 degree angle. Place the newly cut stem into a clear glass of water (if you can't submerge the stem in water right away, wrap it in a wet cloth until you can). After a week the rosemary cutting will begin to grow roots and after two weeks the roots should be long enough to replant the cutting. If your cutting does not sprout roots after 9-10 days, try taking another cutting and start from scratch. The best time to try the cutting technique is in the fall, when the stem will spend more energy developing roots as opposed to trying to produce flowers.

Rosemary is a highly aromatic herb that has many culinary properties. It has been used as a meat preservative, a flavorant, and in smoking applications (since it is rather woody). It has a very strong scent and flavor and people tend to cook or pair it with other robust flavors like red meats, mushrooms, and red wines, but rosemary has some subtler applications that many cooks can appreciate. For example, the recipe described below mixes rosemary with sugar, jam, and cream:

RECIPE: Rosemary Scones with Jam

Photo of Rosemary Scone courtesy of esimpraim

Rosemary scones are not your typical sweet and candied confection. The addition of rosemary brings a whole new layer of depth and flavoring to the scone. To achieve the subtle flavoring, make sure you chop the rosemary leaves finely and toss out any of the wooden stems. Also, you may add whatever jam you prefer to the center of the scone, but I prefer raspberry or strawberry. Here is a link to a Strawberry and Rosemary Scone recipe created by Giada de Laurentiis:


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Didn't Basil Make Our Mediterranean Herb List?

Basil is an herb commonly used in Mediterranean cooking, however it is not necessarily an herb that is native to a Mediterranean Climate. There is a distinction that needs to be made in this regard. The region known as the Mediterranean specifically refers to the land masses that border the Mediterranean Sea, in particular the northern boundary of the Sea, which includes: France, Italy, Turkey, Greece, and several small islands. Our postings this month will refer to herbs that have developed in a Mediterranean Climate, which is characterized by hot, dry summers and short, cool winters. Although the region known as the Mediterranean is also part of a Mediterranean Climate, it is not the only global location where this climate type if found. In general, Mediterranean Climates develop on the western edges of continents because of high pressure climactic conditions. Plants that develop in these regions commonly share the characteristics described in our previous posting: they require very little water, thrive in somewhat arid conditions, and are able to withstand temperature extremes. Thus, plants that are characterized as Mediterranean Herbs did not necessarily develop in the geographic region known as the Mediterranean, but rather, they are native to the global Mediterranean Climate zones (see picture below for geographic locations).

Image of Mediterranean Climate Zones:
Basil originated from India and Southeast Asia and some contend parts of Iran. The Tropic of Cancer, the geographic line which approximates the demarcation of tropic from sub-tropic regions in the Northern Hemisphere, passes through India. Although there are several climate zones and micro-climates in India, it receives a higher average rainfall than most Mediterranean Climates (see Monsoonal climates) and is largely tropical. Similarly, Asian varieties of basil, such as Thai Basil developed in the Southeast Asia, which is predominantly composed of tropical climates.

Image of Thai Basil provided by Choking Sun
Basil was imported to the Mediterranean Region during the spice trades; some estimate that it made its way to Southern France in the 15th century. The Italians began to cultivate their own species of basil, like Genovese and Sweet basil, for culinary and medicinal applications. After several centuries of cultivation in the Mediterranean, there are now species of basil the grow abundantly in the wild. So technically, there are some species of basil that have evolved and adapted over time to grow natively in a Mediterranean Climate. However, the type of basil that you would normally purchase at at your local garden store such as Sweet or Thai basil will require more water than a typical Mediterranean plant and they are also susceptible to cold weather. But you never know...I've planted Genovese and Sweet Basil in the Inland Empire and given them very little water and they have thrived. Go figure.
Image of Sweet Basil provided by Matt Burris

Now for the part you've all been waiting for...the Pesto recipe. Regardless of basil's characterization as a Mediterranean or non-Mediterranean Herb, we can all agree that its influence on the culinary culture of the Mediterranean Region (let alone the world) has been significant. Anybody who has tried some of grandma's homemade marinara sauce or finished their plate of pesto pasta longing for seconds knows that basil is a fantastic cooking herb. I've checked out a couple of Pesto recipes online and I've decided to combine some of the better features of them with my own recipe. So here it is without further ado...

Perfect Pesto

1 Large Handful of Sweet Basil (you can use Genovese Basil as well)
1/4 cup of toasted walnuts (you can use pine nuts too, but walnuts have a higher fat content and they're yummy)
1/3 cup of freshly shaved parmesan cheese
3 cloves of fresh garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (add this at the end)

-The key is to hand chop people. I know the fancy gadgetry of the modern age has made us lazy, but I promise you that the twenty minutes or so that it takes to chop everything will be worth it. Some people say that you need a special knife to do this, but I just find the biggest, sharpest blade in my drawer and go to town. The process of chopping is going to allow the essential oils of the basil, walnuts, and parmesan to erupt into an intense flavor cornucopia.
-Chop everything into small pieces, but not too fine because you want to be able to taste the individual ingredients.
-Add all of your chopped ingredients to a mixing bowl and gradually and SLOWLY pour in some extra virgin olive oil. As you pour the oil make sure to stir the mixture quickly to ensure that the small pieces suspend themselves in the oil. Remember: SLOW pour, QUICK stir.
-Now for the final tidbit of advice: try to time this process to finish at the same time that your pasta is finished cooking. Adding that highly aromatic mixture with its fresh oils to hot pasta will seal in the flavor of your mixture. Angel hair or spaghetti pastas both work well with pesto, but pesto makes anything taste great, so experiment and see what tickles your taste buds.

Image of Pesto Dish provided by Katrin Morenz

Monday, March 19, 2012

April is Mediterranean Herb Month!

April has been officially deemed Mediterranean Herb Month at the IEUA. Throughout the month we will be posting factoids, pictures, and recipes for different Mediterranean herbs. Today's post should provide some background information on these unique plants and throughout the rest of the month we will showcase several herbs individually. In addition, we'll also discuss some commonly used herbs (like basil and cilantro) that didn't make our Mediterranean herb list and explain why they didn't make the cut.
- - - - - - -
Mediterranean climates have allowed certain types of plant species to thrive within its environs. These regionally-adapted plants require relatively small amounts of water, somewhat arid conditions, and can usually withstand extreme temperatures. Over many generations Mediterranean agriculturalists have been able to cultivate several highly aromatic herbs. These particular plants have become famous throughout the world for their culinary and medicinal uses. Herbs have a tendency to proliferate quickly, especially herbs like mint, oregano, or thyme, which spread rapidly by using crawling stolons or by attaching their stems directly into the soil with roots.
Any of the following plants listed below can be used in local gardens in the Inland Empire. Luckily each type of herb has several varieties within it, so try planting a few of each in your garden.

Bay: Bay leaves come from the Bay Laurel, a mediterranean evergreen tree or large shrub. The leaves are usually dried and used to flavor soups, stews, hummuses and pates.

Chives: Chives are actually the smallest species of edible onion. Unlike most onion species, chives are not usually grown for their edible bulbs, instead they are cultivated for their tasty, green stems. The scapes (leafless, flowering stems) of the chive are used to flavor stews and soups, or they can be finely chopped and used as a garnish.

Dill: Dill can used in dry, fresh, or seed form. It originates from Mediterranean climates, but has been adopted by the cuisines of colder climates (Baltic, Russian, and Scandinavian cultures) to use as a flavorant for preserved vegetables (such as pickles) and soups.

Fennel: Fennel is native to the shores of the Mediterranean. It produces a large, flavorful bulb that can be used as a vegetable and its frawns can be used for flavoring as well. Fennel has a sweet, licorice-like flavor and is common in salads, pastas, and risottos. Fennel seeds are often used in bread-baking as well.
Image of Fennel provided by Satrina0

Mint: Mints are highly aromatic herbs that grow by anchoring themselves into the earth with stolons; this process occurs quickly and this plant has a tendency to become invasive. They can double their size easily in one growing season. Mint is commonly used in Mediterranean cooking, particularly with lamb and regional side dishes. However, it is also commonly used in beverages, such as hot teas, mint juleps, and mojitos.

Oregano: Like many Mediterranean herbs, Oregano has been cultivated by several regions resulting in a variety of names and flavors (Italian, Greek, Turkish, Cretan, etc.). Oregano leaves can be used either fresh or dry and are most well known in the U.S. for being the flavorant of pizza sauce.

Rosemary: Rosemary is a woody, perennial herb that is well known for needing to little to no water once it has been established. It has a sharp, bitter taste and maintains its distinct aroma throughout the cooking process. Rosemary also has a long history as an herbal medicine for memory loss and cognitive development.

Sage: Sage is another woody, perennial herb that is regarded for its aesthetic beauty as well as its culinary potential. As a seasoning, it can be used in a fresh or dry form. It is also used as an essential oil that can be added to butters and other, less fragrant oils in cooking applications.

Thyme: Thyme is a perennial herb that thrives in semi-arid climates. Similar to bay leaves, thyme is slow to release its flavor in the cooking process and usually needs to be added rather early to achieve full flavor. Thyme's fragrance becomes more potent once it is dried.
Image of Thyme provided by Erutuon

For more information about Mediterranean herbs, see the following links:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Monte Vista Elementary School Garden COMPLETE

Not too long ago we completed Monte Vista Elementary school's garden. We just gave them vegetable seeds and had all their irrigation set up on their new solar timers. We had to wait for a few Avocado trees that were back ordered, but take a look at the beginnings of what will become a wonderful little food forest.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Planning Irrigation for you Garden

When planning your garden you should take into consideration the water needs of each plant, the density/spacing of your plants, and ways to reduce the amount of water and equipment needed to sufficiently hydrate your plants. Staff in the Garden In Every School program prefer to use micro-irrigation drip systems. They are easy to install and manage, plus there are a variety of fittings so you can create custom irrigation designs.
You can use micro-irrigation fittings to target specific plants or you can use hoses that apply water evenly to a wider area. Targeted fittings include bubblers (seen below) and shrublers, which can be directed to the base of a plant. These come in handy with low density plantings and they help you meter the amount of water each plant receives. Bubblers generally come in 1 Gallon/hour to 3 Gallons/hour settings, while shrubblers can be adjusted by dialing the fitting head to the needs of plants and can emit up to 5 Gallons/hour.
Photo of bubbler courtesy of Joby Elliott
If your plants are relatively dense (within 8 to 12 inches of each other) and are aligned in rows you can use a couple of efficient products like drip tape or soaker hoses. Drip tapes attach to a water source and have small holes every 12 inches to water plants. Soaker hoses are porous tubes that allow water to drain directly through the hose into the soil; they will distribute water evenly and you can control the rate of the application.
Photo of soaker hose courtesy of Rian_Bean

Monday, February 6, 2012

Soil Preparation and Maintenance

Preparing and maintaining the health of your soil is the equivalent of taking your vitamins, exercising and drinking plenty of water. We take supplemental vitamins to maintain ideal nutrition, exercise allows oxygen to flow through the blood to make sure our tissue is healthy, and water replenishes our bodies and assists oxygen transport, among other vital functions. Other living organisms, including trees, plants, microbiota, and decomposers also need nutrients, oxygen and water to maintain their systems. By preparing your soil at the beginning of the growing season and carrying out a maintenance schedule for the rest of the season, your garden should maintain its health and production.

First we need to know a little bit about soil. Soil is a mixture of sand, clay, and loam, and depending on your geographic and geologic area, your soil may have a predictable composition. For those of us in the Inland Empire, particularly in the Chino Valley, our soil is clay-like. Those who live in the foothills near Upland and Rancho Cucamonga also have clay soils, but they are more likely to have rocky soil as well due to their proximity to the foothills.

Healthy soil also contains air, water, and a small amount of organic material. Loam soils are considered ideal because they are a good combination of sand and clay. The sand allows air and water to penetrate the earth, while the clay holds in nutrients and moisture. If you have clay soil, you can purchase special products at your local gardening store to amend your soil. I've searched several gardening blogs from the Inland Empire and it appears that people have had success with adding builder's sand and heavy compost to their clay soils. Builder's sand is different than ocean sand or playground sand. Builder's sand is coarse and large-grained. Adding this to fine clay should disrupt the settling pattern of clay. Also by adding coarse and heavy compost, you will add nutrients to the soil and provide a biodegradable aggregate, which will also disrupt the settling pattern of clay.

The manner of soil preparation described above is ideal for growing vegetables. Most vegetables are annuals and are expected to germinate, flower, and produce fruit or mature within a short time frame. They can take advantage of the freshly applied organic matter before it begins to decompose further and lose its nutritional value. Their roots tend to spread quickly, but not as deep, nor as extensively as a fruit tree. If your intention is to plant vegetables, use the mixture described above to achieve optimal results. If you're planting fruit trees, there are two schools of thought related to soil prep. Some say that compost and soil inputs should be added to the ground at the time of planting. This could give the tree a head start by having nutrients close to its roots, however, when the roots reach the native soil, they might go into shock. The second method, which we follow at IEUA, is to plant fruit trees directly into the native, clay soil. The tree may take some time acclimating to the parent soil, but its growth should proceed uninterrupted after it becomes accustomed to its surroundings.

Once you have prepared your soil, it's time to develop a maintenance schedule. Soil maintenance for vegetable beds is fairly simple. Compost can be added to the soil prior to planting and then once more during the growing season, preferably when plants are flowering. If you do not have compost readily available, you can use plant food instead. Make sure to keep weeds pulled so they don't consume the nutrients that were intended for your plants. Fruit trees can also be maintained by adding tree stakes to the base of the tree. About three tree stakes will suffice per tree, but make sure to read the instructions on the packaging just in case. Tree stakes or tree food should be added about three months prior to the fruiting season of your particular type of tree.

See the links below for more information on soil preparation and maintenance:

This site provides good info about clay soils and how to prepare for planting:

Although we didn't address it, some people prefer to add lime, blood meal, and other additives to the soil to adjust the pH for particular plants. The following sites are helpful in this matter: (University of Florida)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Preparing Seedlings

Don't wait until April to start your seedlings. You may miss out on some tasty, late fruiting varieties of warm weather veggies. Get started in early February and expand the possibilities of your garden!

What you'll need:

a seed tray (plastic or biodegradable)

potting soil

seed packets

Photo of tomato seedlings courtesy of Lucy Crosbie

Seeds need moisture and a constant temperature between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate (or sprout). Depending on the plant type, some seeds will germinate in a matter or days, while some will need two to three weeks. Once the seed has germinated, it will send up starter leaves, often these are called "water leaves".

Seeds can be planted in late January and kept indoors for six weeks until they are ready to be transferred outside.

Not all seeds need to be started in a planter, some actually do better being planted directly in the ground.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Designing your Spring/Summer Garden

Designing your own garden can be rewarding and educational and you don't need to be a Landscape Architect to do it! Using the principles enumerated in our recent post, Planning your Spring/Summer Garden you can begin to turn your ideas into a physical reality.

To get started, grab a measuring tape and record the dimensions of your garden. Then use a ruler and a piece of sketch or graph paper to draw the outline of your garden. To draw your garden to scale, assign a certain length to equal one inch. For example, if your garden is twenty feet long, you can set 1 inch equal to two feet. Using graph paper is even easier because the quadriles are already on the page. Also, if you're interested in creating your design online instead of on paper, you can use free design tools like Google Sketch-Up to create your garden.

After the outline of your garden is drawn, you can create stencils or symbols to represent your plants. If you would like, you can buy gardening or landscaping stencils, or you can go online and download pre-made symbols (see the link below for gardening symbols). Just print the symbols on card stock, cut them out, and use them to trace your design.

Before you begin populating your garden with symbols, remember to make a plant key! A plant key is very important because it will help you organize your ideas and your design. It is invaluable when it's time to start planting, because it is difficult to remember the ideal location for every plant and your helpers can find the plant location directly from the chart.

After your outline, symbols, and key have been made you can begin to design your garden. Remember to keep the principles we have recently discussed in mind: intercropping plant species, incorporating pollinator-friendly and pest-deterring plants, and crop rotation (to confuse pests). Also, keep spatial and height elements in mind when planning your garden. Taller plants and those that need trellising should be placed near walls or toward the back of the garden so they do not block the sunlight needed by low and medium height plants.

Remember to add some color to your design. Shrubs and vines can be given a dark green color, while sunflowers can be bright yellow. A garden design is a practical way to organize a garden, but it can also be a fun way to get your creative juices flowing. Your final design can become an artful homage to your edible landscape!

Photo of garden design courtesy of Chris Kreussling

Try using some of these symbols from the University of Minnesota:*:IE-SearchBox%26rlz%3D1I7ADFA_en%26tbm%3Disch&um=1&itbs=1

Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter Garden Maintenance

The middle of January is a good time to do a little maintenance on your garden, even if you're not actively growing crops. Think of it this way: if you get a head start now, you'll have less work to do in the spring and summer. Here's a list to follow:

1) Weed your garden. Winter weeding is one of the best things you can do to ensure a successful yield in the summer. Most weeds sprout up in the winter, germinate in the spring and summer, set seed in the fall, and die when cold weather hits. If you can pull the weeds (or inhibit their access to sinlight) in the winter, then you have limited their chances of reseeding. Also, the longer a weed sits in the ground, the more time it has to establish roots, making it more difficult to extract. The moral of this story: pull weeds early and often.

2) Turn your compost. We all took our plant clippings, vegetable trimmings, and leaves and threw them into our compost bins at the end of the summer, but most of us probably forgot to turn our compost bins. If material has been in your bin since August or September, chances are it has already started decomposing. Give it a good turn and give those microdigesters some oxygen so you can have plenty of compost in the spring.

3) Prepare your gardening tools. If you're like me, you probably left a couple of tools outside and they've turned a nice shade of rust by now. Pick up your tools, clean them off (you can use a brilo pad or sand paper to scratch away at rust), and organize your tools. You might even want to get a head start and see if your local garden supply store has plant food that you can stock up on.

4) Stock up on seeds and trays. One of the many benefits of living in California is the immense amount of sunlight and good weather. So Cal gardeners can start a seed tray as early as January and be ready to plant by mid-March. Just remember to keep your seedlings inside by a window so they can be shielded from any unexpected weather. Also, if your local garden supply store doesn't have seeds yet, you can also go online and order them.

5) Prepare and repair. If you garden in pots, now is a good time to get rid of your old soil and give the inside of your pot a good scrubbing. Cleaning the inside of a garden pot is suggested so you can kill any mold or bacteria living on the walls of the vessel. Or if you garden in plant boxes, make sure boxes are in good condition. Finally, if you prefer in-ground planting, add soil additives like lime or clay conditioner today.

Good luck with your gardens!

Planning your Spring/Summer Garden

The middle of winter is a good time to plan your garden. Good planning can help you avoid pest issues and ensure a good yield over the summer.

How to plan your spring/summer line-up:

  • Rotate your crops. Pests, molds and viruses love it when the same crops are planted in the same location year after year because they don't have to go far to get their favorite food. Also, know which familes your plants belong too. Plants in the same family, such as the Nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes) or the Brassicaceae family (broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts) tend to attract similar insects, so it's a good idea to mix these up a bit.

  • Intercrop. As we learned from the Integrated Pest Management post (, intercropping reduces garden pests by limiting the amount of any one plant type found in the same area. Additionally, intercropping refers to the strategic planting of pest-repelling plants, such as marigold, garlic, and certain herbs (dill and mint) to ward off infestation.

  • Attract beneficial insects. Remember to incorporate flowering plants for pollinators and clovers, mustards, dill, and chives for ladybugs. These plants can be intercropped with vegetable plants to act as companion plants.

  • Good timing leads to better yield. In a well-planned garden, you can often increase your yield if you incorporate the plant's 'time to maturation' into your time schedule. In the case of tomatoes, there are three varieties: early maturing plants (40-55 days: Early Girl & Early Wonder), mid-season plants (56-75 days: Better Boy & Celebrity), and late-season plants (76-95 days: Brandywine & Cherokee Purple). Planting some of each variety will ensure that you have tomatoes all summer long and well into the fall. Check the information on the seed packet to determine the time to maturation for vegetables.

After you decide which plants you would like to incorporate into your garden you can begin to draft a design for the space. See our upcoming blog post: Designing your Spring/Summer Garden to get inspired.