Grow Your Own

Planting Citrus Trees

Planting citrus is a favorite for backyard farmers, particularly in California where growing conditions produce flavorful fruit – and lots of it. With glossy evergreen leaves and fragrant spring flowers, citrus trees are a handsome addition to any edible landscape.

March and April are ideal months for planting citrus. Here are some tips on establishing and caring for new citrus trees.

Preparing 

  • Choose a sunny, frost and wind-free site – southern exposure is best. Warm microclimates are created by reflected heat from walkways or houses. Avoid planting in lawns that get frequent shallow watering.
  • Dig a hole twice as wide as the pot the tree is in and one-and-a-half times its depth. To check drainage, flood the hole with water. The following day, refill the hole with water. Drainage is OK if water drops two inches in two hours. If drainage is poor, plant in a raised bed or container.

Planting

  • To plant your tree, tap the side of the citrus tree’s pot to loosen the roots. Gently remove it from the pot and stand it in a bucket of water. It’s best to do this about an hour before you plant it to allow the roots to get a thorough soaking.
  • Begin filling the hole with native soil until you are about the depth of the pot minus 2 inches.
  • Premix the remaining native soil with about one-third organic matter such as compost (and sand if your soil is heavy clay) in a pile or wheelbarrow. You can also add a small amount of manure or blood and bone meal but not too much as there is a risk of burning the roots.
  • Remove the tree from the bucket, tease out its roots with your fingers, and place it in the hole so that the top section sits about 2 inches above the level of the ground, planting the root ball high for future settling.
  • Fill the rest of the hole with the soil/compost/sand mixture to ground level.
  • Use the remaining soil mix to build a several inch-high, circular irrigation berm around the root ball. Make this watering berm or basin no larger than the root ball, or irrigations may wet the soil around the plant but not the root ball. Expand the area as the tree grows.
  • Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of each citrus tree to help hold in moisture, regulate the soil temperature, and prevent weed germination and growth. To lessen the threat of root rot, spread the organic mulch at least 6 to 12 inches away from the citrus tree’s trunk. This prevents excessive moisture retention around the roots and allows for proper air circulation.

Watering

  • Citrus don’t like “wet feet,” but it’s important for the first 12 to 18 months to keep new citrus watered. Don’t drown them, but water as often as necessary to keep the root ball moist. This may mean watering every three or four days at first.
  • As the tree grows, explore the soil with a screwdriver or soil probe to make sure the whole root ball is getting watered. Lengthen the time between irrigations after about nine months to every seven to 14 days. After 18 months, deeply water tree every 10 to 12 days, or as seldom as once or twice a month.
  • Begin fertilizing right away with compost tea or applications of liquid manure or fish emulsion. Citrus trees are shallow rooted, so try not to cultivate the ground under the tree and don’t plant any ground cover near it. Maintain your mulch.
  • More prolific with age, producing better-tasting fruit with maturity, citrus trees reward careful planting, watering, and fertilizing.

Here’s to a great start for your trees!

Grow Your Own

Japanese Garden Tools

Japanese garden tools are among the most beautifully made and durable tools of the high quality line that we carry.

Here are some favorites from our online collection:

 

ACCESSORIES
1. Canvas Cap
Have fun supporting Niwaki, one of our favorite purveyors, when you wear this rugged canvas cap with a red interior. Adjustable buckle on the back.

2. Canvas Pouch
This heavy duty water-resistant 16-ounce canvas pouch holds all the essentials for gardening: pruners, gloves, string, and more.

3. Leather Holster
A leather holster with copper rivets and hand-stitched with double ply waxed thread that’s perfect for carrying your trowel with you. The leather starts off pristine and pale, but soon weathers to a nice dark rich tone.

HAND TOOLS
4. Hori Hori, Carbon Steel
The word “hori” means “to dig” in Japanese, but this all-purpose carbon steel trowel is also brilliant for weeding, trimming roots, and transplanting, and is bound to become your favorite tool. The Hori Hori comes with its own vinyl sheath.

5. Hori Hori, Stainless Steel
This Hori Hori , known as a Japanese soil knife, is a gardener’s best friend. It is lightweight so less stress on your wrist, the blade has a smooth surface that slices through even compacted clay soil with ease, and it will never rust. Comes with a vinyl sheath.

6. Nejiri Gama Hoe
This lightweight, strong garden hoe with a hardened steel blade is well-suited for weeding and slicing. Its wood handle is finished with a plastic cap and hanging loop for easy storage.

LONG-HANDLED TOOLS
7. Golden Spade
Ideal for digging, tree planting, and root-balling. With a comfortable YD handle of tubular steel, firm tread, and rigid steel pipe shaft, this light spade will not flex or break under heavy use.

PRUNING TOOLS
8. Bud Pruner
Heavy duty bud pruners are perfect for careful, detailed pruning where other jobs in the garden are too large and clumsy. Hand-forged in Hyogo from carbon steel, with a solid catch and a robust spring.

9. Drop Forged Hand Pruners
Hard chrome plating over precision-ground, drop-forged blades give these pruners long-lasting sharpness, superior cutting leverage, and rust-resistance. Ergonomic non-slip grips and a high-quality “V” spring making cutting and release motions comfortable and quick. All-metal construction, made by ARS.

10. Garden Scissors
These general purpose garden scissors with stainless steel blades are great for cut flowers, dead-heading, and light pruning. Strong, yet delicate for careful cuts.

11. Pruners
Hand-forged in Hyogo from carbon steel, these hard-wearing pruners combine Japanese craftsmanship with tough steel and a comfortable grip for prolonged use.

12. Pruning Saw
A traditional pruning saw for general purpose garden pruning of small trees and shrubs.

13. Pruning Sheet
Lightweight, green nylon mesh with aluminum eyelets to catch leaves and clippings. Well-suited for topiary, hedge cutting, and weeding.

14. Large Garden Shears
With carbon steel blades and Japanese White Oak handles, the Nishigaki hedge shears are a high-quality and balanced garden tool that can last a lifetime.

SUPPLIES
15. Camellia Oil and Oil Dispenser
A simple dispenser for camellia oil used for regular cleaning of shears, pruners, clippers, and knives.

16. Sharpening Stones, Set of 3
Designed for pruners, but also great for shears and topiary clippers. Soak these sharpening stones thoroughly each time before use.

17. Shuronawa Twine
This twine, made from sheath fiber from Japanese palm tree, is used for all garden jobs in Japan – tree training, fence making, and binding.

Grow Your Own

Protecting Citrus Trees from Frost

protecting citrus trees from frost

Protecting citrus trees from frost helps to guarantee your annual crop. It doesn’t take long and is so worth the effort!

Here is our shortlist of important things to keep in mind:

  • New citrus trees should be planted in the early spring to allow for root development before summer heat.
  • Plants exposed in open areas to winds, especially in low areas of the garden, are most likely to suffer frost damage first, as cold air accumulates in such pockets. For protection, consider planting citrus trees near walls and fences, which trap and radiate heat.
  • Before an expected frost, water trees well, but don’t get the leaves or trunk wet as they are most vulnerable. Keep the ground as clear as possible of weeds or mulch to allow for more heat to be retained from daylight sun.
  • Protect young tree trunks with cardboard, wrapped tightly around the trunk just before nightfall, from the lowermost branches to the soil. Also consider covering trees with breathable, water permeable frost blankets for the night, and remove during the day.
  • When frost hits, ice crystals form inside the plant cells, disrupting the flow of fluids, causing cells to break down.

Overall, when temperatures fall to 29°F for 30 minutes or longer, some frost damage to tender citrus plants will occur. Certain citrus  – citron, lemon, lime, and Satsuma mandarins among them — are more sensitive than others.

  • As applicable, remove frost-damaged fruit with cracked skin immediately to prevent fungus and mold spreading throughout the tree. (Yellowing leaves in winter are common, and may be a sign of over- or under-watering.)
  • Wait to prune damaged branches until spring, to allow for further analysis and recovery in warmer weather. Remember to clean pruning tools to avoid the spread of disease.

Want more? Here’s our guide to California winter citrus.

Grow Your Own

October Gardening Tips

In Northern California, where it’s easy to grow crops year-round, gardening is one pastime that never takes a holiday. In addition to tending the broccoli, chicories, and other greens that do so well through the winter, there are the never-ending tasks that must be done every fall. Here are some of our favorite October gardening tips.

Plant Now – A Cool Weather Garden

Be quick – it’s not too late to plant starts or direct-seed these cool season vegetables, including: peas (English peas, snap peas, snow peas); greens (spinach, arugula, bok choy, mizuna, Asian mustard greens, chard, kale, and short season lettuces); bitter greens (chicories, endives, escarole, radicchio); root vegetables (carrots, radishes, turnips); and coles (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage).

Take a good look at your garden to determine the best areas for planting, remembering that cool-season vegetables need 6-8 hours of daily sun.

See this article on fall and winter vegetable gardening for more tips on vegetables to plant now.

Grow Garlic

Mid to late October is a perfect time to plant garlic.

Sunset Magazine offers these planting instructions: Break bulbs into individual cloves and set them, base down, in rich, well-drained soil. Cover regular garlic with 1 to 2 inches of soil; cover elephant garlic (not a true garlic but a bulbing leek with mild garlic flavor) with 4 to 6 inches of soil. Press the soil down firmly and water well. Continue to irrigate until winter rains keep the soil consistently moist. In late winter, side-dress planting with cottonseed meal or chicken manure.

More tips here on garlic growing.

Mulch Beds
Fall mulching has many benefits, as it conserves soil moisture, suppresses weed growth, and helps regulate soil temperatures.

A 2- to 3-inch layer of straw, shredded leaves, or compost makes a great organic mulch to protect perennials and winter crops such as beets, carrots, onions, parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips.

More about mulch.

Sow Cover Crop

Cover crops such as fava beans and red clover are ideal for putting nutrients back into your soil, minimizing soil erosion, and keeping weed growth to a minimum.

Till or rake empty beds about 2 inches deep, then broadcast seeds and rake in to cover. There’s no need to water if you plant just before the fall rains begin. Overwinter the crop and just as it comes to bloom in spring, cut down the plants for maximum nitrogen benefit, leaving the roots in the soil. Chop up the tops and add to your compost pile.

Here’s a short video on planting cover crops.

Go Native

Native shrubs, trees, and flowers are well-adapted to your climate and soil, and support the butterflies, bees, and other wildlife that live with you. In California, natives are drought-tolerant once they are established, but need adequate water for the first year or two to establish a strong root system that will help nourish the plant for years to come. Planting in the fall gives them time to settle in before being hit by the heat of the summer sun.

Here’s more information on native plants.

Dig Berries

Berries — including blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and some strawberries — can be planted in the fall through early spring.

When purchasing berry plants, it is best to get plants that are certified disease-free from a nursery. Most berries prefer deep, well-drained, loamy soil with a slightly acidic pH (5.5-6.5). Bare-root plants can be planted in the fall, winter, and early spring. Potted green plants can be planted any time they are available in the nursery. A northern sun exposure is best.

More on growing berries.

Buy Bulbs

Fall is the perfect time to get your spring-blooming bulbs into the ground.  It is generally easier to wait until after the first rains soften the ground to plant them, but buy them now so that you are prepared. Here are some bulb suggestions for Sonoma County; perhaps some of them will work in your neck of the woods.

Rake Up

If you haven’t been raking up those leaves as they drop, get started now. Dried leaves can be added to the compost pile, unless they’re diseased, in which case it’s better to dispose of them in your green bin or through your civic waste cycle.

Here are tips for easiest raking.

Maintain Your Tools

Once the work is done, autumn is the perfect time to clean, sharpen, and oil your garden tools and store them in a dry space.

Steel wool will remove rust build up (be sure to wear gloves when working with steel wool); some gardeners use wax paper throughout the year to wipe cleaned and dried blades after use to prevent/reduce rust.

Here are some useful tool care tips.

Grow Your Own

Planting Perennials: Nine Vegetables To Consider

With your high summer garden in full flourish, it may seem odd to consider adding more plants, but planting perennials guarantees fresh vegetables for the seasons ahead.

Unlike those annuals that need to be started from seed each year, perennials are edible roots, shoots, leaves, flowers, or fruits that produce year after year once they’re established in suitable sites and climates.

Perennial vegetables are well-suited for low-maintenance gardening and can also help improve the quality of your soil. They don’t need to be tilled, so they keep the mycelial culture and soil structure intact; they increase aeration and water absorption; and their natural decomposition cycles as they drop leaves and die back every year creates a natural compost and topsoil.

Here are nine perennial vegetables, some you can plant in the fall depending on where you live.

Asparagus: This slender spring beauty is probably the best-known perennial vegetable, and one of the most coveted early spring vegetables. Unlike many annual vegetables, it’s not a quick producer, but asparagus provide tasty green treats every year once established. Hardiness zones 3-8.

Horseradish: This perennial plant from the mustard family is a must-grow for those who love spice and sushi. Horseradish’s leaves are edible and its strongly flavored root can bring one to tears.

In some areas, horseradish can take over the garden with its invasive roots, so when harvesting them in the fall  you can remove as much of the root as you like, replanting only what you will need for next year. Hardiness zones 4-8.

Lovage: Very similar to celery, the young leaves and stems of this six-foot-tall perennial are delicious in springtime soups. The seeds and roots are also edible, and its umbel flowers attract beneficial insects. Lovage thrives in average garden soil, in sun or partial shade. Hardiness zones 4-8.

Malabar Spinach:  Native to Africa and Southwest India, this climbing vine spinach is a staple food throughout tropical Asia and Africa, and with good cause: it’s high in protein, calcium, iron, and grows like crazy. The vine will grow 8-14 ft and is thrives best in full sun on a trellis in fertile, well-drained soil. Extremely frost tender. Hardiness zones 7 and higher.

Rhubarb: This perennial vegetable is not only edible, but is also a colorful addition to the garden, its stalks vibrant in varieties of red, pink, and green.

Rhubarb is best planted from a crown, which can be acquired from your favorite nursery or garden center, and should be allowed to grow for several years before harvesting the stalks for that perennial summer favorite, strawberry rhubarb pie. Only the stalks of the rhubarb are edible; the leaves, which are toxic to humans, make a great addition to the compost pile. Remember: rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Hardy to all zones.

Sea Kale: Sometimes grown as an ornamental, this coastal native bears gray-blue leaves and white flowers on three-foot-tall plants. Cover the plants in spring and harvest the blanched, hazelnut-flavored shoots when they are about six inches tall. The young leaves and flowers are edible, too. Plant seeds in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Hardiness zones 4-9.

Sunchokes: Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes are a relative of sunflowers that produce a crisp and sweet edible tuber. This perennial vegetable can be eaten raw or cooked as you would a potato, and is often described as having a nutty flavor.

The sunchoke plant itself can grow rather tall, as a sunflower does, so it’s well suited to planting as a border or along an edge of the garden. The tubers are harvested in the fall, with some of them left in the ground (or replanted after harvesting) for next year’s plants. Hardiness zones 4-9.

Tree Collards: A truly remarkable plant, Tree Collards are a highly productive Brassica which produce delicious blue-green leaves that taste quite similar to annual collards. They are especially sweet during the cool times of the year. While their exact origin is shrouded in mystery, they are reputed to come from Africa, and have been propagated and passed on within African American communities in this country. They can thrive happily for 10-12 years before needing to be re-propagated by cuttings to continue. The plants grow five to six feet tall and can sprawl six to eight feet in all directions. They need full sun and rich, moist soil. Hardiness zones 7-10.

Yacon: A staple crop to the indigenous people of the Peruvian Andes, this handsome plant grows edible tubers on a root system, much the same as the way potatoes grow. The flavor is fresh, crisp, and juicy, and mildly sweet like a cross between an apple and a melon. They’re delicious peeled and eaten fresh, or shredded into a slaw. You can also cook the tubers down to make a sweet syrup.

Yacon grows in zones 9-11, though other regions may be able to grow them with a little more care.

You can find yacon seeds online, but it’s easiest to grow them from rhizomes. Plant them in moist, rich soil, about two inches deep. Keep the soil moist and warm until its first leaves appear, then water when the top of the soil gets dry. Yacon loves full sun and thrives in warmer weather.

Farming

Growing Herbs

It’s almost impossible to imagine cooking without fresh herbs, and all herbs taste best when grown and harvested from your own garden. Fortunately, herbs are relatively easy to grow with six to eight hours of daily sun, well-drained soil, and compost.

Herb Basics

Before you begin growing herbs, it helps to know that the great majority of them fall into two major categories: perennials, herbs that live for more than two seasons; and annuals, those herbs that live for only one season.

When you begin, it’s also helpful to choose herbs that are generally easy to grow. In California, these include the sun-loving perennials: rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, summer savory, French tarragon, and chives. All originated in Europe, and with the exception of chives, require relatively small amounts of water and need little compost unless grown in sandy soils. These perennials are widely available at most local nurseries from spring through early fall.

Annual herbs, such as basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley, are also easily grown, but will need to be planted every spring in rich soil; most of these can easily be sown from seed.

Site

Gardeners in cold-winter areas will do best to plant in the spring or early summer; here in Northern California, you are able to plant all but basil and other tender plants through the fall. Choosing the right location is the most important requirement for growing herbs. Most prefer full sun as long as regular summer temperatures don’t rise above 90 degrees farenheit. If you have very warm summers, consider planting in an area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade, or where the plants will receive filtered light (such as under a tree that allows some light to pass through). Before planting, check the area several times during the day to make sure that there are at least six hours of sun.

Preparing the Soil

Good drainage is key to growing healthy herbs. If your site is compacted, use a large garden fork to loosen the soil; this allows water to drain and creates space for plant roots to reach down. Depending on your soil, you might add an inch or more compost, mixing it into the top six inches of soil, to help prevent drainage problems and add fertility to the garden.

Planting Herbs

Select healthy, strong plants and provide approximately one to four feet in diameter of space for each plant to grow, depending on the plant. Here are some general guidelines for plant sizes:

• 3-4 feet – rosemary, sage, oregano, marjoram

• 2 feet – basils, thyme, tarragon, savory

• 1 foot – cilantro, chives, dill, parsley

Keep the new plants moist for the first week or so. Slowly start letting the plants get a little drier between waterings. Use your judgment: If it’s very hot or windy, or if the plants start to wilt, water more often.

After a few weeks when your herbs have taken root, a watering schedule will become established. Most herbs like to be watered as soon as the soil located a couple of inches below the surface is dry to the touch. Since temperatures and humidity cause drying times to vary every week, you must check the soil often. Do not over-water. More water is not better and can lead to diseases or just poor growing conditions for your herbs, which will result in reduced growth.

Harvesting

For harvesting, you simply cut off about one-third of the branches when the plant reaches at least 6-8″ tall. By cutting close to a leaf intersection, your plants will re-grow very quickly. Some plants, such as parsley, grow new leaves from their center. In this case, the oldest branches need to be completely removed, leaving the new tiny branches growing from the center. This becomes clearer as you watch your plants grow and mature.

Preserving Herbs

Fresh herbs are best in many cases, but since most herbs are not available year around, cooks have learned ways to preserve the flavor. The best way to preserve them depends on the herb. As a rule, the dense, small-leafed, woody herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and savory dry best, while the fleshy, larger leaves — such as basils, tarragon, and sage — can be made into pestos or chopped into butters and frozen. Most herbs are suitable for preserving in vinegar or oil.

References: A very useful book for beginners who want to learn about growing and cooking with herbs is Rosalind Creasy’s The Edible Herb Garden.