Easy Gardening Chores that Even I Might Do

| November 3, 2011 | 1 Comment

According to Tiger Palafox of the Mission Hills Nursery, November is a great time to do a multitude of things to spruce up your garden. He included labor-free and cost-effective ideas in his September talk to the Mission Hills Garden Club.

Early November is the optimum time to plant cool weather crops. Lettuce, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and even certain varieties of tomatoes can provide you with fresh vegetables throughout the winter. If you have no room for a garden but you do have a patio with at least some sun, you could have a vertical garden and grow leafy vegetables.

Tiger’s vertical garden is a lettuce tree. To build one, collect about six two-liter plastic bottles. Cut them in half and punch holes in the bottom half of each. The top half needs no lid; Tiger says the dirt doesn’t run out. If you are concerned, try putting a piece of newspaper over the inside of the opening.

Buy a four or five foot length of PVC pipe with a 3/4 inch diameter. Drill holes staggered and spaced widely enough so when you screw or bolt the bottles to the pipe there is adequate room above for each plant’s growth. Now fasten each bottle to the pipe.

The next step is to secure the pipe so it won’t tip. Tiger filled a large flower pot with gravel and inserted the pipe. Any heavy medium will work. You could fill the bottom with Sac-Crete to ensure the pole’s stability and cover the cement with gravel, decorative rocks, or moss. Once the pole is set and is in its rightful place, fill each bottle half with potting soil. Add a few seeds or small seedlings of any leafy vegetable you like. (This works for strawberries and a host of ornamental items as well.) Keep them damp but not wet until they sprout. Then water them about twice a week, and watch them grow. By taking a few leaves from each container, you can have leafy greens for months. When you’ve eaten all of one plant, you can plant a new one in its place. You may want to plant three bottles, wait a few days or a week, plant three more, until all twelve are growing.

In addition to the lettuce tree, Tiger showed us some containers filled with plants that thrive during shorter, cooler days. In it were grasses, coleus, moneywort (which cascades) and other shade loving plants. Another spectacular plant was a Haight-Ashbury hibiscus. It looks like a maple tree in bush form with leaves just beginning to turn. With the fall display, we could see how many of our California native plants with greyish leaves provide a nice contrast to the more vibrant coloring of other plants while providing food for the fauna we want to attract. Whether you are planting in the ground or in containers, Tiger advocates watering the soil well. Then wait until it has drained. Dig your hole, put the plant in, replace the soil tamping it well, and then water again. Do not water again until the soil has dried out.

Once the extreme heat of fall has passed is Tiger’s choice for preparing your soil for spring. I loved his lazy-woman’s (that would be me) method of enriching it. You sprinkle John and Bob’s Grow Green soil optimizer at the base of each flowering plant and then water it in. One bag of this covers 1000 square feet, and you only use a little bit for each planted area.

Another good additive Tiger mentioned is worm castings. However, having fat, juicy night crawlers in your garden doesn’t mean you’re getting the best castings. Our regular worms do aerate the soil, so don’t get rid of them. They just won’t add nutrients to the soil since they are eating and pooping the same stuff that’s already there. However, red wigglers whose castings you should use, “eat aggressively” consuming a variety of foods from paper to eggshells. Castings should be mixed into the soil. According to Tiger, variety in diet results in the best worm deposits. Worms produce castings and “tea,” the liquid excretion. Tea easy to use: 1 gallon of worm tea mixed with 10 gallons of water (You can buy gadget that controls the proportions and just fastens to the end of your hose.) The optimum time to fertilize is right before it rains. This way you only need to sprinkle the enrichment material; nature will finish the job.

In addition to soil additives, Tiger replenishes depleted gardens by planting “cover” crops such as buckwheat and. Common buckwheat will restore the nitrogen to the soil in a natural way. When it dies, it becomes healthy mulch for your new plants.

This was the last general meeting until January, 2012. Next month I will share some of René vanRems’ holiday decorating ideas.

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About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.