Turns out the hippies were onto something with that grow-your-own-food philosophy. Now even the First Lady has joined the call. While always apparent, the joys and benefits of home-grown food need even less explaining during our fiscal crisis.
Here in Oakland we are blessed with one of the most giving—and forgiving—climates to be found. True, those of us within a few miles of the Bay have trouble getting enough hot sun for monster tomatoes or steroid-enhanced pumpkins, but we can grow plenty of other lush vegetables, not to mention all kinds of cooler crops. The Bay and its fog give us one of the more temperate subclimates, spared both dry, hot weather and serious winter frosts. We get early springs, mellow summers, Indian summers in fall, and late winters, meaning we can start many plants at all times of the year and often get two blooming and fruiting cycles. Maybe global warming is kicking in: This year I got winter apples!?!
Beltane, a Celtic festival traditionally celebrated on May Day,'is a great time for planting and sowing seeds, as the buds and flowers bring to mind the cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth that we see in the earth.
Here's some tried-and-true, easy-to-grow Oakland favorites:
Tomatoes and Peppers: No problem. If you don't have a lot of sun, avoid large varieties or ones with long, hot growing seasons. Go instead with smaller cherry and pear varieties. Most peppers need hot sun, rich soil, and moderate water.'
Squashes: Use smaller varieties if you don't have serious hot sun. In general, check the "days to maturity" on the label, and favor shorter ones.'
Garlic and Onions: Just stick the little bulbs in the ground anytime, and come back in a few months.
Artichokes: A large member of the thistle family, easy to grow. They thrive in full or part sun, but appreciate regular watering if you want large ones.
Arugula (Rocket), Cilantro, and Swiss Chard: All of these grow themselves year-round and reseed.
Kale and Broccoli: Go for it. (Hope you dig snails).
Grapes do great. (Let's toast to that!). They need plenty of sun; avoid dark reds, except Concord.
Fruit trees: Yes! Avocados, pomegranates, pears, citrus, apples, etc . . .
One of my Pet Peeves: As an ardent composter, I am regularly enraged by tea bag staples and indestructible fruit stickers. Many otherwise respectable tea and fruit companies are polluting everyone's compost with these unnecessary, hard-to-remove, uncompostables.'Send me your gardening pet peeves for potential public airing.
Resources: Alameda County Plant Doctor hotline: email mgalameda\@UCDavis.edu, phone: 639-1371. Pests Disease and Weeds: www.ipmucdavis.edu. Home Orchard Info: homeorchard.ucdavis.edu.