Sustainable Organic Gardens

Welcome to the Gardener's Footsteps. I have been an organic gardener for over 30 years and love nothing more than helping folks get started in getting a "yield" from their yard.
All planning and installations are based upon the principles of sustainability and permaculture.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saving the World

I often ponder the wide gulf between organic agriculture and industrial agriculture. I have seen California's central valley where one can experience the full impact of industrialized food production.  I read a good article about the promise of a more sustainable agricultural model and I thought I would share it with you here:

The part that fascinates me, the issue that is only touched on in this article is the importance of decentralizing our food production.  And that starts in your own back yard. And perhaps, your front yard also. So get out there and grow something!
Happy gardening,
Swami bruce

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Gardener's Footsteps: The Cool Season

The Gardener's Footsteps: The Cool Season: Peas, cilantro and butter lettuce           A common error of some gardeners in the non frost prone areas of Southern California is t...

The Cool Season

Peas, cilantro and butter lettuce
         A common error of some gardeners in the non frost prone areas of Southern California is to think that the productive garden ends with summer.  Certainly, the long, warm summer days in a garden teeming with flowers, bees, fruit and veggies is hard to match.  But far too many gardeners overlook the amazing possibilities of a winter, or cool season garden.  We are blessed, particularly here in San Diego, with beautiful winter weather, and one can have the garden to prove it.  In fact the winter garden offers a joy all its own.  The cooler temperatures slow down the garden pests, and winter rains help out with the watering.  Weeding is a rarer event and easier when it happens.
            The winter makes it possible to grow plants that would cook in the long hot days of summer.  The related cole crops, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, why, that’s alliteration in a seed packet and some of the healthiest food you can eat. And this is just the Eurocentric cole crops.  Let’s not forget bok choi and the various Asian greens we have had much success with lately.  Chard comes in the colors of red, yellow, and white, and, like kale, can yield harvests again and again from the same plant.  Chard is the gift that keeps on giving, and with a patch of chard in your garden, you will never go wanting for an easy side dish.  The multi-hued stems, diced and sautéed with some onions and garlic until tender, are just waiting for the greens to be added and wilted for a perfect vegetable course. 
Russian Kale

            The cool season is also the time for salad greens.  We have experimented with all types of lettuces and, being unable to decide which variety is most to our liking, we have come upon the Mesclun mixes.  These are a mix of various salad greens in one seed packet.  Thus, an area of our garden can be sown with a pre-mixed variety of greens.  When the tender young plants are big enough to eat, simply grab a handful and cut off just above ground level with a sharp knife, and viola! Instant salad!  These mixes come in different combinations:  all lettuces, or more piquant mixes with endive and arugula, etc., which are our favorites.
Mesclun Mix Greens
       Which brings us to the peas, one of the real treats of the cool season.  Tender, edible pod peas are so good; many don’t even make it back to the kitchen, being picked and eaten raw right in the garden.  These fresh peas are a very healthy alternative for chips to go with a dip at a fall gathering, and a stir-fry is not really official unless it has some fresh pea pods in the mix. 

Sugar Snap Peas
      But being a practical man, I always want to maximize yield, filling every available space with food producers.  Yet man (and woman) does not live by vegetables alone, as my lovely wife will remind me, and the cultivation of her favorite flowering sweet pea vines the proof of this.  These delicate, fragrant garden gems brighten up the cool season with deep hues and intoxicating fragrances.  My better half has scoured seed catalogs to find, after seasons of trials, her favorite varieties, which include Regal Robe and Cupani’s Original.  Walking into your house after a long day and being greeted with the scent of freshly cut Sweet Peas can make you appreciate both garden and spouse.
Sweet Peas- Cupani's Original
     I would be remiss if I didn’t mention cool season root crops.  Beets are surprisingly easy to grow, and golden beets offer a wonderful sweetness and change of pace to the red.  When thinning, the baby beets and greens are delicious additions to many dishes.  And although it is sometimes difficult to get your carrots to approach the size and shape of the supermarket brands, the heirloom varieties more than make up for it in flavor and freshness.  We had our first serious planting of potatoes last year, and plan to do so again.  Freshly harvested potatoes are surprisingly flavorful, and harvesting them is like an Easter egg hunt!  We particularly like the red and fingerling varieties.
Beauty and the Beets!
     There are strategies for a cool season garden.  Unlike summer, when long late afternoons provide time for garden chores out of the heat of the day, the days are now shorter, and garden tasks must be moved toward the middle of the day.  And carrots seeds seem particularly sensitive to our alkaline water, so saving some rainwater or planting just before a rainstorm will insure good germination.  The sun is lower in the sky, and the shadows cast by trees, hedges and buildings are larger, stealing sufficient sunlight from areas that might have worked for you in the summer.  But the joys of the cool season garden are many, and I hope you will be inspired you to try.

Now get out there and grow something!
Swami bruce

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pole Beans for Victory

You know you are having a good crop of pole beans when you need to get out the step ladder to harvest. I have recently fallen in love with pole beans, and I'll tell you why. Firstly, they are prolific as this picture attests; and with a tall trellis, one can get quite a yield from just a few square feet of garden space.

Secondly, they are a legume, and you should know by now that legumes are good for your soil, in that they fixate nitrogen from the atmosphere,and deposit it in the rootzone. When picked young, they are sweet and delectable. I like the classic Blue Lake strain, but there are many good ones, and I also grow a strain bred Charles Ledgerwood, known for years as "The Seed Man of Carlsbad"

Which brings us to the last point, and that is that it is very easy to save the seeds from season to season by just letting a few bean pods mature and dry out right on the vine. Once the husk has yellowed and the seeds rattle a bit, they are easy to pop out and into a jar or ziplock for the next planting season. And here in Southern California, that is nearly year round, certainly from early spring to mid summer at least.

     The simple trellis for these beans was made from a 4x8 piece of concrete reinforcing mesh, less that $10 at the local Home Depot, zip tied to some 2x2 poles salvaged from the landscaping of some new construction nearby.  Viola!  a tall, sturdy trellis that can be disassembled and moved at a moments notice.  We also use the concrete reinforcing wire screens for tomato cages.  This product is very useful in the garden, and lasts for years.

     So I encourage all you nascent gardeners out there to get your trellis together and get your pole beans on!  You won't be sorry.  Just be sure to harvest when they are young and tender, and remember to leave a few pods to mature to provide the seeds for next season.

I wish you all a bountiful garden and life.
Now get out there and grow something.
Swami bruce

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


pre-schoolers learn about earthworms

students learn about earthworms and composting

       The little ones at the Learning Tree Preschool in Cardiff, California were excited to get in on the composting craze.  With the foresight and insight of parents Steve and Jayshree Gherkins and teacher Anita Hoban, a lovely vegetable garden was installed for the kids, where they can began to learn the fundamentals of gardening.  And what is a vegetable garden without a compost bin?  So Swami bruce, worm wrangler and Master of Compost Technology swooped in with a City subsidized compost bin and a bucket of worms to start the process. 
     Working with preschoolers is a challenge, to say the least.  They are so adorable and funny, you cannot help but be charmed.  But then again, it is like herding cats! And when 10 little sets of little hands all want to hold a "wum" all at the same time, punctuated by a few high decibel shrieks when said worms start to wiggle, well, I realized that preschool teachers are not paid nearly enough! 
       I was able to explain to the kids that worms are our friends, that they like it dark and moist, and that they eat the food scraps that we throw away.  I showed them what the finished compost would look like, dark and rich and full of worms.  Every child was then encouraged to bring food scraps from home to feed the worms.  When I went back for a follow-up visit, they were already harvesting summer squash for lunch; and when kids grow vegetables, they usually will eat them! I also met the lovely Susan Finklestein, who is writing a children's book about the garden, including a character named "Swami bruce, the worm man."
       I hope that the seeds of a love of gardening will take root with these nascent gardeners.  And may their garden grow and produce much good edibles for the students and teachers alike. 
Now get out there and grow something.
Swami bruce

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Garden Pods Installed and Planted

       One of the services we here at the Gardener's Footsteps provide is the installation of what we call "Garden Pods", a circular small garden bed of our own design.  These modular garden beds are inexpensive, easy to site and easy to maintain.  We have recently completed an installation for two happy gardeners here in Encinitas.  This was an array of eight pods in two different locations on their property. 
The basic design uses galvanized wire fencing wired into a circle; the bottom is lined with tape free cardboard and the sides with inexpensive reed fencing.  They are filled with alfalfa hay, straw, fertilized with blood and bone meal (or any good organic fertilizer) and topped with planting compost. Viola! Instant garden bed!  These pods were then wrapped with bamboo fencing as desired by the client for aesthetic purposes.

The wonderful thing about these pods is that they are so easy to maintain.  The raised soil bed means less bending.  They can easily be covered with bird netting when young succulent sprouts are tempting the birds. They are easy to weed, easy to water and easy to revamp at season's end and they just look pretty cool.

In general, the complete garden pod installation runs about $100/per unit.  The pods pictured here have the bamboo fencing wrap that did increase the unit cost, but they are still pretty cool looking even without the bamboo upgrade.

Here is an array of two Garden Pods from Swami bruce and Amy's home garden that were made in an oval shape and lined with used burlap coffee bags, free for the taking from local coffee roasters.  They are planted with potatoes in this picture. As you can see, they are easily shaped to fit the area, and harvesting is a breeze !!
Now get out there and grow something.
Swami bruce

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fallowed Ground

Welcome followers of The Gardener's Footsteps.  It is time, without further ado, to speak of gardening.  Edible gardening. Beautiful, fragrant, tasty gardening.  So where to start?  How about with a fallow garden patch?  For this was the case for a few weeks this spring when about 40 square feet of our main garden was between crops, with the winter crops done and the summer crops seedlings of peppers and eggplants being started elsewhere under birdless cages.  I considered a legume cover crop (to fix some nitrogen and add organic matter to the soil), a simple handful of alfalfa and/or red or white clover would work.  But I never got around to that.  What I did do, however, is make sure the patch was mulched with straw, enough to shade the soil.  And I watered it along with the rest of the garden.  I did not want the soil to die out while the patch was fallow.  There are microbes and worms that need to be fed and watered.  The UV rays of the sun will kill off soil life as well.  The straw mulch both shades the soil, protecting the biota, conserves moisture, and as it breaks down it adds organic matter to the soil.
     So in this fallow, mulched and occasionally lightly watered patch, which had been more or less cleared in a compost sweep, grew a surprising number of things. A big beautiful comfrey plant popped up right in the middle of everything.  Comfrey is an amazing plant that we will discuss in detail in a later post. It provided big  soft leaves for a very effective and soil energizing mulch to other parts of the garden.  A chard plant popped up, and this is interesting. I couldn't tell if it was from a root left in the soil or from a seed.  I didn't think that we had let any chard go all the way to seed, but maybe a few seed heads had formed my the time we cleared the patch. Potatoes plants appeared, they had been grown there earlier in the season. Lambsquarters, a wild herb (or weed some would say) was well represented.  Lambsquarter is edible, and I have learned it the genetic parent of quinoa.  Purslane, another herb/weed, was also present.  Purslane is used in French cooking and I have learned that it is high in omega 3 fatty acids and is a good companion plant, helping to break us dense soil for other plants and, with its succulent like leaves, keeping the soil cool.  Also I found one solo specimen of plantain, yet another herb/weed.  Plantain (aka, "plantago") oddly shares it's name with a type of banana. It has a long history of herbal uses, is edible as a green, and is virtually the same plant that provides psyllium seed, used for digestive cleansing. And of course, tomato seedlings. It seem tomato seed are just about completely indestructible. But the mulch keeps any of these sprouts from becoming onerous. They are also an indicator of the health and moisture content of the soil while the starts get ready.
     Now the patch has been reworked with fresh compost, and the peppers and eggplants and pole beans and two butternut squash planted in the patch, with some fresh mulch laid down. I'm hoping for eggplants by mid August.
Thanks for visiting.
Get out there and grow something.
Talk soon,
Swami bruce