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Posts from the ‘Gardening’ Category

Blueberries in Silicon Valley (2010)

In 2008, I wrote a blog post about my initial success growing blueberries here in Silicon Valley.

Blog: Blueberries in Sunnyvale

It’s a great post, and it covers a lot of the basics of which varieties to plant, and an example of how to set up watering properly.  I ended on this note:

If you’ve read this far, chances are you think that replacing useless ornamental shrubs and bushes with gorgeous, fruiting blueberry bushes is a dream come true.   Well, you too can live the dream.  I’m happy to announce that growing blueberries in Sunnyvale is definitely a reality.

This will now be my third season harvesting blueberries, and it looks like it will be a bumper crop this year.  However, I thought it was worth putting together an update, because the second season was not very successful at all.  In fact, it was lessons from the second year that really led me to do some research and come up with the techniques that I believe have led to a great 2010.

How to Fertilize Blueberries

I’m not a terribly creative or active gardener, in that I tend to favor plants and setups that don’t require constant maintenance.  Blueberries don’t require a lot of work, if you set them up properly, but they do require fertilization on an annual basis.  More importantly, they require the right kind of fertilization.  (Sources:  Michigan State Agriculture, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture)

Here are a couple key facts:

  • Blueberries require acidic soil. Actually, according to eHow and other sites, the proper pH for Blueberries can be anything from 4.3 to 5.1.  That’s pretty acidic, and much more acidic than any soil you are going to find in the Bay Area naturally.  That means, you’ve got to add something to the soil at least annually for Blueberries to flourish.
  • Traditional fertilizers can hurt Blueberries. Like most plants, Blueberries need nitrogren.  However, they don’t handle it in nitrate form well, and it can lead to significant issues.  You can use fertilizers made for acid-lovers like Azaleas.  Instead, look for sulfer-based fertilizers.

I personally use the following process:

  1. I strip about 1-2 inches of accumulated leaves and top soil off the area.
  2. I use ammonium sulfate (purchased at Home Depot, in the garden section).  I sprinkle liberally around the bushes, based on the package instructions.
  3. I put down a few bags (about 1 inch) of new top soil from bags.  These bags contain fresh organic matter, which lightly fertilizes.
  4. I mulch the entire area.

When to Fertilize Blueberries

This is the part I got wrong in 2009.

In 2009, as per some of the recommendations on blueberry.org, I waited to fertilize my blueberries until they started to flower.  This was a huge mistake.  In the end, I was left with a small number (<30) flowers per bush, and a very sparse crop.

My working hypothesis was that, due to the warm winters in Silicon Valley, the plants never really go fully dormant, but do set based on the frosty nights in December/January.  As a result, they bloom by February, as the weather warms but is still wet.  A few articles on the web from other warm weather growers seemed to confirm this theory.

As a result, this year, I decided to prepare and fertilize my blueberry bushes over Thanksgiving using the treatment above.  I was actually very fortunate on the timing – we had quite a bit of rain in December, as well as a few frigid nights, so I felt like I did the work “just in time”.

Results for 2010

No harvests yet, but all eight bushes (four of each variety) are literally bursting with huge (20 berry+) bunches of green blueberries.  I think there are at least 200+ berries per bush.  Barring some unforeseen tragedy, it looks like the early fertilization and preparation was key for preparing the plants to make the most of their fruiting season.

Here is a quick snapshot that I tweeted out this weekend.  You can see some of the leaves are still red from the winter, although there are quite a few new green shoots and leaves.

I hope this helps any aspiring blueberry growers out there.  It’s a real delight to pick blueberries in the morning on the way to work.

Tomatoes 2009: The Year of the Green Zebra

Thought I’d take a break from posting about pretend farming, and add my annual post on my real life farming efforts.

Those of you who know me, or who have been reading this blog for a while, know that I love to garden.  Despite having a tiny amount of plantable land (I have two 3×3 foot garden boxes, and one 3×6 that I use for tomatoes), I do my best.

I try to balance color and variety each year with my tomato picks.  I only have room for four plants (technically, if I gave them proper space, two plants), so I try to mix demonstrated produces with at least one tomato that I’ve never grown before.

For 2009, I planted:

  • Sweet 100 (Red Cherry)
  • Sungold (Small orange)
  • Lemon Boy (Medium yellow)
  • Green Zebra (Medium Green/Yellow striped)

As usual, I do nothing fancy for my garden boxes.  They have reliable watering through soaker hose on a timer, and I fill each box with new compost every spring.

For volume, Sungold really stole the show this year.  Normally, the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes are the big producer, but not this year.  The Sungold plant went nuts.  The bush overgrew my 4-foot cage and spilled over the entire box:

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Gorgeous fruit, with bountiful bunches of bright orange tomatoes.  Very sweet.  I’m being conservative by saying that we’ve harvested over 200 tomatoes off this one plant already this season, and we’re harvesting another 50+ daily right now.

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The clear champion of this summer, however, was the experimental variety, the Green Zebra. The Green Zebra, it turns out, is not an heirloom tomato (although I thought it was when I bought it.)

The plant has been an incredible grower, and has produced several dozen fruits already.  They are a beautiful green striped, medium-sized tomato that turn yellow at the top when they are ripe.

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They grow in beautiful clusters, and the vine has been producing several ripe tomatoes every day through August.

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They taste delicious, like a slightly acidic version of a typical salad tomato, but with beautiful color.  Fantastic addition to any garden.

So, the 2009 award for best tomato (in my garden) goes to: Green Zebra.

Maybe I can get Zynga to add it to Farmville as a “Super” crop?  :)

Blueberries in Sunnyvale

I am proud to say that a little more than two months ago, I decided to follow a dream.  A dream that I’ve had for a long time.  A dream to grow blueberries in the warm, pleasant, and good-for-almost-everything-except-blueberries weather of Silicon Valley.

Not all dreams become a reality.  But check out this photo, from yesterday:

Gorgeous, right?  That’s the first bunch of blueberries off one of my eight (8), count them, eight blueberry bushes in my front yard.  They were about 10 in this group, all large, all sweet, all as good as any I’ve had.

Now check this out:

And that’s just one bush!  Fantastic for a first year harvest.

Now some details for those of you out there who share the dream of growing blueberries in the Bay Area, but always thought that they were a cold weather, Maine/Alaska sort of thing.

First, I didn’t get special hybrids from Master Gardners (although they have some excellent research on growing blueberries in California).  I actually got all of my plants in one and five gallon containers at the local SummerWinds nursery in Cupertino.  All of my plants were from Monrovia, which has a great website describing all of their blueberry varieties, and which zones they grow in.  There are now hybrids for almost every zone in the US.  I chose to plant two varieties:

  • Misty (Vaccinum x Misty): Sky-blue, medium large, very sweet fruit matures early season from midsummer through fall. Pink and white bell-shaped flowers bloom in late spring followed by fruit crop. Very low chill requirement of 300 hours to set a good crop of fruit. An attractive shrub with blue-green foliage for beds or the fruit garden. Remains evergreen in mild winters or turns brilliant red before shedding leaves in cold climates. Semi-deciduous shrub. Full sun. Vigorous growth 5 to 6 feet tall and wide.
  • Sunshine Blue (Vaccinum x Sunshine Blue): Hot pink bell shaped flowers are decorative before fading to white. Blooms in late spring. Yields an abundant crop of large tangy fruit with as few as 150 hours of chill. Self pollinating, but produces best when planted with another variety. Dwarf stature is far more suited to ornamental gardens and small space landcapes than other varieties. Semi-evergreen shrub. Full sun. Moderate growth 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

It’s amazing how well they have taken.  I planted them in an open stretch next to my driveway, where there previously were ornamental bushes.  I added some additional flowers and bulbs (200+) for color.   The flowers are extremely pleasant and fragrant, and it’s nice to have both white and pink flowering varieties.  Here is a shot of the complete row on March 29th, a couple weeks after planting.

This is what a single bush looked like, flowering, on March 29th:

Here is an updated shot, from Sunday (May 18th):

You can see the bulbs have sprouted, and the flowers on the bushes have now been replaced with hundreds of green blueberries.  They should be fully ripe in late June, early July at this rate.

I was a little paranoid about watering, and ended up putting in a new trench and line for daily watering.  Simple drip heads (4) with spray for 20 minutes a day in the morning.

If you’ve read this far, chances are you think that replacing useless ornamental shrubs and bushes with gorgeous, fruiting blueberry bushes is a dream come true.   Well, you too can live the dream.  I’m happy to announce that growing blueberries in Sunnyvale is definitely a reality.

Garden 2007: Sweet 100, JetSetter, Banana & Green Grape Tomato Plants

I’ve been a bit surprised at the ongoing popularity of the one or two posts from last year on my tomato harvest, particularly the pictures of my Mr. Stripey tomato.

As a result, I thought I’d post an update for 2007 on my garden. I love working in the garden – my only regret is that I only have 3 garden boxes to work with. Of course, that’s about 10x the space I had a few years ago when I was growing plants on the balcony of my apartment.

This year, I’ve lined up what I think is an excellent crop:

Box 1: Peppers

I love medium-to-hot peppers, so this year I’m growing five varieties:

  • Banana
  • Serano
  • Jalapeño
  • Thai
  • Habañero

Here’s a shot of the 9 plants (2 of each except for the 1 Habañero)

Box 2: Cucumbers

I also grow cucumbers, using a trellis so I can get a large crop with very little space. This year, I’m growing four varieties of cucumber. Two years ago, my Japanese cucumbers reached almost 2 feet (24 inches) in length, so I’m trying to build on that success.

Here are the four varieties I planted this year:

  • Lemon
  • Japanese
  • Table (regular)
  • Armenian

I’m excited about the last one, because I’ve never grown Armenian cucumbers before. They apparently are light green skinned, and can grow to 3 feet long! Should be fun.

The plants in the bottom corner are herbs that I use to fill out the box – basil, oregano, thyme.

Box 3: Tomatoes

And finally, my prize plants, the tomatoes. This year, I’m trying to stretch a 3×6 box to handle 4 plants. I’m also trying out a much more robust 7mm steel support for the plants after last years disaster with my huge plants bending the smaller steel frames mid-August. I got them at Gardener Supply online.

The four varieties of tomato this year feature two hybrids for volume & eating, and two heirloom varieties for flavor & fun.

  • Sweet 100 (cherry)
  • JetSetter (large, red)
  • Banana Fingers (4″, orange/yellow)
  • Green Grape (small, green/stripe)

I’ve had them in the ground for four weeks, and they are really doing well. See below.

Should be a great year for the garden. Everything is really taking off. I feel like Brie from Desperate Housewives, but even my Hydrangeas are doing fantastically well.

   

The Last Mr. Stripey Tomato for 2006

It may seem weird to talk about tomatoes in December, but the time has come to say goodbye to my tomato plants from my first year growing them here in Sunnyvale.

Mr. Stripey is a heirloom variety that uniquely produces a red and yellow striped fruit.  I harvested most of these in the summer, but there were a few still growing on the vine, and I found one more good one to close out 2006 a couple of weeks ago.

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This one wasn’t as ripe as others, so the red looks a bit pink.  Still, you can see the unique, mottled interior, and based on the fully sliced fruit, appreciate the size.

I noticed on most gardening sites Mr. Stripey doesn’t get very high ratings.  True, the vine didn’t produce a lot of fruit (maybe 6-12 good tomatoes through the season), but I thought it was a lot of fun to have this multi-colored tomato.  We found it very sweet & firm, and definitely colorful.

One of the comments from my last post on my 7 foot tomato plants was that I didn’t include a picture of Mr. Stripey.  So here it is.

Anyway, the vines are coming down next weekend, even though they are still bearing fruit.  I’m pretty sure these frosty mornings are going to kill them soon, and I’m not eager for the first serious rainstorm of the winter scattering tomatoes everywhere.

I feel lucky to live in Silicon Valley, though, where I can actually harvest my garden into December.   Very lucky.

2006: The Year of 7 Foot Tall Tomatoes

One of the things I have not shared yet on this blog is that I love to garden.

When I moved back to the Bay Area in 2001, my wife and I lived in an apartment for two years. However, even there, I managed to jury-rig five planter boxes and some grow lights on a timer to try and grow herbs, peppers, and tomatoes on the balcony. They turned out surprisingly well, although I never got a lot of fruit out of the tomatoes.

One of the great things about owning a home, for me, has been the ability to garden. In 2004, I built three planter boxes in the backyard, and this was the first year I tried to grow tomatoes in them.

Wow.

My son, Jacob, who is exactly 3 feet tall, is provided for some sort of scale.  The redwood box around the tomatoes is approximately  seven (7) feet tall.

Nothing magical about the box.  Just 1 foot above the ground, one inch cedar planks.  Soil is 1/2 compost, 1/2 standard bag soil.  I planted three tomato vines this year – a hybrid grape tomato (red), a lemon boy hybrid (yellow), and an heirloom variety called Mr. Stripey (red & yellow stripes).  All did shockingly well, although the two hybrids are the overgrown ones.

There is a funny story for the redwood frame.  In August, we went away on vacation.  When we came back, the tomato plants had grown so large they actually tipped over and bent the 3 1/2 foot steel cages!  I had to rebend the cage as best I could, chop away about half of the plants, and then build the redwood frame around them to support the entire mass.

We lost about 1/2 the plant mass, but I saved the vines.  Within a month, they had grown another two feet tall, filling the frame!

It’s nice to live in a climate where tomato plants still think November is a time to be in bloom – I’ve been harvesting my third crop this past week… if the weather holds off, it looks like I might sneak in a fourth.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures.  For those curious about the trellis behind the tomatoes, I also grew lemon cucumbers and cantaloupes this year, in a 3×3 box with a 6 foot trellis.  I must have harvested over 50 cucumbers and a dozen cantaloupes from that small space (two vines each).  Amazing!  I highly recommend “vertical gardening” for the space challenged.

I’ll save the story of my peppers for another time.  Not quite as exciting as the habanero explosion of 2005 anyway…

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