Saturday, May 28, 2011

An Applied Mythologist's Garden

The Applied Mythologist With Brussels Sprouts

(This post is only on Applied Mythology)

I estimate that I have been gardening for fifty years, ever since I started helping my grandfather in his Denver, Colorado "Victory Garden."  I've gardened in Denver; in Palo Alto, California; Davis, California; Grand Junction, Colorado; in Newark, Delaware; in San Marcos, Calfornia; and now in Encinitas, California near San Diego.

Of all those places, Encinitas has been the most challenging in terms of gardening.  We have an amazingly moderate climate with temperatures rarely above or below the 60-80F range. That makes it a very pleasant place to live, but it is also a very "bug friendly" environment.  There are no frosts or cold spells to break the pest cycles, so all the pests flourish all year.  This includes the whiteflies, aphids, caterpillars, and flea beetles from the insect side.  There are always slugs and snails. Diseases like Botrytis and Alternaria wreak havoc on my basil and tomatoes because of our foggy mornings.  Powdery mildew attacks the squashes and cucumbers.  Mucor attacks the blooms of the Kubosha squash.  Some root rot has caused two of my strawberry plants to die this week.
Dying Strawberries

I suppose this is good for reminding me why it is so important that the industry for which I consult is developing newer and safer pest control tools.  It is just frustrating because we homeowners don't have the chance to buy the best new options.  A regular dose of reality is probably good to counteract my basic optimism.

Garlic I Harvested Yesterday
We have an large population of gophers which has forced me to grow everything either in puts in in raised beds with wire mesh underneath.  One of the few crops I planted in the ground this year, an artichoke, disappeared just the other day with a tell-tale mound of soil that is the calling card of the gopher.  I've given up trying to kill them.  Instead I use the loose, relatively weed-free soil they bring up to mix with my composted produce scraps.

This year I greatly expanded my greenhouse and set it up to be mostly screen surface for the warmer parts of the year like August and also January when we get hot Santa Ana winds from the desert.  It is mostly made from re-purposed windows, screens etc.  I filled the new beds partially with 'Coir' which is finely ground coconut husk.  It probably originated in Sri Lanka, went to the Netherlands and then was shipped here with Oriental lilly bulbs.  The local greenhouse sells it for $5/trash barrel so its a great deal.

I know it is trendy to call what I am doing "Urban Farming," but I could not in good conscience elevate my hobby to the status of actual "farming".  It does not carry the sort of financial risk that makes it so amazing that there are still people left who are willing to feed us by growing crops.  If I get some tasty, fresh produce it is purely a treat for me and maybe my friends and neighbors.

I have a much more ambitious garden this year.  It includes or included the following vegetables.

Squash (Zucchini, Kubosha, Butternut)
Brussels Sprouts (already harvested)
Tomatoes (8 different varieties including three "heirloom types," Juliet plum tomatoes and Sweet 100 cherry types)
Tomatillos to make green sauce
Cayenne pepper to spice that sauce
Romaine lettuce, chard, carrots
Basil for pesto etc, parsley, dill, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and Thai basil
One ex-artichoke
Fingerling potatoes and volunteer Russet potatoes in the "compost" bin
Green beans and snow peas
Onions, garlic and shallots

For fruit I have 1 apricot tree that is currently providing delicious fruit in a rare year where there was enough chilling to set a crop.  I have two avocado trees which are producing a total of one avocado!  Two lemon trees, two mandarin trees and one Mexican lime.  I have two fig trees which annually feed 4-6 fig lovers.  I still have 10 living strawberry plants and have recently started two pineapples (in the greenhouse).  I have one Flame Seedless table grape vine which usually does not have ripe fruit until November.

The largest, and most labor intensive part of my garden is my little, terraced vineyard of 25 Sarah wine grapes (Shiraz to my Australian readers).  If I am very careful to get my net up and well anchored, I can get 20-30 gallons of decent wine a year, but the raccoons and birds have dropped that to 5 gallons for some vintages.

My Vineyard. Three Rows
The newest addition this year is thirty five baby coffee trees that I am growing for a friend.  I will keep three of them and maybe someday produce about one pound of coffee per year - reducing my dependence on imports by about 0.5%!
John's Coffee Trees About 4 Inches High Now

So that is a description of one agricultural blogger's garden.  I know my Grandfather would have approved.  I hope to pass along a passion for gardening to my grand daughter!

Botany Lesson

You are invited to tell me about your garden by comment here or to email me at  For links to all my blogs on various sites click here.


  1. Well. I guess I should give up my "California envy."

    The first time I visited San Francisco, I saw an actual lemon tree growing in someone's yard. I just stood there and stared at it. It didn't seem possible.

    I've lived in Maine for 26 years, and the gardening here is, shall we say, traumatic. Some of this might be due to climate change.

    For example, last year winter ended in February (while Washington DC was, inexplicably, wallowing in three feet of snow). Plants broke dormancy about a month early. Leaves were out at the end of April, and apples and strawberries were in bloom by May 1.

    Then a normal killing frost came May 15. No more apples or berries.

    This year, on the other hand, winter has hung on to the bitter end. In fact, this past week has been the first really mild week of 2011. We had a ten-day stretch of no sun in mid-May.

    The leaves are finally out, but the ground is still saturated from the yards of snow we received over the winter. As a result, I have brussels sprouts, cabbages, celery, onions, other cool weather crops, that have been sitting cramped in their pots for over two months.

    Here's a question: Will they grow well if I plant them now? Is there anything to remedy a poor pot-bound brassica or allium?


  2. MikeB,

    My hat is off to you to garden in Maine. Yes, you get cold to stop pests, but you have such a short season.

    In theory you could grow the plants all season in the pots, but it is very hard to keep them adequately watered and fertilized. I've seen an orchard of full sized tangerine trees in 1 gallon pots of lava rock, but they were being continuously monitored, watered and fertilized with a computer controlled system. I would go ahead and plant those when the soil dries and hope for the best.


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