Kingdom Plantae. (the yard).   ~mike gradziel.
to the index page


May 2013: Last year the tomatoes were afflicted with a wilt disease, and I didn't can any. We grew some greens and lettuce, beets, eggplants, fennel, and heirloom red cranberry beans. When the rains came I planted fava beans which got out of control (should have turned them under sooner!) and produced a two gallon pail full of dried beans. To shell them I let them dry on the concrete, then crunched them underfoot and hand-picked out the beans. I winnowed away any remaining husks in the wind which was surprisingly effective.

For the first time, in 2013, I had the irrigation set up before planting things in the garden and I installed the tomato cages before transplanting tomato seedlings. Invariably I alwways snapped off a seedling installing these things later, and the irrigation tubing was never well-placed. We will see whether all these improvements help stave off tomato issues this summer. I have allowed the blueberries to fruit for the first time this year as the plants are finally large enough. Most of my yard work has been in the front yard, where I relocated sprinkler heads and replaced all the pop-up sprinklers in an effort to keep the lawn green.

March 2012:

The greens grow slowly with short winter days, but around March they take off and we can't keep up. This year we are growing an heirloom lettuce mix, "Rocky Top" from Baker Creek, and it is very pretty. The different varieties all taste similar to one another. There are beets growing too, and tatsoi, collards, spinach, snap peas, shell peas, peas for pea shoots, broccoli, potatoes, kale, and a big planting of fava beans to turn under later in the year to enrich the soil. My next planting of wheat has sprouted, too, but I had to buy bird netting to keep feathered critters from pulling out young sprouts to obtain the tasty fat grains. I also had to make a major effort to contain the raspberry plants which have now sent runners underground to our property line seven feet away. I dug down a foot around the bed and put in plastic panels that should stop most of the roots from getting out. Eliminating those that have already escaped will take perserverance.
lettuce and beets tatsoi fennel
the garden in March raspberry containment


27 November 2011:

Having finally acquired an old electric fan suitable for winnowing wheat (when there is natural wind, it is so erratic I would end up with wheat all over the yard) I separated 900 grams of grain harvested from my 3x3 foot backyard plot. I planted it much too densely, since this was about a 9:1 return while a commercial operation might reap 50:1 or even 100:1 (which makes sense, since each head of grain has 20-30 seeds and several heads sprout from each wheat plant). I did lose some seedlings to mice and to an excited golden retriever. Next year I plan to increase production fourfold, in the back corner of the yard. I bought a second-hand wheat grinder and after a thorough cleaning and oiling, I mounted it to a wood base and made my first batch of home-grown pancakes. Sonora wheat grows well here, but as a soft white wheat it is better for pastries than bread or pasta. The summer garden is about done but we already have the winter plantings sprouted - beets, chard, lettuce, and there are peas, collard greens, potatoes, broccoli, and other cool weather plants on the way.
winnowing wheat home grown sonora wheat grinding the wheat
autumn harvest


01 October 2011:

Another summer has passed, our second here at the house. The tomato crop came late and all at once on account of cool weather, but we kept almost all of it thanks to my wire cage supports and the 800-volt electric critter fence that keeps the neighborhood raccoons out. I canned two batches of sauce. We had a good crop of raspberries, lots of onions, and the wheat experiment turned out very well though I have not yet devised a way to winnow the wheat. Most satisfying however has been the fig tree, which in its second year now is eight feet tall and producing many pounds of figs. I pulled off most of the small green figs to let those that remained grow big (the tree will sprout a fig at every single leaf junction) and we have been picking one or several every day for weeks! I used to spend $5-7 each week through August and September buying these figs at the farmers market, so this is one garden project that is really making economic sense. From my tree they are just as juicy, soft, and sweet as the ones from the Central Valley four hours away near Visalia.
ripe tomato ripe tomato figs from my tree
flowering shrubs flowering shrubs fig on the tree
harvested wheat harvested wheat the garden in August, from my roof


June 2011:

Another month, and everything is bigger. I had to tie the topheavy fig tree so it will not be damaged in windy weather; last fall I pruned its middle branches to encourage it to grow taller but this produced a spurt of growth up top. Now other branches are coming in too. The wheat is fully mature now and very tall, falling over so I had to tie it up too. The kernels are still soft and will have to dry before they can be ground, but it looks like a great return on the half-cup of grain planted last winter. Same for the potatoes: I planted two pieces of one small potato, and we just dug up four pounds of tasty new potatoes! That was easy.
the garden in June wheat is almost ready freshly dug potatoes


May 2011:

So many tomatoes sprouted on their own that I think next year I may not bother using electric grow-lights indoors - the wild ones are doing better in the garden and more keep coming up! This year I have installed wire mesh to keep the fruit off the ground. It will be difficult to pick them but I'll give it a try. Four lettuce plants that we planted in December have produced steadily until May an astounding quantity of lettuce leaves, but they are finally going to seed. Good thing not all the seeds I planted came up. We have enjoyed broccoli, chard, beets (the second planting is almost ready), fava beans, spinach, and now the raspberries are ripe. I bought straw mulch to protect the blueberries (the leaf mulch from last fall has composted down and is too thin). Also this year I am installing distributed emitter drip line to keep everything watered, especially the blueberries which do not like to be dry. Finally, my wheat experiment is shaping up to be a great success. Last fall I planted exactly one half cup of Sonora wheat berries from the farmers market, grown in Pescadero not far from here. This variety does well with the winter weather in this area. Mine has grown so tall it is falling over under the weight of the grain. It may be a little too tall for planting the whole front yard with wheat, which was my original thought, but I could manage some small patches like this. I'll wait and see what the volumetric seed return on investment is.
the wheat the young garden in May freshly mulched blueberries


January-February, 2011:

Mid-winter in San Mateo means lettuce and salad greens, a jungle of fava beans, fresh broccoli, beets, and chard. Things grew slowly when the days were short but really pivked up later in January. Some warm weather helped, too The fav abeans grew two feet tall and then I turned most of them under just as they started to flower, to capture the wealth of nitrogen they had built up in their roots. Then I planted more. I'll have to let some go to seed to supply next year's seed, but since each seed can produce dozens of new seeds there are plenty to go around (even if we eat some!). I planted sonora wheat in a test patch of the garden. I got it at the farmers market, where it was sold for food. Evidently this variety grows better in this area. If it produces reasonably well, I might actually plant part of the front yard with wheat. If I'm going to water it, I may as well plant a grass that produces something useful. We put in another blueberry plant to replace one that died, and added some black raspberries. The raspberries are sending runners all over, several feet away from the edge of their area. I will have to do some serious root pruning.
raspberries are mulched for the winter romanesca broccoli lettuce
fava beanss fava beans and salad greens


Decemner 2010:

Finally, a whole year after buying this old ranch fence from a guy in the east bay, I put it up in the front yard. It really helps close off the space dividing the street from our yard and makes the lawn feel more private and comfortable. Now however I must install a distributed emitter irrigation loop around the fence so it won't be sprayed by the sprinklers, which would turn it green. It might rot, too; it lasted 80 years up to now they said but that was out in dry rangeland.
frosty lawn pre-fence building the fence fence finished


October-November 2010:

The garden produced tomatoes into November, and I let a few figs ripen though a raccoon stole one the night all the leaves and fruit fell off. Autumn arrived suddenly! Next year I will let more fruit grow, though I pruned off several branches to make the tree grow taller. That way the yard will not be taken over entirely by shrubbery.
the last ot the tomatoes, in November rain brown turkey fig


September 2010:

In March when forty tomato plants sprouted I said "let them grow; all they need is water." Now I cannot bear to let perfectly good tomatoes go unused, so while we have given many away dealing with the rest has consumed every weekend recently. We have picked well over 200 pounds of tomatoes! I bought a canner and we made spaghetti sauce. Joy bought a food mill that looks like a meat grinder, for separating seeds and skins from pulp, and we made really good sauce for future pizzas and barbecues. I made ketchup - which tastes like a cross between Heinz and cocktail sauce. I made yellow tomato sauce, red tomato sauce, and tomato juice. And soup, of course. And there are cucumbers too - great for making pickles. The raspberries have achieved an incredible amount of growth since May and we have picked many quarts. From seven plants the entire 14x4 foot bed is packed with canes! We can pick these berries when they are very ripe with best flavor, unlike what you can buy at the grocery store. Finally at the end of September the tomatoes are slowing down.
ripe raspberries goldkirsche tomatoes goldkirsche tomatoes
tomatoes and cucumbers tomatoes and cucumbers a typical weekly harvest
Joy canning tomato sauce sweet pickles canned tomatoes


July 2010:

The tomato jungle is overtaking the yard, and we have to trim it back constantly to keep pathways open and keep the electric wires clear for fending off critters. One of the two varieties of raspberries is particularly vigorous and has sent up dozens of canes, many of which are now producing sweet red raspberries. What a great return on investment! All we had to do was supply a little water. The peas were excellent. There are hundreds of tomatoes. The blueberry plants are still very small, as they take many years to mature, but they have settled in it seems and are sending out new leaves. The fig tree is getting big - it has almost doubled in diameter and has so many leaves that I staked it to stand straight in the wind. In the front yard, though I cleaned and raised all the sprinkler heads the lawn is mottled green and brown and it has doubled our water bill. Next year, we will either grow a tall dry grass that looks decent, or plant a crop like soybeans or wheat. The neighbors may think us odd, but I think it will actually look nice and that way we will get something useful for our efforts and water.
tomato jungle peas and beans purple beans
chopping plant trimmings for compost ink hydrangeas zinnias and nasturtiums
zinnias a flowering succulent carrots
cactus flower bud cactus flower night blooming cactus
harvesting the first beet
The garden is growing! First harvest 11 June: tender baby beets and a super-sweet spring onion.
Joy picks fava beans idyllic evening scene raspberries, beans, and peas
the first onion spring red onion fava beans
raspberry plant blueberry plant Joy's succulents
daffodils - by Joy crocus - by Joy tulip - by Joy

Mar / Apr 2010:

Out in the garage, my seed incubator is sprouting tomato plants, onions, basil, peppers, eggplant, and broccoli.
my seed incubator sprouted seedlings

Feb / Mar 2010:

In the yard, I pruned all the trees and dug beds for raspberries and blueberries. We bought bare-root stock and planted it in January and February. I put a brown turkey fig in the back yard along with some dwarf citrus. There was a small area of soil where painters evidently dumped turpentine and old paint, so I dug that out and hauled away to the haz waste site almost 150 pounds of tainted clay. In its place, I brought about four thousand pounds of compost from various farms and stables - all free, most of it well aged with thousands of earthworms. It sounds like a lot but I still need more; it eventually will decompose away to nothing. For now it lightens up the clay into an ideal soil that holds water but doesn't turn rock-hard when dry.

The yard has become one giant 260-square-foot raised bed garden edged by redwood planks. This is a fortress against snails and slugs, and later rats and raccoons that the neighbors warn will raid the vegetables. My 800-volt multi-strand electric fence will send them running, while two dozen heirloom tomato plants ripen enormous crops of fruit inside - so I hope. Joy re-potted succulents from the back yard and set them along the front walk. We've planted flower beds to attract bees and butterflies and fava beans to enrich the soil. Between the sheds, there is a pile of rubble and brush for salamander habitat - until I come up with something more attractive and still wildlife-friendly. With my 10-pounds hammer, I broke up a section of concrete walkway to plant my australian lime tree just where I want it. Let's un-pave the planet! I'll remove the rest of the sidewalk once I find a way to re-use or remove the broken concrete.
the original back yard preparing berry beds digging the main garden bed
loading compost in Petaluma loading compost in Petaluma Joy with Emmett, a territorial goose
finished raised bed garden finished raised bed garden the front yard

Dec 2009 / Jan 2010:

Our new house sits on five thousand square feet of San Mateo clay with excellent drainage, full sun, and not much growing besides grass and some rose bushes. Someone has cared for the front lawn allowing a healthy population of earthworms to flourish. An extensive collection of rose bushes lives out back, but the rest of the back yard was paved over with three inches of pea gravel over bare clay soil. It's been that way for years but not forever; a big tree (oak or similar) once stood near the larger shed. The stump is buried underground. Another stump is buried in the front yard under the young maple tree which our neighbor says is ten years old and dwarfed by lack of good soil underneath.
me and joy in front of our new house our new house our new house - original back yard


to the index page