There are numerous blogs about gardening in Oakland; unfortunately, most of them stopped posting sometime in 2009. Of course, I'm a tota...

Gardening Series: Part One: Planning

There are numerous blogs about gardening in Oakland; unfortunately, most of them stopped posting sometime in 2009. Of course, I'm a total amateur, so we'll have to learn together. I'd like to use some of this space to chronicle our quest to use our pitifully small but wonderfully sunny backyard to provide fresh produce for two hungry adults.

The first step was, of course, planning. I am, by nature, a planner. I will read and study, plot and plan until the time for action has passed. Fortunately, planning and forward thinking seem to be a gardener's friend.

I had two main planning concerns: soil quality and winter.

The previous gardener loved roses, and planted them along a portion of the edging. The soil shows signs of care--dark, loose, rich, lightly moist and sweet smelling. I expect it is slightly acidic (perfect for blueberries) but otherwise healthy.

The remaining soil was less fortunate. Dry, crumbly and pale, it seems only the hardiest of weeds were interested in growing. Had we purchased the house, and were sure of permanency in our residence, I would likely have sacrificed the first year of planting for soil amendment. If only I were that patient.

Instead, I have compromised. I purchased an organic fertilizer to amend the soil during this growing season. In the meantime, I am educating myself in composting and hope to seriously amend the soil this fall. Quality soil produces more, healthier fruits and veggies. From what I've read, if your plants are failing, fix your soil.

Compost Take 1: A Work in Progress
My second concern was winter. I would rather not have to can and preserve produce, having been spoiled by fresh produce my whole life. I'm ok with freezing some fruit and vegetables, but our freezer space is limited.

We don't get any snow and frosts are rare and mild, which allows winter growing. Still, daylight is limited and cold temperatures definitely limit the options. Planting for winter takes some planning.

After consulting a number of Bay Area gardening websites and scrolling through their resources, I came up with a planting calendar. I started by collecting suitable planting months for all of the fruits and veggies I wanted to grow; these were compiled into a giant chart.

In March and April, the possibilities are almost endless, but the harvest is all summertime. Instead, I focused on planting done in September through December: any edible marked as suitable for planting during these months was highlighted. These mostly constituted hardy vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale) and cool weather plants (lettuce, spring mix, peas).

The rest of the chart was highlighted to ensure regular harvest of favorites and staples (beets, radishes, lettuce, etc.) and abundant, extended harvest of summer's best (tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, etc.). This is the schedule I came up with:

JANUARY cabbage carrots lettuce peas radishes
FEBRUARY beets lettuce radishes parsley
MARCH lettuce peas radishes
APRIL beets cucumber eggplant lettuce melon peppers radishes
MAY beans carrots lettuce melons
JUNE beets cucumber lettuce peppers tomatoes
JULY beans cabbage lettuce radishes squash
AUGUST beets broccoli lettuce radishes
SEPTEMBER carrots peas radishes
OCTOBER cauliflower Chinese cabbage kale
DECEMBER lettuce parsley

This is the basic plan. I can obviously supplement these categories as space becomes available. However, I know that, come April, I will need space for a lot of plants. (Many of these are actually already started indoors; more on that in a different post.)

In addition to vegetables, we have supplemented with some fruits. At our old place, we had thriving lemon, kumquat and lime trees. (Ok, mostly the lemon tree was thriving.) Our current place had a very healthy orange tree when we moved in, which has kept us well supplied with oranges this winter.

We have since added: a grape vine, two blueberry bushes, strawberry plants, a nectarine-plum-apricot tree, and a fig tree. We tried to space out fruits so that we would have a year round harvest. Oranges should last us through April. May might be a lull, but we should have stone fruit by June. Berries will arrive late summer, followed by figs and grapes in the fall.

The nectarine-plum-apricot tree.
I'd like to keep track of what works and what doesn't, as well as note how well stocked we were in produce through the winter months. We are also toying with signing up for a CSA--we are excellent at using all sorts of strange veggies and it would allow us to grocery shop every other week. A small box might be enough to supplement our own supply of veggies.

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