Spring Into Food Gardening
Whether you are a new or experienced food gardener, there will be something of interest for you at the FREE spring food gardening workshops offered by the Master Gardener Food Gardening Specialists. No pre-registration is required. Some of the instruction happens in the garden—bring your sun hat, garden gloves and water. We hope to see you there!
- March 30, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm: Getting Ready to Plant: Getting the Most Out of Your Garden Space. Creative approaches to both container and row planting (wine barrels, mounds), as well as vertical gardening (tomatoes climbing a fence) will be discussed. Plus, how to start a berry garden using these techniques. In the event of heavy rain, indoor space is available. Location: Harvest for the Hungry Garden, 1717 Yulupa Ave, Santa Rosa (behind the Methodist church; cross street: Hoen).
- April 20, 10:00 - 11:30 am: Earth-Friendly Food Gardening. Join us to celebrate Earth Day. From the soil up, we will describe the processes we used to take a weedy patch of land and turn it into a productive food garden. How to build healthy soil, compost basics and how to keep weeds under control will be discussed. For those growing in small spaces, the basics of growing food in wine barrels and grow bags will be highlighted. Weather permitting, we will plant some vegetables in the ground, in wine barrels and in grow bags. Spanish translation will be provided. Location: Bayer Farm Community Garden, 1550 West Avenue, Santa Rosa.
- May 11, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm: Summer Food Gardening Workshop. Learn to grow food sustainably (topics typically include soil management, integrated pest management, transitioning your garden from spring to summer and planting the right plant in the right place at the right time). Create a small footprint while providing fresh and nutritious food for your family. Location: Windsor Town Green Community Garden at the northeast side of the town green, at Windsor Road and Joe Rodota Way; park in the Windsor Civic Center Parking Lot.
In addition to spring/summer and fall/winter food gardening workshops, you will find a plethora of food gardening guidance on the website from the basic A to Z "Growing Vegetables" publication and the when-to-plant "Year-Round Food Gardening in Sonoma County" publication to how to set up a food bed irrigation system and calculate just how much water your food garden needs—and MUCH more. There is an extensive library of vegetable, fruit and herb articles for crops that thrive in Sonoma County. For a full listing, see "Food Gardening Articles" and the Food Gardening section of "MG Publications."
Also, like and follow us on Facebook where you will find two weekly food gardening features. On Wednesdays, Master Gardener Food Gardening Specialist Penny Fink shares her experience growing vegetables and fruit on a hillside in Occidental. You will relate to and be energized by "Penny's Farm" and her seasonal activities, challenges and advice. "Sundays with Sue" is all about edible landscaping (with a few chicken stories and floral/greenery arrangements thrown in for good measure). You will be charmed and inspired by Master Gardener Food Gardening Specialist Sue Lovelace's posts.
In the Garden
New Food Gardening Documents
Our newest additions to the food gardening articles on the website include "Focus on Spring Vegetables" and "Focus on Fall Vegetables." Each is a a two-page guide that includes an example of a planted 4 x 8-foot raised bed on one page. The second page outlines planting, care and harvest information (as appropriate) for the veggies in the sample beds along with recommended varieties for Sonoma County. "Focus on Spring Vegetables" includes making room for warm weather veggies. So, be sure to wait until the threat of frost has passed before planting heat-loving crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers. "Focus on Fall Vegetables" includes hardy veggies that can overwinter in a typical Sonoma County winter, providing you an extended harvest. Reference "Year-Round Food Gardening in Sonoma County" to learn which vegetables are cool-weather, hardy and warm-weather.
Nothing tastes better than a home-grown potato. And, if you follow Master Gardener Thom Glenn's advice, you can look forward to a bountiful and delicious harvest. If you don't have much space, how about a potato tower or a grow bag? There are many simple instructions on the Internet for constructing a potato tower. If you purchase a grow bag, look for one that has velcro "windows" that allows you to harvest from the side of the bag for an extended harvest period.
It seems as though people either love beets or hate them. If you're a hater, become a convert by trying something other than the usual red beet varieties. Golden beet varieties have a milder, sweeter taste and are delicious roasted. Beets with variegated color (such as 'Chioggia' with its concentric rings of red and white) also provide a nutritious alternative. Even the red beet varieties have differences in taste and texture. Learn more about growing beets.
A Word About Direct Seeding
Typically, March is the month to seed many cool-weather vegetables. Our "Year-Round Food Gardening in Sonoma County" publication indicates which veggies can be direct seeded. However, we know too well that February was a very wet month in Sonoma County, and we'll likely have additional rain in March. Seeds need contact with the soil to germinate which means that we may need to lightly rake the soil's surface or to break up soil clods (to the greatest degree, employing minimum soil disturbance). Never work wet soil—it destroys its structure. Plus, seeds will rot when the soil is too wet. To germinate, seeds like a moist soil—think of a well wrung-out sponge. You can improve soil drainage by planting in a raised bed or in a mound of soil. But always test the soil and consider the weather outlook before sowing seed
Food Garden Specialists
Food Garden Specialists (FGS) are volunteers in the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County. They have a passion for and extra training in sustainable food gardening. In addition to offering food gardening workshops, they provide free advice and consultation services to community gardens throughout Sonoma County. Read more.
Food Garden Tips
March Food Garden Tasks and Tips
For what to grow this month, click here.
- Despite all the rain and flooding, we have no idea what this summer will bring, so we suggest you check out the Food Garden Specialists’ video on growing vegetables with less water and other related materials. Just in case.
- Eliminate early emerging weeds before they go to seed and, while the ground is soft, hoe or pull by hand. Do not allow weeds to compete with your food garden for water.
- If you grew a cover crop, cut or mow it down and lightly till it into the soil, or for minimum soil disturbance, chop it and drop it and plant right into the crop residue.
- The most efficient way to deliver water to your food garden is a drip system. If you already have drip, flush and test the drip irrigation system; identify/repair leaks; clean the water filter. If you hand-water, check the condition of hoses and nozzles; replace old washers to prevent drips.
- If you have never started seeds indoors, start a favorite variety of a warm weather veggie this month to set out when the danger of frost passes in early May. Because there may be water issues this year, consider growing a variety with fewer days to maturity (an early variety) so that you have fewer days to irrigate before harvest. For advice, see: Growing Vegetables from Seed.
- If you are thinking of growing potatoes, many nurseries have been selling seed potatoes in the last few weeks. If the ones you bought are not yet sprouting, leave them in their paper bags and add an apple which will produce ethylene gas that will hasten sprouting. Put the closed paper bags in a larger plastic bag, tied to reduce airflow. Check progress every few days. For growing information, click here.
- Certain crops may benefit from row covers (e.g., to protect shallow seed from being washed away by spring rains and to protect tender seedlings from insects and birds). Row covers also can collect dew that falls on the soil—a strategy to consider in a drought year. Light weight covers can be laid over the rows and secured with irrigation staples or bricks or draped over PVC hoops and secured to the ground.
- Encourage bees and good bugs to visit you garden by planting beneficial-friendly plants near your vegetable bed. Nepeta (catmint), Rosmarinus (rosemary), Salvia, Lavandula (lavender) and Thyme are just a few. Many perennial Mediterranean herbs are loved by beneficials AND are low-water.
- Thin root and salad crops so that they do not become overcrowded.
- For recommendations how and when to fertilize fruit trees, refer to the UC ANR calendar.
- Plant citrus in early spring to give tree roots the longest possible time to become established before it is exposed to frost. For UC’s guidance on citrus, click here. Consider your water availability when choosing thirsty new trees.
- Prune one-year old grape vines when growth just begins in spring so that new growth will avoid damage from late-spring frosts. Refer to UC guidance on growing grapes.
- Most grape varieties are susceptible to powdery mildew. Once it appears, it is too late to treat. Powdery mildew is controlled during the growing season by spraying with water-soluble sulfur. Begin applying treatments when all buds have pushed. Thereafter, repeat at ten-day intervals in the spring if disease pressure is high.
- Inspect crops regularly throughout their growing season for early problem diagnosis and resolution. Refer to University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site. If we have a warm March, aphids may make an appearance on vegetables and ornamentals—control with insecticidal soap. Normally, we suggest a water blast from the hose, but there may be restrictions on hose use in drought years. What about a hand-held car vacuum? We hear it works great.
- As spring planting begins in earnest, select disease-resistant crop varieties (especially important in a small garden where crop rotation is difficult). The abbreviations on the tag are important (e.g., “VFN” means that a plant is resistant to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt and Nematodes). Inspect crops regularly for early problem diagnosis and resolution. Refer to University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site.
- Click here for ongoing monthly tasks.