bay area, Container gardening, Edible gardening, Urban gardening, Zone 9

What to plant in August?

Summer is at its peak and the garden is full. Next set of planting is not in our minds yet and there is no space to fit yet another plant. But it is important to plan this now and get going with planting, to get the garden continue to produce during the Fall and winter months.

March/April plantings of melons, squashes, beans, cucumbers, determinate varieties of tomatoes and cantaloupes are probably dwindling down in production or diseased. Determinate varieties of tomatoes would have put out all of their tomatoes and maybe giving you just an occasional one. It’s time to replace it with another set of determinate/bush variety of tomatoes that will ripen right before the first frost. Cucumbers are slowing down and probably have powdery mildew and you are unsure what to do with them. Zucchini and summer squashes have become very long and though putting out a good harvest, may have powdery mildew, squash bug infestation or look unhealthy. Beans may be affected with spider mites or other diseases, or look tired after spending hours in the hot sun past couple months. Whatever the case maybe, Bay Area temperatures and long growing season allows us to do another round of planting before the summer growing season officially closes.

For several years I thought growing vegetables successfully was only during the summer, until I educated myself about growing cycles, frost free days and how to read the information on a seed packet to determine what to grow.

Here’s how to determine what to plant in August.

Determine your first frost date. A good resource to use is Key in your zip code and you will know your first frost date and last frost dates. Based on that you can determine how many frost free growing days you have in your area. We are lucky to have a total of ~ 273 frost free days with no protection, and most often can extend the season a beyond that using frost blankets and greenhouses.

For my zip code, the first frost date is the last week of November. The number of days between August 1 and last week of November is about 16-17 weeks, which is roughly 120 days before the frost hits. The seed packet will indicate the number of days for plant maturity, which is the first date when we can expect a harvest. While these number of days are not exact and will vary based on soil and weather conditions, it does provide a good idea of what to expect. To be on the safer side, I would pick seeds/plants that will mature in about 100 days. Just for a fun experiment I chose the butternut and honeynut squash variety that matures in about 120 days. You will be surprised to see that there are plenty of options to choose from.

Some options to choose from…

Here is a breakdown by the week to ensure that there is continued harvest in Fall and early winter.

August 1st week – With ~ 120 days left, you can now sow sweet potatoes, bush/determinate tomatoes, corn, mini watermelons, salad leaves, sambar cucumber/dosakaya, peppers, papdi/avarai/hyacinth bean for an early spring harvest, chillies, early maturing eggplants, okra, early maturing cantaloupes, zucchini and summer squashes.

This is a good time to transplant beetroots, peppers and eggplants if you already started them indoors. With cooling temperatures in September / October bell peppers have less of a struggle with the scorching heat and tend to flower and fruit better.

August 2nd week – plenty of time to direct sow cucumbers, bush/container zucchini, mini butternut and delicata squash, yellow squash, bush tomatoes, mini watermelons, cilantro, swiss chard, salad leaves.

August 3rd week – direct sow beetroots, kholrabi, bush beans, peas, last chance to sow mini early maturing watermelons such as Ice box. Now is the time to transplant tomatoes and anything else that you started in July and early August. Keep an eye on the temperatures as it could still get very hot risking a safe transplant. Start seeds indoors for brassicas such as broccoli, kale, collards, Napa cabbage, cauliflower, cabbage, herbs such as parsley, sage. The cabbage and cauliflower varieties I am trying new this year are the Pixie cabbage and Amazing cauliflower from Renee seeds. I have not had much luck with broccoli in the past and this year I am going to try my luck with Long standing broccoli from Renee seeds.

August 4th week – Swiss chard, peas, beetroots, carrots, kale, parsley, plants in the brassica family, khol rabi, turnips, diakon radish, beans such as dragon tongue from Bakers creek heirloom seeds.

It is important to start the cool weather crops such as the ones in the brassica family by August as it will provide enough time for the plant to grow large enough before the day length shortens. To give the plants the best start, it is best to start these seeds indoors in a controlled environment as the outside temperatures continue to soar. Cauliflower and cabbage do better as plant starts rather than directly sown in the garden.

Vegetables that you can sow continually every 3-4 weeks are beetroots, carrots, radish, cilantro, bush beans, pole beans. Stop sowing bush and pole beans ~ 70-80 days before first frost date, as many varieties mature in about 55-60 days.

Kick start your fall garden and please do share tips on what has worked for you. Happy gardening.

bay area, Edible gardening, greenhouse, Urban gardening, Zone 9

Greenhouse construction

Past couple years, after using the small plastic sheeting greenhouse, I decided that it’s time to upgrade to a more permanent one. As backyard plans firmed up, the location of the greenhouse became more apparent. We decided to take the plunge and invest in a 12*8 Palram Essence greenhouse from Costco. After waiting for missing parts to arrive, and rains to subside, we got working on the massive undertaking of putting them together.

First step: Open the packages, sort and group all parts and name them with a sharpie. Order any missing parts. Expect 2 week wait time for missing parts to be delivered. Meanwhile work on setting the foundation.

Foundation: We have uneven ground, and had to level it quite a bit. We did not want the greenhouse to sit on ground as that part of the garden gets soggy when wet. Once the base was fairly level we used 6*6 and 4*6 lumber for the base and reinforced it to the ground with 18″ rebar. We added sturdy weed blocker, as the structure was being built over a grassy area.This took us two days of physical work.

Hiccups: Once the foundation was done, we put up some of the structure. Unfortunately, weather turned for the worse, and due to lack of free time and we ended up not completing it immediately. We ended up with a few bent parts due to high winds. We undid parts of the frame, and decided to tackle it once weather got better. It just took us 3 months of wait and a test of my patience!

Restarting the project: Luckily, Feb bought us some unexpected warm days, and sunshine. That was enough to motivate hubby to get started on it. It took us 2-3 days of consistent work to put the structure up. We filled the base partially with lava rock as it helps with heat retention.

The structure is up! YAY! I moved the overwintered peppers into the greenhouse. Many of the plant starts from my garage seed starting setup moved up to the greenhouse for growing. I already had a vegetable bed inside, and the plants in the greenhouse continued to thrive.

Next steps: We plan to add a fan and possibly some heat source for winter. There are alignment issues and gaps, so I’ll have to add greenhouse tape, or foam to seal any gaps before winter arrives. I am working on the perfect configuration for adding a workbench to place all my starter plants. We already have plumbing and drip irrigation for the greenhouse bed, but we will need to extend it to the container plants. I am beyond excited and so glad that we purchased a large greenhouse, instead of opting for the smaller sized one.

Completed greenhouse

Experimental garden during summer: Growing inside the greenhouse is quite tricky, in dealing with pests, as well as temperature control. I plan to try out a few vegetables such as tomatoes, okra, yard long beans, ginger, turmeric and see how that goes.

Lava rocks on the floor. 8’*2′ raised bed and several containers.

Few tips:

  1. Level the ground, and square the edges perfectly. If not, you will experience issues as you build the greenhouse, with doors / windows misalignment.
  2. Follow instructions to the T. Instructions are mostly visual, with barely any text.
  3. Sort and group all materials ahead of time. There are usually missing parts, and this will help pre-order before you start the project. Palram customer support is good, and we had no issues reordering items missing.
PALRAM greenhouse garden tour 2020

Overall though it took a while to build the greenhouse, the structure is permanent and expect several years if not decades of use from it.

bay area, Container gardening, Edible gardening, Nutrition, Urban gardening, Zone 9

Growing lush cilantro

Lush vibrant cilantro

Cilantro is the leafy counterpart of the spice coriander seed, which is ubiquitous in Indian, Mexican and Asian cuisine. They have incredible detoxification benefits, particularly well known as a chelator for heavy metals. Added to smoothies, made into chutneys, or garnished they are versatile in their use.

Cilantro is a cool season edible and aromatic leaf that grow well in both containers and in the ground. Growing them is fairly easy, but they bolt pretty fast if they are heat stressed.

Here are 6 tips for lush cilantro growth :

  1. Seed choice: Choose slow bolt variety seeds, and not the one from the pantry for reliable good leafy growth.
  2. Growing media : Easy to grow in containers / ground alike. Pick a shallow (4-6″ deep) and wide container, and fill with a mix of compost, perlite and coco coir for good water retention, nutrition and aeration.
  3. Germination and timing: Best germination is between 55 deg -70 deg. Each spherical seed pod has two or more seeds in it. Gently crush to separate the seeds in half. Soak in water for up to 24 hours. Densely spread on growing media and add about 1/2 inch soil to cover the seeds. Once they germinate, thin them optionally. If you want large plants, thin the plants and replant in separate areas of the garden.
  4. Watering and feeding: Use a regular watering schedule and ensure that the soil is moist. A high nitrogen fertilizer will promote good leafy growth. I use a liquid fertilizer periodically but most often good compost is adequate to provide the nutrients.
  5. Harvest : Regularly remove leaves from outer sections of the plant once the plants are at least 4 inches tall. If allowed, the plants could grow as tall as 1 – 3 ft.
  6. Extending the harvest: Start the first couple batches indoors with the help of a heat mat, when outside temperatures are still in the 40’s. Set out transplants once the seedlings are 2-3 inches tall. Direct sow seeds every two weeks when day time temperatures are between 55 deg – 70 deg, until summer and start again during fall season once weather starts to cool off. As temperature rises, pick different cooler spots in the garden at each sowing. Under a tree canopy is a great location. Mulch with bark or compost to keep roots cool. Water adequately and frequently when temperatures rise.

A cilantro pesto recipe for a savory spread for breads / flat breads:

2 cups cilantro leaves and stem

1/2 cup walnuts, almonds – optional

2 chillies, salt to taste and a 1 tbsp of cooking oil

1/2 tsp turmeric powder.

A small bit of tamarind or 2 tsp lemon juice.

Heat a heavy bottomed pan, add oil, chillies and turmeric. Add all the other ingredients. Saute’ them together until the cilantro slightly wilts. Blend until well incorporated into a paste, adding a bit of water as necessary. Alternately, you can skip the saute’ and blend the ingredients raw. Store in the refrigerator and use it liberally as spreads/chutneys. Its particularly tasty as a spread in an avocado sandwich. It also tastes great with freshly steamed rice and a dollop of ghee.

Cilantro is an excellent addition to the front yard garden. Lush bright green is refreshing to look at in late winter/early Spring. They add ornamental value besides culinary and medicinal uses.The whiff of smell as you water the cilantro plants is delightful to the senses. Try some in your garden this season!

bay area, Edible gardening, Limited space, Zone 9

Air layered plant success

Propagation via air layering for fruit trees…

Last year I wrote an article on air layering propagation method to propagate fruit trees that we had wanted to plant in our current garden. The lemons, mandarins, nectarine that were air propagated last year survived the winter. Much to our delight, the mandarin produced a couple of fruits as well. We found a permanent home in our current landscape, and planted the mandarin next to the Owari satsuma. In early January, we planted the nectarine next to our 3 year old Snow queen nectarine tree. The lemons went in pretty containers and are now full of flowers and small fruits. This lemon variety is perpetually loaded with lemons and are prolific. I cant wait for the abundance to continue.

I had read several articles stating that air propagation of pitted fruits has very minimal success. We probably got very lucky, as out of the 3 branches that we attempted to propagate, 2 successfully rooted and thrived. What had surprised me even more was the fact that the one that rooted fast and held on successfully was a thick branch of at least 1.5 inch diameter. I accidentally killed one of them in the pot, due to lack of consistent watering during the growing stage in summer months. The treasured nectarine tree delighted us with several flowers leading up to a few fruits, 4 precisely the first year. With the plant also came the peach curl disease, which we have to tackle this winter by spraying a copper fungicide and prevent it from spreading to our other trees.

Savoring the success of air layering, this year I plan to propagate the tasty pink guava and adopt other methods of plant propagation and grafting.


Successful air layering – results after 1 year of growth
bay area, Edible gardening, Limited space, Nutrition, Urban gardening, Zone 9

May – plantings and harvests

Weather is fluctuating quite a bit in the Bay Area. Temperature soars to low 70’s and dips to high 50’s. With this I’ve had plants that are a bit confused, but several thriving. I have a steady harvest of spinach, truck loads of chard from my chard jungle, French and red viened sorrel, vitamin greens, cilantro, Okinawa spinach, parsley, sage,  oak leaf lettuce, frissee, and various other greens easily half pound each time. We harvest the greens atleast couple of times each week and either prepare salads, or saute with mild spices. The peas are still producing flowers when the temperature dips, and slows down when they rise. My son loves to snack on them routinely, straight from the plant. This week we harvested purple cauliflower, which had formed 3-4 inch heads, totaling to about 1.5 lbs. In this bed I plan on sowing okra once the temperatures are consistently warmer.

Strawberries are growing and ripening, and between slugs, roly polies and pests, we are harvest atleast 4-8 oz of berries every couple of days. The cinderblock idea for strawberries are going great so far, however when temperatures rise, I will need to figure out a consistent watering schedule as the cement blocks could scorch the tender roots. The dwarf mulberry tree is loaded with goodness. The blueberries have started to ripen, and with that is our regular visits from “Blue the bluejay”, as my kids fondly call it.

March planted cabbages are thriving. The 45 day cabbage is almost getting ready to be harvested, with heads firmed up and about 4-5 inch in diameter. Tomatoes are thriving, and are loaded with flowers, with promises of juicy harvests. A volunteer tomato near our air conditioner has overwintered successfully and is happily growing again. Surprisingly this spot does not get much direct sun, barring for couple hours of intense heat in the afternoon. Overwintered peppers have taken off and started to produce flowers. Moringa has shown signs of life after being dormant for months. Curry leaves are prolific with new growth and shoots. Eggplants have set fruits, and so have the summer squashes. Onions planted in December last year have set good sized bulbs, and I will be harvesting them as needed. The consistent rains have helped. Garlic seems to be ready, with most of the leaves losing its bright color. Icicle and watermelon radishes are consistently producing in the canopy of tomatoes, and in between lettuces, and just about every where. Cucumbers, winter squashes, melons and cantaloupes successfully transplanted and are growing slowly but steadily. Couple of them got eaten up by pests however, and I need to direct sow.  All home grown eggplants and peppers have had a slow start, but I think there is adequate time for it to take off once the hotter summer kicks in.

The tindora root I had purchased from ebay has produced shoots and is steadily growing. Sweet potatoes vines have rooted and I need to transplant them into the soil this week. I think I might be a bit late for the sweet potatoes, however there is no harm in trying. Ginger has produced shoots and are ready to go in the soil as well.

On the not so rosy side of gardening, something has been eating off all the bitter gourd, ridge gourd, gavar beans, and pole beans. I am truly puzzled of an insects affiliation towards bitters! I was very confident that no pests would bother a bitter gourd plant, but I was so not right! Perhaps the insect kingdom knows the value of bitters and chomps them off to balance their blood sugars!

Feb through April being very busy with starting seeds indoors, preparing beds, sowing and transplanting, May onwards is the time to kick back and enjoy the fruits of labor. Happy gardening my friends!


May 2019 – plantings and harvest