James’ SLO Life…Adventures in Gardening

garden june

Vegetable Garden Image courtesy of Simon Howden

As we creep into June, many of us have our garden in full swing. Last year was my big “learning year” with my garden. Having lived in L.A. my whole life, I got used to being able to grow a garden with almost no effort and much like South County SLO, the thermal belt helps to keep the temperature at a pretty consistent average.  Now that I live in North County SLO, I was confronted with a whole slew of new situations.

To start it off, I had to decide how to plant.  My intention was to plant straight into the ground but unfortunately the landscaping of my neighborhood was done with probably the cheapest fill I have ever seen.  It is about 70% rocks in a place that should be 50% sand. I decided to build a garden box to house the majority of our produce to get the benefit of the insulation factor of the ground without all the rocks. By the way, gophers are a problem up here so always line the underside of your box with chicken wire to keep them out. Also, i don’t recommend combining tomatoes with anything else in the planter box. Tomatoes will grow as wide as you allow them room and will take over so I suggest either straight into the ground or in a bin.

Just driving up the Cuesta Grade, the climate changes drastically. From November until May, the risk of frost is very prominent. Most plants will completely die off in the winter (especially if planted in bins) and will need to be replanted next year. Come April, planting can start on some types of plants but will need to be covered and protected from freezing at night to survive. I picked up 7 different varieties of tomatoes from Cal Poly Tomato Sale mid April but waited til May 1st to permanently plant them outside in bins. Once Summer is in full swing, now the risk is frying the plants.  We pretty much have an 85 degree difference between Winter and Summer up in North County so from the beginning to the end of the growing season, you will be changing up your game plan a couple times. At the beginning, watering in the morning only seems to be the best since the water will freeze at night if watered too late in afternoon.  In the Summer, I am competing against 100+ degree weather with super intense sun, so I am watering a few times a day to keep my plants cool.

This brings me to my next issue I learned about, Water. Water in North County is a big concern as of late. Paso Robles has mandatory water rationing in effect this year and everyone is gonna feel the effect. Water is life, but can also kill your plants. With the intensity of the sun up here, any droplets of water on your plants will act as a magnifying glass and burn your plants. So because of this problem and the drought problem, I recommend a drip system.  They are moderately cheap and easy to set up and will save you loads of money on water since its going straight to the roots and not running off into the weeds (or wildflowers if still Spring). I set up a watering schedule set on a timer that waters for 15 minutes in the morning, 10 in the middle of the afternoon to cool down, and 15 minutes in the evening right as the sun is setting and my plants seem to be quite happy with lots of foliage, fruit starting to grow and minimal leaf burning.

Produce ain’t cheap, and feeding a family the right amount of fruit and veggies can get expensive.  Once underway, the cost of your groceries should reduce dramatically while the benefits and joys of backyard produce is amplified now that the new local ordinance has passed allowing unlicensed sale of non perishable goods such as produce and eggs. Giving friends and family produce is great but it is kinda cool to be able to get some cash money as well as appreciation for all your hard work. In a couple more weeks, I should be bringing in about a plate of produce a day and will be enjoying the fruit of my labor (pun intended) and highly recommend anyone with the interest to give it a try. With a little practice and research, anyone can turn themselves into a regular Dr. Greenthumb.

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