Late last week I received in the mail a Stage 1 Water Alert for my area. This was not unexpected. It has been ridiculously dry here and despite the few weeks of intense winter snow storms, the snow pack was negligible. The key restrictions for stage 1 are as follows:

  • No new in-ground planting
  • Outdoor watering restricted to 2 days/week between the hours of 6pm and 9am

The bad news is that due to unseasonably cold weather, I did not have a chance to plant my veggie garden before I got this message. The good news is two-fold. First, I did not have a chance to plant my veggie garden before I got the message, which means I won’t have to watch it whither and die. Second, it specifies in-ground, which means I can probably still plant a few more things in pots. Probably only a couple though. This is only stage 1, and none of us out here can see it getting any wetter.

Water-Wise Garden Planning

This past weekend I went to a lecture given by Golden Gate Gardening author Pam Pierce. The event was part of a promotional tour for the launch of her third edition and focused on sustainable food gardening, specifically, creating a water-wise vegetable garden. Here are just a few of the tips she provided:

  • Group plants by water use: This allows you to spend valuable water (and the money it costs) only on the plants that really need it and helps prevent over-watering
  • Amend the soil with compost: The more organic matter in the soil, the better it retains water.
  • Mulch: Mulching helps prevent evaporation and keeps the soil cooler in hot weather.
  • Choose your plants wisely: Don’t waste money and water on edibles that end up rotting on the vine. Plant only what you will harvest and eat or share. My tip: Consider choosing smaller, less heavy producers or fewer plants if you can’t keep up with the harvest on something you really love.
  • And the last one for my fellow temperate climate gardeners: Take advantage of the rainy season by planting, for example, California spring veggies or bareroot trees in February so nature will do the watering for you for several months allowing your plants grow strong roots and first leaves.

In the addition to the great ideas she provides, she also brought a basket full of fruits, veggies, edible flowers and herbs she’d just collected or taken from storage including chard, salad greens, nasturtiums, oca, apples and Bolivian sun root (she even shared the last two). It’s amazing how much food even the smallest garden can provide year-round with the right choices, a little planning and some good storage. And if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, pick up an updated copy of her amazing book. She has made significant revisions including new zone planting guides for San Jose/Santa Clara and Walnut Creek/Contra Costa and a ton more information on sustainable gardening practices.

In case you’re interested, the event was sponsored by the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA — a gorgeous dry garden planted on 4.5 acres of a former walnut farm. Planted mostly with succulents, cacti and South American and Australian natives, the garden is stunningly architectural and features a number of endangered and seriously endangered plants including a bristlecone pine. The garden is now protected by a conservancy and serves as an educational institution as well. If you’re ever in the area, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Help Your Plants Beat the Heat

Summer heat is already beating down across much of the nation, spelling disaster for many young seedlings. So what can you do to protect your future food investment? Try these tips for how to help your plants beat the heat.


Check moisture levels daily, maybe even more often for container plants. When the mercury starts cruising up over 85… 95… 105 water evaporates in a flash. And when your plants are young, their tender root systems can be irreparably damaged before you know it.

Water first thing in the morning before the sun gets too high and the day gets too hot. This helps in two ways. First, plants draw up water through the roots as the temperature rises. If the soil is dry they will draw up only air. Secondly, any water dripped on the leaves can turn into tiny magnifying glasses burning the leaves with the sun’s heat.


When it’s hot out, you’ll need to do more than water regularly, you’ll need to preserve as much of that water as you can. Adding a good, thick layer of mulch around your plants can help keep the moisture in the soil. As an added bonus it will also help keep your plants’ roots cool.


Sometimes, the only way to keep your plants from whithering under the sun, is to move them to the shade until the worst of the heat passes. If you plant in containers, all you need to do is pull them to a shadier spot. If you plant in the ground however, you can still protect them by putting up a temporary shade cloth. A few bamboo poles and an old sheet is an inexpensive and simple solution.

Keep a close eye out for the signs your plants might be suffering from the heat including wilting, brown edges and scorch marks. If you notice any of these signs, act quickly and your precious plants can live to fruit another day.

Create a Self-Watering Container

One simple way to save  water, time and sometimes even your plants is with a self-watering container, but commercial versions can cost a ton of money. California gardener Ray Newstead has a solution for that: build your own.

Ray’s innovative EarthTainer(TM) design uses rubber storage bins, a plastic aquatic plant basket, and PVC pipe to create the perfect solution for growing great heirloom tomatoes, but could be used for other vegetables as well.

Visit EarthTainer.Tomatofest.com for complete instructions on how to create your own (he even has videos to help you along).

If you’re not in love with the way the bins out on your patio or in your garden, you can easily camoflage them with other plants.