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.

Picking Raspberries

Ripe red raspberries are dark pink to deep red. Raspberries also come in a variety of other colors including black, purple, and yellow/gold. Color when ripe will depend on which type you plant.To harvest, grip the berry very lightly with two fingers (they are easily crushed) and pull gently. If they are ready they will pretty much fall off in your hand. If they don’t, leave them for another day.

Although most raspberry bushes have thorns, I don’t recommend wearing gloves because the berries are so fragile. Long sleeves, however can help protect your arms from scratches.

Unlike blackberries, raspberries leave their hard, white center on the plant so all you get is rich, juicy sweetness.


Plant Profile: Raspberries

It’s June and in Northern California, that means the start of raspberry season. The local berry farms have opened for picking and the stores are full of ripe, red beauties.

This past weekend I did my first ever raspberry picking from a friend’s raspberry patch. There are few things more sweetly satisfying than fresh berries straight from the vine. And the good news is, it isn’t that hard to grow your own. Check out the stats below to see if raspberries might be a good fit for your garden.

Common name: Raspberry
Scientific name: Rubus idaeus
Family: Rosaceae
Origin: Eurasia
Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full sun (may also fruit in light shade in hottest areas)
Height: 4-6′
Width: 3-5′
Growth rate: Fast
Water: Regular
Zones: 3-8
Foliage color: Green
Flower color: White
Edible: Berries
Harvest: Summer-bearing raspberries, throughout the summer; fall-bearing varieties, in fall and summer the following year — consider planting summer and fall-bearing varieties together to extend your season
Propagation: Greenwood cuttings, division
WARNING: Most raspberry bushes have thorns. Try a thornless variety for easier harvest.

A few other quick notes on raspberries:

  • Raspberries do require room to spread, so they are probably not the best choice for small space container gardening.  (I did manage a thornless boysenberry in a pot once, but got very little fruit.)
  • Raspberries do require annual pruning to maintain size and to ensure the most bountiful harvest. The timing and type of pruning varies for summer and fall-bearing varieties (more on that in a separate article).
  • To keep bushes neat, minimize disease and make havesting easier, build a berry trellis.

Learn more about raspberries.