Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Page 3 of 23

Citrus Burst Rose

Citrus Burst rose

It might be just a few days after the solstice, but a few brave flowers are still giving their all on the Citrus Burst rose.

Senecio talenoides

Senecio talinoides.

White Pelicans

white pelicans

The white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) are back at Lafayette Reservoir. Unfortunately, I only had my cell phone, and I’ll need to go back with a better camera. (I’ll update this post then.)

The white pelicans are large birds, with wingspans of as much as nine feet. From a distance they look like swans, until you see their beaks. They are social and, unlike the more common brown pelicans, they are surface feeders, not divers.

Where do these birds go in the summer?

I noticed at our local library a series of mysteries by Edith Maxwell featuring an organic gardener who solves crimes. Books in the series all have titles like Farmed and DangerousMurder Most Fowl, and Mulch Ado about Murder. In the spirit of authorial solidarity, I hearby offer Ms. Maxwell some further titles for her consideration:

  • Compost Mortem
  • The Berried Copse
  • Too Cloche for Comfort
  • The Deadheading
  • Shears Terror
  • The Bone Meal
  • Tilth Death Us Part
  • The Cold Frame
  • The Cutting
  • Loves Lies Bleeding
  • The Haulm before the Storm
  • A Rake’s Progress
  • The Scion’s Graft
  • Roots of Evil

Feel free to add your own contributions.

Gabion Retaining Walls

<em>Rising Cairn</em>, by <a href="">Celeste Roberge</a>. Welded galvanized steel and granite, 58" x 54" x 43". Collection: Runnymede Sculpture Farm, Woodside, California.

Rising Cairn, by Celeste Roberge. Welded galvanized steel and granite, 58″ x 54″ x 43″. Collection: Runnymede Sculpture Farm, Woodside, California.

Recently I posted on my Facebook timeline a photo of gabion materials I had ordered to replace a concrete retaining wall that had failed. Some people were unfamiliar with gabions and asked to know more about this ancient construction technique.

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Saint George's Distillery, Alameda.

San Francisco Bay wind patterns

San Francisco Bay Area wind patterns

UPDATE, Oct. 2017. The best resource for current wind patterns now seems to be sailflow. A detail of a screen capture from the site is shown above.

The USGS webpage referenced below from the original publication of this post in 2007 has been discontinued “due to lack of support and redirection of research efforts”—which seems a shame. The site now redirects to a San Jose Meteorology department page. As of today that site does not seem to be functioning. I hope that this information gets back up online soon. We could certainly use it in view of this season’s devastating fires. If anyone knows of better resources, please leave info in the comments.

For air quality information, air now is better than spare the air.

Original post from Oct. 2007:

san francisco bay area wind patternsHere’s an unusual and interesting resource. The U.S. Geological Survey has a website that shows current wind conditions around the San Francisco Bay Area (they are considering a predictive model as well). There are two or three visualizations available, including the very cool flash “streaklines” (which unfotunately I can’t display here, and which might not work on some systems).

In the visualization above, the arrow size indicates exact speed (in knots, which are equal to 1.15 mph or 1.85 kph), while the color shows a certain range of speed. Speeds are at 10 meters and directions from true north. You can see that this morning there were strong winds blowing toward the Golden Gate from Marin, across midpeninsula, and at Mount Diablo.


Homemade tarragon vinegar

Tarragon vinegar.

Tarragon vinegar after application of boiling vinegar.

Tarragon vinegar is a staple of French cuisine. (French chefs often combine it with mustard.) “I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism,” James Beard said, “I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.”

It’s easily made. I took a sprig of French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) from the garden and placed it in a sterilized bottle. Then I submersed it in boiling white wine vinegar. Let cool and cap. If you are using fresh French tarragon from the garden the result will be excellent — wonderful in salad dressings but also great even for things like deglazing skillets.

For best results, store in a dark place for a couple of weeks to allow the tarragon oils to infuse.


Artemisia pycnocephala, Sandhill Sage

Artemisia pycnocephala (Sandhill Sage

This is the final piece for the artemisia essay I’m working on. This replaces the version below, which I wasn’t happy with.

Artemisia pycnocephala, Sandhill Sage


Photo-derived botanical art series

Here’s the whole series I’ve worked up over the past few days.

Artemisia californica, California Sagebrush

Artemisia californica, California Sagebrush

Artemisia absinthium, Wormwood


Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa (French Tarragon)


Artemesia douglasiana, Mugwort

Artemisia douglasiana, Mugwort

Continuing my project of photography-derived botanical art. This is Artemisa douglasiana (Mugwort), a California native.



Sisyrinchium bellum, Blue-Eyed Grass

Sisyrinchium bellum, Blue-Eyed Grass

A California native.



I think this is some sort of Sempervivum (like Hens and Chicks).

Papaver glaucum, Tulip Poppy

Papaver glaucum, Tulip Poppy

Iochroma cyanea ‘Royal Blue’

Iochroma cyanea 'Royal Blue'


Foliar spraying.

Compost Tea

Old-school gardeners like me often brewed up a sort of compost tea by dumping a heap of whatever compost they had in a bucket of water and then sloshing it about where it seemed it might be needed. These days, commercial compost teas are made with carefully curated, standardized ingredients. The teas are then aerated by churning to “awaken” dormant microorganisms that should promote plant health. The result is often used as a foliar spray, which should work more quickly than root applications.

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Intro to mints: Mojito mint, Vietnamese mint, Peppermint, Spearmint

Clockwise from top, Vietnamese mint, Spearmint, Mohito mint, Peppermint.

Clockwise from top, Vietnamese mint, Spearmint, Mojito mint, Peppermint.

I like growing mint. For one thing, it’s easy. For another, many varieties are available, some of which you would otherwise be hard pressed to find. Here we see Vietnamese mint, Spearmint, Mojito mint, and Peppermint.

These are all different species in the Mentha genus (part of the large Lamiaceae family, which includes such herbs as basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, and catnip). Plants in the this genus have opposite leaves and square stems. And they are highly aromatic. (Mint oil is sometimes used as an insecticide.)

All of these mints began as small plants from Richter’s Herbs, based in Goodwood, Ontario. Mint tends not to come true from seed. Richter’s says that peppermint flowers in particular are sterile, so that true peppermint cannot be grown from seed at all. Best to start with seedlings rather than seeds.

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first fall flat

First Fall Flat

First fall flat

I’ve started a batch of fall crop seeds. I’ll be growing these in a small greenhouse.

Flat in small greenhouse

Flat in small greenhouse.

I’ve abandoned, at least for now, the plug system I was trying out last winter. The plugs became not just expensive but also annoying. Although the plugs are said to be organic (I’m still a little skeptical), I don’t like the way they don’t decompose and integrate properly into the environment.

Instead, I’m planting in almost pure coir (I did mix in a small amount of planting soil). Coir is nice because it is slow to dry out, but it also drains well, so the seeds shouldn’t rot. I buy the coir in compressed blocks. They about triple in size when watered, which I currently do in a wheelbarrow. Then I transfer to buckets. One block creates about three buckets of ready-to-use coir.

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European Mantis


European Mantis, <em>Mantis religiosa</em>.

European Mantis, Mantis religiosa.

This gentleman, who was lurking in the garden the other day, is a praying mantis. Specifically, he is, I think, a European Mantis, Mantis religiosa. This is an introduced species from Europe that has become naturalized over much of the U.S. Our native California mantis is much smaller.

I say “he.” This guy can be identified as a male because he has seven abdomen segments, as opposed to the female’s five, and he has stout, long antennae, as opposed to the wispy version sported by the female.

Mantises are formidable and not very discriminating predators. Gardeners argue whether they are beneficial, but it just depends. They’ll eat what they can catch. If you have a lot of nasty gnats and mosquitoes, they’ll eat those, and welcome to them. But if those are in short supply mantises don’t mind feasting on butterflies or even an occasional small hummingbird.

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