Carolyn's month-to-month garden calendar

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

I garden in the Sierra Nevada foothills, elevation 2600. My latest recorded frost in past years was June 13th and my first frost in fall, mid-September. My clay soil stays cold in the spring, delaying planting. However, in fall the earth holds the summer warmth, making this a perfect season for landscape planting.



May 12th, 2010. Cool temperatures and continuing rains have certainly delayed spring planting in my garden. I won't put the tomatoes in until the ground begins to warm. Only then will nutrients be absorbed by the plants. Ideal soil temperature would be 50 degrees. But at this rate we may not have that in the garden until late June! And I'm not waiting that long!!!

However, the first year I gardened here, in 1977, I put in my first garden 4th of July weekend. I had just arrived on June 28th, and gardening was more important than unpacking boxes. The garden was quite successful.

IN THE GARDEN April May
Fruit trees Mulch with 6" of old straw Water young trees deeply once a week
Perennials Remove faded flowers from bulbs Start perennials from seed
Veggies Sow seeds: peas & greens Sow carrots, beets, beans, squash, corn, cucumbers & more greens
Trees & shrubs Finish pruning to shape growth Do not overwater established ornamentals

March 18th, 2010 Whatever happened to winter?!? I pruned all my fruit trees and grapes on the days when it wasn't raining. Also, during the rainy and snowy days in the weeks since early January, I have been busy inside organizing class materials and lectures for the many classes I will be teaching at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply in Grass Valley this year. I am especially excited about "Digging Deeper", a class where students can bring all their garden questions. And if they took the previous week's class (or missed that class) and want more information, this class can be the followup.

In "Digging Deeper" we'll also discuss what's happening in the garden this month. Last week I talked about soil mixes for starting seeds, and what conditions seeds need for optimal germination. It's the perfect time to start seeds if you can protect them from cold.

IN THE GARDEN March April
Fruit trees, grapes, & berries Finish bareroot planting and pruning by early March; mulch! Paint fruit tree trunks with white paint to protect bark from sun damage
Perennial herbs & flowers Transplant established flowers before growth begins; mulch! Add oyster shell (5#/100 sq. ft.)& mulch with compost 1-2" deep
Veggies & other edibles Start seeds inside: peas, greens, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant Sow cover crops on bare soil for veggies planted in midsummer & fall
Ornamental trees & shrubs Add oyster shell (5#/100 sq. ft.) & compost mulch; prune winter damage Mulch with straw & leaves 2-3" deep after oyster shell is applied

January 7th, 2010 Already there are signs of a coming garden season. The winter iris (Iris unguicularis) has been blooming since late December. Now the buds on the hellebores (Helleborus) are showing. The first to bloom will be the Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis). Most afternoons this week I am training cane berries, which I could have done last fall if I had had the time. There are still perennials to cut back too. I was working so quietly in the garden yesterday that quail started to come into the area where I was tending plants...they left quickly when they realized I was there. I love the whir of their wings.




IN THE GARDEN January February
Fruit trees, grapes, & berries Prune dormant fruit trees & berries; plant all bareroot fruits Paint fruit tree trunks with white paint to protect bark from sun damage
Perennial herbs & flowers Divide & transplant established flowers before growth begins Add oyster shell (5#/100 sq. ft.)& mulch with compost 1-2" deep
Veggies & other edibles Plant dormant perennial crops: asparagus, rhubarb, & perennial onions Sow cover crops on bare soil for veggies planted in June or later
Ornamental trees & shrubs Prune storm damage;add oyster shell (5#/100 sq. ft.) & compost mulch Mulch with straw & leaves 2-3" deep; still OK to move dormant ornamentals

December 21, 2009 Since a picture is worth a thousand words...two must be worth two thousand, and...

the harvest First there was the harvest from my very healthy garden. In August, visiting family ate most of all the good produce coming in, taking full delight in the harvest. Raspberries were just beginning, so it became somewhat of a competition to see who could find the most.

the harvestIn August, too, I began my first canning, bringing home 40 pounds of Gravenstein apples from Sebastopol in Sonoma County. One of my fondest memories from growing up in that beautiful area was my great aunt Jess bringing over the harvest from her trees and canning with my mother. We had our own trees of this delicious summer apple in my parents' garden. This year I made an apple butter with only the natural sugar of the apples for sweetener.

the harvestAnd somewhere in there, September arrived. Lots more to harvest and can. And many landscape clients to attend to! Fall really IS the best planting season.

With the arrival of October, the raspberry harvest was amazing. I attribute it both the layer of compost and the thick straw mulch I spread in March. But it is also because I pruned the growing tips on most of the canes in June, forcing long laterals to develop. While fruiting later, the production was much heavier.

In October too, I taught a class scheduled at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply in Grass Valley CA where I live. The core topic was fall gardening, touching on both the vegetable garden and the general landscape, including deer-resistant plants. Students had lots of questions, which was wonderful! Because of the waiting list, a second session was taught at the end of October.

In November, too, another class was held to accomodate yet another waiting list! Another full class! And lots more questions!! Those still on a waiting list will have to be first in line next year. THANK YOU so much for your interest!

the harvestAll fall the raspberry harvest continued as I picked one to two quarts everyday!! My patch is only two ten-foot rows. I froze lots. And ate and shared lots.

Muhlenbergia rigensCanning and the daily raspberry harvest slowed in November, but fall landscaping continued well into December. Then it snowed and all was quiet in my world...

Happy winter solstice!




IN THE GARDEN August September
Fruit trees Water deeply once after crop is harvested Fall application of organic phosphorus and oyster shell
Perennials Prune lavender after bloom to encourage new growth Lavender cuttings may be taken now thru Oct.
Veggies Sow seeds of kale, broccoli, mizuna Cover crop empty beds with "soil builder"
Trees & shrubs Deep water plants that have not been irrigated this summer Add more compost as mulch plus oyster shell

IN THE GARDEN Early July Mid to late July
Fruit trees Thin fruit load to allow 4" spacing between fruits Water deeply every 2 weeks as fruit matures
Perennials Cut back perennials that have bloomed Start perennials from cuttings & seeds
Veggies Sow seeds of beans for fall harvest Succession plant greens and mulch everything
Trees & shrubs Propagate cuttings fom shrubs for fall planting Do not fertilize during the heat of the summer

IN THE GARDEN Early June Mid to late June
Fruit trees Remove all fruit from newly planted trees Thin fruit load to allow 4" spacing between fruits
Perennials Remove faded flowers (deadhead) Start perennials from cuttings
Veggies Sow seeds of all veggie crops Succession plant lettuce and other greens
Trees & shrubs Mulch all ornamentals with 6-8" of old straw Established ornamentals need infrequent but deep irrigation

August 19, 2009 My vegetable garden looks beautiful! I am still harvesting broccoli from plants put in last October, purchased from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply in Grass Valley CA where I live. I have had them covered with 30% shadecloth most of the summer. The fall crop of raspberries is just beginning to come in, and with the recent heat I have been deep-watering these moisture-loving berries. They get some afternoon shade from a nearby pine. Tomatoes are outstanding this year, as always, delighting my family visitors from Seattle, Boston, and San Francisco. There are some advantages to foothill heat!

July 14, 2009 I have been weeding everyday....and harvesting so many veggies!! The first tomato to ripen was 4th of July weekend, a 'Black Crimson', an heirloom variety from the Black Sea. Oh my! Dark red with some green streaks near the stem. I might not have noticed it had I not been on my hands and knees weeding. The flavor was outstanding, and I can't wait for the next one, and the one after that....meanwhile, 'Early Girl' tomatoes have been giving me a consistent supply for 2 weeks.

Thanks to the thick mulch of rice straw I put on the raspberry patch in February, raspberries have been larger this year than ever before (both the plant and the fruit). Those few canes I pruned to an early crop are providing me with a quart everyday. I cannot imagine how many I will be picking when the main late summer crop comes in!!!!


June 4, 2009 Lots of rain with the amazing lightning strikes. Unsettled weather for all of this week. I am reminded of a comment local orchardist Ernst Bierwagen made to me many years ago about the nitrogen availablity in these thunderstorms: "Look at the leaves of your plants after an electrical storm, Carolyn. You will be able to see the increase in size right away! There's no better way for plants to absorb nitrogen."


June 1, 2009 Maybe once a month is all I can write when gardening takes over!!! It is the season to plant everything possible in the vegetable garden. A third planting of lettuce and other greens this week, a second of beans (they seem to be more productive in August and September, especially if hot weather moves in mid-July).

Some of the tomato plants have almost reached the top of the 6' cages...wow! I'll post when I pick the first ripe tomato.

The meadow I am developing, which also has a definite direction of its own as flowers seed randomly, is very pleasing this year. I can sit quietly in its midst and feel the energy of hundreds of insects and beetles. Why did I ever fuss over carefully maintained flower borders?

I've just returned from several days in New York City where "Deer in My Garden, Vol. 2" was a finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award, considered to be the highest honor a publisher can receive. It did not win, but what an honor to be so recognized!

May 3, 2009 The sun just brought a few busy weeks of helping clients with their gardens. As I write this, heavy rains have moved back into our area, bringing welcome relief to what already felt as though it would be a long, hot, dry summer. The garden tour in a couple of weeks should be wonderful with this deep irrigation we are now enjoying. And when the sun next breaks through, it will be time for lots of planting in the vegetable garden.

I have tomatoes and other tender veggies growing in my large cold frame. Planted into 2-gallon containers, they will be strong starts when I get the cover crop turned in my veggie garden. Meanwhile, I'm sowing lots of small containers of assorted greens, beans, cucumbers, squash, nasturtiums, sunflowers, zinnias, and morning glories...all in the protection of the cold frame.

REMEMBER! Don't dig in the clay soil when it is wet!!! It usually takes a few days after rain to be ready to dig. Squeeze a handful...if it crumbles, it's OK to work. If it sticks together, wait!

April 10, 2009 Lovely rains this week, but the sun will soon break through. I still need to apply white interior (water base) paint on the trunks of my young fruit trees to prevent sunscald. I'm using "American Pride" (no VOCs) which can be found locally at Sons Development in the "Alternative Building Center" on Idaho-Maryland Drive. In our intense Sierra sunlight, damage to bark can lead to disease and insect problems. For peaches and nectarines, paint one inch below soil level, let it dry, then replace the soil/mulch. There's a borer that can enter at the soil level. This is a good time to renew mulch too...I have 6-10 inches of decomposed straw around each tree, close to the trunk but not actually touching it. Let's hope it's a good year for fruit!

April 3, 2009 I'm just learning about garden blogs. Daffodil Planter writes about "gardening with a sense of humor" Yes! We must! Check out her fun site. She lives in Nevada City CA.

March 30, 2009 Last month (February), just before the full moon, I planted seeds for edible-pod peas, sugar snap peas, sweet peas, lettuce and a variety of other greens. While I knew that it was very early, the interior of my cold frame is about 10 warmer than the outside temperatures. Then it snowed. A lot. It was dark inside the cold frame for several days until the snow melted from the roof. But it worked, and a month later, I have good strong starts to put out into the garden. I would have planted them yesterday, but cold north winds are far too stressful for young plants, not to mention older gardeners.
By next week, my early starts will go into the garden with a row cover to protect them. Agribon works great! And since we are approaching another full moon, it's time to sow the same seeds again.

Magnolia stellataMarch 20, 2009 Magnolia stella is in full bloom in my garden and has been for a few weeks. This stunning small tree is deer-resistant, although sometimes they do damage to the trunk or lower branches by rubbing their antlers against the bark. I love the gray bark and swelling buds that look like pussy-willows in winter. Magnolia stellataAnd the fragrant blossoms are beautiful, undaunted by hail or snow that almost always comes at this time of the year. Fall color is good when the leaves turn gold. A perfect small tree for sun or semi-shade. And it's fairly drought-tolerant in our summer of no rain...

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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