While we miss having the students in the garden, the quiet has allowed the critters to take over the gardens! We have baby birds, insects and even a lizard! We have put nest boxes in some of our gardens and the birds have moved in.
House wrens are about 4-1/2”-5-1/4” or 11-13 cm. They are small, very busy birds with a thin bill. The female lays 6-7 eggs that are white with reddish brown spots. The female incubates the eggs for about 12-15 days. The young leave the nest after 12-18 days. The female usually lays two clutches a year.
They feed mostly on all kinds of insects. Caterpillars provide the most nutritious food for the babies. The wrens are mostly cavity nesters. The male begins building several nests and the female picks one nest which she finishes. The nest has a foundation of twigs, with a soft cup of plant fibers, grass, weeds, hair and feathers.
Do we have an alligator living in the Theuerkauf Garden? No! We have a Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarnita)! We’ve seen this little critter living in the plant matter. Alligator Lizards are native to the Pacific Coast of North America. They live in all kinds of habitats such as grasslands, chaparral, forests and even our urban gardens.
These reptiles have some interesting ways to defend themselves. They can pack quite a bit with their strong jaws. They can poop on you which has been described “as smelling like a dead fish that’s been left out in the sun for several days”. They can even detach their tails, which wiggle so the lizards can scurry away!
The females lay two clutches of eggs, usually in May and June. The eggs hatch during late Summer and early Fall. The Mama Lizard will stay with her eggs to guard them until they hatch.
These lizards can live from 10-15 years. They eat things like small arthropods, slugs, other lizards and even bird eggs. We’re very happy to have this lizard living in our garden.
While the global response to the Coronavirus has caused a great deal of disruption to our economy and way of life, the shelter in place order has created a positive impact on our Earth. Atmospheric pollution has reduced drastically. Wildlife has been reported to be exploring deserted streets. Seed and gardening retailers struggle to keep up with the demand for seeds and gardening materials as people are turning to their gardens to cope with crisis.
Atmospheric pollution in the San Francisco Bay Area and other cities that are sheltering in place has reduced drastically since the order began. According to an article by UC Berkeley, air quality researchers found that one key pollutant, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) dropped by half one week after the shelter in place order began. Additionally, the EPA reported a one third year drop in significant pollution levels around San Francisco. According to an article by Forbes.com, Stanford Earth Systems professor, Marshall Burke, found that this decrease in atmospheric pollution could result in saving the lives of many who would have died of complications resulting from air quality.
The decrease in human activity is not only impacting our atmosphere, but also wildlife. According to an article by
Newsweek, animals have been braving excursions to abandoned city streets. Boars snuck into Barcelona, Kashmuri goats have moved into the Welsh town of Llandudno, and lions were seen sleeping on roads in South Africa. While many generalized species thrive when human activity declines, some species who are more specialized and require human conservation efforts to maintain their habitats are suffering. According to an article by Wired Magazine, not only are those species protected by conservation efforts at risk but also those who are in danger of poaching. Conservation efforts have been able to protect the environments of many types of wildlife, and with the current lockdown many animals are at risk.
In our own homes, many of us are looking to our yards to help us through this crisis. After dealing with shortages of one thing or another at the supermarket many people have started their own edible gardens. According to an article by Huffpost, seed sales are up 300% and people are flocking to nurseries and hardware stores to start their own gardens. According to One Green Planet growing your own food creates independence from transporting using fossil fuels, reduces pesticide use, and avoids monocultures which all result in a reduced carbon footprint. If you are interested in container gardening, please go to our website for detailed instructions.
While this has been a challenging time for everyone, the lockdown has given us pause to reflect on the human impact on our Earth. Satellite images confirm the atmospheric changes without traffic pollutants, conservation and efforts for specialized animal habitats and protections for endangered animals continue to be needed, and home based gardening reduces our carbon footprint. We find that our impact is both harmful and helpful to our Earth and those who share it with us. It is up to us to reflect on our own personal responsibility and where we go from here.
With times as they are now, many people are wanting to start growing their own vegetables. But, they only have a balcony or patio. Many vegetables can be grown in containers! There are many reasons why growing in containers is actually easier than growing in the ground.
There are fewer pests such as grubs, snails, slugs and many more. Pests are easier to control in containers. It’s easy to provide a soil blend that fits the needs of each type of vegetable. The containers can easily be moved to fit the cultural needs such as sun and shade. Growing in containers is not as labor intensive. It’s fun to mix different vegetables with like needs in one container. Plant the taller ones in the center or to the back of the container and shorter ones in front. Best of all, you can try new and different vegetables, the ones you can’t readily get in the grocery store.
What to Consider
The amount of sunlight is the most important thing to consider. Most vegetables need between 4-6 hours of sunlight a day. If there isn’t enough sunlight, many of our favorite vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and melons can’t be grown. The best location is a south-facing spot but if that isn’t available, shade-lovers like lettuce and spinach can be grown.
Be aware that containers will need more water than in-ground gardens. They can be hand watered or a drip system can easily be set up.
How to Pick Containers
I prefer terra cotta containers but they do dry out quickly. Wood is an attractive alternative but it will rot. Be sure not to use pressure treated wood. I also like using wine casks but they can be expensive. I don’t like plastic containers but they are cheap, retain water better and are long lasting. I do recycle the plastic pots that nursery plants come in. I have a very large nursery pot that I grow potatoes in.
What Soil to Use
I use organic potting soil and it works well. Choose a soil that is well-drained, retains water and a pH close to neutral. I don’t use garden soil in my containers. Garden soil will compact in containers, leading to poor drainage and air circulation.
Good Choices for Container Gardens
Tomatoes: Patio Princess, Bushsteak, Sweetheart of the Patio, Marglobe, Baxter’s Bush Cherry, Sweet Baby Girl, Gardener’s Delight, Stupice, Tumbling Tom Yellow
Radish: Cherry Belle, Icicle, Champion, Scarlet Globe
Squaash: Scallopini, Baby Crookneck, Creamy, Golden Nugget, Gold Rush, most zucchinis
This article was written by Patti Berryhill, Garden Manager at Living Classroom. Patti has been working with Living Classroom for 6 years. She holds a Bachelor's of Science in Agriculture and an Associate's Degree in Environmental Horticulture and Design. In addition to working with Living Classroom, Patti owns a landscaping business.
Sheltering at home may lend itself to projects to complete in the garden. If you’ve considered replacing lawn with a naturescape, you’ve already considered a valuable first step in protecting the native environment. According to Doug Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, homeowners and gardeners can go even further to steward the environment by choosing native plants that provide nourishment to insects, birds, and small mammals. By going this extra step we are protecting these species from possible extinction, as well as protecting our own survival.
Insect life is vital to our survival because they are the bottom rung of the food chain. Without a wide variety of insect life we fail to feed the animals and insects that pollinate our food supply and provide us protein. Our habit of utilizing landscaping materials which ignore the needs of the life around us creates a potential problem for us long term. As a result, many species of insects have already gone to extinction. Although we cannot change what has been done, we have an opportunity to foster an environment which protects insect life and ultimately the small birds and mammals that feed on them.
It is a common misconception that birds only eat seeds and berries, however, baby birds eat only insects. The insect that is chosen most frequently are caterpillars because caterpillars are soft and have the right amount of nutrition to support a baby bird. Similar to our own nutrition requirements to eat a wide variety of foods, birds and other mammals require a wide variety of species of insects in order to provide proper nutrition to their young. Therefore birds thrive in environments which support moths and butterflies. Fortunately, a few select varieties of native plants supply a majority of the food supply for these vital insects.
By planting native plants which are food sources for caterpillars, we also support birds and other wildlife habitat. According to “Superfoods in the Insect Garden” by the Ecological Landscape Alliance insect superfood species include oak, willows, plums, cranberry, blueberry, goldenrod, aster, and sunflower.
According to Calscape.org species that are native to the Santa Clara County area include:
One thing you may have heard lately with the recent shelter in place order is the sound of birds. Without the deafening and constant hum of vehicles passing, bird sounds are considerably more prominent. Choosing native plant life which provides nourishment to the birds and insects will ensure their survival and the long term protection of the biodiversity of the natural environment. It is possible for you to continue to complete these garden projects at home with safe practice services provided by Summerwinds Nursery. Please responsibly use social distancing practices when leaving your home and never leave if you have symptoms of illness. Living Classroom wishes you good health and abundant gardening.
Thinking about replacing your non-native plants with California natives? The benefits to planting native plants in your garden are huge. Planting native plants is extremely low maintenance. By choosing the correct time to plant, planning and preparing the planting area, and choosing native plants that will take root in the spring to survive the hotter summer temperatures you will be welcoming an attractive and environmentally beneficial landscape. California Native plants work in conjunction with the habitat of wildlife and will attract hummingbirds, songbirds, and butterflies furthering the beauty of your garden. A native naturescape in your garden will provide a variety of hidden treasures to your garden.
Replacing non-native plants with native ones helps the environment by reducing the need for fertilizer, pesticides, and watering - thereby reducing water run-off and improving air quality. The long term benefits to our environment and to your water bill will be lasting. Raking and fertilizers will be a thing of the past because the leaves provide the soil nutrition and will also act as a weed deterrent. Most California Natives require very little watering and are drought tolerant which will save both time and money. With the threat of frost having past, now is the perfect time to establish a small native sanctuary in your backyard.
In Northern California February and March are great months to start planting native plants in your yard. The soil temperature is prime for planting and the success rate is high. If you water the new plants weekly you can expect a loss rate of approximately 5%. You can bet on higher temperatures this summer, so plant soon to allow for your new plants to take root. There are a wide variety of hearty native plants that will thrive when planted late winter or early spring.
There are many varieties of California Native plants to consider for your garden. In addition to the songbirds and butterflies natives attract, California Native plants also have many medicinal values which have long been used by Native Americans. The following list contains just a few to add beauty to any naturescape and are acceptable to plant in late winter early spring.
Consider the following varieties for your garden:
Deergrass - Deergrass was used by Native Americans for basket weaving. It provides habitat for birds and insects. It offers a textural diversity to any landscape with it’s texture of thin blades fanning out from dense foliage. It also will need very little water and thrives in full sun.
Sticky Monkey Flower - The orange blossoms of this perennial will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. The flowers also were used by Native Americans as antiseptic bandages for burns. The flower thrives with very little need for frequent watering, but summer watering will extend the blooming period.
California Redbud - The California Redbud is a shrub featuring brightly colored magenta flowers which provide nectar to hummingbirds. This shrub is best planted along irrigation and can be planted in full or partial sun.
California Fuchsia - Hummingbirds love the nectar of the trumpet shaped blooms in fall, this hearty shrub can also provide erosion control for steep slopes.
Common Yarrow The flowers of the yarrow attract butterflies and ladybugs and were used by Native Americans to treat colds, flu, burns, and sprains. It was also used during the Civil War to treat wounds.
Toyon - The berries of this shrub attract birds and once provided a food source for Native Americans. This shrub is drought tolerant but will thrive with periodic watering.
Hollyleaf Cherry - Many birds and mammals make shelter in this shrub. It also attracts butterflies. The shrub does well in well drained soils and requires no summer irrigation once it is established.
California Buckwheat A small needle like leaves retain water during drought. This evergreen shrub produces seeds that attract songbirds and mammals. It also boasts pink flower clusters which attract bees.
California Native Plants are already adapted to native soil and therefore, depending on your planting area little or no preparation is needed for the soil prior to planting. If you are replacing turf you may need to plan how to remove the grass and restore the soil layer. For detailed instructions on how to plan for replacing turf with native plants please visit plantnative.org.
Dig a hole that is twice the width and and the depth of the container. Fill the hole with water and allow it to soak through. When pulling the native plant from the container, shake loose any extra dirt without tampering with the roots. Smooth out the remaining dirt. The root ball should be ½” higher than the surrounding dirt.
Native Plants do not need fertilizer, but they will benefit from mulch. Research the types of mulch beneficial to the native plants you intend on planting by going to Calscape.org. Do not surround the root ball with mulch as it will suffocate, mulch the area surrounding the plant area.
While beginning a native naturescape may take some effort, one may choose to plant a small area in your yard then slowly replace more non-natives with native plants. By choosing native plants you are making a choice to protect and preserve our local ecosystem. By choosing native plants you are also choosing a low cost, low maintenance, and beautiful garden. The short term effort of beginning a native garden for your home results in far-reaching benefits both present and into the future.
With relatively mild weather and wide variation of biomes, California is home to several endemic species. Some of these species face endangerment due to construction of freeways, using wetland habitats for landfills, and suburban development. Three such species with shrinking habitats include the California Newt, the California clapper rail, and the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle.
The California Newt can be found along the coastline from San Francisco to Santa Ana. They are five to eight inches in length and breed in ponds along the forest. Their skin produces a toxin to protect them from predators and salamanders in the area have evolved to mimic the unique coloring of the newt. Although newt habitats have been compromised by the building of roads and homes, many efforts are being made to protect these creatures. Grasslands Ecology restores habitats throughout the bay area by planting native plants and removing invasive plant species. There are also road closures to protect newts crossing the roads for breeding season. These efforts are helping to ensure the indigenous newt population is restored.
The California clapper rail is native to the California coast from Morro Bay to the San Francisco Bay. This bird makes her home in the pickleweed and cordgrass of the California Bay Areas wetlands. These areas are quickly becoming destroyed by landfills and urban encroachment. The California clapper rail is similar to a chicken and cannot fly to avoid danger. Fortunately, awareness of the endangerment of this species has led to efforts to protect the unusual bird. Efforts by the federal and state government protecting breeding seasons and through habitat restoration efforts made possible by nonprofit organizations like Save the Bay are working specifically to restore the California clapper rail population.
Making his home in the riparian woodland in California’s Central Valley, the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle thrives in stands of elder shrubs. These elder shrubs make a perfect home for the beetle so that their young can tunnel in the inch thick upper stems. This messy pollinator helps the ecosystem by spreading the pollen to further fertilization of the elderberry seeds. The beetle was placed on the Threatened Species list in the 1980’s due to suburban encroachment. Agencies and conservationists have continued to make protection of the riparian woodland habitat a priority so that these beetles can be delisted as endangered.
Californians have the opportunity to protect the ecosystem by becoming environmental stewards. With awareness and consideration of the animals that live in our state we can support efforts to protect endemic species essential to our thriving environment. We can also volunteer or donate to Save the Bay and Grassroots Ecology to assist in efforts to restore the natural habitat of the California newt, the California clapper rail, and the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle. We can arm ourselves with information about native plants and habitats and use that knowledge when we vote.
Although the habitats of several species native to California have been threatened in the past, efforts are being made to re-establish the environment. We can protect the California newt, California clapper rail, and Valley elderberry longhorn beetle from being threatened. Through efforts by conservationists these species are being protected. We all have a role in restoring our environment. Share your knowledge, donate to a cause, volunteer, and vote to be part of these efforts. By protecting California’s environment and endemic species we can ensure the beauty we love about living here will stay for years to come.
Garden maintenance is important throughout the year. In the December months, plan to continue to maintain your garden by amending soil and adding mulch. Additionally, December is when you must protect your winter crops from pests and frost. Harvesting winter vegetables and greens will also continue through this month. Your garden will thrive with continued care and consideration.
Since Northern California experiences little rain, mulching your garden continues to be an important aspect of winter maintenance. This both preserves soil and keeps the weeds away. Be sure to water at least once a month if it has not rained. If it does rain, check your landscape for large puddles where soil may be heavier and will need to be amended. Don’t bother raking fallen leaves as they provide ground cover and nutrition to the soil. For newer plants, purchase frost cloths or old sheets to protect against the colder temperatures. Newer plants won’t have the established root system and are more vulnerable.
Although temperatures are lower and there are fewer issues with pests, slugs and cabbage worms will continue to be problematic throughout the winter months. Protect your plants with iron phosphate and copper flashing. Row covers are a solution to both protect against slugs and cabbage worms, as well as low temperatures.
Winter crops such as cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and beets will regrow continuously through February; plants such as spinach and lettuce can continue to be cut to the root during this time and regrow. Be sure to harvest continuously. Unless there is frost, then prune and cut down plants to the root that are browning.
When you continue to maintain your garden you will also be preparing your soil and garden for the upcoming months. By watching your garden for pests, puddles, browning of plants, and by ensuring your soil is mulched and plants are harvested, your garden will continue to develop into the winter months. Happy gardening!
With the recent destruction of the Santa Barbara Cave fire with over 4200 acres burning and 0% containment in the wake of trauma from wildfire destruction throughout the state of California, Californians are left to look to our past to move forward. For thousands of years tribes throughout the state used intentional burns to renew cultural resources, create habitats, and reduce the risk of larger wildfires. Under desperate circumstances, California lawmakers look to indiginous practices of light burning to prevent future fires.
For decades laws have suppressed using fire as a preventative solution for larger forest fires, now California is looking to local tribes to assist in the effort to prevent larger fires. Native people believe that the land is a renewing resource and believe that frequent small fires maintain oak tree health, clear prairie habitats, and prepares for drought tolerance. According to ‘Fire As Medicine’ from the Guardian “In 2015, Robbins, Lake, Tripp and other indigenous fire practitioners began collaborating on a strategy to bring back native practices. Together they authored a “healthy country plan”, laying out the ramifications of fire exclusion and a path to returning indigenous burning to Karuk, Hupa and Yurok land in order to renew and maintain cultural resources, create sustainable economic opportunity, and make the land more resilient in the face of the climate crisis. That work has grown into the Indigenous Peoples Burn Network.” The idea of this healthy country plan is to bring back the health of the land, which the Yurok believe cannot be had without the use of fire as medicine. Margo Robbins, Yurok tribe member and co-lead and advisor of the Indigenous People’s Burn Network stated, “When our land is healthy, and our spiritual and cultural connection to our land is healthy, then we, as a people, will be healthy again.” Thoughtful, intentional light fires could be a solution to the larger destructive fires.
Although it remains illegal to intentionally set fires without Fire Department oversight, lawmakers are learning to embrace tribal practices. Tribes do not believe that light-burning is a solution for the climate crisis, but they do believe that it is one part of the process. They believe that fire is medicine for the land and greater habitats, and lawmakers are beginning to see the benefits to the thousands of years of experience that they bring to protecting our land.
This October prepare for spring by planting bulbs and winter crops. Now is the time to dig up bulbs and perennial flowers to prepare for superior growth. Place bulbs in a paper or mesh bag in the refrigerator for 6-8 weeks, storing them away from apples to prevent early sprouting. Bulbs should be planted once temperatures have cooled down, late October or early November here in the Bay Area. Be sure to plant them in full sun in an area with good drainage. Plant them three times deeper than your bulb is tall with the pointy side up. Organic compost placed inside planting holes ensures good blooming. Now is also a great time to plant winter crops! The Bay Area, California has the perfect autumn climate to plant winter crops such as onions, garlic, broccoli, carrots, spinach, beets, chard, and lettuce. You need less space for your winter garden and can plant seedlings closer together to prevent erosion from rainfall.
This fall Living Classroom's first grade students will plant winter vegetables while learning about photosynthesis in a lesson called "Powerful Plants". Students will plant their own seedling and will measure the growth during planting and throughout the seedling's growth to harvest. The children will harvest these vegetables during their winter "Growing Vegetable Soup" lesson. During this lesson they will make a delicious soup with the vegetables that they harvested from their own vegetable garden!
Want to see what we do where we do it? Please join our Garden Tour on Wednesday, Oct 30, at 1pm at Landels School to see our "Powerful Plants" lesson in action.
Space is limited, so please sign up at email@example.com