January in the Garden: rhubarb forced, seeds organized, Oxalis battled…

January 2016 was the wettest month SF has had in years. Yay! Then the weather turned unusually warm and sunny this weekend. Double yay!! You could practically hear the plants humming back to life. Ahhh, it’s such a lovely time to be a gardener. The promise of spring.

There have been a lot of great things happening in my vegetable garden this January.  I forced my rhubarb, organized my vegetable seeds, spotted some California Slender Salamanders, and gathered some modest harvests. Of course there has been some challenges too, including an ongoing battle with Oxalis and a soil borne lettuce killer.

January 2016. Can you believe I'm still harvesting from the chard I planted in July 2015 (front right box).

Rhubarb forced

I recently read a Wolly Green post about forced rhubarb.  The idea was new to me, but it turns out it’s really simple.  You cover the rhubarb with a pot or bucket and the “lack of light ‘forces’ lovely pink delicate stems to grow a good few weeks ahead of the main crop.” How could I possibly resist “lovely pink delicate stems.” I jumped into action and covered my rhubarb with a big terracotta pot.  I’ll let you know what happens.

Forcing rhubarb is easy peasy.

Seeds organized

It’s a shame, but I’ve never taken the time to properly store and organize my seeds. This year the disorganization and spill-over got out of hand.  When I tried to figure out what seeds I should order for the upcoming year, I could make neither heads nor tails of what I did or did not already have.  Enough was enough!  I unearthed an old portable metal filing box that had been my grandpa’s.  I modified the metal slat that keeps the files upright into a center divider, made dividers from file folders, and added a foggy micro-climate planting calendar to the inside of the top. I am super happy with the results!  Have seeds, will travel.  I can’t wait to bring this baby to my next seed exchange or friend’s backyard.

My grandpa's old portable filing box re-purposed to store my vegetable seeds.

California Slender Salamanders

I saw these two California Slender Salamanders (Batrachoseps sp.) in the garden under a board. You can spot them during moist or rainy conditions, but they will retreat under the soil when it’s uncomfortably hot or cold.  I'm always thrilled to find these guys in the garden. They eat insects and look cute!

Modest vegetable harvests

While I didn’t harvest anything in December, I got a little bit in January.  I’ve been harvesting lettuce, chard, parsley, and some leeks.

Oxalis battled

It’s a particularly bad year for Oxalis (Oxalis pes-caprae), aka sourgrass and Bermuda buttercup.  This clover-like weed is a beast to get rid of.  The underground bulblet must be removed or it will return each year with the winter rains.  It’s akin to area X in the Southern Reach trilogy, ever expanding despite my stalwart efforts.

Oxalis crowding out other plants and the bulblets in hand.

Continued lettuce death

My lettuce heads continue to wilt and die in my first raised bed.  It’s slow and painful to watch. First the outer leaves go, and then the whole thing collapses.  It appears to be a soil borne pathogen, although I continue to not know which one.  I’m hot on it’s trail though.  Meghan Clouseau.

Another head of Flashy troutback lettuce is succumbing to a mysterious soil borne pathogen.

January was a slow month in the garden, but I remained active with little projects and big plans.  My spring fever is high, and my enthusiasm unbridled by the pests and challenges I know will come.  It is truly the best time of year to be a gardener!


Monthly Garden Notes