Scenes from a Winter Garden

Part One: Violet and the Ghost of the Great Pepper Tree

Violet doesn’t belong here. She wasn’t invited. And neither was her brother, Squats for that matter. These were random chickens that were squeezing their tiny fluffy butts into my garden through a gap in the fence.

Just big enough to fit little peeping babies that would peck and scratch the shit out of all my garden beds and make a hell of a mess on my manicured pathways. My precious, precious pathways.

This I could not abide for long. An action plan began forming in my head and I decided to set up some chicken traps and capture these usurpers of my calm. I set up a net at the end of my long cement makeshift patio. A tunnel of many confusing obstacles leading to a hidden circular lobster net. I then went inside and waited. Maniacally so.

After a few hours, I went out to find them in my veggie garden picking, scratching and eating all my vittles. Our eyes locked and all three of us were frozen in the timeless dance of predator v. prey. I pounced, barefoot and snarling. As planned, they leaped out of the raised bed and began sprinting down the long cement pad with me slapping bare toes behind them.

They hit the hidden net like so many drunkenly applied darts into pub dartboards. *thunk, thunk*. With wings flapping uselessly, they could do no more than submit to my gentle yet firm grasp.

After some moments of gentle cooing, I placed them in my little elevated chicken coop for newbies. And there they remained. The day was won!

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Starbucks has Free Spent Coffee Grounds for the Garden!

I just love it when a large company like Starbucks goes out of their way to do a decent, responsible and sustainable thing to make the world a better place. They don’t have to do it. It doesn’t net them any extra cash, in fact, it probably adds some costs. But they did it anyways!

Many Starbucks locations now keep their spent coffee grounds out of the landfills and into our garden! Which is really smart when you think about it. Used coffee grounds are very nitrogen rich and although some of their acidic properties are stripped away during the percolating process, raw spent coffee grounds are best saved for your acid loving plants. They are however a perfect addition to your compost bins or a yummy treat for your worms (vermicomposting). Once composted, they can be used as a top dressing or a soil additive with the rest of your compost.

Raw un-composted coffee grounds can be used for all your acid loving plants. Or, if you have very alkaline soil (like we do in San Diego), they can be used with more fervor on most any plant species. Roses absolutely adore the nutrients from coffee grounds. So do plants like azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries and raspberries. In fact, you can make a fertilizer “tea” with these spent grounds that will make any berry bush seem to double it’s production and growth rate. Pink hydrangeas aren’t your thing? Lowering the pH with acidic coffee grounds will turn them blue!

There’s also a lot of Magnesium and Potassium, both of which plants really like; but not a lot of phosphorus (the fruiting and flowering nutrient) or calcium, a mineral that many plants crave. So use these grounds carefully and know your soil pH levels before going hog wild!

In other words, Mind Your Dirt!

The Winter Cover Crop Part II: Green Manure

Day I: In which noodle was scratched and there were many distractions.

Well campers, it looks as though my little experiment in the veggie garden has moved on to phase two. My hope is that the soil has been rejuvenated by my planting back in November of buckwheat, ryegrass, clover, oats, rye grain and valley peas. Deep root plants as well as nitrogen fixers have been working hard over the past few months replenishing lost nutrients from the previous year as well as aerating the soil to make room for new roots. You can learn about how I began this process, as well as some more info on green manure, in the first part of this project found here.


Using green manure is a new practice for me. The San Diego summers get awfully hot in my neck of the woods. I’ve been trying to combat this hot dry weather with some grey water reclamation and micro irrigation systems. Now that the soil below the surface has been treated, it’s time to move on to above ground. The plan was to chop up everything and use it as a mulch to help lock in the moisture and eventually break down into a nutrient rich compost.

I’ve basically just let it grow over the last few months. And it definitely did just that. Check out this vigorous growth!

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