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It’s Planting Time In The San Diego Garden

Audio

Aired 10/21/09

It's the beginning of the planting season in California so we'll talk with garden expert Nan Sterman about what to do in your garden for the winter.

Orange, pink and yellow flowers at Weidner's Gardens in San Diego.
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Above: Orange, pink and yellow flowers at Weidner's Gardens in San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. As most of the country prepares for the barren times of winter, it's the beginning of planting season in San Diego. If your garden wilted from lack of water this summer, or if you've been thinking about saving a little money with a vegetable garden, now is the time to start making those changes. We still have winter restrictions on watering to contend with and, conversely, the weather forecasters are predicting an El Nino condition this winter. And if they're right, we could get more rain than usual and even some flooding, so there's a lot to prepare for in your garden this winter. I’d like to welcome my guest, Nan Sterman. She’s garden journalist and author of “California Gardener’s Guide, Volume II.” Nan, welcome back to These Days.

NAN STERMAN (Author): I am so happy to be here, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: You know, I want to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Are you planning on making changes in your garden this fall and this winter? Did your lawn suffer this summer and you need some advice about what to plant? Give us a call with your gardening questions and your comments. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Well, Nan, it’s mid-October and I’m wondering what should people be doing in their yards and gardens right now?

STERMAN: Everything. This is our biggest gardening time of year. A lot of people come from other areas, expect that spring is like the big time but not here. Here, it’s the fall, the early fall. So the most – the best thing we can be doing right now, the thing I get most excited about, planting, planting, planting.

CAVANAUGH: And is there anything to do to prepare for planting, before you actually start to plant?

STERMAN: Sure. Planting is kind of the last step in the process of preparing your garden. If you have an existing garden or a new garden, you want to make sure that your irrigation is set up correctly for your garden. You want to go through and do an irrigation check. And what that means is, you go zone by zone, and a zone are all the sprinklers that come on when you turn on one of the valves, so they’re all in the same zone. Turn it on, walk and inspect all of the drip or the sprinkler heads or the rotor heads or whatever comes off that line, to make sure they’re operating correctly, that you don’t have any leaks, that you don’t have any heads that spray into the ground instead of spraying out, etcetera, etcetera. Take a couple of hours, take your time, do it zone by zone. Fix that first. Then you want to look at where you’ve got holes in your garden. Holes meaning where there’s opportunities to put in new plants. And before you go out and buy a plant to fill that hole, notice the size of the hole. How wide is that space? And when you go look for a plant, do your homework ahead of time or go to the nursery and look at the label and see how wide and how tall that plant that caught your eye is going to get because you want to put a plant in that spot that’s only going to get that big or maybe not quite that big because sometimes those labels are written in parts of the country where plants don’t grow as big as they do here.

CAVANAUGH: And, also, if you don’t go to a local nursery and you buy plants through the mail, which – or on the web…

STERMAN: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: …like a lot of people do, don’t you have to be careful you get the right kind of plants?

STERMAN: You absolutely do. And I run into this myself. Years ago, I ordered plants and it turned out that they weren’t the right kind of plants for here. What we – what you need to do is to check out where that plant is from and will it grow here? And there’s lots of good resources. Your local nursery can tell you whether that plant will grow here or how well it will grow here. My book is a good resource. Sunset Western Garden Guide is a good resource. The Master Gardeners are a good resource, and your neighbors are a good resource. But if a plant, like, for example, people love Hostas, okay? Hostas are a typical perennial in parts of the country where they have lots of rainfall. Here in Southern California, it is really hard to keep them going. They’re a perennial, they go dormant in the winter, and I find that if you plant them in the ground they, you know, they do their spring thing, they do their summer thing, they go dormant, and you never see them again.

CAVANAUGH: You never see them again. They disappear.

STERMAN: They disappear. But if you grow them in a pot, they come back. Now why that is, not exactly sure. But I know I’m not the only person to have that experience. So you have to ask around because they grow beautifully in the ground other places but not here.

CAVANAUGH: We’re talking about planting season in San Diego. My guest is Nan Sterman. She’s a garden journalist and author of “California Gardener’s Guide, Volume II.” We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a call. Rick is calling from the College area. Good morning, Rick. Welcome to These Days.

RICK (Caller, College Area): Hi. Thanks for having me on the show.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

RICK: My question is up at Miramar Landfill you can get some pre-compost…

STERMAN: Yeah.

RICK: …and I believe I saw a sign there once that said not to use it near tomatoes because there was like residual herbicides that are in it from gardens. And I was wondering, if it would affect other plants and is it good like a year later if it’s been in the soil or am I screwing up my soil by using it?

STERMAN: Are you sure you saw that sign?

RICK: Yeah, it was probably a couple years ago. It said that it suggested not to use it near tomatoes.

STERMAN: Now, I’m – It seems to me that there was something going on a few years ago that was a problem but I’m not sure it would be a problem now, and I don’t really remember what it is. What you could do is call the city, call the Recycling program, and ask them whether there’s any issues using their compost with tomatoes. Generally, the stuff that you get from Miramar is – you want to use it as mulch. You don’t want to mix it into the soil because it’s a coarse grind and so you want to layer it on top of the soil. And for my vegetables, I don’t use that kind of mulch. For vegetables, I use old straw. Not hay, but straw, and I get it at the feed store. There’s feed stores around, maybe not in the urban area but around. So I wouldn’t look at that as a material to use for mulching tomatoes, I would look at straw.

CAVANAUGH: What is the difference between hay and straw?

STERMAN: Oh, between hay and straw?

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

STERMAN: Well, hay – They’re completely different materials but also hay has seeds and stuff in it and straw is just the stems of, I guess, it’s wheat straw, after they’ve taken off the seeds. And the last thing you want—and I’ve done this years and years ago—is to use straw that, you know, basically wheat straw, that has seeds. You grow a really nice crop of wheat. You don’t want that.

CAVANAUGH: No.

STERMAN: No.

CAVANAUGH: You’re right.

STERMAN: I have a friend who’s never going to let me forget about that, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: That’s funny.

STERMAN: But she did other things that I’ll never let her forget about, like…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that…

STERMAN: Yeah, anyway.

CAVANAUGH: That’s great.

STERMAN: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: That’s great. Now, okay, well, -- Okay, you find the right thing to grow in your plot of land. You’ve decided – you’ve found the correct plant or the correct vegetable. So what is your next step after that? Do you fertilize? Do you use compost? What do you do before you decide to plant?

STERMAN: Okay, if I’m growing vegetables…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

STERMAN: …then my preference is to grow vegetables in raised beds because we don’t have soils that have lots of nutrition in them. So if I build a raised bed or grow a vegetable in a pot, I can use an enriched potting mix that’s – really works well for that kind of a plant. So I can fill my beds with soil that I, you know, get potting soil or not potting soil but soils from the soil purveyors and they give you a mixture and it’s got all the organic matter in it, etcetera. If I’m planting in the ground and I’m doing an ornamental, I’m going to plant into the native soil. Now we used to amend planting holes and what research showed was that the roots liked it so well in that amended soil they didn’t venture out past this little hole that we prepared and really establish themselves well into the ground. So we don’t do that anymore. By using the native soils, the plants have no reason – the roots have no reason to stay there and they become established much, much better. You can throw in a little bit of organic fertilizer in the very bottom, maybe put a layer of dirt over it so the roots don’t touch it and I throw in a couple of handfuls of worm castings because that introduces lots of beneficials into my planting hole. But that’s it.

CAVANAUGH: We are talking about planting your fall and winter garden in San Diego. My guest is Nan Sterman. We have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue to take your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days in San Diego. And my guest is Nan Sterman. She’s garden journalist, author of “California Gardener’s Guide, Volume II.” We’re talking about planting season in San Diego. Now is the time, as opposed to in other sections of the country, now is the time here in San Diego to start planting and start thinking about the kinds of plants and vegetables that you want growing in your garden. And we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. So, Nan, you already gave us really some very, very good advice about how to get started either growing – picking the right things to grow and how to actually put them in the soil. What about fruits and fruit trees? Is this also a good time to start thinking about doing that?

STERMAN: It’s a good time to think about it. The fruit trees come on the market a little bit later in the year, the bare root fruit trees, and bare root is a really good way to plant trees. Now a lot of people are confused by this. Literally, the fruit tree growers, okay, they grow these little trees and they have them all lined up in rows and they dig them out of the soil and trim off some of the roots and wash the soil off and they pack them up and they ship them to the nurseries. You can even order them to be shipped directly to you. You have to go online and find places that will do that. But it’s a – Because those trees are dormant—we’re talking about apples and pears and peaches and nectarines and plums—all those fruit trees that lose their leaves in winter, they’re dormant. They’re asleep. They don’t notice the difference, or at least we don’t think they do. So it’s real easy. You just mail them around; they’re like sticks. And you can go into the nursery and usually they’ll have them in bins and they’ll have them in damp sawdust or sand or something like that because you do need to keep those roots moist even though they’re not really growing. And you go to a local nursery and you have your choice. That’s when you have the greatest choice of varieties of those particular plants. And then you bring them home and you prepare a planting hole and you dig it big enough so that the roots that are there don’t have to be crumpled or pushed or whatever. You want to dig it so it can accommodate those roots very easily, plant it, stake it with two stakes, one on either side and tied loosely, not taut. And then when spring comes, you’ll have your young little fruit tree. A lot of the nurseries will tell you to cut the tree – cut the trunk of the tree down to about knee high. What that does is it forces it to branch low, which makes sense because we’re not harvesting with trucks or machinery. We want to be able to reach our fruit.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

STERMAN: So you want to keep – you want to go with a semi-dwarf or a dwarf so dwarfs stay pretty short. But even if you buy a semi-dwarf, naturally that would get to be, depending on the variety and the root stock, 12, 15 feet tall. I can’t reach that high.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

STERMAN: So I cut it down. I, you know, cut it back, I force low branches and then every winter when I prune, I prune it down to 8 feet tall. It’s a discipline. You know, your intuition says no, no, it’s a tree. But when you do that, you can reach all the fruit and you get plenty.

CAVANAUGH: It’s an excellent idea. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, your calls about your garden, what to plant right now. Maybe your lawn suffered this summer, maybe you have some questions about water rationing and how to do that well, as it might – may very well continue through the winter and next year. 1-888-895-5727. Let’s talk to Dan from UTC. Hi, Dan. Welcome to These Days.

DAN (Caller, University Towne Center): Hi, Maureen. Hi, Nan. I’m in a small apartment and I only have a tiny cement patio to use to start my winter garden. And I was wondering what suggestions Nan might have to start my above ground garden, like which veggies or herbs grow best? And is it best to pot each item individually or should I try to create a larger bed?

STERMAN: That’s a great question. My first question for you is how much sun does your space get?

DAN: I get a lot of good morning light.

STERMAN: Do you get at least six hours, you think?

DAN: Yes, definitely.

STERMAN: Okay, six hours is kind of the minimum for what we call full sun. So especially for veggies, if you get six hours of full sun you can grow almost anything.

DAN: Great.

STERMAN: If you don’t get that much, you can grow lettuces and leafy greens. But if you get more than that, you can grow almost anything. Are you thinking of growing your plant – your vegetables in pots or in the ground?

CAVANAUGH: I – I believe…

DAN: Above ground because it’s just a cement patio.

STERMAN: Okay, so if you’re going to grow them in pots, it depends on the plant. If you’re going to grow lettuces, for example, you can put – You know, get a good size pot. Go for the biggest pots you can afford because the more soil you have, the more – how do I say this? It’s buffered. You know, the more – the less often you’re going to have to water it, the better the plants are going to do because they’ve got more room for their roots. So get the biggest pot you can manage. Several – you know, two feet across is not too small. And then if you’re going to do things like lettuces, which is a good thing to do, you can – if you either start them from seed or start them from starts but in a pot, you can plant them pretty densely and then when you want to harvest, instead of pulling the whole head, you go out there with the scissors and you cut off the number of leaves that you need and you leave the plant to continue to grow. Maureen just had this look like, oh, I never thought of that.

CAVANAUGH: No, that’s very good.

STERMAN: Okay?

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

STERMAN: You know, if you’re grow – if you’re going to grow something like cabbage or cauliflower, you can’t fit very many of them into a pot. So I don’t know that that’s worthwhile doing in a pot. You’d have to have twelve little pots in order to get you through, you know, the fall or the winter. At least I would because I would eat them too often. But lettuces are really good. You could do peas and beans. You can do them on trellises or if you get a big enough pot, you can – One of my favorite ways to support these things is I go to the big box store and I buy a sheet of concrete reinforcing wire, which is about, I don’t know, maybe seven by five, and I take zip ties and I fold it into a cylinder and the holes – the squares in the concrete reinforcing wire are about five inches so you can put your hand through. And you can fit that on top of a pot so you can plant your beans or your peas, you know, climbing beans and peas in the pot and let them climb up the outside of this trellis.

CAVANAUGH: Amazingly, we have to take another break, Nan. But I want to continue this pot conversation when we return…

STERMAN: Excuse me?

CAVANAUGH: …because there are a number of other things that Dan asked that I really want you to answer because a lot of people, I think, are interested in it. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. You’re listening to These Days. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. My guest is Nan Sterman. She is a garden journalist and the author of “California Gardener’s Guide, Volume II.” I want you to know that the Water Conservation Garden’s Water Smart Pipeline number is 866-962-7021. I know we’re giving you a lot of numbers these days but Nan answers calls for the Water Conservation Garden’s Water Smart Pipeline on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. And if you didn’t get a chance to jot down that number, it will be on our website, KPBS.org/TheseDays. I’m going to give you another number now to call with your garden questions for Nan, 1-888-895-5727. Before we take another call, Nan, I wanted to finish out Dan’s question to you about planting vegetables in pots outside of his apartment. It was very sunny, and you were talking about the various things that he could grow. But one of his questions was can he grow tomatoes and herbs in the same pot?

STERMAN: Yes, and that’s a good question. Let me first address the tomato issue. We’re a little bit late for planting tomatoes…

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

STERMAN: …so we’re around a fall crop, so tomatoes, think about next spring. There are some tomatoes they call winter tomatoes that have a very, very short maturity time. I don’t know how well they do. But, in general, yes, you can tuck herbs into pots but the pots have to be big enough to accommodate the herbs and the vegetables. The thing to keep in mind is that many of the herbs we grow—rosemary, oregano, marjoram, thyme—are perennial. That means they’re permanent. Whereas most of the vegetables we grow—tomatoes, squash, lettuce, all that—are annual. That means they finish their life cycle in one season. So if you put them in the same pot, you’re always disturbing the perennial herbs when you dig out the annual at the end of its life and plant a new one. So if you’re growing parsley or cilantro or dill, which are also annuals, that’s a good combination with vegetables. The others, personally, I’d put into a different pot.

CAVANAUGH: Got it. Let’s go to Annie in PB. Hi, Annie. Welcome to These Days.

ANNIE (Caller, Pacific Beach): Good morning. I have a south facing yard in PB, and I have three raised planter beds. They’re eight by twelve feet. And I’ve amended them and put the soil in and one’s a strawberry bed and the other one I raised tomatoes and the third one I also want to talk about but my question about the tomatoes is last year I was still getting tomatoes, especially flowering ones, into November and I’m wondering, this year, the stalks and some of the leaves are turning brown and the – I’m not getting any more flowers. Is that normal because I know you said we’re heading into winter season. Is it just last year happened to be really hot longer? Or do I amend it or something along those lines?

STERMAN: Okay, Annie, you’ve got a bed that you say is your tomato bed. Do you always grow tomatoes in the same bed?

ANNIE: I rotate between that bed and the third bed that I was talking about.

STERMAN: What’s in the third bed?

ANNIE: Well, the third bed, I was growing the Three Sisters, the beets around it with that, that’s what I was growing in there this year.

STERMAN: Okay, so what was in the tomato bed last year?

ANNIE: Last year, the tomato bed had lettuce and radishes and I attempted to plant the French Haricot vert beans but they didn’t do so well.

STERMAN: Okay, so you didn’t have tomatoes in that bed two years in a row?

ANNIE: No.

STERMAN: Okay, good, because that would be my first thought is if you had tomatoes two years in a row in the same bed, then what happens is the pathogens, the little nasty guys that eat tomato roots, tend to stay there and you definitely have a decrease in the health of your tomatoes the second year. The second thought is to some extent what you’re describing is normal. By the time we get to the end of tomato season, yeah, the leaves turn brown and they start declining. Generally, though, you should get tomatoes through November. We did have a lot of heat towards the end of August and into September so it could be that your tomatoes got heat stressed at some point and they didn’t get enough water or something like that happened. It could be that the particular varieties you planted this year aren’t – don’t have as long a life as others. There could be a lot of different explanations but it’s not unusual when they get to the end of their cycle for them to start doing that.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Annie, for that call. You know, that leads me to a question I wanted to ask you, Nan, about the water restrictions during the summertime and a lot of sort of brown lawns and unfortunate garden problems that people encountered because they had to restrict their water use. Did you hear a lot about that? And what do you think was behind that? Was the restriction really just too low for us to maintain what we needed to maintain in the front of our houses and in our gardens?

STERMAN: Ooh, you’re getting into an area where I have really strong opinions.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

STERMAN: Okay. In general, ten minutes of overhead watering three times a week should be fine for your lawn except maybe in – except in the desert. I mean, we – In the really eastern, hot parts of the county, lawn maybe didn’t do so well, especially if it was a cool season grass, but for the coast that should be plenty of time. A lot of people are taking out their lawns and I think for good reason. I teach a class through the Water Conservation Garden called “Bye-Bye Grass,” which is about how to get rid of your lawn because it is the biggest water guzzler. It’s also the biggest maintenance issue. It takes the most fertilizer and the most pruning. Mowing, after all, is pruning. It generates materials that have to be trucked off to the landfill, etcetera, etcetera. So it’s kind of an ecological nightmare to start with. So I’m not so worried if grass turns brown. Okay, that doesn’t bother me. In fact, if you’re not using your grass, what do you need it for? It’s pretty but we don’t really need it. But one thing that’s really important that was not made clear, I believe, by the water agencies in these water restrictions is that those limitations, the time limitations, applied only for your traditional overhead sprinklers. If you have drip irrigation or if you have those new rotating head sprinklers or you water by hand, you are not subject to time limitations. They do want you to water on those particular days but you are not subject to time limitations and, in fact, neither rotor nor drip will deliver enough water to keep your garden going in ten minutes three times a week. It will not happen.

CAVANAUGH: I see. So you think there was some confusion there.

STERMAN: I just think it wasn’t made clear enough.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

STERMAN: It’s come up so many times on calls to me in – on the hotline.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Charles is calling from Escondido. Good morning, Charles. Welcome to These Days.

CHARLES (Caller, Escondido): Good morning. My question is I have a grape vine that I’ve had, well, actually there’s three different vines within a relatively small area, about seven foot. And I’ve had the – they look extremely healthy but I’ve never had grapes. I put the grape – what was recommended for fertilizer, etcetera, and, like I say, the – the plants themselves look wonderful but I’ve never had a grape.

STERMAN: How long have those been in the ground?

CHARLES: Well over ten years.

STERMAN: Oh. Okay. Hmm. That’s interesting because grapes are so easy to grow that they were dry grown in San Diego. In other words, not watered, for a very thriving wine industry in the early part of, I think it was, the early 1900s. I can’t think of a reason that those grapes would not – Do they flower? Do you see flower clusters on them?

CHARLES: No. No flowers.

STERMAN: Okay, then something’s definitely wrong. If, in ten years, you’re not getting any flowers and – They should not need much of any fertilizer so I would dig them out and start again.

CAVANAUGH: Start over again.

STERMAN: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Charles, for that question. We have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll be taking your garden questions with gardening expert Nan Sterman. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: You're listening to These Days on KPBS. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh here with Nan Sterman answering your garden questions this morning. The number is 1-888-895-5727. And all this time, Nan’s been ruminating about that great question that Charles asked, and you’ve got some – some more to tell him about that.

STERMAN: I just had one more thought. Maybe before he digs them out, it would be a good idea to give it one more time, one more chance, and fertilize those grape vines with some organic based fertilizer in the spring, one time, and see if that makes a difference. If that doesn’t make a difference, then I think they’ve had their opportunity. And the – if you’re going to replace them, Dan, go and make sure that the varieties you get will produce in your particular microclimate in San Diego because not all grapes will do well at the coast. You know, those that do well inland won’t necessarily do well at the coast. And vice versa. So make sure you get the right ones.

CAVANAUGH: Got you. Okay. Let’s hear from Brittany in Poway. Good morning, Brittany, and welcome to These Days.

BRITTANY (Caller, Poway): Thank you for taking my call. I’m actually from Poway.

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

BRITTANY: Oh, okay. I have an aquaponic system and I’ve been looking to ever-bearing strawberries. I was wondering if there’s any particular varieties I should look more into? And can you give a brief description on them?

STERMAN: Oh, my goodness. So you’re talking about doing hydroponics, right?

BRITTANY: No, aquaponics. I use fish, not fertilizers.

STERMAN: Okay, so why don’t you explain what that means.

BRITTANY: I have a stock tank with fish in it that circulates water from that stock tank into grow trays and then back into the stock tank so I don’t need to add any extra fertilizer.

STERMAN: So those plants are growing in a medium and being bathed in a nutrient solution that’s got fish poop in it essentially.

BRITTANY: Yes.

STERMAN: Okay, so that is a kind of a hydroponic system and you – you don’t have your plants in the ground?

BRITTANY: No.

STERMAN: Okay. So I don’t know that it makes a difference which strawberries you use. I think all of the ones that are – that you can find on the market that are for our area will be fine in there, and there’s lots of different ones. There’s Sequoia and a whole bunch. They come out during bare root season, which is – they come out, meaning they’re in the nurseries, at bare root season, which is generally the end of December, beginning of January, and you buy them in bundles. I would do that as opposed to buying ones that are ready in dirt in pots. I think you’ll have a better success rate with those. But other than that, you know, all gardening is experimentation. I would get a couple of different varieties, whatever you can find, test them, see which worked the best, and then next year when you have the opportunity to buy them again, you’ll have an idea of what does well in your particular situation.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Brittany, for the phone call. Let’s go to Lisa in San Diego. Good morning, Lisa, and welcome to These Days.

LISA (Caller, San Diego): Morning, Maureen. Thanks for taking my call. I’m starting a raised garden in my backyard and I’m, hopefully, doing it as organic as possible. What I’m looking for is what sort of plants should I plant outside in the perimeter of my yard to attract the pests away from my veggies and maybe also attract some beneficial pollinating insects.

STERMAN: Oh, that’s an interesting question. Good for you. There are lots of different kinds of wildflower seed mixes that you can plant around your garden and, in fact, I would look up – there are some that are specifically for that purpose. I don’t remember off the top which ones they are but there are ones that are advertised for that purpose. A good resource for seeds that are appropriate for our area comes – if you go to the web, look up Theodore Payne Foundation, Theodore P-a-y-n-e. Theodore Payne was one of the earliest advocates of native plants in California. And up in the Sunland, Tujunga area, east – north and east of LA, there is a nursery, the Theodore Payne Foundation Nursery and Education Center, and they sell native plants but they also sell seeds and different seed mixes, and that’s where I’d go to look.

CAVANAUGH: I want to get in another question. Gayle is calling from Mt. Helix. Good morning, Gayle. Welcome to These Days.

GAYLE (Caller, Mt. Helix): Hi. Yes, I’m interested in trying to incorporate manure—I haven’t done this before—into my soil just to make it happier. And in the east county I know there’s got to be lots of ranches out there. Do you know of people – can they just go, you know, get it? Or are there places that say, hey, come pick up our stable and stuff? You know?

STERMAN: Okay, let’s back up a second. What are you planting?

GAYLE: I have about 20 fruit trees, 25 fruit trees, I have vegetable beds, herb beds and strawberries, a whole variety of stuff.

STERMAN: So let’s just sort of give you an idea of where to start. If you’re planting permanent plantings that are, and I’m not talking edibles, I’m talking ornamentals, that are either natives or Mediterranean climate plants so those from the Mediterranean regions of the world, you don’t need to do that. You don’t need to improve your soil at all. If you’re going to be doing fruit trees, then you might want to do that, indeed, and manures really are not the best for the soil. Manures are better used as top dressing.

GAYLE: Hmm.

STERMAN: So like if you’re talking about stable bedding…

GAYLE: Umm-hmm.

STERMAN: …which would be the sawdust and have the urine and the feces, you know, the – from horses, etcetera…

GAYLE: Yeah.

STERMAN: …I’ve used that as mulch and it works really well. But you can’t use it fresh. You have to let it sit and age for a while.

GAYLE: Okay, so about how long?

STERMAN: So – A couple months.

GAYLE: A couple months.

STERMAN: Yeah.

GAYLE: And that would be good for the vegetables and the fruits? It would be okay…

STERMAN: It would be good for the fruits. I wouldn’t do it on vegetables.

GAYLE: Okay.

STERMAN: Again, on vegetables, I would mulch with straw. I would use a really – I would – My preference is to grow vegetables in raised beds. I think you do much better than doing rows in the ground. They’re much easier to take care of. You can grow – You can plant more intensely, things closer together, so you grow more in a smaller space. It’s just much easier to manage. But I would definitely – I wouldn’t use that in the mix. I would buy soil that was already pre-mixed for that purpose.

GAYLE: Okay.

STERMAN: And then over time, the kind of manure you can use though, it’s really good, is – We never think of it this way. Worm manure.

GAYLE: Uh-huh. Okay.

STERMAN: Worm castings?

GAYLE: Umm-hmm.

STERMAN: That you can use with abandon.

GAYLE: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the phone call. Nan, we have to wrap it up. I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

STERMAN: Oh, that’s all?

CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everybody, though, that the – you answer the Water Conservation Water Smart Pipeline Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. That number is 866-962-7021. Nan’s book is "California Gardener's Guide, Volume II." And I also want to let you know if you want to comment on this section, you go to KPBS.org/TheseDays. Nan, thanks a lot.

STERMAN: My pleasure. I always have fun doing this.

CAVANAUGH: You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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