Sonoma and Napa Fires are the backdrop of this firey sunset in Novato

Fiery North Bay Sunset October 17, 2017

Wildfire Readiness – 5-Step Plan for the Bay Area

The essentials of what you can do now – including a list of the most fire-prone plants

Though it is wet today, the forecast shows temperatures steadily climbing, into the 90’s through next week.  In fact, according to Daniel Swain, weatherwest.com,  we may be headed toward an extended heat wave late September into October.  Raising the risk of wildfire.  

Because the threat remains and the media reports can be overwhelming,we’ve broken it into useful chunks – just a 5 step wildfire readiness plan – only the essentials you need for this late September.

This 5-Step Plan for wildfire readiness were adapted from literature provided state and bay area cities

  • County by county links for emergency alert sign ups
  • Evacuation checklist
  • Inspection by your local fire department
  • Debris removal
  • Removal of flammable plants and debris around your home or building

The list above is a short term strategy.  The details below explain what to do, starting with making sure you are set up for emergency notifications.

1. Sign up for Emergency Notifications

If you haven’t already, sign up now.

Nixle
It will alert you to any emergency events and evacuations in your area. You will also receive non-emergency alerts about local criminal activity.  Those messages can be annoying, but trust me, Nixle is an invaluable system.

Cal Fire emergency notification sign up, no matter where you are in the state

Sonoma County alert system

San Francisco alert system sign up

Contra Costa County emergency warning system

Alert Marin warning system sign up

Napa County emergency warning

Alameda County emergency alert

Alert Solano warning system sign up

Understanding the categories of alert messages

Evacuation order: Means evacuate now do not delay to gather belongings.  Fire expected in less than an hour. 
Evacuation warning: Evacuate soon, but there is time to gather belongings quickly.
Shelter in place: It is safer to stay in your current location. 

2. Evacuation Checklist

The checklist – linked below from the County of Marin, will help you prepare. They have the best one I’ve seen, it has pre-planning checklist in addition to a list for your “go bag”.  Plus a family communications plan.

Make copies of important documents like passports, insurance policies, birth certificates, drivers licenses, property deed and mortgage papers.
Some people put them in a safe deposit box.

Wildfire Evacuation Checklist

Where to Purchase Disaster Supplies

If you are looking for reviews and advice on where to purchase disaster supplies, the list below can help.

Wirecutter, which is a New York Times Company has much information about where to purchase, costs including for pre-assembled kits. 

Aside from the above, there are local big box stores where you can purchase emergency supplies.

Costco

Home Depot

3. Local Fire Department Safety Check

If you have questions about your property call your local fire department.  Find out if they will do a check of your home’s exterior.  They will make recommendations for any vegetation that should be cleared.

4. Debris Removal

The State of California recommends removing debris like dead leaves because they will quickly ignite.

Clear your roof
Remove dead leaves and debris from your roof and gutters
Keep branches 10 feet from your chimney
Cover your chimney outlet and stovepipe with a nonflammable screen of 1/2″ mesh

Dry leaves on roof - they are a fire hazard

Get dry leaves off your roof!

Landscape and Debris Cleaning
Remove all debris, i.e., fallen leaves, dead plants, construction materials away from structures
Stack woodpiles at least 30 feet from structures
Move liquefied petroleum gas containers to a minimum of 10 feet from structures

Create a Defensible Space (See detailed version for more information)
The law requires every home have a 100-foot defensible space around it

Zone 1-up to 30 feet
Remove all dead plants, grass, and leaves.
Remove dead dry leaves; pine needles from rain gutters and roof.
Remove tree branches from your chimney, and the ones that are hanging over your roof.

Zone 2 – up to 100 feet
The remaining 70 feet should be a “reduced fuel zone.”
Cut or mow grass to a maximum height of 4 inches.
Create horizontal and vertical space between shrubs and trees.
Keep plants well hydrated.

How to Use Equipment Properly
Mow grass before 10 am.
A string trimmer is safer for clearing vegetation than a mower.
Never on Red Flag days or when it is windy, hot and dry.
Spark arrestors* should be installed on all portable, gas-powered equipment.
*A spark arrestor prevents the emission of flammable debris.

5. Remove These Fire Prone Plants*

The most fire prone plants have similar characteristics
High oil or resin content. 
May have fine needles or lacey leaves.
Abundant and dry leaves underneath or leaves with low moisture content.

This list represents the most flammable of plants.

Juniper – highly flammable – will burn even when wet
Acacia
Bamboo
Cypress
Fountaingrass
Scotch, French or Spanish broom -Highly flammable, invasive weeds
Douglas Fir Trees
Rosemary

*Keep your plants watered, because even the most fire resistant plant will burn if it is dry.

Sources for this article

Cal Fire
Fire Safe Marin
Firewise USA

Marin Conservation League

 

Plants that attract pollinators

What’s Unique about Gardening for Pollinators in the Bay Area

Most important is plant types.  Because of the bay area microclimates, planting in the right environment is critical.  Plant vigor will be impacted by sun exposure, fog, heat, soil type and wind.  Learn about pollination in a stunning video (below) that catches them in the act.  Also below is an update on the status of our pollinators which explains why gardening for pollinators is so important now.

Below is a downloadable list of 9 plants for a pollinator-friendly garden.  The list shows their preferences for sun, soil, water; the pollinators they will attract, and bloom seasons.

Why Gardening for pollinators will help sustain our food supply

We depend on pollinators

Plants that produce seeds, flowers, fruits and vegetables depend on animals who perform the magic of moving the [male] pollen from one part of a plant to the [female] part. Thousands of pollinators exist, but the most common ones include bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, wasps, beetles, and wasps. 

Consider the Bumblebee.  They are lured by the scent of nectar and the color of an apple tree’s blossoms.  Flying from flower to flower, they find nectar to feed on. While enroute, pollen from the male part of the flower sticks to their body, signaling it’s time to move on and deliver their powdery stash to the female part of the flower.  That, in a nutshell, is fertilization!  Not exactly romantic, but, now the tree can produce fruit – and that’s pretty cool.

Pollinators are declining

The reason, is pollution, the loss of their natural habitat, and poisoning from pesticides.
Habitat loss happens as an outcome of urban and suburban development.  Read about the status of our most popular pollinators.

Bees
You’ve probably heard about the decline of Honeybees.  They are most prominent of all pollinators and integral to food production. Their loss has an impact on our supply. 

Native bees’ decline, however, is lesser known and has more severe implications.  As documented by the Center for Biological Diversity,  nearly 1 in 4 are at risk.  Moreover, the Center describes native bees as having a “crucial ecological role by pollinating wild plants and providing more than $3 billion in fruit-pollination services each year in the United States.”

The Monarch Butterfly (See our report on the Monarch below)
From 2017 to 2018 the Monarch’s
population plunged dramatically – by 86 percent, according to a report by the Xerces Society, a non-profit dedicated to protecting pollinators and their habitats.  Their analysis shows that the decline has been consistent since the 1980s.  The once 4.5 million population dipped to 1 million by 1997.  

Other Pollinators are in trouble
The Center for Biological Diversity report found that globally, more than 40 percent of insect pollinators are at risk. 

Gardening for Pollinators will Help Reverse this Trend

You can help sustain our world’s food supply by creating a pollinator-friendly garden.  No matter your outdoor environment – rural, suburban, or urban area – you can create a habitat garden.  Besides the satisfaction of giving back, it will increase carbon sequestration and help prevent soil erosion.  If you plant edibles, you’ll reap the benefits of growing your own food!

Why Pollinators Like Native Plants Best 

They are undemanding and best adapted to your local climate.  The pollinators are well-acquainted with them, also.  Non-natives might not have sufficient nectar or pollen.  In fact, a UC Berkeley study found that 80 percent of natives attracted bees versus 8 percent non-natives.

Pollination in action – Captured on Video

Watch this gorgeous four-minute clip below.  It was shown at a TED conference in 2011.  Created by filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg, it documents the romance of pollinators and pollen.  See Louie Schwartzberg’s website.

9 Plants that SF Bay Area Pollinators Love

The graphic below is a link to a plant list pollinators love plus their needs for water, soil, and light. 

UC Davis also has a comprehensive plant list.

 

See Our Report on the Monarch Butterfly

The button below is a link to the report. It’s packed with information. Learn about the caterpillar’s essential food.

Download Button Saving the Monarch

Essential Planting Tips

Know the right plants for your environment.  If you live in the city you can grow a pollinator garden in containers.  All you need the right soil, plants and a plan for watering.  Either irrigation or hand-watering.  Keep in mind, effective hand-watering is time consuming.

The

Use these planting tips below.  They were adapted from an article written by Melissa Womack, a Master Gardener

  • Plant in clumps instead of singely.  This will help pollinators find your garden.
  • Plant multiple varieties of plants.
  • Design a garden with structure.  This means simply arranging with the tallest plants in the back, the smallest in the front.
  • Pollinators prefer the sun, so aim for areas with full sun. (6 hours)
  • Reduce of eliminate pesticide use in the landscape.  Beneficial insects are an alternative and effective pest management method.
  • Tips for nurturing your pollinators: provide a hummingbird feeder, clean water in a shallow dish or bowl and dead branches for bees and beetles to nest.

Sources for this post:

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Why your weeds keep coming back

Have you noticed an abundant crop of weeds this spring?  One reason – the heavy rains of last fall and winter may have awakened long-dormant seeds.  Does it feel like the long rainy winter just erased all the backbreaking work you did last year?  Our guide to weeds includes the why what and how of managing weeds. 
Plus our guide to weeds is downloadable.  See link below.

Why do they reappear?

  • Weeds produce thousands of seeds.  Those seeds are stubborn and can be viable for years, even decades.
  • They are transported by weather, especially wind. Also by animals, humans, and water. Mulches and soil can also harbor weed seeds.
  • Even after weeding, their seeds will remain in the soil and may be dormant for years.
  • Perennial seeds are the hardiest.  Their roots are alive for many years and harder to kill than annual weeds.
  • An example of a perennial weed is a dandelion.  Just one dandelion puffball carries as many as 100 seeds!

Understanding is the key to managing weeds

They are tough and relentless. Weeds can thrive in the most unsavory environmental conditions. Drought, fire and even herbicide applications don’t kill all weeds.  And, they will outcompete with desired plants for sunlight, water, nutrients, and space. 

Weeds offer some benefits

  • Protect bare soil from erosion.
  • Improve the soil by imparting organic matter.
  • Absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • Can provide habitat for birds, worms, and beneficial insects.
  • And – some have powerful medicinal properties (and are edible)

Weeds are a problem when

  • They overpower desired plants and deplete the soil of nutrients and moisture.
  • Their unattractive appearance, texture, color and growth habit detracts from your garden or landscape.
  • They harbor disease-carrying insects that spread to desired plants.
  • Poisonous weeds can be dangerous to you and your pets.
  • Invasive weeds take over your garden in a single growing season.

Two types of weeds – what makes them different

Annual Weeds
Warm weather annual weeds grow only from seeds every spring.  Cool weather weeds germinate in late summer or fall. Their roots are shallow as compared to perennial weeds (see below). For this reason, they are easier to pull.  Some die out after flowering.

Perennial Weeds
These weeds reproduce year after year from roots and seeds.  Because of their tenacious roots and seeds that can live for years, they are much more difficult to control.  Two common perennial weeds in the San Francisco Bay area are dandelions and oxalis.

Tips for Managing Weeds

The harsh truth is that you can never completely eliminate weeds, but effective management will help control them. 
Your first step is prevention.

Tips on Weed Prevention

Plant Choices
The right plant in the right place sounds simple but makes all the difference.  Healthy vigorous plants have the best chance of out-competing weeds.  
Healthy Soil
Make sure that plants are healthy by feeding the soil with organic products including mulch and compost.
Mulching and Sheet Mulching
Mulch keeps the soil cool and moist.  It deprives weeds of light.  Organic mulches enhance soil structure and host insects can devour weeds.  Sheet mulching is layering of cardboard, newsletter or fabric.  It serves as a weed barrier.
Proper irrigation is critical
We recommend drip because the water goes directly to the root of the plant, not in between them. Spray irrigation can encourage weed growth.  
Pre-emergent Herbicides
There are products that range from natural to chemicals whose purpose is to control the germination of weed seeds. This product will not impact weeds that have already grown.  An herbicide is a barrier so it needs to thoroughly cover an area for maximum effectiveness.

 

How to get rid of them?

Gardeners’ Guild’s philosophy is to use the least toxic practices. We recommend a combination of prevention, mechanical, biological, and chemical means only when necessary.  

Hand Pulling
This works best when weeds are small and before they flower.  Once they flower, seeds will be spread.
String Trimming
This works best for annual weeds.  It is used for the top growth control of broadleaf weeds.
Mowing
For a heavily weeded area, mowing helps prevent broadleaf weed seeds from spreading but cutting off flower heads.
Flaming
Less effective for deep-rooted (perennial) weeds. This method requires a propane burner which burns cell walls of the seeds.
Post-emergent Herbicides
Their purpose is to kill weeds once they appear. This product will either target foliage and/or weed roots. Take precautions when using and be aware of any community regulations against them. 

 

Weed Types Common to SF Bay area

Below is a list of common San Francisco Bay area weeds.  Some are invasive and fire hazards.  Invasive weeds will damage our ecosystems by displacing native species, increase fire and flood danger and consume valuable water.
 
Ice plants – Invasive
They compete with native plants. Seeds are carried from landscape settings to natural areas. Pieces of the plant can be washed into storm drains. They grow in natural areas and along freeways. Remove by hand pulling, mechanical methods.  Glyphosate is effective but only as a last resort.
Oxalis/Wood Sorrel
Grows in lawns; flower beds.  Blooms in spring. Spreads rapidly by their many persistent bulbs. Very competitive. Remove root bulbs before they bloom.  Sheet mulching or post-emergent treatments are used.
Dandelion
Perennial. Seeds spread in wind. Leaches nutrients from the soil of desired plants. Prevention is key. Hand weeding and fabric mulching can work.  Herbicides if necessary.
Periwinkle/Vinca Major – Invasive
Their aggressive stems root wherever they touch the soil.  Spreads rapidly in shady creeks, drainage areas and chokes native plants. Vinca minor is okay.  Removal by hand pulling.  Rake the area to loosen the soil. Or, brushcut and cover area with cardboard for at least a year.
Licorice Plants – Invasive
Seeds spread by wind.  Spreading branches root wherever they make contact.  They can and do displace native plants in coastal areas. Hand pulling is effective for small infestations.  for larger areas, herbicides are used.
English Ivy – Invasive
Distinguishing them from less invasive ivy is difficult.  Invasive ivy will smother understory vegetation, wrap around trees and harbor non-native rats and snails.  Removal – wear protective clothing. Dig down 8-10 feet should get at their roots. Dispose of plants. A large expanse of ivy can be rolled like a carpet.
 

Download our report on Weed Management

 

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2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Vegetable Garden is Successful

2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Garden is Thriving

People are growing their own food in bigger number than ever before.  In urban areas this trend is surging, particularly in multifamily communities.  These communities include apartments and condominium associations.  It enhances the sense of community and increases property values.  An NYU study in 2006 (the last one we saw) found that regardless of the neighborhood’s income level, property values increased up to 9.5 percent.

This month we’re talking about a client garden in Oakland and the reasons for its success.  It’s one thing to start a garden.  But, maintaining it requires a different set of skills, knowledge and time.  We’ve distilled the success of this multfamily’s garden to these two factors.

  1. How they are maintained.  It’s actually not the how – but who. Their vegetable garden pictured above is maintained by someone outside of the multifamily community.  Gardeners’ Guild performs the maintenance, but it doesn’t have to be us, or any company. It can be one or two people.  The key to its success is that the gardener is outside of the community. It’s a cleaner relationship.  No entanglements with the community.  See our explanation below.
  2. Fundamental for plant survival is – the right plant/right place; soil and proper amount of water and light But that’s not everything.

How an Outside Gardener Helped Make this Garden Successful

This is especially relevant for urban multifamily housing like homeowner’s associations or apartments.  Many of these residents are super busy and don’t have time to maintain a garden.  Yet these urban communities recognize the benefits of an edible garden. It is convenient.  Healthier and less expensive.

The realities of plant maintenance, however, can sometimes undo all the hard work of planting an edible garden. We’ve seen it happen.  Plant problems occur.  The solution rests on a board or committee burdened by multiple priorities. Sometimes there is disagreement among the group on a solution. The garden may suffer. 

When the maintenance is done outside the community it takes all the guesswork, planning and scheduling off the shoulders of residents.  They can enjoy their edibles without being pulled into the work of managing them.

Some residents and/or committee members may be horticultural experts, equally experienced with maintenance. However, if they don’t have the time, or have conflicting loyalties, it could impede the garden’s success.

If you choose to outsource the maintenance of your edible garden

Develop a garden maintenance scope of work that includes these basics.

  • Watering – either with irrigation or hand watering.  Keep in mind hand watering takes more time and will cost you more.
  • If irrigation, make sure your gardener understands how to program and troubleshoot problems.
  • Pruning – excess foilage helps direct their growth, let in light and helps protect from disease.  If they become overgrown it is harder to access air and nutrients. 
  • Thinning -this is important so that each plant has sufficient space to grow and mature.
  • Weeding
  • Fertilizing – type of fertilizer and frequency will depend on the plants.
  • Monitor for pests.  One of the most importanta components of managing pests – is monitoring.
  • Composting. As a top dressing. This will keep the soil healthy.

Do

  • Interview contenders
  • Obtain references
  • Set and adhere to timelines for making your decision and for a start date.

How to grow the edibles pictured above

Right plant, right place, soil and water

It’s a new association in Oakland.  We recently planted strawberries, marigolds, artichokes, parsley, cilantro, and lettuces.
Below is a snapshot of how to grow them.

Strawberries

When to plant  depends on the variety.  Some can be planted in February through early spring.
Where to plant  They thrive in a California coastal climate
Light full sun.
Soil that drains well and they prefer acidic soil, but will grow in others.
Fertilization Once a week
Water   during fruit-bearing season water 2 to 4 days a week
Notes They are happier when planted in the ground rather than containers.

2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Vegetable Garden is Successful
Artichokes

When to plant  Late winter or early spring
Where to plant  They like cool coastal climate.   In a hot dry area you can plant them in partial shade.

Light  4-6 hours of sun daily
Soil  Loose fertile soil with organic matter added
Fertilization 
Monthly nitrogen fertilizer during spring and summer

Water  Regular deep watering
Notes 
Can be grown from seeds or starts from a nursery; can be damaged by frequent hard frosts

2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Vegetable Garden is Successful
Parsley

When to plant  Early spring or late fall.
Where to plant near your kitchen.

Light  6 hours of sun daily.
Soil  Any kind, but must drain well.
Fertilization
Container plants will need more frequent fertilizing.

Water  Keep soil evenly moist.
Notes 
Harder to grow by seed.  Best to purchase starts from a nursery; they are a biennial
.

2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Vegetable Garden is Successful
Lettuce

When to plant  Depends in the type. Early spring or fall, but can be grown year-round.  Best grown by transplants.
Light  6 hours of sun daily.
Soil  Loose soil that drains well.
Fertilization 
Adequate nitrogen.  Adding compost will improve growing conditions.

Water  Regular watering.
Notes 
Harvest in the morning.  It will be crisper.

2 Reasons this Urban Multifamily Community Vegetable Garden is Successful

It’s About Having a Successful Vegetable Garden

If your apartment or homeowner’s association is in an urban part of the San Francisco Bay area, you may choose to have residents take on the care of your edible garden. It may be a big success and enhance the social interaction between residents.  Or, your multifamily community may opt to have an independent contractor maintain your garden for reasons discussed above. Whatever you do, let us know about your experiences.  

Our Sources

Primary Landscape Trends for 2019

We notice some landscape trends return year after year.  They remain on the list because their popularity is still soaring.  Like edible and community gardens. These two are big – and encouraging. 

More people are embracing plants – indoors and out.  Millennials are spending a lot of money on plants. And, Generation Z – loves them!  Gardens that save water, benefit the environment, are low maintenance and –  gardens that heal and feed.  They are everywhere.  Not just in the west. 

Healing Gardens

More hospitals and institutions are incorporating gardens.  Since we know that gardens can heal the mind and,the body, Horticultural therapy is a increasingly recognized profession. 

How plants help in institutional settings.

  • Alzheimers and dementia patients
  • Patients with mental illness
  • Improves hormonal balance
  • Decreases violence by 19%

Interior Plants are More Popular Than Ever

From Garden Media’s annual report.
Pinterest searches for indoor plants are up 90 percent. National Gardening Association found that 30 percent of all households bought at least one hourplant last year.  Millennials are driving this trend – they represent 31 percent of houseplant sales.

People who spend a lot of time indoors behind a screen are craving nature.  Bringing the outdoors in – is a no-brainer. One organization in New Zealand has identified how apartment dwellers are using plants in their homes. Putting “masses of indoor plants on modular shelves.” Aranged for easy maintenance. At home they are not using living walls – too high maintenance.

A partial list of indoor plants with the best air cleaning attributes (according to NASA)*

  • Boston Fern
  • Bamboo Palm
  • Agloenema
  • Sansevieria
  • Ficus Benjamina
  • Anthuriums
  • Spathiphyllum
  • Dracaenas (Marginata and Massangeana)
  • Pothos

See our website for photos of the above plants and others we use in our service.

*Bill Wolverton, former NASA research scientist who conducted the 1989 plant study favors golden pothos.  He suggests placing two good sized plants per 100 feet of interior space.  He reminds us that they make people feel happier, reduce stress, improve mood and energy levels.

Green Building - Emeryville California

Office Building Trends

Sustainable design and bringing nature inside was once a new trend.  Now these concepts are the standard and essential for attracting talent.

It’s called “Biophilic design”. Designers also integrate views, natural lighting and climate to mirror the outdoor environment.

One study by Harvard University found that –
In a strategically designed green office, employees had on average 61% higher cognitive function
than their non-green counterparts.

Big picture, sustainable buildings are just one aspect of what is called – healthy buildings.   Spaces are being designed with the employees’ well being in mind. 
One example is relaxation or quiet spaces, featuring soft and comfortable seating; mini fridges. 

Community Gardens

The Trust for Public Land says this trend has grown 44% since 2012. 22% since last year.  Most community gardens grow edible plants.  The biggest way they make a difference is by providing low cost healthy food for underserved communities.  It’s hard to envision living in an area without a major grocery store – independent or chain.  But, that is a reality in Richmond. 

Verde Elementary is a small school at the end of a quiet street in Richmond. It has one of the oldest organic school gardens in California. Urban tilth managed it for eight years. It is a food source for the students and the North Richmond community.  The program includes teaching students about health and nutrition plus, it gives them the experience of tending a garden.

There are many community gardens throughout the bay area.  Below is a partial list.

Other East Bay community gardens

El Cerrito has Pacific Oaks Community Garden

Hercules Sustainable Community Garden

Rodgers Ranch Community Garden – Pleasant Hill.  This garden rents different sized spaces for an annual fee.

San Francisco community gardens

Potrero Hill Community Gardens

TNDC Tenderloin People’s Garden

Please Touch Community Garden

Climate Resilient Gardens – where nature and technology merge

As the conversation about climate change goes mainstream, a broader swath of the population are realizing they can help make a difference – in their own gardening practices.

The term resilience – is being used by Gensler (architecture and design firm).  It’s in the context of – urban centers and their potential to become part of the solution.   Now individuals are taking more responsibility by embracing gardens that enhance biodiversity. 

Wildlife Gardens

Gardens are trending toward a less manicured look in favor of a more natural appearance. 
Natives
are more popular. 
Adding plants that attract butterflies and other pollinators.
Low maintenancea gardens.
Edible gardens have become wildly popular.

And, water.  We can no longer take it for granted.  Drought tolerant plants are the standard. 

Garden Technology

Irrigation technology, including weather-based irrigation timers, (controllers) has exploded in popularity.  This relieves the busy homeowner from having to remember to water.  And, it is more effective.  We list the names of SF Bay area water districts offering rebates for some of these products.
Soil moisture sensors help by measuring the amount of moisture in soil.
Plant ID/Gardening apps are proliferating.  However, I have yet to find a good one.

Brand new!
Robotic weeders.  Solar powered.  It can weed whack for up to three hours.  (This is all we know at this time).
Robotic pollinators.  They are being tested.  Results show they have been successful in flowers.