ResourcesThe books, documents, videos, charts, handbooks, websites, forums, etc. -- that I find myself referring to over and over again when I have questions about food gardening in Southern California.
Which vegetables to plant when:
Even though I refer to my notes from past seasons for precise planting times, for a glance at which vegetables I can plant at any given time I always go to this guide. Vince is a retired farm advisor for San Diego County with the University of California Cooperative Extension and he supervised my Master Gardener training class. He has been growing vegetables in Southern California for longer than I’ve been alive. The information is general but thoroughly reliable.
Deciduous fruit trees
The Home Orchard, published by the University of California (this is an Amazon link, but your local library might have it too — I borrowed this book from the library many times before I bought my own copy)
One of the largest growers of deciduous fruit trees in the United States, Dave Wilson Nursery is located in California’s Central Valley and they also maintain a website with a treasure trove of information.
I often refer to their Fruit Tree Harvest Chart, which is an excellent way to help choose varieties to plant so that you’ll get fruit ripening at different times throughout the year.
I also often refer to their YouTube videos on everything from planting to pruning to irrigation to behind-the-scenes stuff like how they harvest and ship their bareroot trees.
Chuck Ingels, a University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, presents on growing deciduous fruit trees to a group of Master Gardeners in this video called “The Home Orchard Part 1.” The pruning section starts at 36 minutes. This video is great because Ingels explains things clearly, shows many photos that illustrate his points, and relates his own experiences in his own yard. He talks about the “fruit bush” style just after 52 minutes. Also, continue into “The Home Orchard Part 2.”
Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery prunes fruit trees plus gives some of his reasoning in this video titled “Winter Pruning.” Perhaps the best thing about this video is that you can watch Spellman make the cuts; then you can go out to your tree and imitate if you like. I’m sure you’ll find it useful to watch some of the many other videos Spellman has done on pruning too.
Fruit Trees: Training and Pruning Deciduous Trees by Chuck Ingels (again), Pam Geisel, and Carolyn Unruh. The information is dense, but it’s all there, and it’s freely available as a pdf. It’s kind of like the condensed version of the book The Home Orchard.
While there isn’t a great single resource for growing avocados at home, the best of what’s available is this handbook for commercial growers. It is edited by Gary Bender, former farm advisor in San Diego County, who also taught my Master Gardener training class on avocados. The handbook is split into two “books.” Book 1 discusses avocado history, botany, variety selection and planting. Book 2 discusses irrigation, diseases and pruning.
Written by some of the most experienced people in the world and including principles and techniques specific to California conditions, this resource has all of the information one needs to get started down the road of grafting avocados.
Harvest times of avocado varieties:
“Eating Seasons of My Avocados” is a chart that I made a while back and still refer to because it aggregates information from multiple experts.
“Selected Avocado Varieties” is a chart made by Julie Frink, who for many years has observed the many varieties that are grown at the University of California’s South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine in Orange County.
Everything about avocados:
“The free, virtual library of avocado knowledge,” it calls itself. I have spent many evenings getting lost in this online library, to my wife’s bewilderment. I have read every issue of the California Avocado Society’s Yearbooks there, I have read all of its Forum discussions, etc. If you have an avocado question, the answer can be found somewhere on avocadosource, no doubt.
Brad Lancaster’s two books, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volumes 1 and 2, are both rich with experience and information and diagrams and photographs. Volume 1 is an overview of principles and methods for “welcoming rain into your life.” Volume 2 has the subtitle of “Water-Harvesting Earthworks,” by which is meant things like ditches for water to pool in, rock dams across gullies, and half-moon shaped berms to prevent runoff. If I had to choose only one, I’d go with Volume 1. While Lancaster lives in Tuscon, Arizona, where rain falls in the summer, we in dry-summer Southern California can still apply much from these books with only minor adjustments.
Art Ludwig has been practicing what he preaches in Southern California for decades, and his book Create an Oasis with Greywater can help you skip over common errors in attempting to reuse household water in your yard. The information in the book is grounded in Ludwig’s personal experience and not, say, the recommendations of academics or bureaucrats. The text is permeated with helpful numbers, drawings, and real-life examples. Perhaps the title is the only part of the book that I’m not satisfied with, as the only way you’re going to use graywater to create an oasis — like the one shown on the book’s cover — is if you turn on your faucets and use a lot of water from your district in the first place (and therefore pay for all that district water). Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree with this quotation from the book: “Lifestyle change is far and away the best way to conserve resources . . . If you can choose between reducing and reusing, reducing is the priority.” In a sense, it undermines the thesis of his book and yet he’s honest and willing to say it.
Davis Garden Show
How can the un-local Davis Garden Show be the best one for Southern California? It’s partly that the radio show/podcast is that good, and it’s partly that co-host Don Shor grew up in La Jolla and knows about growing plants here better than we do and kindly remembers to make side notes about how gardening works in our slightly drier and milder neck of the woods.
The Davis Garden Show broadcasts every Thursday at noon, when Shor is usually joined by co-host Lois Richter. You can listen to the show live from the KDRT website, but I always stream or download the podcasts on my computer or phone, which you can do from here or here.
Farmer to Farmer Podcast
Gardeners and farmers are kin, and I’ve found myself listening incessantly to this podcast where one farmer, Chris Blanchard, interviews other farmers. The Farmer to Farmer podcast has given this gardener wheelbarrows of food for thought.
Some of my favorite episodes are the ones with:
Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm, from whom I gained a deeper appreciation for soil,
Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Family Farm, from whom I learned a whole new universe worth of insight on potatoes,
Bob Cannard, who challenged me to reassess my relationship with weeds,
and Karl Hammer of Vermont Compost Company, who would be entertaining enough to listen to even if I didn’t care about compost. But maybe the most fascinating thing I heard in the interview was that he raises hundreds of laying hens that live solely off of his mountains of compost.