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Survival of the fittest: thinning your crops for a robust harvest

October 30th, 2009

It has been about two weeks now since Arlene has planted various seeds in the garden, and it’s time to begin thinning the plants. Thinning is important because it prevents plants from competing for nutrients and allows the plants that remain to grow more vigorously. It also helps to improve plant health by allowing more air circulation which helps prevent fungal diseases. Why even sow the seeds so close together? Read our previous post about planting seeds; Arlene sows many seeds in each line to ensure lots of germination.

All the same, pulling those new sprouts out of the earth can be sad! In some cases, such as with the mizuna shown here, the small plants can be eaten, so you aren’t just thinning, but harvesting too! And in the long run, however wasteful it may seem, thinning is important for the overall health of the mature plants. Interested in learning more about the importance of thinning? Check out Jane Tunks’ article from the San Francisco chronicle. She talks about her own experiences with this important gardening step, and also has more detailed instructions.

So how does one go about thinning?

Step One
Know when to begin to thin. You don’t want to thin your plants when you see the first leaves sprouting; these leaves are called cotyledons and are actually part of the plant embryo. Wait until the second set of leaves sprout; these are referred to as the “true leaves.” In the case of the radishes, shown here, the cotyledons sprouted after about five days, and the true leaves emerged about 2 weeks after that. Radishes grow very quickly, however, so the times may vary depending on the type of plant. On this radish plant, shown to the right, you can see the smaller cotyledon leaves toward the base of the plant, and the larger true leaves sprouting higher.

Step Two
Once you recognize the true leaves, go through and pull out plants by hand; a little research online can tell you how much space should be left between plants depending on the variety, and this space is usually dictated by the size of the mature plant. Here is another useful article that goes into more detail about what plants should be thinned and by how much.

Step Three
After you’ve finished thinning, go back through the clumps of plants again, as is shown here. Arlene demonstrates how she finds the strongest looking plant, and removes the rest around it.

Step Four
After that, go back and replace soil around the base of the plant in case the plant was disturbed during the thinning process.

So next time you are looking at your full and lush row of newly-sprouted veggies, don’t despair! Thinning is critical for plant health and productivity, and chances are if you have an edible garden, you can eat the plants too!


Harvest Sage and Serve it on Thanksgiving!

October 29th, 2009

Come to the next UC Davis Good Life Garden herb harvest on Thursday, November 5 from 9:30 AM-2 PM and pick some sage that you will be able to dry and showcase by Thanksgiving!

Here is a great article from explaining the process.


Join Ed & Arlene for another FREE HERB HARVEST!

October 26th, 2009

Join us at the Good Life Garden Thursday, November 5, anytime between 9:30AM and 2PM to harvest any type of herb we have growing in the garden including lavender, sage, thyme, chives, and mint!

If you are interested, please RSVP to so we know how many people will be attending. Directions to the garden can be found here.

The harvest is free to attend; we just need you to bring the following items:

  • scissors or pruning shears
  • a bag to hold your herbs
  • wet paper towels to put in the bag with the herbs (if you don’t have a refrigerator to keep them in for the day)


Our gardener Arlene will be there all day to answer your questions about the different herbs and the harvesting process, as well as to direct you to the correct plants. We ask that no one remove entire plants or remove more than half of the leaves or flowers from any particular plant.


Chive Talkin’–How to divide and transplant this perennial favorite

October 8th, 2009

Here Arlene talks about prepping your chives for transplant to other areas of your garden. Chives are a perennial herb. When they get a little too big you can divide them and replant them–it’s a two for one deal! You’ll be sure to always have a supply, or you can give some to your family, friends or neighbors. These tips don’t apply to chives only. This technique can be replicated on many different types of perennials.
Once the large clump of chives has been removed. The next step is to divide it. In this video Arlene talks about how she completes this step and the type of tool that she uses. First of all she looks for a natural break in the plant, then she uses a garden saw to separate the two areas.
Now that you have your chives separated, you can transplant them to another area of your garden or into someone else’s yard! In this video Arlene goes over the steps necessary to prepare the soil for the transplants by first, digging the hole and getting the soil nice and moist.
Fear not if your transplants look as if they have seen better days in the weeks ahead. They are okay, but they are in recovery mode because they have had an operation. As Arlene says, “When you get home from an operation you don’t look so good, but you bounce back!” That is what will happen in a month or so after your transplants have had time to adjust.


Planting Carrot Seeds in the Winter Demonstration Bed

October 6th, 2009

Here is a video of showing Arlene’s techniques for planting seeds in the garden.

Step 1
Make sure your soil is damp. Sprinkle it for a minute or two before getting to work.

Step 2
Lightly “draw” a line(s) in the soil where you want your seeds to go. We use a soil knife which is pretty cool do draw out the lines. Some people call it a weed knife because if the handy serrated edge. No matter what you call it, it works, so it is no wonder it comes from a line of instruments called, “Tools That Work.”

Step 3
Lay down your seeds in the lines, leaving just enough room for a bit of soil on top. The rule is that each seed should only be covered by soil at 2-3 times the seed’s size. For example, if your seed is 2 mm wide, cover it with about 4 mm of soil. Arlene sows many seeds in each line to ensure lots of germination, then will go back and thin the lines when she can see which seedlings are the strongest.

Step 4
Cover your seeds with soil using Arlene’s light “scrunching” or scratching technique. See Step 3 for more information on how much soil with which you should cover your seeds.

Step 5
Lightly water the area where seeds were sown again and be sure that it doesn’t dry out. Dried out seeds will not germinate, but seeds in overly wet soil have a hard time germinating too! It’s a fine line, so be careful and have fun!


Gardening Along with Arlene: Amending Your Soil

October 2nd, 2009


Before you plant, it’s important to amend your soil in order restore nutrients that may be depleted after your summer crops were harvested. Soil quality can vary a great from yard to yard. If you believe your soil may be the root of an underlying problem, you may want to consider getting your soil tested by your county agricultural cooperative extension. That is what we’ve done. You can read more the amendments we employ in the garden and why here. (This is a large .pdf document because there are four short videos embedded in it. You can also view the videos on our Facebook Fan page or below. If you aren’t already a fan you can become one here for free!)

Long story short, the soil in our garden requires a bit more amending than most. Overall, for the average organic garden, we recommend, and we also will add gypsum (calcium sulfate), 3-4-3 dried chicken manure pellets, and compost. For a garden that is about 100 square feet, sprinkle on about 1 coffee can full of gypsum, and another 5 coffee cans full of dried chicken manure pellets; then layer on about an inch of compost. Work it into the soil by using a spading fork and hula hoe. Last, use a bow head rake to smooth and level the area.