There is always something going on in the garden!

There is always something going on in the garden!

It pays to keep your eyes open when you spend time in the garden! I am never quite sure what I will find. It pleases me to think of the mini ecosystem the garden is supporting.

California stick insect

California stick insect

I came across this stick insect in the front yard while doing some clean up. It’s a variety of walking stick, a California Timemas. They usually live in trees and shrubs in the chapparal or at the foothills of mountains. I don’t know what it was doing in Oakland! This is the first time I have seen one here. Global warming?

Caterpillar of Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Caterpillar of Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Black Swallowtail catterpillar - about 2 inches long

Black Swallowtail catterpillar – about 2 inches long

While cutting parsley I spied this lovely caterpillar. Looking it up on the web I found it is the caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes). In the past it was commonly referred to as the Parsnip Swallowtail as their favorite food plants belong to the Umbelliferae, or Carrot family. They like parsley and fennel, both of which are abundant in my garden. The adult butterfly must have visited my butterfly bush and decided the nearby parsley was a good place to lay its eggs. After photographing and identifying it, I returned it to the parsley. There is plenty to share.


Butterfly Bush


Black Swallowtail Butterfly. Photo by Peter Miller.

You can read more about them at:

And, asparagus growing in with the chard?! In October! This one must have seeded itself from the asparagus bed which is a good 50 feet away.


10 Kitchen basics to grow in pots

10 Kitchen basics to grow in pots

If you have a deck or terrace with some sun, you can grow the following 10 herbs and vegetables. Having a pot of these herbs near your kitchen will encourage you to use them regularly. The fresh ones are infinitely better than the dried.

Many of them are actually easier to grow in containers. The first four are Mediterranean plants often found growing wild beside a road or path in the warmer parts of Europe. They will grow without any attention on your part other than a slug of water every now and then. In fact, withholding water concentrates the oils and makes them more flavorful.

The mint is best grown in a container; given a chance it will take over your garden.


  1. Thyme
  2. Rosemary
  3. Sage
  4. Oregano
  5. Mint
  6. Parsley – will need to be periodically replanted, not too often if you keep it sniped
Thyme and mint

Thyme and mint


  1. Arugula
  2. Salad greens
  3. Radishes
  4. Scallions or chives

Yes, you can grow arugula and other salad greens in pots. They will need regular water to taste their best. Without it they will wilt, become bitter and generally unappealing. If you have to be away for a period of time, I have some ideas that will help keep your garden healthy until you return. Look for another post coming soon.

Having lettuce near your kitchen will encourage you to snip the leaves for wonderful salads. You can either pinch off the outer leaves when they are of the size you want, or cut the entire plant back about an inch above the soil line. The plant will come back for a second or even third time, it’s called cut-and-come-again. The salads from these greens are infinitely better than those from even the finest grocery store. Plus, you can grow exactly the type of lettuce you want. Those commercial mesclun mixes always have too many spinach leaves for my taste. Seed catalogs are full of beautiful lettuces and lettuce mixes. Cooks Garden is famous for their mesclun; take a peak at the varieties available in their on-line catalog.

Radishes are easy to grow, too easy! I find that I forget about them unless they are front and center. My first gardening failure was in my grandparent’s garden when I was 9. I was excited when my grandfather gave me some radish seeds to plant. However, I immediately forgot about them until they were overgrown, woody, and way too hot to eat. Believe me I’ve had lots of failures since! So, put them in a container where you can watch them every time you pass by and pull them up when ready. In France radishes are a favorite starter with a crisp baguette, unsalted butter, and flaked sea salt on the side. I particularly like the French breakfast variety.

Scallions or chives will grow well in a pot. Having them close to the kitchen will encourage you to snip a bit to use with eggs, or salads, or as a fancy garnish. You can grow chives from a transplant, or from seeds. Your plant may die back in the winter but will come back in the spring. The flowers, pulled apart, are beautiful added to a salad. Scallions grow from seed, or even easier, a bunch from the grocery store. Put a bunch, with the rubber band still around them, into a glass with about an inch of water. Change the water every day or two. Once you see the roots growing and new greens on the top, you can plant them into soil. Simply snip off the green portion as needed or pull one up.

Parsley and basil

Parsley and basil

If you have herbs planted further away from the kitchen, cut a few sprigs while you are out in the garden.  Put them close by in a glass of water (change it every day). If you are sure you won’t forget them (I would), you can cover the glass or jar with a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator. I like to see them and they add a really nice herby scent to the kitchen, much better than those fancy infusers. I often have glasses of parsley, basil (in season), oregano, and rosemary on my kitchen table; ready to use when I feel creative.

October gardening chores

Garden Journal – end of September and October 2014 

Fall is my favorite season. I love the shift to stronger flavored heartier foods, braises, and roasted vegetables. The bright colors of autumn, the crisp days, and colder nights that call for thick quilts and duvets make me happy. This year I will love the rain, every drop of it. In Northern California we have Indian summer and the first week of October often has the warmest weather of the year. This year was no exception with temperatures into the high 80’s. Nevertheless, I feel and smell fall in the air.

It is time to plant my fall garden, but some of my summer veggies are still hanging in there and taking up garden space.

This past week I pulled out the cucumbers, pole beans and half the tomato plants to make way for my cauliflower, broccoli, chard and beet transplants (seeded on August 7). The raised bed intended for peas is still producing tomatoes; they have been so delicious this year that I can’t bear to tear out the plants. I’ll need to figure out what to do with the remaining green ones but maybe some of the Sungold cherries will ripen in time. I think I can wait another week or two and besides, my green bins for the city street side composting are full. The cucumbers and summer squash had powdery mildew and couldn’t go into my own household compost bins. The tomatoes went into the green bin as well. Composting tomatoes is not recommended. Both the plants and fruit are prone to carry disease, which can get into your soil and infect next year’s plants. (This is also why it is not recommended to plant tomatoes in the same place consecutive years.) Lastly the seeds are quite resistant to even a hot compost bin and can remain viable for years. I’ve spent a lot of time picking tomato seedlings out of the garden.

General garden chores in October:

  • Pull out any diseased or finished plants and vegetables
  • Refresh garden beds with aged compost and manure
  • Mulch paths in the garden in preparation for winter wet weather and mud
  • Seed winter and spring vegetables:
    • Peas, all kinds including those intended for ornamental flowers
    • Carrots
    • Radishes
    • Lettuce
    • Arugula
    • Cilantro
  • Put out transplants of:
    • Cauliflower
    • Broccoli
    • Chard
    •  Kale
    •  Beets
    •  Parsley