Budding and seasoned green thumbs gathered inside Huntington Beach's Lake Park Clubhouse on October 16 for a special cool-season gardening presentation by HB Community Garden’s own Master Gardener Gerry Button. Marking the garden’s first gathering since its summer hiatus, the educational event schooled attendees in gardening tips offered by Button, the audience and community garden President Annette Parsons.
With a BS in agricultural science and 30 years of gardening under his belt, Button has amassed a wealth of first-hand knowledge on organic gardening. He’s been manning his own backyard organic garden for the past 20 to 30 years, and nowadays he can also be found perfecting demonstration garden plots A1 and A2 at the community garden. Button went above and beyond in his delivery, preparing a detailed PowerPoint presentation on everything from organic pest control and fertilizers, ideal veggies and herbs to grow during the cooler months of October through April as well as lesser-known vegetables to experiment with in the garden and kitchen.
One of the main roles of a master gardener is to serve as the bridge between science and the public. Button is certainly fulfilling this task, and here are ten of his tips we took home.
1) Perfect Cool-Season Temps
Cool-season crops flourish in temperatures ranging between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Lucky for HB, temperatures range from about 49 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit from October through April.
2) Increased Food Value Of Cool-Season Vegetables
A benefit of cool-season gardening, aside from its high productivity and lower pest issues, is the increased food value per pound and per square foot over warm-season crops. This is thanks to us eating vegetative parts. Button breaks down cool-season vegetables into four plant parts: root (carrot, radish, beet, turnip, parsnip); stem (white potato, asparagus); leaf (lettuce, spinach, cabbage, green onion, celery); and immature flower part (broccoli, cauliflower, globe artichoke). Plus, we can eat various parts of said veggies. Ever sauté your beet greens in a little coconut oil? It’s delicious, nutritious and waste-free. One woman seated near us recommended adding cauliflower leaves to lasagna recipes.
3) Six Cool-Season Vegetable Families
Button also laid out the six major families of cool season veggies: Lily Family (onion, garlic, chive, leek); Goosefoot Family (chard, beet); Cabbage Family (broccoli, caulifower, brussels sprout, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, kale, mustard greens, kohlrabi, turnip, rutabaga, radish); Sunflower Family (lettuce, endive, globe artichoke); Carrot Family (carrot, celery, parsley, celeriac, fennel, parsnip, cilantro, dill); and Pea Family (pea, fava bean).
4) Compost, Compost, Compost
"Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy garden," advises Button. He recommends working an abundance of organic compost and natural fertilizers into your soil. When asked how much compost he uses in his home garden, he replied, "As much as I can get my hands on."
5) Mulch Your Heart Out
Mulch is a garden’s BFF. It helps conserve water, suppresses weeds and also feeds the soil.
6) Experiment With Planting Techniques
Button also listed four planting techniques to help maximize garden production. Succession Planting: sowing seed of a crop at 1 to 2 week intervals (ex. lettuce, radishes, beets, and turnips); Companion Planting: growing 2 crops at the same time in the same space (ex. radishes with carrots); Intercropping: planting early-maturing crops between rows of late-maturing crops (ex. growing radishes, green onions, spinach, or leaf lettuce between rows of cabbage); and Wide Rows: broadcast in a bed 1 to 3 feet wide and thin (and eat) to obtain proper spacing (ex. lettuce or beets). Cabbage and broccoli can be planted so that leaves touch each other at about ¾ maturity.
7) Rotate Crops
Rotating crops around your garden is a best practice, as is planting veggies of the same family together.
8) How To Overcome Your Hatred Of Brussels Sprouts
A new fan of the notoriously disdained vegetable, Button prefers to pick his leafy greens when they're young, tender and yield less flavor. Another picking tip: The smaller the radish, the milder the spice.
9) Organic Pest Control
Button horrified us with several slides of produce pests, like the bagrada bug, aphids, imported cabbageworm and cutworm. Monitoring your garden and controlling pest problems early are both keys to happy gardens and gardeners. Some issues, like a few aphids invading your kale, can be solved with a simple hose-down. (But go easy on water use, people. Conservation is also key.) More devastating infestations may require products—which can also be used for prevention. Button recommends the following organic products for pests and diseases: Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), such as Thuricide, to combat caterpillars; Neem, which acts as an insecticide, fungicide and miticide; sulfur as a fungicide; iron phosphate, like Sluggo, for snails and slugs; and pyrethrins, a natural insecticide from pyrethrin daisies. One gardener in the audience swears by this caterpillar deterrent: Tag leaves with white chip clips. The insects will mistake the clips for moths and avoid the plant. Button also recommends the University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources' statewide integrated pest management program website as an excellent resource. An early discussion before Button's presentation highlighted a few ways to deal with bigger pests, like squirrels, rabbits, gophers and birds: set up bird netting around the garden; sprinkle cayenne pepper or tobacco on and around the garden; use Black Leaf 40, a nicotine-based insecticide; and plant paperwhite bulbs around the perimeter.
10) Ask Questions
Button is one of four master gardeners at the community garden, all of whom would be happy to talk horticulture. The remaining trio includes Chuck Nichols, Virginia Thompson and Pam Chapman. Aside from the fantastic resource quad right here in HB, the University of California Master Gardeners of Orange County email (email@example.com) and voicemail (714-708-1646) hotlines exist for anyone with a garden-related query. Master gardeners research all inquiries and typically respond within days.
Happy clean eating, HB!