Starting a food-focused business has never been easier

Do you love to bake? Do you enjoy canning fruits and vegetables, or house a beehive in your backyard? Perhaps you’ve wondered if you could sell something you enjoy making and actually turn a profit. Like many others, you may find the idea of sharing your home-made goods with a broader community very appealing, but whether your cakes receive rave reviews from friends, or you love making jams and jellies, the thought of starting a small business can seem daunting. Many of us love the idea in theory, but simply haven’t the foggiest idea where to begin. Even a space at the local farmer’s market doesn’t come cheap. Thanks to new online platforms like Zukeeni, you can turn your passion into real money.

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 12.32.46 PMYou might be surprised to learn that over the past three years, 43 states have changed their laws making it easier for artisanal producers to sell food out of their homes by decreasing the regulatory burden. These changes to the Cottage Food Operator (CFO) Industry allow budding entrepreneurs to test their products in local markets before investing significant dollars in their idea or product. Previously, in order to produce a non-hazardous product in your home and sell it in the community, most states required health inspections and cost-prohibitive licensing fees. Today, numerous foods fall under the approved list for CFOs, including most baked goods, such as cakes, pies, cookies and pastries, candies, nonperishable foods, such as nuts and dried fruits, honey, teas, mustards and vinegars, cereals, trail mixes and salts to name some. What’s more, many county and city health departments are changing their policies in response to recent state-wide legislation defining and regulating “community food producers,” a category that includes many community gardens, backyard gardens and small urban farms.

In some states, such as California, it’s now as easy as registering online and paying a nominal fee for a Class A or B license. In most jurisdictions, you do not need home inspections, lists of production space and equipment or health code approvals.

Using a community-based platform like Zukeeni, and with a lot of passion and a little determination, anyone can easily test his/her product(s) in the local community, and get a chance to build a real business. Zukeeni is an online platform aimed at creating a marketplace for local homegrown produce and homemade goods. Enabling growers and makers to sell or trade their goods will help strengthen local communities, help budding entrepreneurs get their products to market and help reduce food waste.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 11.03.46 PMSharon Girdlestone, founder and owner of My Sustainable Table in Orinda, Calif. grew her business organically—almost by chance. Aside from making up dishes just to see how they would turn out, Sharon says she had very little cooking experience and absolutely no experience working as a chef. But all that changed soon after the birth of her son, when she began to notice he had behavioral problems. According to Sharon, “On his third birthday, I made a lovely organic cake, and put green fondant all over it. It was supposed to be a dinosaur, and was a beautiful green.” However, after the cake had been served and devoured, Sharon noticed an immediate behavior change in her son, as well as in some of the other children. Out went anything with artificial coloring or preservatives, and with no specific diagnosis offered, Sharon started started preparing all of her family’s meals from scratch using local, organic ingredients.

Ironically, despite the “crazy acting” kids, the birthday cake Sharon served that day received rave reviews. Friends at the party told other friends about Sharon’s cake making abilities, someone put it on social media, and soon after she started selling her organic cakes using a CFO license. Approximately two years after her cake business had taken off, customers started asking her to make healthy meals for them.

Today, Sharon sells her meals into Grub Market and Real Foods stores throughout the Bay Area. And while she now offers complete meals, her cake business, known as Lovely Little Cakes Bakery, continues to thrive. In addition to grocery stores, Sharon sells some of her soups, cakes and specialty products, such as granola and sauerkraut, on the Zukeeni site.

Sharon says her biggest obstacle to growing her business lies with her children. Both of her children are still in elementary school, and starting or managing a business while raising young children can make everyday challenges that much harder. She makes a point of ensuring that when she’s done for the day, she’s really done, and can focus 100% on her children.Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 12.38.14 PM

When asked what advice she would give to prospective makers and sellers, Sharon says, “Take the time to thoroughly research your city’s or county’s health department rules.” (While she only needs a CFO license to make cakes out of her home kitchen, the meals she prepares daily for stores and catering require her to use a commercial kitchen under a more complex license. “You don’t want to mess with people’s health, and you never know when a health department official might show up,” she adds. According to Sharon, her regular thoughts while she’s working include, “How long can that dish sit there?” or “Does that need to go into the fridge soon?”

What other advice does Sharon offer? “Make sure it’s fun!” she says.

So if you have passion for food, and have extra produce from your fruit trees or garden, or remember giving away canned goods to your neighbors last year because your pantry was overflowing, or keep getting asked by friends to make that special dessert, consider how much easier starting a business just got.

It’s all about the dirt


Ask yourself: Why do we have gardens? What do we grow fruits and vegetables for? Food. Nutrition and health. And what’s the key to growing healthy food?

It’s simple: it’s all about the dirt.

That’s right. Dirt’s not just the yucky muddy mess that kids track into the house. The dirt in your backyard lays the foundation for nutritious and strong plants. Literally.

So if you’re hoping for a bountiful spring garden this year (and who isn’t?), now’s the time to start prepping your soil. And the best way to get your soil in shape is with re-mineralization. Our choice: Andesite Mineral Complex. (15% off just for you!)


sprouts in gardenMinerals are crucial to the human body. Like, oxygen and H2O-status crucial. They’re present in virtually all our body’s cells and help build new tissues, balance pH levels, release energy from food, and regulate a ton of other processes. But while we need 45-60 different minerals for optimal health, we only get 8 minerals on average from most of the food we consume today – including fruits and vegetables. AKA we’re far from our best selves. So we should change that.


Nature has been re-mineralizing the earth’s soil since the beginning of time: volcanic eruptions scattered valuable minerals from deep within the earth, while volcanowind, rainfall and rivers helped redistribute them around the globe. Glaciers played a major role too, pulverizing rock and blending it into the earth’s soil. During this time millions of years ago, soils contained 80-100 minerals.

But today, our soils contain no more than 16-20. Think: centuries of over-farming and erosion. And without enough minerals, just like the human body, plants become weaker: they require more water yet produce less, contain lower nutrient levels, and are more susceptible to stress, pests, and disease.


Okay, that’s the bad news. The good news? If you’re growing your own food, you can be the change by re-mineralizing your soil.

Like we mentioned, we’re using Andesite Mineral Complex™ in our own gardens – and really, the difference is huge. Many growers focus solely N, P & K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium), which are important, but there are 90+ other natural mineral elements that are key to plant and soil health. Mineral complexes like Andesite’s give you cobalt, sulfur, copper, manganese, boron, carbon, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium, zinc, silica, iron, and more.

If you’re ready to re-mineralize, order your Andesite Mineral Complex here at the 15% discount until the 31st of March!

Happy growing.


Here’s a full list of benefits that re-mineralization offers your garden:

  • Provides a slow, natural release of elements and trace minerals
  • Improves nutrient uptake of plants
  • Increases yields
  • Produces more nutrient-dense fruits & vegetables
  • Enhances flavor in fruits & vegetables
  • Encourages earthworm and microbial activity in soils
  • Improves brix (sugar content) levels in plants
  • Improves resistance to insects, disease, frost and drought
  • Improves Cation Exchange Rates in soils
  • Helps balance soil pH levels 

All About Heirlooms

What are heirlooms?

In the general sense of the term, we all know what an heirloom is: an item passed down from generation to generation. An ornate wooden trunk that belonged to your great great grandfather during the Civil War. A hand-carved violin from the Victorian Age. They have a quality too special to be forgotten.

IMG_6610It’s the same with heirloom seeds. The “true” definition is open to dispute, but the term usually applies to fruit or vegetable varieties being grown before World War II. This was a time when agriculture was completely localized and decentralized (can you even imagine?), when regional and cultural differences inspired significant plant variety.

Why grow heirlooms?

For those of us who foster sentimental value in our lives, heirloom seeds play to our love of stories and the past. There’s something intrinsically fascinating about the “olden days” — a way of life long gone. Heirlooms allow us to stay connected to our history. You can buy carrot seeds developed by Massachusetts farmers in 1886, or squash varieties from seeds carried in the pockets of immigrants traveling to America in 1820. Crazy, right?

Planting heirloom seeds also protects biodiversity. Instead of relying on one seed, where a disease could wipe out the entire plant variety, heirlooms ensure that our favorite fruits and vegetables live long into the future.

UntitledOkay, sentimental value, biodiversity — that’s all wonderful and true. But there’s another reason to grow heirlooms. One that proves “heirloom” isn’t just a fluffy term tacked onto the tomato salad on a restaurant’s menu.

So what’s the biggest reason? Taste.

You can’t beat the sweet and tangy punch of a red-green heirloom tomato compared to a bland beefsteak from the grocery store. After all, heirlooms were developed at a time when people took great care and pride in growing their food. And because produce wasn’t being shipped thousands of miles, there was no need for a pear to withstand bruises or be a standard size.

Simply put, taste was king.

Finally, heirlooms are open-pollinated, which means you can replant an heirloom seed years later — and get the same result as the first plant that was ever grown. For a how-to on planting seeds, see here.

In the end, heirlooms have an intrinsic quality that can’t be beat. Like the surreal feeling of holding the very same string of pearls your great great great grandmother wore on her wedding day, with an heirloom plant variety, you’re literally eating something straight out of the past.

So will you grow heirlooms?

Stay tuned for a blog about the pros and cons of heirlooms vs. today’s hybrid varieties.

Top 10 (ok, 9) advice for beginner gardeners





Intention is everything and what usually inspires a new gardener. I speak from experience. With that, hindsight is 20/20. Here are the top mistakes a beginning gardener makes, so you don’t have to.

Sweat the small stuff
Don’t plant more than you can manage. Begin small, find out what’s best to grow given your location and time of year. Learn the types of plants you enjoy growing.

gardening-690940_1280Soil is Everything
Prepare the soil you plant in. Learn what makes it “good soil” and begin tending it in early spring. Come the summer, your veggies will show their thanks. For successful soil, check out our informative Know Your Soil article.

Location, location, light
Sunlight and warmth are pivotal to a garden. Notice where your yard get the most sunlight. Some plants require more than others. It’s good to know what your favorites need to thrive, our Spend Time on Site Selection article will help guide you.

Rich, but not too rich
That’s fertilizer, not money. Understand how much fertilizer is the right amount for what you plant. Some require more, some less. The same for manure, it can affect the time of harvest. Unsure? Consult a local Zukeeni.

“Water is the driver of nature.”
Leonardo DaVinci If over watered, a plant’s root system can rot. Once rotted? Let’s not go there. Too little and they begin to wilt. If you see this, add water– a much happier ending! Check out our Watering is Critical article for more specifics.

sprouts in gardenAre you deep or shallow? Don’t judge.
The larger the seed the deeper it should be planted. Most seed packets will advise. The flip side– who knew “shallow” could be good? Again, refer to the packet for a smart, healthy plant.

Give me some space, please
Seeds may look small but planting too many, too close means a grab for soil nutrients, sunlight and “agua”. No bueno. Go slow, see how things grow and then proceed accordingly.

How much is too mulch?
Mulch is good but everything in moderation. Light mulch after planting, good. Too much mulch? Not good. Add it lightly as a plant grows and it will help keep soil moist. It also discourages weeds, speaking of…

Weeds can be stingy
Talk about hoarding space, weeds grow fast and furious. Pull as soon as you see them. The longer neglected the more roots they grow and try to own your garden. Oh no, yank them quick and let your veggies dominate– you’ll taste their victory!

Zukeeni member advice: (Marin farmer) Pick something easy to start with. I would pick a squash or check out the plant selection and sort by winter months in your region… Your kids will love it.

Zukeeni member advice: (Mintyhorse 746) Pick things easy to grow, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers. Nothing that takes a lot of maintenance. Also, pick things your kids eat, care for and can help plant.

Top 10 Easiest Varieties to Grow by Season

When starting a garden, the options are many. Where to begin? Our experienced gardeners have pulled together the top fruits and veggies (in order of season) we’d suggest.

eastereggradishRadishes – Fall/Winter

Very easy to grow , takes barely a month between sowing seeds and harvest. Seriously. Seeds can be sown every week (even through summer.) The three main types are: round, long and daikon.

Zukeeni’s favorites:

Easter Egg are a mix of pastels, with a zesty crispness

French Breakfast have a somewhat milder spicy flavor

Salad Greens – Winter

There’s nothing tastier than a salad harvested from your own garden. Crispy romaine, soft butter, or fresh baby greens, all are delicious. Pick a favorite or plant all… your salad awaits.

Most popular varieties:

Sweetie Baby Romaine is a fast producer

Rocky Top Lettuce Mix is a great mix of flavors

Green Beans – Winter/Fall

Green beans are easy to grow, harvest and eat! Pole beans grow up walls and fences, perfect for small spaces. Bush beans are shorter, more compact, but provide aplenty.

Best bets:

Blue Lake for tender beans with good flavor

Rolande for a delicate flavor for special dishes

Swiss Chard – Winter

Loaded with vitamins A, K, & C, this is a “nearly-perfect” vegetable. The baby greens are tender enough for salads and its mature leaves can be sautéed or added to soups. It’s not bitter and ideal for “cut-and-come-again” gardening. In temperate climates, it can survive for years.  BREAKING: Swiss Chard, upgraded to perfect!

Zukeeni suggests these:

Rainbow Bright Lights for a fun, colorful plant

Italian Silver Rib for large, flavorful leaves

Borage – Spring

Borage is a favorite. Its beautiful, edible flowers bloom all summer long. It attracts bees (pollinators) and its flavor is mild, think cucumber. Use in salads or as a garnish for cocktails.

Blue Borage is most common, but can also be found in white and pink, how civilized.

tomatoesonvineTomatoes – Summer

There are so many varieties of tomatoes, you’ll never taste them all. #bummer We’re sorry, but no matter what your climate, you’ll be able to find several that grow well. #silverlining

All-Around Pleasers:

Sungold for the sweetest cherry tomatoes

Brandywine for a great slice tomato

Amish Paste for rich tomato sauce

Basil – Summer

Basil got big in the ‘90s. Everyone realized how great it tastes in Italian food. It’s an easy-growing herb and produces all summer long. Use in salads, soups, baked dishes, so many options.

Genovese for the best pesto dishes

Cinnamon for a spicy flavor in salads

Thai Sweet for Asian dishes

strawberryplantStrawberries – Summer

If you’ve ever tasted a homegrown strawberry, the store bought variety will be dead to you. They’re easy to grow, grow pretty much anywhere and once you taste one… trust us.

Chandlers are super sweet

Mingonettes are heat-tolerant

Yellow Wonder Wilds are unique and delicious



Peppers – Summer

The “spice of life”. Whether you prefer sweet peppers or those with a bite, they’re a must in your garden. They love the summer heat and make a difference in any salad or a kabob.

Rainbow Bell Mix for a colorful assortment

Sweet Banana for salads and grilling

Jalapeño for pizzas and spicy dishes

Summer Squash – Three guesses

Summer squash grows fast and provides delicious fruit all summer. If picked young, it’s tender with a delicate flavor– perfect for grilling, sautéing and stuffing. Sliced thinly, it’s lovely in a salad. Plants can be grown up a trellis or fence, you tell it what to do.

Ronde de Nice for cute little globes

Summer Scallop Trio for UFOs and pattypans

Black Beauty for the classic zucchini

Five herbs perfect for indoor growing

image2All good intention for the New Year aside, the recent weather really had me second-guessing some of my planting goals for the first of the year. Frankly, it’s pretty cold and wet outside. A friend suggested I create an indoor herb garden, something I’d wanted to do and, the timing was perfect. I researched best practices and sought input from neighbors I knew had created lovely herb gardens in the past.Here’s what I came up with, note: it’s pretty easy! Five herbs perfect for indoor growing:

  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme

The best way to grow herbs is to place them on a windowsill or wherever gets the most daylight. A minimum of four hours of light per day is ideal, next:

  • Buy plants or separate from one already in your garden
  • Manage the size of cuttings – consider the space you intend to place them
  • I transplant herbs into 4” pots – perfect for windowsills
  • Plant each herb in its own pot – use fresh, quality soil
  • Fertilize – garden soil contains natural nutrients many indoor plants lack

Soil from the garden can also contain our little friends from outside (see: pests) as well as other potentially harmful components, so fresh is always best! Some Tips:

  • Leaves may drop in the beginning – the herbs are adjusting to a new environment
  • Keep the soil moist
  • Rosemary can have difficulty adjusting indoors so be patient
  • Indoor herbs can attract aphids or spider mites, so here’s how I handle it:
    • I inspect the herbs as I water
    • If found, I cover the soil surface and flush the plant upside down in a container of insecticidal soap and water.
    • If persistent, I flush once a week until the pests are gone

Right now, I’m working on Mint. Smells so good, my daughter loves it and, you’ve got to have mint for mojitos, right? Stories and pictures of your garden are always encouraged:

A Note from Debbie – Founder, Zukeeni

CarbassóI started gardening because I wanted to show my children how meaningful it is to grow our own food. I am by no means a “master gardener” but find the process rewarding. It is a process my family can take part in and enjoy the rewards of. What I’ve come to realize is how gratifying it is to give or share what we don’t use.

I believe serving or giving food I’ve grown is a true expression of community. Yes, it takes time to cultivate but when we taste the food we’ve grown ourselves, there is no comparison to what I’m buying at the market. The level of satisfaction is hard to explain. If you garden at all, you know the experience of that first bloom or sprout and, you’re hooked. To be able to say, “we did this” and then share it.

This is a way of life. This is Zukeeni.

Zukeeni is the “garden to table” community that gives you control over the food you grow, purchase, sell and eat, right within your neighborhood. Our mission is to bring together those who grow fresh food with those who seek it. Zukeeni unites a huge legacy of master growers in your neighborhood with people like you and I who desire fresh, delicious food, untouched by chemicals and, well, whatever else is out there.

It also inspires those who want to begin their own garden with the tools, tips, advice they need to get started. We’re already living in a DIY (do it yourself) world. Now it’s all about GIY (grow it yourself). Or, enjoy the deliciousness of those who do.

And, if you’re a legacy gardener, Zukeeni can help you play an instrumental role in making sure food on your neighborhood tables is fresh and local, right from your backyard.

I’ve met many new friends through sharing food in my neighborhood. I have a lime tree that’s unstoppable. My neighbor has more lemons than anyone can use. Why would we ever buy those at a store? Too much food goes to waste. When we share it, that’s what community is all about. That’s Zukeeni.

WhGrilled Zucchini - Zukes_smally Zukeeni?
Because it sounds like something we all know but looks like something different. Different is the way we must begin to think about our food. Also, notice the word “keen” in there. Keen means having or showing eagerness or enthusiasm. Eagerness and enthusiasm best describe my experience of growing food. We plant it, grow it, prepare it, enjoy it and what we don’t use, we share. Keen, right? Oh, and the meaning of keen from Great.

And please take a minute to tell me what you think.

Growing Healthier Vegetables

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Growing Healthier Vegetables
Note: The Smart Gardener team is using this Andesite Mineral Complexin our own gardens and can absolutely see the difference. When we come across a great product (especially one you are not going to find at your local Home Depot or even your local nursery) that we believe in, we want to let you know about it.

Re-Mineralize Your Garden To Grow Healthier, More Nutrient-Dense Plants

volcano-iStock_000007857193Nature has been re-mineralizing the soils of the earth through volcanic eruptions and sedimentation since the beginning of time. Volcanic eruptions scattered valuable minerals from deep within the Earth, while wind, rainfall and rivers helped redistribute them to areas around the globe. Glaciers also played a major role throughout the Ice Age by pulverizing rock and blending it into the Earth’s soil.  Prehistoric plants were rich in minerals due to the abundant supply available in the soil.

However, these valuable minerals have been significantly depleted in most soils over the years due to over-farming, erosion and other factors and as a result, plant life, soil health and bio-diversity have suffered.  Today’s soils contain no more than 16-20 minerals on average compared to 80-100 minerals millions of years ago.  Without these natural minerals, plants become weaker, require more water, produce less, contain lower nutrient levels and are more susceptible to stresses, pest infestation and other issues.  This lack of minerals in our soil also has a direct impact on the quality of the food we consume today.

Minerals And Your Health

vegiStock_000026429668Minerals are the building blocks of a healthy body.  Minerals are present in virtually all of the cells in the body and help ensure that our internal systems function effectively and efficiently.  Minerals help the body build new tissues, balance pH, release energy from food and regulate a variety of other body processes.  The human body needs at least 45 – 60 different minerals for optimal health. However, on average only 8 minerals are available in any kind of quantity in most of the food we consume today – including fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Apsley states that “… that properly grown organic produce, in soils heavily re-mineralized with rock dust, are the key to health and longevity.  These are the only kinds of real foods that satisfy the hidden hunger plaguing the vast majority of people today”.

The good news is – if you are growing your own food, there is something you can do about this: re-mineralize your soil.

Plants Need More Than Just N-P-K

garden iStock_000006815439Although N, P & K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) are important, many growers focus solely on these inputs and overlook many of the 90+ natural mineral elements that are key contributors to plant and soil health. Elements like cobalt, sulfur, copper, manganese, boron, carbon, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium, zinc, silica, iron and others also play a very important role.

Plants produce vitamins, amino acids and varying amounts of fatty acids if they are grown in soils containing abundant minerals.  If the proper minerals either do not exist in the soil or are “locked up” and therefore unavailable to utilize, plants cannot achieve their full potential.  In the case of edibles, this lack of minerals also translates to a lower nutrient-density and lower brix (sugar content) levels in their production.   Microorganisms, which also play an important role in healthy soil, feed on minerals and organic matter to create humus, humuc acid, potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen and other trace elements.

Re-Mineralization Offers Several Benefits to Your Garden Including:

  • Providing a slow, natural release of elements and trace minerals
  • Improving nutrient uptake of plants
  • Increasing yields
  • Enhancing flavor in edibles
  • Encouraging earthworm and microbial activity in soils
  • Improving brix (sugar content) levels in plants
  • Producing more nutrient-dense edibles
  • Improving resistance to insects, disease, frost and drought
  • Improving Cation Exchange Rates in soils
  • Helping balance soil pH levels

Hand-with-ande-smallSmart Gardener can now help you re-mineralize your soil by offering Andesite Mineral Complex™ – a unique mineral blend containing broad-spectrum essential and beneficial minerals and trace elements.  Andesite is available in three different sizes to suit all types of growers and gardeners.  Click here to learn more or to place an order.

More about Andesite, click here.

How much do I need? Download PDF

To purchase Andesite, click here.

Know when to use seeds vs. starts

6. Know When to Use Seeds Vs. Starts There are both pros and cons to using seeds or starts. Read more and find out which is best for your needs.



  • Starting from seed is more cost effective and allows you to pick unique varieties, but it does require some pre-planning to make sure you get the seeds or starts outdoors at the right time.
  • Temperature is the key to germination, so follow temperature suggestions to try and optimize the range of temperatures a specific plant needs.
  • There are lots of seed starting kits available that really make it easy to set up and get going fast.
  • Plant 3 times the amount you will need to account for non-starters or seeds that dry out.
  • Look for a place where you can give them watchful care to ensure the seeds stay moist and warm.
  • Some plants are a real challenge to start from seed such as asparagus, garlic, and onions. We recommend getting starts, sets, or crowns for those plants either by mail order or at your local nursery.
  • Some seeds have need light to germinate, and some need to be soaked overnight.
  • Smart Gardener partners with the best seed companies so you can easily purchase varieties of organic and heirloom seeds online.

Starting Seeds

Seed Trays

  • Start by filling a flat with potting soil or a mix of your favorite compost.
  • Sprinkle seeds to evenly distribute them across the flat.
  • Cover seeds to the proper depth, as described by Smart Gardener, or on the seed packet, with potting soil or compost.
  • Water lightly with a mist spray until the soil or compost is fully wet.

Cell Flats

  • Fill the seedling cups with potting soil or compost.
  • Use the instructions on the seed packet to determine how far down to plant the seed. Then take a seed and place it down into the individual hole.
  • Cover the seed with soil or compost, and then water lightly with a mist spray.

Paper Towel or Newsprint

  • Begin by wetting the paper towel; then fold in half and sprinkle the seeds inside the fold.
  • Make sure to keep the paper towels damp and moist until the seed germinates.
  • Depending on the plant, you can transfer the seed, once it germinates, to a seed flat or tray and keep watered until ready to transplant outdoors.


  • Starts are very easy—they come ready to plant. On the other hand, starts are more expensive and give you a smaller selection of varieties to choose from.
  • Be sure to look for and purchase healthy looking starts with green leaves and healthy stems. Dying or yellowing leaves may indicate disease or lack of nutrients.
  • Don’t buy starts that are overgrown. Their roots can be bound if allowed to stay in the little pots, which deprives the plant of a healthy beginning. You also don’t want a leggy plant. While its height may look impressive it means it had to compete for light, which makes it less healthy.
  • A good test to tell if a plant is overgrown is to look at the bottom of the container.  If the roots are protruding from the holes in the bottom of the container the plants may be root bound.
  • Check out your local nurseries, farmers markets and special plant sales for some more unusual varieties that do well in your growing conditions.


  • Amend the soil according to the plant’s needs, which will help establish a strong root foundation.
  • Break up any compacted soil.
  • Water the area the day before you transplant to ensure the transplants won’t dry out in the ground.
  • Lay the transplants on the soil to map out where they will go.
  • Remove leaves from the plant that will be below ground level. This will help the plant spend its energy on establishing roots.
  • Dig a hole and place the transplant into the ground.
  • Lightly press the soil around the base of the plant and water the newly transplanted plants thoroughly.
  • Plants that don’t respond well to root disturbance should be transplanted carefully with as little damage as possible.
  • Don’t transplant during the hot, sunny parts of the day. Plants respond better during cooler, cloudier conditions.
  • To avoid shocking plants, allow starts to harden off one week prior to transplanting.
  • Smart Gardener will notify you when to harden off your seedings and when to transplant, and will track your plants’ growth once you check off your To Dos.
Starting Seeds Outdoors

Starting Seeds Outdoors

  • Some plants, such as carrots, cannot be easily transplanted. Direct sow these seeds in your garden.
  • Poke a hole in the soil to the proper depth, as described by Smart Gardener on the variety’s seed packet, place a seed in the hole, and cover with soil. Water seeds thoroughly after planting.
  • Young seedlings are susceptible to getting eaten, so try to protect them outdoors as much as possible, either with straw or row covers.

Also… Check out more vegetable gardening tips at… Smart Gardener was mentioned!

What we’re growing

What we’re growing

Remember when you were a kid, and the holidays or your birthday rolled around? Remember that excitement about looking through the catalogs and sales flyers, circling the toys you just had to have? And then the excitement as the gift-receiving day got closer and closer, the wonderfully delicious wondering of what would be wrapped up for you?

I think the closest thing to that hopeful anxiety is the feeling gardeners get as they spend the winter months pouring over seed catalogs and making endless lists of what they want to plant this year, and then waiting for the seeds to arrive.

I polled our dedicated staff about what plants they were really excited about growing this year. Proving they’re also eager as children awaiting Christmas, they all got back to me right away with a great list of plants that I knew I just had to share with you all as well!

Something new:
O’Henry Sweet Potato
Kristee: These white-fleshed sweet potatoes are intriguing. Originally grown in the Southeast as an alternative to regular potatoes, they are becoming popular with folks who aren’t big fans of orange-flesh sweet potatoes. Their texture when baked is often described as “creamy.” They’re also less stringy, which means they make wonderful mashed sweet potatoes.

Trieste Finocchio
Bobby: I recently got the Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian cookbook which features a recipe “Finocchio al Burro e Parmigiano” (fennel with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano). I decided to give this Italian favorite a try. WOW. The bulb’s anise-like flavor becomes slightly mild and nutty when cooked with butter, a perfect match for the Parmesan cheese melted over the top. I can’t wait to try this recipe with fennel bulbs fresh out from the soil. Fennel has no serious pests or diseases and is so well adapted to San Francisco that is actually a weed in abandoned lots and gardens throughout the city.

Romanesco Italia
Brittany: I am obsessed with this plant. It is so cool! I can never find it at my local Farmers Markets so I’m just going to grow it myself!

Louisiana Purple Pod Beans
Karen: I usually grow a couple varieties of pole beans every summer, like Rattlesnake & Purple Pole Beans. When I saw that these are drought-resistant, I decided to give them a try. With our Mediterranean climate here in Sonoma County, it’s important to save water in the summer. Plus, as a Louisiana-native, the name cinched it.

Sunny Supersett Crookneck Summer Squash
 San Francisco’s cool foggy summers makes it a perfect environment for plant diseases. One disease in particular, Powdery Mildew, is a common problem for Cucurbits in the area. Sunny Supersett is resistant to Mildew and it is very early to mature, making it a perfect crop for San Francisco’s cool foggy summers. I grew them last summer in a large container and the plants were really productive, providing the usual glut of fruit that summer squash are known for. The nutty flesh of the fruit is at perfection when grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Rainbow Sweet Inca corn
Kristee: This beautiful multicolored corn is sweet, and when cooked fresh,while the colors are still very pale it has a delicious corn flavor. It is also a great variety for grinding into colorful corn meal. And the dried ears make lovely autumn decorations.

Sub Arctic Plenty Tomato
Frank: One of the hardiest tomatoes, I want to try getting very early tomatoes this year.

 I really want to make the classic french Sorrel sauce, so I’m going to grow some Sorrel this year to do it. I also only have a container backyard garden so it’s perfect for my small space.

Salad Burnet
A cucumber-like flavor. I love cukes, but can’t grow them in the chilly, foggy summer in SF. I’m going to grow this instead and see if I can make things like tatziki/raita taste the same.

Blood Shot Pumpkin
Carl: A fun ornamental pumpkin with white flesh and orange and red “veins” that make it look like a blodshot eye. Hence the name. It’s very unusual, and not easy seeds to come by, but I picked some up at a seed swap and can’t wait to grow some!

Old favorites:
Dark Green Italian Parsley
Bobby: Whether or not I have access to land, I always grow Italian Parsley in a container outside the window of my 5th story apartment. Parsley is really hardy and isn’t bothered by the brisk seasonal winds that blast over my roof from the ocean, plus it’s delicious on almost anything you put it on. It’s a must for salads, soups, meat dishes and is even good for some desserts. A little bit of chopped parsley goes surprising well with a slice of apple pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The plants will produce for a really long time if you make sure to cut off any parts of the plants that try to bolt. I’m still harvesting from my parsley plants that I sowed last spring.

Hill Country Heirloom Red Okra
Karen: As a kid in Louisiana, I did not like okra. But something weird happened as I grew up: I developed a love of okra in soups and, of course, in gumbo. Buying okra here in California is hit and miss, so I figured it’s time to grow my own. I settled on this variety because the color looks beautiful, and the plant is drought-resistant.

Sugar Loaf Chicory
Frank: When grown to perfection the blanched heart of this relative of radicchio is one of the very best salad plants. It is also perennial and very hardy.

St. Valery Carrot
Kristee: These sweet, tender carrots are one of our favorites. We eat them straight from the garden, sliced in salads, or lightly steamed, and have been known to rinse the soil off and snack on them while harvesting other veggies.

Baby Pixie cabbages
Carl: These are smaller heads than the great big ones you get on regular cabbage plants, which makes them perfect for cooking up as a quick dinner for two people. These plants are especially well suited to a Midwestern garden, since they can handle both extremes in temperature we get here.

White Beauty Radish
Karen: We grow radishes year-round here. These all-white radishes are lovely sliced into a salad, but are also mild enough to eat by themselves as a snack.

Fairy Tale Eggplant
Carl: These cute little striped eggplants are prolific producers and have a great flavor!

Papalo Papaloquelite
Frank: This member of the daisy family tastes a lot like cilantro, but is very heat tolerant and grows like a weed.