May every spring be like the last! Our backcountry has received record amounts of rainfall this winter including late showers in May to replenish depleted reservoirs.  Lovely, cloudy days for weeks have allowed spring’s wildflowers to unfurl at a leisurely pace. This welcome reprieve from the heat of last summer and the effects of the continuing drought is evidenced in the lush regrowth of the Thomas Fire burn scar, and the lingering harvests of cool weather vegetables at the Carpinteria Garden Park, such as artichokes, carrots, sugar snap peas and more.  

As we head into the first weeks of May, many folks at the community garden are beginning to turn over their beds to summer crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, basil, summer squash and corn. Many of these heat-loving crops can prove a little more challenging right along the coast, where cooler temperatures and cloudy skies can invite common garden problems such as powdery mildew and aphids.  However, there is much that you can do preventatively, including building healthy soil, watering appropriately, and using observation and intervention before pests become a problem.

The extra effort is so worth the bountiful harvests that can feed you, your family, and your community throughout the summer and into late fall. Growing even a part of your own food in any sunny spot available to you—whether in pots, raised beds, or the ground—is a powerful way to connect to your own health and the other-than-human world. An organic and biodiverse vegetable, flower and herb garden provides the freshest and most nutritious food possible, while feeding the many native pollinators and honeybees in our urban landscapes who are suffering the effects of habitat loss and over-use of insecticides and pesticides.

Watching plants grow, especially if you have young people with fresh eyes in your world, is a truly magical and life-affirming experience.  

Growing a summer garden using organic methods takes a little more work in the beginning but rewards you with plants kept healthy throughout the growing season who are less susceptible to pests and diseases thanks to the nourishing and protective benefits of healthy, living soil. To build soil, whether in pots or in the ground, requires the addition of several inches of organic compost stirred into the top layer of soil.  Compost, available in bags at the garden store or in bulk from several local locations, softens the hard, marine clay which lies under most of the Carpinteria Valley. “Softer” soil means soil with more oxygen, which is able to take in more water during rain events and irrigation and release the moisture slowly to plants’ roots.

Soil with compost becomes much more alive—a single teaspoon of rich garden soil can hold more than one billion microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and protozoa whose life cycles and decay build richer soil over time.

Look for Part 2 of Alena’s “Summer gardening starters” in next week’s paper.

Alena Steen is coordinator of the Carpinteria Garden Park, an organic community garden located at 4855 Fifth St., developed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Community members rent a plot to grow their own fresh produce. The garden is also a center for public education, with classes on organic gardening, nutrition and sustainability. For a complete schedule or more information, visit or follow the garden on Instagram @carp_garden.

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