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15 June, 2017

Orchid Black and David King Offering Greener Gardens This Summer at UCLA

Instructors Orchid Black and David King, offering
Greener Gardens This Summer

Greener Gardens: Sustainable Garden Practice will start this Tuesday evening, June 29 and runs through August 24.  This class is one of the elective classes for the Gardening and Horticulture Certificate Program and the Sustainability Certificate Program.  

Orchid and I have taught this course for several years at this point.  We are ever astounded at the quality of our students and their willingness to approach a different way of looking at our everyday life and how our gardens are a point of impact on the world.  Every action we take in our lives aligns our lifestyle with sustainability or lack thereof.  What can we change as individuals to live a less impactful life and in what way do we compromise?  How can we, in this year of abundant rainfall make changes and improve our immediate surroundings - and what should we look for in governmental policy to make sufficient changes in the Nation's approach to global warming.  Instead of a year to relax, we see our work is ever more important and urgent in the face of mass-denial.

This is not the definitive course on being sustainable, but it does impact the way we act in our immediate environment and with our food.  Students have told us, this course features more than just a few aha moments!  

Meeting in 321 Botany Building on UCLA Campus this quarter and now that we are at the end of our historic drought, many folks are thinking "business as usual," but from our perspective as instructors, this is the very best time to look at some of the issues that we can change without feeling like we are under the gun to HAVE to change.

Enrollment data includes:  Greener Gardens: Sustainable Garden Practice   6/29/2017 -- 8/24/2017    BIOLGY    X 498.10   Reg#:  354809  12 mtgs  6:30 to 9:30 PM


14 June, 2017

Seed Saving Workshop!

Hosted by The Learning Garden and the Seed Libarary of Los Angeles, with Author David King, we are pleased to offer a Seed Saving Workshop on June 25th, 1:30 to 4:30 PM in the garden with plants in various stages of seed production.

David King checks broccoli plans for seed set in
The Learning Garden

With humor and down to earth pragmatic experience, King can show you very practical steps what you need to know and do to save seeds of all your favorite food garden plants.  With this understanding, you can easily exstrapolate this information to use in collecting herbs and wild crafting plans. 

Please note, the workshop is filling up fast  - at only $20 and with a very popular instructor, don't wait long!  


Expand your garden appreciation by learning how to save seeds, this workshop on June 25, 1:30 to 4:30 PM at The Learning Garden (on the campus of Venice High School) features the founding Chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles taking participants on a journey through the fascinating world of seeds and the wonderful diversity - how to save them from year to year and the call to be a seed steward for these valuable sources of food! Become a person who restores the Ark of Taste and not just one who eats those foods! With humor and inspiration, be a part of this revolution in our food chain!

12 May, 2017

A More or Less Comprehensive Bibliography

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, Deppe, Carol, ©2000, Chelsea Green Publishing, A plant breeder with a science degree and avid gardener all rolled into one, Deppe knows her stuff.. This is a lighter read than that makes it sound, but it is firmly into the science of plant breeding and she doesn’t dumb it down. A good and thorough book even if not light reading.
Creative Propagation; A Grower’s Guide, Thompson, Peter, ©1989, Timber Press, Not nearly as exhaustive as other books presented here, but if you are short on change and can only get one book this one has a lot to recommend it. Thompson covers all of it but perhaps not to the depth of other books, so it’s small and makes good reading for the attentionally challenged.
Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally, Kourick, Robert © 1986, Metamorphic Press, Santa Rosa, CA Probably the bible for this kind of garden. I own a first printing and a quick check shows that Amazon has it new for $33.46 (Permanent Publications; March 30, 2005), so it’s still a winner, after all these years.
Designing The New Kitchen Garden, An American Potager Handbook, Bartley, Jennifer © 2006, Timber Press, Portland, OR This is the book used to compile a good deal of my potager design lecture. It has to be adapted for our climate – all of her dates are good if you’re in OH, but I don’t think we’re in OH – at least not the last time I checked we hadn’t even made it to not being in Kansas. This is a good book, well written and filled with inspiration.
Dirt, The Erosion of Civilizations, Montgomery, David ©2007, University of California Press Although this has been out for a few years, I never looked at it, in part because because I had confused it with another book called "Dirt, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth" (the one they made a movie about) that I didn't much care for. This is a good book - chapter one is one of the few introductions to soil science that doesn't feel like a root canal. Nice!

From Cows to Concrete: The Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles Hardcover, Surls/Gerber ©2016 Angel City Press For LA Gardeners who love history, this book is full of delicious photos tracing the agricultural history of Los Angeles. It is fascinating to see this county as it was before we built it into this wild and woolly metropolis. But guess what? All that wonderful soil and that mild climate are still here!

Gardening for Geeks: DIY Tests, Gadgets, and Techniques That Utilize Microbiology, Mathematics, and Ecology to Exponentially Maximize the Yield of Your Garden Christy Wilhelmi © 2013, Adams Media Christy lives up the hill from the Learning Garden and is a frequent guest here. If you have to buy another book after mine, this should be it. She is smart and has written a very good book digging into the science as well as the garden.

    Gardening With a Wild Heart, Restoring California’s Native Landscapes At Home, Lowry, Judith Larner, ©1999 UC Press I was buying seeds from Larner Seeds long before it was cool – in fact, I was one of those pioneers that made it cool, so I’ve corresponded with Judith Larner Lowry even before Lowry entered the picture! Part essay on why and part directions on how, this is a book about California Native plants and their place in our gardens.
Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, Weaver, William Woys, ©1997, New York, NY Very few pictures, but the descriptions are sufficient to make you drool all over the book! Not specific to our area, but a lot of fun to read and daydream about all we COULD grow if we had forty acres or more.
How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You ... (And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains,) 8th Edition, Jeavons, John ©2012, Ten Speed Press, San Francisco, CA If there is only one book (other than mine!) you purchase for growing vegetables, this is it! John Jeavons has done more for the growing of vegetables in a small space than any one other single person on this planet. This book is good for the charts alone. With it you have figures that help you determine how many feet of this plant you will need for two people or how many plants of fava beans will you actually have to plant to keep yourself rolling in favas for the winter. (Note: skip the double digging – save your back and the soil!)
Kitchen Literacy, Vileisis, Ann, ©2008 Island Press, Along the lines of the Pollan books, Vileisis brings us back to the knowledge every cook had in days before we let the ‘experts’ and the government tell us what to eat and why. Turns out it was better for us and for the earth. This book is the history of eating dinner in America. It also reflects on woman's role in society and the evolution of that role by virtue of how our lives have changed as regards to eating and effort of putting food on the table.
Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil, Hillel, Daniel, © 1992, University of California Press, There has been a recent spate of books on soil in the past ten years. Preceding this glut by almost ten years, Hillel wrote the best of the lot - all the others are second rate. Not to say they don't have a story to tell, but Hillel's book is not only science, but reads at times like poetry and his love of the subject is steeped in a deep knowledge that encourages affection and respect. There is no other book on soil that teaches so much about soil with a deep spirituality and yet is science-based and science driven. I truly love this book and it has been an inspiration for many years.
Save Three Lives: A Plan For Famine Prevention, Rodale, Robert © 1991 Random House Not a gardening book at all, but certainly a look at how we grow our food, in the face of all the chemical and genetic manipulation promises, can be successful by working with nature instead of trying to be smarter than nature and showing up on the short end of the stick.
Sunset Western Garden Guide 8th Edition, Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, Editor, ©2007, Sunset Publishing This is the number one go-to book for horticulture in Southern California; no other book is as authoritative as this one for our area. We cannot take advice from most gardening books and apply it to what we do in Los Angeles because our climate and soils are nothing like the rest of the world – especially the east coast and England where most books about gardening originate. However, with this book, you can use these other books, (like the ones above) you can then filter their information through ‘Sunset.’
Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition Lowenfels, Jeff et al, 2006 Timber Press; Look up all the titles in the Timber Press catalog – one of the more important horticultural publishing houses in business today! I wish I had this book when I started gardening – this book presents the latest research on the ecology of the soil. A must read!
The Garden of Invention, Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants, Smith, Jane R. © 2009 The Penquin Press, Luther Burbank is one of my heroes – all the more because he was considered a bit messy in his record keeping. We owe a huge debt to Burbank from his iconic Burbank Potato to all the Santa Rosa plums and million other plants in between. What a genious!
The Grafter’s Handbook, 6th Edition, Bradley, Stephen, Garner, R. J. © 2013, Chelsea Green Publishing Distributed in the US by Sterling Publishing First published in 1947, this book has stood the test of time. While there are some little British oddities with the English language that can confuse a little, the illustrations and the enthusiasm of the author are wonderfully clear and inspirational. This book is golden for grafting!
The Home Orchard, University of California Press, ©2007, Though not really a propagation book, it has a marvelous discussion of grafting and is a one of the many really remarkable horticulture books coming out of UC’s ANR. If you are into fruit trees, this book belongs on your shelf in a handy spot.
The Kitchen Garden, Thompson, Sylvia © 1995 Bantam Books and her Kitchen Garden Cookbook are both delightful and informative. Out of print, they are available none-the-less from used book dealers and are worth tracking down.
The Lost Language of Plants, Buhner, Stephen Harrod, ©2002 Chelsea Green Publishing Getting well should not get the earth sick. This is the ecological ‘why’ of alternative medicine and living in harmony with nature, but be warned, you will never look at a fashionable layer of mascara the same way again either!  
The New Seed Starter’s Handbook, Bubel, Nancy, ©1988, Rodale Press If you want to grow from seed, this is THE authoritative text on the subject. None better, even if it’s getting a little old. I found mine for $3 or so on a throwaway shelf at Borders. It is the best three bucks I’ve ever spent.
The Resilient Gardener, Deppe, Carol, © 2010, Chelsea Green Publishing This is the book by Deppe that caused me to declare, “If I ever meet Carol Deppe, I will buy her a drink of whatever she's drinkin!” A promise I made good in in 2016 at Seed Savers Exchange when I got to fetch her a glass of water. This is the one book I learned something about gardening I did not know; a distinction that I afford no other on this or any other list.
The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener, Gershuny/Martin, © 1992 Rodale Books There is no other book that approaches this book in simplifying and organizing the process of composting for any skill level. From beginner on up, you will find this answers your questions and informs in easy to understand text with line drawings.
The Story of Corn, Fussell, Betty, © 1992 North Point Press Not a garden book at all but just try it out and it will hook you with the fascination of corn. This American crop has saved almost every part of the world from starvation at one time or another. That this plant is worshiped by so many American cultures is no wonder when you are introduced to it properly.
The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, Berry Wendell, ©1997, Sierra Club Books, Anything by Wendell Berry is worth reading. Everything from Wendell Berry can be life-changing. Wendell Berry, quirky and profound, looks at the world with a lens many of us only aspire to. His writing is eloquent, his thinking eclectic. Of the authors that have been instrumental in bringing me to where I am today, Berry is the one whose ability to see a much larger picture is the most constant and his range of vision deeper than anyone I can name at this moment. There are other Berry books that deserve as much attention as this one, but start here.
Tree Crops, A Permanent Agriculture, J. Russel Smith © 1987, Island Press (Note: this book is available as a print on demand from other sources, but evidently the quality is not so great – this is a book that is not, of itself, light reading, please get an edition that is readable.) I remember reading this in the mid 1990's and being unable to sleep at night because of the stimulation of my thinking apparatus. I found it exciting and it immediately changed my understanding of our world!

25 December, 2016

Propagation Class 2017

Happy Holidays to everyone - wishing you peace and joy in this holiday season whatever holiday you celebrate! 

Teaching propagation a few years ago, that's
a scion in my mouth, not a cigar!  

I was just online and noticed that the Plant Propagation class from UCLA Extension for Winter 2017 has a few spaces left in it.  The magic of plant propagation has been mostly lost in this current world's whiz bang get it done in three seconds attitude.  

However, there are a good many plants out there that you can't just 'buy.'  Perhaps they are not in the trade anymore.  Perhaps they never were.  But having taken Plant Propagation, there you are with your trusty (sharp and clean) pruners or your grafting knife (also clean and sharp) and all the knowledge you need possess to make a new plant from an existing one - and you can do so confidently because you understand the WHY as the WHAT.

Our teaching assistant for most meetings.

I teach four classes for UCLA in every typical year and this one is my favorite!  If you work with plants now, or hope to in the future, this course bestows a whole new sense of certainty and empowerment in your relationship with plants.  No more is it just, "well, I guess...."  you get the understanding as to how the different parts of a plant work to make the plant live and when you propagate by working with the plant, how much easier it is!  

Meeting at 1:30 (to 4:30) starting on January 15th at the Learning Garden, register soon to avoid being left behind.  The course is held at the Learning Garden, a one acre teaching garden on the grounds of Venice High School where massive amounts of plant propagating can occur to give everyone a firm feel in your hands for what your head knows.  

I look forward to teaching you!


01 August, 2016

We Are Not Done

I have written very little lately about GMOs and the labeling issue.  Honestly, I was not surprised when Obama signed the recent GMO Labeling bill into law on Friday, July 29th.  I have had a very poor opinion of his relationship with GMOs since he named his cabinet from the first election:  The handwriting was on the wall that what he promised in the election was simply to get elected,he, in truth, was in full support of GMOs and had no real intention of labeling them.

This has been my position from the beginning;
the only reason I wanted them labeled
is that I thought it would lead to banning -
evidently so did Big Ag!
The result of this legislation will be no real labeling of GMOs.  Poor people, the elderly and anyone else without a smartphone will be relegated to 2nd class citizen without access to the technology to help them identify foods with GMOs in them; many more are not going to make the extra effort to try to find out if their food is modified - the onus will be on them and companies get off scot-free.  In truth, though there are so many loopholes in this law, many GMOs will not be mentioned, let alone make the ingredients list we have come to rely on.  Furthermore, most of the compliance is voluntary and no labeling is put in place for a two-year study period. It superceeds Vermont's and Conneticut's bills which were far more consumer oriented than this one.  

I was not surprised, but I was deeply offended.  Americans, who already lag behind the rest of the world with confidence in our food supply, will only lag further behind.  More of our resources are being consumed by GMO production every year and the poisons required to get a crop from these man-made seeds continues to grow in volume and variety. No other civilized country devalues the lives of their citizens as does the United States.  While polls still show 90% want their food labeled as GMO if it has GMOs, our government has passed a bill that is a farce of a labeling law.  This bill is an insult to every thinking person in this country.  It is a lie perpetuated so that corporations can continue to pollute our soils, our environments and our bodies with this un-yet proven technology.  

GMOs are part and parcel of this paradigm.  They require petroleum-based herbicides and insecticides (in most cases) and certainly rely on fossil fuels for growing and transporting their products to market.  This world-vision denies that there are crises on our doorstep. These products are on the wrong side of history, they are far too extractive and they promise that man can defeat nature.  It is unbridled hubris that we can fight Nature and win - we have never before.

We always say "Monsanto this or Monsanto that" but that's just shorthand for Monsanto and all the others.  The truth is that Monsanto is the primary mover and shaker in this technology AND the largest seed seller in the US.  It is overwhelmingly sad and discouraging to watch our government enthralled by corporations that do the most harm and the least good.  I know our country has survived before, but why do we have to go into the abyss yet again?  

We will have to figure out a new strategy to avoid GMOs - maybe that means just not buying packaged foods?  Maybe we'll have to create and enforce our own standard that keeps the government irrelevant.  

I know this:  to give up is not a choice.  There is too much at stake and our voices and our actions are just too damn important to stop!  We may have hard days - and harder days yet - ahead, but giving up is not possible.  There are children and their future and so much more.  We cannot give up in the face of this greed. And we must preserve our planet.


26 July, 2016

Garden Journals

A photo from a 1990 journal, planting seeds of California
Natives for a new nursery. A Haws 2 Imperial Gallon
watering can is visible on the extreme left. Don't look
at the skinny guy in the center of the photograph.

From high school on, I have kept a notebook close at hand to record inspiration, to reconcile accounts and to hold information that I wished to have access to without trying to memorize.

These notebooks originally sprang from my early days as a Beatnik Poet wannabe – the first of them were all “creative writing” notebooks and the first ones were my actual assignments for Creative Writing classes. After my formal schooling was done, I continued with the notebooks and they evolved over the years. Mind you, now that I am in my 60's I have accumulated a rather large store of these and the recent loss of a free storage area has necessitated a rather drastic culling of these notebooks.

I went through each notebook, looking for any good writing and/or anything important and was stunned at the amount of effort I put into so many of these notebooks and there were several particularly germane to my life today: I found old garden notes!

Written in Kansas during my first marriage, my first outdoor garden as an adult – I mean the first garden I was completely responsible for – had its own group of notes. I was excited to see these; I knew I had gardened at that time, and I even had lessons I had learned that I still support, but I forgot I had kept these written notes. I was impressed that I planted 6 Big Boy tomatoes I bought at K-Mart (I wrote this down) but I also grew 6 Rutgers tomatoes that I knew from my Grandfather's garden – which means I had grown them from seed. I did the same with peppers – some were purchased, others I grew out myself from seed.  I had forgotten I was completely a seedhead from the very beginning. One page was a list of seed houses I intended to make certain I had their catalogs before the next year's plantings were being considered.  I suppose I came up with the list by remembering the plethora of seed catalogs I had been accustomed to at my Grandfather's home.  In Kansas, in winter, with frozen ground and snow, looking at photos of luscious tomatoes and other vegetables counts for gardening time.  I was particularly obsessed with those catalogs.

I had no recollection of keeping a garden journal. I did remember that same year, I planted two rows of pole beans – one was Kentucky Wonder, an old variety that maintains a good deal of popularity even today, and the other row was an experiment with Romano, a large flat Italian bean. I walked away from that year totally nuts about Romano beans! I had a 5:1 ratio of harvest from the Romanos, which, bean by bean, were larger than the Wonders and they produced over a much longer time than the Wonders. I did not plant another type of bean until my 2nd marriage – she detested Romanos. Funny that.

I teach gardening students to have a garden notebook – though nowadays it is much more likely to be on a computer. Some students, still favor hand \-written notes – usually those with good handwriting skills. I have seen works of art turned in as garden journals – drawings and glued plant ID labels, hand-drawn maps and so on.

Others, like me, use computers today. Each day I enter weather information (it's an easy cut and paste from an internet weather site) and my drawings are usually done with the mediocre drawing tools in my word processor. It is better than anything I could hand draw. But these paragraphs here and there make a long history of gardening. I have photos of insects, diseases, and fungus infestations alongside photos of hundreds of tomatoes and peppers – floral arrangements and stacks of canned and pickled food.

Obviously, we can't remember everything. Being able to make a record so easily on the computer, with photos from our phones, there is no good reason every one of us should not employ a garden journal to help us with our ever learning process in the garden.

A flawed photo, but in 1993 this was 1/3 of the Persimmon
tomato harvest - they are big yellow ones.  We had 7 tomatoes
off six plants - these were the tiny ones because we ate the
others right off! they were HUGE and tasty The photo may be
flawed, but the memory it inspires is still precious.


27 June, 2016

Another Installment of: He's Dead, Jim!

He's dead, Jim... No, really dead.
It's time for a new installment of "He's Dead, Jim...!"  

This poor tree is still standing on the block where I live.  That cut branch between the right and the center of the photo, a little above the middle of the photo has bedeviled me more than once.  Either the homeowner doesn't ever walk the sidewalk out front, or is perhaps shorter than five feet six, but that branch, before it was cut and to this day requires a person as tall as I am to be looking ahead or else!  I about had a major 'or else' last night as I walked home from a movie.

The plantings on this property are loaded with sad choices and indifferent care.  This one ranks as a public nuisance and keeping a dead tree in your front yard is a sad reflection of how we treat trees. Our society doesn't seem to acknowledge that trees are alive and are powerful beings in their own right.  We cut them without any kind of appreciation of the way they live - giving such jobs to the lowest bidder - and we approach them like, well, blocks of wood.  I could give a clinic on how not to prune trees on just about any block in Los Angeles, certainly here on my block and in the trees of The Learning Garde which are pruned by the lowest bidder to the Unified School District and not a soul in the crew that has cut our trees has the slightest knowledge of the internal workings of a tree - they butcher them with gusto.  I am not far from an avocado that is dying from lousy pruning and it breaks my heart.

I heard earlier today that Oregon's Supreme Court has declared that dogs are people too. It took a long time for the majority of Americans to acknowledge that pets are sentient beings, deserving of respect and appreciation like humans - soon we will be able to grant that plants are ever bit as sentient as we are - even if we show that sentience in different ways.  Scientists already agree that trees send messages to one another through their extensive root systems and fungi that populate those roots. 
What trees do in communicating with one another is amazing.  

This poor tree/shrub has been dead for almost 10 years - it needs to be chipped up and added to a garden as a part of a pathway.  I'm not sure I would recommend this home owner get a replacement unless they undergo "Plant Sensitivity" training.  

I'll teach that course...