07 April, 2019

Urban Food Production, Spring 2019

Course Number: Biology X 489.6  

Instructor: David King


There are no prerequisites for this course, although some experience with gardening will prove useful.

All classes meet at The Learning Garden on the Venice High School campus where it can be hot and cold by turns – but reliably MUCH MORE VARIABLE than other parts of Los Angeles. For your own comfort, please bring a sweater or coat to every class meeting. Class will meet regardless of the weather. Expect to get wet or dry or hot or cold as we will be outside for a portion of every meeting.

The production, packaging, and transportation of food are large contributors to our global carbon emissions. Throughout the Los Angeles Basin, food gardens have sprung up to produce local healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables while contributing energy and financial savings in difficult economic times. Using the history of growing food in the city in times of need as a template, this course explores how homegrown food can reduce your food budget and address environmental concerns. Participants each have a small plot for growing food where they can experiment with new ideas and enjoy their harvest. Topics include fruit trees, vegetables, and berries that do well in our climate as well as often overlooked food-producing perennials and how to grow food in modern city lots where the "back forty" describes square feet and not acres.

Textbooks Required:

Title The New Sunset Western Garden Book
Author Brenzel, Kathleen Norris (Editor)
Edition Feb. 2012
Publisher Sunset Books
ISBN 978-0376039170

There will be no assigned reading from the book, but it really is essential if you are gardening in Southern California. The most recent edition is not really necessary, however, it does have more data in it and with each edition Sunset pays more respect to food gardening.

This will be supplemented by postings on my Garden Notes blog, http://lagardennotes.blogspot.com/ . I hope to post most of the material in the days prior to the class when it will be used.

Textbooks, Recommended:

Title The Kitchen Garden
Author Thompson, Sylvia
Edition First
Publisher Bantam Books
ISBN 0-553-08138-1
*(She has a companion cookbook that is worth investigation too!)
Title Heirloom Vegetable Gardening
Author Weaver, William Woys
Edition First
Publisher Henry Holt
ISBN 978-0760359921
A NEW edition at last!!!
Title Pests of the Garden and Small Farm
Author Flint, Mary Louise
Edition 2nd
Publisher Univ of California Agriculture & Natural Resources
ISBN-13: 978-1879906402
Title The Resilient Gardener

Author Deppe, Carol
Edition First
Publisher Chelsea Green
ISBN-13: 978-1603580311

There will be no assigned reading from these books. The rest of the literature, as references, will prove invaluable to any serious student in this field. There will be bibliographies describing other books as the quarter progresses, I am a ferocious reader and not at all shy about suggesting books I think deserve your attention. From the bibliography, you will choose one book to read and report on. This report will be turned in at the end of class; see the point assignment structure on the next page.

Course Schedule (still under construction):

07 April
Introduction/Seed Starting/Urban gardening in context today/12 Points to a Better Garden Sustainability and Food Issues in Modern America/Visit Garden
14 April
Books/ Food crops of summer/growing up
21 April
Tools/Urban Gardens Bigger Picture
28 April
Planting/Sheet composting/Composting/ Planting Timing and Design/SLOLA/Seeds/Light/Water/
05 May
Sources/Annuals/ Soil Contamination and Remediation
12 May
Planting/Companions/Crop Rotation in a Small Garden/ Beekeeping?/Introduction to goat keeping (?)
19 May
Goats in the Urban Foodscapes
26 May
02 June

09 June

16 June
Planning for Continuous Harvests/Potluck/Submit your journal etc for a grade.

(Syllabus may be changed as needed to reflect reality.)
Please note that in Spring quarter there are a few holidays and plants do not take a holiday. – we will need to ensure that watering happens to keep the plants alive if there is no rain while we all enjoy our celebrations.

Point Assignment Structure
Class participation (and cooperation)

Grade of A
> 90%
Garden Journal

1 page book review

Planting Project

D and F

I have two over-arching goals in all the classes I teach:
      1. To teach folks how to grow some of their own food.
      2. To teach folks how to be a part of a community.
If you want a good grade, keep that in mind. These are the things we will need as a people in the very near future. If we don't learn this, we will be in deep trouble.

Therefore, please note, I try to grade you on your personal improvement. Cooperation is counted more than competition in my classes.

Office hours are by appointment only – please call or email me. I am willing to meet with you; I want you to learn; I do not want you to struggle. Please do not hesitate to call me, rather than try to talk to me in class when I can't really give you undivided attention. Extra points are available if you wish to earn more credit.

Each class, as we start, will usually begin with lecture and then proceed to the garden where we will share the garden chores and harvest.

You are encouraged to experiment in the garden plot. Your process should be thoroughly documented in your journal – your thinking and your understanding of what is happening in your garden. If you have a problem, research a solution.

Pick one book from the ones presented in class to read and report on.

As often as I can, I will prepare some seasonal food to eat. There are no places to buy food while in class and we are here for four hours. Students are encouraged to bring in food to share with the class at all meetings. Students should bring in their own plate and eating utensils so we can have a minimum waste event. The last class meeting will be a potluck where we will all share local and fresh food! (That's the point, right?)

Criteria for your garden journal grade:
  1. Documentation of what you planted when
  2. Documentation of weather elements – temperature (minimum and maximum) as well as an precipitation and noting humidity or dryness, especially of Santa Ana winds.
  3. Germination per cent of plant sown from seed
  4. Choice of varieties sources and reasoning
  5. Success/failures discussed – alternatives to failures/expansion of successes
  6. Plans for the future
  7. Drawings (or photos) of the garden (either done by hand or by computer program) NOTE: this notebook is NOT your class notes – they might be included, but what I want are your garden observations!

Criteria for your garden plot grade:
  1. You should experiment and try something you have never done – explore!
  2. Our plot and adjacent pathways must be cleared of weeds.
  3. Our plot and adjacent pathways must be well mulched. (Up to me to find the mulch.)
  4. All of our plot should be attractive and be growing some food.
  5. Your journal should indicate you learned something from the plot, your journal and your plot are intertwined and work together.
  6. When presented with the opportunity, you should cooperate with other students, help those in need and be team member of this class.

The person who starts from seed vs. bringing in growing plants, will have plants not nearly as far along as the others – but stands to make a better grade if they have experimented with growing from seed – I am more interested that you LEARN in this class – just doing what you already have done doesn't teach you anything. We are all gardeners here, if we don't have patience yet, we soon will. Cultivate patience with your plants in this class setting.

All handouts (including this syllabus) will be available on the blog site:

Please keep a sweater or jacket handy. Class is not canceled on account of rain. As long as you can hear my voice, class will go on, though I will try to get us out of a rain.

14 February, 2019

First Time Offering: The SPRING Urban Food Production UCLA Extension Class!

It's been a year since I've taught at UCLA Extension, but now we have a course scheduled for this coming Spring Quarter! 

This is a new and different course with an old name. When I first began to teach Urban Food Production many years ago, it was a Fall Quarter class, but I envisioned the same class taught in Spring because that's how gardening rolls in the Mediterranean Climate of Los Angeles - we garden year round, the two big planting times are Fall and Spring. Finally, I now have the chance to teach that class - in Spring! I'm very excited about what we'll get to cover. 

Instructor with instructor's portable desk.

Students who have had Urban Food Production in Fall, will find very little overlap between the Spring and Fall classes - there will be some overlap, but on the whole this is a different course. We will do a light touch on soil - which was in the Fall class, but we'll show different aspects of soil science too. In Fall, we discussed chickens, so instead of chickens, we will look at some other livestock -  in keeping with our Urban Food Production concept.

The Spring planting palette is different and we'll use different techniques for these plants, plus we'll look beyond what we can do in a short class and find perennial truths that are guides for good gardening on through the years. 

You can enroll in Urban Food Production at this link.  I look forward to seeing you in class! You can respond to this post for more information if you wish. 


04 February, 2019

New Book on Soils For Gardeners

Understanding soils girds our work in the garden and is a part of a successful gardeners' ability to be successful. There are books out there on soil, I've mentioned a lot of them to my classes and I've probably said something here in the past. But most soils book are too heavily invested in "acres" while gardeners are planting "square feet," or they are so loaded with scientific words and concepts that an average, brain just melts under the onslaught. 

Written by Nancy Cipes and Gretchen Renshaw, 
Yet, we all know how important understanding our soil and how it works, accepting full well that this thing we call "soil" plays a major role in the creation and tenability of our creation. I have spent many years coming up with lectures that actually address what is going on in the soil with the roots of my plants and describing how that works to students without overwhelming them with science. What I have done for my students has been eclipsed by a book that does what I have tried to do, but does so by covering much more than my simple lectures have done. 

I heard about the book on line and immediately ordered it. When it arrived, the first chapter ran parallel to what is always my first words to each class on soil! I was so happy then to see that it went way beyond that first chapter, but stayed firmly in language that everyone can handle and included many of the same illustrations I have found to be useful. It covers a lot of ground and does so with simple elegance. I am ecstatic that there is now a book I can suggest for all my students that will give them a good grounding in these subjects. 

I am overjoyed to feature this book on my blog because it fills a niche that's been left untouched for far too many years. If you garden and you are not a soil scientist, get this book. You'll thank me sooner or later!  It's going to help you achieve your garden dreams.


30 January, 2019

Lots Goes On In A SoCal Garden in January!

Rain on a broccoli, the photographer and his camera. We are grateful for the rain - even if it is just so-called 'negligible precipitation.' Lack of water is our plague and we need to garden in ways that keep moisture in the ground. These little showers are precious even if they aren't the be-all and end-all for us.

One of the wonderful things of living in Southern California, this close to the Pacific Ocean is the delightful, mild weather we enjoy. This is both a blessing and a curse. Further inland and on almost all of the North American continent, 'gardening' this time of year means looking in the seed catalogs that have begun to fill your mailbox. If you aren't getting seed catalogs on a regular basis, you haven't been gardening a long enough – they will come like aphids to new growth.

One of the truisms I try to practice is to 'garden with passion and gusto.' Gardening to me means growing it yourself from seed to final product and learning what works and how it works. At the beginning of the year, with all the promise of newness and resolutions, this is an exciting time for me in the garden. On days it isn't raining, the cool weather makes some of the more strenuous work a little less onerous and on warmer days it is usually not severe enough to make such work too difficult.

So this is the time to do more than simply think about a general garden cleanup and get busy if you haven't done it already.

It is still time to look after the plants of perennial food growing in your garden. If I haven't yet, I begin to prune my fruit trees. This is one of 'those jobs' I tend to procrastinate as long as I can.
If you have no experience at fruit tree pruning, do your trees a favor and order a pruning handbook from University of California’s Agricultural and Natural Resources Division (ANR)1 or purchase a reputable pruning book. Remember that these trees will live a lot longer than a typical pet and we wouldn't treat our cats or dogs with the indifference many people show trees. Pruned correctly, an apple, plum or peach will produce luscious, tasty fruit for many years. It's actually harder on you (and the tree) to prune incorrectly, so find out how and do it as right as you can in the first place. There are very few 'professional' gardeners who actually know how to prune fruit trees. Some trees will only fruit on old wood and some only on newer wood. If you or the person you hire doesn't know this, you could ruin the tree for many seasons to come. Get someone who knows fruit trees and pay them or learn how to do it yourself! Make the cuts with clean and sharp tools and follow a few simple rules.

This is the tail end of the 'dormant season' when one typically purchases deciduous fruit trees, apples, apricots, grapes and perennial ornamental plants such as roses. If you are putting perennial herbs in the ground (sage, rosemary and thyme – parsley is a biennial, with apologies to Paul Simon), this is the best time to put them in the ground – even though you may plant them year round here. Buy your trees or vines from someone who knows where you live in order to insure you are getting plants that will produce for you. A local neighborhood nursery will only carry plants that will do well in your climate whereas a big box outlet will carry things that are more likely to grow over a much wider area. You'll also find the selection at most big box stores to be woefully short and the staff indifferent, at best, to your needs.

Mail order suppliers are excellent venues for purchasing trees. One of my best finds was from a mail order nursery. I called and talked to one of the staff asking a few questions. There is no replacement for a person with knowledge. Based on where I was gardening, he suggested I try my luck with Dorsett Gold apples. I took his suggestion and have been blessed with a delicious, sweet and crisp apple that has wowed visitors to the garden ever since.

In the past, when pruning fruiting trees, without fail, I followed the pruning by spraying the tree with 'horticultural oil' which was what I was taught back in those days. Horticultural oil is highly refined petroleum oil that pests have never developed immunity to. It is deadly stuff. At one time, everyone was taught to spray this stuff whether you needed it or not on all your fruit trees to prevent future infestations. After doing this for a number of years, I opted to not spray. Guess what. Most of the time, I found I was wasting my time, labor and money on trees that did not develop problems in the following year.

Well, what happens when you don't spray and the tree gets the ickies? Nothing really. Any insect you spray for is not going to kill your tree, it will, at worst deprive you of a crop, but not usually. If anything, you might get a smaller crop of apples or get apples with scab or some other non-fatal disease. The only disease that will kill your tree (fireblight) is not phased one iota by any spray.

When I began to spray on as “only as needed basis,” I learned that more than 90% of the time I was merely throwing my money and time away. I don’t need to do that, do you? If you get a problem that needs spraying, read a different book. I'm done with spraying anything.

Spraying has ramifications to honey bees – an insect we cannot do without. Simply not spraying for them, makes more sense than spraying for whatever prophylactic reason. Please consider not spraying at all. We are counting on our trees for food, so we will want to be proactive in their care, but we also need to be intelligent in our use of killing agents in our environment, and in particular around our food. Much of the problems we face in our world today are the result of mankind's irreverent and reckless use of “-icides” of all types and over using them 'just in case we might get an insect” instead of only if and when absolutely needed.

Somehow, our culture has become convinced that warring with nature is a fight we can win. We are foolish when we spray “just because.” If you have pests, deal with them as the year goes along – and deal with them in ways that avoids all “-icides.” We can be a lot more intelligent in our dealings with the critters that compete for our food supply; spraying admits we have failed to deal with something in a more positive fashion.

We were talking about pruning, right? So, on the other hand, all of your citrus fruit trees are evergreen and therefore can technically be pruned at any time of the year when they are not in flower or actually fruiting (some lemons you just have to look for a slow production time because stopping is not in their vocabulary). These trees are best pruned when there is nothing better to do and the day is not too warm, so the person doing the work doesn’t overheat.

This may be a cold month and, if we are blessed, rainy. But we still have to keep our eyes out for Santa Ana winds – sometimes hot and sometimes cool, but always dry and desiccating to all garden plants, and plants in pots suffer even more. If your skin is crawling and you need more skin cream, or lip balm, you can bet your plants need more moisture too! It’s best to get out there with a hose and help your irrigation system keep up – you’ll enjoy your garden more – the “best fertilizer is the farmer’s shadow.” Still.

Are you ready to think about summer yet? You mean you never stopped thinking about summer? If you are like me, you are completely overwhelmed with seed catalogs and drooling over their wonderful photos and the several hundred new mouth-watering, absolutely irresistible new varieties that all must be tried… in your one10’ square garden bed. If you aren’t getting these free catalogs, you haven't ordered from one yet. What have you been waiting for? Go to the list of seed houses (Appendix A) to make your day! Maybe your month!

Of course, you could skip buying seeds altogether and join with your neighbors in creating a seed library. Like a library of books, a seed library lends seeds, all 'open pollinated.' You allow some of the plants to flower and set seed and at the end of the growing season, return to the library the same amount you borrowed. It is a win/win situation in many ways (The Seed Library of Los Angeles, which I had a hand in starting, is described in Appendix B is one of them and it's for free! Well, $10 for a lifetime which is pretty close to free! Doesn't get a lot better than that. )

So, what will it be this year? Eight different sweet peas, half a dozen different lettuce plants? Look at all those tomatoes for sale and how about that new radish? If I knock down the neighbor’s garage, I think I could add some squash and pumpkins…. do you think they'd mind too much? Probably not if I give them the chance to eat some...

In the Garden, we are still putting out plants of broccoli and cabbage, chard and Brussel sprouts and we can still sow seeds of beets and carrots. Lettuce, the golden child of our winter gardens is the great hole-stopper – whenever any plant has to come out, have a six pack of lettuce on hand – preferably of different colors of lettuce – and plop one in the hole. One of my favorite tricks is to use red lettuces with green lettuces – or different shades of red and green to make a colorful food garden. Lettuce should be a top selection on everyone's list of border plants! Merveille des Quatre Saisons (about the only French I can say without sounding foolish, a marvelous red/green butter lettuce that performs well all through Fall to late Spring), next to Black Seeded Simpson (a very light green leafy lettuce) make a stunning color combo – but I also like Merlot, very dark wine red (aptly named!) alongside Black Seeded Simpson or Parris Island Cos, the quintessential Romaine lettuce. Color and shape, texture and form all come together in the lettuce patch – I swear I can't get through a seed catalog without ordering one or two more packets of lettuce seed. It is an addiction for me! The lettuce loves of my life right now are Merveille des Quatre Saisons, Black Seeded Simpson, Drunken Woman Frizzy Head (I'm not lying!), Parris Island Cos, Red Yugoslavian, Rossa di Trento, Tango and Winter Density. All I have to do, however, is look through a new catalog and I'm easily swayed into the leaves of another. And as if all that wasn't enough, I even like homegrown head lettuce; it's not nearly the garbage found in stores – the ribs are thick and filled with water making a marvelous refreshing salad for a warm day.

No one, no matter what kind of soil you have, should ever step into a garden bed. We want to keep the soil in these beds as fluffy and light as grandma's meringue (not my grandma! Some theoretical really-good-baking grandma!). Adding lots of organic matter will do that for you, but you must stay out of the beds – your footprints will ruin the 'fluffy' we are hoping for our roots.

If you have clay soils, be especially careful to not step in your garden beds. Make paths around the beds and make the beds small enough to reach the center without stepping into the bed – if you have the opportunity to collect tree chips from an arbor company, collect as much of the stuff as you can use or keep to use. Spread it three or more inches deep wherever you have to walk while gardening. You will need to replenish this every so often, but you'll find it so helpful as it keeps weeds from growing in the paths near your garden beds and provides you with the opportunity to walk all around your garden beds without getting mud on your shoes no matter how wet the day! Under the top layer of mulch, the wood chips will be breaking down 'growing' really lovely soil through the years.

Each chapter will have a chart like the one below. I indicate the months that are best for starting different vegetable seeds. “Start These in Containers” means you will plant the seeds in some kind of pot in a sheltered location (hopefully away from pests) to later “Move to the Ground from Containers.” The rest we start directly in the ground in the place they will grow to maturity. Some seeds can be done either way and, if that's the case, I will usually do both. The ones started in containers and moved to the garden will often mature later than the ones started in situ. This way you have two different harvest times if all goes well, but if not, the different strategies may pay off if one of the plantings gets hammered by a weather event or insects.

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
Ultra-early tomatoes
Cabbage (early)
Fava beans
Fava Beans
Fava Beans






Here is the recipe for January, when chard and chickpeas (garbanzos) are in season:

Moroccan Spiced Chickpeas & Chard

Chard should be in abundance right now and that often leads to 'chard overload,' how many times can you steam chard and hit it with lemon juice and still wolf it down with glee? I'm limited but this recipe never seems to fail to satisfy.

The ingredient list only looks daunting. Most of that list is simply a plethora of spices and you will find you already have a lot of them and need to use them up sooner rather than later. I have made this missing a spice here and there and missing raisins (don't make it without raisins if you can help it they really add a delightful sweetness). It doesn't take long to make and the flavors run the gamut from sweet to savory and it is a delightful mélange. Serve with rice or quinoa for a satisfying vegetarian dinner.

• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• ½ sweet onion, minced
• 1 teaspoon paprika (sweet or smoked according to preference)
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• ½ teaspoon turmeric
• ¼ teaspoon thyme
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ¼ cup golden raisins
• 1 tablespoon organic tomato paste
• 1 bunch chard (about 8 ounces) washed, center ribs removed, and chopped
• 1 cup cooked chickpeas plus 1 ¼ cups of their cooking liquid, or 1 can organic chickpeas with liquid plus ½ cup water
• 1 teaspoon hot sauce or ¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)

Add the olive oil, onion, and garlic to a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or 3-4 quart pot, and turn the heat to medium. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes, then add the paprika, cumin, turmeric, thyme, salt, and cinnamon. Stir together and cook for a minute or two until fragrant. Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and turn the heat down to medium-low.

Be sure to stir every 3-5 minutes to ensure that the bottom does not burn and that your ingredients are evenly combined. You can add a tablespoon of rice flour if you like your stew thicker. Remove from the heat after 20 minutes. Serve with rice or quinoa.

1The book I use is sold by UC's ANR: Home Orchard: Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees Publication Number: 3485, Author: C. INGELS, P. GEISEL, M. NORTON ISBN-13: 978-1-879906-72-3 Copyright Date: 2007

01 January, 2019

My Diatribe Against Fertilizers!

January is always associated with new beginnings simply by being the first month in our current calendar. So we go with the flow.

Most gardeners the world over are stuck inside looking at seed catalogs – which conventionally  arrive about now – because the ground is frozen solid or at least cold enough to kill almost every seedling for a few more months! Having been raised in the mid-West, I have sat by the fire with a stack of seed catalogs next to me and proceeded to create orders of hundreds of seeds which, of course, Grandpa never ordered (he saved most of his own seeds and ordered parsimoniously – he lived on Social Security and whatever he could sell from his three acre garden. His bottom line and my expensive orders didn't mix. However, the seed companies trained me well for as soon as I was in charge of my own finances, I have ordered too many seeds annually with regular precision!

(On a side note: I need carrots for an upcoming workshop and after trying four times to get my carrot seed to sprout, I looked at the package and it was completely out of date. Take it from me, having learned it yet again, carrot seed isn't worth its weight in dust after 18 months. So I took to my catalogs. I ended up ordering Nantes Carrots from Pinetree Garden Seeds, of whom I've written before. Let me tell you, I have NEVER gotten a seed order this fast in my life! I'm thinking they've hired a clairvoyant and knew the order was coming two days before I ordered it. If I ever need something fast every again, you can guess who I'll be dealing with! Kudos to Pinetree Garden Seed!)  And as I've noted before, their packages are the best sized for us without forty feet rows. The selection is great as well.

Nantes Carrots from Pinetree Garden Seeds
Note the blunt ends, more of the carrot is
usable, and one of my reasons for choosing this variety.
But in Southern California, we just keep on trucking, all year round! Not only do we have some of the finest soils in the world, we have weather that allows us to grow much more variety than most of the rest of the planet! I am complaining about my carrots (above), but in what percent of the United States does one get to make that complaint in January? It's amazing what we can do here.

In January, as a part of a year long quest for knowledge, I want us all to consider on how we can limit fertilizers in our gardens. Most of the fertilizers we put down on the ground are wasted. Sometimes that's because the way we applied them was faulty or improper; sometimes it's because the soil already has enough of that fertilizer and cannot use anymore; sometimes it's because we diagnose our plants' problems improperly.

In Southern California, especially in Los Angeles county, the part of California I am most used to, I would easily bet that your soil has enough of all nutrients to grow plants except Nitrogen. This is true for a lot of California soils. You will have to supply Nitrogen to your plants. I don't use fertilizers at all. But I have to be certain my plants have Nitrogen to grow. How do I get those two ends to meet?

Before explaining that, note this: science considers Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium to be the three “Macro-elements” that are in the most demand by the plant for growth. We know we are missing N (the symbol for Nitrogen) without even looking for it because most California Flora are adapted to live in soils without N – if the plants needed N, the soils they would be the dominant species would have lots of N. Our soils don't. The lesson is clear and you don't have to be a clairvoyant to figure that out – just do a thorough inventory of what is there! But our veggies are not from California and they have evolved not only use Nitrogen, but lots of it . Most of the other minerals science says we need to grow good plants are found in good supply in our soils. Now, I know that's a huge generalization, and it doesn't substitute for a soil test, but that would be my assumption until proven wrong.

In my garden, we do not use Nitrogen fertilizer. Yet our plants are supplied with enough N to perform. We made this happen by planting plants that are said to “fix” atmospheric Nitrogen in a way that makes that N available to plant roots. These are crops from the different bean and pea families and we grow a lot of them. If I were growing my own garden, I would love to have pathways of clover, which also fix Nitrogen. This N, done the way nature does things, is in good supply in our soils. Nitrogen from commercial endeavors is frequently gassed off into the atmosphere serving our plants very little and putting more carbon in the air. However, if we use peas and beans we are sequestering that in the soil – which, by the way, is where it should be!

While this true for Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium are not a part of the atmosphere and so do not present that kind of problem. However, they are usually found in our soils with abundance.

Don't add more to what is there already. Again, these are broad generalizations, it comes from Southern California and it is based on my experience.  A soil test is the only way to tell absolutely what is in your soil. At one point, my garden was tested (a long time ago) and so I know I'm right, but this is my overall recommendation until you do get a soil test.

There are many more elements needed for a good garden soil, but they are no way needed as much as these three. (We talk about these other minerals in another chapter...)

Ideally, for our Nitrogen fix, we would grow beans and when done, cut them off at the soil surface, leaving the roots in the soil to decompose, but, while that does give one more Nitrogen, I don't often do it, because I'm ready plant something else there already and I can't wait. You will still get N in the soil, not just as much. Don't make yourself nuts trying sequester ALL the N in the soil, it's not worth it. Get some in and keep getting some in.

One big ol' Exception to the rule of Nitrogen: Tomatoes do not produce well with lots of Nitrogen in the soil! Do not follow beans or peas or any other N fixing plant with Tomatoes. For some reason they plants will grow and grow until the Nitrogen is used up. Then they will finally set flowers and begin to make tomatoes, but not until then!

Happy New Year to all of you! My Scottish Terrier, Mr Tre', and I wish everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year! Here's to great harvests, befuddled pests and lots of home grown food!  Thanks for reading...


19 December, 2018

December in Our Mediterranean Gardens

Winter 2018 in Review: Our Rights and Our Wrongs

It's seed catalog time – I've got two already. Seed Savers Exchange arrived

yesterday (first one of my crowd to get it!) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange came today. I will probably get a few seeds from each one – they have different varieties that entice. This last month, a friend of mine took a squash I had bought and turned it into two delicious pumpkin pies. I see the seeds for that squash (pumpkin) sold by Seed Savers Exchange and so Winter Luxury Pie will be added to my seeds sown this summer – I've already seen a lettuce I cannot live without, but I'll spend time over them, learning and dreaming of the next year's garden which is always sure to be double better than any I've grown before!

Yes, I know they are from across the continent,
but you gotta give them some love - you'll find
stuff here, you'll find nowhere else!
A recap of what has been grown is a great place to start to figure out what you'll grow this year! From my notes, this is what a past winter season looked like in the garden.

Artichoke: We had a great harvest last year of artichokes – mostly Green Globe Improved. They all produced big beautiful chokes with abandon. We had respectable harvest from Violetto which I love, but it wasn't nearly as productive, the chokes are smaller and not nearly as meaty. We are working with a plant breeder to work out some bugs in his purple artichokes, which he has named Winnetka Purple, but so far we've seen good sized green chokes or little sized purple chokes. More work.

Beets: Burpee's Golden and Chioggia - both are dynamite and steady producers year in and year out and both are readily available all over. These are two old standby varieties that form the bulk of my beet growing – Burpee's Golden has a lower than usual rate of germination but it's well worth it – besides fabulous pickles, they don't stain your hands or clothing!

Broccoli: Nutribud is an OP (Open Pollinated, vs. 'Hybrid') of respectable performance; earliness is right up there with the hybrids and the size, though smaller, is comparable. As the name suggests, it is reported to have a higher percentage of glutamine. DeCicco is a smaller, faster and more home garden friendly than some of the older varieties. All the other tight headed broccoli are hybrids. There are loose headed broccoli like Romanesco and Calabrese, but they take a lot more time. With those two varieties I recommend (Nutribud and DeCicco), you can harvest the main head and have more than a month of the sideshoots which can be more worthwhile than the main head.

Brussels sprouts: Between cabbage and broccoli, I get enough of this family to skip Brussels sprouts. OP Brussels sprouts include Long Island Improved which is the standard. The problem I have is that aphids get into each and every sprout and they are labor intensive to clean before eating – if you get a decent crop, grill them! I love them like that.

Cabbage: A good year for cabbage for us. Danish Ball Head, one of my favorite OP heirlooms performed good after we actually got some seedlings started. Winningstadt is a pointy head cabbage that yielded 10 pound heads that were delicious. Both were huge solid heads and we ate and ate and finally learned how to ferment cabbage to be able to eat it the rest of the year. And then I was sick of cabbage.

Carrots: How wonderful, if you decide to plant some of the different color carrots, you'll be able to grow open pollinated seeds! Because carrots didn't become uniformly orange until the last 70 years or so (because of marketing demand), the different colored carrots are all OP. In the orange department you'll find Nantes and Red Cored Chantenay as your big producers. In containers, try Paris Market and other small, 'one-bite' carrots.

Cauliflower: Mark Twain is supposed to have said that 'cauliflower was cabbage that had gone to college' and who can afford the tuition these days, so I'll stick to cabbage. Cabbage is easier to preserve and broccoli will give successive cuttings from one plant. Cauliflower is more work and less results. But, if you must, Early Snowball is the best OP cauliflower available and it is 'self-blanching,' which means its own leaves cover the white curds keeping them from the sun. If the curds are exposed to the sun, they will turn greenish, a detracting trait according to the Regents. There are also purple and a 'cheddar' color of cauliflower that are heirloom varieties.

Celeriac: First year with this and I like it. I don't grow celery because it's a hard plant to grow and home grown celery has always tasted bitter to me. Celeriac, on the other hand, was easy to grow and produced well. You can't smear a hunk with cream cheese or peanut butter and have the same delightful appetizer, but it does a marvelous dance in soups. Large Prague was our selection and I've not had experience with anything else.

Chard: (I'm dispensing with the 'Swiss' part, feel free to join me, after all, is it really Swiss?) We had seed from Seed Savers Exchange of Five Color Silverbeet, (silverbeet is Australian for chard, God only knows why) and seed of Pinetree's Orange Fantasia. Both were incredibly productive – although I've never known chard to be unproductive, so I'm not sure that's saying a lot. Someone gave us a few plants of Fordhook Giant, large leaves with a tremendous white rib down the center, and that one has spectacular production. While the colorful chards are show stoppers and sometimes we skip on Fordhook Giant, but those huge, beautiful, dark-green leaves are loaded with nutrition and flavor.

Cilantro: Let it go to seed and you'll have cilantro returning to your garden annually! I wish we could have it when tomatoes are ripe, then I'd grow a bundle of it, but no. It grows in our winter here. Plant any old cilantro – I have noticed no difference between Slo-Bolt and normal – one good blast of a hot Santa Ana wind it all of them bolt!

Collards: I'm not a huge fan and I've only had experience growing the old standard Vates. Collards, like some other winter crops like broccoli, are long term producers and that is a wonderful trait. Collards, a major part of the southern cuisine, became popular as one of the few crops that could remediate salty soil – like soil that had been inundated with ocean water from storms. As the slaves of the South worked with collards, they made them into stars of their now famous cuisine!

Fava beans: Windsor is my favorite and we get pounds of beans from each plant. I'm growing fewer peas preferring to grow more favas, garbanzos and lentils. Favas, of all of them, are the most productive – once you find recipes for them and are used to using them, they are really prolific! There are some less known favas that are quite beautiful.

Garlic: I love Spanish Roja – one of the hardnecks that are supposed to not like warm climates, but I have great luck with them. Last year, the crows got to them. They don't eat the garlic, but they pull them out of the ground. After three or four go rounds of this (they pull, I replant, repeat), the cloves were hopelessly intermixed so which one was the better producer is anyone's guess. But even without crows, you will find yourself buying fresh seed garlic every year – especially when you grow hard neck garlic which won't keep from one harvest to the next planting.

Kale: Redbor has worked well for me. I had some plants of Dwarf Blue kale, but when I grew it, I felt like that was a very stupid idea – same footprint for half the the food. What WAS I thinking? Lacinato, or Dinosaur Kale, gets a lot of press - and the cooks seem to love it the best. From my northern friends I have heard that kale needs a frost to really bring out its flavor – in some years, we might get to find if that's true. I've had enough kale to last me the rest of my natural life.

Leeks: King Richard is my usual dependable producer but last year was a really so-so harvest. I think I ignored them too much. American Flag is another popular variety.

Lettuce: I'm one of those who can't get through the lettuce section of a seed catalog without ordering four or five more packets! I could supply a large army with lettuce if I were given the land to do it. Marvel of the Four Seasons (Merveille des Quatre Saisons), Drunken Woman Frizzy-head (I kid you not!), Red Winter, Deer Tongue, Buttercrunch, and on and on and on. All delicious and all OP! Please note that the butter heads for which you pay so dearly in the store, are not hard to grow at all (their priciness is in the shipping) and they are actually more heat resistant than most other lettuces.

Onions: I usually buy plants from a local organic farm supply, but they sold out so I had to learn how to grow them from seed. Worked out fine, except that it takes a very long time. I like to grow Italian Red Torpedo – a delicious onion that is absolutely stellar on the grill. The seed I found was called 'Red Long of Tropea,' and they looked and tasted exactly like Red Torpedo, explains, to me at least, why it's called 'torpedo' when it really doesn't look any more like a torpedo than a zeppelin. Onions, unlike almost every other veggie we grow is 'day sensitive.' Most onions offered in the States will not bulb in LA because they are 'long day' plants and we need to grow 'short day' varieties. Folks from the rest of the US are not able to comprehend our experiences and the catalogs rarely indicate short or long day. Onions grown in most of Italy and Texas are usually short-day onions.

Parsnips: Coming back in popularity, parsnips were overlooked for decades. The white roots have the earthiness of beets with the crunch of carrots and are a sweet treat from the earth. I've only grown Hollow Crown, but I hear a lot of good words on Harris Model. Their seeds, like carrots do not last long even under really good conditions, so buy fresh annually on both.

Peas: I remember as a child getting fresh baby peas and potatoes from the garden for one of the finest meals we ever had. Nowadays, there are more pea varieties than you can shake a spoon at! For snap peas, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Snap are two reliable performers and for shelling, Little Marvel and Wando – I grow fewer peas than I used to, mainly because I like to plant other winter crops in the same space. Peas get ripe and in nano-seconds go to over ripe. Pick them thoroughly and often.

Potatoes: The world has changed a lot in the past few decades as regards the white potato. In the first place, it is no longer necessarily white. Now days, there are red, blue, yellow and other colors of potatoes and there are million different ways to cook them. I think that's going to be my 2018 resolution: I'm going to learn more about these amazing potatoes and how to eat them. Growing potatoes is about the easiest thing in the world to do, and having a good chunk Irish in me, I have that down pat! I have already grown the yellow ones – the Yukon Golds and found them delicious as well as easy. The biggest hangup with potatoes is getting them to sprout on your timeline. Most of those sold for food have been treated to NOT sprout, but even if they have not been treated, potatoes are headstrong about starting. They'll not begin to sprout until they have rested the amount of time they want to. Most seed houses will have taken care of that for you, but every so often, when you get nothing, it's because their clock has not been reset.

Radishes: I often forget to mention radishes – they are not one of my favorites (they really seem like a waste of space), but if you gotta have them, you gotta have them. I'm told they are a good source of protein. French Breakfast is one the standards and nowadays you can get Watermelon (outside white, inside red) Sparkler (little red ones) and others that are delightfully colored.

Shallots: Wow! I had never grown shallots before, but I have found they are easier to grow than onions and more productive! I planted seed from Pinetree Garden Seeeds (superseeds.com) and I was impressed, I'm back for more! Olympus and Bonilla were both good performers. And if you lack the patience or missed ordering the seeds, get some seed stock shallots from a reputable seed house – you can find a bag of them in some nursery stores.

Turnips: I used to ignore all other turnips besides Purple Top White Globe which I grew up with and is the only one sold by Seed Savers Exchange. Amber Globe and Scarlet Ohno turnips need to be trialed – and there is still time this winter!

We had some good harvests this last year and this year we are looking for way more – we have Spanish Roja garlic in the ground along with Yellow Dutch Shallots up in the garden, little pokey green things that are very cute! We have just seeded more beets than I have grown since 2008 (when I led a high school class making pickled beets!).

These plants, in the garden are almost all from seed. Most of these, can still be planted on the coast where I am - so I need to get out there and do some more planting!

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
I would not start anything in containers – but direct sow
Fava beans
Cabbage family members
Fava beans

Garbanzos and lentils


Lettuce and Other greens

Since last month's list, I've removed carrots, parsnips and other long season crops. On the coast, we might get crops in from them, but it gets riskier as the warmer days approach. Remember, the 75 day fava bean, in a cold season will take 90 days or more – you might have time to get a picking or two, but the harvest you could have had will be lost by your lateness.


BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS; www.rareseeds.com 2278 Baker Creek Road Mansfield, MO 65704; 417.924.8917 What a catalog! Beautiful pictures of the produce – vegetable porn for sure. Anyone who works this hard in putting out a beautiful seed catalog is working with a great deal of love. Drooling is hardly optional here. They have a really comprehensive selection as well.

BOTANICAL INTERESTS; www.botanicalinterests.com 660 Compton Street, Broomfield, CO 80020; 720.880.7293. I 'have been dealing with these folks for only a couple of years - I have seen their seeds on seed racks here and there, but I really got to know them for the quantity of seeds they donate to Venice High School and other educational programs. Good seed.  Clean.  Good variety and a good price. Great packaging!

www.bountifulgardens.org 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410 Organic seed; open-pollinated. A part of the work done by John Jeavons, a proud and active member of the population of organic and open-pollinated gardeners.

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; www.groworganic.com PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 I have purchased many seeds (and a lot of other things!) from Peaceful Valley – I love their catalog. They have an excellent selection of cover crop seeds as well as a lot of organic gardening supplies and tools. I have used their catalog to teach organic gardening because they clearly explain their products and how to use them.

PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; www.superseeds.com PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400 Probably the best for a home gardener – small packets of very current seed, a very good value. The smaller packets mean a smaller price so a person can order a lot more varieties and experiment. I have been a customer for many years.

SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; www.seedsavers.org Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership fees $50. Free brochure. Organic, and ALL open-pollinated. There are two ways to save seeds: one is to collect them all and keep them in a huge building that protects them from everything up to (and including) nuclear holocaust. The other way is to grow 'em. You can find the chance to grow them here. I have been a member for about 10 years and believe in their work.

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE SEED EXCHANGE; www.southernexposure.com P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117, 540.894.9480 (Fax: 540.894.9481) A commercial venture that is somewhat similar to Seed Savers Exchange, but really isn't an exchange. They do carry seed saving supplies - nice to have if you are going to save seed. And they have varieties that I've found nowhere else.


3½ pounds beets (4 pounds with green attached, reserving greens for another use), scrubbed and trimmed, leaving about 1 inch of stems attached
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves

Speaking of beets! In a large saucepan cover beets with salted water by 1 inch. Simmer beets, covered, 35 to 45 minutes, or until tender, and drain in a colander. Cool beets until they can be handled and slip off skins and stems. Cut beets lengthwise into wedges.

Beets may be prepared up to this point 2 days ahead and chilled, covered. Bring beets to room temperature before proceeding.

In a large skillet stir together vinegar, syrup or honey, and oil and add beets. Cook beet mixture with salt and pepper to taste over moderate heat, stirring, until heated through and coated well. Sprinkle about half of thyme over beets and toss gently. Serve beets sprinkled with remaining thyme.


13 December, 2018

"Just" Water

Even before I turned 10 it was obvious I had an insatiable appetite for history. I loved to sit with old folks and hear them tell me about the days gone by and by 13 I could have been certified as a Civil War expert. I had checked out The Sinking of the Bismark so many times from the school library, no one else had a chance to read it while I was in 5th grade and part of 6th as well. Except for the lack of love scenes, it behooves any screenwriters out there to give it a look – what a plot! But that has nothing to do with today's topic.

I had a good grasp of Kansas history as well. I knew about the pro-slavery Kansas constitution and the anti-slavery constitution – the latter is the one that won out after some bloody confrontations giving rise to the name “Bleeding Kansas.” I actually lived in both capital cities – Topeka, the anti-slavery capital we all know and Lecompton, KS about 18 miles east of Topeka, the pro-slavery capital that is mostly ignored.

Finally in high school I came across material on The Dust Bowl, and it simply floored me that no one I had talked to had ever said a word about it. I lived in Northeast Kansas, which was about 150 miles east of the Dust Bowl's eastern line, but such a phenomena would surely have affected beyond the borders drawn on a map. Yet, none of my mentors had even mentioned it.

On a recent day off, I immersed myself in Ken Burns' film, “The Dust Bowl” and watched the whole four hours (or so) in one sitting. It was my second time to watch it, doing it all at once was a bit overwhelming even with the knowledge I had going in. If your anti-depressant Rx is up to date, it's an eye-opener for sure, but without meds, it is one helluva story to follow. It was one of the “top five natural disasters” in the world and it was entirely man-made. Let that sink in. Mind you, as it happened, the humanity involved had no idea that they were at fault, but none-the-less, absent the mass of humans with their tractors and their plows, and there is no The Dust Bowl. A rather long drought, did nothing to help it, but it would not have caused the blowing dust that killed animals, domestic and wild, and humans alike. There had to be humans and their tractors pulling plows.

There was one mention at the very last of the film that I want to explore today, something I had heard of several times, in the back ground of other conversations, but here, in the film, a man was saying we have 40 years left and I began to calculate from the film's 2012 release about when he gave those numbers – six years ago, plus however long in production.

The forty years left was in reference to the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Ogallala Aquifer is a massive body of water that lies underground from South Dakota and Wyoming, through Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico, ending in Texas. While it's been known about for some time, becoming a part of the White Cultures' science just over 100 years ago, the Ogallala was left pretty much alone. In the years around WWII, farmers began to use the Ogallala to grow crops that needed more water than they had and once farmers had a vision of all they could grow using the aquifer's water, the dam burst, so to speak, giving rise to the gloomy prediction of forty years left. The Ogallala provides 30% of the water used for irrigation nation wide, and also supplies many mid-Western municipalities with their drinking water supply.

The Ogallala Underground Aquifer
from Wyoming to Texas touching eight states.

Once depleted, the Ogallala will take 6,000 years to replenish. This is a finite resource. No politician seems to have the heart to say, “Uh, folks? We have a problem here,” and it's a big problem. The Ogallala is being drained in years with good rain, because farmers can grow crops that would not be attempted without that water. It is used heavily in rain short years to keep the traditional grain crops producing. It is used too heavily and this consumption needs to be addressed to prevent this resource from disappearing.

Without the water, a whole new chain of so-called “Okies” will hit the road for – literally – greener pastures, only California won't be one of them. Our water shortages are as bad as the Great Plains, if not worse. California agriculture ships alfalfa, a heavy drinker of a plant if there ever was one, rice and other plants to foreign markets which is absurd because in the real world we are shipping our water overseas – water we can ill afford to give up to make a farmer – or more likely, a company that grows the alfalfa and so on, rich. Our precious water is sent across the world when shortages are already here – if one should have any doubts, a quick internet search on the water levels at Lake Mead should quickly clear that up.

Of all the concerns we have about Global Climate Change, the one I never hear is lack of water – and yet that figures in the equation – especially when we also waste huge quantities of water in fracking. The chemical soup that is used in fracking – too toxic to reveal just what compounds are in that mix – ruins water and that water will never be used for drinking ever again.  Here is the hard truth about fracking: That water is never coming back. There is no way to clean fracking water –it is catastrophe that will serve no good to anyone for the rest of the life of the planet, unless a miracle occurs. We - as a species - count on water recycling through the system - this does not happen with water used in fracking - mind you, there are other examples where we have removed water from Earth's hydrological cycle that we won't get back.

We all need to be on the front lines pushing our governments to do more with less – to control this abuse of water and to make sure there is ample water for future generations. We can start by using less ourselves – I subscribe to the belief that we must treat water like the sacred, limited, precious life force that it is and so I take fast showers, less frequently; I put cold water in a bucket while I wait for my water to heat up and use it around the house (no, I don't want an instant hot water unit – that hot water tank figures in my survival plans as a source of water in an emergency!). But let's all be cognizant that all our water is a limited resource – whether you are growing crops that need more water than your locality can afford, or shipping the plants you irrigated across the ocean, noting that those plants used the water that had to be pulled from the Colorado River (which already doesn't have enough) thereby degrading the amount of water we have for wildlife and humans alike. We need to make these points to our Congresspeople and to the world at large.

Just water” is only “just” until there is no more. It is precious and a vital part of life. Let's value it and work to show everyone the priorities we need to embrace.