03 December, 2018

The Fair Maiden and The Orange Tomato

(Some blogs seem so uni-dimensional. I'd like to present something a little lighter than most of what I'm writing here. This was written in July 2006, in the height of our tomato season... this is an email I sent to the woman who had planted the tomato plant. She did email back, but didn't make it out to the Garden to sample her tomatoes... There is ONLY one grain of truth in this story... Might even be half a grain... )

From the Baker Creek catalog, Woodle Orange
And it came to pass that the summer did come and the land was filled with the heat thereof and the heat begat the fruiting of the tomato vines and the vines of all the land were lush with many tomatoes everywhere.

And the people were overjoyed that tomato season was once again in the land and they rejoiced with abandon and went from plant to plant, picking the tomatoes and many eating from the vine right where they stood relishing the deliciousness of the fruit warmed by the sun, sweet and succulent in its ripeness.

And lo, they came unto one plant with fruit a different color than they were used to, for though tomatoes have many colors, most are red or yellow, but this one was orange to the eye and appealing and many said to themselves, we have never seen a tomato like this tomato and they marveled at its color, but not so much that they did not eat the fruit. And when they had eaten the fruit they looked at one another and said, this is the bomb, behold an orange tomato that is sweeter than a Reeses Piece yet is a tomato! And they went with their discovery to the Wise Man in charge of the garden, verily, the one they call the Gardenmaster and they said unto him, look what we have found!

And the Gardenmaster, because he was wise and knew about orange tomatoes from a long time before, was not impressed and verily did say to them that had gathered, This is an orange tomato. So what.

Verily, they said unto him, loud with one voice, you must taste this orange tomato for there is none other tomato like it. And they offered him a fruit, which he did take and then saith, Why yes, that is pretty yummy.

And then the people pressed him pointing to the bush that brought forth such alluring fruit, From whence cometh that amazing tomato plant? And he spoke to them replying, It came from Nan.

And they all marveled and said with one voice, Nan?

Nan, replied the Gardenmaster, Nan came from afar and did plant that tomato plant which bears the orange, and quite tasty, fruit.

Oh, all the people said, who could this Nan be that she would bring to us such a fruit and leave it for us to eat and partake – what a wise and benevolent soul this Nan must be! And they talked among themselves in wonder and amazement who this Nan could be, so they turned to the Gardenmaster and spoke to him saying, Tell us all about this Nan.

And he said unto them, she is a fair and lovely maiden, beautiful and gracious and they said unto him, surely she must be rich beyond all measure and something truly extraordinarily different that sets her apart from all other fair and loving maidens.

And the Gardenmaster thought for a time and finally said unto them, Well, she IS Canadian.

And the people spoke among themselves with awe wondering what kind of wonderful and mighty place this Canadia must be that they grow so many delicious tomatoes that one of them could come to this garden and plant a tomato like this tomato.

But one among them was not impressed – he said unto them, I know several Canadians, they are just like Americans, only civilized. Verily they have civilized health care with no waiting lines and they have a peculiar adaptation of English, but they are thoughtful and have made a nation on the glaciers of North America.

Now the people were mystified greatly. Who could this Nan be that she would could plant such a marvelous tomato in their midst and leave it for others to enjoy, verily, not even returning to try the fruit, but to leave is if it were abandoned.. And so they pressed close to the Gardenmaster and they spoke unto him demanding an answer. Why would this fair maiden give unto them this plant? And he tried to evade them by shrugging his shoulders, but they would have none of it. Tell us, oh, tell us, Gardenmaster, they chanted in unison, Tell us.

And he tried to reason with them, saying, I don’t know why she hasn’t come back, but they would not hear him. Finally, in desperation, he cried out to them, All right, all right, I shall email her and ask her why she has not come back to partake of the fruit of her tomato.

And verily, quieted, the crowd was satisfied and in the wholeness of time the Gardenmaster did send an email to Canadia to ask Nan to come and join the frolicking in the garden in the summer of that year.

Sadly, upon all our hearts, did the email truly bounce.


31 October, 2018

In A Hundred Years: An Essay

In a few days we'll celebrate Veterans' Day. It's only been “Veterans' Day” since 1954. It is still observed in other countries under its old names: Armistice or Remembrance Day. The observance began in the early 1900's – 1918 to be exact. On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, hostilities of the major players along the Western Front in the First World War would cease. This is the beginning of observing that day for veterans; for no more war.

At the end of World War 1, the cost of the war in terms of life and destruction was so huge, most who participated in that war could not stomach the thought that the war had accomplished nothing – mind you, in its immediate aftermath, there was no way a sane person could rationalize the cost of that war, when gaining mere feet at a cost of a thousand – or many thousands of lives was too much to bear. It was called “The War To End All Wars.” Those who lived it, thought it could not be too much to ask for mankind to avoid such horrific butchery of the human species ever again.

With astonishing rapidity, a small group of madmen led the world into a second horrific war, which was to be called World War II, proving that insanity isn't solely invested in a single generation. Humans who aren't capable of engaging with other humans who do not look like them, cannot be trusted to do the right thing. They are too shallow and too fearful – for it is fear that causes a lack of engagement on the political stage – and do not have the intelligence to comprehend and appreciate plurality. In their feckless claims to power they over-promise and under-deliver because they have no substance – no matter how violent and large their army, in a generation they are gone.

We know now, without a shadow of a doubt that a similar war – with more modern weapons – is not a distant possibility. The Russians have huge stockpile of nuclear weapons as does the US and other countries a little less. But we all know that there are only a couple of buttons that can make these monsters go boom. Whether or not you think of it daily, I would believe that everyone capable of reading these words would never want to see even the smallest of those weapons unleashed.  And the truth is, even if only one is unleashed, it will be followed by many, many others and life on earth will be over. 

We cannot be the generation that acts so recklessly. I am fraught with fear over the lack of common sense in our leadership today - I am filled with fear at the rhetoric and lack of decorum and common sense. I am maddened by the name calling and the dehumanizing of people who don't quite match the white man. History shows us that all of this was done before and directly created and set the stage for WWII. We cannot go down that path once again, because the road is far too dark and the unseen is all too certain. The substance and essence of all living generations being vaporized over a dispute, and assuredly a petty dispute compared to what follows, is too much to bear. 

It will be on our watch. Veterans Day, by any name, will be worthless. All of human kind's efforts destroyed by only ego. And in this moment, consider that we have two observances ahead - two traditions – that we must consider. 

In the first, we must go to the polls and vote on November 6th - and we must vote for integrity and competence - for honest and not name calling - for truth and not for falsely concocted crises at our borders or in our heartland. We cannot listen to the money changers and the hopelessly rich. Leaving the booth, we must be able to look the old woman in the eye, the drug addicted, the homeless, the jobless and the forlorn.  We must hold our head high before greed and injustice. 

In the second, on the 11th day of the 11th month, we do not need to show up at parades or stand and salute the flag because those who march in the parade and the ones whole enough to march. There are many shadows behind those marchers. The ones who didn't come back; the ones who cannot leave their sick bed. The cost of war - ANY WAR - should be enough for us to never declare war. It is a horrid shame that a people, a democracy, should ever go to war, let alone be the aggressor. As a people, we have no quarrel with other peoples. The quarrel is created to sell more bombs and shoot more missiles and charge more dollars. A democracy should only defend it's borders, it should never be the invader. 

This is time for sobriety. To consider who we are as a people as well as who we are not. Let us give up the vice of fear, decide as a majority that fairness and hope, not profit should be our diplomacy. That clinging fiercely to the Old motto of our country, "Out of many, One." There is a light to be held in the darkness. Our lives and the lives of the children are in the balance this year as never before. 

We can be Americans - neither Republican or Democrat, neither Christian nor Hindu; neither brown nor black nor white nor in between. Honestly, between you and I and that stockpile of atomic weapons, it is our world to make better or make go away.  And it is past time to act as this is the truth.

Sorry this isn't very gardenry. I'll be back on topic in a short hitch. Meanwhile, go vote.


30 October, 2018

The November Edition: What To Do and When To Do It

What To Do and When To Do It is the informal name we have given to the monthly 1st Saturday class in The Learning Garden, 10 to noon.

November 3rd is coming up fast and I've been so busy, I haven't got around to writing about the class until just now. In my defense, I had a hard drive that had gotten too much data for it's own health and I ended up replacing it myself.  Not without a couple of close of moments closely resembling a heart attack!  But now I'm almost completely back in business (don't ask me what happened to my back up system though!)

Not the best shot in the world, but you can see the wire holding a tag in place. and the brown material is grafting wax.This was a demonstration graft in my 2018 Winter Grafting Class and the blurry part is a leaf of the graft that has obviously taken! The photo was taken as we inventoried plants we will lose in an upcoming construction adjacent to the garden. But it has a point!

This Saturday's class we will do our usual questions answered and we will plant some winter crops and check on my garlic and carrots we planted last month, but we will also explore planting fruit trees for your eating pleasure.  These trees will live twenty or thirty years - if we care for them - and with that kind of production, it is prudent to become educated about fruit trees and which ones do best here and which ones taste the best.

All this AND some free seeds! And some good laughs!


Urban Food Production - Spring Edition!!

Almost a whole two months since I've said hi. Been Busy. But as the days get shorter, I've got a little news to share.

The UCLA Extension that oversees my classes has found a location on the campus for me to teach so look for an Urban Gardening, Spring Edition in  the next quarter's listings.  This will be like the Fall Edition except with the warm season garden. To make it worthwhile for those who take the Fall class, I'm changing some things up and we'll have enough difference to make the class worthwhile. Look in this blog for more details upcoming.  

I'm very excited about the Spring offering!  I had always envisioned there be a Fall and Spring - those two will bring a gardener full circle and experienced with the whole year. We've always needed a Spring class and now we have it! I hope to see you there and I hope you'll find yourself learning as much - or more - than you did in the Fall Quarter.  For those who haven't had my Fall class, both classes can stand on their own. The best is both, but if you can't do both, you can do one or the other and still you'll have a great learning experience!  

I might be slightly biased.

I've waited a long time for the spring class and I hope to see you there!  


02 September, 2018

Our Climate Future: Hope or No Hope

I was blessed this last week to attend the Al Gore "Climate Reality" training at the Staples center in downtown Los Angeles. It was an exhausting, yet an energetic several days.  Several times I was certain my brain was as full as it could get, but they managed to cram more into corners I didn't know I had!

Bunch of folks, 2200 in fact, learned a lot about climate
change in LA this last week.  Most of them
were excited and motivated by the training.
We've been hearing more and more about climate change each and every year. On the news, we hear about larger and more violent storms coming to our shores, each year it's a whole new level of destruction. In one year, the worst hurricane statistics are replaced by a new set of "the worst hurricane statistics." And we think this hyperbole is some sort of sales pitch. Scientists, normally a rather reserved group, seem to be coming close to hysteria with their pronouncements - while other groups of people decry the findings as being a political ploy. Which is it?  

I'm renowned for being a science doubter in the world of GMOs. I still am. But not with climate change. What's the difference? 

In the case of GMOs, many of the institutions that extol the virtues of GMOs are funded by Monsanto (now Monsanto/Bayer) and I find that kind of science repulsive. There are very few GMO studies by non-affiliated institutions - even the US government is thoroughly riddled with Monsanto employees or former-employees or other close associations (Clarence Thomas, for example, was a Monsanto lawyer for a time) that impress me with too much familiarity to be considered impartial. 

There is no such alignment in climate change. The climate is not paying outrageous salaries for consultations - in fact, a good many of these scientists reporting on GMOs are not doing the bidding of some huge behemoth of a company that pays their tidy salary. They are fighting an upstream battle - while scientists from the oil and gas industry ARE paid to sow distrust and confusion.

Most of the people who left the Climate Reality with me, enjoyed a lot of hope about the future. They left with big smiles, laughing and feeling good. 

I, on the other hand, left all the presentations feeling depressed. I'm afraid we don't have enough time to change fast enough. This is a blog about food and I left the training feeling that we won't have enough time. IF we moved on it today - traded in our gasoline cars for electric cars - or even hybrids - and each of us composted our waste, while wasting less, and taking public transportation (that isn't even there yet), IF we ate less meat and did a short list of other things, we could change how this plays out. 

I don't think we will change. At least we won't change fast enough to keep more disasters from happening and sooner than we think, we'll be facing the dead end of climate change. And one of the major problems we will face sooner than later is what will we eat and how will we prepare it?  A lot of the food we eat today will be adversely affected. The fruit trees in the Learning Garden are already affected by climate change - they try to flower in Fall and when that doesn't work, they flower in Spring, but the flowering is reduced, weakened, by the futile flowering in Fall. If this keeps up, the trees are going to be repeatedly weakened and I cannot see how we can judge that as a positive phenomena. 

Humanity may not successfully negotiate these next few decades. We don't have much longer than that to get ahead of this learning curve and to learn how to feed these masses of humans.  Can you see us changing? Fast enough? 

I wish I could.


01 September, 2018

I Can't Believe It's September Already!!!

Can you? Fall is almost or already here. This is really a busy time for a gardener even with the evenings coming sooner and mornings later. I mean it's really a crunch – there is harvesting from the Summer garden and planting for the Winter garden! But if you find time now, you'll reap rewards later in the year.

About half-way into the month, it usually becomes cool enough to sow arugula, beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, parsnips and turnips. My leek and fennel seedlings ought to be ready to transplant out, as should broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard, endive all later in the month. Lettuce is one plant I’ll usually direct sow in the garden AND start in six packs to set out – there are advantages to both and so I’ll use both. Root crops – carrots, beets, radishes and turnips – must be sown where they will grow. If you ignore my advice and try to sow root crops for transplanting, you will find beets, radishes and turnips will produce a crop, but they are so set back by the transplanting process it really isn't worth it – carrots and parsnips simply do not perform at all unless you are incredibly meticulous and then it's just not worth the time.

My friend Joy Sun grew this amaranth - a plant we are harvesting this time of year - beautiful with the lablab bean flowers around it.
As September wanes, probably the most productive time in the Southern California potager begins. If you are eating from your garden, now is the time you can really feast for awhile, the last of summer – peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, sweet corn, basil – is still out there to eat and the first root crops or lettuce will be big enough to munch a bite or two. I enjoy eating BLT sandwiches and for a brief moment in spring and a second brief moment at this time; the homemade BLT is one of my rituals. I bake my own bread, and the tomato and lettuce come from my garden so the only non-homemade items are the bacon and the mayo. It's almost a mystical experience, especially when the bread is still warm from the oven. Finish it off with a dessert of figs heated on the grill or in a broiler, drizzled with a bit of honey on them and a dollop of some fairly stout Greek yogurt. Oh, to die for! Not some store-bought fig shipped in from far away, but a fig that got ripe on a tree in the back yard or from a local farmer at your farmers' market.

Fava beans, lentils and peas are being planted now, too. All of these grow best in our cooler winters. Fava beans were the only bean in the Old World before the American plants became part of the European pantheon; all the other beans are American (as are tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes among others – one wonders how in the world the Italians and French survived long enough to arrive at a culinary tradition!). Fava bean plants, as well as lentils and peas, make a marvelous addition to any soil building program and favas, when combined with artichoke hearts, make a Mediterranean stew so delicious that my taste buds flutter just to remember.

This is an exciting time to be gardening. Grab your imagination and take it to where you are planting. Think about the eventual size of what you are planting – it's OK to make mistakes – that's how we learn! When I'm teaching a class, the truth of it is, I have probably killed more plants than anyone else in the room and yet, they are the ones saying “I have a black thumb.” That's probably the biggest lie they can tell me. When I kill a plant, I usually know why it died and sometimes it isn't my fault. When it IS my fault, it's usually because I wasn't paying attention. Death by inattention isn't a 'black thumb' issue unless you do things like forget to stop the car when parking or forget to go to get breakfast in the morning. Death by inattention can be reformed – it's simply changing your patterns. Be kind to yourself and you'll learn. It's all good.

When we harvest a tomato, we are really harvesting the soil's fertility that has been converted via the sun's energy into the vegetables from our garden. Putting the tomato plant back into the soil, without the tomatoes you harvested, represents a net loss for the soil. That's where the additional mulch and compost come in – we try to replace the vegetables we have eaten with organic matter that will allow the soil to recreate its bevy of nutrients nourishing our next season's garden. It is not sufficient, in the long run, to just add fertilizers – we need to add things that will provide sustenance for the fungi, bacteria and other critters living in our garden's soil; a thriving soil ecology will provide better nutrition to your plants without spending needless dollars on fertilizer, most of which will only become pollution in our ground water or vaporize off into the atmosphere.

In a garden where perennial weeds are not a huge problem, I like the idea of planting a perennial crop that will assist in nourishing the soil – these are sometimes called cover crops or 'manure crops' if they are planted in the beds. My method is a little different, because the crop is allowed to stay in the paths, like any one of several clovers or an alfalfa that will take mild foot traffic and will do something to add to the fertility of the soil. If this crop is mowed in a sustainable manner – like without a gas powered lawn mower – the clippings can be put right back into the beds or added to a compost pile for more green material. Unfortunately, for those of us growing in most community gardens, control of perennial weeds is only as good as the worst gardener. If one gardener doesn't keep them in check, perennial weeds will infest the pathways and there is no good way to get rid of them without digging them out of the pathways. Not having perennial paved paths is another compromise one makes in community gardening.
Keep in mind that some kind of soil regeneration must be happening all the time or the soil will eventually not support food crops. It is better to do this regeneration little by little in our smaller gardens. Folks with larger areas, or a long vacation coming up, can plant cover crops to increase the soil's fertility over a season. For gardeners in Sunset Zones 22 and 24, that means a part of the garden can be left without growing crops to harvest every single month of the year. In areas where there is not a huge problem with perennial weeds, the paths supplement this soil enrichment by growing something like clover year round to improve the soils vibrancy. In any growing season, it is better to have the soil covered with some crop – even a crop of weeds is better than leaving the soil barren. Although it would be ideal if you were to get rid of the weeds before they began to go to seed. Protecting the soil from wind and rain is imperative and bare soil fares the worst. Having some plant there with roots in the soil makes all difference in keeping soil – especially on a slope – in place.

Once you've built good garden soil, you don't want it to leave. We work hard to make our soils the kind of soils our gardening friends will drool over. But one hard rain, or a Santa Ana event on bare soil, even really good soil, can ruin all that work.

Green manure crops have been a time honored way of helping the soil regain lost fertility. Farmers have known for centuries that bean crops add nitrogen to the soil and bulky plants add to the tilth of the soil. Alfalfa is prized for its extensive root system that breaks up the hard subsoil and bring nutrients trapped out of the reach of other plants into its leaves – adding them to the soil or compost pile brings all that into an area where it can be made available to your veggies.

Clover, as well as alfalfa, creates nitrogen – what is called 'fixing nitrogen' and is beneficial to most garden plants. Clover, as a member of the bean family – the Legumes, they are called – has a symbiotic relationship to a bacterium in the soil. The bacteria invade the bean plants roots and the plant feeds the bacteria – the bacteria return the favor by taking atmospheric nitrogen – which plants can't use – turning it into a form that plants can use. Growing fava beans, lentils, peas, or garbanzo beans all will add nitrogen to your soil – whether you harvest the beans or not. Whenever you think you need fertilizer, consider using a green manure crop instead. It takes longer, but the results are much more gratifying.

Once you have begun to work on your soil, never leave it uncovered to the wind and the sun. Those elements will destroy your soil and will not help your garden's production or water/nutrient holding capacity. It is best to use a cover of plant material, even weeds if you have nothing else! Pull the weeds, leave them in the path with their roots exposed to the sun and within 24 hours, they'll be toast and you can spread them along your paths or even place them near your plants (this is also a good thing to do with your cover crops – while it's better to put them in your compost (as greens), you can also pull the cover crop, lay them on the path to dry and use them as your pathway mulch.

In a different world, where the perennial weeds are kept at a minimum, a wonderful path planted of cover crops is a gift that keeps on giving. The green manure crop produces nitrogen that will eventually help your garden plants out, it's pleasant to walk on an almost lawn – even barefoot if you are so inclined. And kept up, looks positively divine, darling! We cannot do this at The Learning Garden – too many perennial weeds!

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
All cabbage family crops
Fava beans
Fava beans
Any cabbage family plant big enough to survive.
Potatoes (tubers)
Shallots (seed)



Garbanzo beans

Garlic (bulbs)

Shallots (bulbs)


*You must grow root crops in the ground from the very beginning because they transplant poorly, even if you are spectacularly careful in transplanting, very few will avoid having ugly deformed roots – it just is not worth the effort!

You can begin planting right now between the dying, dismal plants of summer – just get right in there and sow your seeds or transplant your little baby plants!

Good luck!  

21 August, 2018

Goodbye OSH!

I was actually asked to leave the Orchid Supply Hardware (OSH) this evening. It was sudden with all  customers were asked to leave as soon as possible and the doors locked behind us.

I was actually doing a restock for Renee's Garden seeds and had seeds (old and new) all over the place. I had to ask for some time to get my act together and get out. I took all the old seeds we'd checked out and left the seeds for 2019 in the store, thinking I'd come back Wednesday morning to finish the job.

But this evening, I see this headline on Facebook from the East Bay Times, publishing not far from the place that OSH was started:

All Orchard Supply Hardware stores to close by year’s end

Chain founded in 1931 as a cooperative in San Jose

This is a very sad moment in my life. I enjoyed shopping there since I found the store not far from me and found a LOT of what I needed and wanted. I found the employees motivated, happy (mostly) and willing to help.  And frequently found employees that really knew their stuff about the department they were in.  I had been with the Culver City store since it opened just over a year ago and I appreciated that staff the most. They were eager, it seemed to help, friendly and smart. As the gravity set in, I began to grieve for the many workers I knew, realizing that, for most of them, it was going to be a hard thing to deal with. 

I hate the idea of the stress these fine people will face through no fault of their own. 

You can find more information here. For all my friends who are affected by this, I hope this opens a better life for you - that this is only a bump on your life path.

And thank you for helping me find the whatchamacallit over on Aisle 24....