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13 February, 2018

A First Graft Introduction

This is intended to be a down and dirty introduction to grafting.  I am sorry it could not be kept to one blog post. I will post the finale in a day or two.  

Grafting is probably considered the most “mystical” of arts in that area known as “horticulture” as practiced by the gardening public. It is not mystical any more than sunrise and sunset is, but if you don't know the basics, it can be forbidding. Know the rules and it's just as common as a sunrise, don't learn the rules and you are lost.

Soon, I'll write out the story of how I came to be totally in awe of grafters and the event that changed my approach to garden science. In this small intro, I will introduce the basics of grafting as simply and straight forward as I can.

The absolute first thing to say about grafting is that you are working with really, really sharp knives.  Your first priority must be safety - afterall, you will be using YOUR fingers and these knives are sharp.  Have bandaids - at minimum, if not a well stocked first aid kit. ALL grafters I know, except those that ride motorcycles really (REALLY) fast, have at least some kind of first aid material in the same bag as their knives. Pay attention.  Ask those around you to not talk to you while you are grafting.  Do not graft while on the phone.  Do not graft while driving.  Give that knife and where it is pointed your full attention - all the time that blade is exposed. If it's sharp enough to graft, it's sharp enough to cut into you all the way to the bone.  I've done it. It doesn't hurt until it hits the bone and then it hurts for a very long time. Never point the sharp end of the blade towards any part of your body - especially your left thumb - that's the one that gets nailed the most.  Please! And thank you!

You need;
A very sharp knife
Two pieces of wood (described below)
And something to hold them together

These are grafting knives;  the bottom wood handled knife is a Tina bench grafting knife - it doesn't fold and cannot
carried with ease in a pocket, the next knife up is a Swiss Army in my favorite blade style (identical blade to the one above it), the next knife is usually considered best for budding.  The one on farthest right is just another grafting blade. The knife at
the top is my favorite - "new old stock" from eBay. I love the feel of this knife and use it for most of my work. It is resting on a roll of half inch Parafilm.
Your sharp knife does not have to be a grafting knife, although if you intend to graft as an ongoing project, you will find a grafting knife increases your chances of a good graft. Some grafters simply use those utility box cutters and break off the old blades instead of having to sharpen the blades. I found that a difficult tool to handle – but then again, I am pleased with my grafting knives and enjoy using different ones on different days, but that's me and my obsessive/compulsive personality.

But your knife must be SHARP. Even if you need to stop every several cuts and hone it a little.
The “Something to hold them together” has really improved in the last few years. In the past grafters have used plastic bags, electrical tape, duct tape (omigaud NO!) and tar. Today we have “Parafilm” and without it, I would not be a very good grafter. This stuff (can be found on eBay and Amazon as well as other sites – I even have a few rolls to sell pretty much all the time as I buy in bulk for my class). It is not expensive. As you pull on it, to wrap your graft, the Parafilm becomes more pliable and will actually begin to seal to itself with just a little pressure. When firmly wrapped, in all but the most difficult of grafts, Parafilm will hold your graft together. Certainly as a beginner, you would not normally be undertaking grafts that were above the cohesion of Parafilm to hold it together.

The “two pieces of wood” is what makes this all interesting. One piece of wood is a “scion” while the other piece of wood is “rootstock.” The scion possesses the fruit you want to grow on the rootstock. The rootstock is the rest of the tree that is not this scion. You can graft five apples to one tree. All the pieces you graft to the tree are 'scions.' That which holds them from falling to the ground is the 'rootstock.' In the case of the apples, the scion is collected because we want that apple's taste or usability; an eating apple or a cider apple, one that bears in late Spring and another the blooms in late Summer – whatever characteristics you feel you want in an apple.

If this is your first shot at grafting, I would strongly urge you to graft apples – the apple tree wood is easier to work with and the chance of success is strong. Citrus is one of the worst as it is really hard wood and difficult to shape. Get some miles under your knife and then tackle citrus.

The rootstock can be an existing tree on your property or you can order rootstock from some regional nurseries – they are not expensive. One chooses rootstock on it's qualities – some rootstocks withstand disease or wind or drought or dwarf your tree by a given percent. In Southern California most experienced apple growers would choose M111. I order my rootstock (sometimes referred to as “wood” in a generic way) from Raintree Nursery. They have always been reliable and prompt.  

Now we get to make our cuts. The scion wood should be about the diameter of a pencil and the part of the rootstock you are going to attach the scion to should be about the same diameter – it need not be exact, but the closer it is the better.

This shot, while of a rose, shows the ring around the stem that is called the Cambium. It is the living tissue of woody plants  and this tissue on your rootstock must be touching the scion's cambium. That is the thrust of grafting.

Thanks for dropping by - hope you get the chance to see my interview with Christy Wilhelmi, The Gardenerd on grafting coming out in a few days. And I'll wrap this, and our graft, up later this week.


03 February, 2018

Tomatoes The Gateway Drug to Gardening

Two really ripe cherry tomatoes and two getting ripe with a bunch of green tomatoes.

These pages comprise my notes for my February 3rd class, "Tomatoes, The Gateway Drug to Gardening.  While this does contain a lot of data, it certainly misses most of the off-the-wall impromptu humor that naturally happens whenever I open my mouth.

Caring For Tomatoes

  • Tomatoes are a warm weather crop. Usually setting them out in Southern California about tax day (April 15th) is a good bet.
  • Tomatoes prefer about 6 to 8 hours of sun to bring out their best flavors. You can cheat if you have a white wall that will reflect light – and heat – back to them, but too little light will result in weak and non-productive plants.
  • You will need to stake, trellis, or cage, and sometimes all three, your tomato plants to keep them off the ground. Have your support system ready when planting the tomatoes – waiting is guaranteed to see the tomatoes 6 feet long before you find yourself trying to coral those vines desperately into cages they refuse to go into. Save yourself (and the plants!) the grief!
  • Give each plant enough room to grow. Space “robust,” (along with “vigorous” these are code words for “tomato plants on steroids” - take these terms seriously) long-vined, indeterminate varieties about 3 feet apart. Stockier determinate plants can be grown 2 feet apart. Growing in containers, you’ll need at least a 36 to 48 inch pot for an indeterminate variety, or a 24 inch pot for a determinate variety. And stakes. And twine.
  • At the same time, lay 3 to 4 inches of compost on top of the soil which will provide minor nutrients and help hold moisture in the soil, keeping the moisture tomatoes love.
  • To grow a really strong tomato plant, bury two-thirds of the stem when planting. This will allow the plant to sprout roots along the buried stem, making your plant will be stronger and better able to find water in a drought. Please note that this deep-planting method only works with tomatoes (and tomatillos). Another note; if you are putting tomatoes into soil that has not yet warmed, lay the stem sideways under the soil surface in order to not go deep into the colder soil. Tomatoes planted in cool soil will never forgive you and will perform worse than tomatoes planted two weeks late in warmer soil.
  • Do not use Nitrogen fertilizer on your tomatoes! The plants will be bright green and lush but will not produce fruit until the N is burnt up. I don't know why, it just is. I tend to not use fertilizer at all, just copious amounts of compost. Most of our soils are loaded with enough nutrients to grow healthy plants, except N, which tomatoes don't need. Do not plant tomatoes in an area that grew beans or bean family crops last year, the Nitrogen they produce in the soil will still be present.
  • Immediately after planting, water seedlings to help settle them in.

  • You can combine fast-maturing varieties with special season-stretching techniques to grow an early crop – you will have tomatoes coming in much more regularly and the variety IS the spice of life.
  • Cover the ground with 2 to 4 inches of mulch to minimize weeds and help keep the soil evenly moist. Straw and shredded leaves make great mulches for tomatoes.
  • Water regularly, aiming for at least an inch of moisture per week (through rain or watering), more in the summertime. Even more during the Santa Ana winds. Keep your eye on your plants whenever you go out to pick. Irregular watering is one of the causes of blossom end rot, a fungus that ruins tomato fruit by rotting from the far side of the tomato (where the flower once was) and turning your fruit to an unappetizing mush.
  • Plant a variety of tomatoes, for different colors, different tastes, but more importantly to allow for different harvesting days. It does not hurt to plant more seeds in June/July for a fall crop. Sometimes this close to the ocean we get a better tomato harvest off the later plants. May's Malaise and June Gloom can be deadly to tomatoes.

Tomato Varieties
Tomato varieties can be divided into categories based on shape and size. Some of the more popular of these are:

  • Beefsteak tomatoes are 4” or more in diameter, often sliced for sandwiches and similar applications. They may weigh in at over a pound or more. Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin, and shorter shelf life makes commercial use impractical. But their flavor is usually among the most “tomatoey” of all varieties. These are often the “heirloom” tomatoes prized for that taste. Beefsteak tomatoes are the largest tomatoes and will not reliably produce a crop close to the coast. They need a constant 85ยบ day and night to set fruit. Because of our ocean influence, we rarely meet that condition and so production of beefsteak tomatoes can be scarce.
  • Slicing tomatoes are the ones often found in markets – not as large as the beefsteak tomato, but weighing in from 6 to 12 ounces, these round fruits are the common tomato to be sliced into salads or topping of tacos. Most tomatoes consumed in the US are slicing tomatoes and they will set fruit easily in our climate.
  • Plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are bred with a lower water /higher solids content for use in tomato sauce and paste, for canning and sauces and are usually oblong 3–4” long and 1½ – 2” diameter; like the Roma-type tomatoes, important cultivars in making tomato sauces – the famed San Marzano tomato is one of these. Other tomatoes, round like fresh eating tomatoes may be used for sauces, like the Burbank Slicer which doubles nicely for a paste tomato as well.
  • Cherry tomatoes are small and round, often sweet tomatoes, about the same ½ – 1”, same size as the wild tomato. Cherry tomatoes will set fruit the easiest and most prolific. I have always maintained that one eats cherry tomatoes only in the garden, you plant them to keep the gardener working and do not serve them because they are notoriously fork-adverse, slipping from one plate to another person's eyeball. Leave them in the garden or serve them presliced.

Determinate vs Indeterminate

Another classification of tomatoes is according to their growth habit. Most tomatoes are “Indeterminate.” Left alone, they will continue to grow longer and longer vines until stopped by cold weather or lack of water. Lack of things to climb on does not figure. The good news is that all the continuous growth will produce more tomatoes. With Indeterminate tomatoes, you get tomatoes over a long period of time.

Determinate tomatoes on the other hand, grow to their full height – usually about 3 feet – and stop. They flower and then all the fruits that plant will produce, will be produced in one flush and the plant dies. This is great for folks who wish to can tomatoes or tomato juice. If one is planting a determinate tomato only and wants tomatoes through the summer, a second and third planting will be required. Determinate tomatoes are the best for container and balcony growing.

Common Tomato Pests and Diseases

Some common tomato pests are stink bugs, cutworms, tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms, aphids, cabbage loopers, whiteflies, tomato fruitworms, flea beetles, red spider mite, slugs, and Colorado potato beetles. The tomato russet mite, Aculops lycopersici, feeds on foliage and young fruit of tomato plants, causing shriveling and necrosis of leaves, flowers, and fruit, possibly killing the plant.

A common tomato disease is tobacco mosaic virus. Handling cigarettes and other infected tobacco products can transmit the virus to tomato plants.

A common condition is Blossom End Rot caused by indifferent water. Tomatoes, while not being a water hog, need consistent watering. Watering too little followed by compensative overwatering will create fruits that rot from the blossom end destroying the palatability of the fruit.

Tomato seeds offered at the class, were presented as follows: 

*Limited Supply refers to the amount of seed I had of each at the class.  Students were asked to confine themselves to only one of the "limited supply" varieties. 

Limited supply*
All days to ripeness are from transplant!
Amish Paste

Acquired from the Amish near Lancaster, PN. Bright red 8-12 ounce fruits. Juicy flesh – top notch for sauce and fresh eating. One of Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste varieties. 85 days
Seed Savers Exchange
Black Krim

Russian tomato with deep red and green color. 8 ounce fruits with a deep, salty flavor. All the “Black” tomatoes have thin skins and can be a chore to harvest wnen fully ripe, but they are worth the hassle. Also a good container tomato, 80 days
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

A small heirloom slicer that can be used for paste as well. Developed by Luther Burbank,  3-4 inch fruit. The fruit has a very deep red color and a traditional tomato flavor. About 8 ounce fruit – great for containers!! 75 days One of David's favorites!
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Chocolate Cherry
Purplish-red 1” cherry tomatoes are sweet and are good for snacking (isn't that why we like cherry tomatoes?) Prolific vines bear trusses of 6 to 8 fruits at a whack. About 70 days.
Botanical Interests
David Davidson
Mid-size orange glove tomatoes in clusters o up to 7fruits. Great flavoer hinting of citrus. Keeps well. 90 days.
Seed Savers Exchange
Djena Lee's Gold Girl

Golden-orange fruits. 8 oz fruits. Delicious flavor, rich balance of sweetness and tanginess. 80 days
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Eva Purple Ball

Heirloom from Germany, 78 days, cherry red, 4 to 5 ounces, smooth round fruits
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Gold Medal
“The sweetest tomato you ever tasted.” An orangish-yellow with streaks of red, a wonderful bi-color tomato weighing more than 1 pound! Not good at the coast!! 75-90 days
Seed Savers Exchange
Illini Gold

4-6 oz bright yellow/orange paste-type tomatoes – 75 days; makes a sweet golden tomato sauce!
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Meaty fruits full of flavor and prolific production made this one of the best commercial tomatoes in years past. Prefers hot (and humid) summers. 75 to 80 days
Botanical Interests
Nebraska Wedding
Reliable producer of stunning 4” round fruits with glowing orange skin. Well-balanced flavor. @ 36” tall – still need some staking. 85 to 90 days
Seed Savers Exchange
Paul Robeson
Russian variety popular amoung tomato connoisseurs named for a famous Russian opera singer. Dusky brick red 6 to 12 ounces, nice acid/sweet balance, 80-90 days
Seed Savers Exchange
Red Zebra
Gorgeous 2½” round fruits, blood-red overlaid with jagged carrot-orange stripes. Very productive, slightly tart. 75 – 80 days.
Seed Savers Exchange
½ D
Rutgers University released this new “retro” variety to try to get back to the original “Jersey tomato” qualities of flavor, juiciness, texture, vigor, and all the other good stuff. Red round medium fruits. A tasty tomato bred for home gardeners 75 days @ 6 to 8 ounces
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Rutgers (the original)

Strong and vigorous vines, bear bright red 6 to 8 ounce fruits with excellent flavor – this is the tomato my grandfather planted year in and year out. Also good for sauce. A great all-purpose tomato. 75 days
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

75 days and will set fruit in cool and wet weather! 9-12 oz fruits for slices, Prolific. 75 days
Lake Valley Seed
Sungold Cherry
Just a few seeds! Tangerine colored fruits are among the best tasting cherry tomatoes in the world. The only hybrid in this list! 57 days
Botanical Interests
Sweetie Cherry

A well known tomato for it's strong tomato flavor. Smaller cherries (¾ to 1”) still have a great taste and are produced in clusters. Vigorous vines. 65 days
Botanical Interests
Introduced in 1870, sold at that time for $5/pkt (equal to today's $80!) sweet 5 to 7 ounce tomatoes ideal for slicing. 80 days
Seed Savers Exchange

Heirloom producing large orange 8 – 10 ounce fruits – firm with few seeds. Vigorous plant needs staking, A Slow Food USA selection. 75 days
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
White Cherry

Like eating candy. Can be grown in containers, Early fruiting 70 days – 1 ounce fruits.
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Yellow Bell

Roma shaped yellow fruits, Great yellow sauce tomato for salads or for making lovely tomato paste, juice, preserves, salsa, and yellow catsup!  Survives cool wet conditions better than other sauce tomatoes. 60 days
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

11 January, 2018

Heirloom Seeds: Who Knows?

One day a couple of years ago, I found a medicine bottle on my desk with some seeds.  Plastic medicine bottles, not being recyclable (because of the former contents) are a favorite for some seed savers. I looked for a note, but didn't find one, there was nothing written on the bottle, just a tablespoon's worth of seeds.

At first, I took them to be sweet pea seeds, but on a closer look these were okra seeds - larger than sweet pea seeds and missing the light spot (the "hilum" or the characteristic "eye" on many bean and pea seeds).  OK, so I had a tablespoon of okra seeds.  No note, no label, no nothing....  This was late summer and I put them aside - I figured we'd just grow it out and figure out what it was from the final product.

That's where we started.  In spring, I started six plants - gave a few away to interested parties and kept three to grow out at the garden.  It was a pretty normal flower for an okra, so we had nothing to help us there.  The plants grew strong and healthy, there was nothing unusual about the plants.  And when we got the fruit, guess what!

Not the best shot, but you can see the okra seeds,
round, in the center, ready to roll away.

It was just okra.  It was a good producer, nice pods, lovely flower, no complaints.  But it was **just okra**.  There was nothing that made it look different from any other okra on the planet.  It wasn't Burgundy okra, which would have had some reddish tones, it wasn't Jing, which is orange, it wasn't particularly long enough to be Perkin's Long Pod Okra.

Just an ordinary, gonna be gumbo again, okra.

After a deep breath, not having a wide variety of okra in the Seed Library, I decided to add it to the inventory and the only name to use was "Don't Knowkra."  And that's how we came up with our okra selection, Don't Knowkra - it is a good producer but an entirely average okra in all respects.  If you like okra, you'll not miss with Don't Knowkra.

The seeds roll right out of the pod when completely ripe -
in the meantime, they make for a creative shaker
instrument for children of all ages.
The okra seed pods are very interesting in that they ripen over a fairly long period of time and, as the pods age, the seeds simply roll out the end of the pod, and being round and all like that, they roll away from the mother plant.

I intend to revisit these pods again and take some photos with a quarter in them to show the relative size.  I'm more interested in saving seeds than shooting them!


30 December, 2017

Heirloom Seeds: A Purple Artichoke

I think the first seeds we got were the fifth generation, but don't quote me on that. This was a growing project started by Craig Ruggless of Winnetka Farms, a small farm in the San Fernando Valley which forms the Northern Edge of a good deal of Los Angeles. The project had very easy parameters – very clear and observable.

Think of the very best of the commercial artichokes – hold a picture of that choke in your mind. You will see a very large choke with tightly wrapped bracts and the tips of those bracts are not pointy without any spines of much note. Certainly none to fear.

If you have had the purple artichokes available in the markets, the difference is astonishing. Purple chokes have chokes that are 50% or so smaller than the green chokes, the bracts are pointy and possess a dangerous little needle on the tip of each bract and not enough purple to obfuscate the blood effusing from your wounded fingers.

Craig's brilliant idea was to get a purple choke with the same civilized attributes as the green choke. Then, life being what life is, he bought a farm in Vermont which I am led to understand is not a prime site for growing artichokes of any color. SLOLA was bequeathed a quantity of seed and some drying chokes so we could see what the “ideal” Winnetka Purple Artichoke should look like. And with the easily seen goal and perimeters the continued work with these chokes certainly was the perfect project for a fledgling seed library: Good for the chokes and a great teaching tool for the library.

Like I said, it was about the 5th generation that was bequeathed to us. In breeding parlance it would be known as “F5” - “F” standing for “filial. Many people took seed, but the only ones I know that were returned to be a part of the seed library came from members Joy Sun and Julie Mann. And each had a distinctive population with characteristics different from each other.

The Sun group plants were HUGE. We are talking 8 foot plants and the chokes were enormous. They had the correct shape and the pointy ends were not blood letters. They had one drawback in my mind: They weren't very purple.

The Sun Strain showing some purple.  This was the first to put on chokes and
subsequent specimen did not come out so purpley and we
considerable larger plants.

On the other hand, the Mann group were normal sized plants. The chokes were a good size but not Green Goliath size, they seemed to adapt to civilization with aplomb and not eager to draw blood.

I have four chokes from the Mann Strain – I have started seeds of F7 - another generation having been grown between then and now -  and intend to grow them out at the Learning Garden – which is where the Sun strain is growing. These population sizes are of some concern to me as we might create a bottle neck if we don't grow larger numbers, but I think we move immediately to larger populations, we can avoid that.

Getting the seed from the dried artichoke is straight forward, if messy.  The tufts at the top are the remains of the artichoke flower.  The seeds are dried together and break away like one would break away small bits from a very thin cork.  

The size of the choke itself compared to the seeds.  I have kept some chokes intact and dismembered others for seed.  The most important thing is to keep the seeds away from predation!  Overnight that can ruin the whole process and - afterall, one cannot go to the store and buy a replacement packet of seeds!  

Packing the seeds I did not plant for safe keeping involves proper labeling!  This label is put inside the jar with the seeds with the same information on the label on the outside of the jar.  All too often something happens to the outside label and then what would one do?  

Just like eggs, do not put all your seeds in one basket.  In a future report, I hope I can show you some results and keep you posted on the progress.  

A seed library is a library that deals in living material.  We bend and shape the future based on the decisions we make in the field about what to save and how we will save it.  Will I decide to cross my Mann strain with the Sun strain?  Or will I try to keep the two strains separate?  Will I do a little of both?  Stay tuned!  I haven't yet decided!

N.B.  This post will be updated with more photos of the different strains and better comparisons between the two.  Also with each new filial generation, new assumptions and decisions will be made.  Follow the drama of plant selection with me! 

25 December, 2017

New Book: Against The Grain

Against the Grain, A Deep History of The Earliest States, published in 2017, provides a very different look at the first organized states in human history than we have considered to be the reality of human civilization.  

The author, James C. Scott, makes no pretense to being an authority in this particular territory, but does bring a scientific mind and a patient attitude in his poking around with accepted theory about humans and their evolving attempts at civilization. This work was a real eye-opener for me explaining some historical phenomena that I hadn't realized needed explanation. Like, why did millions of America's First Nation people die with the arrival of the Europeans and their diseases?  Yes, we know what happened, but what is the backstory?

Modern doctrine holds that, as humans evolved, they left the nomadic life behind and took up crops grown in tended fields.  The bias in most science today is that, in the hierarchy of civilization, hunter/gatherers were a rung lower than farmers with their crops; that humans came to be farmers as they climbed the path of being "more civilized" rather than less - that living in cities was such a big improvement and people flocked to the cities to find protection from the barbarians raiding through out the "uncivilized" parts of the world.  

Maybe that isn't the way it happened, says Scott.  So, with the nature of a scientist, he turns the theories up side down and asks, "is this not more likely?"  Using this contrarian lens, forces us to re-evaluate these theories, so universally accepted; and comes up with different thoughts and explanations.

It won't change the way I garden, but it does make me rethink the idea of being "civilized" and the particular baggage we carry by being "civilized."  Is this the true culmination of civilized or are we simply in transition?  

This is not a large book and can be read in a weekend or two, but I guarantee, once read, you cannot easily squash your thinking back into the old paradigms we have long assumed to be the basis of our civilizations today.

Your mind cannot be unstretched.  And that's a very good thing.


22 December, 2017

Heirloom Seeds, One Story

The large container goes back to the Pineschi
family, the large jar is for SLOLA and the small
jar is mine to plant!  Seeds are abundant! 

There are seeds and seed stories everywhere. Everyone has a relationship to seeds whether they own it or not, because the history of humans and human civilizations are intertwined so deeply, over so many hundreds of years, has made it so. Today's industrial agriculture obfuscates that which once was an intimate relationship into a commodity that we buy, sell, grown with poison and produced with the cheapest means to get to market.

But seed savers everywhere, want to hold the seed and know the story behind the seed – how did it come to be here? And it is the story that makes heirloom seeds “Heirlooms.” There are many old seeds – seeds of varieties that have been around for 100 years or more – but they aren't “heirlooms” without a story.

This is about a seed with a story. I don't know how old this variety is, but the story is good enough for the seed to be called an heirloom and the story seems to point to the fact that it is indeed an heirloom. It's starts out with a dental appointment.

My dental hygienist is married to a dentist. She sees me three or four times a year, if I'm lucky, he sees me three or four times a decade. Professionally at least. So this was one of those professional encounters where I get the question “are you numb yet?” I'm slow about getting numb. He has some stuff in my mouth and my hygienist drops by to say hi, and says to her husband, “David has started a seed library to save old seeds...” And the dentist gets very excited!

It turns out that his grandmother (great-grandmother?) had given him some seeds when he had graduated dental school and was moving to Los Angeles to set up his practice. He was charged with these bean seeds as they were the family bean. He had them for over fifteen years and was not so successful in growing enough to keep the seeds supply healthy and he asked if I would help keep his family bean alive. Of course I would! That's what being a seed savior is all about!

Within a week, I was given an envelope of about 55 seeds of a bean. They were small seeds and I was told they were old. I planted all that I had and presently had a crop of four plants – not a lot of beans. Once the plants were growing and the leaves were distinct, I realized this was not a common bean – Phaseolus vulgaris. And the beans themselves were too long as well. A little research and I figured I had Vigna unguiculata, a close relative, and edible, but not the common bean. It took more time to figure out how to pronounce “unguiculata” than it did to find the correct binomial for it.

This species is called 'cowpea' probably because they were used for forage for animals as well as human consumption. Cultivated cowpeas are known by the common names black-eyed pea, southern pea, yardlong bean, and crowder pea. Fairly common – and their ability to grow in sandy soil makes them a desirable species to have in our storage. They were domesticated in Africa and are one of the oldest crops to be farmed and not an American bean – like Phaseolus vulgaris, which is what one might suspect without digging into the history of beans. A second domestication event probably occurred in Asia, before they spread into Europe and the Americas.

Our 'cowpea' came from Italy and we call it the Pineschi Family Bean in deference to Dr. Pineschi and his wife that brought this bean to my attention. You can check this productive bean out from the Seed Library when we restock our summer seeds in March. It is a vigorous climber and a good producer of 10 to 12 inch long slender pods. Pick young pods, in the 10 to 12 range and just steam them. I, of course, add butter. Delicious!


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