18 December, 2009

Seeds With No Future

Seeds from an open pollinated corn that have been purposefully crossed with others, provide a plethora of colors and sizes in last year's harvest of corn from my garden.  They also provide an amazing diversity of genetic material that could prove crucial in the years ahead.

What do we want in the seeds we sow?

A future.

We want a crop we will be able to eat, or to spin or heal us. In a seed, a human sees the future. The seed provides it's crop, and if the crop held promise, the human would save 10% or so of that crop to insure that the same results would be approximated next year. That was not a law of man, but of nature. Seeds were nature's way of insuring the survival of a species or a variety of a species. Mankind selected seeds that produced crops he needed or desired and made improvements to plants of importance to him. It was almost a holy, sacred pact.

Today, we have 'genetic modified organisms.' In genetic modification of organisms, instead of culling genes of existing plants and selecting for traits that are valuable, modern science injects traits into plants from completely different forms of life to arrive at what they want. This is not the same thing as finding the corn plant with the biggest ear and saving that seed to plant next year. It is not a logical step, no matter what the defenders might say.

Now, these organisms MAY end up being safe; I am not certain they will be, but there is that chance. However, making the planet and the people now alive on it the unwitting mice in the long-term study is not acceptable. Scientists and companies advancing these technologies need to be required to make a twenty year study – in laboratories and controlled spaces – before these plants – and their pollen – are allowed to be in the great outdoors where they can have affects on plants that are as yet unknown. After the twenty year study, then perhaps studies could be undertaken to see if the plants can exist in the wild. One can hear the squeals of protest that the economic losses would be horrific and this is the talk of stifling economic growth and science. Tell it to Bhopal where science and economic concerns showed that they were incapable of giving life a fair chance to survive.

Seeds have to have a future if mankind will have a future. The future cannot be patented and should not be threatened just for financial gain (although we are pretty far down the road on that account many times over...).

Monsanto has created seeds they have patented. Among other transgressions, they have planted their GMO corn with such flagrant violation of common sense that its pollen has been found in wild stands of teosinte, corn's presumed predecessor. They make seeds and they sell them – Seminis is their seed seller. And you can buy their seed. Unfortunately you can buy their seed without knowing it too. There is no law that says a genetically modified seed has to be identified.

However, we can identify the companies who sell these seeds to the public and we can not buy from them. This helps insure that the seeds you plant are seeds that do not support Monsanto and their research. I would encourage all gardeners to be proactive about the future of life on earth and not buy anything that helps support this crime against our children and the children of the planet. Our government is too weak to fight back – Congress has sold their souls for the buck to get re-elected; the courts don't understand the depths of the sinister depravity of companies that hold profit is more important than life and the regulatory agencies are staffed by the very people that need to be regulated. It really is up to the individual to do all he or she can to make the change.

Here is the plan of action, as I see it today:
  1. Do not buy any seeds that support Monsanto or Seminis – list below.
  2. Do buy all the open pollinated seeds you can grow, grow them and save seeds from them – plant them again and share your seeds with your neighbors. Tell them what you did and why you did it!
  3. Educate gardeners (and consumers) all around you to the evils in our own country. The so-called Evil Empire is not a foreign government or corporation! It is in America!
  4. Continue to try to elect people who are conscious of the greater problem facing the world today and aren't willing to sell out to corporations that clearly aren't here for humanity. It's OK to make an honest living, but this is not honest and it is not just a 'living.'

The List
From Seminis' own website, the following list of companies are dealers for seeds from Monsanto and therefore are not to be trusted (some of my favorite companies are here, I find that very sad):

Burpee, W Atlee
300 Park Ave.
Warminster, PA 18974
Ph: (215)674-4900
Fax: (215)674-0838

Dege Garden Center
831 N Century Ave.
St Paul, MN 55119
Ph: (651) 739-8314
Fax: (651) 739-8326

E & R Seed Co.
1356 E. 200 S.
Monroe, IN 46772

Earl May Seed
208 N. Elm St.
Shenandoah, IA 51603
Ph:(712) 246-1020
Fax:(712) 246-1760

Garden Trends
355 Paul Rd.
Rochester, NY 14624
Ph: (716) 295-3600
Fax: (716) 295-3609

Gardens Alive
5100 Schenley Place
Lawrenceberg, IN 47025
Ph: (812) 537-8650
Fax: (812) 537-5108

Germania Seed Co.
5978 N. Northwest Hwy
Chicago, IL 60631
Ph: (773) 631-6631
Fax: (773) 631-4449

Johnnys Selected Seeds
955 Benton Ave.
Winslow, ME 04901
Ph: (207) 861-3900
Fax: (207) 861-8381

J.W. Jung Seed Co.
335 S. High St.
Randolph, WI 53956
Ph:(920) 326-3121
Fax:(920) 326-5769

Lindenberg Seeds
803 Princess Ave.
Brandon, Manitoba
Canada R7A 0P5
Ph: (204) 727-0575
Fax: (204) 727-2832

Mountain Valley Seed
1800 South West Temple #600
Salt Lake City, UT 84115
Ph: (801) 486-0480
Fax: (801) 467-5730

Nichols Garden Nursery
1190 North Pacific Hwy
Albany, OR 97321
Ph: (541) 928-9280
Fax: (541) 967-8406

Park Seed
Hwy 254 N.
Greenwood, SC 29647
Ph:(864) 223-8555
Fax:(864) 941-4206

Rocky Mountain Seed Co.
6541 N. Washington
Denver, CO 80229
Ph: 303-623-6223
Fax: 303-623-6254

T & T Seeds, Ltd.
Box 1710
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Canada R3C 3P6
Ph: (204) 895-9964
Fax: (204-895-9967

Tomato Growers Supply
P.O. Box 720
Fort Myers, FL 33902
Ph:(941) 768-1119
Fax:(941) 768-3476

Willhite Seed Co.
PO Box 23
Poolville, TX 76487
Ph: (817) 599-8656
Fax: (817) 599-5843


01 December, 2009

The Year In Review: Part I, The Winter Garden

Fava beans are not only a tasty addition to a diet, they grow in the cooler months (about the same time you would grow peas), and the flowers are lovely.  Give 'em room -they are big plants! 

I grew up in NE Kansas and all through my childhood, spent winter months with the Burpee catalog. I would read all the descriptions of the vegetables and compare them over and over again. Grandpa, who saved his seed, had no use for 90% of all they sold, so I rarely got to see any of my multitude of lists even purchased let alone grown. Burpee went out of business for a while and had a bumpy few years, now is back, but really is only a shadow of its former self offering a rather paltry selection of seed that usually isn't much for the home gardener. However, many other catalogs (from seed companies or seed savers) have taken up the slack – I've written elsewhere on my favorite catalogs. But how was the year just past?

Of course, in LA, we've got the current winter garden just planted, but for LAST winter, here's some of our results:

Artichoke: I know I'm teasing the rest of the world, but I pay rent here so I figure I'm due my share of teasing. 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.

Beets: Burpee's Golden and Chioggia - both are dynamite and steady producers year in and year out and both are usually from Pinetree although I have been known to get seed from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply too.

Broccoli: Nutribud is an OP of respectable performance; earliness is right up there with the hybrids and the size is comparable. As the name suggests, it is reported to have a higher percentage of glutamine. I add in a few plants of Premium Crop or (less often) Bellstar because I hate to rest on one crop, but I really expect most of my broccoli to be Nutribud.

Brussels sprouts: Bubbles was the hybrid we grew – someone had given me a couple of plants. They got whitefly bad and I couldn't see cleaning each little sprout thoroughly enough; although a friend did and sent me back a lovely dish of them (thanks Mary!). Between cabbage and broccoli, I think I get enough of this family to skip Brussels sprouts.

Cabbage: A good year for cabbage for us. We were donated a pointy headed hybrid, whose name has been lost to prosterity, produced huge 10 pound heads and was successful wherever we planted it, but was not any better than Danish Ball Head which is an OP heirloom. 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 (I still have some and this year's cabbage is in the ground !)

Carrots: I grow Mokum and Yaya, both hybrids. Yaya is the winner, but I can't always find the seed, I that came from some outfit in the Northwest I think. The seed was expensive (by my standards), but it was a sure winner in less than ideal soil. Mokum, from Pinetree, is always a dependable, decent carrot.

Cauliflower: Mark Twain is supposed to have said that 'cauliflower was cabbage that had gone to college' and I can't afford the tuition, so I stick to cabbage.

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 ballet 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!) We had seed from Seed Savers Exchange of Five Color Silverbeet 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 Sea Foam and that one has spectacular production. Still, I like the red chard more and I think the orange is one helluva show stopper!

Fava beans: Windsor is my favorite and we get pounds of beans from each plant. In fact, I've given up on peas preferring to grow favas, garbanzos and lentils because I don't feel like I get enough to eat from peas.

Garlic: I love Spanish Roja and Music - hardnecks 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 with this (they pull, I replant), the cloves were hopelessly intermixed so which one was the better producer is anyone's guess. I'm starting with fresh seed garlic this year: Music, Spanish Roja, and Red Toch!

Kale: Redbor works for me. I had some plants of Dwarf Blue, but felt like that was a very stupid idea – same footprint for half the plant. What WAS I thinking?

Leeks: King Richard is my usual dependable producer but last year was a really so-so harvest. I think I ignored it too much.

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, Brown Winter, Red Winter, Deer Tongue, Buttercrunch, and on and on and on.

Onions: I buy plants from a local organic farm supply, but they sold out so I had NO onions. Disaster. But usually I grow their Italian Red Torpedo – a delicious onion that is absolutely stellar on the grill. 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. So most folks will not be able to compare to our experience.

Potatoes: We gathered leftovers from bachelor friends (they sprout in the pantry and we just plant them) - I don't know the varieties but we had a good harvest.

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 and I was so impressed, I'm back for more! Olympus and Bonilla were both good performers.

Turnips: Purple Top White Globe is the only one I've ever had luck with and I have a LOT of luck with it.

All in all, this was one of the very best harvests we have ever had. We put up food, donated several tons to the Westside Food Bank and still ate like kings! It was all that compost, I tell you. The rain wasn't any great shakes (about 10” - less than our normal 12”) and there were several devastating hot spells in November, December and again in January. In fact, the winter garden last year got killed outright by a hard couple of weeks of Santa Ana winds that sent the thermometer soaring into triple digits several times and ruined numerous plantings. Oh, and I can't forget the mouse in the greenhouse that ate all the starts in January. Thank God for a long growing season!

What varieties have you had success with this last year? 


10 November, 2009


If you are at all like me, there are only so many meals one can take of sauteed or steamed Swiss chard.  I like this dish because it is much more than just Swiss chard made limp and eaten.  Much more!  All ingredient amounts are flexible. 

This dish might seem to have daunting ingredient list. But don’t be put off; enough of the ingredients will already be lurking in your kitchen. And, if you leave out any one of the spices, it will probably still turn out well. In contrast to some meat tagines, which take hours to prepare and cook, this dish can be made from start to finish on a weeknight. And the flavor is a lovely mélange of spices, slight sweetness from the raisins, and savory flavor from the chickpeas. Serve with rice or quinoa for hearty 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. Enjoy!


07 November, 2009

The Garden in November

I don't need a sign to tell me this is garlic, but I am grateful to tell everyone else it is.  Can a fellow grow too much garlic?  
 I don't think so....

On the coast, our winter plantings can continue right up through March. The only months that are really hard on winter veggies as close to the Pacific as we are in Zone 24 is July through September. In some years, October can be hard to handle too, but this year's one week or so of very hot weather is much more common. It was hard on our lettuce and young plants in the garden, we had to add some extra water by hand. And we did loose a few.

But now, by this time of the year, we ought not have any extended heat spells, the cool weather should be very much ensconced. Now we want to make certain I have a good stock of alliums laid in – my garlic, onions, leeks and shallots all have a place in my heart – and stomach – so I plant a lot of them.

Shallots and garlic can be grown from bulbs, so I will plant them in pots and I crowd all my roses with garlic. Garlic is a good companion plant because, according to folklore at least, it is good at discouraging insects. I’m not sure this is proven yet, but I think the garlic plant itself is worth a look so I love having that upright element in pots as well as in ornamental beds. And you can't really plant enough garlic and shallots. Come to think of it, leeks would serve that purpose just as well.

This year, I am in my second year of planting onions and shallots from seed. Last year, shallots were a whopping success – except I felt completely out of my league when it came to cook them. I felt I had to copy a French accent while cooking with them. The onions ran a distant second, which saddened me – I am much more familiar cooking with onions than shallots. But, I'm trying again.

I have loved to purchase onion plants from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply for several years. They carry several different varieties, but the one I love is Italian Red Torpedo Onions. But for the last two years, I have missed getting plants because they do sell out. So, in revenge, I have sought to start them from seed. The plants you can buy in nurseries are really only baby plants that someone had to start from seed, so someone had to do it. I figure if someone can do it, I just as well ought to be able to do it. It's harder than I thought. The little plants come up looking like grass and seem to take forever. Maybe that's why buying plants is so hot.

Water, hopefully becomes much less of a challenge by this point, although a Santa Ana might come flying through and send everyone scrambling to keep the soil moist around my plants. Mulch. The more the mulch, the less the work. You can mulch pots too – in permanent (more or less) plantings like a rose, caper bush or bay leaf tree.

Mulch is a term that I use a lot, but needs to be defined. Mulch is anything put on top of the soil that interdicts the sun's rays and raindrops (or 'sprinkler-drops') from hitting the soil. It can be rocks, sheets of plastic, or some organic material – even compost.

As a vegetable gardener from way back when, I disdain the non-organic mulches. They can be expensive and they don't do a thing for the soil. Most organic mulches are cheap and many can be found for free. Organic mulches, unlike rocks, plastic or other non-organic mulches, feed the microbes that live in the soil, which improves the soil and adds fertility without a lot of extra expense.

As I plant more of my winter plants, I'll keep adding more compost as mulch around the base of my plants. One thing to take note of as the days get cooler and hopefully wetter, is an explosion of slugs and snails. This is the kind of weather they prefer and they multiply like crazy in it. Because they are migratory creatures, you can never be rid of them completely. If you did manage to clear your garden on Tuesday of all slugs and snails, by Wednesday evening, you have a whole new group on hand that wandered in from the neighbors (or hatched out while you weren't looking).

The only real solution is constant vigilance. I have a friend who walks through her garden with a pail of water with dish soap in it and every snail and slug goes for a swim. Another friend tosses them towards the street. Another crushes them underfoot. (Gardening is not for the squeamish or faint of heart!) I do all three at different times depending on how I feel. You should have seen how I felt to loose four rows of baby lettuce in one night. I never found that culprit, but I have wrecked revenge on every slug and snail I've ever seen since.

Yes, there are predatory snails that feed on the common garden snail, but they are also migratory and seem like a pretty iffy proposition to me. Besides, if they ever did take out your common garden snail and left themselves with nothing to eat (not very likely) then they would turn on your garden as well. Seems like that is a lose lose lose situation. I'll pass.

There are also several products in the marketplace that work and are organic. Es-car-go® and Sluggo® are two products that are organic and safe around pets and other wildlife because the active ingredient is an iron phosphate, a soil component that is lethal to mollusks like snails and slugs.

Still, the least expensive way to deal with them was to kill them directly as mentioned above. I imagine if this makes you queasy now, after some valuable crops or hard work becomes a midnight snack several times, you will find yourself a hardened snail murderer like I am.

This is also THE very time to begin to think about fruit trees. I urge you to think about fruit trees for a while before making the dive because they are a big investment, not so much in money, but in time and patience. Once one has planted a fruit tree, some will take several years to come into full production – if you find the fruit unsatisfactory, or you have a variety that doesn't fruit well for you, all that time is wasted.

Gather as much data as you can in order to choose the tree that is right for you. Here are some sources you will find helpful – I suggest you go online and order the printed catalog because you'll want to cross check facts and types with each different nursery before you commit.

Trees of Antiquity, is the place where we purchased most of our trees here in The Learning Garden. I found them extremely helpful and very knowledgeable. It was they who suggested Dorsett Golden as our apple here and it is truly one of the finds of a lifetime for our area.

Raintree Nursery, invariably is where I place my ongoing orders for my propagation class (that starts in January) because I need rootstocks for the class, but their selection is lovely too and their catalog is worth a read.

My old standby, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, is a great supplier of trees and fruit bushes, but their selection isn't nearly as complete and their catalog isn't a detailed as these others. Still, if you are already ordering something from Peaceful and they have the variety you want, you can't go wrong with them.

Dave Wilson Nursery has one of the most extensive websites around on fruit trees. It is really worth a good solid look, chock full of data.

The University of California has gotten in on the act with a website, The California Backyard Orchard, that is a wonderful web site for a lot of answers about growing fruit trees in our climate. It also promotes the UC ANR publication, The Home Orchard which I recommend if someone is going to go into this head over heals – like I want to!

After looking through these catalogs, one might have narrowed their purchase down to a few trees. Once you get trees, these following sources are lovely to have in your library:

The Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden, Otto, Stella, © 1995 Ottographics This is the oldest book in this list and probably the smallest too, so it isn't as chock full of data as the other two, but then it would be the least expensive as well. Otto covers a lot more, obscure, fruits and so this is a book for the adventurous and those who don't want to spend a lot of money. It is a gem of a book and she does not intimidate the reader
The Home Orchard, Ingels, C. et al, © 2007, University of California, Agriculture & Natural Resources One of the very best books for learning about the home orchard. Well written, easy to understand, good photos, this one has it all. No shortcuts, I like this book. It is available through the address above (and on sale as of this writing – which means a new edition might be on its way out – because of the sale, it is cheaper from ANR directly than it is from Amazon).
The Organic Apple Grower, Phillips, Michael, © 2005, Chelsea Green Publishing Although written for the New England area of the country, he introduces tools of the trade with a flair and his way of doing things IS organic. Might be one to check out from the library, but you will find plenty of good information and lots of lovely reading about organic apple production. (And his description of finding a flat-head apple borer makes my fulminations over slugs seem very, very tame.)

Some Fruit Varieties That Do Well Here:

Apples -

Dorsett Golden – as mentioned above, is our heavy cropper. It takes about 3 years to really settle in (although it will bear fruit, they are tiny for the first three or so years with full sized fruit beginning to show up in year three). We have Dorsett Golden on half size fruit stock and it's a fair sized critter.
Gala – we have this on a dwarf rootstock – she's about five feet tall at this point and not likely to get much larger. Lovely apples with crisp texture and that is what I prize in an apple.
Fuji – one of my all time favorites, but the one we have in the garden is a 500 chill hour plant and in three years I harvested one small apple. It WAS good, but it wasn't worth all that time. Sadly, ours will have to be replaced. (There are newer Fuji trees that have less chilling requirement and I may buy one of those.

If I had known better, I would have planted more varieties with a wider range of fruiting times to extend the harvest – as it is now, we get a ton of apples in late June/early July and then we are done for the year. Although, a quick look at the literature I have at hand shows that I have few apples to choose from that will fruit here at all.

Apricot -

Gold Kist – hands down, the best apricot I have ever eaten! A self-pollinated variety, this one tree stands out as the best fruit in our garden. While Royal Blenheim is the touted variety for our climate, I just love Gold Kist and have no desire to look beyond it.

Pear -

Seckle is usually the only one suggested for our area of the European pears. We have one, but it ended up in a neglected area and I've got nothing to report. Although, I don't think a ripe pear can be beat by much for shear hedonistic eating!

Figs -

Violettte de Bordeaux – is our tree that has been a champion for five years. It bore fruit the first year and it has not stopped since. A deep black skinned fruit, the flesh is a gorgeous red and has a smoky richness that is heavenly.
White Genoa – is an Italian variety that took forever to fruit. Once it finally put on a crop by which it could be judged, I began to appreciate its lighter and sweeter amber flesh. A really lovely fig.

Nectarine -

Double Delight – not to be confused with the rose of the same name, this is a yellow fleshed freestone nectarine, heavily bearing and needs a LOT of thinning – we almost lost several branches because it just over set fruit. I know Peaceful Valley calls it 'sensational' but I think that's a little over the top. It's good and with vanilla ice cream it's really good. But not 'sensational.' It is self-fertile.

Peaches -

Red Baron – this is one of our two peaches – this is a yellow freestone and a very good producer of large fruits. The other one is a clingstone and I like its flavor better, but I can't find the record on it and don't know which one it is. The importance of keeping good records, where you can find them is not to be overlooked. (I do have this all written down and saved in a computer file from 2003, but I can only find files back to 2005 right this second.)

Plums -

Santa Rosa – this is one of the thousands of plants that Luther Burbank created (he lived in Santa Rosa and gave us the Burbank potato, the Shasta Daisy among thousands of others), and I find this to be the best and most prolific producer of any tree in our gardens today. It makes a fabulous sorbet, delicious jam and fresh eating cannot be beat. There are several other plums that will do well in our region, but I haven't got past this one.

This is just the highlights of the common fruits. I will take on some more later in the month.


31 October, 2009

Someone Is Being A Little Optimistic!!

Or, 'we were blowed around pretty hard this week!'

We have palm fronds galore around the Garden.  Three dumpsters have some fronds in each and there are these stacked on the compost pile.  If we wanted to wait for five or more years, we might be able to get these things to break down (less if we chopped 'em up), but I have to admit, I'm not that much of an optimist!  These would be quite a lot of work to deal with.

On the other hand, some high school students showed a little more initiative and some artistic potential as well by putting this 'bouquet' together near the over-full dumpsters.

Yeah, we got really blown this week - but the air is now cleaner and its a bright sparkly day in Paradise! 


Who Really Built The Learning Garden

I have been a part of the Learning Garden for just over seven years, almost every month it has been in existence.  I was not here at the beginning, but I have a credible amount of service in this Garden which makes me uniquely qualified having viewed the Garden's growth from almost the very beginning.. 

Over those years, a volunteer or two have come along and worked very hard on a facet here or a facet there of the Garden - and at some point have reported to me and others that they 'built The Learning Garden."

What makes it all the more astonishing and poignant is that the one person who could really say that, hasn't.

Operating mostly off site, in her home office a few blocks away, the real person who "built The Learning Garden" is Julie Mann, one of our founders and still serving on our Board of Directors as our Treasurer.

Julie has written grants, sought funding, mediated disputes, cajoled reluctant participants to fulfill their promises and countless other tasks (like hawking pesto in the above photo) that remain largely thankless, day in and day out. Year in and year out.  For longer than I have been here. 

So when you hear someone say how important they are to The Learning Garden, they aren't.  The only one who can claim that title doesn't say it.  This little post doesn't acknowledge Julie enough, doesn't do her justice.  But really there is nothing we could do to really express our gratitude for all of her work and efforts to truly "build The Learning Garden."  And any post that exculpated all the work Julie has done, would go way too long for this writer who is due at 'work' soon.  

Thank you and Happy Birthday, Julie!


Bermuda Grass Root

You think you have persistence and determination?  Most gardeners do, but most gardeners feel a bit overwhelmed soon enough after fighting with Bermuda grass.  Here is one of the reasons it can be so difficult to get a handle on!  A Bermuda grass root has pierced this little bit of wood with apparent ease.   The roots not only can grow through wood, they have been reported as deep as four feet!  Along the length of the root, there are frequent nodes, each node capable of producing a whole new plant!  If you find a Bermuda grass root, you must pull on it gently, trying to find the ultimate end in order to leave no pieces behind that would respout the problem all over again.

Such persistence makes even hardened organic gardeners think, "Herbicide, just one time, maybe?"  But herbicide is the same seductress as heroin, fundamentally not changing the situation, setting one up to have to use herbicide again, while damaging the ecology of the planet (and your garden) and paying money to the people who would do that most harm of all to the planet and those of us who live here.


Every Monday Matters (And So Does Thursday!)

Every Monday Matters volunteers showed up (on a Thursday!) and worked very hard in the Garden.  These hardworking volunteers are clowning around with an unplanted bulb of garlic.

Such volunteers bless and uplift our project and many others through their light hearted humor and joyful hard work.  The work they did in The Learning Garden this morning would have take the Gardenmaster about a week to have finished.  Gosh!  


24 October, 2009

The Garden in October, Part II

Lettuce from seed looks beautiful in the late winter sun!  A romaine lettuce like this is easy to grow and will look good no matter where you plant it!  

Direct sowing of seeds gets far too much mystical billing. It’s easy. The hard part, in our busy world, is staying disciplined enough to keep them watered. Remember, the seed wants desperately to grow, that is its only “job.” If you provide enough water for the seed to break its seed coat, you will see a little pair of leaves soon above the soil. These are called cotyledons and, if there are two of them, you have what is commonly referred to as a 'dicot.' There is only one other kind of flowering plant we would be concerned with in a vegetable garden and that has only a single seed leaf and is called a 'monocot.' Monocots are all the grasses, which includes grains like corn, wheat, rice and barley.

Take note of all the little cotyledons of the plants you grow and soon you will be able to tell them from the weeds. This is somewhat important. If you can rid yourself of weeds before they get really big, you have a much easier job of it; if you rid yourself of all the wrong plants because you mistook the lettuce for dandelions, you'll be a very disappointed and frustrated gardener!

Composting is one of the more essential parts of gardening. Gardening is a life cycle and composting is that part of the cycle that returns nutrients and fertility to the soil. In our culture, we don't like the smell or the thought of decomposition, yet a knowing gardener loves the smell of rich compost; that smell, incidentally is from actinomycetes, a fungus that is in the same group of organisms as penicillin.

Somehow, fall always reminds me of composting probably because I grew up in those colder climes where fall signals the oncoming winter and so marked the end of the growing season. And that leads to thoughts of composting. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

You can get absolutely nuts trying to build a scientific compost pile, but let me offer that I don't do all that. Decomposition happens. Just leave some veggies in your fridge too long and tell me they did not decompose. And you didn't have even think about carbon to nitrogen rations (c:n). You do want to understand the process – especially if you don't have the space to leave something sit for 9 months, which is what I used to do – and get usable compost in less time that it takes to grow a decent cabbage.

Remember you have 'browns' and 'greens,' names that are somewhat misleading. 'Browns' refers to carbon material which is usually brown. This is dried leaves or woody pieces. 'Greens' are those materials full of nitrogen – usually represented by grass clippings, but all of your table scraps are nitrogen sources too and they, though a different color, are classed as 'greens.' While we can specify the ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio, achieving it is always a meandering attempt to meet an approximate target. And you never have composting materials in the right amounts to achieve an ideal c:n ratio. So, add as much of the green and the brown as you have. Mix well and water – keep moist. Make a pile that is at least three feet by three feet by three feet. Keep moist. Turn the parts that are inside, outside and the parts that are outside, inside. Keep moist. Not soggy, but moist. In about 9 weeks of warm weather, you'll be able to use fresh compost. Sift out the big honking pieces and return them to the pile (they will help get the pile off to a better start) and build it again.

Honestly? I usually dig a trench about one foot across and two feet deep and as long as it needs to be to handle what I have to compost. I pick a part of the garden I won't use for a few months and I add the compostable materials, covering with soil as I go. I add to the trench every day I need more room for materials. Eventually I'll simply plant right into that soil. No big deal and it works without a lot of reading.

You can find the composting technique that thrills you. The important part is that none of that rich material gets thrown into a land fill! That is unconscionable! All of the plant wastes from the kitchen and table are wonderful food for the garden and they are free!

However, for apartment dwellers, condo owners and others with no easy access to land, vermicomposting is the answer you are looking for! And you didn't even know you had the question! It's easy, the result can be used on plants in pots and your garbage need never grace the entrance of a landfill ever again!
You will need
10 gallon bin or 1 20 gallon bin
1 lb or so of worms
Cardboard or newsprint
Kitchen waste
OSH sells two storage bins that work very well for vermicomposting.  The smaller bin is a 10 gallon container by Rubbermaid called Roughneck Storage Bin #2214-08. It’s dimensions are 9” x  21” x 15” , comes with a lid and is available in various colors.  This size works well for a family of two.

A worm bin can be made of wood, but plastic seems to work better longer because it won't rot. Your bin must be tightly covered – worms cannot live in light and you don't want them to escape! Punch or drill holes around the top third of the vertical walls to allow air to circulate – punching them with a nail is best because any larger of a hole will be an escape hatch for the explorers in your worm population. You should do the same thing with the lid. Oxygen in the bin will allow the breakdown of materials to proceed aerobically, which means it won't stink and your worms won't suffocate.

Wet a sheet of cardboard or a section of newsprint – soak thoroughly and wring out to where it is as moist of a well wrung sponge. Worms will use this as bedding, and eventually you'll need to replace it
as time goes by.

Red wigglers will reprocess kitchen waste such as: vegetables, fruits, eggshells, teabags, paper coffee filters, shredded paper towels, and coffee grounds. They particularly like pumpkin, watermelon and cantaloupe. Avoid citrus fruits because they are too acidic for them. If you pamper your worms by cutting food scraps into small pieces, the worms can finish them off that much faster, I am not, however in the business of making life wonderful for a bunch of worms – I throw it in whole and they take care of it sooner or later. Burying the food scraps into the bedding will help you avoid fruit flies and not adding meat or fish to the bin will help prevent cats and dogs from investigating the bin.

Feed the worms your scraps as you have them available -ideally, no less than twice a wee – however, I have gone on vacation for a week and fed my worms nothing in that time and did not come back to a hell hole of a worm bin. Don't stay up nights worrying about them. These worms prefer a pH of something close to 7 and the temperature needs to be between 50 and 84 F. Don't let the bin dry out.

Harvesting the vermicompost can be done several ways, but the way that is easiest and therefore my choice is called 'side-harvesting.' Feed the worms on only one side of the bin for a few weeks which will cause the worms to migrate to that side. You can then begin to harvest the worm compost from that unoccupied side of the bin where you will eventually, once you've finished harvesting (over a few weeks), begin to add fresh bedding on that side causing them to migrate to the new bedding and allowing you to harvest from the second side.

You can make a it lot more complicated than this, but really, you have better things to worry about, yes?


21 October, 2009

Fresh Mulch Daily!

Well, not daily, but we did have fresh compost/mulch delivered today (21 October) and expect another load next Wednesday!

We get this from the city of Los Angeles. Though it smells as though it ought to have manure in it, that's just the smell of decomposition - this is nothing more than Los Angeles green can waste, sorted to remove trash and non-compostable items, ground up to a finer texture and set to compost for an interval of time (depending on temperature etc the amount of time can vary considerably). The compost is turned at least once in this process and may be sifted again as well.

When it arrives here, the pieces are still somewhat discernible - you can tell the bits that were leaves although it can be hard to identify species of tree a given leaf is from. I like chunks like this - it will take longer to break down and the way I use this stuff is to spread it on top of my soil as a mulch, to feed the soil biota; because it is chunkier, it will take longer to break down. So this is perfect stuff for me. I like to see it go on 4" deep or more, depending on the plant.

In my experimental plots, I've not used any fertilizer in about six years and we are still getting super yields. We have mulched and mulched - this compost and wood chips have been used by the barrow full and the soil is as lovely as any garden could hope for. We are moving this experience out into the rest of the Garden and getting beyond the cycle of fertilizer leading to low fertility necessitating more fertilizer ad nauseum. Our fertility stays in our Garden (rather than being washed away) because it is a natural biological process and not something added as a powder or a liquid. Our fertility is in the bodies of the critters of the soil and doesn't become run off that pollutes our waterways or ground water.

I was thinking this morning how wonderful this life is when I can make a phone call and 48 hours later, a big truck pulls up and dumps 30 cubic yards of compost for my garden for free and they'll do it again next week! Truly this is a precious resource from the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation. One reason The Learning Garden continues to get such quantities of this stuff is because we give it away to other sites(i.e. local residents, schools, shelters and half-way houses with gardens) that don't have a storage area like our little alley. You can pick up this material from us, or from one of several yards around the LA area for free - as much as you want as often as you can!

I am very grateful to Pete Robinson and the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation and this compost project! Without this material, The Learning Garden wouldn't be half of what it is today.


10 October, 2009

Sheet Mulching

Cardboarding Pasadena Backyard © 2008 Orchid Black

At times it is necessary to eliminate plants from a large area - in Los Angeles, this is most often grass - and sheet mulching is the way to do it. Here is a lovely post about ridding a Bermuda grass lawn - one of the most persistent weeds a garden can have. Without chemicals and without a lot of heavy sweating, any lawn can be history.

This technique not only doesn't use chemicals and hard labor, it also leaves the soil in much better condition than it was as a lawn. It seems to me to be a win/win/win situation. It does require patience, but, while patience may be a virtue to the general population, in gardeners it is essential!


03 October, 2009

An Edible Gardening Bibliography

The cover of William Woys Weaver's seminal work on heirloom vegetables displays the promise of some delicious reading to come. The book delivers. However, it is out of print as of this writing and, even as a used book, is no mean investment. It IS a good book!

Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally, Kourick, Robert © 1986, Metamorphic Press, Santa Rosa, CA Probably the bible for this kind of garden. I own a first printing and a quick check shows that Amazon has it new for $33.46 (Permanent Publications; March 30, 2005), so it’s still a winner, after all these years.

Designing the New Kitchen Garden, Bartley, Jennifer © 2006, Timber Press, Portland, OR Lots of wonderful ideas and source material for a good many daydreams. And the source of some important lessons in creating a garden that can sustain more than just your spirit. By the way, you’ll know you’re a real gardener when you begin to receive the Timber Press catalog – they have a comprehensive list of gardening books that will help you get into the details of any aspect of gardening that you can imagine!

Edible Flowers, From Garden to Palate, Barash, Cathy Wilkinson, © 1995 Fulcrum Publishing, This is the only really comprehensive book on growing edible flowers – it’s a fascinating cuisine we have largely lost through neglect. Have an adventure and a nasturtium for dinner!

Heirloom Vegetables
, Stickland, Sue, © 1998 Fireside Books, A wonderful introduction to heirloom vegetables and how and why to grow them! A fabulous read for all prospective vegetable gardeners. And now that the Weaver book is no longer easily available, this is the runner up.

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History, Weaver, William Woys © 2003, BookSales Inc, Originally published in 1997, it is now out of print and getting a copy can be hellish. The book sells for almost $300 used on Amazon! It is a wonderful book that needs to be put back in print because the research he put into the book allows this to be one of the most informative books on heirloom vegetables that has ever been published. Good luck in finding it! If I had known it was going to command this much money, I would have kept closer contact with my copy!

Sunset Western Garden Guide 8th Edition
, Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, Editor, ©2007, Sunset Publishing All of the recent editions have their merit, but each successive edition has more plants and updates the scientific undergirding of gardening, so I encourage you to invest in the most recent edition you can afford (used copies are usually easy to find, either locally or at Amazon.com, I have a few for sale!). This is the number one go-to book for horticulture in Southern California; no other book is as authoritative as this one for our area. We cannot take advice from most gardening books and apply it to what we do in Los Angeles because our climate and soils are nothing like the rest of the world – especially those on the east coast and England where most books about gardening originate.

The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques, Creasy, Rosalind, © 1982, Sierra Club Books – This is where edible landscaping began! Still a good book!

The Grape Grower, Rombough, Lon © 2002, Chelea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT. Of several books on the subject of growing grapes, this is the most thorough, the best written and covers the most material. And they all cost about the same money. You’ll come to think of it as your very favorite, if you get into growing grapes for table or for wine. Chelsea Green is another publishing house you’ll want to investigate – especially if you get into sustainable living. Truly a pioneer publishing house with many wonderful titles to entice you into curl up with a good book.

The Home Orchard, Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, © 2007, Another great book from UC’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources – search out their website and you’ll find a wealth of free information there as well as publications like this one to purchase. This book is about the most thorough book on home orchards you will ever find - it is no only comprehensive, but comprehendible and easy to follow. There is no aspect of home orchards that is not covered in this volume.

The Kitchen Garden, Thompson, Sylvia © 1995, Bantam Books, Sylvia is from our area (she has written for the LA Times) so she knows a bit of gardening here. This is a great book that I refer to frequently.

The Old-Fashioned Fruit Gardener, Gardner, Jo Ann, © 1989 Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia A wonderful resource to learn how folks used to use small fruits of their garden complete with growing instructions and recipes.

Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, Reich, Lee © 2004, Timber Press, Portland, OR If you are not familiar with Timber Press, check out their website, they are one of the best publishing houses in the field of horticulture today and their catalog will make your eyes twirl. We can’t grow all of these fruits, but this book is an eye opener for what can be grown vs. what IS grown. Each plant’s fruit is described with directions for cultivation and a list of desirable cultivars. This is the ‘expanded sequel’ to the book that drove me nuts trying to find a way to grow currants in Los Angeles (an as yet unfulfilled dream).

This list has been promised for far too long - please forgive my tardiness.


02 October, 2009

The Garden in October, Part I

Seedlings in terra cotta pots getting ready to be transplanted into slightly larger containers. On the left, broccoli and cabbages have two seed leaves while the two pots on the right must be onions or leeks because they only have one seed leaf each.

In all the books from back east and England, you'll find fall as a season of 'going to rest,' 'putting the garden to bed' and other allusions to 'sleep' and restoration. It is not true for us! We are in our other Spring and this Spring is really closer to the Spring that other parts of the world experience. This is our shot at carrots, peas, and other cool season plants. We either have all our space filled with plants, or we've just got a part planted with big plans (dreams) for the rest. So the Winter garden is in full swing. Later this month, if I have grown any green manure cover crops I will cut them down, leaving the plant material in place and cover with a thick layer of mulch. I would like to allow this to “mellow” (meaning I want this material to begin breaking down into nutrients the plants can use) for about 2 weeks before placing the next crop in.

I tried to plant one chard plant because I only need one to provide me with enough chard for all my needs, but there are so many colors to choose from, I feel a need to grow at least three: yellow, red and I love the orange. But these plants provide continuous chard obviating the need for succession planting, but almost everything else benefits by being sowed at intervals throughout the season, a process called 'succession sowing' or 'succession planting.'

A person plants a garden to get to eat the very freshest of food – you don't pick your veggies and put them in the fridge to age before you eat them – well, at least, that isn't the intent. So, to the degree we can, only plant enough of what you can eat in a reasonable amount of time. For me, being a single person, I have found that an eighteen inch row for most things is the perfect size to grow enough to supply fresh carrots, beets, parsnips, cutting lettuces, for any given time. A typical planting schedule for me might look like this:

Week 1 – carrots (maybe Yaya)
Week 2 – beets (Golden)
Week 3 – parsnips (Hollow Crown)
Week 4 – carrots (Mokum)
Week 5 – beets (Chioggia)
Week 6 – turnips (DeMilano)
Week 7 - lettuce (Black Seeded Simpson)
Week 8 – carrots (Yaya)
Week 9 – beets (Red Ball)
Week 10 – spinach (Space)
Week 11 – turnips (Purple Globe)
Week 12 – beets (Golden)

Quickly you see that, though I do eat parsnips and turnips, I don't eat nearly as many of them as I do carrots or beets. Your situation might be different in that you could care less at all about ANY parsnips, but spinach is near and dear to your heart so you would have spinach in the rotation much more than I do – you can, of course, plant three different things per week – carrots, beets and spinach in week one; turnips, lettuce and parsnips in week two; carrots, beets and parsnips in week three. Or spinach planted in one row every week all cool season long. Tailor the program to your needs! You might also find that you need longer rows – I wouldn't imagine that an 18” row would suffice for a family of four! Play around with the scheduling and the row legnth and the mix of plants you grow until you find what your family needs. At which point, their needs will change, but you'll have a lot more data with which to figure out the new schedule.

In our smaller gardens there is no room for the proverbial 50' row of carrots, so succession planting of a given vegetable is one of the staple strategies for stocking your larder. Another good point about putting in many smaller plantings of crops is the ability to harvest these vegetables at a smaller size, which is just the ticket for a garden in pots. Don’t get suckered into the “bigger is better” routine. A huge cauliflower might serve as a great subject in a “look what I grew” contest photo, but the cauliflower you pick at half the size will be the one your tastebuds will reverently remember.

A mark of the very good gardener is one who has his/her succession sowing down to such a science that allows them to place fresh vegetables on the table without lag time or a concentration of over-abundance and the attendant wild fluctuations leaving you with nothing from the garden for intervening weeks. Learning how to do this well has been the work of a lifetime for many and, as for me, I’m still finding it a moving target. But at least I know what I’m shooting for!

More later in the month.


01 October, 2009

The Garden In September, Part II

These ARE the 'dog days' of summer. Baseball season is winding down and the playoffs loom just ahead. Fall seeds need to be ordered soon and planted. It's time to deal with the end of the summer produce and look into the cooler months ahead. This is my faithful friend, Casey, also known as 'the Gardenmascot,' a proud Scottish Terrier who is in his waning days as well. Sorry this post got put up so late - it's been a jam-packed month.

I've had a great crop of peppers this year – which, I find a tad disturbing, because this year was lousy for eggplants this year due to a lack of consistent heat, and if it didn't get hot enough for one, I'd think it'd not be hot enough for the other. But I have a lot of peppers. We pickled about 5 pints of the Sweet Banana peppers so far this year, but the jalapeños, I'm letting stay on the vine until they turn red so I can dry them until they are crispy to grind them into powder for a teentsy little zip in some recipes over the coming months.

One thing to remember when working with hot peppers: either wear rubber gloves or make very sure to wash your hands thoroughly before you touch your face – especially your eyes – the juice in hot peppers are just about one of the most painful solutions you can get into your eyes. Or other sensitive flesh parts of your body.

Measurements of heat in peppers are in Scoville Heat Units (SHU's), which is predicated on the amount of capsaicin in the pepper. Here is a chart comparing the different peppers and their varying amounts of capsaicin. If you know the SHU of a pepper, you can avoid blasting the top of your head off. But, remember, right after the note on keeping capsaicin out of your eyes, if you dry peppers, the heat increases by a factor of ten! That's an increase worth remembering!

Pepper Type Heat rating (in Scoville heat units)
Pure Capsaicin 16,000,000
Naga Jolokia 800,000 ~ 1,041,000
Dorset Naga 800,000 ~ 900,000
Red Savina Habanero 350,000 ~ 575,000
Habanero 200,000-300,000
Red Amazon 75,000
Pequin 75,000
Chiltecepin 70,000-75,000
Tabasco 30,00-50,000
Cayenne 35,000
Arbol 25,000
Japone 25,000
Smoked Jalepeno (Chipotle) 10,000
Serrano 7,000-25,000
Puya 5,000
Guajillo 5,000
Jalepeno 3,500-4,500
Poblano 2,500-3,000
Pasilla 2,500
TAM Mild Jalepeno-1 1,000-1,500
Anaheim 1,000-1,400
New Mexican 1,000
Ancho 1,000
Bell & Pimento 0

I'm afraid my Kansan heritage precludes eating most of these. Anything above Jalapeno would not be found in my kitchen! And yet, I've dried Jalapenos. That's just a little scary - the only use I have for the final dried Jalapeno powder will be to add a pinch to my famous Hot Chocolate That Kills, served at the Learning Garden for Dios de los Muertas and again at Valentines Day. Other than that, I'll keep it tightly capped and show the container to some things I'm cooking just to make them THINK about being warmer. :-)

About half-way into the month, it usually becomes cool enough to sow arugula, beets, carrots, lettuce, peas and turnips. My leek and fennel seedlings ought to be ready to transplant out, as should broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard, endive, kohlrabi.

As September wanes, probably the most productive time in the Southern California potager begins. If you are eating from your garden, now begins 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 another brief moment at this time. I make my own bread, so the tomato and lettuce come from my garden and the only parts I buy are the bacon and the mayo. It's almost a mystical experience for me, 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, drizzle honey on them and a dollop of some fairly stout Greek yogurt on them. Oh is that 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's tree that you found for sale in a farmers' market.

Fava beans, lentils and peas are in season now, too. All of these grow best in our cooler winters. Fava beans were the only bean in the Old World before the Americas were discovered; all the other beans are American in origin (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.

To have sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) flowers for Christmas, they must be in the ground by the first weekend of September. Please note that 'sweet peas' refer to a flower, while peas (Pisum sativum) are a food plant. The sweet pea flower (which I think has the most divine aroma!), is strictly an ornamental as the seeds are poisonous. Not smart to confuse the two – gives a whole new scenario to the “no TV for you until you eat your peas!” line.

If you don't start your own seeds, find broccoli, cabbage, kale, chard and onion plants in a good nursery. Don't scrimp on your plants – if they have been cared for with indifference (like one might find at a big box store with minimum wage employees who may even hate working in a nursery) you might not get the quality plants that will produce the best (or the most) food. You are going to invest considerable time in growing these plants before they will be your dinner. Buying a cheap plant might be 'penny wise and pound foolish.' If you have to hoard some pennies, skip a couple cups of coffee rather than buy cheap plants.

I think it's better to start your plants from seed, instructions are easily available, if you can, find the seminal seed starting book, The New Seed Starters' Handbook by Nancy Bubel. That was the book that started me on the road to starting almost all my plants from seed and is still the best book on the subject. I see if sells for about $14.00 on Amazon; I got my second copy (the first went a-wandering) from a close out bin in Borders for $3.00.

Starting from seed, as you saw if you went to any of the web sites from last month, offers you the most diversity in what you have available to plant and you control over when you plant as well – which is a delightful way of keeping your garden looking its best. Mind you, this takes patience and time – but the rewards are equal to those investments. Isn't that the way of everything, though?

This is an exciting time to be gardening. Grab your imagination and look at where you 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 not true at all. The big difference is when I kill a plant, I usually know why it died and sometimes it isn't my fault. And 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 turn your car off; or forget to go to work in the morning. Death by inattention is reformable – it's a changing of your patterns.

Be good to yourself and it'll change.