26 January, 2009

Change Is Inevitable...

Pickled beets just as the lids are popping as they cool (a sure indication that they have sealed properly) are a popular condiment at my table. These Golden Beets were prepared by high school students (golden beets don't bleed and stain like their red counterparts) who were much chagrined to learn they needed to wait six (S-I-X!!!) weeks before tasting the fruits of their labors.

I come to my environmentalism against the grain, by which I mean, I live in West-crises?- What-crises?-wood, California, a upscale portion of Los Angeles. My little bungalow home not only has no insulation, but a fellow can actually feel the breeze flow through on blustery days. Waking up here is like coming to in a refrigerator; it is frequently warmer outside than in. I bound out of bed, dressing quickly, pulling on my wonderful shawl collar wool sweater, a wool beret and tie a wool scarf around my neck. After pulling on my down booties, I thank God that I can sip wonderfully hot coffee and write on a laptop where the electronics within warm my fingers on the keyboard.

I rent my little bungalow. I have done a number of things to mitigate the lacks of this home and this is where I find myself after I've done what I can do. I live in a sweet little part of Los Angeles and I pay a ridiculously low rent which makes me loathe to ask for changes from my landlady. I do not run the electric heater that is a part of this house, I use a portable electric heater when I must. I have a propane heater that warms me as I dry from my shower and dress. From the McMansions going up all around me and the Hummer homes that dot my neighborhood, I feel my carbon footprint is a pretty good departure from my neighbors'.

Looking to others for comparison, however, is not valuable or instructive. My own footprint has progressively lessened over the past few years. I find that mark more useful to consider as my measure progress. Sadly, many lag considerably behind others in getting the message. I cannot fathom how the family down the street can consider the impact as they commence to remodel a perfectly usable bungalow into our latest McMansion, while the conscious among us have turned off sprinklers, cut heat, and changed our lifestyles towards reducing our impact on the earth.

Still. A quick look at the future convinces me that certain parts of our economy will change as the tanker sinks on cheap, easy oil.

In my home, and all of those around me, there is no pantry. Someone with carpentry skills and some entrepreneurial acumen could figure out strategies by which existing homes, no matter how small or large, can be retrofitted with something that can be a pantry to store food that is either grown at home, or purchased in season at a local farmers market. Something that can approach a root cellar to hold root crops as they were once held in homes all over America would be much more valuable in the coming years than a big screen TV. And would be produced locally by local craftspeople and not built of plastic (destined for the inevitable landfill) and imported from thousands of miles away.

Canning jar manufacturers have disappeared over these past few decades. Now it is sad to report that the two remaining icon brands of home canning are, in fact, owned by the same company. The only brands available for most Americans putting food by are Ball and Kerr, neither owned by Ball or Kerr, but by Alltrista Corporation. Even the original brand of canning jars, once the ubiquitous Mason jar, has completely become the pleasure of collectors and no longer makes appearance in the canners arsenal. (More information on the history of canning jars can be found at this link.)

Alltrista could do itself proud by expanding its offerings to the home consumer and building on the possibility that homemakers of the very near future will want to decrease their dependence on canned products shipped in at dubious expense from overseas containing products that has little oversight in it's production and quality control.

Most landgrant colleges have not only master gardener programs, but master home canners programs as well. As the economics of the last eight plus years have trimmed the budgets of these venerable institutions, many of these very essential programs have been cut. I was the recipient of this downsizing in a dichotomous moment. I learned of the sale of jars and equipment of the Los Angeles County Master Home Canners program in 2005 and was one of only a few that showed up to purchase these remains of the defunct program. For a song (a melancholy song at that), I ended up with a much used and sad looking Excalibur dryer that had seen much better days (but still performs like the thoroughbred champion it is) and numerous canning jars of many different shapes and brands. Several of these gorgeous jars end up in my homemade pesto and jams that I take a manifest pride in producing.

And these products, by a strange twist of fate have again become part of the educational system. I have taught several different people how to preserve food using the glass jars and others use my dryer to create dried fruits and herbs for storage.

So. I am busy attending to my own carbon footprint as best I can. I anticipate, eagerly, a time and a place where I have the resources to further reduce my carbon footprint and live a life that impacts this world less. That time will come and I do what I can in the meantime to move towards that goal. I grow a lot of fresh, organic produce; not nearly as much as I would like, but I strive towards more every year. I continue to learn more ways of cooking at home and keeping the food in ever-decreasing usage terms (dried foods, like beans, continue to be a foodstuff for a very long without electricity or propane). Food produced and stored locally are ways to divest myself from the consumption of oil. Driving the speed limit (God bless my right foot with lightness and my rear view mirror with forgetfulness for the hordes of Californians held up in my plodding wake) is one way that I am trying to immediately lower my dependence on oil no matter what model of car I drive. It would do me well to park the car more often as well – walking and biking are not only ecologically sound, but have health ramifications that my doctor would rejoice at as well.

I have often held to the conviction “What blesses one, blesses all.” There is no doubt that changes afoot will negatively impact some business and skill sets, just as wholesale adoption of the automobile in the early 1900's had a huge impact on the employment prospects of, say, wheelwrights and others. That does not mean that wheelwrights had to go on the dole. It does mean that there had to be changes made. A fellow in wheelwright school in 1914 might well have looked into the crystal ball of his day and thought, “gosh, maybe I should reconsider my plan to feed my family.” That change of plans does not necessarily mean the devastation of a life.

We have all adapted our lives to accommodate the personal computer – for better or for worse. We will all soon get to adapt again. One of the very (very) few things I actually remember from my 9th grade biology class (I failed biology twice in high school and as a senior had to take it a third time to facilitate my graduation – I could not do the required dissection of frogs and worms and finally was put into an honors class where I could replace animal dissection with a study of plants), that life may be defined as the ability to change.

How alive we all actually are will determine, in ever increasing measure, how successfully we can navigate the immediate future crises. I shall knit myself an even warmer scarf. Too bad I can't grow the sheep for the wool!


25 January, 2009

Whoops! An Addendum to Today's Class: Upcoming Seed Swap

Leftovers from today's class. If you labeled your tomatoes as just 'tomatoes,' please try to remember that tomato you sowed so we can add the variety name to your label. I can recognize a tomato plant, but I can't tell what KIND of tomato it is and that makes a BIG difference!

An announcement I failed to make in today's class:

It's time for The EnviroChangeMakers' Vegetable/Herb Seed Swap Celebration!

That's right - we're holding a little festival about SEEDS!

Next Saturday, Jan 31, we'll have a multi-faceted event focused on
getting started in vegetable growing.

At 11am we'll hold a "Seedlings" class - part of our free ongoing
Organic Vegetable Gardening class series. Learn how we start
seedlings for the community garden, how and when we transplant, and
much more.

At 12 noon, we'll have a local foods potluck. Bring a dish which
emphasizes locally grown fruits and vegetables (farmer's market?
backyard?). Let's celebrate the bounty of our local foodshed.

We'll have live music from local Westchester musicians, the Praties,
with special guest.

From 1-2pm we'll hold the main event, the seed swap. Here's where you
get to trade seeds with friends and neighbors. Bring those half-
packets of veggie seed you have from last year's exuberant catalog
purchases. Bring seed you've saved yourself. If you don't have any
seed, don't worry and come anyway - you can take home samples to get

Suggestion: bring old junk mail envelopes to carry home your treasures.

The entire event is free and open to all.

We look forward to seeing you, and to swapping garden stories as well
as our seeds.

Community Garden at Holy Nativity
6700 W. 83rd
Westchester (LA 90045)


Students in the Propagation class can come to the Garden and I'll provide them with some to share if they don't have some of their own. (We have a few...) And it would be a delightful day of seed talk.

I hope to be in Santa Barbara that day hearing a talk on ancient cereal grains from an expert seed saver. If you want seeds from me, then, you gotta get 'em before Saturday!


Common Seed Viability

Please note how this seed label was written and duplicate the format for all your seed labels. Other information might be added as needed. For old seed, I can write the production year for the seed at the bottom of the label and I have abbreviations for the different seed houses I order from. Your name should always appear on the back!

Approximate age at which seed of good initial viability stored under cool and dry conditions will still give a satisfactory germination. Seed stored dry and cool will last longer. Remember a researcher at UCLA germinated lotus seed that had been found in a pyramid that was several thousand years old! These are only estimates. (This is a chart mangled from a word processor to html. Sorry.)

Common Name Binomial Family ~ Age

Asparagus officinalis Liiaceae 3
BeansPhaseolus vulgaris (& others) Fabaceae 3
Beets Beta vulgaris Chenopodiaceae 4

Brassica oleracea Brassicaceae 5
Cabbage Brassica oleracea Brassicaceae 5
Cardoon Cynara cardunculus Asteraceae 5

Daucus carota sativus Apiaceae 3
Cauliflower Brassica oleracea Brassicaceae 5
Celeriac Apium graveolens rapaceum Apiaceae 5
Celery Apium graveolens dulce Apiaceae 5
Chervil Anthriscus cerefolium Apiaceae 3
Collards Brassica oleracea Brassicaceae 5

Zea mays Poaceae 2

Lepidium sativum Brassicaceae 5
Cucumbers Cucumis melo Cucurbitaceae 5
Eggplant Solanum melongena Solanaceae 5
Endive Cichorium endivia Asteraceae 5
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare Apiaceae 4
Kale Brassica oleracea Brassicaceae 5

Brassica oleracea Brassicaceae 5
Leeks Allium porrum Liiaceae 3
Lettuce Lactuca sativa Asteraceae 5
Muskmelons Cucumis melo Cucurbitaceae 5
Mustard Brassica cretica Brassicaceae 4
Okra Abelmoschus esculentus Solanaceae 2
Onions Allium cepa Amaryllidaceae 1
Parsley Petroselinum crispum Apiaceae 1
Parsnips Pastinaca sativa Apiaceae 1
Peas Pisum sativum Fabaceae 3
Peppers Capsicum annuum Solanaceae 2
Pumpkins Cucurbita maxima Cucurbitaceae 4
Radishes Raphanus landra Brassicaceae 5
Spinach Spinacia oleracea Chenopodiaceae 5
Squash Cucurbita moschata;
C. pepo and C. maxima Cucurbitaceae 4
Swiss Chard Beta vulgaris Chenopodiaceae 4
Tomatoes Lycopersicon esculentum Solanaceae 4

Brassica rapa Brassicaceae 4

Citrullus lanatus Cucurbitaceae 4


Common Problems with Seedlings

These healthy, little carrot seedlings are spreading their dear little cotyledons to the sky. Because there are two cotyledons, they are obviously dicots. These are the carrots we call "Mike's Carrots" because I lost a bet for five pounds of carrots to Mike McGrath in Pennsylvania - it was over baseball. That's enough about that.

The following problems can occur in seeds indoors or out:
Leaf curl - leaves curling under is probably over-fertilization
Yellowing of lower (older) leaves – also over-feeding – although might also indicate magnesium deficiency (but very unlikely if you are using a commercial potting soil)
Leggy plants – these are long weak stems – longer than normal internodes indicate one or more of the following: insufficient light excessively high temperatures, plant crowding
Leaf discoloration – usually indicate nutrient deficiencies
Pale – if they are getting enough light, nitrogen deficiency
Reddish purple undersides – lack of phosphorous – if (somehow) the soil is too acidic, that can interfere with the plant’s ability to uptake phosphorous
Bronzed or brown leaf edges – lack of potassium or overwatered
Discolored roots - often an excess of fertilizer or waterlogging (usually has a bad odor)
Mold – poor drainage, insufficient soil aeration possibly over-fertilizer and/or lack of air circulation
Damping-off – overwatering and too little air circulation – once plants have been hit by damping-off, they are toast. Avoid it by: good air circulation, don’t overwater, don’t overcrowd your seedlings. Some folks use sprays of chamomile or nettle tea on seedlings as a preventative measure
Skimpy root growth – poor drainage, low fertility of the soil, excess fertilizer, temperature too low or insufficient air space in the soil mixture
Failure to spout – other than being an indication that you have a bad karmic debt to erase, the following might well be wrong: temperature too high or too low, soil that was allowed to dry out, planted too deep, top watering that washed away the seeds, old or poorly stored seeds, insufficient contact between soil and the seeds, toxic soil, damping-off, lack of light for those that need light


24 January, 2009

More On Seeds

Direct seeding is putting the seeds directly in the garden where they will grow - sometimes this is the best way to plant seeds, sometimes it's the only way. It does subject the seed and the seedling to the possibility of being eaten while still very young.

Visit Sharon Astyk's article at Hen and Harvest to read Where to buy your seeds, and where not to. A good article that I highly recommend.

If you want to avoid Seminis Products, go to their page and find out who NOT to buy from.

We will cover why to avoid Seminis in class.

Seed Savers Exchange has a nice page that covers how to plant seeds of different vegetables, some of which should be ignored in our climate. Of real interest, however, is the quick guide to saving seeds.

I will see you all tomorrow rain or shine. Dress warmly!


A Short List of Seed Houses

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog, with their slogan "Saving The Past for The Future," expresses a lot of what I think is important in a seed company.

This is a completely revised seed list in an effort to avoid seed companies that carry Seminis (Monsanto) products. To my knowledge, none of the following companies carry GMO seeds.

BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS; 2278 Baker Creek Road Mansfield, MO 65704; 417.924.8917 What a catalog! Beautiful pictures of the produce – vegetable porn for sure. I have never ordered from them, but I have heard good things about them.

BOUNTIFUL GARDENS; 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410 Organic seed; open-pollinated. A part of the work done by John Jeavons, a proud and active member of the population of organic and open-pollinated gardeners. If you see him, he owes me a laser pointer.

FEDCO; PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903 207.873.7333
They are rabidly anti-GMO, though they do carry hybrids in addition to open-pollinated seeds. A wonderful and extensive selection. (A lovely letter to customers can be found on their site, Sticker Shock Moves from the Oil Tank to the Seed Catalog. Someone who writes this beautiful deserves to get some of our money!)

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 I have purchased many seeds (and other things!) from Peaceful Valley – I love their catalog. They have an excellent selection of cover crop seeds as well as a lot of organic gardening supplies and tools.

NATIVE SEED/SEARCH; 526 N. 4th Ave. Tucson, AZ 85705; 520.622.5561 (Fax 520.622.5591) Specializing in the seeds of seeds of south western United States, concentrating on the ancient seeds of the First Nations People from amaranth to watermelon. A worthy cause for your money. Please note, this entry does not appear on the handout distributed in class, that is my error.

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

SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership fees $35. Free brochure. Some organic, but ALL open-pollinated. There are two ways to save seeds: one is to collect them all and keep them in a huge building that protects them from everything up to (and including) nuclear holocaust. The other way is to grow 'em. You can find the chance to grow them here.

SEEDS OF CHANGE; 621 Old Sante Fe Trail, #10; Santa Fe, NM 87501; 505.438.8080 .com Organic, open-pollinated…pricey, I am not a fan.

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


19 January, 2009

“Cultivated by A Community”

A community project, finished persimmon jam cools before being stocked. A friend with a fruit filled persimmon tree, desiring a willing accomplice, found me with my canning equipment and stove. We put up about 27 half pints of memorable eating. Persimmon jam has a taste that makes me think of mangoes with overtones of a kind of smokiness. It's a complicated, but mouth watering flavor.

Many Americans have no place to garden, they live in apartments and condominiums or the earth around their homes is just too shady. But wanting to grow vegetables and fruit for food or just wanting the pleasure of plunging their fingers in the cool moistness of the earth, a community garden might be their answer.

A community garden (defined as “a piece of land cultivated by members of a community, esp. in an urban area”) is usually a vacant lot or other unused land that some public body sets aside for people to grow some of their own vegetables (some gardeners do grow flowers, but the focus of most community gardens is primarily food). In some communities, Los Angeles among them, community gardens are sponsored by the city itself. Most of our community gardens are on LA Parks and Recreation land and are nominally under their control – although in practice, community gardens in LA have charters and are self-governed. In other communities (and some other in Los Angeles), community gardens are created by churches, schools, or other groups of people. The garden is laid out, plot sizes are agreed upon and a process to enlist gardeners promulgated. Plots in most gardens I have seen are between ten by ten to twenty by twenty feet. Some are smaller and some are larger (especially in communities where land is not as dear as it is in Los Angeles), but most gardens have plots about that size.

Those things are probably all decided long before the gardener comes on scene (for how to set up a community garden, see the American Community Gardening Association web site). What a gardener finds once assigned a plot is likely to be a new world completely populated by gardeners from many different cultures. This is, of course, less true in homogeneous communities, but in communities with any kind of diversity, the diverse populations of community gardens can be astounding. In my time at a nearby community garden, Ocean View Farms, I had neighbors from Mexico, Iran, France, other states, and England. All age groups were represented and all levels of gardening experience were present in all age groups. Among all these different people I learned gardening techniques and recipes for the use of the bounty of the garden from cultures the world over.

Almost thirty years later, I attribute my time at Ocean View Farms as pivotal in my gardening education. I learned more about gardening and what to do with the harvest that radically changed me – my experience before this had all been in the insular world of my childhood way back in Kansas. In the community garden, I learned to grow mint, artichokes, asparagus, paste tomatoes, yellow and purple beans, peppers and garlic – all food plants I had never seen in the soil because they were not in my family's pantry. I learned as well how to garden in a twelve month growing season.

The Los Angeles Times carried a story on community gardens on January 10th – as a board member of the American Community Gardening Association, I was able to offer some perspective on community gardens in Los Angeles. The Times article traces the progress of community gardens from the Victory Gardens of WW II – which, themselves were an outgrowth of the Liberty Gardens of WWI. History shows that whenever we are confronted with unprecedented disaster, we go back to the garden. Sometimes that disaster can be an internal emotional disaster. But returning to the garden has enabled more than one distraught person to feel as though they had taken their lives into their own hands. Truly it is meaningful to feel that you can feed yourself no matter what befalls the world or yourself. Many times, under duress and ready to give up, going to the garden has lifted my spirit enough to carry on.

If you have no place to grow your food, look into a local community garden. If you become a community gardener, consider joining the American Community Gardening Association and amalgamate your voice with theirs. With them and your community garden, you will learn to garden better, teach someone else to garden better and cultivate your own peace at the same time.

And you will have fresh tomatoes. Or 27 half-pints of persimmon jam that tastes like smokey mangoes. Life doesn't get any better.


February's Garden

Summer's harvest from last year include these gorgeous peppers (what did I plant last year?) and San Marzano tomatoes. Both were prolific and delicious. When summer is over, I don't want to touch another tomato, but by February, I'm getting geared up for a fresh BLT!

The short days of winter are getting perceptibly longer. We are half way to the Spring Equinox, which is half way to the Summer Solstice. These dates became important in an agrarian culture and as one gets more involved in gardening, it is easy to see the reasons that these dates were important to people dependent on knowing what to do and when to do to necessary to stay alive.

Valentines' Day is my traditional weekend for starting my tomato crop for the coming year. One method I have done in the past was to use fluorescent tubes about 6 inches above the pots for the beginnings of tomatoes – I have also started them outside with a heating mat to keep the soil warm; with enough sun that works well enough. Peppers and eggplant are started about 2 weeks later. As seedlings, they cannot be allowed to dry out and they must be protected from predation, it doesn't take even a small critter many bites to entirely remove a plant less than an inch tall.

Basil. We must plant more basil. Is there such a thing as enough basil? Basil is planted right along with tomatoes – isn't that just poetic? I like the 'Genovese Profusitissimo' variety of basil – large productive, heavenly perfumed leaves that are the basis for my pesto recipe that has become the basis for my annual Pesto Day Celebration, my annual harvest festival. I make about 9 dozen half pints of The Gardenmaster's Special Pesto and it is well loved in the community. The recipe, which follows, is nothing special, the spectacular results are exclusively due to the ingredients: Genovese Profusitissimo basil and heirloom garlic combined with cheese, pignolis, olive oil, a little pepper and salt. Viola!

Make sure to cover the pesto tightly or store in an airtight container immediately after making it. The top layer will discolor faster than the rest you can keep a thin layer of oil on top to stop oxygen from getting to the pesto and causing discoloration, but this will add more oil to the pesto each time you use it. Some of us think this is not a problem.
2 cloves of garlic
1½ Tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
¾ cup plus ½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine all the ingredients, except the ½ teaspoon olive oil, in a food processor and process until a puree forms, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Transfer to an airtight container and pour the remaining ½ teaspoon of olive oil over the pesto, covering completely. Cover and refrigerate until needed (the pesto keeps for a long time, tightly covered, but loses it’s bright green color after the first day).

And then I think “baseball”. (“Wait until next year”, is the universal call among gardeners and baseball players everywhere.) Dodger spring training in Arizona starts next month. Win or lose, I’ll be out in my garden soon, radio in hand. Something about that baseball optimism dovetails nicely with my gardening optimism. You don’t have to “think baseball”, but I do and it lifts my spirit.

With any amount of luck, this is our rainiest month. That means we won’t need to be watering too much. I have more or less permanently built up beds with paths between them, so walking through a wet garden isn’t that big of a deal. If your garden isn’t laid out like that, take care not to walk through your garden when it’s thoroughly soaked. Your footprints will compact the soil and cause needless grief later when the soil has dried out. Especially in clay soil.

February is positively the last month to dormant-prune fruit trees. One cannot plan that they won’t have broken dormancy any later than this. See flowers? That’s “broken dormancy” in a nutshell, the sap is running inside the tree and pruning after that drains more of the tree's vitality – mind you pruning late won’t kill your tree, some folks do this kind of pruning regularly – it’s my preference to do my pruning with the least harm to the tree and for me, that means before the sap begins to run and that means December or January in a Zone 24 climate. I have learned over the last few years that my nectarine and peach trees break dormancy first.

Don’t forget to deal with slugs and snails. In these wet, cooler months, these little mollusks multiply with alarming proficiency and present huge problems. You can't get rid of them forever, they are migratory, so even if you could rid yourself of every single one in your garden on Tuesday, you'd have a whole new supply by Friday coming in from next door. And more on Saturday. It's baffling.

Some gardeners keep a five gallon bucket on hand with soapy water in it and drop the critters in for a quick death. Others put a board down with one end slightly raised. Slugs and snails will congregate there and can be simply crushed. Good for the soil. A fairly new product, 'Escar-go' is on the market and is non-toxic to mammals (you, your children and dogs and cats etc), and is actually beneficial to the soil. Slugs and snails eat it and die. Probably not as humane as crushing them, but more acceptable in polite society.

No matter what you do, you will probably always have problems with snails and slugs in our climate unless you are fortunate to have a possum on hand. These homely marsupials consume slugs (mostly) and will resort to snails if hungry enough. I am fortunate in The Learning Garden to be blessed with a possum or two that have negated any need to bait or board for snails and slugs.

Broccoli is being harvested, along with cauliflower, cabbage, peas, scallions, carrots, radishes, beets, new potatoes, chard, kale, and lettuces by the bushel. The garden looks stellar at this time of year, it is bursting with produce of deep green, blue green, punctuated with red and yellow (chard) flags.

Don't stop planting lettuce, that will continue right up through May. It is easy for us because we are so close to the Pacific Ocean – my cool season plantings can stretch through all months except late July through late September. Warm season crops aren't nearly so flexible because our night temperatures are never that high.

The real summer garden begins to take shape next month...


16 January, 2009

Gardening and The Holy Grail

One of the best garden helpers I know, the Italian honey bee, is an imperiled species. Those that remain are essential to agriculture as pollinators of almonds and a considerable number of fruits. Although many things have been suspected as weakening the honey bee, allowing their natural enemies to decimate whole colonies of these beneficial insects, there is still a lot of mystery and unanswered questions about what is really happening to them.

Gardening is a science and an art. Because it is an art, there is no exclusively 'right' way to garden beyond water, light and a substance to hold the plants more or less upright. There are as many different ways to garden as there are gardeners and none of these is the Absolute Truth. Most gardeners know this and so see themselves on a quest of learning to find the ways that work for them; they keep notes (on paper or in their head) from which they vow that next year will be better. As we age, some of us find 'on paper' essential while others seem to get more sanguine with age, but the art of garden journaling is a whole 'nuther post unto itself.

Invariably, however, some, usually new gardeners, or even non-gardeners, feel they have found the Holy Grail of gardening and proselytize their new found Truth with all the fervor of a religious devotee. Condemning the Great Unwashed masses of other gardeners who haven't found this Truth, or, worse, violate it, the devotees alienate and isolate themselves from other gardens and practice their new found nirvana in groups of the like-minded or in solitude.

Those of us who have gardened for a few years have seen more than one movement sweep the fancies of gardeners. In one of California's previous water crises of the late 1980's, everyone, including myself, became fanatical about native gardens – using our water saving native plants that are certainly more attractive and interesting (I thought then and I think now) than succulents or a 'lawn' of rocks. My favorite instructor of that time, Robert Smaus who wrote for the LA Times for many years, cautioned me that he had gone down that same garden path a few years earlier and felt he had been 'burned' when the whole thing shifted and suddenly California Natives were out and lawns back in.

Though I did proselytize for our own native plants as ornamental gardens, I could never give up my love of veggies and fruit. So I was never a whole-hearted convert to natives. Natives, as Smaus predicted, went out of fashion again, although, they never faded completely away this time and I have remained on the outskirts of the movement cheering every lawn removed for food or for native habitat (which is really food for the native, and often endangered, wildlife that we overpopulating humans have helped destroy). We see California natives returning again with our current acute water shortages and, perhaps, with each successive wave, the planting of natives recedes less and less and the number of quiet native plant gardeners grows.

The current Holy Grail is permaculture. I am interested in permaculture, I have a friend that says I am one. But I don't belong to any permaculture societies I see springing up, although I see permaculture can contribute ideas to how we garden (and it has certainly attracted a lot of gardeners, usually a reticent and non-congregating constituency, to gather together on a regular basis, that in itself an almost frightening unnatural act). I don't think permaculture is – or, for that matter, can be - the alpha and omega of food production. There are needs it cannot fulfill and there are places it will not suffice. I believe we all have a lot to learn from permaculture (the word is a marriage of "permanent agriculture") and in fact, would point everyone to a fabulous book, first published after WWI and republished in the 1950's that predates the current movement. J. Russel Smith's Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture (available from Amazon for $60 which is considerably more than I paid for it!) is a book far ahead of its time and should be required reading for anyone concerned with the state of the world's agriculture.

As a tool in a kit box of tools that gardeners can use, one among many, I think permaculture should be included. I have borrowed planting ideas and techniques from a good many of different ways of gardening and from that mix, I have forged a gardening style that works well for me. I continue to experiment and learn; and I also realize that a technique that failed here, might work there and just because this technique worked once, doesn't mean that it will always work. It is part and parcel of being a gardener and it is one of the more exciting facets of this never ending quest. A garden is a living thing and as such, is never truly done. Even the so-called perfect garden begs to be tinkered with and improved upon. And there is always that recalcitrant plant that either refuses to thrive or just plain croaks. Spring comes too soon, too late or not at all. It rains too much; it rains too little and it rains over there and not here. It's a challenge to keep the weather in check, even when we enlist Divine Authority by prayer, dance, song or invective.

With most other arts, there is an end-point. Paint a picture and sooner or later, you frame it and put it on the wall. Write an essay and after you've edited it till your blue in the face, you send it off to be published. Not so a garden. Even if you do it perfectly (and how often does that happen?), sooner or later, you know you will tear it all out and start again. A garden is really never done. A with all life, it's a never ending evolution. I hope some permaculturists morph into open minded gardeners and I hope that open minded gardeners will learn and incorporate ideas from permaculture. We need to be part of the same thrust to feed the world and to preserve the green spaces for everyone and progress towards a more viable agriculture all the way around.

We have all seen the Thomas Jefferson quote, “Though an old man, I am but a young gardener,” and those of us who have gardened for a time, know that there is no Holy Grail. This year builds on last year. Practical experience is the way we all learn.

A garden, where one may enter in and forget the whole world, cannot be made in a week, nor a month, nor a year; it must be planned for, waited for and loved into being. -- Chinese Proverb

I believe all gardens are like that.

15 January, 2009

Gossypium arboreum: The Cotton Tree

In the Garden, on our youngest cotton tree, you can see the distinctive leaf shape and, somewhat obscured, an open cotton boll waiting to be picked. Only a few feet away on the right, pedestrians hurry on their way never noticing this little wonder.

I have spent some moments today with cotton seeds. We are growing two types of cotton here at the Garden, one is the usual cotton grown in the large fields of many southern states and the other is ignored by our culture altogether, a cotton tree. I wanted to ascertain how many seeds I had for the cotton tree so a class could learn to grow seeds using these.

Both our cottons are species of the Gossypium genus. The tree is G. arboreum while the annual plant is probably G. hirsutum, from which about 90% of the world's cotton fabric comes from. I understand that other civilizations have used the cotton tree for fabric (and may well still), but in our culture, the mow, blow and go culture, we have always preferred the annual plants for production for the most part. We like to plant our field with a crop in nice long straight rows and then when it's all ripe, come in and grab it all and run off to the next project. Mind you, this is the 'efficient' way of doing things, although, I would contend that we've given a lot of ourselves away in order to pacify the God of Efficiency and have gotten more trouble for our effort than we often care to admit.

I won't postulate that we give the annual cotton up, but I would suggest that many folks could find happiness with a cotton tree. It will never be a cotton of commerce because it bears a little here, a little there and would drive an agribusinessman out of his mind. But a person who would like to spin some cotton and maybe make some things from cotton, this might be the absolute ticket. After a few years, a couple of trees could make one very happy.

At The Learning Garden, we have several young cotton trees. At this point, the oldest is no more than three years old. Yet we picked a goodly amount of cotton from it – probably not enough to make much more than a wash rag or a wash towel, but, they are young. And on their own for all practical purposes; they don't get watered or cared for especially well.

Our cotton trees are no more than five feet tall right now, but The Huntington has the same species and theirs is over twelve feet. I have seen it with more cotton on it than we get on our two in a full year. The production ability is there to produce enough cotton to make a thing or two from one tree.

I don't know how hardy this species is – we are in USDA Zone 12 which isn't very challenging as far as cold goes, and we are so close to the ocean we aren't really that challenged for heat either. The one at the Huntington does experience an occasional frost and certainly has to deal with warmer weather than we have, so I'm thinking it's safe to consider it to about Zone 9, but then again, I play the lottery, you might want a second opinion.

In separating seeds from the cotton bolls, I did find the annual cotton to be somewhat softer. However, I am not a spinner. I would like to see a spinner come out here and make a comparison between the two. I know the man who planted our fiber arts garden, a spinner and a dyer, was fine with the cotton from the cotton tree, but he's no longer coming out and I would like to be able to report the specific differences of the two.

Cotton has a lovely flower, similar to a hibiscus, to which it is related. The cotton flower starts out pastel yellow and fades to a pastel mauve before turning almost black and falling away. It is replaced by the cotton boll, the swelling ovaries holding the cotton seeds suspended in the cotton itself. It swells to the size of a small lime and, as it dries, splits open revealing three segments of cotton. For students of history, removing the cotton from the boll is very instructive as to why this is not the kind of work one would willingly sign on to do. The tips of the split boll are sharp and few bolls can be picked in a hurry (farm workers have always had to hurry) without getting punctures in your fingers that are painful and loose blood.

Cotton is a fascinating plant - especially the tree - and always provokes a lot of fascination and questions. An easy to grow small tree, it could find a home in the smallest urban yard, and would even do quite well in a container. I recommend it!


09 January, 2009

Checklist for Plant Propagation

This is the Felco Pruner #8, one of the common right-handed pruners offered by Felco. Most men will find this to be the most comfortable pruner on sale today - especially when one spends a lot of time with a pruner in their hand. Men with smaller hands and most women will find the slightly smaller #6 to be more comfortable.

The checklist one must complete to get a grade in this course is all tables and they do not come across well from the computer to the internet. If you find yourself without your checklist - email me and I'll send one to you - you can simply respond to this post (below) and your comment comes to me by email. Thanks.

Tools and Where To Get Them for Propagation

This knife is currently on sale on eBay - it is a vintage knife with the correct shape - it even has a thumb rest (the curved portion of the blade close the wooden case)! The wood case is gorgeous; one could be proud to possess a knife like this for life. This is a very classy knife and if I needed another knife... search for 'Vintage Solingen Grafting Knife.' You can find less expensive knifes that are just as useful, just don't get a 'cheap' knife.

These are suggestions of where you might find the tools you need at a good price, this is not an endorsement of one or the other. I have found good prices (with good service too) on eBay. It has also gone the other way. The choice is yours.


A.M. Leonard (AKA The Gardeners Edge) www.gardenersedge.com
The Felco Store, www.FelcoStore.com
Frost Proof (good prices) www.frostproof.com
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply www.groworganic.com
Lee Valley Tools www.leevalley.com
Kinsman and Company www.kinsman.com


Felco #8 (#9 for left handed folks)
Felco #6, if you have smaller hands
Felco #2 for a less expensive pruner
Corona Grape Shears are handy to have even with a pair of Felcos


I don’t have a brand preference, but I do like a knife that has the slight extension on the back of the blade as a bark slipping tool. Swiss Army Knives make a good inexpensive one. You can find some beautiful antique grafting knives on eBay every so often for a good price (see photo above). There are some new grafting knives on eBay (orange plastic body) that are not acceptable – they are sharp and can be used, but the blade locking is not sufficient and therefore they are extremely unsafe. Most folks get a cut sooner or later, no need to invite trouble.

In addition, when grafting, you’ll need several other supplies – like grafting rubbers, or wax or other supplies depending on the type of grafting you want to do; for the course, these are supplied.

Also, please attend each meeting with a wooden pencil and a Sharpie of your own.

Bring your tools to every class meeting.

Syllabus for Plant Propagation for Gardeners

Instructor: David King
Email: greenteach@roadrunner.com
Phone: >Redacted<

There are no prerequisites for this course, although some knowledge of basic botany would be extremely helpful. We meet on Sundays from January 11 through March 22 for 10 meetings, no meetings on January 18 and February 15. There are three Saturday field trips. I have not scheduled two of the field trips yet – I want to accommodate those students who have Saturday involvement’s with other classes.

One ‘field trip’ is scheduled beyond my control: we will all attend the WLA chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers meeting on February 14th, from 9:00 to noon. This is the day of their annual ‘Scion Exchange’ and is not to be missed if you can help it. There is no other forum in Los Angeles that offers a better introduction to grafting!

One field trip will be to The Huntington. Those who desire, might want to make reservations as soon as we settle a date for the Huntington Tea Room as it is delightful and you’re there already. There will be one other field trip to Theodore Payne Foundation where California Native plants are propagated by the hundreds and we will work there to propagate some of those plants with their staff and volunteers; details will be hopefully finalized by the end of January.

All other meetings are field trips on Sunday 1:30 to 4:30 PM to The Learning Garden, at the Venice High School campus. This site is close to the ocean and because we meet outside, please dress appropriate to the weather, which is invariably colder than one would imagine. We will do what we can to mitigate the cold and rain, should it come, but the material of the class is best covered with live plant material in the garden – which is, of course, is outside.

We will also be working with potting soils and cut plant material in almost every single class. Dress so that you can comfortably get dirty and still stay dry. Dressing in layers is probably the best idea when it comes to being outdoors at The Learning Garden.

Course Purpose
This course is an introduction to the principles and practice of plant propagation, both sexual and asexual, and the science and art of grafting and budding.

Course Objectives

1.Understand the care and safe use of tools in plant propagation.
2.Understand the biology of sexual and asexual propagation of plants.
3.Understand and use the different styles of propagation of plants.
4.Be able to set up and use a plant propagation system.
5.Demonstrate an understanding of the above by propagating different species of plants.
6.Understand the physiology of plants sufficiently to be able to successfully bud and graft a variety of plants.

The materials presented in this course will enable the student to start plants from seeds and cuttings, in an amateur or professional setting and a working understanding of botany.

Text for this course
Plant Propagation A to Z – Bryant; Firefly Books, 2003 It is readily available online or in the appropriate UCLA Bookstore. There will be many additional handouts from the instructor.

Class Meetings

To each class, in addition to your text, handouts and any note-taking tools you deem necessary, each student should bring:
A ‘secateur’ type pruner (NOT an anvil pruner)
Gloves – leather are best
A grafting knife
A pencil, wooden – the kind you sharpen
A Sharpie Fine Point permanent marker – BLACK only!!
These items will be described in our first class meeting.

Your grade in this class is based on a checklist you will keep. You need to be able to perform each of the tasks on the log with sufficient skill and understanding of the process in order to receive a passing grade in this course. The completed checklist must be turned in the last day of class unless other arrangements have been made before hand with the instructor.

Instructor’s Office Hours

Please avail yourself of my willingness to meet with you at any time to discuss your progress in the course or to clarify instructional material or to answer any difficulties you are having. My preference is to meet with you at my office at The Learning Garden where we can cover material without distraction but I am willing to meet with students anytime, anywhere to assist you in learning; after all, that is the point your taking the class and my teaching it. It is my wish that all students learn and are profited by their enrollment in this course. Do not struggle; I am here to help.

At The Learning Garden:

THE FIRST AID KIT IS LOCATED ON TOP OF THE refrigerator in my office
Remember its location.
I’m very serious...

A garden is filled with uneven surfaces, rocks, plants with thorns and other armaments and an infinity of possibilities for injury; most of the time in this course we will be using very sharp tools which deserve your utmost attention at all times, please give due attention and consideration of this. Remain on pathways and do not walk into planted beds unless it is absolutely necessary. Do not pick anything without permission – it’s common courtesy.

A garden and the plants do not talk; I feel responsible as their spokesperson and take that responsibility seriously. You may not abuse my plants.

Food and drink are allowed, but the removal of any trash or waste is entirely incumbent on the eator and/or drinkor.

Appropriate clothing is essential. Remember, Venice can be hot and cold by turns. Layering is suggested; a jacket or sweater close at hand is essential. We will meet regardless of weather. If it is a light rain/mist, we will continue work. If it is a gully-washer (as though we get those in Southern California), we will meet in a classroom or the greenhouse and will carry on.

Point Assignment For Credit Students

It is more important to me that you learn the material above all other considerations. I will endeavor through point assignment, lecture and demonstration to teach you in a way that will facilitate learning the material. If you aren’t understanding, please allow me to help you.
Class Participation

Tools You Will Need

Each student shall provide:

Pair of pruners – secateur type, like Felco #2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12 or 13. No anvil pruners allowed EXCEPT for those students with hand pain or arthritis that must use the ratcheting type of pruners. Felcos, especially the number 5, can be bought on the internet (eBay) for much less than locally. Coronas are ok. If you have ever used Felcos, you will be able to appreciate why I am so in favor of them

Pruning knife – only used for plants. It is suggested that everyone also have a second knife for all the other needs in a garden. If one does not plan on doing a great deal of propagation needing a sharp knife, an inexpensive knife with break-away blades may be used. Grafting knives and horticultural knives are also found for reasonable amounts on eBay and other internet connections.

Pair of gloves – leather is preferred.

Sharpie – fine point, only black will not wash off

Pencil, sharp wooden (the Learning Garden does have a sharpener)

You will need to take notes, so paper is necessary – may I suggest you take notes in pencil because it won’t run if it gets wet and a pencil is a wonderful small dibber in a pinch. 

The Garden (or instructor) will provide:
Cactus mix and potting soil to be used as needed
Watering devices
Root stimulating gel
Other tools and supplies as needed
Oil, sharpening devices, cleaners and rags for pruner and knife maintenance
Alcohol wipes and hand soap.
Plant material/seeds
First aid kit
Plant markers

If you forget your pruners or knife, I do have a few of each, and while I do have gloves, a pair that fits your hand is preferred (and a pair of gloves are somewhat personal too). I can sharpen your pruners and teach you how.

(Please note: following is a table in the original handout and tables can be nigh to impossible to translate to html - just remember that all data on one line in a table is translated into an up/down list segment and you'll be able to carefully translate the data to the correct column. Also note, at the time this is being posted, there is not a definite date/time for the field trip to the Huntington and Theodore Payne Foundation.)

Lecture: Introduction – roll, Extension policy, meeting time and place, attendance and tardiness, tools etc. Tool selection and care. Sexual and asexual propagation defined. Introduction to the different forms of propagation. Botany as applied to propagation.
Demonstration: Working environment; Safety and tool use


Lecture: Seeds, structure, germination and viability, collection, storage. Return to pages 47-74; seed starting problems and their solution.
Demonstration: Scarification/Seed sowing
Practical: Sowing seeds of different sizes

Lecture: General Propagation Methods and Application; Pages 47-113; pests and diseases and methodology to deal with them.
Demonstration: Division of perennials
Practical: Dividing perennial plants

Lecture: Meristematic tissue and the principles of propagation by cuttings; Return to pages 92-113
Demonstration: Different kinds of cuttings
Practical: Making cuttings

Field Trip to California Rare Fruit Growers

Lecture: Grafting and Budding
Demonstration: Saddle graft
Practical: Grafting and budding


Lecture: Grafting and other propagation techniques, Pages 75-91 and 114-123
Demonstration: Grafting a fruit tree
Practical: Graft a fruit tree

Lecture: Some of the odd-ducks of the propagation manual
Demonstration: Leaf propagation
Practical: Propagating something unusual.

Lecture: More difficult propagation
Demonstration: Fire scarification of a California native
Practical: Transplanting of seedlings

Lecture: Covering all things left uncovered.
Demonstration: As dictated by circumstances.
Practical: Work on your checklist.

Field Trip to The Huntington’s Propagation Area

Field Trip to Theodore Payne Foundation

(Student evaluation of instructor…) FINISHING REQUIREMENTS FOR CREDIT STUDENTS

Our Class Meeting Locations

Bring Your Knife and Pruners to ALL Classes!

The Learning Garden
13000 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066
The Garden is located on the south east corner of Walgrove Avenue and Venice Blvd. It is the first gate on Walgrove south of Venice – there is a small amount of parking inside the gate, there is no other secured parking, other than those few spaces, you are on your own.

The Huntington
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, CA 91108

Theodore Payne Foundation
10459 Tuxford Street
Sun Valley, CA 91352

California Rare Fruit Growers, West Los Angeles Chapter

Scion Exchange meeting on Feb. 14, 9:00 AM,
Ken Edwards Community Center
1527 Fourth St., Santa Monica, CA, 90404

Parking can be an absolute bear here, arrive early and with quarters in hand. They ticket mercilessly, don’t let your meter run dry!!