21 March, 2009

Farmed In Dry Lands

(This is a poem I wrote in 2007 after reading Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Times. The formatting of the original gets messed up, which is why I rarely post poetry online, but this poem helps me realize why I love to teach soil care to gardeners - there is no more valuable resource available to a person and it must be cared for with diligence and intelligence. Like the seeds, I hope this poem takes purchase...)

We farmed in the dry lands
And when the rain fell
We made babies in the muddy fields
And fed them corn and milk and butter and watermelons;
Took them to church on Wednesday night and Sunday morning
And buried our dead and baptized our children
And thanked God for another abundant year.

And we farmed in the dry lands
When one year the rain didn’t fall.
And babies were still-born
with nothing to feed them anyway.
And the banker came with the sheriff and said
There was more money we owed than we could pay
And some went out on the road to Bakersfield
While others laid down and died and
Others yet
Went to church on Wednesday night and Sunday morning
And asked God what we had done so wrong that brought this
Hell to our lives.

And still we farmed the dry lands
Although you couldn’t rightly call it farming
For all we did was throw the forlorn seed on the
Hard dry soil without a prayer that it or we would live and
Without out hope that it or we should come to anything. We
Dropped the seed from desperation
Not from thought; only rote, not sacred ritual
And we didn’t make babies anymore or go to church
On Wednesday evening or Sunday morning.

After ten years of farming these mean, heartless, dry lands,
Neighbor Clara went crazy and killed herself
And that poor Henderson boy died from the dust in his lungs,
After Pa had laid in his grave and Ma followed him down,
I sat with my head in my hands and wondered why I had ever made babies
And if I would ever go to church again on Sunday morning let alone Wednesday evening...
But the Lord be praised,
The rains came that year so the seed took hold and began to grow.
And soon the babies could be fed on corn and milk and butter and watermelon
And papa’s would become papa’s and mama’s would become mama’s
Laying in the muddy fields with hope and lust, and dream of the harvest
That would feed
The hungry mouths of their blessed babies.

But a part of me
Has withered, having gone without rain and harvest and a prayer to God too long
Now, no rain can lighten the lines in my face
Or lighten the load of my plow.
And though I sow beside the boy who dreams of his own
Farm of a plenty acres,
Left in me,
There’s a knowing of hopelessness I cannot swallow or spit up.

16 March, 2009

Fox News Finds The Learning Garden!

Amina Humphrey and I discuss her garden of greens while Fox News films footage for their story "Recession Gardening" which aired on the March 15th Ten O'Clock News.

I was still at The Learning Garden after the UCLA Extension class on Sunday when a tall blond walked very carefully into the Garden in high heels. High heels and garden paths rarely meet one another because it takes a decent amount of concentration to navigate mulched garden paths without pitching off to one side or onto one's face. But, the intrepid Fox News reporter managed it and here is the result.

One of my students from the UCLA Extension class, Amina Humphrey, did a marvelous job of stating her gardening intentions; I wished I hadn't used the example of 'salad,' as it seemed to trivialize the plight of the unemployed and diminished the output we get from our gardens, but there you go... It was the end of a long day and I didn't think as fast as I usually do.

Still, ya can't throw it back and it's fine to be on the news as long as it wasn't a crime scene!


It's Good To Be On The News, Sometimes!

Amina Humphrey and I were still at The Learning Garden after the UCLA Extension class on Sunday when we spotted a tall blond walking into the Garden in high heels. High heels and garden paths rarely meet one another because it takes a decent amount of concentration to navigate mulched garden paths without pitching off to one side or onto one's face. But, the intrepid Fox News reporter managed it and here is the result. Amina did a marvelous job; I wished I hadn't used the example of 'salad,' but there you go... It was the end of a long day and I didn't think as fast as I usually do.

Still, ya can't throw it back and it's fine to be on the news as long as it wasn't a crime scene!


08 March, 2009

Rootstocks For Plant Propagation Class

A well rooted EMLA 26 from Raintree Nursery is the rootstock we used in today's class as we practiced doing a saddle graft. Here is more information about rootstocks for your future grafting endeavors. The Raintree Nursery catalog also describes the rootstocks they carry.

The lower portion of the a fruit tree is called the rootstock. This is the portion of the tree that a graft has placed a specific variety onto. Different rootstocks provide opportunities for everyone to enjoy the thrill of growing your own fruit. If you have limited growing space you could choose a dwarf rootstock that limits the height of your tree to as little as 5 feet! There are possibilities and sizes to match almost any need. Lastly, pruning has a great impact on size, if you need to maintain a certain height, or depth for an espalier, then you will also need to prune in the summer.

NOTE: Mature tree size is determined by the rootstock in combination with the vigor of the variety. For example, a Northern Spy or Gravenstein on a semidwarf rootstock will be larger than a Jonathan or Idared on the same rootstock. Research has shown that the growth of a tree composed of two parts is a compromise between the rootstock and the scion.

It is important for the relationship between scion and rootstock to be close. The botanical classification can only serve as a rough guide being founded strictly on reproduction parts of plants. Something greater than kinship is required for a graft to be successful and that depends on similarity of vegetative characteristics. For example, pears (Pyrus communis) will form a lasting union with hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) and medlar (Mespilus germanica), but the joining of species within a given genus is much more common.

Symptoms of incompatibility are either immediately visible when the graft simply fails to take but just as often are not apparent for many years afterwards. The most common evidence later on is that the composite tree breaks off at the graft. The problem of incompatibility might be exacerbated by multiple grafts.


MM111 (Semidwarf) Produces a tree 70-80% of standard size. Growth tends to be upright with wide crotch angles. Well anchored, resistant to drought and high soil temperatures. Excellent semi dwarf rootstock for heavy soils. Resistant to wooly aphids. Disadvantage is burrknotting. Bears fruit 3 to 4 years and grows to 15 to 18 feet.

M9 (Dwarf) Produces a tree 30-40% of standard size. Resistant to collar rot and rarely produces suckers. Withstands heavy soils and wet conditions. Disadvantage is that roots tend to be brittle, so trees on this rootstock require staking throughout their entire life. Not suited to dry, light soils. Bears fruit 1-2 years and grows to 6-9 feet.

EMLA 27 Can be maintained at only four to six feet in height. It is well suited for growing in a container of a small yard. Trees grafted on EMLA 27 bear early and heavily. They should be staked.

EMLA 7 Produces a semi-dwarf tree 11 to 16 feet tall. Does well in most soils annd produces fruit in about three to four years. Does well in even wet soils, but is inclined to suckering wherever planted.

EMLA 26 Will produce a dwarf tree from 8 to 14 feet. Des well in most soils, producing fruit in about two to three years. Needs staking in windy sites and is relatively sucker free. This is the rootstock I have chosen for this class.


Standard Produces a strong well anchored tree. Trees are vigorous and tolerant of drought and wet soils. Bears fruit between 6-12 years and grows to 20-25 feet.

OHxF 333 (Old Home and Farmingdale) Produces a tree 50-70% of standard size. Resistant to fire blight and pear decline. Does not sucker and developes hardy well anchored tree. Tolerates a broad range of soils. Bears fruit between 3-4 years and grows to 12-16 feet.


Lovell Produces a strong well anchored tree with resistance to bacterial canker. Tolerates cold and wet soils. Susceptible to nematodes in sandy soil. Bears fruit 2-3 years and grows to 15-18 feet.

Mariana Produces a shallow rooted tree allowing greater tolerance to wet soils. Resistant to oak root fungus, some nematodes and brown line. Slightly dwarfing for plums and apricots. Bears fruit 2-3 years and grows to 15 – 18 feet.

Mazzard Cherry rootstock that produces a large tree well anchored that tolerates heavy soil. Resistant to oak root fungus and root knot nematodes. Bears fruit 5-6 years and grows to 20-35 feet.

Mahaleb Cherry rootstock that produces a standard size tree for sour cherries and slightly dwarfing for sweet cherries. Prefers well drained soils. Resistant to crown gall, bacterial canker, and some nematodes. Hardy to zone 4. Bears fruit 3-5 years and grows to 20-30 feet.

Colt Cherry rootstock that produces wide branched angles on a well anchored tree. Tree is 70-80% of standard. Resistance to bacterial canker and crown gall. Hardy to -10 F. Bears fruit 3-4 years and grows 15-20 feet.

G.M. 61/1 Cherry rootstock that produces a open, moderately vigorous, frost resistant, few suckers and thrives in heavier soil. Bears fruit in 3-4 years and grows to 8-12 feet.

Myrobalan Produces a tree with great anchorage and tolerant of wet soils. Susceptible to oak root fungus and nematodes. Bears fruit in 2-3 years and grows to 12-18 feet.

Nemaguard Produces a vigorous tree in well drained soils. Susceptible to wet feet. Redundant phrase, but needs to be said, nematode resistant. Bears fruit in 2-3 years and grows to 12-18 feet.

Citation Produces a tree 50-65% of standard in peaches and 75% of standard in apricots and plums. Strong well anchored. Resistant to nematodes, tolerant of wet soils, no suckers, and cold tolerant. (zone 4). Bears fruit in 2-3 years and grows to 12-16 feet.


Almond Resistant to bacterial canker and nematodes. Bears fruit 3-4 years and grows to 10-14 feet.

Pecan Bears fruit 5-8 years and grows to 30-60 feet.

Walnut Bears fruit 5-10 years and grows to 18-30 feet

07 March, 2009

The Garden In March

March. Baseball teams are in Spring Training in Florida and Arizona. Tomatoes are growing in a protected location with 'bottom heat' so they can be set out in the garden close to the end of April.

We've all heard the old saying about March coming in like a lamb and going out like a lion, or is it coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb? Whatever the exact saying, it correctly alludes to March as being more schizophrenic than other months. That is certainly a true characterization of March as far as our gardens go. On one hand, we are still tending our winter vegetables, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce, while on the other we need to be planning on what we will soon be planting for summer.

Those of us on the coast can continue to plant more winter vegetables if we haven't had our fill of all those cabbage family plants. I usually find I can grow winter vegetables right on into late May in most years. Some of the winter veggies will 'oversummer' for us; leeks, fennel, chard and kale will hold on in most summers although they can look downright ratty once our June Gloom has left us.

Royal Purple Pod beans can go in even in February, certainly by mid-March, I'll have a row growing. This is the only bean that will germinate in cold, wet soil. All other beans, in most years, will need to be planted no sooner than late March or early April.

You can buy tomatoes in March, but I wouldn't want to plant them out until later in the month. Tomatoes will survive cool soil, but they will thrive much better in warmer soil. If you want to grow tomatoes from seed, I usually sow mine in February. I start them in a sheltered location – I use a grow mat that warms the soil to about 70° so the tomatoes get off to a good start – I sow basil the same way at the same time. Other summer crops that I start in pots to be transplanted later, including peppers, eggplants and okra, need more heat and I don't even mess with those until after mid-March. They will be ready to sow out into the garden come the first of May (allow about 6 weeks to get them up and away).

This is one of the more busy months in the garden because I should be harvesting from the winter crops and I'm out there looking at those plants trying to figure out where I'll be able to plant the summer crops.

I'm awfully fond of lettuce. One of my Summer rituals is making a big production out of the first BLT of the year where I've grown the L and the T in my garden – if I'm lucky I'll have also baked the bread myself too. The hard part is getting the L and the T to cooperate. Tomatoes love heat, to really fruit they need temperatures above 84° while most lettuce is positively allergic to temperatures above 75°. There are some varieties of lettuce bred to be less heat sensitive – Jericho and Summertime are the two I'm most familiar with – look for them in seed catalogs and try planting lettuce plants North of taller plants to get them more shade.

In one fit of fanaticism, I once grew lettuce year round. I created a bed just for lettuce. I installed a copper snail barrier to keep those salad lovers out, and set up a series of little misters to spray the plants twice a day with a cooling mist. But the most significant feature was an old window screen (frame and all), resting over the plants on four 18” wooden stakes (easily purchased at Home Depot). The screen proved to be the most effective part of the whole operation. I was able to grow lettuce right into the middle of October, when a heat wave and an irrigation failure contrived together to completely fry all my lettuce. Fried lettuce has about the same appeal as month old bread. If you want lettuce all summer you might give this – or some of this – a spin in your garden.

March is a month full of a lot of activity – daylight savings time now starts at the end of the second week and boy do gardeners need that extra hour of sunlight! Look at what you have in the ground and begin to imagine full size tomato, pepper, eggplant and basil plants growing there. Try to contain yourself and get a reasonable view of what you can plant. Check out the suggested planting spaces on the plants you want; measure to see how many you can reasonably accommodate. No, don't multiply by four! (We all do it anyway, don't we?)


The Learning Garden Class: 07 March 2009

Expert fingers separate little tomato seedlings - in a few months, these little plants will be bearing bright red, sweet and nutritious tomatoes for someone. Could be you!

Thank you for signing up for the What To Do series of gardening seminars at The Learning Garden.

Class will start at 9:00 AM. Please arrive a few minutes early to allow you to get registered and ready to learn so we can start at 9:00.

Parking will be available on the Venice High School campus and also on Walgrove (2 hour limit!) and Venice Boulevard near the Garden.

We will have bottled water, coffee and hot tea at the Garden. There is a taco truck that comes through the parking lot for the adult school classes – I don't know the time or what they carry. If we notice them, we can try to have a break if enough students want to buy from the truck.

We will accept cash or check at the Garden, no credit cards. Please make checks payable to David King.

I will be asking what part of gardening you are interested in and will teach you what you want to learn along with those things I think you need to learn.

I hope we can all get a little dirty and learn by doing tomorrow.