27 April, 2009

Field Trip 02 May 2009, 1 PM To Ocean View Farms

From their Website:
OVF is located at the intersection of Rose Avenue and Centinela in the community of Mar Vista, West Los Angeles, Over 500 garden plots and flower gardens occupy six acres of sunny, west facing, sloping land on the east side of Centinla opposite Santa Monica Airport. We share this hilltop location and parking with the very active North Venice Little League Baseball teams, making it a lively destination for devoted gardeners and sports enthusiasts alike.

After playing hide 'n' seek with city officials, I finally nailed it down: They are not willing to have us there for our field trip - which leaves us going to Ocean View Farms and their composting process.

Please note that this isn't just a consolation prize! It will be a different experience - while the original field trip was to see the big machines that turn our green can waste into compost, which would be very impressive, this trip will show us what a few dedicated community gardeners can do when left to their own devices and are allowed to compost at will. In this trip, the first bonus will be that some of their methods can be transferred to your life directly. The second bonus will be the chance to see a really lovely, working community garden, one of the largest in the country, and, should we finish early, the third bonus would be for us to hustle on over to The Learning Garden and see how WE compost as well.

Besides, Sunland at 1:00 PM is hotter than Hades and on THIS field trip, we'll all be as cool as politicians with parasols.

Driving directions are at the Ocean View Farms website; it is very conveniently located south of the 10 Freeway and west from the 405. The view, on a clear day, is spectacular.


22 April, 2009

Update on Field Trip

The compost field trip to see the LA City Municipal Compost set up out in Sunland is still unconfirmed. I have already established an alternate field trip to the Ocean View Farm Community Garden to see and talk about their massive compost operation.

So, the destination is still in doubt, but there will be a field trip for us on 02 May, 1:00 PM to 4:00 and of course, the confirmed field trip on 09 May, 1:00 PM to 4:00 at Cal Poly Pomona. I'll post maps etc. in before our next class meeting.


20 April, 2009

Principles of Permaculture

Through out the permaculture culture, you will see the following ideas presented over and over again with this or similar wording.

Permaculture Design Principles

1.Observe and interact – what is there? How is that a benefit, what can we find in that to further our project?
2.Catch and store energy – sun, water – grab what we can with as little effort as we can, in plant biomass, especially seeds, but also solar and hydro power, wind power.... soil humus as a possible carbon sink that increases our soil fertility and also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere (one of the greenhouse gases)..
3.Obtain a yield – because you gotta eat, but grow it in aesthetically pleasing designs and include flowers and other elements to keep the whole thing beautiful; harvest for flexibility and supply of needs over a long period.
4.Apply self-regulation and accept feedback – much negative feedback from our involvement with nature comes about slowly – it takes several generations, in many cases for us to find the damage done to nature through stupid human tricks, but willingness to look for negative impacts to the earth is a part of the permie code of culture... The first priority is to survive (principle 3), while the second is to pay for what we get in some way that helps maintain the future flow of energy.
5.Use and value renewable resources and services – aim to make the best use of renewable energy even if some non-renewable resource is needed to establish the system – renewable services (also called passive functions) are those gained from plants animals, soil and water - without consuming them – I e a flower that is used by a bee for honey, chicken manure for fertilizer
6.Produce no waste – frugality and the care of tools – the opposite of a throw-away society; refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle
7.Design from patterns to details – commonality of patterns in nature and society helps make sense of what is seen and from that extrapolation to designing systems that work within nature and society vs. against it
8.Integrate rather than segregate – connections between things – organisms, ecosystems – in nature are often more important than the things themselves – cross fertilization of ideas from different cultures stacking of plants/ecosystems to produce more from one small area of earth
9.Use small and slow solutions – if there ever was a principle that was in direct conflict with our national concept of reality, this is the one. However, small and slow solutions are invariably those solutions that work best and actually solve problems – and if they do cause problems they, in turn will be small, if not also slow – reduction in speed is also a reduction in total movement and energy expense
10.Use and value diversity – monoculture is one of modern society's biggest follies and is guaranteed to bring about a disaster that will leave our civilization on the brink one day – you heard it here first...
11.Use edges and value the marginal – shelterbelts and hedgerows in traditional English horticulture can be among the most productive areas in a farm; marginal land will be the land that most gardens/farms of the future will be built on
12.Creatively use and respond to change – recognize that what is designed today that conserves energy/water and other resources, will lead to further exploration and discovery – willingly seek that change and adapt to it, incorporate a flexibility into projects that allows for a constant updating.

I relied heavily on Permaculture, Principcles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, by David Holmgren in preparing this list.


Permaculture Bibliography

This list and the list that follow are only introductory books and in no way should be considered to be exhaustive.

Gaia's Garden, A Guide to Home-scale Permaculture
, Hemenway, Toby, © 2000, Chelsea Green Publishing Probably no finer introductory book on permaculture is available. More easily digested than the others in this list, this is still a comprehensive guide and is easily one of the more readable books on permaculture.

Introduction to Permaculture, Mollison, Bill © 1991 Tagari Publications (Photo above) IF you can find it for less than $149 (its current asking price for a used copy on Amazon) this is a lovely book that lives up to its name, an introduction to permaculture. Mollison, along with Holmgren, founded the concepts of permaculture. Because it is so old, it is somewhat dated, but Mollison writes in a way that is readable, digestible and it is well illustrated with drawings.

Permaculture, A Designers' Manual, Mollison, Bill © 1988 Tagari Publications, Dense. Out of Print. The most exhaustive text on the subject ever written. Will likely never be attempted again. If you can find it, and if permaculture, is your bag: Indispensable. (I borrowed my copy.) But indispensable as historical data – we know a lot more now than Mollison knew then. This book works best as background – to REALLY design something today, look at other books.

Permaculture, Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability
, Holmgren, David © 2002 A more cerebral take on the permaculture 'revolution' who looks beyond the horticulture and agriculture beginnings of permaculture with the intent of applying the concepts to other aspects of human society. Probably your book if you think you'd like to design a permaculture career.

The Basics of Permaculture Design, Mars, Ross © 2005 Chelsea Green Publishing This is a dense manual. The upside is that it contains all the basic design ideas and principles and is wonderfully illustrated. The down side is that there is more data on one page than in a chapter in other books. This density makes for tough reading, but that isn't all bad. It is the most current in this list.


Fukuoka Bibliography

One Straw Revolution, An Introduction to Natural Farming, Fukuoka, Masanobu © 1978 – soon to be reissued in June, 2009. Fukuoka's first book on his extensive work in Japan. Decidedly with a Japanese bent (his main crop is rice and barley), he still presents a lovely description of his farming efforts that began as a reaction to the Western idea of agriculture and more that began to infiltrate Japanese society in the 1930's. His work continued until his death in 2008 (at 95).

The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy, Fukuoka, Masanobu © 1985 Also out of print. And expensive. ($50, used on Amazon)

The Road Back to Nature, Fukuoka, Masanobu © 1988 Out of print, but you can find copies reasonably priced on eBay, used copies are almost $70 from Amazon. From the back cover: Fukuoka's reflections on his trips to Europe and to America, his sense of shock at seeing the destruction wreaked in the name of agriculture. A collection of his lectures, articles and essays which outline his thinking on nature, God and man and his underlying optimism that good sense can still prevail and we can still turn it all around.
A collection of articles, lectures and essays recording his impressions as he travels the world talking about his revolutionary 'do-nothing' agricultural methods. There is a spiritual side to a lot of his thoughts and an optimism that a change in lifestyles and farming methods could yet heal the Earth's wounds.

Fundamental Realities,
an article by Hazelip, Emilia is available at the Fukuoka Farming Website – it helps explain some of the underlying attitudes and philosophy of Fukuoka. It is fundamentally a Japanese mindset, but then that same mindset has brought us Zen, so....


18 April, 2009

A Farm For the Future

A Farm for the Future is a good introduction to some of the ramifications of peak oil and some of the potential of permaculture to meet these problems. This is a good introduction only - it barely scratches the surface of the problems and the solutions, but you can find a lot worse stuff on television to waste valuable time and resources on.

I'd love to talk about this film in our coming class. We may also see another film in class that is more in depth on permaculture. Permaculture is one of several strategies to consider for a more sustainable future.

Look for more posts in the coming two days.


13 April, 2009

A Sustainable Biblography

None of these books are required, but they represent a lot of the material I have read to come to where I am today in teaching this course. They are not, of course, any more than the tip of an iceberg, other bibliographies will be presented in class as well as individual books that crop up here and there.

Deep Economy, The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, McKibben, Bill, ©2007 Times Books Want a dose of hope? Here. McKibben has delved into a variety of alternative choices to find examples of human civilizations that actually approach creating a viable economy and lifestyle that considerably reduce man’s impact on the world

Easy Green Living, Loux, RenĂ©e ©2008, Rodale Inc. Breeziness belying a difficult resource book that will help you shop through the sustainable hype. A compendium of little helpful hints (the Heloise of our time?) and deciphering clues of labels and claims. She covers everything from the bathroom to light bulbs and beyond, helping delineate what the labels mean with all those fifteen syllable words on them.

In Defense of Food, An Eaters’ Manifesto, Pollan, Michael, ©2008, Penguin Press; This is the ‘sequel’ to The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Both of these books, with Pollan’s inimitable style present the way our current food production damages our ecosystem and our health! ‘Dilemma’ bares the scars on our earth and ‘Defense’ reveals how our personal health has been compromised by the promise of ‘cheap food.’ It aint cheap and it aint food.

Plant, Animal, Miracle
, Kingsolver, Barbara et al © 2007 Harper Collins, When less is really more. Kingsolver and her family agree to eat only foods produced within 100 miles of their West Virginia home (everyone was allowed one exception and her husband chose coffee marking him as a sensible man) for one year. The story of how they did it and the results they achieved makes delightful reading and food for thought.

Small Is Beautiful; A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, Schumacher, E. F. © 1973 Blond & Briggs, LTD If we had this book clear back in 1973, how did we get to this place anyway? The folly of economics and how it has led us to the brink of disaster. Cheap oil may have powered our society for the last 200 odd years, but ...

The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook, De Rothschild, David, ©2007, Rodale Inc. A lot of statistics that just overwhelm a person, but a viable list of Things To Do Today and beyond. Probably one of the more easily digested books of this contemporary genre.

The Lost Language of Plants
, Buhner, Stephen Harrod, ©2002 Chelsea Green Publishing Getting well should not get the earth sick. This is the ecological ‘why’ of alternative medicine and living in harmony with nature, but be warned, you will never look at a fashionable layer of mascara the same way again either!

Sustainable Gardens - Syllabus

Instructor: David King
Email: greenteach@roadrunner.com

COURSE TITLE AND NUMBER: Sustainable Gardens; BIOLOGY X498.5

There are no prerequisites for this course. We will meet from April 13 through May 09 for 6 meetings. There are two field trips as indicated in our schedule (below); one to the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona (May 9) and I am working out the final details to get us to the Los Angeles Dept. of Sanitation composting facility in Sunland. These trips are scheduled for Saturdays, 1:00 to 4:00 PM. All other class meetings occur 7:00 PM in Boelter Hall, Room 2760 on Tuesday evenings.

Course Purpose

This course will enable students to understand and appreciate the changes we will need to make in our gardens to achieve ‘sustainability.’ A multitude of differing strategies will be presented allowing students to choose the extent of their involvement with more sustainable gardens and, ultimately, a more sustainable life style.

Course Objectives
1.Understand the concept of sustainability and its relevance to the modern garden.
2.The reasons to consider sustainability.
3.Be able to use the concept of sustainability in the creation of a garden and its maintenance.
4.Understand and be able to present to others the concepts and ideas of sustainability and the myriad of alternatives to an overtly consumptive garden style.

This course is designed to be applicable. Upon completion, students will be able to employ many different strategies to reduce consumption of water and oil-produced products and create beautiful and productive gardens that comprise a much smaller carbon footprint than most contemporary gardens.

Text for this course:
This course will not have a text. There will be an extensive bibliography from which the material presented has been gleaned; some books will be practical, some books theoretical, while others will present an overview of our current situation and the problems that affect our daily lives and the gardens we grow.

Class Schedule: Please note the change between meeting 2 and 4, they have switched.
Date Mtg TOPIC
04/13 1 Lecture: Introduction – roll, Extension policy, meeting time and place, attendance and tardiness, objectives. What is Sustainability and Why Does It Matter? What is it’s place in our gardens?
04/20 2 Lecture: Plants and Planting Design for Conservation of Resources (other than water)
04/25 3 Field Trip to Los Angeles Department of Sanitation, Composting Project (pending confirmation)*
04/27 4 Lecture: Water, It’s Place in Our Lives and Gardens – Guest speaker: Orchid Black on Water Conservation
05/06 5 Lecture: Recycle, Reuse and Repurpose
05/09 6 Field Trip to John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona Final Requirements for Credit Students to be submitted

* The LA Dept of Sanitation has not confirmed for this date, but it will be 25 April or 02 May, 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Your grade will be predicated on class participation and a paper of no less than 5 pages on one aspect of sustainability, topics will be discussed in class. I encourage students to use their own area of interests when choosing their topic.

Office Hours
I have no set office hours, however, I am available by phone (the number above is my cell phone) and by email. I am willing to meet with students almost any day of the week at my office at The Learning Garden or a mutually convenient coffee bar. It is my most sincere desire that you learn and you will find me very approachable. If we are not covering material that you think is essential, or if you are not learning what you suppose you would learn in this course, it is incumbent on you to bring that to my attention. It is my intention that the students learn what they need to learn and have the opportunity to tell me BEFORE the course is concluded.

After class is usually not a very good time because that’s when all students vie for answers and we are all tired after a long day. You can net a more thoughtful answer by contacting me another time.

Updates and Handouts
For this course I will utilize my personal blog page (lagarden.blogspot.com) to post handouts and extra material to the class. There is an RSS feed through which each posting is automatically forwarded to your email so you can have access to handouts whenever they are posted. This approach is most handy when dealing with field trips because links to maps can be posted and any last minute updates are easily available. If this technology is new to you, another classmate or I will guide you through it. It is not difficult.

03 April, 2009

The Garden In April

The summer garden's plants are in their little starter pots right now (vaguely reminiscent of training wheels on a bicycle) really begging to be transplanted into the earth. Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, the stalwarts of our summer garden are almost ready to hit the big time. In some years, it's too cool until after your taxes are done, but in many others, you may heed their pleas and put them out sooner.

It seems like the crops most of us think of as value crops are the summer garden crops. Back in March, if I got to it, I sowed a couple of short rows of purple snap beans. I know folks that swear they are 'purple green beans, ' but that seems a little contradictory to me. They aren't green, they're purple – until you cook them. Purple beans turn green when they are done to a toothsome crunch and so the beans tell you when to stop steaming them!

They are good, but in my book, they aren't the real deal of the bean world. In April, gardeners put out their main crop of snap beans. Most folks plant green beans, including, Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, Romano and others, either as a pole bean or a bush bean, depending on need, so check the package to make sure you know what you are buying. I like to plant yellow beans, also called 'wax' beans. I hated yellow beans as a kid, mainly because they were different and I never saw them for sale in the grocery store; I didn't want anything on our table that wasn't on someone else's table. As an adult, I've come to love the yellow beans pickled. The yellow ones are like 'sunshine in a jar' that I can put on sandwiches and in salads all year long. Yum! I look for Pencil Pod or Gold Crop are delicious and good croppers. A little different, look for Dragon Langerie, a Dutch variety that has purple strips down the large flat yellow bean. They can be quite large and still tasty.

In the first half of the month, start planting beans directly in the garden, I don't bother with transplanting from beans in starter packs. You can put out any bean from this point on, but I usually wait yet another month for the beans I want to dry, like the famous Italian Cannelini, or the American Cranberry Bean or Black Turtle, to insure they will ripen when the garden is basking in the dry heat of late summer/early fall. There are a lot of drying beans, but a gardener of a small plot can be forgiven if they pass on the dried beans – it can take a bit of space to get a decent crop. For drying beans look into Native Seed/SEARCH in Arizona or Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa.

Beans can be climbing or bush, or 'runner beans' which are somewhere in the middle. Runner beans will bear over a longer period of time, which is good if you want to have beans over several weeks or more. If you plan on freezing or pickling your beans, bush beans will bear their crop pretty much all at once. Runner beans are a compromise, being a bush bean that throws out 'runners' that look like they would climb if they could just get a little caffeine or something. They do not climb, and they produce a crop very similar to the all at once nature of bush beans. Look for Scarlet Runner which will give you plenty of red flowers and some really good eating. You can tell I like beans, huh?

About the same time you are putting your green and yellow beans into the garden, set out a couple cucumbers. I like Armenian and Japanese cucumbers which have the same mild flavor and awesome crunch, even though they couldn't look any more different! The Armenian cucumbers are a light green almost bordering on yellow, with smooth skin covering a straight fat cucumber while the Japanese are a very dark green, with massive prickles on a furrowed and absolutely convoluted twisty narrow cucumber. Both are delicious. The Japanese cucumber will bear over a longer period but there is much more eating on each Armenian cuke, so it probably ends up with both being about the same. Give both of them plenty of room! If your garden is small, allow these gangling fellows to climb up rather than out.

The beans and cucumbers aren't alone in being planted out about now. Tomatoes. However you say it, cucumbers and tomatoes are the number one plants gardeners think of when they think “Summer Garden.” There are more varieties of tomatoes than there are potholes in the greater Los Angeles area. Just check out a catalog called Totally Tomatoes, or Tomato Growers Supply! Thirty or more pages of tomatoes. They come early, mid-season or late. Tomatoes are cherry, saladette, plum and beefsteak as well as black, cream, green, red, striped, yellow and many shades in between. Tomatoes come as hybrids and open-pollinated, and (had enough choices?) determinate and indeterminate. It's a complete overwhelm of choice. Determinate tomatoes are similar in growth to bush beans, giving you short plants that bear all at once (more or less), while indeterminate are like pole beans that bear over a long stretch and get quite large to boot.

Here are a few common ones to consider:

Cherry Tomatoes

Sweet 100 – a great productive and sweet little red tomato that is as dependable as a beach day in July.
Orange Sunshine – lots and lots of very sweet little tomatoes! Cute
Golden Nugget – a ton of cream colored little guys that are sweet with low acid – always a bonus in my book.
Yellow Pear – lot of folks like these, but I think they are mushy. Very productive though.


Jaune Flammee – a lovely bi-colored tomato (give it something to climb on!) that is red outside and gold inside – good tasting and beautiful!
Green Zebra – yup, it's ripe when it's green. I think they are little to acidic, but lot's of my friend like 'em.
Moonglow - Solid orange meat, few seeds and wonderful flavor. One of our favorites since we first grew it in 1996.
Black from Tula – not really 'black,' but a very deep red. Delicious, though not a heavy producer – the skin is so thin I think it's best to take your plate and fork to the garden and eat it right at the plant!
Stupice – a small early plant that is worth growing because they also taste good and come in quick!

Plum (or paste tomatoes)

Black Plum – almost a mahogany tomato – tasty and meaty, an indeterminate tomato than produces
Cream Sausage - A unique colored variety with creamy white to light yellow sausage-shaped fruit, very productive bushy plants do not require staking; a really different tomato sauce!
Opalka – Red 3" by 5" paste tomatoes with a lovely fresh flavor. They have very few seeds so make great sauces. Long unruly vines.


Brandywine – the taste that everyone is looking for in a big tomato, winner of many different taste tests. We can't really grow them very well in West Los Angeles because they need 85F through the night as well as the day. Pasadena and other points inland can grow them, though.
German Johnson – a large pink tomato that is really juicy and yummy.
Mortgage Lifter – there's a great story about the name of this tomato I'll tell you at a cocktail party one of these days. For now, I'll say it tastes great and is very filling, a lovely juicy tomato that rates.
Persimmon – this is the largest tomato I've ever grown in West Los Angeles. One sliced tomato could fill two dinner plates with meaty orange/yellow slices. However, the six foot plus plants only gave me one tomato each! Way too much space even though they were the sweetest and tastiest tomato I've had the pleasure of growing.

You'll notice I didn't include any of the Best Boy or Early Girl or other common hybrids. It is true they are productive and will give you a good crop of bright red fruits, but I think they are too acidic and have tough skin, so I don't grow them at all. There are so many delicious tomatoes in this world, to stick to those few seems silly to me. Check out Tomatomania (you can find it by searching the web) to find a lot of very unusual tomatoes to tempt your taste buds. Plant lots of basil at the same time you plant your tomatoes. Basil and marigolds make good companion plants for tomatoes.

When transplanting tomatoes from it's container to the ground, set them deeper in the soil than they were in the container. This is a great exception to the rule (almost all other plants should be set in the ground at the same level they were in the container) because a tomato stem will sprout roots all along the stem that is in contact with the soil. If the soil is really cold however, you'll have to resort to a more advanced technique. Tomatoes, being a tropical plant, do not like cold soil and the deeper you go, the colder it gets (and stays colder longer), so don't dig deep to plant tomatoes. Instead, if you have long plants, dig a shallow trench and lay the plant in on its side, gently bending the top to an upright position. The plant isn't deep in cool soil and yet it gets to make a lot more roots from the buried stem. (If you planted the tomato straight on down, the soil would not be warmed for a lot longer and the sulking tomato plant would refuse to grow until the warmth was felt that much deeper in the soil.)

And I haven't even mentioned later in the month! After the taxes are in, set out growing plants of peppers, eggplants, okra, melons, zucchini, summer squashes and tomatillos. Sow seeds of corn directly where they will grow. Pumpkins are a winter squash and all those hard skinned squashes should go out in May or so. They are really heat lovers.

Peppers and eggplants are easily grown once it has warmed up. They usually get about 3½' tall and need about two feet between plants. As with most vegetables, you need to give them all th sun you can. You can also try growing some lettuce in the shade of larger plants. Lettuce dislikes heat, but I like tomatoes and lettuce at the same time and it's easier trying to get lettuce in summer than tomatoes in winter.

I love peppers but I hate eggplant. Both however, are beautiful additions to every garden. Peppers come in a wild variety of colors – all start green and eventually change to whatever color they want to be – every green pepper you've ever eaten would have turned to some other color if we'd only practice more patience. I like Anaheim, Corno di Torno (Italian for 'Horn of the Bull') for warmer peppers and Cubanelle, Sweet Banana and Marconi for a sweet pepper. Eggplants can be Asian or Italian – I like the Italian Listada de Gandia or Rosa Bianca, primarily because they are very good looking in the garden. I have no intention of eating them. There are deep purple ones (almost black) and white ones as well as Turkish Orange and green eggplants.

Okra can be planted late in April/early May. Clemson's Spineless, Burgundy, Annie Oakley, and Star of David all are prolific producers. Put on a pot of gumbo in late summer! I'll eat 'em if I don't see 'em.

Not enough has been said about basil, but Genovese basil is the best in my book. Not just good production, but wonderful aroma and the taste is incomparable. Pick leaves all summer to keep it producing – once there are two pair of leaves on a stem, that stem will commence to flower. Once a flower has set seed, the plant begins the process of dying. If you keep it well picked, the plant gets bushier and bushier and you get a lot more basil from each plant. Throw the pickings in soup, salads or directly in your mouth!

Sweet corn is another delight of the summer garden. It is a little tricky to grow in our small gardens though. Corn, like all the cereal grains, is wind pollinated. The tassels atop the plant are the 'boy' flowers and the silks on the ear are the 'girl' flowers. The tassels produce loads of pollen that must reach the silks to fertilize them and create the corn seeds. This is hard to do if you don't have a lot of corn plants with pollen to be blown onto the silks. It is best to plant corn as a block of plants rather than one long row. There needs to be a critical mass of male flowers to produce pollen that falls on the silks. You can go out and shake the flowering corn stalks to cause the pollen to fall down and assist in corn sex if you're the adventurous type. If you've ever eaten and ear of corn and found a spot where there was a space instead of a kernel, that shows that one silk was not pollinated because every kernel has its very own silk. To get a fully populated ear of corn, every individual silk must be fertilized.

Boy are we busy this month! Don't worry. If you fail to get everything done, you can keep at it for the first two weeks of May. There is no need to rush in Southern California. Our climate forgives us for being too early or too late most of the time, so you can go wrong, but you have to work at it pretty hard.