19 August, 2009

Solar Oven Building Workshop, Cook Off And Party!!

Saturday, August 22
at the Learning Garden at Venice High School
corner of Venice Boulevard at Walgrove Avenue (Zip code is 90066)
(Enter Garden on Walgrove)

Build a Solar Cooker
Make a portable solar cooker with cardboard and foil with Joanne Poyourow of Environmental Changemakers. Please RSVP (learninggardenmaster@yahoo.com) if you would like to make a cooker. There are only 20 places available, with a $15 materials fee. You are welcome to watch or help someone else. Written instructions will be provided so you can make your own at home.

Use Your Solar Cooker
Various seasoned solar chefs will present the art and science of cooking a meal with the sun. It is amazing how many dishes you can make using this slow cooking method.
While the food is cooking we will do some karma yoga in the garden or you can learn how to can, pickle or preserve some of the excess produce from the garden with David, the Gardenmaster. Take home a jar of your favorite pickles. (There will be a small materials charge if you choose this option.)

Celebrate Vidya's Birthday

5:00pm til dark
The real party starts! A solar-cooked feast! Feel free to join us at this time and bring a contribution to the vegetarian potluck meal. Music provided by The Lost and Found on their powered-down instruments. No gifts! Bring a story to share about what is was like in the '50s when Vidya was a little girl. We will continue until dark or until the candles run out.

Please RSVP

18 August, 2009

A Pretty Flower/An Obnoxious Garden Weed

It's not exactly a photographic gem, but this cute little white flower washes out too easily in sun (even on a cloudy day like today). This is Moonflower, Ipomoea alba and it is one of the most obnoxious weeds we have in our Garden. At least this honey bee has found it useful - I followed him through five different flowers before getting him to stay still long enough for my old camera to snap this shot. Most of the foliage in the photo belongs to the moonflower, but there are some grass leaves there as well. The moonflower shows the same leaf as it's twining sister, morning glory (and yams as well).

It spreads by seeds, like most members of the morning glory family, lots of seeds that are spread freely by birds. But this one also spreads by underground runners like Bermuda grass, except that these runners are very thin and break very easily making removal a tedious and timely process. All volunteers at this time are being sent down to weed this vigorous climber that has taken over the rose garden and threatens to ruin the high school beds. If allowed to persist, it climbs up the plants we want and smothers them by interdicting the sunlight. It won't kill most plants, but it will ruin production. I don't think this is a pest of much note in the rest of the US, but where there is no frost to kill it back, like here, it just engulfs a garden.


16 August, 2009

Harvest Basket

Red and yellow tomatoes co-mingle with green, yellow and orange peppers that is just a glimpse of our harvest right now! An awesome year of production with tomatoes getting hauled out of the Garden every day! In addition, I have been collecting the yellow banana peppers getting ready to learn how to pickle them this coming Saturday. There are few red jalapenos that I'm going to slice up and dry and the tomatoes, we're just going to eat. There are a bunch more in the Garden that are better for preserving and those will be the ones we roast and freeze (more on that in another post) and make sauce from.

Oddly enough, this has been a lousy year for tomatoes for a lot of nearby gardeners. I'm not sure why that should be so, but we haven't had as good a harvest as this since I started working here in 2002!

My paste tomatoes (San Marino) are being eaten by a mammal. As the remains are being left on the vine, I doubt it is the human mammal, more like squirrels, racoons or something along that line. One portion of corn near the tomatoes has been smashed down, and the corn stalks are all splayed out in all directions. It looks to me like a great fight or some mating took place in the middle of my corn. No dead critters, so I'm thinking the latter. Just don't tell school administration!


12 August, 2009

The Garden In August; Part IV: A Short List of Seed Houses

I've started a new blog called "The Learning Garden - Almost - Daily," and this photo of some lettuce seed trials appears in the very first post there. These are so-called 'summer lettuces' that we're trying to ascertain how well they will do in the Southern California summer heat.

Following, I list a few of the seed houses I order from consistently. I tend to order most of my seeds from Pine Tree Garden Seeds simply because I rarely need the quantities of seed per packet that I get from the other companies. I pay less, I can experiment with different varieties and I have less seed left over at the end of the season. What's not to like? Their listings include almost all the main varieties I want to grow.

BOUNTIFUL GARDENS; 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410 www.bountifulgardens.org This is a good source for open-pollinated seeds and often have varieties not found elsewhere. They also sell packets of grain seed – grow a little wheat, some oats or rye? Don't dismiss this out of hand – I had a wheat field in my front yard once. It is a good thing to support organizations that do credible garden research.

FEDCO SEEDS; PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903; 207.873.7333; www.fedcoseeds.com A very funky catalog, that makes me think of the Trader Joe's Frequent Flier, provides good quality open-pollinated seeds. While their focus is on 'cold-hardy, short season' seeds, we can use a lot of them here. As of August 31, they will no longer take orders for 2009. They begin to prepare for 2010's growing season. Their prices are really low - puts places like Seeds of Change to utter shame. And they are all open-pollinated.

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 www.groworganic.com A fair priced purveyor of more than just seeds. This is the company to order cover crop seeds and tools as well as veggie and flower seeds. Their catalog is so chock full of data on pest control, fertilizing, cover crop seeds and irrigation; I have used it as a text in my organic gardening classes.

NATIVE SEED/SEARCH; 526 N. 4th Ave. Tucson, AZ 85705; 520.622.5561; www.nativeseeds.org; Like Seed Savers Exchange, this is a non-profit organization that exists to save seeds that have been grown for generations and represent a genetic diverse collection that mankind cannot allow to fall into obscurity. Their efforts are centered on the Native American seeds of the desert climates of Arizona and upper Mexico, which, despite the challenge of desert conditions still represent a disproportionate portion of our modern food crops.

PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400 www.superseeds.com This is THE catalog where I order most of my seeds – they are the least expensive. How? The packets are smaller, fewer seeds. And that makes good sense for us with smaller sized gardens. If I want more, I can order more packets – but usually I order several varieties with which to experiment.

SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership fees $25. Free brochure. www.seedsavers.org This is the other main source of seeds for me. I have been a member for over five years because I believe in the work they do saving the rich heritage of heirloom seed varieties that might well be a thin green line between us and the Monsanto's of this world that are striving to control our food supply. I urge you to order from the Exchange and to become a member; we NEED these seeds.

There are many other seed catalogs out there, some of them quite fun. I used to love to look through all of them and indulge dreams of acres of land on which to grow vegetables until I learned that subsidiaries of Monsanto were buying up some of the old Mom and Pop seed houses and keeping the cute old names. Seminis, Monsanto's seed supplier also lists some of my old favorites as sellers of their genetically modified seeds. Firms like Burpee, Parks, Cooks Garden, Nichols Garden Seeds are listed on the Seminis site as dealers for Seminis. I have changed my recommendations to these few that clearly state they do NOT sell genetically modified seed.


Summer Lettuce Experiment

Lettuce is a fickle summer crop, usually refusing to grow into a decent sized plant before turning bitter and sending up a seed stalk. Seed catalogs always list a few lettuce varieties they describe as being 'heat resistant.' I always think, "yeah, 'heat-resistant' in northern Maine, but Southern California's heat is probably a different critter."

To satisfy my curiosity, I started five different types of lettuce offered by Pine Tree Seeds (of Maine) for a trial. Three of the five are in this photo, Red Sails, Red Fire and Bughatti. The other two, Summertime and Jericho haven't been transplanted like these three into one per cell six packs. We sowed each lettuce, initially five per cell, which should net us 30 seedlings. Summertime's germination was so lousy, we won't even get five. Jericho's germination was sufficient, but slower than these three.

Bughatti is the very (very) dark lettuce in the upper left, with Red Sails the smallest lettuce in the upper right. The bottom two six packs are filled with the vigorous Red Fire.

But the main criteria will be that they perform well enough to grow an edible head that is not bitter even in Los Angeles heat.

We'll have further updates as they mature.


10 August, 2009

The Garden in August Part III: Some Suggested Varieties for the Fall/Winter Garden

Seeds of this onion will soon be harvested so we can sow them for onions next year's crop. We don't save seeds of everything and those we need to have for fall planting must be ordered now. Here are varieties I have used with success, but it shouldn't limit you! Plant as many varieties as you have space to allow! In some years one will do good and the next year not so good, so hedge your bets and try to plan for a longer harvest by planting varieties that mature at different times. This is a good strategy for almost all vegetables - especially our fall crops! Some suggested seed houses will be published later this week!

Artichokes (a perennial)
Green Globe – one of the more productive varieties, Green Globe is usually one of the varieties available in the farmers' markets and groceries.
Violetto – is not so often seen in the market. Not quite as productive but still quite acceptable. Like the name implies, it has a good splash of purple in it. Each leaf tip possesses its very own, very sharp spine. But I think they are worth it!

Burpee’s Golden – there was a time when 'Burpee' was synonymous with seeds for the home gardener. While this is no longer true, way back there in that faraway time, Burpee bred a lot of wonderful crops that we still find useful today. This beet has lower germination rates than other beets, but boy oh boy! They are worth it! From the mere fact that they don't bleed red beet juice all over your fingers (and clothes!), Golden beets are very sweet. Sauté in orange juice.
`Chiogga – another heirloom. Very productive and sweet, not as sweet as the Golden, but running a close second. One of these beets, cut in half before being cooked, reveals alternating rings of a light red and white. They keep those alternating rings when roasted.


Premium Crop (62 days) and Early Dividend (43 days) are two of the better hybrid broccoli varieties. If you are gardening in pots, Early Dividend is a great selection.
Nutribud (58 days) and Waltham (85 days) are the heirloom varieties available today. Of these two, Nutribud is the one for container gardening. The days listed behind each variety is the 'days to harvest' from the catalogs. This refers to an approximate day by which you may expect to harvest the broccoli heads from the day you set them into the ground (transplanted out). It is an estimate only – weather conditions and other factors speed it up or slow it down, but in these four varieties above you have the idea that Early Dividend will come in first and Waltham last, all other things being equal.

Brussels Sprouts
Bubbles – 88 days. Brussels Sprouts are a largish plant but have the added advantage of providing a rather continuous harvest over many weeks. They also can be a pain if they get aphids or whitefly because they are very difficult to police.


Danish Ballhead – A late season cabbage – not so good for containers, but a reliable producer for those who wish to preserve some of their cabbage. Note that all these cabbages are not savoyed cabbages. Those crinkled leaves of the savoyed variety hold dirt and also make very opportune homes for slugs – and one gets a lot of slugs in long season cabbage anyway.
Point One – An early cabbage that is a delight. The 'early' cabbages are usually smaller headed and more useful in succession planting and for containers as well.
Surprise – Another early cabbage – like the name implies, this is not a round cabbage, but forms a pointy little head of cabbage.
Ruby Perfection – For those who want a red cabbage. Small heads and early. I've found red cabbage much more difficult to grow.


Little Finger – A small carrot that is good for containers – an early harvest and you haven't had a carrot fresh from the garden, you don't know what you're missing! Sweet!
Mokum – This has been my number one carrot over the past five years. Productive and delicious.
Thumbelina – Little round carrots that are considered THE container carrot, but I like Little Fingers better thinking they are more sweet. Still, many folks will plant these and be perfectly happy.
Yaya – This may well be my new number one carrot. Bright orange six inch blunt roots, with a great flavor and will hold in the ground for a long time – which means I don't have to sow carrots in succession.

There are many different colors of carrots to think about growing as well – Pinetree Garden Seeds sells a carrot mix that includes a number of different varieties and colors!

Early Snowball – is an open-pollinated and is the earliest and tastiest of all the cauliflowers available. Other varieties are out there that are tasty but I think this one takes less work and compares well with the others. There are, though, several varieties that are quite colorful, Green Harmony is, of course, green; Graffiti is purple and Cheddar is yellow. Not sure how I feel about them, but then I'm not a huge cauliflower eater.

Large Prague Celeriac – I'm not even going to list celery. In our climate, I don't think it's possible to get a sweet celery that isn't as tough as a sisal rope! Celeriac, on the other hand, has that delicious celery taste, is easy to grow and works as well as or better than celery in soups and other dishes. You can't fill it with peanut butter or cream cheese like you can celery, but how healthy is that anyway? And if that's the only advantage, stick with celeriac!

Five Color Silverbeet – All the chards taste about the same to me, so I like to plant this chard to get all the different colors – some of them are quite wild. (Australians call chard “silverbeet” which is a nod to the fact that chard and beets are the same exact species of plant.) Dependable and beautiful, you can't beat this one in the garden or the kitchen.

Delfino – A new variety that puts the old 'Slo-Bolt' to shame. Holds better than older varieties in heat (cilantro does not like to grow in heat) and the plants are a little larger for a better and longer harvest.

Fava Beans
Windsor – Though not the only fava out there, this one is probably the premier fava bean for a home garden. Not for those of us with very little garden space, a typical fava plant can get to be four and half feet tall or more. One plant, happily tended, will provide enough fava beans for two folks unless they really intend to chow down on favas! (Fresh grated parmesan cheese on fresh raw fava bean seeds marks you as a dedicated fava eater and you will need more than one plant!)

Florence Fennel (bulbing)

Fino – Usually used raw or cooked in Italian cuisine for its sweet, anise-like flavor, don't let it go to seed or you'll have this all over your garden as well.

Garlic (this is a long season crop, plant in Fall harvest next Summer)
Chesnok Red – The three varieties listed here are all heirloom varieties. This variety doesn't store so well, but the taste it holds even after cooking is worth the trade off!
Music – A slightly spicy, incredibly flavorful garlic, this is one of the most popular types around.
Spanish Roja – I grew this hard neck garlic for years – one of the finest flavored garlics I know. Not just hotter, the subtle tones that weave through the taste allows this garlic to compare to the common garlic in the supermarket equal in flavor as a fine Cabernet compared to a 'box of wine.'


Dinosaur – Also called Tuscan Black Palm or Lacinato. A unique kale with very large, rounded, well filled, meaty leaves. Plants are large, hardy, and vigorous, and the flavor, if you like it is 'bold' and if you don't like it, it's 'overwhelming.'
Nero di Toscano – A three feet tall plant with dark, meaty, puckered leaves, the color of a blue spruce. The striking ornamental leaves have a fine flavor harvested young and cooked simply in olive oil.

Carina – Leeks have been divided into 'over-winter' and 'summer' leeks. Over winter are usually larger and take something like 110 to 130 days. In cold climates, these leeks stay in the frozen ground to be harvested out from under a blanket of snow. We usually don't have to dig them out from under the snow, but the slower growing leeks are larger.
King Richard – A 'summer' leek, this one grows nicely in our winter and quickly makes a decently edible leek in something like three months. To get a longer white part of the root, bring up the soil around the base of the plant – even though the catalogs say we don't need to do this, if you do, you will be rewarded with more usable root.

more varieties than you can shake a stick at – or grow a mix! There are many different colors and types, get as many as you have room for! Ha! I usually can't keep myself to less than 10 varieties at a time!

Onions (also a long season growing; find “short-day” varieties)
Italian Red Torpedo – Peaceful Valley Farm Supply has these as 'sets;' young plants to set out. This is my very favorite onion. Onions are difficult to grow by seed unless you plan on taking two years to get a good onion.

Italian Flat Leaf – A brighter, more intense flavor.

Super Sugar Snap – I admit that I've mostly given up on peas. They take lot of space and don't exactly overwhelm a person with production, they get mildew and croak early and I'd rather grow another row of fava beans which are much more productive.

Yukon Gold – A ton of varieties are available, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply will have seed potatoes available in mid-October.

French Breakfast – The standard radish for dependable crops. All radishes are easy to grow and are very quick to harvest – usually around 20-25 days.
Easter Egg – A fun radish that is great for children (and the young at heart!) with white, red, purple and intermediate colors between those.
Purple Plum – A lovely purple skin with white flesh – milder than most of the rest.

Bonilla – Onions are a hassle (and don't really cost that much in the market), shallots are easy to grow and replace the expensive shallots one would need to buy at the store. This hybrid shallot is quick and easy from seed. I got a remarkably good crop with little effort in my first year to grow them -even though I got them in rather late! Dried, they make a good long term storage item.
Olympus – Another easy to grow shallot from seed. This one is white and also stores well.


Melody – A semi-savoyed spinach. Most of the spinach we remember from way back were all savoyed spinaches, but savoyed (wrinkled), holds dirt better than smooth so I'm all for leaving the savoyed spinaches behind.
Space – A smooth spinach that is easily cleaned and has that taste of fresh spinach I didn't like until adulthood. Now I love it.

DeMilano - A lovely flattened turnip – the best for container garden and very productive.
Purple Top White Globe – Will get to be the size of a small foreign country if you let them, but they are better when small.

You can also plant perennial herbs and perennial flowers. Try some fun annuals like calendula, larkspur, poppies (bread, California or Iceland types), sweet peas, and venidium.


02 August, 2009

The Garden in August; Part II

It's not enough to grow the stuff, you also got to decide what to do with it! Six pounds of Sweet Banana Peppers and what to do? I think I can make some decent pepperoncinis with them - just need to find a recipe.

At this time, a gardener also needs to keep the green and yellow beans picked (they can be pickled as well) or they’ll stop producing. Keep using the basil, continually pinch their tips – flowers and the first pair of leaves and throw into whatever you're cooking or a salad - the flowers are as edible as the leaves. Next month, you can harvest whole plants and make pesto and this constant pinching will cause the plant to grow into a vigorous small shrub! Share the abundance of all your produce with friends, relatives or a food bank. Nature isn’t stingy so carry on that tradition and share too. We all need a fresh homegrown tomato now and then to remind us how blessed we really are.

Anything planted into the garden in August is an act of desperation. Mind you, you CAN plant, but it isn't going to be a cakewalk for you or the plants. You'll both need extra water and you both will chance a sunstroke that could kill them much more readily than you. You, at least, should have the sense to move into the shade if you notice symptoms of hyperthermia. Plants, on the other hand, have to stay put. If you do plant on a hot day, it is not a bad idea to find someway to shade your little darlings. A stick propping up a black nursery flat, with the flat covering from the south of the plants is a tried and true way for many gardeners to provide shade for their newly planted starts.

What to plant in the coming months is a great game gardeners play, wiling away long, insufferably hot hours in the shade. It is best to write down some of the ideas you're having for next summer's garden now. while this year's experience is fresh, otherwise the harvest of knowledge could be wasted. Of all the ways to learn gardening, the most sure and least expensive is to keep a garden journal. It is so easy now days and can be very inexpensive. If you have a computer, a digital camera and a word processing program you are set up. It can be a cheap camera (find a used one on eBay) and a free word processing program (I'm using Open Office Writer to do all my writing nowadays), and your thoughts will be preserved for the next year's garden. If that's not your bag, get a paper notebook, draw your plans, paste in pictures from catalogs and write your observations in a multitude of colors. Or use a combination! The point is to write down things so you'll remember them and to find a way to write them down that will give you enough pleasure to insure you'll do it. A chair or bench in your garden is the most perfect place to do this. Haul out a few catalogs, something cool to drink, sit down in the shade with your notebook (computer or paper) and think about the year gone by. It can be a meditation that is almost as good as eating from your garden. See below for a few catalogs to consult in preparing your next garden.

But don't throw all your attention in to next summer's garden. Spend some time now to consider what you will grow in our mild winters. I'm looking through some catalogs looking for cabbage, broccoli, onion, lettuce and other seeds. If I order them soon, I'll have them by the end of August and I'll be starting little pots of seedlings that will be going out into my garden by the beginning of October. Below, I've listed a few of the vegetables I want to grow along with some varieties that I like. I'll order seeds to start now, and, to save on postage, I'll order seeds that I'll be using a little later on.

However, no matter the state of the present, August is the time to contemplate the fall and winter garden; I’m in my seed catalogs already dreaming of my next great adventure in the garden. Soon, in sheltered locations, I’ll be starting seeds of broccoli, cabbage, kale, leeks and onions. I’ll plant several different heirloom varieties of sweet peas – maybe some blends of antique varieties, two seeds per pot. I’ll pour very hot water over the seeds the night before and leave them to soak until I actually stick them in their pots. It is amazing to see how much they have swollen from absorbing water because of that treatment. Don’t worry, pouring even close to boiling water on them won’t kill these seeds because the seed coat is too hard and the hot water will help the seed inside to break free.