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14 December, 2010

Rhubarb Pie for the Masses


David King's Most Delicious Rhubarb Pie

The shot of the rhubarb pie shows a green filling rather than the accepted red of rhubarb.  The green rhubarb comes from our typical lack of frost.  Rhubarb, in cold climates, is revered as the first fresh thing a person can eat in those very early days of spring.  Rhubarb shoots rise from the base of the plant a brilliant red after being frozen for the winter, but not so many freezing winters in Los Angeles.  I know it LOOKS like 'celery pie' but believe me, it has that tart punch of rhubarb.  This version is not cloyingly sweet, like a Marie Calendar's pie would be.  It has some sweetness but still allows the tart, earthy taste of rhubarb to shine. Note that the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous; we only eat the leaf stem that botanists call the "petiole."

2 double pie crusts (I have never mastered making pie crusts, I admit, I buy them)
2½ pounds fresh rhubarb, cut into ½ inch pieces, or 2 20 ounce packages of frozen rhubarb, thawed and drained
1 cup sugar, or to taste
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Juice and grated zest of 1 bright-skinned orange

Preheat the oven to 350 ° F

Cut the rhubarb into pieces and fill your pie crusts. Combine all ingredients except rhubarb in bowl. Spoon this mixture as evenly as you can over the rhubarb – the act of baking will take care of the distribution of the sauce. Cover with a top crust and pinch to secure.  Cut openings for steam and sauce to bubble through.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes, until the filling has bubbled and thickened. Let cool on a rack before serving.

Makes two pies.

This is a bachelor male's adaptation of a Martha Stewart recipe which takes about 3 hours longer to make.

13 December, 2010

Felco Pruners Are HERE!

The initial stock of Felco pruners and Swiss Army Knives are in stock now!  I have F-6's, 8's and 11's as well as the new composite handle pruners, 160S (for small hands) and 160L (for large hands - that's it in the photo).  I have a couple of sharpeners, holsters (like the one I use) and a few Swiss Army knives for grafting.  Contact me via my email address, or by phone to arrange a pick up time.

Did I mention these make fabulous Christmas presents to any gardener no matter what kind of garden they have?  The 160's are perfect for those who don't garden a lot but yet need a quality pruner that is lightweight and durable - the composite handles are made from recycled materials and are themselves recyclable - and replaceable so they have the same life-time quality as the original Felcos. Like the entire Felco line, they are built to be a life-time investment.  

I am proud of the opportunity to be a Felco representative and I know my prices are competitive (really competitive) and I repair, resharpen and refurbish Felco pruners that have been abused and need some TLC.  

You can find me at The Learning Garden at Venice High School, most Wednesdays through Sundays, 10 AM to 5 PM.

I hope I can be of service to you.

david

22 November, 2010

Urban Agriculture Wishes

A Venice High School student is proud of the cauliflower she grew in her garden class.  Educating the coming generations about where food really comes from and showing them how to grow good, healthy food without pesticides, fertilizers and Monsanto will hold them in good stead as this world changes.

I have been to a number of panels or seminars on “Urban Agriculture” lately and I'm impressed by the folks out there talking about this issue – it's suddenly quite hip to talk about planting carrots and teaching kids to be farmers. I like to hear folks thinking about these problems and acknowledging we have to do something about them, but I hear precious little about what we will do about it today – there seems to be so much fuzzy 'somedayness' about it that make me think this all far too shallow of a response. There is an awful lot of 'look what I did...' when the conversation should be about what all of us can do and where this society has to go.  

These are scary times and they are getting scarier.  At least this is how I perceive things at this point.  Change has to come about much more quickly now than it has in even the recent past. We are like the people on the scene at something like a car wreck. Someone has called 911, but they said it was their doughnut break and they'd get to it after Congress got back in session. Folks, we can't depend on them! Congress doesn't get it. Most Americans don't get it - they are still arguing if climate change is real and worried that gas prices will go up to over $X.xx a gallon. For all the time we don't act, the need for triage becomes much more acute.

Major cities need to move towards appointing a 'Food Czar' that will marshal city resources towards growing food and teaching people how to grow food. Each city has it's waste stream and with some tweaks and safeguards, that waste stream needs to be cut and made more sustainable by removing all compostable items in it and composting them. That compost has to go back to the citizenry for use in gardens that grow food. Each city would have its own challenges and, because I live here, I'm going to deal only with LA. If you live elsewhere, take these ideas and mold them to your situation if they will fit.

In Los Angeles, it is imperative we outlaw lawns. If not outlaw them, make the water bill so expensive that most folks will voluntarily give them up. Having a lawn in Los Angeles is a crime against the ecosystem and other humans. Growing vegetables uses much less water than lawns; in fact, growing almost anything else uses less water than lawns. If you must have a lawn, convert it to California native grasses, sedges or rushes. They don't need to be mowed; you can play soccer on some of them, your dog will run on all of them; and they don't suck water wastefully. The Department of Water and Power needs to review all its contracts with other cities and if they get water from from the DWP, these regulations need to be enforced there too.

Immediate work needs to start to return the LA River to a more natural state and efforts to keep some of the water that flows through its channels must be undertaken at once. This water, in conjunction with the water we can save by ridding ourselves of water thirsty lawns and other water saving programs, will go a long way towards reducing our dependence on destroying other ecosystems to get the water we waste. Cisterns and reservoirs need to built over the landscape and the water in the LA River diverted to them for future use – not sent rushing out to the ocean!

Yes, I know it's expensive. But a start made in these directions have many savings for the city of Los Angeles beyond just water. Something on the order of 80% of the energy used in LA County is to get water to every home here. A lot of that is pumping water hundreds miles over some very rugged terrain to get it here. And this is water just for lawns! I think it's just a mark of complete insanity combined with not a little stupidity.

So. We've made a dent in some of our energy wastefulness and we've cut our water usage by quite a bit. We need to do more – and that will come at the home level with rain barrels to collect some of the runoff. More land surface needs the concrete removed to allow water percolation and refill our groundwater. Showers shortened and less water used inside the home. With these savings, LA could cut a big chunk out of our water robbing from other ecosystems and help the city to become much more self- sustaining.

Then the push is on to get neighborhoods together to grow food together. In some neighborhoods, it will be finding empty lots or even the park strip where veggies can be grown. In more affluent neighborhoods, front and back yards will become food sources. Not all, but many apartment buildings and condo buildings will find food growing on their roofs – insulating the building from heat and cold and providing much needed calories. Maybe we'd have to grow fish in our new reservoirs?

One can have chickens in Los Angeles already – hens at least. Roosters, which are more problematic as regards the noise they make, will have to be confined to more rural areas. A local chicken breeding operation will have to be located somewhere so our chickens will all be local and will not necessarily import diseases from elsewhere.

Beekeeping must be made legal – a few hives on every block will help improve fruit pollination and provide a local sweetener that is much more healthy than high fructose corn syrup. I'm talking about a world where neighbors not only talk to one another, but they eat together – they grow food together. George down the block has the apple tree and Monty's persimmon provides all the whole neighborhood can eat. If we have to grow all food ourselves, Los Angeles will never succeed. Everyone has a place and everyone has a talent. Each neighborhood has to have it's own Center that helps with saving and starting seeds, having tools to loan and help with problems.

Power will be decentralized – not only political power, but the electrical grid. It is foolish to think of big wind farms or acres of solar panels thousands of miles away that provide the power for Los Angeles. Every home and work place needs it's own solar panels and there have to be some windmills too. Turbines powered by falling water have to be involved and there has to be improvements in how energy is stored. The more decentralized we make all of this the more durable our future. Not only does it undo the terrorist who would like to blow up our infrastructure, it also moves these resources into a more secure position to survive earthquakes. If my home falls down and I loose all my power, then perhaps I can move my frozen goods down the street – or between several other homes nearby that haven't fallen down – until I can get back up and running again. Of course, this envisions a place where each neighbor has food aplenty stored up because of the food we have out in our yards.

I see a world without McDonald's or Burger King. I see a world where the wine comes from the man down the street, the beer from the woman up the street and the bread is baked at home. Is it for everyone? No. There are those who will not share in this vision. They will come to prey on the gardeners and the brewers with weapons and disdain. We will only survive by being a community.

Sorry if I'm being pessimistic.  Maybe I'll shake it in the morning.  Maybe I won't.  I will be grateful for all I have in this season of gratitude.  

14 November, 2010

Month By Month Planting Guide for Southern California: A 'Cheat Sheet'

These generalizations are for The Learning Garden, located in Sunset Zone 24, less than 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean in an alluvial plain that is just above sea level. Cold air from the surrounding hills drains into our area and we are reliably cooler than much of the surrounding areas. If you are growing inland from us, your temperatures fluctuate more than ours. As one gardens further from the ocean, the temperatures are less moderate and the effects of heat and cold are more pronounced. While we can grow some cool season crops year round (kale and chard come to mind first), this becomes more difficult without the ocean's pronounced influence. (Photo:  Bundles of fresh food are being sorted into individual packages for distribution with the Westside Produce Exchange for redistribution.)

January:

Plant in the ground: lettuce, carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, celeriac, radishes, spinach,
Plant in containers: lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, (these last two can be started now, but they would have been better started earlier – their production will be reduced by the coming warmer weather), peas, fava beans, lentils, garbanzo beans

February:

Plant in the ground: lettuce (and other salad greens), carrots, beets parsnips, radishes, spinach, purple beans,
Plant in containers: early tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, summer squash

March:

Plant in the ground: purple beans, lettuce, radishes, purple beans, beets, radishes, spinach, set out plants of basil, early tomatoes, later in the month, sow early sweet corn,
Plant in containers: tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons, all squash,

April

Plant in the ground: beans of all colors, lettuce, radishes, beets, spinach, set out plants of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, you can start planting all corn now
Plant in containers: tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons & squash, okra,

May:

Plant in the ground: all basil, eggplant, all melons and all squash (including cucumbers, set out plants of same and all tomatoes, eggplants and peppers) green and yellow beans and all the dried beans; corn too, if you have room
Plant in containers: As in April, but it's getting late – peppers, eggplants and basil are still OK to start, but it's getting late, did I say it was getting late?

June:

Plant in the ground: all the above, but it's getting late... you can still get a crop, but it will be cut shorter by any early cool weather; the last of the corn can go in early in the month
Plant in containers: after starting pumpkin seeds, take a nap

July:

Plant in the ground only out of necessity – extreme necessity
Plant in containers: continue napping

August:

Plant in the ground: nothing if you can avoid it
Plant in containers: towards the end of the month, in a shaded location, the first of the winter veggies can be started, cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, fava beans, leeks, shallots, onions...

September:

Plant in the ground: nothing, until late in the month, start sowing turnips, parsnips, radishes, beets and carrots – keep seeds moist! Peas, lentils and garbanzo beans can be sown...
Plant in containers: Cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, favas, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts,

October:

Plant in the ground: by now you can begin to set out some of your cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, chard and so on. Continue with seeds as above... you can also direct sow favas if you want. Potatoes can usually be found about now as well as sets or seed bubls of onions, garlic and shallots and they all should be planted from now until late November.
Plant in containers: More Cruciferae and favas, celery and celeriac,

November:

Plant in the ground: More of September's plants can be sown – you still have time for all of them except onions, this will be the last month to plant peas, lentils, garbanzos, shallots, garlic and fava beans. Their growing season is too long to get the harvest you would want. Although the legumes can be planted if you are willing to take a lesser harvest or are using them as a cover (green manure) crop.
Plant in containers: I'm still sowing cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower, but Brussels sprouts are a longer season item so they're not a part of my efforts until next season's planting begins.

December:

Plant in the ground: Too little light and too many parties make it difficult to find garden time – but if you have some things left over from November, try to get that done.
Plant in containers: Pretty much the same story, if you have time, do more of all that's listed from November.

There are two big shifts in Southern Californian gardening: At the end of September, beginning of October it's all about the winter crops. At the end of February, beginning of March, the focus all shifts to summer and the heat lovers. Seeds get started slightly before then (if you have the right conditions, up to six weeks before then!). 

david 

15 October, 2010

I HAD Never Been Stung Before...


Original Photo of the Hive, About 500 Bees  



When the call came Wednesday evening, I glanced at my watch. 5:30. That would give me enough time, I thought and I'd still make my 7:30 PM meeting. 
 
One of my former students had called about a few bees. He sent me a photo of some bees clustered on a wall – about 18 inches long, he said. I looked at the bees in the photo. It would be a cakewalk. I'd go over there, sweep these bees into a hive box, close the lid and be gone with enough time to make the meeting and not even break a sweat. I checked the equipment I had with me – I hadn't planned any thing bee-related so I had only my veil and a few things, but for 500 bees it would be a breeze.

Later, When The Hive Was Appraised at 10,000 Bees
When I got there, he said the bees had moved from the wall to the lemon tree. OK, no big deal, but that would be a little more challenging, but I was still on schedule. I went over to the lemon tree – I could hear the buzzing, but I had a hard time seeing the bees. It was now dusk and I needed a flashlight. I clipped a few leaves away here and there. It seemed that there were more bees, but, you know, the bees on the wall had been spaced out, these bees were bunched up – could have been an optical illusion. Ron, the man helping me, clipped off a branch and the hive rolled to my left about a foot. I was about 18 inches from it and as it rolled, I realized my little 500 bee project was more like 10,000 or more bees. Mind you I had seen 10,000 bees once before and my reaction both times has been one that starts, “Oh My God!” trailing off into stunned silence. As I watched that hive roll around two things occurred: 1. I realized we were in way over our heads and 2. I got stung on the neck and the butt in quick succession. It was the first time in beekeeping I had ever been stung and I was more emotionally hurt by it than physically.

At this point, even knowing I wasn't going to come out of this looking like a knight in shining armor, I paused to put on my veil and gloves – the hive and the branches it occupied were now cut free, we just had to pick it up and put it in the box I had brought – if you'll take the words “we just had to” with a drop of salted honey. This was a five frame wooden 'nuc' box I use to pick up wild swarms, not really all that big – fine for 500 to 5000 bees, but cramped for as many as we had. 
 
I climbed back into the tree to get my side of the branch holding the hive. There was a bad sting on the back of my leg – it really hurt. I paused while Ron got into position. In my head I was giving myself a pep talk. I'd not been stung before and I held that my calm and peaceful demeanor had kept me in good stead. I now began to chant to myself, “Calm and easy as you go...” only to be stung under my left arm as I lifted up on my side of the branch. That one did the trick, we were now moving this hive quickly from the tree and into the box. A few glitches and stings later, we pulled this mass of buzzing bees from the tree and deposited it into the box.

It didn't fit – the bees were clustered around several branches and we had the whole kit and kaboodle in the box with branches sticking hither and thither out of the box. Nope, I thought with a sigh, it didn't fit and it wasn't going to fit unless I fought with the bees some more to get them all inside. I could cut off the overflowing foliage, at risk of further stings – that would not be an easy or a pleasant job or I could pull the foliage out and sweep the bees off the branches until they were mostly clear of the foliage and I could close the lid. Neither seemed like a holiday assignment. When I then realized bees had found their way into my shirt, I was disturbed, but when I saw two swarms coming up the inside seam of my pant's legs, I had the same reaction any normal male would have: Utter terror. I swept the offenders away from my jeans and with the rapid long legged stride of a six foot man, made it to the far side of the yard with amazing rapidity. 
 
There I stood looking at my overflowing box of bees and sighed. I didn't want to leave this job half done, but it was looking bad for the happy ending. The home-owner gave me the out – she had to leave for an appointment and she was fine with leaving it as it lay and I could come back in the morning to finish the job. What a relief! I could come back with my whole kit and take care of this, besides I was already late to my 7:30 meeting.

I went to my meeting. Late, I had to sit in the back, which I deemed a saving grace when I felt a 'drip of sweat somehow going up my neck' – a perfect description of the phenomena of a bee walking on your skin. There was a bee heading towards my hair! I had already been stung eight times and I didn't want the ninth. Arms and hands flying, I leaned over trying to wildly brush her from head. I shook my head vigorously, up and down, side to side, hoping to dislodge her from me. She got me – on the right side of my neck; a perfect set to go with the sting on my left and the two on the back of my neck. Four stings on one neck. I was more concerned that no one saw my contortions to avoid the sting.

After the meeting, I went back to my office at the Garden to get my full suit, my smoker and any thing else that might even remotely make this an easier task in the morning. I half hoped the bees would take a cue and head on out on their own.

I got the call early enough the next morning. The bees were still there. I headed back to the scene of the crime – this time well-prepared. Things went as smoothly on Thursday as they had badly on Wednesday. I brushed all the bees from the branches and got 90% of them into the hive box before sealing it shut for transport, leaving another box there to collect the remaining bees by nightfall. It had taken about 20 minutes and I got zero stings.

I think it's been pointed out before that is way way better to be overprepared vs. underprepared! I hate having to be the one to second a motion, but by golly I do. 

And the second thing I learned was, I'm not allergic to bee stings.  They hurt in the moment, but don't last long, well, except for the one under my arm, that one hurt for awhile.  

There is only one way to learn beekeeping:  work with bees and keep working with bees.  I love the meditative aspect to working with bees - they pace you and you don't get to pace them.  I like that.

david 

30 September, 2010

The Garden In October

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

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

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

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

Week 1 – carrots (maybe Yaya, an F1 Hybrid) Week 7 - lettuce (Black Seeded Simpson)
Week 2 – beets (Golden) Week 8 – carrots (Yaya)
Week 3 – parsnips (Hollow Crown) Week 9 – beets (Red Ball)
Week 4 – carrots (Mokum also an F1 Hybrid) Week 10 – spinach (Space)
Week 5 – beets (Chioggia) Week 11 – turnips (Purple Globe)
Week 6 – turnips (DeMilano) Week 12 – beets (Golden)

Quickly you see that, though I do eat parsnips and turnips, I don't eat nearly as many of them as I do carrots or beets. Your situation might be different in that you could care less at all about ANY parsnips, but spinach is near and dear to your heart so you would have spinach in the rotation much more than I do.

Another way to do the same thing, for a larger family, is to plant three different things per week – carrots, beets and spinach in week one; turnips, lettuce and parsnips in week two; carrots, beets and parsnips in week three. Or spinach planted in one row every week all cool season long. Tailor the program to your needs! You might also find that you need longer rows – I wouldn't imagine that an 18” row would suffice for a family of four! Play around with the scheduling and the row length and the mix of plants you grow until you find what your family needs. At which point, their needs will change, but you'll have a lot more data with which to figure out the new schedule.

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

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

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

Take note of all the little cotyledons of the plants you grow and soon you will be able to tell them from the weeds. This is somewhat important. If you can rid yourself of weeds before they get really big, you have a much easier job of it; if you rid yourself of all the wrong plants because you mistook the lettuce for dandelions, you'll be a very disappointed and frustrated gardener! I have done this, I am not too proud to say. It's one reason that there is a section in this book that lists all the plants I write about and has a picture of each one's cotyledons. I believe in starting things from seed wherever and when ever possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, for apartment dwellers, condo owners and others with no easy access to land, vermicomposting is the answer you are looking for! And you didn't even know you had the question! It's easy, the result can be used on plants in pots and your garbage need never grace the entrance of a landfill ever again!
You will need

  • 10 gallon bin or 20 gallon bin

  • 1 lb or so of worms (you can start with fewer, the population will expand to account for what you feed them)

  • Cardboard or newsprint
  • Kitchen waste
OSH sells two storage bins that work very well for vermicomposting.  The smaller bin is a 10 gallon container by Rubbermaid called Roughneck Storage Bin #2214-08. It’s dimensions are 9” x  21” x 15” , comes with a lid and is available in various colors.  This size works well for a family of two. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

david

20 September, 2010

Pesto Madness Pesto: The Recipe

Basil in the field, lush and fulsome, just before picking time.  As promised, this is the recipe we use to make our almost world-famous pesto.  Remember, fresh and quality ingredients are the key!  
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. It is, however, only discoloration; the pesto has not gone bad and is still edible, especially if you're eating by candlelight!

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).


david

14 September, 2010

Basil Season Is Almost Over - It's Time For Pesto

It's time for the basil harvest, which, in my book, means it's time for pesto!  Time to rummage around and find those taste buds and shine 'em up!  Here comes pesto!  I know this doesn't seem like it, but this is just one plant!

Perhaps now is not the time to be telling you how to grow basil because it really is one of our summer crops, but at this time of year, as we begin to consider the harvest for pesto, it's the time I reflect on growing basil and therefore, the topic is on the tip of my tongue, err, fingers. 

First of all there's the variety.  There are dozens of basil varieties to choose from, but I prefer an Italian strain, Genovese, or Genovesa among other names.  I have planted it long before the seed was common, but I see you can buy seeds from many sources, I have been getting mine from Bontanical Interests - their button is in the upper left of this page.I have had friends choose to grow the Lettuce Leaf basil, "leaves as large as lettuce leaves" is how it got its name, but their harvest paled compared to mine - of course mine was pampered a bit more, but still my harvest was so much better, there was no comparison. 

But I'm not growing Genovese Basil simply because it is larger - that's not the way I think.  I grow basil for the flavor and I think Genovese is by far and away the best tasting basil I've ever worked with.  I think its aroma is spell-binding and from that aroma, one's taste buds are ready to wrap around the sensuousness of basilness.  You can almost feel me drooling through the monitor...  

The basil crop this year has been an 'issue.'  In the coldest summer in Los Angeles I can remember, the basil plants did not do well.  We had a couple crop failures by setting out plants and getting a cold snap that ruined them.  And then, uncharacteristically, I did not have back up plants - it was a busy spring and summer...  Usually, I would have a whole second crop growing as back up, but I didn't and now I'm paying for it.  Last year, we had over 50 fully mature plants to use for pesto.  This year, I don't have a complete count, but I'm thinking it's only 35 or less.  And only a few of them are full big and bossy plants.  There are some plants so small we'll pull the whole plant, chop off the roots and throw the whole thing in the blender because they are so small.  

Basil needs heat and good soil.  Basil likes more sun vs. less.  Basil is not a heavy feeder, but will do better with lots of compost.  Basil is supposed to be a good companion crop for tomatoes, which makes perfect sense to me.  

I have told you my favorite for pesto.  I do grow other basils, but for other reasons.  The only basil I grow is the Genovese for pesto and I make a pretty standard pesto in that I stick to the traditional recipe and eschew walnuts, or almonds or any combination of ingredients I hear folks mention.  I'm sure they are all good, but in my book, they are 'pesto-like' and not pesto.  I'll post my recipe sometime soon.

david

09 September, 2010

A Gardening Manifesto

Patience may well be a virtue for the general populace, but for a gardener, it is essential.


I have been a successful organic gardener in Southern California for the last twenty five years with a good deal of success on the mid-West plains before that. 

I have evolved a style of gardening that works well in Southern California and is 100% wholly organic and sustainable. I am writing what will be the only book written for Southern California organic food growing. This is important because there is no other climate in the United States like Southern California's and any information you gain from one of the books written for elsewhere has to be translated to work here.  Or you can find a book written for our climate that is not truly organic or sustainable. I intend to write the book that is both and as such, fill a vacuum becoming an essential addition to the libraries of Southern California gardeners who wish to grow organic food.

The principles that I use as my guide in gardening, and the basis for this forth coming book, are quite simple. 
 
My Manifesto
1.  No fertilizers. In fact, I maintain, the fewer things you buy for your garden, the better off you will usually be. Our system of capitalism rests heavily on people buying things, whether or not they need them. It is the task of advertising, with which we are constantly bombarded, to create the desire for a thing. I am here to tell you that a few packets of seed, a couple of really well made tools and patience are all you need to grow good, nutritious, uncontaminated food. The scientific community, as far back as 1936 was aware that fertilizers, organic and chemical, were harmful to soil biota. This understanding was deliberately not popularized because you won't buy something if you've already got it. No, you don't need fertilizer – you DO need compost and lots of it, but you don't need fertilizer. (When a plant is in a pot, you must use fertilizer because it is an unnatural habitat for most food plants.
2. No pesticides. In many ways, chemical pesticides are better for the world than organic ones because the chemical pesticides at least target the species that we wish to deal with while most organic pesticides kill everything they come in contact with while they are active. The key to a healthy, pest free garden, however, is not through war of any kind, but through cooperation with nature. The entire key is to attract more insects to your garden – not less.  
3.  Continuous cropping. Our gardens are small and the idea of crop rotation can be a little ludicrous. We need to have as much diversity in our gardens as we possibly can have – this means interplanting species and using legumes and other plants to keep the soil fertile for continued cropping. 
4.  Composting. Compost everything that can be composted. Everything rots and ends up somewhere; if it will break down, compost it. If you lack space, vermicompost.  
5.  Mulch. Three inches (at least!) in planting season, twice a year. This is the key to the soil's fertility and vitality, pest control, water conservation and an armful of other benefits. 
6.  Garden for yourself. Plant the foods you will eat or the foods you eat that are expensive or unobtainable in the market. Do not plant what the books tell you to plant if you don't like it. Exception: you must plant some kind of legume –  a member of the bean family and their allies.  
7.  Insure the survival of pollinators. In this world of uncertainty, the roll played by pollinators will become more and more critical – plant your garden intending to provide for their well-being. And provide a source of water. 
8.  Diversity in your garden. No matter how small your garden, you have room to plant a variety of species: take advantage of that!  
9.  Saving seed to plant next year. Which necessarily means allowing some of your harvest to go to 'waste' in that some of your cabbages will flower, some of your lettuce will bolt and some of your tomatoes will rot. These are investments in your future. This also means eschewing hybrid varieties.  
10.  Grow your own plants from seeds. Don't buy transplants from the nursery. Buy seeds and plant them yourself – there are substantial reasons to do this and the fact that it saves you money is just one.  
11.  Don't stop learning . After you read this book, go buy my next book. Better yet, write your own book! Join a club, find a website, subscribe to a magazine. 
 
In this book, I will flesh out these concepts and make them usable. 
 
Remember that gardening is an old art – an old science, too, but an old art first and foremost. There is no one holy way to do everything. I will show you what I do, and often will present alternatives. Keep trying different things until you find what works for you. Do not become sucked into any program that is THE way to garden – there are several out there that believe they are. All in all, find what you need and what is useful and leave the rest. Make sure you adopt the gardening ideas that work for you – if the plan calls for lots of radishes and you hate radishes, move on. 
 
This is my manifesto, at 2:00 AM on Thursday the 9th, 2010.  Do you have some ideas to add to this?  As a member of a twelve step program, I'm somewhat annoyed to have only eleven points; can you help me come up with another so I will have an even dozen?  I'd be even happier with the 'bakers' dozen' of thirteen.  
 
Thanks for your input!

david

02 September, 2010

Honey Bees In Peril Means Less Food For Us!

A simple five frame bee box that beekeepers call a 'nuc' (the 'nucleus' of a hive can be established in this small box), is home to a swarm of feral bees that needed a place to stay.  Situated near a plant in the Garden that attracts honey bees in mass,the box was a natural home for them to adopt.  

At the end of the old millennium, scientists believe that up to 95% of the feral bee population of North America disappeared as well as over 50% of the human tended bee population. This decimation of bee populations was more than just alarming: it was catastrophic because of the horrific implications it has on food production. As much as every third bite of food we Americans eat is the direct result of pollination carried on by the honey bee. Without those bees pollinating our fruit and vegetable crops, we could have devastating famines. Every component of the natural world devoted to growing food has to work or we don't have food.

This is, in part, why many of us see modern agriculture's 'anti-nature' stance so troubling. There is no way that mankind is ready, or nearly smart enough, to try to control nature. The idea of raising herbicide resistant crops via genetic engineering is the epitome of hubris, thinking we can imagine, let alone control, all the ramification of such processes. In the United States, encumbered as we are with a government on Monsanto's payroll, there is no recourse but to take matters into our own hands.

At The Learning Garden, we don't wish to engage in politics, but we do feel the right to good clean nutritious food is everyone's right. That is why we set out this honey bee hive. We are very happy to report that a swarm took up our offer of residence and now we have at least one swarm of bees that has not been sprayed by folks who are unaware of the catastrophe we face if we manage to spray all the honey bees out of existence. Honey bees have a good chance of survival in the city, oddly enough, because there are no genetically modified crops being grown in the city and fewer flowers are sprayed with toxic chemicals – and if they are sprayed, it's with less toxicity than is used on most farms today. We, of course, don't spray any chemicals at all on any of our crops and that means there is lots of wonderful forage to sustain this colony and many, many more bees that visit the Garden from off campus.

Often when the topic of raising bees comes up, someone will express that they are allergic to bee stings. This is a very serious condition and is not to be trifled with. However, it is less prevalent than these conversations would lead one to believe. In my experience, one out of every five people will say they are allergic, when the national statistic is more like one in five hundred. Maybe a lot of them live in Southern California. Or maybe, there is just a lot of hysteria about a swarm of bees living in your vicinity. The truth is that the fewest stings occur from human kept honey bees, according to bee experts. Wasps and hornets, much more aggressive players in their encounters with humans, are the main culprits with other bees and feral honey bees making up the vast majority of stings.

Several cities have recently changed their ordinances to make beekeeping legal including New York and Salt Lake City. Efforts are underway in Santa Monica and Los Angeles to change the laws to reflect the desperate reality of the honey bee plight.

With the danger of losing our honey bee populations so very real and immediate, city laws must be changed to allow bees to be kept in urban areas. The concern is so real that many folks are accepting their place as scofflaws just to insure that the honey bee populations receive all the help we can offer. This is where we come down: the survival of the honey bee, and the honey bees place in our agricultural endeavors to feed ourselves, trumps 0ther concerns. All that can be, must be done to insure the honey bee continues her work in our fields, in our gardens and even in those gardens in our cities.

david

09 August, 2010

Growing Organic Food and Summertime Garden To Do’s

The Learning Garden was 'on the air!'  This last Saturday, Gardenmaster David King was on the Cindy Dole show talking about August in the garden and some of our upcoming events in The Learning Garden.  By clicking on the link (above, the blog title) you too can surf on over to Cindy Dole's website and hear the whole shebang!

I'm going to - I was so excited to be on the air, I'm not sure what I said!  

david 

06 August, 2010

August In The Garden


A pair of hands sifts through the harvest of Cannellini beans. This is just one of the many things we are harvesting from the garden this month

I used to think of August as nap time in the heat of Southern California's summer, it is SO inviting! Grab a cool drink, find a hammock and get the Dodgers on the radio. Do I hear the muffled sounds of snoring? Ah, August!

Not anymore! Not since I realized that growing the food was less than half the battle. Not to say there isn't a lot to do on that account still (more will be revealed very soon) but getting the harvest gathered and making good use of it is another important, and time-sensitive, part of gardening.

This week alone, I've harvested 10 pounds of those famous Italian Cannellini beans (a dried bean sometimes referred to as 'white kidney beans' but that refers to the physical appearance and not to their eating or cooking qualities), about as many pounds of peppers – mostly the sweet banana types that I hope to pickle soon. And there are tons of cucumbers I'm hauling in. Did you follow my suggestion and plant any Armenian cucumbers? If you did, you are swimming in cucumbers by now and have come to realize the reason that pickles have such prominence in our culture!

How do you preserve the harvest makes a huge difference in how well you can eat from your garden. When the season is in full swing, like it is right now, dealing with the abundance is the major focus of the home gardener.

There are several ways to manage fresh produce that allow you to eat from your garden long after the heat of August is gone. Drying the produce is the easiest way. Beans, like my Cannellini beans (above), are simply left on the plant until the pods are crispy and ready to drop the white bean seeds. I gather them up and lay them in a dry, partly sunny location to dry for a couple of days. In Southern California that should do them nicely. Putting them away with too much moisture could result in moldy beans, and drying too long could get your produce eaten by insects, so it's a balancing act.

Juicier veggies can be dried too, but they take longer and are a little more involved. If you want to dry tomatoes, or peppers, pick up a good book on drying. Look for a list of my suggested books in the appropriate appendix. Drying has the wonderful advantage of not being dependent on the power grid to keep, unlike freezing which is totally dependent on electricity.

Likewise canning definitely cannot be done without careful consideration. Pickling and making jams, a subset of canning, is not quite as involved as other types of canning though it too needs to be done with some care. Pickling and jams are easier because the high acidity or sweetness (pickling uses vinegar; jams and jellies avoid botulism with lots of sugar) keeps the bad organisms from growing in your food without using a pressure cooker. A good book on canning and pickling will help you discover a whole new and delicious world.

Certain kinds of fermentation have begun to make a comeback in modern times. Making alcohol has been one way of preserving grape juices, and apple jack for apples. They require no refrigeration, because most of these methods predate electricity by a couple hundred years. Again, this topic takes a lot more information and you'll have to buy a book.

So do give some thought as to how you will keep some of your harvest into the coming months of plentiful heat and produce to match! It's a wonderful way to add to your diet from your garden. I've become quite fond of my annual Basil Pickled Beans and Sweet Beets with allspice and honey. Makes my mouth water to write...

And, speaking of beans, a gardener also needs to keep the green and yellow beans picked 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. 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.

August can be a difficult month for planting – for you and 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. But, late in the month, it's time to get ready for the fall veggie garden and now you'll want to start getting ready for it.

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 (I found a used one on eBay) and a word processing program to preserve your thoughts 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 to remember and to find a way to put them together in a way 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 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 also order other seeds 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. Probably before the month is out, depending on this year's weather, 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, usually two seeds per pot and if they both grow, I’ll prick them both out into separate homes. Sweet peas are the delight of my summer – I can't grow enough!

Some Suggested Varieties for the Fall/Winter Garden

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!

Beets

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 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.

Broccoli

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.

Cabbage

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 savoy cabbages. Those crinkled leaves of the savoy 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. – like the name implies, this is not a round cabbage, but forms a pointy little head of cabbage.
Surprise – Another early cabbage – 'early' cabbages are usually smaller headed and more useful in succession planting and for containers as well.
Ruby Perfection – For those who want a red cabbage. Small heads and early. I've found red cabbage much more difficult to grow, I'm not sure why.

Carrots

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!

Cauliflower

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.

Celery/Celeriac

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!

Chard

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.

Cilantro

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.'

Kale

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.

Leeks

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.

Lettuce

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, when you can)

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.

Parsley

Italian Flat Leaf – A brighter, more intense flavor.

Peas

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.

Potatoes

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

Radishes

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.

Shallots

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.

Spinach

Melody – A semi-savoy spinach. Most of the spinach we remember from way back were all savoy spinach, but savoy leaves (wrinkled), hold dirt better than smooth so I'm all for leaving the savoy spinach 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, this one is good in salads as well as cooked.

Turnips

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.

A Short List Of Seed Houses

BOTANICAL GARDENS; 660 Compton Street, Broomfield, Colorado 80020, 720.880.7293  You can use the button on my blog to link to Botanical Gardens and your purchase will benefit The Learning Garden. They have an excellent selection of open-pollinated and hybrids. Their seed packets are colorful, their prices are excellent and the seeds are fresh and delivered promptly. I also like their cloth bags and they also sell the paper pot maker designed by Richters' Herbs. 
 
BOUNTIFUL GARDENS; 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490;
707.459.6410 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; A very funky catalog that makes me think of the Trader Joe's Frequent Flier provide 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.

NATIVE SEED/SEARCH; 526 N. 4th Ave. Tucson, AZ 85705; 520.622.5561;  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.

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 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 use it as a text for organic gardening.

PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400  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 $40. Free brochure. 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.

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. 

david