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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