02 December, 2012

December in The Southern California Garden

Baby beets coming along just like they're supposed to do in the Winter – the gardener can snip leaves of some of the plants for salads while leaving those that remain to grow the delicious roots – they'll need more space between them, but in the meantime, the discards will make lovely additions to salads. 

Who has time to garden? The days are so short, it’s hard to get into your garden. And the holiday parties all over the place, who really can find time for the garden?

As December comes rumbling through your life, make sure you have in your flashlight because, Lord knows, I have done more gardening by flashlight (and I know I'm not alone!) than I want my mental health provider to know. At least, the cooler temperatures (we hope), keep plants from growing too fast. On the other hand, nothing makes plants grow like a good rainstorm. Unfortunately, that applies to weeds as well.

The main thing is to keep up with your successive sowings, especially of salad greens, beets and carrots. You might include radishes and other root crops too. You might find yourself picking peas, fava beans, garbanzos, harvesting small heads of cabbage, broccoli, leaves of kale and chard before the month is out and the more you pick, the more you will get so don't be shy. Pick and give it to friends and neighbors (who will become friends) and find ways to keep the harvest.

I try to sow nine inch rows frequently rather than longer rows less frequently, unless I am planning on “putting a crop up,” which means pickling, canning, drying or other method of preserving the food. Pickled beets and pickled beans are easy and one of my favorite ways to keep some of the harvest through the year. I vow I'm going to learn how to pickle carrots like the ones you find in Mexican restaurants, but so far I have no good recipes. Of course, if I grow carrots in the winter and peppers in the summer, how will the two ever get together in a pickled carrot jar? Carrots can keep, but I don't have a place to keep them until the peppers are ready – like most Los Angeles homes and apartments, I do not have a root cellar or even a pantry that would do the word justice. So there's a challenge. I like challenges. I'll report back when I figure it out.

These cooler months, the deciduous fruit trees drop their leaves – 'deciduous' means they drop their leaves – and when they drop their leaves, sap does not run in the upper part of the tree. This means when trees are cut at this time, it injures them less than it does if the sap was running. With the leaves off the tree we can see the branches more clearly so this month and next are the times to best prune fruit trees. This chart gives you the basic concept of the fruiting characteristics of the different trees and that dictates the way you will have to prune them.

Fruiting Characteristics of Common Fruit Trees

Type of Tree
Location of Fruiting Buds

Age of bearing

Amount of Pruning
Long BranchesSpurs or Short Branches


Major8- 10 yrs.Moderate


3 yearsHeavy


1 yr & new shootsVarious


1-2 yrsHeavy
Pear, AsianMinorVery minor

Major6-8 yrsModerate to heavy
Pear, EuropeanMinorMinor

Major8-10 yrsModerate
PersimmonMajorMajorMinorMinorNew shoots at the tip of 1 yr branchesLight (thinning)
Plum, EuropeanMinor


6-8 yrsModerate
Plum, JapaneseMinor


6-8 yrsHeavy


Short new shootsModerate

New shootsLight (thinning)

Try to never prune more than a third of your branches off – and that would only be the case if you had failed to do pruning for several years. Over a third is too hard on the tree.

When making cuts, step back to look at the whole tree frequently to get a sense of the shape of the tree and locate where the next cut should be. The thought process behind pruning a tree works with this matrix:

First, prune off any damaged or broken branches. Take them back as far as you can.

Secondly, prune off what we call 'crossing branches.' These are branches that come through the center of the tree, crossing from one side to the opposite, or are branches that are parallel and close enough to be touching other branches. They can abrade the branches they touch when moved by wind and that wound can be an entrance point for insects or other pests. These must come out; take them back as far as you can.

Thirdly, do some pruning to shape the tree. Part of 'shaping' for fruit trees is to limit their height. I know it will somewhat lessen your fruit crop, but any apple tree humming along at full production, will inundate you with way too many apples. A little off the top so you can easily harvest from the tree without fancy footwork or ludicrous convolutions will not be missed – the ease with which it can be picked will gladden your heart. And save your back.

Always use clean pruners – if you have pruned a tree that even might have a disease, or if you have pruned a tree from a different location, clean your pruners with Listerine or some disinfectant. I was taught to use a bleach solution, but unless you are a masochist, I'd suggest avoiding that. It ruins your skin, your clothes and your tools – although it does disinfect. Still, there are kinder ways to do this.

I prefer to use my hand held pruners for most cuts. The saw is my next favorite tool with loppers being third. Their cuts are less than clean and a clean cut heals faster for the tree. The pole cutters and saws are the least favorite of all because of the lack of control you have over the cuts. I use a chain saw for tree removal – or branch removal on some branches that have got to come out – I rarely prune large branches on trees I care for because I take them out when they are still small enough to be pruned out by my hand-held pruners.

Always try to cut back to an area that will heal. This isn't always possible, but to the degree you can, cut back to an area called the bark branch ridge. In this graphic, on the left side, the red line shows where the pruner will make it's cut – just below the red pruner handle, you can see a branch cut correctly. The bark branch ridge contains cells that will enable the plant to heal the wound. On the right of the graphic, you can see the three cuts needed to remove a large branch without tearing into the tree causing unnecessary harm.

In times past, if I was having trouble with perennial pests in my trees, I would spray them after pruning with horticultural oil. This petroleum product kills all insects and their eggs that it comes in contact with and no insect (since the beginning of the 1900's at least) has ever evolved resistance. It's considered organic. DO NOT SPRAY IT IN THE MORNING; only in the evening when there is no chance of harming bees. By the following morning it will be dry and no longer harmful. I've stopped spraying my trees annually – if I had a pest, I would not hesitate to use it. But I don't do any sprays prophylactically any more; there must be evidence of a pest to spray for before I'll spray – this does mean I loose some food every so often or I have to eat misshapen or ugly fruit. It's OK. I've lived.

Another event in the gardeners' calendar of note, for gardeners who have been at it for awhile, seed catalogs of the new year have magically begun to arrive and with them the challenge to not buy several hundred pounds of lettuce or tomato seeds. Everything sounds so inviting! Oh my, a new paisley tomato? How can I resist? Every page screams “Try me!” in full color and we gardeners can be helpless to these Siren calls

I grew up in NE Kansas and all through my childhood, spent winter months in front of the fire with the Burpee catalog. I would read all the descriptions of the vegetables and compare them over and over again. Grandpa, who saved his seed, had no use for 90% of all they sold, so I rarely got to see any of my multitude of lists even purchased let alone grown. The esteemed Burpee seed company went out of business for a while after a bumpy few years. They have returned in name but really in name only; this company is only a shadow of its former self, gone are the days when the Burpee name was attached to varieties they bred themselves. Now they are only offering a rather paltry selection of seed that usually isn't bred for the home gardener and exclusively carry hybrids, mostly products of a Monsanto subsidiary, developed for shipping and commercial ventures. However, what was old is now new again and other catalogs have taken up the slack – check out my list in Appendix K – not only catalogs from companies, but also from seed saving associations, with a huge variety of seeds that were bred for the home gardener.

On thing that works for me in December is to take stock of the year just past. What worked and what didn't work? What variety tweaked your interests last year? What variety of every kind of plant did you like best? What did your friend plant that tasted so divine you can't wait to plant? Do you want to think about not growing any of a vegetable this year? What dates did pests arrive in your garden and how will you avoid that this year – can you plant earlier or later?

Here's my annual recapitulation from this last year at The Learning Garden, starting with the winter garden and then summer's:

Artichoke: I know I'm teasing the rest of the world, but I pay rent in Los Angeles so I figure I'm due my share of teasing. We had a great harvest last year of artichokes – mostly Green Globe Improved. They all produced big beautiful chokes with abandon. We had respectable harvest from Violetto which I love, but it wasn't nearly as productive. I’ll still grow both because I've got plants of both.

Beets: Burpee's Golden and Chioggia - both are dynamite and steady producers year in and year out and both are usually from Pinetree Garden Seeds although I have been known to get seed from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply too. These are two old standby varieties that form the bulk of beet growing – Burpee's Golden is not a prolific producer with a lower than usual rate of germination but it's well worth it. I want to try the Albino Beet from Pinetree.
Broccoli: Nutribud (also from Pinetree) is an OP of respectable performance; earliness is right up there with the hybrids and the size is comparable. As the name suggests, it is reported to have a higher percentage of glutamine. The only other tight headed broccoli that are OP is Waltham (sometime listed as Waltham 98) and DeCicco – while Waltham has been the standard, DeCicco is a smaller, faster and more 'home garden friendly' than Waltham. All the other tight headed broccoli are hybrids. There are loose headed broccoli like Romanesco and Calabrese, but I'm not so fond of them – their flavor is much more pronounced, I'll not say “bitter” outright, but it's close.

Brussels sprouts: Bubbles was the hybrid we grew – someone had given me a couple of plants. They got whitefly and aphids very badly and I couldn't see cleaning each little sprout thoroughly beore eating; although a friend did and sent me back a lovely dish of them (thanks Mary!). Between cabbage and broccoli, I get enough of this family to skip Brussels sprouts. OP Brussels sprouts include Catskills and Long Island Improved.

Cabbage: A good year for cabbage for us. Danish Ball Head, one of my favorite OP heirlooms performed good after we actually got some seedlings started. Winningstadt is a pointy head cabbage that yielded 10 pound heads that were delicious. Both were huge solid heads and we ate and ate and finally learned how to ferment cabbage to be able to eat it the rest of the year. At this moment, there is so much of it that it feels more like a burden than a blessing....

Carrots: How wonderful, if you decide to plant some of the different color carrots, you'll be able to grow open pollinated seeds! Because carrots didn't become uniformly orange until the last 50 years or so (because of marketing needs), the different colored carrots are all OP. In the orange department I found Nantes and Red Cored Chantenay as my big producers. In containers, Parris Market was the one-bite wonder...

Cauliflower: Mark Twain is supposed to have said that 'cauliflower was cabbage that had gone to college' and I can't afford the tuition, so I stick to cabbage. Cabbage is easier to preserve and broccoli will give successive cuttings from one plant. Cauliflower is more work and less results. But, those who must, Early Snowball is the best OP cauliflower available. It naturally folds leaves over the head just like the modern hybrids.

Celeriac: I don't grow celery because it's a hard plant to grow and home grown celery has always tasted bitter to me. Celeriac, on the other hand, was easy to grow and produced well. You can't smear a hunk with cream cheese or peanut butter and have the same delightful appetizer, but it does a marvelous stand up performance in soups. Large Prague was our selection this year and I've yet to have experience with anything else.

Chard: (I'm dispensing with the 'Swiss' part, feel free to join me, after all, it isn't really Swiss.) We had seed from Seed Savers Exchange of Five Color Silverbeet, the Australian term for chard, and seed of Pinetree's Orange Fantasia. Both were incredibly productive – although I've never known chard to be unproductive, so I'm not sure that's saying a lot. Someone gave us a few plants of Fordhook Giant, large leaves with a tremendous white rib down the center; it is the most productive chard going bar none. Still, I like the red chard more and that orange is one helluva show stopper! They all taste great.

Fava beans: Windsor is my favorite and we get pounds of beans from each plant. In fact, I've given up on peas preferring to grow favas, garbanzos and lentils. Peas are too much work for too little food. I heard of an Italian variety of fava called Agua Dulce I would like to try – it sounds good, yes?

Garlic: I still love Spanish Roja and Music - hardnecks are supposed to not like warm climates, but I have great luck with them. Last year, the crows got to my garlic just as they got started; the crows didn't eat the garlic, but pulled them out of the ground. After three or four go rounds with this (crows pull, I replant), the cloves were hopelessly intermixed so which one was the better producer is anyone's guess. I'm starting with fresh seed garlic this year: Music, Spanish Roja, and Red Toch!

Kale: Redbor or Scotch Blue works for me. I had some plants of Dwarf Blue, but felt like that was a very stupid idea – same garden footprint for half the plant. What was I thinking? Lacinato, or Dinosaur Kale gets a lot of press - and the cooks seem to love it the best. From my northern friends I have heard that kale needs a frost to really bring out its flavor – some winter, I bet I get the chance to test that theory.

Leeks: King Richard is my usual dependable producer but last year was a really so-so harvest. I think I ignored it too much. I might try Carantan or Giant Musselburgh.

Lettuce: I'm one of those who can't get through the lettuce section of a seed catalog without ordering four or five more packets! I could supply a large army with lettuce if I were given the land to do it. Marvel of the Four Seasons (Merveille des Quatre Saisons), Brown Winter, Red Winter, Deer Tongue, Buttercrunch, and on and on and on. All delicious and all open-pollinated. Lettuce is one of the easiest plants to save seed from. Oh and a new one this year was a show stopper: Drunken Woman Frizzyhead from Territorial Seeds. It's a keeper for sure – if just the name alone!

Onions: I usually buy plants from a local organic farm supply, but they sold out so I had to learn how to grow them from seed. Worked out fine, except that it takes a very long time. I like to grow Italian Red Torpedo – a delicious onion that is absolutely stellar on the grill. The seed I found was called 'Red Long of Tropea,' and they looked and tasted exactly like Red Torpedo, so that would explain why it's called 'torpedo' when it really doesn't look like any torpedo I've ever seen. Onions, unlike almost every other veggie we grow is 'daylight sensitive.' Most onions offered in the US will not bulb in LA because they are 'long day' plants and we need to grow 'short day' varieties. Folks from the rest of the US are not able to comprehend our experiences and the catalogs rarely indicate short or long day. Onions grown in most of Italy and Texas are more often than not short-day onions.

Potatoes: We gathered leftovers from bachelor friends (they sprout in the pantry and we just planted them) - I don't know the varieties but we had a good harvest. I've yet to meet a potato I don't like. Next year, we are experimenting with different colored potatoes – maybe we'll do red, white and blue for the 4th of July? Could happen around here.

Shallots: I had never grown shallots before, but I found they are easier to grow than onions and more productive. I planted seed from Pinetree and I was so impressed, I'm coming back for more! While my original crack at growing shallots from seed were F1 hybrids, I have since found an open-pollinated variety that I will be trialing this year. I just need to learn how to cook with them.

Spinach: I'm not too keen on spinach, but... Bloomsdale Long-Standing is the national OP favorite, but I vote for America. Bloomsdale is savoyed – has 'crinkly' leaves. America is smoother. Taste the same, but America will be cleaner faster and better than Bloomsdale on any day of the week. I vote, always, for less work.

Turnips: Purple Top White Globe is the only one I've grown and that's all I need.

All in all, this was one of the very best harvests we have ever had. We put up food, donated several tons to the Westside Food Bank and still ate like kings! It was all that compost, I tell you. The rain wasn't any great shakes and there were several devastating hot spells last November, December and again in January. In fact, the winter garden last year got killed outright by a hard couple of weeks of Santa Ana winds that sent the thermometer soaring into triple digits several times and ruined numerous plantings. Oh, and I can't forget the mouse in the greenhouse that ate all the starts in January. Thank God for a long growing season; we simply replanted with a screen over the seedlings.

In the summer, we ride a different horse altogether. It had warm moments, but was not hot summer.  June was not as gloomy as usual, which we made up for by having 'June Gloom' in other months so temperatures were moderated without week after week of gloom all at once. I think that made for the productive summer that we had.

Basil: Basil is one of the biggest crops I grow – I put out something like 50-60 plants a year in order to supply the world with my Gardenmaster Select Pesto. The ONLY basil that goes into that pesto is Genovesa Profutissimo, usually nowadays just called Genovese Basil. The perfume, the flavor and the production is unmatched by any other basil in my experience. We harvested pounds of leaves off these plants. We picked the tips, little leaves and flower heads, all summer long and sent the trimmings over to the Food Bank. We harvested bags of leaves for over 60 eight ounce jars of pesto and sold leaves by the armload!

Beans: I grow lots of beans – I like yellow beans (Pencil Pod, an open pollinated variety) for pickling, green beans for fresh eating (Romano or Bountiful, both OP), purple beans for an early jump on the season (Royalty Purple Pod will grow in even cool and wet soils so they can be started in March, my first 'green' bean actually starts out purple!) and I grow drying beans – last year it was Cannelini, the wonderful Italian white kidney bean. All were very productive last year – I had a wonderful harvest of each (in the green beans, we never got around to planting Romano, but Bountiful was bountiful!). The one thing that can ruin our bean yield is an attack of snails and slugs. They will crawl over everything else to munch bean leaves. Do not plant beans near a slug/snail hiding place. Not that we had that problem last year. We had no pests to speak of.

Corn: I don't grow a lot of corn, and had no real plans to put any in when I was given a flat of 'Mexican Wedding Corn.' Mexican Wedding Corn comes from a Mexican tradition, each family having their own favorite strain of corn, when a couple marries, the two families plant their separate strains of corn together in the new couple's field. The newlyweds chose from the resulting seeds the strain they wish to call their own. I got several pounds of corn in many different colors and patterns.  I chose one (I'm calling it “Two Mary Corn” after the two volunteers who gave it to me) that I intend to breed on over the next few years. These are flour corns (for corn meal) and not fresh eating corn.

Cucumbers: We had a banner year with cukes this year. My favorite 'Armenian' cucumber produced so many cucumbers we could NOT keep up with them. At least Armenian cucumbers aren't hard and bitter when they get big. One of the most tender cucumbers we can grow, these are favorites for production and good eating. A close second are the Japanese cucumbers, Suhyo. Also sweet and non-bitter even when large, Japanese cucumbers are very spiny with a very dark skin and are well ribbed. They weren't as productive this year compared to times past even though they were treated much better.

Eggplants: With the great year for tomatoes and peppers, the lack of eggplant production was a puzzlement. We only began to see eggplants in September and by then it was too late to get much of a harvest. We grew Pingtung Long, Black Beauty, Turkish Orange and Ichiban and none of them did much. (Turkish Orange would have done better perhaps if we had kept it picked, but it was hidden among other plants preventing us from discovering it until late in the season when loaded with fruit.) As to how they tasted? Ask someone who likes eggplant, for me it's nothing but an ornamental.

Melons: I have never been a big fan of growing melons – they take a lot of space and don't figure high on my list of foods I have got to have. As close as my garden is to the ocean, it takes some real effort (and attention) to get a good crop of melons in. They need heat, like all these vining plants (see squash and cucumbers) and space. However, unlike cucumbers and squash, they stick in my mind as a foo-fo0 food. Having said that, I have grown Ambrosia cantaloupe successfully and I have had whole crops fail. When it's good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's really bad and it's a gamble every time. I think melons are a bigger risk than I want to take.

Okra: I really dislike okra, but we had several plants of 'Burgundy' which always attract a lot of attention. They have a gorgeous flower and the bright red okra pods sticking up in the air are an admirable force of nature. I guess they taste good too – folks came back for more. Clemson Spineless is the gold standard of the regular okras. I hope in the coming year to trial Star of David... Works for me.

Peppers: Last summer was a great pepper season! We had a bunch of different varieties – I hope I can remember them all! First of all, we had Sweet Banana and we got enough of them to pickle 8 quarts plus all we sent away to the food bank and the ones we ate fresh. I dried about 50 Jalapeños (you get the moisture out and all those peppers end up being about four ounces of dried peppers). We'll grind them down and make Jalapeño powder out of them. We had Yellow California Wonder, which didn't do quite as well as hoped, but we still ate a lot of them and sent more to the food bank. We had Japanese peppers, Shushito (Wrinkled Man) we grew for a seed crop and even though they went in very late, we still got a decent harvest from them.

Squash: Squash, as always, get mildew and it's hard to get a decent crop of them. We held off, and got them in the ground as soon as it warmed up and grew 'em fast, harvested 'em conscientiously and let 'em succumb to the mildew. There is no such thing as a bad harvest of summer squash and that was true this year. I like to grow 'Lebanese White' (also called 'French White') because I like their flavor – most summer squashes are too watery and flavorless to me. We had several months of good harvests – one of the high school students had a Yellow Crookneck squash that almost took over a 25' square and pumped out enough Yellow Crooknecks to feed several families.

But, of all squashes, I absolutely prefer the Winter Squashes with their hard rinds – they can be tough to grow here. Two years ago, I grew Kabocha squash, a Japanese heirloom that was delicious – this year I did Queensland Blue – both of these are Cucubita moschata, one of the many squash species and for my money, I will always have one C. moschata in my garden every year. They have the moist orange flesh that is sweet and flavorful. Very good eating and each squash weighing in at 12 pounds or more, means a lot of eating per fruit.

Tomatoes: My absolute favorite tomato is San Marzano which I eat fresh and use for sauce (called “processing tomatoes”); a white cherry, an O/P variety called, 'White Cherry' or 'White Beauty' – more of a cream color really, but very good eating. We had scads and scads of Garden Peach and tons of Brandywines, both of which I had never grown before. Brandywine won first prize at the local taste test and Garden Peach came in second (the Peach would have won had more folks tried it, but the skin is a little 'fuzzy,' rather like a peach, and folks just wouldn't try it - but it is a very good yellow tomato). We had a great tomato year while many people who had bought Big Box plants had wilt, no one who started theirs from seed or bought local plants had a problem. Gardening – food production – should be more local than not.

This exercise, looking back over what was successful over your past year, especially while it's still fresh in mind, is one of the most important tools for learning how to become a really good gardener. If you start a garden journal now, you'll begin to write the book that will teach you how to really garden where you are. Of course, next year will have a whole new round of problems, but experience, if you can remember from year to year, builds a person up to seeing the variety of solutions that are available.

After I've reviewed the last year, I'm already considering what the next year will bring – of course, what we've got in the ground is already fait accompli, but that won't stop me from looking at the seed offerings from my favorite seed houses!

By the way, I've really found refuge in celebrating the Winter Solstice in late December. A few friends and I have created a simple ceremony around a fire that we use to celebrate the year just gone by and welcome the year that is yet to be. We have all found that less shopping for Christmas or the other holidays is better for our pocketbooks and stressload and less partying is better for our health. I think the simplicity of the ceremony makes it all the more satisfying.

The celebration of the solstice comes from our agricultural past when these dates marked time closely associated with agricultural calendar and the lifestyle of agrarians. As I get more and more focused on my garden, I feel more drawn to these celebrations and more gratified by them. I give few presents but lots of prayers for an abundant harvest and life – and I wish the same to you and your family. There is always more to learn in a garden. I hope you write your own book one day chock full of your life in your garden.

God bless you and yours... Perhaps we'll meet in a common furrow one day.

Seed Companies I Trust:

BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS; 2278 Baker Creek Road Mansfield, MO 65704; 417.924.8917 What a catalog! Beautiful pictures of the produce – vegetable porn for sure. They do good work and have a great selection of open pollinated seeds. They aint cheap but someone has to pay for that catalog! They have varieties that a lot of catalogs have never heard of! BOUNTIFUL GARDENS; 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410 Organic seed; open-pollinated. A part of the work done by John Jeavons, a proud and active member of the population of organic and open-pollinated gardeners. If you see him, he owes me a laser pointer.
FEDCO; PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903 207.873.7333 They are rabidly anti-GMO, though they do carry hybrids in addition to open-pollinated seeds. A wonderful and extensive selection. Their catalog reminds me of the Trader Joe's Frequent Flier.

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 I have purchased many seeds (and other things!) from Peaceful Valley – I love their catalog. They have an excellent selection of cover crop seeds as well as a lot of organic gardening supplies and tools. On line they are groworganic.com, but I find their web site so cumbersome I rather use their paper catalog. Find their catalog numbers for the item you want, then use the online site or call your order in.
NATIVE SEED/SEARCH; 526 N. 4th Ave. Tucson, AZ 85705; 520.622.5561 (Fax 520.622.5591) Specializing in the seeds of seeds of south western United States, concentrating on the ancient seeds of the First Nations People from amaranth to watermelon. A worthy cause for your money and a great source for beans, squash and corn seed. 
PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400 Probably the best for a home gardener – small packets of very current seed, a very good value. The smaller packets mean a smaller price so a person can order a lot more varieties and experiment. I have been a customer for many years. They do carry F1 hybrids so be careful and read the fine print especially if you intend to save any of your seed. SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership $40. Free brochure. Almost all organic, but definitely ALL open-pollinated. There are two ways to save seeds: one is to collect them all and keep them in a huge building that protects them from everything up to (and including) nuclear holocaust (some place in Norway comes to mind – Svalbard). The other way is to grow 'em fresh each year and that's what I advocate. That journey starts here.

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE SEED EXCHANGE; P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117, 540.894.9480 (Fax: 540.894.9481) A commercial venture that is somewhat similar to Seed Savers Exchange, but really isn't an exchange. They do carry seed saving supplies - nice to have if you are going to save seed.

When in doubt, look for the Safe Seed Pledge* in the front of the catalog. While I have nothing necessarily against hybrids, many of their patents are owned by the multi-national industrial agriculture giants. Your purchase of their hybrid seed 'feeds the beast.' I prefer not to do that. I want my money to go towards local food production – gardening is always local.

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
Cabbage family members from earlier
Fava beans
Other green leafy vegetables



Refer to the text for exact dates.
These will be the last carrots you can put out until next fall. Beets can still be sown even up until February, if you need that any beets. Peas, while possible, begin to get 'iffy' now.

Mom's Pickled Beets Updated

Using Golden or Chioggia Beets:

1 gallon small beets (about 7 pounds)
4 cups beet juice (gained from cooking the beets)
5 cups vinegar
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons whole allspice
¾ cup sugar
2 sticks of cinnamon, 2 inches long

Water bath for 10 minutes.

Cook beets with roots and about 2 inches of stem left on in water to cover. When tender, dip beets in cold water and slip off skins. If beets are very small, keep whole; if not, slice thickly or cut into quarters.

Combine the allspice, sugar, cinnamon and vinegar, and bring to a boil. Dry pack beets into hot, scalded pint jars. Cover beets with boiling syrup, leaving ¼” of headspace. Seal and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Keep up with me (and The Learning Garden!) on the web:

See you next year!

*"Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities."

05 October, 2012

October in The Southern California Garden

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 in the Mediterranean Climate! 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 the orange really knocks socks off. These plants provide continuous chard over a long season, sometimes even 'over-summering,' obviating the need for succession planting. Almost everything else though, 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 (St. Valery) Week 7 - lettuce (Black Seeded Simpson)
Week 2 – beets (Golden) Week 8 – carrots (Scarlet Nantes)
Week 3 – parsnips (Hollow Crown) Week 9 – beets (Red Ball)
Week 4 – carrots (Dragon) Week 10 – spinach (America)
Week 5 – beets (Chioggia) Week 11 – turnips (Purple Globe)
Week 6 – turnips (DeMilano) Week 12 – beets (Albino)

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, of course,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 which means succession planting of a given vegetable is one of the staple strategies for your daily grub. 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 containers. 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” photo contest, 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 that fluctuate to nothing to eat for a few weeks in between. Learning how to do this well has been the work of a lifetime for many and is still a moving target. But at least I know what I’m shooting for... and now you do too.

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 moist. Remember, the seed wants desperately to grow, that is its “job.” If you provide enough water for the seed to break the seed coat, you will soon see a little pair of leaves 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), horticultural shortcut word for dicotyledon. 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, meaning 'monocotyledon,' are all the grasses, which includes grains like corn, wheat, rice and barley. And a lot of your weeds!

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. Learn them quickly to forestall the sadness of hoeing up your own plants.

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 ever so slightly 'sweet' 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 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 tend to do – to get usable compost in less time than 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, or usually, 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 a moving and approximate target. Believe me, you'll never have composting materials in the right amounts to achieve an ideal c:n ratio, which is considered to be 25-30 parts per brown to 1 part of green. So, add all the green you have and scrounge around to dig up enough brown to make it work. You can add newsprint or cardboard to the pile to bring up the carbon level ('brown') if you have those around, Mix well and water – keep moist. Make a pile that is at least three feet high by three feet long by three feet wide; this is the minimum size to create a working compost pile. 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 next 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 add the compostable materials, covering with soil as I go. I add to the trench each day I have more to compost. Eventually I'll simply plant right into that soil, starting in the oldest part of the compost ditch. No big deal and it works without a lot of reading. Or thinking. I did this when I had a small garden and kept working compost into the soil in this pattern. On the Plus side, it's not a rodent attractor and it's no muss, no fuss. It's perfect for a single or two person household that doesn't produce a lot of compost. It would also work as an overflow method for folks using worm bins as their # 1 composting method.

You can find the composting technique that thrills you. The important point is that none of these rich materials, food or garden waste, ends up in a land fill. All of the plant wastes from the kitchen and table are the best components for a rich garden and they are free! The benefits of composting for your garden and keeping valuable material out of the landfill are a double whammy of 'why this is important!' You don’t need to worry about doing it perfectly... everything rots eventually.

If you are building a compost pile, you don't need to buy a black plastic container or any other kind of device. The black plastic composters were probably designed back east and made black to absorb more heat; we don't need it here, having plenty of heat (usually) to go around. A simple thee feet by three feet by three feet pile will do. One thing to be careful about is to keep your kitchen scraps covered with some 'carbon' kind of material or you may attract rodents. Just the simple precaution of burying food scraps under a decent layer of dried leaves will help prevent a mouse problem.

A smelly compost pile has too much water. Hold off watering for a few days, work in some dry carbon material without more wet and soon it'll be OK.

Rodale's book on composting is listed in the notes section. Get it, it's a great resource.

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
Most home stores sell 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?

In planting seeds, please note that root crops are never planted in containers to be transplanted later. There is a really good reason for this: they do NOT transplant well. Onions, and onion family members are the exception. Carrots and parsnips abhor being transplanted and beets and turnips suffer so much shock it is not worth the trouble.

While I often start lettuce in six packs in a sheltered location, it can sown in the soil directly as well. I like to do both, when a plant will let me do both because they each have advantages and drawbacks. Plants that are transplanted will suffer some shock in the transplant and that will slow them down a bit. However, plants grown directly in the garden are often subjected to harsher conditions that can overwhelm a small plant; a hard rain, pests that consume the whole plant while it's small. If you can, start plants both ways to maximize your chance a good harvest. Fava beans, garbanzo beans, lentils and peas can also be grown either in containers or directly sown.

Slower growing small plants, though, really do benefit from growing in a sheltered location. In this group, I put broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. These are also plants that one should set in the ground lower than they were in the original container, so transplanting them makes great sense.

This is a busy month – and the more you do early, the happier you will be! As the month rolls along, sunset gets earlier towards an unreasonable hour and you'll regret the missing outdoor light.

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
More of the cabbage family!
Fava beans
Cabbage family members from early September
Fava beans
Fava beans



Other green leafy vegetables


Refer to the text for exact dates.

Winter Squash With Pecans And Bleu Cheese

4-1/2 pounds winter squash
3 tablespoons olive oil 
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 
1 cup pecans 
1 cups crumbled Roquefort or other bleu cheese 

 Heat the oven to 425°F. 

Halve the squash, leaving the skin on, and scoop out the seeds, then cut into 1-inch cubes; you don't need to be precise, just keep the pieces uniformly bite sized or so. 

Throw into your oven until tender. 

Toss the hot squash into a bowl and scatter with the pecans, crumbling the cheese over, all and toss together. This can be a wonderful side or you can get more involved and create a main course dish from it. 


30 August, 2012

The Most Complete Gardening Bibliography I've Ever Put Together

This is the most comprehensive list I've come up with – but there are a lot more books out there. If you find one that's not on this list, let me know!

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving, Deppe, Carol © 2000, Chelsea Green Publishing, Don't let the title send you running for the exits. The first half of this book, all about breading your own veggies, is not easily digested and has a lot of dense data in very shot order. The second half, the half on seed saving, she switches gears and it reads at times like well-written poetry. I have read most of this part many, many times since I got the book in 2008. If you are interested in seed saving or breeding your own vegetable varieties (Hint: you can and it's not that hard!), this book needs to be on your shelf!

Designing the New Kitchen Garden, Bartley, Jennifer © 2006, Timber Press, Portland, OR Lots of wonderful ideas and source material for a good many daydreams. And the source of some important lessons in creating a garden that can sustain more than just your spirit. By the way, you’ll know you’re a real gardener when you begin to receive the Timber Press catalog – they have a comprehensive list of gardening books that will help you get into the details of any aspect of gardening that you can imagine!

Edible Flowers, From Garden to Palate, Barash, Cathy Wilkinson, © 1995 Fulcrum Publishing, This is the only really comprehensive book on growing edible flowers – it’s a fascinating cuisine we have largely lost through neglect. Have an adventure and a nasturtium for dinner!

Good Bugs for Your Garden, Starcher, Allison Mia, © 1998, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Allison Starcher is an artist who grows in Santa Monica. This book's illustrations were drawn in her garden and that means this book is written for those of us in Southern California. A delightful book, you can learn from it and use it to teach children about insects in your back yard.

Heirloom Vegetables, Stickland, Sue, © 1998 Fireside Books, A wonderful introduction to heirloom vegetables and how and why to grow them! A fabulous read for all prospective vegetable gardeners. And now that the Weaver book is no longer easily available, this is the runner up.

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History,Weaver, William Woys © 2003, BookSales Inc, Originally published in 1997, it is now out of print and getting a copy can be hellish. The book sells for almost $300 used on Amazon! It is a wonderful book that needs to be put back in print because the research he put into the book allows this to be one of the most informative books on heirloom vegetables that has ever been published. Good luck in finding it, I'm sorry to say. You can get the entire book on a CD-ROM through Mother Earth News.

How to Grow More Vegetables, Eighth Edition: (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You ... (And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains,) Jeavons, John © 2012, 8th Edition (so far, it seems to be close to an annual event) Ten Speed Press, Jeavons has a his research to back up his assertions and he's never met a contrary point of view that wasn't tossed off with the disdaining wave of his hand. I do not agree with most of the gardening advice in this book, but he has facts and figures of how many plants of broccoli and everything else you need to feed a family of four and other information that no one else seems to bother with.

Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil, Hillel, Daniel © 1992, University California Press, Hillel has written the most easily understood book on soil of all the books on soil in the world. This is not a gardening book, but it is an introduction to the basis of gardening: the soil. The most readable book on soil published to date. 

Pests of the Garden and Small Farm © 1998, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR), One of many books that are a part of my gardening bookshelf for reference. I can't remember all these pests, and I'll bet you can't either – if I could only have one book on pests, this would be one of two. I would have this one with Trowel and Error (below). (Their entire catalog is worth a look:  http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/default.aspx )

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, Ashworth, Suzanne, © Seed Savers Exchange This is the industry standard for folks who want to save their own seeds. I like the Deppe book better, but this is the one the rest of the world turns to, perhaps because it has been around a longer and is its second edition.

Small-Scale Grain Raising, Second Edition: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers, Logsdon, Gene 2nd Edition © 2009 Chelsea Green Publishing ANYTHING written by Logsdon is worth the investment of your time and money. I read this from its original 1970 Rodale Press printing and it is still an excellent resoure if you suddenly become intoxicated of growing your own wheat and other grains. It takes more land than most of us have, but a small patch of wheat is a delightful experiment.

Sunset Western Garden Guide 8th Edition, Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, Editor, ©2007, Sunset Publishing All of the recent editions have their merit, but each successive edition has more plants and updates the scientific undergirding of gardening, so I encourage you to invest in the most recent edition you can afford (used copies are usually easy to find, either locally or at Amazon.com, I have a few for sale!). This is the number one go-to book for horticulture in Southern California; no other book is as authoritative as this one for our area. We cannot take advice from most gardening books and apply it to what we do in Los Angeles because our climate and soils are nothing like the rest of the world – especially those on the east coast and England where most books about gardening seem to originate.

Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition Lowenfels, Jeff and Lewis, Wayne, © 2010, Timber Press This book changed the way I garden. Forever. Their introduction to the soil is somewhat dry, but when you get to the modern scientific discoveries dealing with soil, you will be amazed!

The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques, Creasy, Rosalind, © 1982, Sierra Club Books – This is where edible landscaping began! This is still a good book. I understand a 2nd edition is in the works; I think that is great news. All about growing food where others can see it. For those who march to their own drummer... and that includes a lot of gardeners.

The Resilient Gardener, Deppe Carol, © 2010, Chelsea Green Publishing, Deppe has written one of the few books to really teach me something about gardening in the last 15 years. I love her writing style, yes. But I love the depth of knowledge she posseses and her well-earned observations. Not all of her ideas translate readily to Southern California, but we can learn from her and adapt.

The Grape Grower, Rombough, Lon © 2002, Chelea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT. Of several books on the subject of growing grapes, this is the most thorough, the best written and covers the most material. And they all cost about the same money. You’ll come to think of it as your very favorite, if you get into growing grapes for table or for wine. Chelsea Green is another publishing house you’ll want to investigate – especially if you get into sustainable living. Truly a pioneer publishing house with many wonderful titles to entice you into curl up with a good book.

The Home Orchard, Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, © 2007, Another great book from UC’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources – search out their website and you’ll find a wealth of free information there as well as publications like this one to purchase. This book is about the most thorough book on home orchards you will ever find - it is no only comprehensive, but comprehendible and easy to follow. There is no aspect of home orchards that is not covered in this volume.

The Kitchen Garden, Thompson, Sylvia © 1995, Bantam Books, Sylvia is from our area (she has written for the LA Times) so she knows a bit of gardening here. This is a great book that I refer to frequently along with her Recipes from a Kitchen Garden.

The Old-Fashioned Fruit Gardener, Gardner, Jo Ann, © 1989 Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia A wonderful resource to learn how folks used to use small fruits of their garden complete with growing instructions and recipes.

The New Seed Starter's Handbook, Bubel, Nancy © 1988, Rodale Press There is no facet of seed starting that isn't included in this book. It is old, but it is still the best on the topic. The only thing that has changed has been advances in super powerful lights with more of the light spectrum for growing plants. In truth there isn't a need for those kinds of plant growing lights if you are just starting seeds indoors to be planted out in a few weeks.

The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener, Gershuny, Grace © 1992 Rodale Press I learned how to garden organically in the early 1970's with Rodale Press and I owe a lot to many of their different gardening titles. This is the most authoritative book on composting for the layman that has been published to date. Everything you want to know about composting is here.

The Seed Underground, Ray, Janisse ©2012 Chelsea Green Publishing, This book just came out and I'm not yet through it all the way, but I love the way she writes, with the rhythm of person sowing seeds or weeding the garden. She writes with poetry and with the authority of someone who knows what she is talking about internally and externally. A really good read.

The Soul of Soil: A Soil-Building Guide for Master Gardeners and Farmers, Gershuny, Grace, © 1999 Chelsea Green Publishing, One of my favorite books on soils, this was not written for gardeners but for farmers which limits its usefulness, but the principles are useful and she writes with passion and clarity Chelsea Green Publishing has a whole catalog of good books on gardening with an emphasis on 'organic' and 'sustainable.'

Trowel and Error, Lovejoy, Sharon © 2002 Workman Publishing, this is really the only pesticide book I use, although, it is not strictly a pesticide book. She is a delightful writer with lots of humor and she has gem of a home-made this and that collection.

Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, Reich, Lee © 2004, Timber Press, Portland, OR If you are not familiar with Timber Press, check out their website, they are one of the best publishing houses in the field of horticulture today and their catalog will make your eyes twirl. We can’t grow all of these fruits, but this book is an eye opener for what can be grown vs. what IS grown. Each plant’s fruit is described with directions for cultivation and a list of desirable cultivars. This is the ‘expanded sequel’ to the book that drove me nuts trying to find a way to grow currants in Los Angeles (an as yet unfulfilled dream), Timber Press is another wonderful publisher of a good number of gardening books on my shelves.