24 March, 2012

Seed Saving 101: Spring 2012

The Learning Garden in conjunction with the Seed Library of Los Angeles offer

Seed Saving 101

Learning Gardenmaster and SLOLA Chair, David King will teach this introduction to saving seeds from your garden this coming May. Held on Wednesday evenings, participants will learn how to grow heirloom plants and save their own seeds for next year. A truly important step for self-sufficiency and independent living, saving seed is also a powerful tool to gain a more even hand with the likes of Monsanto. By saving seeds, gardeners insure that they can have a reliable safe supply of non-genetically altered food; food not doused with chemicals and food that is lovingly brought from seed to the table.

Participants will learn the reasons for saving seeds, the botany needed to save seeds and mechanisms of seed saving. Students will learn which plant seeds are easily saved and which are more difficult and how to deal with them. We will feature a dedicated lab section which will give participants the opportunity to identify the seed producing parts of flowers and how to use that knowledge to even breed your own new vegetable varieties! You will learn the process of hand pollination and how to ensure the seeds you are saving are the seeds you want to be saving. You will also learn why we need to breed our own organic vegetable varieties to further the cause of organic food production in our own neighborhoods and communities.

Classes will meet May 09, May 16 and May 23, 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM at The Learning Garden, on the campus of Venice High School at the corner of Walgrove Avenue and Venice Blvd.  

Before May 2nd:
Members of SLOLA: $30.00
Non-members of SLOLA: $40.00 – the extra $10 makes you a member of the Seed Library

After May 2nd:
Members of SLOLA: $35.00
Non-members of SLOLA: $45.00 – the extra $10 makes you a member of the Seed Library

At the door:
Members of SLOLA: $40.00
Non-members of SLOLA: $50.00 – the extra $10 makes you a member of the Seed Library

Please bring your own cup for tea or coffee. Please have a jewelers' loupe for class, we can show you good places to look for your own at the first class meeting.

Class will meet May 9, 16 and 23, 6:30 to 9:00 PM at The Learning Garden. The Garden is often cooler than you would think, come prepared to need a jacket or sweater.

Reserve your spot today using PayPal. 
(Non-members will pay the additional $10 at the door.)

Date Enrolled

Or contact David King for alternative ways to pay.



Offered by The Learning Garden under the auspices of the University of California Extension:
Four classes to really give you the dirt on gardening! Expand your skill level and appreciate the world of plants so much better; introducing a new series of more advanced gardening classes!
The four session class will cover the following topics:
 May 20 – Crop rotation; perennial food plants; companion planting How do plants interact with one another? What should follow what? How do I care for my fruit trees? I want to grow asparagus and artichokes, but I am a little intimidated; what do I need to know?

May 27 - Seed saving/vegetable breeding Why should I be concerned about saving seeds? Is it hard to save seeds? How can I tell if it's good seed? Isn't breeding vegetables best left to the professionals?

June 3 – Propagation and grafting and budding What is grafting and why is it important? Can I really have two apples on the same tree? Is grafting 'natural' and not some biotech kind of weirdness? When can I do it?

June 10 – Vermiculture/Composting What if I don't have room for a compost pile, I just have plants in containers on my balcony? Isn't compost a lot of work? How can I really compost in a small garden?

Each class is a stand alone unit so participants may attend all four for a discounted price, or take any combination of the classes – they are designed to be modular units of instruction. These are practical classes with hands on participation in each class. Taught by Gardenmaster David King and Master Gardener Emi Carvel, these classes will hone your gardening skills to new level.

Classes are $20 each; the series of four is discounted to $75. We may have some scholarships available depending on enrollment. A minimum $20 deposit is required to hold your space. You are encouraged to dress for our often cooler days here in The Learning Garden. We will make hot tea and/or coffee on cooler days; bring your own cup as we try to edge closer to zero waste. 

Contact David for other options. 

12 March, 2012

Garden Master & Author David King At Santa Monica College on March 27

CONTACT:   Bruce Smith                                              FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
                        Public Information Officer                       DATE: March 12, 2012
                        (310) 434-4209                                          www.smc.edu


         Santa Monica College is pleased to present a free lecture, “Seeds: Local and Global,” by garden master and author David King on Tuesday, March 27 in Humanities & Social Science Lecture Hall 165 on the main campus, 1900 Pico Blvd.
         King is the founder of the Seed Library of Los Angeles and garden master of TheLearning Garden at Venice High School. An engaging and popular garden speaker, he is also a noted garden blogger and author of the forthcoming book, “Growing Food in Southern California: What to Do and When to Do It.”
         The Seed Library of Los Angeles was established to facilitate the growth of open-pollinated seeds among residents of the Los Angeles basin. The library is building a seed collection and repository, educating members about the practice of seed saving, and creating a local community of seed-saving gardeners
         King’s talk is sponsored by the SMC Global Citizenship Council, SMC Center for Environmental Studies and SMC Club Grow.
         For information, please call 310-434-3911.

05 March, 2012

The Southern California Garden in March

March. Baseball teams are in Spring Training in Florida and Arizona. Tomatoes are growing in a protected location with 'bottom heat' so they can be set out in the garden close to the end of April.

We've all heard the old saying about March coming in like a lamb and going out like a lion, or is it coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb? Whatever the exact saying, it correctly alludes to March as a more schizophrenic month; certainly a truism as far as gardening goes. On one hand, we are still tending our winter vegetables, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce, while on the other we need to be planning on what we will soon be eating in summer.

Those of us on the coast can continue to plant more winter vegetables if we haven't had our fill of all those cabbage family plants. I usually find I can grow winter vegetables right on into late May in most years. Some of the winter veggies will 'oversummer' for us; leeks, fennel, chard and kale will hold on in most summers although they can look downright ratty once our June Gloom has left us.

Royal Purple Pod beans can be planted even in February, certainly by mid-March, I'll have a row growing. This is the only bean that will germinate in cold, wet soil and they are worth growing even later. I have had good production from my Royal Purple Pod beans even when snails have decimated the leaves, they taste great and turn a deep green when they are cooked. All other beans, in most years, will need to be planted no sooner than late March or early April because of their need for warmer soil.

You can buy tomato starts in March, but I wouldn't want to plant them out until later in the month. Tomatoes will survive cool soil, but they will only thrive in warmer soil. If you want to grow tomatoes from seed, I usually sow mine in February. I start them in a location sheltered from insects, but still in direct sun – I use a grow mat that warms the soil to about 70° so the tomatoes get off to a good start – I sow basil the same way at the same time. Other summer crops I start in pots to be transplanted later, including peppers, eggplants and okra, need more heat so I don't even mess with those until after mid-March. They will be ready to plant out into the garden come the first of May (allow about 6 weeks to get them up, up and away).

I'm awfully fond of lettuce. One of my Summer rituals is making a big production out of the First BLT of the Year with the L and the T coming from my garden – if I'm lucky I'll have also baked the bread myself too. The hard part is getting the L and the T to cooperate with the vagaries of weather. Tomatoes love heat and to really fruit they need temperatures above 84° while most lettuce is positively allergic to temperatures above 75°. There are some varieties of lettuce bred to be less heat sensitive – Jericho and Summertime are the two I'm most familiar with – look for them in seed catalogs and try planting lettuce plants north of taller plants to give them more shade.

In a fit of fanaticism, I once grew lettuce year round. I created a bed just for lettuce. I stapled a copper snail barrier to keep those salad lovers out to my wooden raised bed, and set up a series of little misters to spray the plants twice a day with a cooling mist. But the most significant feature was an old window screen (frame and all), resting over the plants on four 18” wooden stakes (easily purchased at a local garden supply store). The screen proved to be the most effective part of the whole operation. I was able to grow lettuce thru the brutal Californian summer right on into the middle of October, when a heat wave and an irrigation failure contrived together to completely fry the remaining plants. Fried lettuce has about the same appeal as month old sushi. If you want lettuce all summer you might give this – or some of this – a spin in your garden.

March is a month filled with activity – daylight savings time now starts at the end of the second week and boy do gardeners need that extra hour! Look at what you have in the ground and begin to imagine full size tomato, pepper, eggplant and basil plants growing there. Try to contain yourself and get a reasonable view of what you really can plant. Check out the suggested planting spaces on the plants you want; measure to see how many you can reasonably accommodate. No, don't multiply by four! (We all do it anyway, don't we?)

Now that we've gotten ourselves into the garden and have a few things growing, I want you to begin to think about your soil. Here's a lovely little exercise that will tell you more about your garden soil: Dig into a place in your garden, going down about nine inches. Try to get below any mulch and get into the area where the roots will live. Get approximately a cup's worth of soil and put it in a pint container. Add a tablespoon of alum, you can find a lifetime supply in the spice section of any supermarket. Fill to within ½ inch of the top with water and shake vigorously. Allow this to stand for at least an hour, but 24 hours is better. Now observe what you have in your jar.

Observe carefully without disturbing the water too much. You will see that the soil has self-sorted into layers. The bottom layer is sand. The middle layer is called silt or loam and on top there is a layer of clay. The water should be clear, any floating debris in the water is mulch or compost material called organic matter.

The thickness of the separate layers define your soil. If sand is the predominate layer, your soil is sandy and will not hold water or nutrients. If clay is the thick layer, you will need a large dose of patience because your soil is hard to work, but is more fertile than the sandy soil. If your middle layer is the fat one, your soil is the dream of those on either side of you and you should play the lottery more often because you are blessed with good fortune! Most of us, though will experience the two dominant layers operating together to create our own unique set of opportunities and problems.

Every characteristic of clay soil is the opposite of a sandy soil. Silt is the 'silent majority' of the soil community. We all want silty soil. Few of us have it.

Looking at this chart, you can see if you have a sandy soil, you will need to water more than a neighbor with a clay soil; like wise you will have to consider more nutrients because your soil won't store them. You will be able to plant earlier in the spring because your soil will be warmer than a clay soil, but you'll need to add a lot more organic matter more frequently. It isn't good or bad, it's just different.

Characteristics of Soil Components

Water holding
Medium +
Drainage rate
Slow/Very slow
Soil organic matter
Medium +
Decomposition of organic matter
Speed of warming
Storage of nutrients
Resistance to pH change

Sandy soil will more readily forgive mistakes of too much fertilizer, too much water and so on because it holds nothing for any length of time. Not even a grudge.

A clay soil is higher in nutrients for plants and takes less water to get a crop. But screw up with clay soil and it holds grudges for a lot longer. If you even walk on clay soil when it is wet, you can create clods that will haunt you as you try to plant later in the year.

Neither, though is ideal. Silt, in the middle, is what gardeners dream about. A soil that is neither too much clay and is therefore easier to work nor too sandy that holds no nutrients for the garden crop. If you have too much sand or too much clay, take heart, I have a solution in two words:
organic matter
Organic matter is any material that used to be a plant. Technically, it is anything that used to be living, but I would rather you skip disposing of the bodies of your victims until you get to be a much better gardener. Stick to plant material for now.

Yes, compost is one of the organic materials you can add to your soil, but it's not all. Anything that used to be a plant is fine. My preference is for slightly unfinished compost. And I'm glad you asked why, because I am dying to explain it.

Finished compost is delicious. I love the stuff – but UNfinished compost has chunks in it that you can identify what it used to be – it hasn't quite broken down completely. This material still needs critters of all sizes to finish into a dark unidentifiable compost. Those critters are the key to soil fertility. They are multi-celled animals like earthworms or they are fungi or bacteria or critters that are a little of both, 'actinomycetes.' Penicillin is one of the actinomycetes – and that smell of good garden soil that smells musty and sweet? That smell is the smell of actinomycetes. We want to have all these creatures in the soil because the plants derive the nutrition from them that past generations have tried to add with various fertilizers.

I don't have any scientific proof, but I do know from many years of gardening, we are being asked to buy a lot more stuff than we need. You will get big beautiful tomatoes if you use all those expensive fertilizers, but it's not a sustainable model and you'll get good tomatoes without the expenditures and you'll save money. If you go about using fertilizers, I think the fertilizers either kill off the actinomycetes and fungi in the soil, or make your garden a very inhospitable environment for them, I'm not sure which, but I am sure that the addition of fertilizer in the long term ruins the fertility of your soil. And I believe this is true about chemical and organic fertilizers alike, although, organic fertilizers tend to be milder and therefore less harmful than the chemical ones.

A few fertilizers, though are the exception. I have used, and if I need to, I will use again, including  alfalfa meal and cottonseed meal. Alfalfa meal has nitrogen, but is noted for inspiring rather than hindering microbial activity in the soil. I have used it in the beginning of the summer garden as the soil begins to warm. I used to use it all the time, but got lazy and now only use it when I think I need to get things rolling.

Cottonseed meal is a provider of nitrogen and somehow seems to release the nitrogen over a long period of time, unlike most fertilizers that seem to have only a very short beneficial effect. If you elect to use cottonseed meal, go out of your way to find organic cottonseed meal – the commercial cotton crops are doused with unending amounts of chemicals, and many of the commercial fields are planted with genetically modified cotton these days. I haven't used cottonseed meal for about 6 years, although if I was putting corn into a soil that had marginal fertility, I would not hesitate to use it.

Look at the list below. If you haven't yet, get orders off to the seed companies to get your seeds for the summer. Get cracking now and you'll reap huge rewards this summer!

Warm Season Vegetables
Lettuce Leaf, Genovese,
Beans - drying
Black Turtle, Cannellini, Hutterite Soup, Jacob's Cattle
Beans – Lima
Beans- snap
Roc d’Or, Romano, Royal Burgundy, Romano, Blue Lake
Sweet Corn
Golden Bantam, Stowells Evergreen, County Gentleman
Lemon, Mideast Prolific, Japanese, Armenian
Pingtung Long, Rosa Bianca
Jenny Lind, Ambrosia, Hales Best, Golden Midget, Small Shining Light
Star of David, Clemson Spineless
Peppers (Sweet)
Banana, Pimento, Cubanelle, Marconi,
Peppers (Hot)
Ancho, Corno di Toro, Anaheim, Jalapeno
Small Sugar, Howden
Squash (Summer)
Zahra, Lebanese White, Black Beauty, Yellow Crookneck
Squash (Winter)
Sweet Dumpling, Red Kuri, Queensland Blue, Musquee de Provence
Purple de Milpa
Black from Tula, Juane Flamme, San Marzano, Black Krim, Stupice and millions of others!

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
More tomatoes
Still some of the
Ultra-early tomatoes
Winter veggies
Lettuce, cilantro,
Beets, radishes, lettuce, cilantro
Any perennial herb (marjoram, oregano, etc)
Summer squash
Purple beans (early)

Winter squash (late in the month)
Green beans (later)

Refer to the text for exact dates.

Beets In Orange Juice

By now you should have the beginnings of a beet harvest – and if you've followed my lead and put in some Golden beets, these sweet treats from the garden can be treated nicely this way. Other beets will stand in readily, but the golden beets in the juice is exquisite.

With the beets sliced into thick slices, I parboil them to the point their skins will slip off easily, and they are just beginning to be soft enough to eat. They usually have to cool quite a bit, but once you can handle them, slip the skins off and compost.

Put the beet slices in a skillet with orange juice. Add a little cinnamon or other spice you think will compliment the beets and saute until tender.

Serve as a side dish to a simple, earthy meal. They are fantastic.