28 December, 2014

Enroll Now For Plant Propagation Class At The Learning Garden

With a scion in his mouth (he does not smoke)
David King prepares to show students
how to graft an apple tree.

Grafting is a science and an art.  Most courses will give you a practical introduction to grafting, but in this class you get into the art and history of grafting - learning how grafting has been used over the years in many ways to make plants do what humans want and need (without genetic engineering!).  

But it's not just grafting!  So many ways we have made more plants, some times by multiplication and sometimes by division.  Seed sowing, seed saving and plant breeding are discussed and illustrated.  Hands on exercises every week ensure you know the material and help students get the concepts into their fingers.  

These procedures cover all the historical methodologies by which humankind has made more plants.  This library of techniques came close to being lost in the last few decades but now are appreciated as the valuable and practical skills they are.

You can learn these skills from a lot of different people, but learning from David King is a treat with his down to earth connection to the subjects and his humor keeping you alert for the next line.  Class is held at the Learning Garden 1:30 to 4:30 on Sundays starting January 11th.  Register with UCLA Extension.  Class size is limited so please register as soon as  you can!

New 'old stock' German grafting knife
that is a favorite.

11 December, 2014

Democracy At Work

Old varieties of corn seeds in author's collection;
an unwanted pollen cross 
with GMO corn
could make them the property of a
corporation that created the GMO.

Listening to a tape of the proceedings of Arts, Parks, Health, Aging And River Committee it seems surrealistic hearing the questions at the beginning of the discussion around Los Angeles City Council File number 13-1374. There is such cordiality and the reading of the parts of the proposed ordinance makes a listener happy to live in a country where a group of concerned citizens can petition city hall and make a difference. The questions are about implementation and other practicalities.

The movement for this bill started in October 2012 when Vandana Shiva met with a few activists in a Santa Monica home. She asked what would be next in LA whether or not Proposition 37, the labeling of GMOs initiative, succeeded. I said, “I'd like to see LA become a GMO Free Zone.” Which led us to finally to this committee meeting some two years later. Prop 37 passed in LA County, but did not pass statewide. With that as our mandate, a group of “seed people” set out to propose and work for a law that would make LA a GMO Free Zone.

We had no political savvy and no political background – however, we knew how our government was supposed to work. We knew that Congress was not going to do anything constructive about GMOs and the legislature in Sacramento seemed to run a parallel course. We believed that our local city council would take action and support us in the face of the inaction of Congress and the Legislature.  

But we most certainly knew then, what many know to be the truth today:

  • GMOs are at best questionable in their effects on bodies that consume them
  • GMOs are bad for the environment
  • and GMOs have failed to deliver on any of their promises

We knew GMOs, contrary to the claims of the likes of Monsanto had not been properly tested and we knew as well, their pollen can cross with our plants making the plants we grow in our gardens GMOs too. Wanting to avoid GMOs in our diets, we wanted to keep them out of the plants we were growing to avoid GMOs and their associated pesticides.

This law would “ban the propagation, cultivation, raising, growth and sale of genetically modified foods.” To us, this is what “GMO Free Zone” in Los Angeles would look like. We felt we had a very small window to get this accomplished because of a new state law, AB 2470 which seemed to our reading to preclude the city from making any laws that would apply to seeds.

We moved quickly to get a bill to the City Attorney's office and they crafted an excellent ordinance based on previous laws enacted in other municipalities that had already stood the test of time and gave us a track record as to how much enforcement would cost and how easily it could be implemented.

The proposed ordinance came back to this committee on Monday December 8th. About 30 of us in the room were there to see this bill move through the committee and on to the council floor the next day. But lobbyists, a couple of 'experts' spread lies, ignoring the ongoing experience of other municipalities that have successfully enacted similar laws and gave the city council members the cover they needed.

The first onslaught, our law was attacked because there are no GMO crops growing in Los Angeles, ignoring the fact that once they have bred with crops that are GMO free, the latter becomes GMO irreversibly. There is no way to get it out once it's in, obviously the only way to do any good with this is to keep it out in the first place. Yes, we do want it crafted and in place before there is a problem. You don't say a flood is coming – lets stack sand-bags after we are flooded – some things don't work that way. Calling this a “feel good ordinances that lacks substance” ignores the precedent established in more rural counties where it has stood the test of time and ignores the fact that we will have to deal with this pollen problem sooner or later and sooner is much better. We are losing the plants we use for food at an alarming rate and the proliferation of genetically engineered plants accelerates the rapidity of that loss.

The “suits” were called. One of their so-called experts, George David Kieffer, read from his letter (1) to the committee, adding comments amounting to about 5 minutes of time. Calling the ordinance anti-scientific, he tried, like all the Monsanto shills to characterize GMOs as being the most studied, safest technology to come to American shelves for year. His intent was to have all us characterized as Luddites and religious kooks. Typically, the big ag chemical companies, Monsanto being the biggest, prefer to attack the messenger and not the message – so of course, we have to characterized as extremists and non-conformists.

We know, the opposite of what he said is true. From scientists in the European Union, 297 as of December 10th and growing, banded together to bury this false-hood we can read:

There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs: Regarding the safety of GM crops and foods for human and animal health, a comprehensive review of animal feeding studies of GM crops found “An equilibrium in the number [of] research groups suggesting, on the basis of their studies, that a number of varieties of GM products (mainly maize and soybeans) are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns”. (2)

I could go on pulling items from the letter and the conversation in that room and pointing out the fallacies, but here's what really happened: three council members took testimony from two lobbyists over the input from 30 citizens. The two suits probably made more in that two hour meeting than all of us supporters put together. Paid to broadcast lies and half-truths; ignoring the successes that we cited in our literature (did the council members even read our materials?) and painting everyone in the room (including the council members themselves as “not educated enough to make decisions about genetic engineering”) they prevented a discussion of substance that might have happened if we had really looked at what has actually happened. We were not paid for our time off from work, travel expenses or any other thing we did in support of this measure. We have no hope of a bonus for our work or for our testimony. We do so at our own expense. We do so to improve OUR community as we see fit. Paid attorney's who may or may not live in our community, might have voted for the council people, were accorded more deference. It was not government 'by the people' but by attorneys.

Every council member in the room voiced concern about GMOs.  But, three of four sought to table it.  They are "concerned" about GMOs in an abstract way; like being concerned that something might happen sometime in a distant future.

Gardeners and mothers with children are not “concerned.”  They feel assaulted by corporations and governments that are bought and paid for by corporations. We saw that in the committee meeting that their fears are justified. The official story from the politicians is "yeah, but..." As if, we'll get around to it when you bring in your own lobbyist.

They admitted they could do it now and if it needed changing they could change it.  In fact, that happens with a LOT of laws.  But in this case, they used the
precautionary principle backwards, becoming cautious when action is called for and allowing genetically engineering to move forward unabated when that would be the appropriate time to be precautionary!

As the discussion continued, we spotted one of the lawyers in the back of the room giving hand signals to at least one council person, we could not tell which one, relaying instructions about what was expected. Clearly the lawyer was definite that this ordinance was not going to go to the full council no matter what else happened. It did not.

The suits got what they came for. The committee referred the ordinance for further study. They killed it. There was no more time for the ordinance to move forward in light of the impending implementation of AB 2470.

One of the council members moved to exit the room walking through those of us in the committee room – the ones that had just testified for the motion. He was asked how he could do this? Why were the suits afforded more importance than the people? He took three strides toward the door. Suddenly, he spun around, threw out his chest, flung a finger out at me, even though I was not involved in this exchange, shouted at me, “This is your government process,” I replied something to the effect that it was not how I understood democracy. Fairly screaming at me, he repeated “This is how democracy works, this is your government – this is how we do things - and you gotta like it. This is how it works!”

There's our civic lesson for the day, children. This is how government works. You gotta like it.

But we aren't going away.  


05 December, 2014

An Open Letter For A GMO Free LA

06 December 2014

Dear Friends and Fellow Gardeners,

On Tuesday, at 10:00 AM, the Los Angeles City Council will take a tremendous step forward into a new paradigm, a new way of seeing our food. They have put their legislative skills together in the past few years to create a nascent urban gardening movement that is gaining strength and threatens to be one of the most vibrant in the nation – as well it should be, with our wonderful soils and our spacious layout that allows for urban farms and urban gardens. As a gardener and a gardening instructor and author, I've seen them secure a future for me with their supportive actions.

But on Tuesday, they will vote on the one measure that will underpin these gardens and give entrepreneurs the assurance they will need to make this city practically self supporting in many of our vegetable needs: They will vote to make Los Angeles a GMO Free Zone!

We have seen state legislatures and Congress, sidestep even the meager act of labeling genetically engineered foods because they have become beholding to the likes of the big agriculture. So it has come down to the cities and counties to make their statements. Los Angeles will be the biggest statement of all!

We have not won yet. I ask all of you to come to City Hall on Tuesday morning in your gardening grubbies and when the motion is introduced be there to support it. I know so many of you have been wondering what to get me for Christmas and this is the one thing I want. We have a solid, practical law that the promoters of a GMO Free LA have had the chance to help write. It is a good law - it is enforceable, it is fair and it has legal precedent. It is worth our support.

City Hall is located between Main and Spring Street and between Temple and First Streets. It is accessible by the Red and Purple Lines (Civic Center Stop) – I get to the subway via the Expo Light Rail Line – starting in CulveCity at Venice and Robertson Blvds. The entrance is on Main Street and the City Council Chambers are on the 3rd Floor.

We have no money to influence votes – certainly not nearly as much as the bio-tech companies and the Grocery Manufacturers' Association. All we have is you and your conviction that we need to save our seeds and promote clean, healthy food that is not sprayed with chemicals that harm us, the animals we depend on for food and the environment. Spend a few hours in our City Council Chamber and rise when it's time to support a GMO Free LA!!

I would be most grateful,


19 September, 2014

A GMO Free Los Angeles Is Imperative

Proving once again that money trumps truth in the pages of LA Times, there is an editorial against the proposed new ordinance to prevent growing of GMO plants in the City of Los Angeles,  Afraid of losing their advertising revenue from purveyors of genetically engineered foods offered to the public without any labeling (which they also opposed, even though the majority of Angeleno's demonstratively support labeling and strive to avoid GMO foods), the LA Times comes down opposing reason yet again - and their arguments are so specious and unsupportable, it leads one to wonder why they even bothered to make an attempt.

Squash display at this year's
Heritage Expo in Santa Rosa  -
all non-GMO! 

Every single argument they represent as 'our side' are secondary or are not even really one of our talking points.  I'll postulate all their stipulations as accepted truth.  (They are not, by  the way, but all their points are trivial in the scheme of things.)  There is one overarching reason to ban these plants in the city of Los Angeles:
The state and Federal governments have failed us as gardeners and consumers of food by not requiring proper segregation of GMO crops from organic crops, allowing GMO pollen to cross with the crops of those gardeners who want nothing to do with any plant that has been genetically tinkered with.  And once contaminated with GMOs, there is no way to get it back out - that plant and all of its progeny are GMOed. 
Is this a problem?  YES!  Everyone knows, from looking at the family tree,  a child inherits traits from both the father and the mother.  Specifically, 50% of the genetic make up comes from 'dad' and 50% from 'mom.'  The same is true for plants.  Pollen is the plant equivalent of sperm and provides the male genetic contribution to the next generation. 

In plants that are wind pollinated (corn, alfalfa and beets), this pollen can be spread quite a long ways.  Monsanto, in its ever continuing lack of forthrightness and honesty, with their original application to the USDA, stated corn pollen could be viable up to five miles from the point of origin.  That wasn't true - in fact, it had not yet even been studied, so the five mile figure was, at best, a guess someone pulled out of the air.  In subsequent studies the actual figure seems to be 25 miles. NO ONE HAS DISTANCE FIGURES FOR BEET POLLEN - and beet pollen is more copious and significantly lighter than corn pollen.  Beet pollen will cross with chard and mangles as well as beets.  Mangles are not so popular today, but chard sure is!  How far will that pollen be viable?  

Gardeners, growing their own food at home or in community gardens, teachers with their school gardens, will tell you that one of their most important reasons for growing gardens is TO AVOID GMO PRODUCE.  If the seeds they save from their own gardens have become contaminated with genetically engineered pollen, then their efforts are for naught.  If LA continues to endorse the idea of LA Grown food, we must stop the cross of pollen because GMO growers will not grow their plants in greenhouses.

It is up to us - the citizens of LA - to join with other municipalities that have already declared themselves to be GMO free areas.  We want to protect our own crops from becoming genetically modified by the pollen of crops grown nearby.  Yes, it's true, right now GMO crops are not grown by gardeners - only in larger farming operations - however, we believe it's only a matter of time before Monsanto wishes to expand their presence in the homegrown vegetable garden.  

Let's own up, LA Times.  Monsanto is the largest SEED dealer in the US.  Monsanto is very present in our home gardens, selling their non-GMO hybrids already. Sooner or later, they will want to increase their sales of GMOs as those sales begin to tank with farmers. Whoever paid for your editorial knows the GMO gig is coming to endgame already in our farmers' fields where the environmental degradation is palpable, the promises of higher yields largely discredited and the cost to profit ratio is dooming GMO crops to dustbins while the 'feeding the world' slogans no longer ring in headlines. The obvious truth now becomes illumined:  GMOs exist only to sell the chemical products of the company behind them.

We are not fooled by your pandering to those wishing to keep the truth from our citizens. Better you keep quiet and not besmirch your journalistic integrity any further.  You shame yourself and your heritage by treating your reading public as no-nothing sheep.

That's why many LA citizens are concerned about GMOs and that's why some forward-thinking councilmembers have moved for the citizens of Los Angeles against the behemoths of monopoly over our food supply. You would do well to take note.


03 September, 2014

Class This Saturday!

Yup, looks like a dog day to me!

September brings the heat of Dog Days and Drought - September's Garden... With summer's dog days all hot and dry, we'll explore our options of dealing with drought and growing food. It's time to get our winter crops planted for a wonderful winter harvest on into 2015. We have some transplants to work with and maybe take a few home and, as always, your questions answered. Sometime truthfully. 

 $20 at the gate, dress to get dirty (in the garden sense)! 

Some of winter's stars, left to right,
Fava bean, lettuces, and a cabbage 

See you in the garden!


26 August, 2014

UCLA Extension Course This Fall

Modern Backyard Food Production: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Save
Teaching plant propagation, that is an apple scion
in my mouth, I did not take up smoking.

An elective in UCLA Extension's Gardening and Horticulture Certificated Program, this is one of my favorite courses to teach.  We discuss the production, packaging, and transportation of food as large contributors to our global carbon emissions. We look at the current phenomena blossoming throughout the Los Angeles Basin, food gardens springing up to produce local healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables and contributing energy and financial savings in difficult economic times. You can register through UCLA Extension's website.

With a throwback to the idea of 'Victory Gardens' in World War II, we use the history of growing food in the city in times of need as a template, and explore how homegrown food can reduce our food budgets while addressing these environmental concerns. Students are each given a small plot for growing food where they can experiment with new ideas and enjoy their harvest. 

Topics include, at minimum, fruit trees, vegetables, and berries that do well in our climate as well as often overlooked food-producing perennials and how to grow food in modern city lots where the "back 40" describes square feet and not acres.

One of my favorite courses to teach in the Gardening and Horticulture series, we meet on Sunday afternoons at The Learning Garden, starting October 5, through December 14. Students are allowed to return to the garden after the term is over to continue to harvest from their plants.  

Typically, because there are no sources of food or drink near us at the Learning Garden, I usually make some sort of snack from local sources and something in season to serve.  Coffee and hot tea are provided.  Students are asked to bring their own service ware to keep our class meetings waste free.

Hope you can join me.


22 July, 2014

Perfect Mesquite Cornbread

This last of the cornbread was consumed
right after the photo was shot.  Too good to leave behind!

It is not just the ingredients but the process that makes this such a good cornbread. Use another oil if you dare, but still heat the oil and the pan in the oven before adding to the dry ingredients. Use another pan if you dare, but the best results will be with cast iron. Take time to meticulously mix all your ingredients together if you absolutely must, but do not expect a fluffy, springy cornbread.

Lay your inner rebel aside and follow the damn recipe the way it's written.

¾ cup cornmeal
¾ cup flour (white or a combination of white and whole wheat with white predominating)
½ cup mesquite flour*
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 Tablespoons melted butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 scant Tablespoon sugar (you may use honey if you like)
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ยบF, put the butter in your cast iron skillet and allow it to melt while the oven is heating and you are combining the dry ingredients. The hot skillet and melted butter are keys to the quality of the cornbread. Combine dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Mix wet ingredients into dry mixture until just combined, add the hot melted butter first, the milk second and the egg last. Quickly blend the ingredients but do not overmix! Pour the mixed ingredients into the hot skillet and place in the oven. From the time the butter is added to the time it goes in the oven must be as brief as you can make it. Bake 20 to 25 minutes - the top should be browning and a knife inserted in the middle of the cornbread should come out clean.

I did not make this up whole. I got help from reading about mesquite and morphed all I learned into my Grandfather's cornbread recipe. The method I learned from him and over 40 some odd years have proved that any improvement to it is not an improvement. Cornbread is comfort food for me. I could make it with my eyes closed except for the hot skillet part.

*The mesquite flour in this case is native North American mesquite flour (Prosopis velutina)  came from The Mesquitery. Thank you, Jeau Allen, for this wonderfully smooth flour to add to my family recipe to nourish my heart and soul!  


13 July, 2014

Some Salient Facts About GMOs: Addendum

It dawned on me this morning that I had missed one of the most important points that could have appeared in the first post on GMOs.  

Often we hear supporters of GMOs saying things like "What we are doing is no different than what mankind has been doing since the beginning of agriculture."  There is no difference between GMOs and simply hybridizing that anyone has done in the past." 

To say this is so ludicrous it does an injustice to the word.  When proponents of GMOs say this, they will eventually admit that previous generations did not have the technology to do this.  So how, in fact, did our ancestors "genetically engineer" plants?

They didn't.  

The technology used before genetic engineering is so totally different from genetic engineering that no one with a slice of understanding of the two technologies would ever suggest they are similar let alone the same.

If you had any doubts, look at the process.  In traditional breeding, normally there is a mother plant and a father plant.  In plants, there is also the phenomena where the mother and father are the same plant.  To clarify, pollen comes from the father plant parts and must pollinate the female plant parts - and some flowers have both male and female parts. Many of those having both male and female plant parts in their flowers will pollinate themselves - others may have both male and female parts but not be able to pollinate themselves.  It sometimes makes animal sexuality look dull.  

In the GMO process, the combining of DNA is done without a mother or a father.  Genes from species totally unrelated are inserted into the victim plant.  The very definition of 'species' is plants that can interbreed -  a corn's silk will accept pollen from any other corn, but will not accept pollen from related species - like wheat, rice or barley - they are all grasses and in that similar.  However, in nature you cannot get a corn silk to accept pollen from a beet.  In genetic engineering, genes from a fish can be inserted into a plant.  There is nothing in nature that would allow that to happen.  

Furthermore, the genetic information from the fish will be in every cell of that plant.  That doesn't happen in regular breeding.  Remember from your 8th grade biology class that each individual is born with two sets of genes - one from Mom, one from Dad.  And that is the way it works in nature - of each pair, one is dominant and one is recessive.  In GMO's, each plant is a clone of the original single cell that was engineered in a laboratory. This is not the way we've always done it!  And anyone who tries to tell you genetic engineering is "normal" or is "just like what we've always done" is either making money of GMOs or just doesn't understand what really is involved.  

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, natural about genetic engineering (GE), also called Genetic Modification (GM).  However you slice it, it's not a 'natural' process whichever way you look at it.

NB:  There is a process in traditional plant breeding where cloning is used.  However, it only happens inside a given genus - or in two very similar genuses. There are instances of hybridizing between oak species and apricots and plums will sexually cooperate plus a few others examples.  These are not the freaks of GMO work!  No fish has ever become a plant and no plant can, in nature, accept genes from species as different as those from a fish. The ones that cross species must be very similar to begin with and these are not all that common.  The resultant DNA, from this cross, is not usually reproducible, but a GMO plant will produce GMO plants in succeeding generations. 

I hope I have shed more light than dark! I have tried to explain simply and forthrightly.  If you need clarification, write a note and I'll answer your concern specifically.  


09 July, 2014

Some Salient Facts On GMO's; Part II, The Human Gut and GMOs

We established in the last post on GMOs that every single cell of a GMO plant has the GMO trait - in other words, every single cell of a GMO plant includes GMO DNA.  When an organic gardener uses Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis don't worry, I can't say it either!) to combat pests, the solution is spayed on the plant in response to insect attacks.  The water soluble solution is washed off when irrigated or rained on and is washed off before consuming the food (you wash your veggies, right?).  The toxin is not in the cell - a very huge difference from a GMO plant where Bt is implanted in the cell making every single cell of the plant loaded with the toxin.  

Initially I actually thought Monsanto had used Bt in order to remove it from the organic gardeners' tool box, a safe and selective pesticide that only went after targeted species. If the GMOed Bt plants were planted throughout the nation enough, eventually (like we see with Round Up and so-called 'Super Weeds') insects will evolve and render Bt useless.  That will happen sooner or later, because insects do evolve and they do so quickly under enough pressure - like thousands of acres of Bt GMOed plants.  

The heinous use of Bt as a GMO trait hurts organic gardeners and farmers and will eventually ruin the use of Bt.  Bt used by the organic grower is not in any way harmful to the human consuming the broccoli or any vegetable sprayed with Bt.  In the organic case, the Bt is not introduced into your stomach.  In the GMO case, it becomes a part of what you eat.  And a part of you.

GMO scientists said from the beginning this was safe because the human body does not metabolize Bt like an insect - Bt eaten by an insect causes their stomachs to 'freeze' and the insect dies.  This does not happen in humans.

As Jeffry Smith's film Genetic Roulette points out, your stomach is not the only actor in digesting your food.  In every healthy human there are more cells of bacteria digesting your food than your own body's cells and those bacteria are affected by the Bt in a negative way, either killing them off or making your food digesting track environmentally unfriendly to the beneficial bacteria.  

Smith's film also documented the phenomena called "Leaky Gut Syndrome" and that's about as nasty as the name itself.  Doctors and scientists are now looking at a new condition, in the last decade or so,  where the stomach and intestines of humans are being perforated resulting in leaks inside the body of the partially digested food. The indications point to GMO food - although no specific research has pinned GMOs as the culprit.  There is plenty of circumstantial evidence that GMOs might very well be involved (anecdotal evidence from farmers is plenteous and damning); enough to make one think twice about a diet full of GMO food.

But just now, recent research from two different teams have come up with some startling results.  As reported recently by PLOS ONE, entire strands of DNA may pass from our stomachs into our blood streams, included in their notes (note #4 specifically:  Rizzi A, Raddadi N, Sorlini C, Nordgrd L, Nielsen KM, et al. (2012) The stability and degradation of dietary DNA in the gastrointestinal tract of mammals: implications for horizontal gene transfer and the biosafety of GMOs. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 52: 142–161. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2010.499480) i=) indicates that GMOs transfer in mammals from the gastrointestinal tract to the blood stream and organs.  This does not make a rock solid case for the transfer of GMOs to human organs and blood, but it does make a very serious dent in the theory that GMOs are perfectly safe!  

In fact, with both these studies on hand and nothing else, I think a person who continues to consume GMO food would have to be called extremly careless with their own health. This shows one of the biggest flaws in the GMO camp's contention that GMOs are proven safe.  They have never been proven safe! There have been so few non-industry financed studies that it would be laughable if it were not our food.

Furthermore the honest truth is that a study must be relevant to the conditions under which the item in question is going to be used.  A study that purports to study the food a human will eat over a lifetime must go on for a much more significant time than six months or less.  The average human will live much longer than six months.  I would be happy if they could show me a 20 year study that proved their safety - until then, all we have are 'indications' at best.  

The studies done by the purveyors of GMOs have all been very short (and Lord knows they need to have results swing their way with the millions of dollars they've dumped into duping the world about GMOs) - the Seralini study about which there was so much recent press, took the protocols used by Monsanto and replicated the study, the only change was to carry the study out for longer than the original. (If they want to blame Seralini with 'bad science' they have to allow Monsanto is culpable as well.)
Rats from the Seralini study.

In the greater time allowed, changes in the lab animals were grotesque and horrifying. Monsanto's study did not show that because their study was considerably shorter, perhaps specifically shorter to avoid the findings of the Seralini work.  We live longer than lab rats!  The study needs to be much longer and rigorous.  Right now, you  and your children are the lab rats in the long term study, but it's not a controlled experiment.  

Not only is this risky - even if nothing were wrong with GMOs - but it defies logic.  If GMOs were introduced in a sane government, the government would have asked for several independent studies before allowing GMOs to be fed to the public.

The way GMOs were foisted onto the American public will go down in history as one of biggest gambles with human lives EVER.  Right or wrong in the end, it is a ridiculously foolish way to introduce new products to the marketplace, especially one as freaky GMOs. 

Next up, GMOs in practice. 


01 July, 2014

Coming Soon To A Mediterranean Climate Near You!

Southern California's First Completely Organic and
Totally Awesome Food Gardener's Bible!

David King, one of Southern California's most popular speakers and teachers, is finally finishing his long-awaited garden guide for our Mediterranean climates.

Calling on over 50 years of gardening experience, a good deal of that in Southern California, this transplanted Kansan has written a text that is 100% organic and practical in every way.

Never daunted and always funny, King gets his fingers into the dirt with you – beginners are not intimidated and experienced gardeners will find genuine gems of wisdom here.

Available in late 2014, the book will sold as an 8x10 paperback and as a Kindle download. Books will be available for order on Amazon as well as purchased from the author himself. The exact pricing is not yet available but be assured every attempt will be made to keep it below $25.00.

David King

26 June, 2014

WTH (What The Horticulture) Wednesday: A Source of ??? At One Location

Not far from where I live, a perfectly good little house (3 bedrooms, 2 bath, garage and all the other rooms you would expect) was demolished and a huge two story behemoth built filling 90% of the lot with HOUSE. The architect should be subjected to a public whipping or perhaps put in stocks for a week or two for this monstrosity.  (OK... be it noted, I am not a fan of the REALLY big house for many reasons and I think ostentatiousness is unbecoming, so this castle starts in the negative numbers with me from the beginning and goes downhill.)  I have taken to calling this thing "The Houseboat" because of it's very rectangular shape and absence of any line of interest from the outside. 

But OK, put a paper bag over the house and the landscaping will probably still make three separate appearances in the WTH Wednesday series.  The landscaping of this place is truly one of the most dismal plantings anywhere in the city with a completely idiotic plant choices and placement.  There is not one single plant in this garden that ought not be yanked out and dumped. OK...  Leave the pansies, but everything else must go.  Today we concern ourselves with little 'over-reaching' of the sidewalk.

In the lower left corner you see an agave and a New Zealand Flax.  I'm not certain which agave it is, but most agaves with that kind of leaf are large plants, I'm talking three to four feet from center with spikes in the tips of the leaves.  Here these plants are in a planter bed about 18" wide abutted on the left hand side by the sidewalk and on the right by a cement wall of about twenty four inches.  The cement wall probably won't give and in about six months, the agave will be growing over the sidewalk preventing pedestrians from walking on the side walk - I mean it will easily do that - agaves have a wingspan of something like four to six feet!  And with the cement wall tilting it towards the sidewalk - even more - possibly to cover the entire walk way.  

And how about that rust colored sword bearing plant in this long bed?  That is a Phormium tenax often called New Zealand Flax.  Wikipedia describes the leaves of this plant as "The tough, sword-shaped leaves grow up to three metres long and up to 125 mm wide."  To help with the metric conversion, three meters is more or less nine feet and 125 mm works out to about five inches.  

Sidewalk?  What sidewalk? I guess they'll have to walk on the lawn that is watered without conscience or regard to expense and sprayed with enough chemicals to kill a few household pets.  Better yet:  I'll take a machete to it!  

This was not done by a clueless homeowner.  Some professional drafted a design and called for these plants to be planted here.  

It would be laughable if not so disgustingly  stupid.  And wasteful.  


NB.  Just last night I walked down that sidewalk in the picture.  In the distance, the green hedge is Ficus benjimina, AKA, in my world as F. peukus, my own "phauxtanical" Latin.  These trees have not been trimmed since they were installed over a month ago and are already impinging on the pathway.  One gets the sense of a garden designer and a homeowner with little regard for pedestrians or neighbors, or plants for that matter.  

23 June, 2014

A Paradise Without Water...

... would not be a paradise.  And this is the dilemma facing California today.

We are in our fifth year of drought.  Farmers have lost almond trees and other crops. Restrictions apply in most cities on the use (especially the waste) of water.  Some folks say "California is a dessert..." to which my colleague and co-instructor Orchid Black retorts, "Only because we made it one!" 

As reported in a recent LA Times article, this current drought has gotten worse.  And it's long time before our rainy season (ostensibly beginning in November) arrives.  

The purple circles show where the drought conditions have worsened.  If 33% of the state is experiencing 'exceptional' drought conditions (up from 25% last week alone), why do a majority of Californians state they have not felt impacted by the drought?   

There has been no major push by government or utilities to enforce any kind of real water conservation through out the state.  Only in towns like Willits, in Northern California have had any kind of water conservation effort and that came when the citizens of Willits learned they had only a 10 day supply of water from the state and then nothing.  Through massive and draconian conservation efforts and reopening local wells and other acute measures, Willits did not have to go thirsty, but it was touch and go for weeks.

California has a long history of critical water supply problems, some dendrologists believe California has suffered drought conditions for as long as 200 years at a whack!  Modern humans have moved  here en masse from the rest of the US - indeed, the rest of the world - to luxuriate in the magnificent Mediterranean climate.  But we spoil it.

We want the Mediterranean climate but we want to also pretend we are in Tropical wonderland and The British Isles at the same time.  We plant palm trees - only two species are local to southern California and neither of them are preferred species - and we roll out acres and acres of lawn.  I can live with or without the palm trees - they make me think that the people who put them in our landscape are just ignorant of the beauty we already have here.  But I have a special disdain for lawns.  

Lawns in southern California make about as much sense as a potato chip factory on the bottom of Santa Monica Bay.  It's so hard to get a crisp potato chip with all that water!  Lawns in England, Ireland and Scotland (yeah yeah, Wales too) don't need to be installed with a programmed irrigation system.  The rule, as I see it, if you need to install automatic irrigation for your lawn, you shouldn't install a lawn. Lawn turf with its very short root systems (they way we grow it invariably creates root systems that are shorter than they would have in a more natural setting) takes much more water than any other crop we grow!  And I'm including crops for food (with the possible exception of some tropical specialty plants which do not cover nearly as much acreage as lawns or food crops).

Mind you, farmers need to modify their ways too.  The almond trees bulldozed (mentioned above) because of the lack of water, probably shouldn't have been planted in the first place (mind you, the trees became untenable because a huge amount of water stored in Northern California was shipped to Southern California in the midst of the non-existent wet season of 2013/2014 and the trees could have survived this drought had that not happened, but if they had to be destroyed this year, I read it as a poor choice for an area prone to drought).  And why is it that California irrigates acres of land to grow alfalfa, mostly at tax payers expense (because if the Federal government charged as much it cost to get the water to the farmer there would be squeals and screaming in Congress) only to export all this alfalfa to China!  California is the largest shipper of alfalfa in the world to China!  With tax payer subsidized water.  

We all need to change what we are doing with or without government or utility urging. Check your home for leaks.  Limit your showers to five minutes.  Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.  Cut down on landscape water.  To the degree you can, make water work twice before it leaves your domain.  I collect water as I'm waiting for hot water from the tap, I add in leftover water from the dog's bowl and left over coffee/tea into the bucket (any water without soap or other harmful substances) and this bucket helps water my container garden.  I can't control all my water to the extent that it all works twice, but that which I can control I do.  

Your changes will make very little difference in the water shortage in California.  But it will help you feel empowered and will reinforce your appreciation and respect for water. THAT is the biggest change.  And you will feel more at home in our drought prone climate. It will help you appreciate this world we live in.  You are here.  Not the Bahamas.  Not London. You are here in a Paradise like no other.


17 June, 2014

Some Salient Facts On GMO's; Part I, Genetics

GMO plants have been a part of our diet since the early 1990's and yet many consumers do not know much about them, despite efforts to pass California's label law and much hollering and shouting in the media.  One of the interesting points in the Proposition 37 (Labeling of GMOs) debate is that the NO side (in favor of NOT labeling GMOs) did not try to sell people on GMOs (like I thought they would), but only denigrated the proposition's wording, or claimed (fraudulently) that GMOs would increase grocery bills by some obnoxious, unfathomable amount and charged that it created a whole new bureaucracy (it didn't). They did not promote GMOs as being safe, healthy or necessary.  If a voter, wanting to vote intelligently asks you questions about GMOs, hopefully some of what follows will provide you with enough data to inform them.

As I write this now, I can see this will take up more than one post, so this is the first installment.  If you find you have questions, or just a comment (perhaps a correction?), please use the blog's comment form so I can present the answers to all who have your question.  I hope we can make this an ongoing discussion. Today, a bit on genetics.   

Half of a child's DNA is from the mother and the other half from the father.  The different genes combine based on what is dominant and what is recessive.  For example, the mother has blue eyes and father has brown eyes, the child most likely will have blue or brown eyes.  Whichever the child has, we might assume that is dominant and the one not expressed is recessive. We don't need to try to figure out the situation if the kid has green eyes... Just yet.

So, for a plant, it's the same:  half the genetic material comes from the male and half from the female.  Plants have sex in very different ways from mammals, so it becomes a little more convoluted.  We'll cover most of this very quickly so hang on.  If there are two parents of the same plant that are different varieties (like a mild pepper male pollinating a female Jalapeno), it is called 'crossing.' And crossing between a GMO and non-GMO is what we want to avoid.  Like the plague.  

I.  Selfing - this is not common in the animal world, but in some flowers, the flower has both male and female parts in the same flower.  In the case of tomatoes, lettuce, peas and beans, these flowers almost ALWAYS pollinate themselves before they open; this is called 'selfing.'  These plants can be grown next to a different variety of the same plant and will probably NOT cross.  We have very little concern about the genetics becoming mixed between two plants under almost any condition.

II. Selfing or Bee pollinated - These are plants that CAN self- pollinate, but usually don't, even though they do have both male and female, they primarily depend on bees to pollinate them.  Because we know a lot about bee behavior, we can control the pollination between plants we want to avoid and force the plant to self-pollinate. This is still very easy to do.

III.  Insect pollinated only - Harder to control because these flowers probably do NOT contain male and female parts - they are one or the other - and so they must be pollinated by an insect or a human playing an insect.  Still, we know how to keep these separate easily enough.  It involves some extra effort, but it can be done. Soybeans are the number one GMO'ed crop that is insect pollinated.  GMOs have been implicated in some of the problems our bee populations are experiencing today, but there is no definitive proof as yet. 

IV.  Wind pollinated only - These are the plants we are most concerned about - corn, beets and others.  The wind carries the very light pollen for long distances and that endangers crops that might cross with pollen from GMO plants. 

One of the insidious points of GMO plants is that EVERY SINGLE CELL IN THE GMO PLANT CARRIES THE GMOed GENE.  Without going through the entire explanation of chromosomes combining between mother and father that you got in 8th grade, agree with me when I say, one half of your chromosomes are from your mother and the other from your father.  They combine in a unique way to make you - and because you get half from one and half from the other, you have a complete set. You have one for eye color from your mom and one for eye color from your dad.  You have one for hair color from mom and one from dad.  It takes the two versions of each chromosomes to make a complete set - one of each is dominant and one of each is recessive (this is a simplification, but we don't need to know more to understand the point).  In a GMOed plant, pollen from a GMOed plant gives the next generation half of the genes with the GMO trait in it. The GMO trait then becomes a part of every single strand of DNA in the next generation.

Corn pollen can travel up to 25 miles and still be viable.  No one has done that same research on beets yet.  When GMO corn was introduced, Monsanto told the USDA that corn pollen was only viable for five miles.  We had to take them at their word because no one had studied the distance at that time.  Now we have some independent research on this and guess what?  Monsanto must have just guessed at five miles because it's really twenty-five miles.  How far beets?  Don't know.  We do know that beet pollen is much lighter than corn.  And just like corn pollen, it will mate with any female flower ready to receive pollen.  Worse than corn, though the pollen from GMO sugar beets will cross with your garden beets and your chard because all three are genetically so similar they are considered the same species!  

Wind pollinated plants present the biggest challenge and there is NO WAY GMO and non-GMO plants can survive and be independent from crossing when grown in the same vicinity.  Non-GMO corn, to remain non-GMO when grown in proximity to GMO corn must be hand-pollinated to assure freedom from GMOs, a time consuming project that requires many hard diligent and motivated workers to prevent the GMO pollen from reaching the flowers of the non-GMOed corn.  Beets and chard present a much more challenging situation because the flowers are not neatly separated like corn flowers are.

How'd I do so far?  More to come in a day or two; stay tuned.


06 June, 2014

It WILL Kill (Almost) Everything (And That's Bad!)

I am not a fan of 'diy' pesticides - especially ones circulating around the internet right now.  I'm all in favor of things being cheaper and I'm definitely in favor of no one ever buying Round Up again, but to replace it with this is not an improvement.

I am an organic gardener and have been from the days it was 'crazy' and 'stupid' to be an organic gardener.  Now that it's cool to be an organic gardener, I have moved on to being what we laughingly refer to as "post modern organic."  I don't use any chemical pesticides at all.  It really doesn't make sense to use any poison on the food you will eat.  If it must be doused with poison, it is not worth eating.  I am convinced that insects primarily attack weak and under performing plants and in that way are nature's clean-up crew, keeping genetic material of weaker plants out of the reproductive pool.  

Part of the reason we need insecticides, though, is because we buy bunches of chemicals to make our plants greener and taller and fatter and more better in all ways.  All that extra growth is succulent and green - easy picking for insects.  Stop putting on all that fertilizer and you won't have to spray insecticides!  How about that - you stop buying both products - think of the money you save.  Meanwhile you'll have uglier looking fruit that is better for you and the environment - plus, if you like killing things, you can now afford a couple of tickets to see the latest nonsense the movie industry has dreamed up in which people die left and right.  I'll pass on that too.

But to this chemical concoction directly - did you even look at the ingredient list?  Holy cow!  There is NO WATER to dilute the mixture.  It is ONE GALLON of vinegar.  Do you know what the pH of vinegar is?  2.2 - remember, your soil and plants perform at optimum somewhere much closer to 4.5 or 5. THIS STUFF WILL KILL YOUR SOIL'S EARTHWORMS, BACTERIA AND FUNGI!  You'll be creating dead soil.  I know, because you won't spray it over your entire garden, the dead zone will be relatively small and can be repopulated from adjacent areas, but do you really want to do this?   Why kill the things you are trying to attract to your garden, like soil bacteria, fungi and the millions of other little creatures in the soil that make your garden truly fertile?  

Besides which, this concoction will not really kill several of my perennial weeds, although it could give them a good knock.  False garlic, Bermuda grass, morning glories and nut grass.  All of these have defense mechanisms that would prevent this weedkiller from working. I used straight vinegar for a time, but then, one day pouring a quarter cup on a false garlic, next to the plant three earthworms came out of the soil and writhed to death in front of my eyes.  I realized in an instant that this 2.2 pH is not benign - it is deadly. It has an advantage that the deadliness does not last long.  The soap is to help make it deadly longer and soap itself will disrupt bodies and bacteria and fungi quite nicely too - soap is the active component in many insecticides.  Then there is the Epsom salts.

Two cups is quite a lot of anything – makes you think twice about the vinegar, doesn't it? Epsom salts (not really a salt, but a form of magnesium) will act in counter to the vinegar's pH, but what does happen is not clear. Without any tests to establish what this combination does do, I'm not inclined to want to unleash it on the environment. That is the kind of shoddy work we expect from companies hawking GMO's and prescription drugs.  (This paragraph was edited considerably from the initial post thanks to a reader's comment pointing out an error.)

Save your vinegar for cleaning windows or whatever the cool usage is today.  Do NOT put this concoction on your plants or in your garden.  It is simply not worth it.  And while you're at it, look at all diy pesticides a with a little more questioning attitude and do not take them at face value.  

Your garden thanks you .


29 May, 2014

Let There Be Ice Cream and Let It Begin With Me!

Homemade rhubarb pie and homemade
vanilla ice cream

You remember having pie and ice cream last year, right?  Remember how you savored each bite and being a part of the chorus extolling affection and love for the people who brought this wonderful 4th of July party to your tastebuds?  

Guess what?

YOU can be one of the folks being praised by happy ice cream eaters this coming 4th of July!  We are looking for a few good people who can read a recipe and help us make some of this delicious ice cream during the month of June. The Learning Garden will provide the ingredients (and the recipes too!) and we have the freezer space to store the ice cream.  You just follow the steps and viola!  You get to be one of the makers people will laud on this coming July 4th.  

Interested?  Please send a response to Wendy Temple.  j

And mark your calendars to be at the Learning Garden in the afternoon of July 4th this year for our 7th Annual Ice Cream Social!  

You know it's good!