25 December, 2016

Propagation Class 2017

Happy Holidays to everyone - wishing you peace and joy in this holiday season whatever holiday you celebrate! 

Teaching propagation a few years ago, that's
a scion in my mouth, not a cigar!  

I was just online and noticed that the Plant Propagation class from UCLA Extension for Winter 2017 has a few spaces left in it.  The magic of plant propagation has been mostly lost in this current world's whiz bang get it done in three seconds attitude.  

However, there are a good many plants out there that you can't just 'buy.'  Perhaps they are not in the trade anymore.  Perhaps they never were.  But having taken Plant Propagation, there you are with your trusty (sharp and clean) pruners or your grafting knife (also clean and sharp) and all the knowledge you need possess to make a new plant from an existing one - and you can do so confidently because you understand the WHY as the WHAT.

Our teaching assistant for most meetings.

I teach four classes for UCLA in every typical year and this one is my favorite!  If you work with plants now, or hope to in the future, this course bestows a whole new sense of certainty and empowerment in your relationship with plants.  No more is it just, "well, I guess...."  you get the understanding as to how the different parts of a plant work to make the plant live and when you propagate by working with the plant, how much easier it is!  

Meeting at 1:30 (to 4:30) starting on January 15th at the Learning Garden, register soon to avoid being left behind.  The course is held at the Learning Garden, a one acre teaching garden on the grounds of Venice High School where massive amounts of plant propagating can occur to give everyone a firm feel in your hands for what your head knows.  

I look forward to teaching you!


01 August, 2016

We Are Not Done

I have written very little lately about GMOs and the labeling issue.  Honestly, I was not surprised when Obama signed the recent GMO Labeling bill into law on Friday, July 29th.  I have had a very poor opinion of his relationship with GMOs since he named his cabinet from the first election:  The handwriting was on the wall that what he promised in the election was simply to get elected,he, in truth, was in full support of GMOs and had no real intention of labeling them.

This has been my position from the beginning;
the only reason I wanted them labeled
is that I thought it would lead to banning -
evidently so did Big Ag!
The result of this legislation will be no real labeling of GMOs.  Poor people, the elderly and anyone else without a smartphone will be relegated to 2nd class citizen without access to the technology to help them identify foods with GMOs in them; many more are not going to make the extra effort to try to find out if their food is modified - the onus will be on them and companies get off scot-free.  In truth, though there are so many loopholes in this law, many GMOs will not be mentioned, let alone make the ingredients list we have come to rely on.  Furthermore, most of the compliance is voluntary and no labeling is put in place for a two-year study period. It superceeds Vermont's and Conneticut's bills which were far more consumer oriented than this one.  

I was not surprised, but I was deeply offended.  Americans, who already lag behind the rest of the world with confidence in our food supply, will only lag further behind.  More of our resources are being consumed by GMO production every year and the poisons required to get a crop from these man-made seeds continues to grow in volume and variety. No other civilized country devalues the lives of their citizens as does the United States.  While polls still show 90% want their food labeled as GMO if it has GMOs, our government has passed a bill that is a farce of a labeling law.  This bill is an insult to every thinking person in this country.  It is a lie perpetuated so that corporations can continue to pollute our soils, our environments and our bodies with this un-yet proven technology.  

GMOs are part and parcel of this paradigm.  They require petroleum-based herbicides and insecticides (in most cases) and certainly rely on fossil fuels for growing and transporting their products to market.  This world-vision denies that there are crises on our doorstep. These products are on the wrong side of history, they are far too extractive and they promise that man can defeat nature.  It is unbridled hubris that we can fight Nature and win - we have never before.

We always say "Monsanto this or Monsanto that" but that's just shorthand for Monsanto and all the others.  The truth is that Monsanto is the primary mover and shaker in this technology AND the largest seed seller in the US.  It is overwhelmingly sad and discouraging to watch our government enthralled by corporations that do the most harm and the least good.  I know our country has survived before, but why do we have to go into the abyss yet again?  

We will have to figure out a new strategy to avoid GMOs - maybe that means just not buying packaged foods?  Maybe we'll have to create and enforce our own standard that keeps the government irrelevant.  

I know this:  to give up is not a choice.  There is too much at stake and our voices and our actions are just too damn important to stop!  We may have hard days - and harder days yet - ahead, but giving up is not possible.  There are children and their future and so much more.  We cannot give up in the face of this greed. And we must preserve our planet.


26 July, 2016

Garden Journals

A photo from a 1990 journal, planting seeds of California
Natives for a new nursery. A Haws 2 Imperial Gallon
watering can is visible on the extreme left. Don't look
at the skinny guy in the center of the photograph.

From high school on, I have kept a notebook close at hand to record inspiration, to reconcile accounts and to hold information that I wished to have access to without trying to memorize.

These notebooks originally sprang from my early days as a Beatnik Poet wannabe – the first of them were all “creative writing” notebooks and the first ones were my actual assignments for Creative Writing classes. After my formal schooling was done, I continued with the notebooks and they evolved over the years. Mind you, now that I am in my 60's I have accumulated a rather large store of these and the recent loss of a free storage area has necessitated a rather drastic culling of these notebooks.

I went through each notebook, looking for any good writing and/or anything important and was stunned at the amount of effort I put into so many of these notebooks and there were several particularly germane to my life today: I found old garden notes!

Written in Kansas during my first marriage, my first outdoor garden as an adult – I mean the first garden I was completely responsible for – had its own group of notes. I was excited to see these; I knew I had gardened at that time, and I even had lessons I had learned that I still support, but I forgot I had kept these written notes. I was impressed that I planted 6 Big Boy tomatoes I bought at K-Mart (I wrote this down) but I also grew 6 Rutgers tomatoes that I knew from my Grandfather's garden – which means I had grown them from seed. I did the same with peppers – some were purchased, others I grew out myself from seed.  I had forgotten I was completely a seedhead from the very beginning. One page was a list of seed houses I intended to make certain I had their catalogs before the next year's plantings were being considered.  I suppose I came up with the list by remembering the plethora of seed catalogs I had been accustomed to at my Grandfather's home.  In Kansas, in winter, with frozen ground and snow, looking at photos of luscious tomatoes and other vegetables counts for gardening time.  I was particularly obsessed with those catalogs.

I had no recollection of keeping a garden journal. I did remember that same year, I planted two rows of pole beans – one was Kentucky Wonder, an old variety that maintains a good deal of popularity even today, and the other row was an experiment with Romano, a large flat Italian bean. I walked away from that year totally nuts about Romano beans! I had a 5:1 ratio of harvest from the Romanos, which, bean by bean, were larger than the Wonders and they produced over a much longer time than the Wonders. I did not plant another type of bean until my 2nd marriage – she detested Romanos. Funny that.

I teach gardening students to have a garden notebook – though nowadays it is much more likely to be on a computer. Some students, still favor hand \-written notes – usually those with good handwriting skills. I have seen works of art turned in as garden journals – drawings and glued plant ID labels, hand-drawn maps and so on.

Others, like me, use computers today. Each day I enter weather information (it's an easy cut and paste from an internet weather site) and my drawings are usually done with the mediocre drawing tools in my word processor. It is better than anything I could hand draw. But these paragraphs here and there make a long history of gardening. I have photos of insects, diseases, and fungus infestations alongside photos of hundreds of tomatoes and peppers – floral arrangements and stacks of canned and pickled food.

Obviously, we can't remember everything. Being able to make a record so easily on the computer, with photos from our phones, there is no good reason every one of us should not employ a garden journal to help us with our ever learning process in the garden.

A flawed photo, but in 1993 this was 1/3 of the Persimmon
tomato harvest - they are big yellow ones.  We had 7 tomatoes
off six plants - these were the tiny ones because we ate the
others right off! they were HUGE and tasty The photo may be
flawed, but the memory it inspires is still precious.


27 June, 2016

Another Installment of: He's Dead, Jim!

He's dead, Jim... No, really dead.
It's time for a new installment of "He's Dead, Jim...!"  

This poor tree is still standing on the block where I live.  That cut branch between the right and the center of the photo, a little above the middle of the photo has bedeviled me more than once.  Either the homeowner doesn't ever walk the sidewalk out front, or is perhaps shorter than five feet six, but that branch, before it was cut and to this day requires a person as tall as I am to be looking ahead or else!  I about had a major 'or else' last night as I walked home from a movie.

The plantings on this property are loaded with sad choices and indifferent care.  This one ranks as a public nuisance and keeping a dead tree in your front yard is a sad reflection of how we treat trees. Our society doesn't seem to acknowledge that trees are alive and are powerful beings in their own right.  We cut them without any kind of appreciation of the way they live - giving such jobs to the lowest bidder - and we approach them like, well, blocks of wood.  I could give a clinic on how not to prune trees on just about any block in Los Angeles, certainly here on my block and in the trees of The Learning Garde which are pruned by the lowest bidder to the Unified School District and not a soul in the crew that has cut our trees has the slightest knowledge of the internal workings of a tree - they butcher them with gusto.  I am not far from an avocado that is dying from lousy pruning and it breaks my heart.

I heard earlier today that Oregon's Supreme Court has declared that dogs are people too. It took a long time for the majority of Americans to acknowledge that pets are sentient beings, deserving of respect and appreciation like humans - soon we will be able to grant that plants are ever bit as sentient as we are - even if we show that sentience in different ways.  Scientists already agree that trees send messages to one another through their extensive root systems and fungi that populate those roots. 
What trees do in communicating with one another is amazing.  

This poor tree/shrub has been dead for almost 10 years - it needs to be chipped up and added to a garden as a part of a pathway.  I'm not sure I would recommend this home owner get a replacement unless they undergo "Plant Sensitivity" training.  

I'll teach that course... 


23 June, 2016

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About The Care and Feeding of Garden Tools

There are ads in gardening magazines proclaiming the next MUST HAVE garden tool, some of which are quite expensive. What do you really need to garden? What is the most effective way to use them? What can you do to make them easier to use? How do you make your tools last longer?
David with a Double Digger or Broadfork;
we'll cover this and everything up to it!

Self-proclaimed “lazy person,” David King knows that tools can make your gardening easier and more fun. He also knows which tools work and which are just a sales gimmick. He knows how to keep tools ready to be used for a very long time and he knows how to keep them sharp so they are easier to use. You'll learn all this plus a tool sharpening clinic.

Don't worry, we'll also cover what to do in your garden in July and we'll talk about keeping your wonderful garden alive and growing through the summer in Los Angeles. Your gardening questions answered and as usual, some kind of take-home gift for our July attendees.

Still only twenty bucks and worth twice that every time! No reservations required – you can use PayPal to pay in advance. Cash or check at the gate works too.

When:  10 to Noon, July 2nd 
Where:  The Learning Garden, Venice High School, enter at our Walgrove Gate
Who:  Experienced gardeners (good and bad), beginning gardeners and wanna be gardeners. And people who have gardening questions.
What: 2 hours of the most enthusiastic, fun, garden talk this side of the state, with insights gleaned from 50 years or so of doing a lot of things wrong.


19 June, 2016

Greener Gardens Happens This Summer Quarter!

Instructors Orchid Black, offering
Greener Gardens This Summer

Greener Gardens: Sustainable Garden Practice will start this Tuesday evening, June 21 and run through August 16.  This class is one of the elective classes for the Gardening and Horticulture Certificate Program and the Sustainability Certificate Program.  

Orchid and I have taught this course for several years at this point.  We are ever astounded at the quality of our students and their willingness to approach a different way of looking at our everyday life and how our gardens are a point of impact on the world.  Every action we take in our lives aligns our lifestyle with sustainablilty or not.  What can we change as individuals to live a less impactful life and in what way do we compromise?  

This is not the definitive course on being sustainable, but it does impact the way we act in out immediate environment and with our food.  This course features more than just a few aha moments!  

We meet on the campus of Venice High School - in The Learning Garden.  Please plan on parking on Walgrove or on Venice Blvd and enter through our gate on Walgrove Avenue (the first gate you come to as you proceed south on Walgrove Avenue).  Once in the Garden, venture in and follow the voices!  You can find the syllabus for this term here.

Enrollment data includes:  Greener Gardens: Sustainable Garden Practice   6/21/2016 -- 8/16/2016    BIOLGY    X 498.10   Reg#: 266323   Project#: 266-323   12 mtgs  6:30 to 9:30 PM


02 June, 2016

Farewell Gene Logsdon

Gene Logsdon,
(born 1932, died May 31, 2016)
Gene Logsdon has had more to do with my gardening thinking than any other man after my grandfather and I am saddened to learn of his passing.

Gene wrote for Rodale Publishing back in the 1970's, and I devoured many of his books - and much of those books is still relevant and good reading to this day.  His book, "The Gardener's Guide to Better Soil" (Rodale Press, 1975) was for many years my only soils book.  His "Small Scale Grain Raising" (also Rodale Press, 1977) was the original and for many years, the only, book on the subject was recently republished by Chelsea Green Publishing remaining as viable and arelevantnt as it was in the 1970's.  

He was not only a great purveyor of data and ideas, he had a sense of humor that showed through in even some of the most serious of books.  I remember his rant on gas prices in one of those older volumes even today and still chuckle about it.  It was his humanity combined with his matter of fact farming approach that made his work so long lasting.  And I can guarantee there are assuredly many new gardeners that will continue to learn from Gene as his books continue to teach.

If you have the chance to pick up a Gene Logsdon book, snatch it up.  You will laugh a little and learn a lot.  His legacy will live on in many teachers like myself that have been influenced by him and in turn teach a little bit of Gene in every lecture they give.

Gene Logsdon was one of the most prolific of this generation of garden/farming/sustainability writers of this era. He will be deeply missed.


24 May, 2016

June Gloom Brings On Powdery Mildew...

Ah, June.

Oftentimes we refer to June Gloom – it's part and parcel of our climate. This year we've had the May Malaise and the April Anguish. Will June forego its gloom and set us free?

Somehow, I doubt it.

June Gloom is a phenomenon of our climate. Historically, June is an overcast month with little breeze.  It is hot enough, and lacks sufficient air movement and hard direct sunlight, to foster the growth of fungi on the leaves of your plant.  And once given the chance, the fungi doesn't stop at just making them ugly; it kills them.

The problem is not just the lack of sunlight from the morning cloud cover. Powdery mildew, which is a common name for many different kinds of fungi (each plant species has at least one fungi which are called “powdery mildew” - some lucky plants have more than one!) does not need moisture to live but does survive in heat – of which we have plenty. We have exacerbated this problem by walling our gardens off from neighbors with walls allowing the air in our gardens to remain stagnant. The price we pay to gain a little privacy in our crushing metropolis.

" I have this white stuff on the leaves of my plant..." 
When someone says, “I have this white stuff on the leaves of my plant...” It's probably powdery mildew. The first thing I do is think of the recent weather and the second thing I do is ask, “Is your garden enclosed by a wall?” Not always, but more often than not, the answer is yes. Some folks just live in an air pocket that fosters the mildew – others may have trees shading the plant in the sunniest part of the day - but all of us are faced with it. All the squashes, melons, cucumbers and even other plants can get powdery mildew.

My grandfather used sulfur to combat most fungi. It's simple and it's not very toxic. However, sulfur and squash family members (including, melons, cucumbers, zucchini – all those big leaved climbers) are stressed by sulfur and most authorities discourage sulfur on those plants.

Once your plants have it, cut severely affected leaves from the plant. If is is so bad you are removing too much of the plant to produce a crop, toss the whole plant. If you have it now, you have time to even buy fresh seeds and start over. This is what I do – except for winter (hard rind) squashes. Those I take away the most offending leaves only and leave the rest and try to nurse the plant along till the squash is ripened. I've almost always been successful.

The first action you might try is to wash it off with a hard stream of water - I know it seems counter-intuitive, but if you can wash the spores off the leaves, you may well forestall a more devastating infestation.

Some folks have reported good control using 10% milk in water (1 cup milk; 9 cups water, for example – any amount milk with 9 times of the same amount of water) sprayed to cover.

Cornmeal has been effective as well. 1 cup of cornmeal in a muslin bag, left 24 hours in a gallon of water can be sprayed or splashed over affected plants. If you choose to spray something, do it as soon as you can.  Every day the powdery mildew stays, it becomes harder to avoid damage. 

There are those who used baking soda, but I don't like these kitchen recipes as they are NOT benign in the soil. They can change the soil and kill the critters in the soil, so I leave them be. (The concept of using vinegar in the garden appalls me as it is very harmful to soil critters!)

If you cut off infected leaves, do not try to compost them. Your compost will not probably kill the fungus and you'll only reinfect future gardens with i

NO fungus is worth poisoning your plants or the critters in the ground.  We will all survive even if the squash looks like hell.  It's OK.  I've looked like hell some days and no one dumped me with sulfur or worse.

Thank God...

20 May, 2016

GMOs: A Failed Concept

The problem we’re facing, however, is not about lack of sustainable solutions. The problem is that Big 6 pesticide companies like Monsanto — supported by USDA and backed by the U.S. government's export-driven trade agenda — have built up an agricultural economic system that puts multinational corporations' profits above people's well-being, and locks farmers into these unsustainable practices. – Marcia Ishii-Eiteman Apr 16, 2015  in GroundTruth (www.panna.org)

It's tough these days to be against genetic engineering of our food. Articles in Slate and The New Yorker make us look like looney fringe nut cases and the House of Representatives voted by a large margin to ban labeling of foods that have genetically altered ingredients in them. It's bleak. Science, they tell us, is against us and we are just paranoids.

Mesquite beans - mesquite may become an important food crop
in the coming years if Global Climate Change continues to manifest.
Mesquite can take very cold and very hot temperatures and still produce
a crop which is ground into a very nutritious (and delicious) flour.
A lot of what we are reading about the success of GMO crops is paid for by the biotechies themselves pushing this stuff. When you get a study that proves them wrong, they go after that researcher, not by refuting the research, but by slandering the researcher and attempting to ruin his or her career. It takes more guts than most people have to see their careers ruined and their name dragged through the mud, ergo, not much research disparaging genetic alteration gets very far along. (On a good note, recently the French scientist, Serillini, won a defamation lawsuit against Monsanto for their slander campaign against him.)  

Thank God, in recent months, glyphosate has come under scrutiny. This is a shining chance to thwart at least that segment of genetic engineering. Not only is it a suspected human carcinogen, as declared by the World Health Organization, but reportedly appearing in such benign places as mothers' breast milk as reported by Moms Across America.  They noted that their sample of women was aware of GMOs and had worked for some time to avoid GMOs. Of course, the herbicide has been used to dry out grains like wheat (which s not commercially genetically altered) after harvesting, so simply avoiding GMOs will not stop glyphosate in your diet. In addition, testing showed considerably more glyphosate in the mothers' urine samples – way over what was found in the urine of European mothers in a study conducted in 2013. Now several counter studies to the breast milk study have responded indicating that the MAA study was wrong, but of course, Monsanto can buy (and has bought) favorable test results in the past, so who to believe? When there is any question about research, I like to trust those who aren't benefiting financially from the results, but who is that? Please note the MAA study is only preliminary but the World Health Organization's findings have got to be accorded some significant weight.  

We have yet to know how ten organic wines produced in CA got significant amounts of glyphosate in them, but that has been all over the news lately.  Another example, I think, of the idiocy of claiming that GMO agriculture and non-GMO agriculture can co-exist. 

Those of us familiar with the lying nature of Monsanto are not surprised that the biotech giant has lied (and continues to lie) about glyphosate, the main ingredient in their popular Round Up weed killer. Remember they told us it was not only benign once in the soil, but also that it did not persist in nature; both claims are obviously incorrect. Did they somehow just overlook these facts or did they consciously lie about them? Take your pick, with Monsanto's track record on DDT, PCBs and their lies about those and other products, I'll believe the latter. If corporations are people, Monsanto should be placed on a lie detector.

But honestly, we do not need to argue these facts with all the biotech apologists and paid off cronies. We have a bigger truth that they cannot assail.

GMOs will court inevitable starvation in those countries that use them as the primary source of their food...

That is the simple honest truth.

We can prove that we have far fewer varieties of plants on our store shelves today thanks to the GMO boom and it will only get worse. It is this loss of genetic diversity that will be the cause of famine. Instead of having a robust variety of different kinds of the same produce, there are only a few genetically altered varieties to work with. Our acres and acres of corn are all planted with very similar genetic varieties. This means a pathogen that can attack one field, can attack many fields and suddenly you have a destroyed corn (or soy or whatever) crop. Prices go up – poorer folks suffer disproportionately, hunger in America.

To the labs creating these 'new' varieties in their labs, this is seen as a boon. After all, they can find the flaw in the pathogen and GMO a new variety that resists it and having more products to sell. But in truth, it is only a new marketing gimmick – a new variety every year making investors and the company richer.  But each new variety is not really a new variety in the whole - it has one chromosome turned off - or on - and such changes in a plant's genetic make-up is just as easy for the pathogen to overcome.

Conventional breeding would breed a different way. First off, we'd have many varieties in the field and some would be resistant and would find more people planting it next year. Conventional breeders would attack the problem in a different way. Genetic alterations of a crop operate in a specific way called “vertical” breeding – one trait is changed for the crop to survive. The one gene variation is easy for a given pathogen to circumvent. Conventional breeding happens “horizontally” and is much harder to thwart by a given pathogen. These are generalizations and there are exceptions, but generalizations tend to become generalizations because they are more often than not (and by a margin) true.

This was the genesis of the Irish Potato Famine. The blight attacked the two kinds, genetically similar, of potatoes grown in Ireland and these potatoes were the only food that most of the Irish peasants had to depend on. (Before someone calls to me task for oversimplifying it, I know the “God sent the blight but English brought the famine” but this is an article on crop diversity, so please forgive me this time. The same thing could happen here, in the US in a heartbeat. We are one of the most food insecure societies on earth because of our current dependence on genetic engineering. This will only get worse if Congress continues to take the biotech money and biotech lies and allow our health, our environment's health and our food diversity to continue to deteriorate at the alarming rate it is currently.  

Mind you, this is only one of many reasons we need to move away from the genetic engineering option to the traditional way of breeding new plants and also move away from the massive amounts of pesticides we use to grow our food.  

The end game of this is too big to loose!  If we do not save our varieties of seeds and continue the tradition of saving our seeds from the big bullies, we will find our food supply locked up by the corporations and then what do we have?  We all wish to eat.  

Let it be healthy food, not patented and laced with poison or contaminated with genetic engineering. 


01 January, 2016

Red Is The Color of My True Love's Leaves!

Purple Kale - the colder it gets, the prettier
(and tastier!) it becomes! 

We are feeling purple in The Learning Garden these days!  

Starting on the 2nd of Janurary, we present the  Growing Food in Southern California class with the Gardenmaster.  Is one of your resolutions to make your garden more productive, and more satisfying for you?  Are you hoping to learn more about sustainability?  Get yourself on over here Saturday morning for this class at 10:00.  No need for an RSVP - we have the class regardless and there is always a theme.  This month, we hope that everyone has a desire to grow more food, so we'll address your needs, your questions specifically so you are on the right track from Day Two!  

A spiffed up Gardenmaster!
Don't be fooled, he still has dirt under his nails.
Attendees this month will get a baby PURPLE artichoke plant from a new variety being bred here locally, called Winetka Purple.  We're helping to make the variety become stable (the last part of creating a new strain of vegetable), which means, these plants are triply exciting to grow - you get to eat some, you get to watch some of them bloom (wow!) and then save seeds from those that look like we want them to look like.  It will be a fun and learning experience for everyone.

Later on in the month - as an added bonus, the Seed Library of Los Angeles has their first meeting of the year on January 16th, Craig Ruggless, the man who created Winnetka Purple Artichokes will tell us how he did it and what is left to be done.  These chokes are beautiful and have lots of the food parts we are all so fond of.  Especially if you got some of our seedlings on January 2nd, you really will want to be here on the 16th to hear the whole story!  

Make plans to be a part of these two events this month!  

January 2 - 10:00 to Noon, $20 at the gate or PayPal to greenteach@gmail.com - discounts for prepaying for five classes (one free).  

January 16 - 2:30 PM the monthly meeting of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA) - free to attend - to join and check out seeds, $10 for your lifetime.  

Get your growing off right in 2016!  Grow some of your own food!