19 December, 2018

December in Our Mediterranean Gardens

Winter 2018 in Review: Our Rights and Our Wrongs

It's seed catalog time – I've got two already. Seed Savers Exchange arrived

yesterday (first one of my crowd to get it!) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange came today. I will probably get a few seeds from each one – they have different varieties that entice. This last month, a friend of mine took a squash I had bought and turned it into two delicious pumpkin pies. I see the seeds for that squash (pumpkin) sold by Seed Savers Exchange and so Winter Luxury Pie will be added to my seeds sown this summer – I've already seen a lettuce I cannot live without, but I'll spend time over them, learning and dreaming of the next year's garden which is always sure to be double better than any I've grown before!

Yes, I know they are from across the continent,
but you gotta give them some love - you'll find
stuff here, you'll find nowhere else!
A recap of what has been grown is a great place to start to figure out what you'll grow this year! From my notes, this is what a past winter season looked like in the garden.

Artichoke: We had a great harvest last year of artichokes – mostly Green Globe Improved. They all produced big beautiful chokes with abandon. We had respectable harvest from Violetto which I love, but it wasn't nearly as productive, the chokes are smaller and not nearly as meaty. We are working with a plant breeder to work out some bugs in his purple artichokes, which he has named Winnetka Purple, but so far we've seen good sized green chokes or little sized purple chokes. More work.

Beets: Burpee's Golden and Chioggia - both are dynamite and steady producers year in and year out and both are readily available all over. These are two old standby varieties that form the bulk of my beet growing – Burpee's Golden has a lower than usual rate of germination but it's well worth it – besides fabulous pickles, they don't stain your hands or clothing!

Broccoli: Nutribud is an OP (Open Pollinated, vs. 'Hybrid') of respectable performance; earliness is right up there with the hybrids and the size, though smaller, is comparable. As the name suggests, it is reported to have a higher percentage of glutamine. DeCicco is a smaller, faster and more home garden friendly than some of the older varieties. All the other tight headed broccoli are hybrids. There are loose headed broccoli like Romanesco and Calabrese, but they take a lot more time. With those two varieties I recommend (Nutribud and DeCicco), you can harvest the main head and have more than a month of the sideshoots which can be more worthwhile than the main head.

Brussels sprouts: Between cabbage and broccoli, I get enough of this family to skip Brussels sprouts. OP Brussels sprouts include Long Island Improved which is the standard. The problem I have is that aphids get into each and every sprout and they are labor intensive to clean before eating – if you get a decent crop, grill them! I love them like that.

Cabbage: A good year for cabbage for us. Danish Ball Head, one of my favorite OP heirlooms performed good after we actually got some seedlings started. Winningstadt is a pointy head cabbage that yielded 10 pound heads that were delicious. Both were huge solid heads and we ate and ate and finally learned how to ferment cabbage to be able to eat it the rest of the year. And then I was sick of cabbage.

Carrots: How wonderful, if you decide to plant some of the different color carrots, you'll be able to grow open pollinated seeds! Because carrots didn't become uniformly orange until the last 70 years or so (because of marketing demand), the different colored carrots are all OP. In the orange department you'll find Nantes and Red Cored Chantenay as your big producers. In containers, try Paris Market and other small, 'one-bite' carrots.

Cauliflower: Mark Twain is supposed to have said that 'cauliflower was cabbage that had gone to college' and who can afford the tuition these days, so I'll stick to cabbage. Cabbage is easier to preserve and broccoli will give successive cuttings from one plant. Cauliflower is more work and less results. But, if you must, Early Snowball is the best OP cauliflower available and it is 'self-blanching,' which means its own leaves cover the white curds keeping them from the sun. If the curds are exposed to the sun, they will turn greenish, a detracting trait according to the Regents. There are also purple and a 'cheddar' color of cauliflower that are heirloom varieties.

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

Chard: (I'm dispensing with the 'Swiss' part, feel free to join me, after all, is it really Swiss?) We had seed from Seed Savers Exchange of Five Color Silverbeet, (silverbeet is Australian for chard, God only knows why) and seed of Pinetree's Orange Fantasia. Both were incredibly productive – although I've never known chard to be unproductive, so I'm not sure that's saying a lot. Someone gave us a few plants of Fordhook Giant, large leaves with a tremendous white rib down the center, and that one has spectacular production. While the colorful chards are show stoppers and sometimes we skip on Fordhook Giant, but those huge, beautiful, dark-green leaves are loaded with nutrition and flavor.

Cilantro: Let it go to seed and you'll have cilantro returning to your garden annually! I wish we could have it when tomatoes are ripe, then I'd grow a bundle of it, but no. It grows in our winter here. Plant any old cilantro – I have noticed no difference between Slo-Bolt and normal – one good blast of a hot Santa Ana wind it all of them bolt!

Collards: I'm not a huge fan and I've only had experience growing the old standard Vates. Collards, like some other winter crops like broccoli, are long term producers and that is a wonderful trait. Collards, a major part of the southern cuisine, became popular as one of the few crops that could remediate salty soil – like soil that had been inundated with ocean water from storms. As the slaves of the South worked with collards, they made them into stars of their now famous cuisine!

Fava beans: Windsor is my favorite and we get pounds of beans from each plant. I'm growing fewer peas preferring to grow more favas, garbanzos and lentils. Favas, of all of them, are the most productive – once you find recipes for them and are used to using them, they are really prolific! There are some less known favas that are quite beautiful.

Garlic: I love Spanish Roja – one of the hardnecks that are supposed to not like warm climates, but I have great luck with them. Last year, the crows got to them. They don't eat the garlic, but they pull them out of the ground. After three or four go rounds of this (they pull, I replant, repeat), the cloves were hopelessly intermixed so which one was the better producer is anyone's guess. But even without crows, you will find yourself buying fresh seed garlic every year – especially when you grow hard neck garlic which won't keep from one harvest to the next planting.

Kale: Redbor has worked well for me. I had some plants of Dwarf Blue kale, but when I grew it, I felt like that was a very stupid idea – same footprint for half the the food. What WAS I thinking? Lacinato, or Dinosaur Kale, gets a lot of press - and the cooks seem to love it the best. From my northern friends I have heard that kale needs a frost to really bring out its flavor – in some years, we might get to find if that's true. I've had enough kale to last me the rest of my natural life.

Leeks: King Richard is my usual dependable producer but last year was a really so-so harvest. I think I ignored them too much. American Flag is another popular variety.

Lettuce: I'm one of those who can't get through the lettuce section of a seed catalog without ordering four or five more packets! I could supply a large army with lettuce if I were given the land to do it. Marvel of the Four Seasons (Merveille des Quatre Saisons), Drunken Woman Frizzy-head (I kid you not!), Red Winter, Deer Tongue, Buttercrunch, and on and on and on. All delicious and all OP! Please note that the butter heads for which you pay so dearly in the store, are not hard to grow at all (their priciness is in the shipping) and they are actually more heat resistant than most other lettuces.

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

Parsnips: Coming back in popularity, parsnips were overlooked for decades. The white roots have the earthiness of beets with the crunch of carrots and are a sweet treat from the earth. I've only grown Hollow Crown, but I hear a lot of good words on Harris Model. Their seeds, like carrots do not last long even under really good conditions, so buy fresh annually on both.

Peas: I remember as a child getting fresh baby peas and potatoes from the garden for one of the finest meals we ever had. Nowadays, there are more pea varieties than you can shake a spoon at! For snap peas, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Snap are two reliable performers and for shelling, Little Marvel and Wando – I grow fewer peas than I used to, mainly because I like to plant other winter crops in the same space. Peas get ripe and in nano-seconds go to over ripe. Pick them thoroughly and often.

Potatoes: The world has changed a lot in the past few decades as regards the white potato. In the first place, it is no longer necessarily white. Now days, there are red, blue, yellow and other colors of potatoes and there are million different ways to cook them. I think that's going to be my 2018 resolution: I'm going to learn more about these amazing potatoes and how to eat them. Growing potatoes is about the easiest thing in the world to do, and having a good chunk Irish in me, I have that down pat! I have already grown the yellow ones – the Yukon Golds and found them delicious as well as easy. The biggest hangup with potatoes is getting them to sprout on your timeline. Most of those sold for food have been treated to NOT sprout, but even if they have not been treated, potatoes are headstrong about starting. They'll not begin to sprout until they have rested the amount of time they want to. Most seed houses will have taken care of that for you, but every so often, when you get nothing, it's because their clock has not been reset.

Radishes: I often forget to mention radishes – they are not one of my favorites (they really seem like a waste of space), but if you gotta have them, you gotta have them. I'm told they are a good source of protein. French Breakfast is one the standards and nowadays you can get Watermelon (outside white, inside red) Sparkler (little red ones) and others that are delightfully colored.

Shallots: Wow! I had never grown shallots before, but I have found they are easier to grow than onions and more productive! I planted seed from Pinetree Garden Seeeds (superseeds.com) and I was impressed, I'm back for more! Olympus and Bonilla were both good performers. And if you lack the patience or missed ordering the seeds, get some seed stock shallots from a reputable seed house – you can find a bag of them in some nursery stores.

Turnips: I used to ignore all other turnips besides Purple Top White Globe which I grew up with and is the only one sold by Seed Savers Exchange. Amber Globe and Scarlet Ohno turnips need to be trialed – and there is still time this winter!

We had some good harvests this last year and this year we are looking for way more – we have Spanish Roja garlic in the ground along with Yellow Dutch Shallots up in the garden, little pokey green things that are very cute! We have just seeded more beets than I have grown since 2008 (when I led a high school class making pickled beets!).

These plants, in the garden are almost all from seed. Most of these, can still be planted on the coast where I am - so I need to get out there and do some more planting!

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
I would not start anything in containers – but direct sow
Fava beans
Cabbage family members
Fava beans

Garbanzos and lentils


Lettuce and Other greens

Since last month's list, I've removed carrots, parsnips and other long season crops. On the coast, we might get crops in from them, but it gets riskier as the warmer days approach. Remember, the 75 day fava bean, in a cold season will take 90 days or more – you might have time to get a picking or two, but the harvest you could have had will be lost by your lateness.


BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS; www.rareseeds.com 2278 Baker Creek Road Mansfield, MO 65704; 417.924.8917 What a catalog! Beautiful pictures of the produce – vegetable porn for sure. Anyone who works this hard in putting out a beautiful seed catalog is working with a great deal of love. Drooling is hardly optional here. They have a really comprehensive selection as well.

BOTANICAL INTERESTS; www.botanicalinterests.com 660 Compton Street, Broomfield, CO 80020; 720.880.7293. I 'have been dealing with these folks for only a couple of years - I have seen their seeds on seed racks here and there, but I really got to know them for the quantity of seeds they donate to Venice High School and other educational programs. Good seed.  Clean.  Good variety and a good price. Great packaging!

www.bountifulgardens.org 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410 Organic seed; open-pollinated. A part of the work done by John Jeavons, a proud and active member of the population of organic and open-pollinated gardeners.

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; www.groworganic.com PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 I have purchased many seeds (and a lot of other things!) from Peaceful Valley – I love their catalog. They have an excellent selection of cover crop seeds as well as a lot of organic gardening supplies and tools. I have used their catalog to teach organic gardening because they clearly explain their products and how to use them.

PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; www.superseeds.com PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400 Probably the best for a home gardener – small packets of very current seed, a very good value. The smaller packets mean a smaller price so a person can order a lot more varieties and experiment. I have been a customer for many years.

SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; www.seedsavers.org Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership fees $50. Free brochure. Organic, and ALL open-pollinated. There are two ways to save seeds: one is to collect them all and keep them in a huge building that protects them from everything up to (and including) nuclear holocaust. The other way is to grow 'em. You can find the chance to grow them here. I have been a member for about 10 years and believe in their work.

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


3½ pounds beets (4 pounds with green attached, reserving greens for another use), scrubbed and trimmed, leaving about 1 inch of stems attached
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves

Speaking of beets! In a large saucepan cover beets with salted water by 1 inch. Simmer beets, covered, 35 to 45 minutes, or until tender, and drain in a colander. Cool beets until they can be handled and slip off skins and stems. Cut beets lengthwise into wedges.

Beets may be prepared up to this point 2 days ahead and chilled, covered. Bring beets to room temperature before proceeding.

In a large skillet stir together vinegar, syrup or honey, and oil and add beets. Cook beet mixture with salt and pepper to taste over moderate heat, stirring, until heated through and coated well. Sprinkle about half of thyme over beets and toss gently. Serve beets sprinkled with remaining thyme.


13 December, 2018

"Just" Water

Even before I turned 10 it was obvious I had an insatiable appetite for history. I loved to sit with old folks and hear them tell me about the days gone by and by 13 I could have been certified as a Civil War expert. I had checked out The Sinking of the Bismark so many times from the school library, no one else had a chance to read it while I was in 5th grade and part of 6th as well. Except for the lack of love scenes, it behooves any screenwriters out there to give it a look – what a plot! But that has nothing to do with today's topic.

I had a good grasp of Kansas history as well. I knew about the pro-slavery Kansas constitution and the anti-slavery constitution – the latter is the one that won out after some bloody confrontations giving rise to the name “Bleeding Kansas.” I actually lived in both capital cities – Topeka, the anti-slavery capital we all know and Lecompton, KS about 18 miles east of Topeka, the pro-slavery capital that is mostly ignored.

Finally in high school I came across material on The Dust Bowl, and it simply floored me that no one I had talked to had ever said a word about it. I lived in Northeast Kansas, which was about 150 miles east of the Dust Bowl's eastern line, but such a phenomena would surely have affected beyond the borders drawn on a map. Yet, none of my mentors had even mentioned it.

On a recent day off, I immersed myself in Ken Burns' film, “The Dust Bowl” and watched the whole four hours (or so) in one sitting. It was my second time to watch it, doing it all at once was a bit overwhelming even with the knowledge I had going in. If your anti-depressant Rx is up to date, it's an eye-opener for sure, but without meds, it is one helluva story to follow. It was one of the “top five natural disasters” in the world and it was entirely man-made. Let that sink in. Mind you, as it happened, the humanity involved had no idea that they were at fault, but none-the-less, absent the mass of humans with their tractors and their plows, and there is no The Dust Bowl. A rather long drought, did nothing to help it, but it would not have caused the blowing dust that killed animals, domestic and wild, and humans alike. There had to be humans and their tractors pulling plows.

There was one mention at the very last of the film that I want to explore today, something I had heard of several times, in the back ground of other conversations, but here, in the film, a man was saying we have 40 years left and I began to calculate from the film's 2012 release about when he gave those numbers – six years ago, plus however long in production.

The forty years left was in reference to the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Ogallala Aquifer is a massive body of water that lies underground from South Dakota and Wyoming, through Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico, ending in Texas. While it's been known about for some time, becoming a part of the White Cultures' science just over 100 years ago, the Ogallala was left pretty much alone. In the years around WWII, farmers began to use the Ogallala to grow crops that needed more water than they had and once farmers had a vision of all they could grow using the aquifer's water, the dam burst, so to speak, giving rise to the gloomy prediction of forty years left. The Ogallala provides 30% of the water used for irrigation nation wide, and also supplies many mid-Western municipalities with their drinking water supply.

The Ogallala Underground Aquifer
from Wyoming to Texas touching eight states.

Once depleted, the Ogallala will take 6,000 years to replenish. This is a finite resource. No politician seems to have the heart to say, “Uh, folks? We have a problem here,” and it's a big problem. The Ogallala is being drained in years with good rain, because farmers can grow crops that would not be attempted without that water. It is used heavily in rain short years to keep the traditional grain crops producing. It is used too heavily and this consumption needs to be addressed to prevent this resource from disappearing.

Without the water, a whole new chain of so-called “Okies” will hit the road for – literally – greener pastures, only California won't be one of them. Our water shortages are as bad as the Great Plains, if not worse. California agriculture ships alfalfa, a heavy drinker of a plant if there ever was one, rice and other plants to foreign markets which is absurd because in the real world we are shipping our water overseas – water we can ill afford to give up to make a farmer – or more likely, a company that grows the alfalfa and so on, rich. Our precious water is sent across the world when shortages are already here – if one should have any doubts, a quick internet search on the water levels at Lake Mead should quickly clear that up.

Of all the concerns we have about Global Climate Change, the one I never hear is lack of water – and yet that figures in the equation – especially when we also waste huge quantities of water in fracking. The chemical soup that is used in fracking – too toxic to reveal just what compounds are in that mix – ruins water and that water will never be used for drinking ever again.  Here is the hard truth about fracking: That water is never coming back. There is no way to clean fracking water –it is catastrophe that will serve no good to anyone for the rest of the life of the planet, unless a miracle occurs. We - as a species - count on water recycling through the system - this does not happen with water used in fracking - mind you, there are other examples where we have removed water from Earth's hydrological cycle that we won't get back.

We all need to be on the front lines pushing our governments to do more with less – to control this abuse of water and to make sure there is ample water for future generations. We can start by using less ourselves – I subscribe to the belief that we must treat water like the sacred, limited, precious life force that it is and so I take fast showers, less frequently; I put cold water in a bucket while I wait for my water to heat up and use it around the house (no, I don't want an instant hot water unit – that hot water tank figures in my survival plans as a source of water in an emergency!). But let's all be cognizant that all our water is a limited resource – whether you are growing crops that need more water than your locality can afford, or shipping the plants you irrigated across the ocean, noting that those plants used the water that had to be pulled from the Colorado River (which already doesn't have enough) thereby degrading the amount of water we have for wildlife and humans alike. We need to make these points to our Congresspeople and to the world at large.

Just water” is only “just” until there is no more. It is precious and a vital part of life. Let's value it and work to show everyone the priorities we need to embrace.


03 December, 2018

The Fair Maiden and The Orange Tomato

(Some blogs seem so uni-dimensional. I'd like to present something a little lighter than most of what I'm writing here. This was written in July 2006, in the height of our tomato season... this is an email I sent to the woman who had planted the tomato plant. She did email back, but didn't make it out to the Garden to sample her tomatoes... There is ONLY one grain of truth in this story... Might even be half a grain... )

From the Baker Creek catalog, Woodle Orange
And it came to pass that the summer did come and the land was filled with the heat thereof and the heat begat the fruiting of the tomato vines and the vines of all the land were lush with many tomatoes everywhere.

And the people were overjoyed that tomato season was once again in the land and they rejoiced with abandon and went from plant to plant, picking the tomatoes and many eating from the vine right where they stood relishing the deliciousness of the fruit warmed by the sun, sweet and succulent in its ripeness.

And lo, they came unto one plant with fruit a different color than they were used to, for though tomatoes have many colors, most are red or yellow, but this one was orange to the eye and appealing and many said to themselves, we have never seen a tomato like this tomato and they marveled at its color, but not so much that they did not eat the fruit. And when they had eaten the fruit they looked at one another and said, this is the bomb, behold an orange tomato that is sweeter than a Reeses Piece yet is a tomato! And they went with their discovery to the Wise Man in charge of the garden, verily, the one they call the Gardenmaster and they said unto him, look what we have found!

And the Gardenmaster, because he was wise and knew about orange tomatoes from a long time before, was not impressed and verily did say to them that had gathered, This is an orange tomato. So what.

Verily, they said unto him, loud with one voice, you must taste this orange tomato for there is none other tomato like it. And they offered him a fruit, which he did take and then saith, Why yes, that is pretty yummy.

And then the people pressed him pointing to the bush that brought forth such alluring fruit, From whence cometh that amazing tomato plant? And he spoke to them replying, It came from Nan.

And they all marveled and said with one voice, Nan?

Nan, replied the Gardenmaster, Nan came from afar and did plant that tomato plant which bears the orange, and quite tasty, fruit.

Oh, all the people said, who could this Nan be that she would bring to us such a fruit and leave it for us to eat and partake – what a wise and benevolent soul this Nan must be! And they talked among themselves in wonder and amazement who this Nan could be, so they turned to the Gardenmaster and spoke to him saying, Tell us all about this Nan.

And he said unto them, she is a fair and lovely maiden, beautiful and gracious and they said unto him, surely she must be rich beyond all measure and something truly extraordinarily different that sets her apart from all other fair and loving maidens.

And the Gardenmaster thought for a time and finally said unto them, Well, she IS Canadian.

And the people spoke among themselves with awe wondering what kind of wonderful and mighty place this Canadia must be that they grow so many delicious tomatoes that one of them could come to this garden and plant a tomato like this tomato.

But one among them was not impressed – he said unto them, I know several Canadians, they are just like Americans, only civilized. Verily they have civilized health care with no waiting lines and they have a peculiar adaptation of English, but they are thoughtful and have made a nation on the glaciers of North America.

Now the people were mystified greatly. Who could this Nan be that she would could plant such a marvelous tomato in their midst and leave it for others to enjoy, verily, not even returning to try the fruit, but to leave is if it were abandoned.. And so they pressed close to the Gardenmaster and they spoke unto him demanding an answer. Why would this fair maiden give unto them this plant? And he tried to evade them by shrugging his shoulders, but they would have none of it. Tell us, oh, tell us, Gardenmaster, they chanted in unison, Tell us.

And he tried to reason with them, saying, I don’t know why she hasn’t come back, but they would not hear him. Finally, in desperation, he cried out to them, All right, all right, I shall email her and ask her why she has not come back to partake of the fruit of her tomato.

And verily, quieted, the crowd was satisfied and in the wholeness of time the Gardenmaster did send an email to Canadia to ask Nan to come and join the frolicking in the garden in the summer of that year.

Sadly, upon all our hearts, did the email truly bounce.


31 October, 2018

In A Hundred Years: An Essay

In a few days we'll celebrate Veterans' Day. It's only been “Veterans' Day” since 1954. It is still observed in other countries under its old names: Armistice or Remembrance Day. The observance began in the early 1900's – 1918 to be exact. On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, hostilities of the major players along the Western Front in the First World War would cease. This is the beginning of observing that day for veterans; for no more war.

At the end of World War 1, the cost of the war in terms of life and destruction was so huge, most who participated in that war could not stomach the thought that the war had accomplished nothing – mind you, in its immediate aftermath, there was no way a sane person could rationalize the cost of that war, when gaining mere feet at a cost of a thousand – or many thousands of lives was too much to bear. It was called “The War To End All Wars.” Those who lived it, thought it could not be too much to ask for mankind to avoid such horrific butchery of the human species ever again.

With astonishing rapidity, a small group of madmen led the world into a second horrific war, which was to be called World War II, proving that insanity isn't solely invested in a single generation. Humans who aren't capable of engaging with other humans who do not look like them, cannot be trusted to do the right thing. They are too shallow and too fearful – for it is fear that causes a lack of engagement on the political stage – and do not have the intelligence to comprehend and appreciate plurality. In their feckless claims to power they over-promise and under-deliver because they have no substance – no matter how violent and large their army, in a generation they are gone.

We know now, without a shadow of a doubt that a similar war – with more modern weapons – is not a distant possibility. The Russians have huge stockpile of nuclear weapons as does the US and other countries a little less. But we all know that there are only a couple of buttons that can make these monsters go boom. Whether or not you think of it daily, I would believe that everyone capable of reading these words would never want to see even the smallest of those weapons unleashed.  And the truth is, even if only one is unleashed, it will be followed by many, many others and life on earth will be over. 

We cannot be the generation that acts so recklessly. I am fraught with fear over the lack of common sense in our leadership today - I am filled with fear at the rhetoric and lack of decorum and common sense. I am maddened by the name calling and the dehumanizing of people who don't quite match the white man. History shows us that all of this was done before and directly created and set the stage for WWII. We cannot go down that path once again, because the road is far too dark and the unseen is all too certain. The substance and essence of all living generations being vaporized over a dispute, and assuredly a petty dispute compared to what follows, is too much to bear. 

It will be on our watch. Veterans Day, by any name, will be worthless. All of human kind's efforts destroyed by only ego. And in this moment, consider that we have two observances ahead - two traditions – that we must consider. 

In the first, we must go to the polls and vote on November 6th - and we must vote for integrity and competence - for honest and not name calling - for truth and not for falsely concocted crises at our borders or in our heartland. We cannot listen to the money changers and the hopelessly rich. Leaving the booth, we must be able to look the old woman in the eye, the drug addicted, the homeless, the jobless and the forlorn.  We must hold our head high before greed and injustice. 

In the second, on the 11th day of the 11th month, we do not need to show up at parades or stand and salute the flag because those who march in the parade and the ones whole enough to march. There are many shadows behind those marchers. The ones who didn't come back; the ones who cannot leave their sick bed. The cost of war - ANY WAR - should be enough for us to never declare war. It is a horrid shame that a people, a democracy, should ever go to war, let alone be the aggressor. As a people, we have no quarrel with other peoples. The quarrel is created to sell more bombs and shoot more missiles and charge more dollars. A democracy should only defend it's borders, it should never be the invader. 

This is time for sobriety. To consider who we are as a people as well as who we are not. Let us give up the vice of fear, decide as a majority that fairness and hope, not profit should be our diplomacy. That clinging fiercely to the Old motto of our country, "Out of many, One." There is a light to be held in the darkness. Our lives and the lives of the children are in the balance this year as never before. 

We can be Americans - neither Republican or Democrat, neither Christian nor Hindu; neither brown nor black nor white nor in between. Honestly, between you and I and that stockpile of atomic weapons, it is our world to make better or make go away.  And it is past time to act as this is the truth.

Sorry this isn't very gardenry. I'll be back on topic in a short hitch. Meanwhile, go vote.


30 October, 2018

The November Edition: What To Do and When To Do It

What To Do and When To Do It is the informal name we have given to the monthly 1st Saturday class in The Learning Garden, 10 to noon.

November 3rd is coming up fast and I've been so busy, I haven't got around to writing about the class until just now. In my defense, I had a hard drive that had gotten too much data for it's own health and I ended up replacing it myself.  Not without a couple of close of moments closely resembling a heart attack!  But now I'm almost completely back in business (don't ask me what happened to my back up system though!)

Not the best shot in the world, but you can see the wire holding a tag in place. and the brown material is grafting wax.This was a demonstration graft in my 2018 Winter Grafting Class and the blurry part is a leaf of the graft that has obviously taken! The photo was taken as we inventoried plants we will lose in an upcoming construction adjacent to the garden. But it has a point!

This Saturday's class we will do our usual questions answered and we will plant some winter crops and check on my garlic and carrots we planted last month, but we will also explore planting fruit trees for your eating pleasure.  These trees will live twenty or thirty years - if we care for them - and with that kind of production, it is prudent to become educated about fruit trees and which ones do best here and which ones taste the best.

All this AND some free seeds! And some good laughs!


Urban Food Production - Spring Edition!!

Almost a whole two months since I've said hi. Been Busy. But as the days get shorter, I've got a little news to share.

The UCLA Extension that oversees my classes has found a location on the campus for me to teach so look for an Urban Gardening, Spring Edition in  the next quarter's listings.  This will be like the Fall Edition except with the warm season garden. To make it worthwhile for those who take the Fall class, I'm changing some things up and we'll have enough difference to make the class worthwhile. Look in this blog for more details upcoming.  

I'm very excited about the Spring offering!  I had always envisioned there be a Fall and Spring - those two will bring a gardener full circle and experienced with the whole year. We've always needed a Spring class and now we have it! I hope to see you there and I hope you'll find yourself learning as much - or more - than you did in the Fall Quarter.  For those who haven't had my Fall class, both classes can stand on their own. The best is both, but if you can't do both, you can do one or the other and still you'll have a great learning experience!  

I might be slightly biased.

I've waited a long time for the spring class and I hope to see you there!  


02 September, 2018

Our Climate Future: Hope or No Hope

I was blessed this last week to attend the Al Gore "Climate Reality" training at the Staples center in downtown Los Angeles. It was an exhausting, yet an energetic several days.  Several times I was certain my brain was as full as it could get, but they managed to cram more into corners I didn't know I had!

Bunch of folks, 2200 in fact, learned a lot about climate
change in LA this last week.  Most of them
were excited and motivated by the training.
We've been hearing more and more about climate change each and every year. On the news, we hear about larger and more violent storms coming to our shores, each year it's a whole new level of destruction. In one year, the worst hurricane statistics are replaced by a new set of "the worst hurricane statistics." And we think this hyperbole is some sort of sales pitch. Scientists, normally a rather reserved group, seem to be coming close to hysteria with their pronouncements - while other groups of people decry the findings as being a political ploy. Which is it?  

I'm renowned for being a science doubter in the world of GMOs. I still am. But not with climate change. What's the difference? 

In the case of GMOs, many of the institutions that extol the virtues of GMOs are funded by Monsanto (now Monsanto/Bayer) and I find that kind of science repulsive. There are very few GMO studies by non-affiliated institutions - even the US government is thoroughly riddled with Monsanto employees or former-employees or other close associations (Clarence Thomas, for example, was a Monsanto lawyer for a time) that impress me with too much familiarity to be considered impartial. 

There is no such alignment in climate change. The climate is not paying outrageous salaries for consultations - in fact, a good many of these scientists reporting on GMOs are not doing the bidding of some huge behemoth of a company that pays their tidy salary. They are fighting an upstream battle - while scientists from the oil and gas industry ARE paid to sow distrust and confusion.

Most of the people who left the Climate Reality with me, enjoyed a lot of hope about the future. They left with big smiles, laughing and feeling good. 

I, on the other hand, left all the presentations feeling depressed. I'm afraid we don't have enough time to change fast enough. This is a blog about food and I left the training feeling that we won't have enough time. IF we moved on it today - traded in our gasoline cars for electric cars - or even hybrids - and each of us composted our waste, while wasting less, and taking public transportation (that isn't even there yet), IF we ate less meat and did a short list of other things, we could change how this plays out. 

I don't think we will change. At least we won't change fast enough to keep more disasters from happening and sooner than we think, we'll be facing the dead end of climate change. And one of the major problems we will face sooner than later is what will we eat and how will we prepare it?  A lot of the food we eat today will be adversely affected. The fruit trees in the Learning Garden are already affected by climate change - they try to flower in Fall and when that doesn't work, they flower in Spring, but the flowering is reduced, weakened, by the futile flowering in Fall. If this keeps up, the trees are going to be repeatedly weakened and I cannot see how we can judge that as a positive phenomena. 

Humanity may not successfully negotiate these next few decades. We don't have much longer than that to get ahead of this learning curve and to learn how to feed these masses of humans.  Can you see us changing? Fast enough? 

I wish I could.


01 September, 2018

I Can't Believe It's September Already!!!

Can you? Fall is almost or already here. This is really a busy time for a gardener even with the evenings coming sooner and mornings later. I mean it's really a crunch – there is harvesting from the Summer garden and planting for the Winter garden! But if you find time now, you'll reap rewards later in the year.

About half-way into the month, it usually becomes cool enough to sow arugula, beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, parsnips and turnips. My leek and fennel seedlings ought to be ready to transplant out, as should broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard, endive all later in the month. Lettuce is one plant I’ll usually direct sow in the garden AND start in six packs to set out – there are advantages to both and so I’ll use both. Root crops – carrots, beets, radishes and turnips – must be sown where they will grow. If you ignore my advice and try to sow root crops for transplanting, you will find beets, radishes and turnips will produce a crop, but they are so set back by the transplanting process it really isn't worth it – carrots and parsnips simply do not perform at all unless you are incredibly meticulous and then it's just not worth the time.

My friend Joy Sun grew this amaranth - a plant we are harvesting this time of year - beautiful with the lablab bean flowers around it.
As September wanes, probably the most productive time in the Southern California potager begins. If you are eating from your garden, now is the time you can really feast for awhile, the last of summer – peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, sweet corn, basil – is still out there to eat and the first root crops or lettuce will be big enough to munch a bite or two. I enjoy eating BLT sandwiches and for a brief moment in spring and a second brief moment at this time; the homemade BLT is one of my rituals. I bake my own bread, and the tomato and lettuce come from my garden so the only non-homemade items are the bacon and the mayo. It's almost a mystical experience, especially when the bread is still warm from the oven. Finish it off with a dessert of figs heated on the grill or in a broiler, drizzled with a bit of honey on them and a dollop of some fairly stout Greek yogurt. Oh, to die for! Not some store-bought fig shipped in from far away, but a fig that got ripe on a tree in the back yard or from a local farmer at your farmers' market.

Fava beans, lentils and peas are being planted now, too. All of these grow best in our cooler winters. Fava beans were the only bean in the Old World before the American plants became part of the European pantheon; all the other beans are American (as are tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes among others – one wonders how in the world the Italians and French survived long enough to arrive at a culinary tradition!). Fava bean plants, as well as lentils and peas, make a marvelous addition to any soil building program and favas, when combined with artichoke hearts, make a Mediterranean stew so delicious that my taste buds flutter just to remember.

This is an exciting time to be gardening. Grab your imagination and take it to where you are planting. Think about the eventual size of what you are planting – it's OK to make mistakes – that's how we learn! When I'm teaching a class, the truth of it is, I have probably killed more plants than anyone else in the room and yet, they are the ones saying “I have a black thumb.” That's probably the biggest lie they can tell me. When I kill a plant, I usually know why it died and sometimes it isn't my fault. When it IS my fault, it's usually because I wasn't paying attention. Death by inattention isn't a 'black thumb' issue unless you do things like forget to stop the car when parking or forget to go to get breakfast in the morning. Death by inattention can be reformed – it's simply changing your patterns. Be kind to yourself and you'll learn. It's all good.

When we harvest a tomato, we are really harvesting the soil's fertility that has been converted via the sun's energy into the vegetables from our garden. Putting the tomato plant back into the soil, without the tomatoes you harvested, represents a net loss for the soil. That's where the additional mulch and compost come in – we try to replace the vegetables we have eaten with organic matter that will allow the soil to recreate its bevy of nutrients nourishing our next season's garden. It is not sufficient, in the long run, to just add fertilizers – we need to add things that will provide sustenance for the fungi, bacteria and other critters living in our garden's soil; a thriving soil ecology will provide better nutrition to your plants without spending needless dollars on fertilizer, most of which will only become pollution in our ground water or vaporize off into the atmosphere.

In a garden where perennial weeds are not a huge problem, I like the idea of planting a perennial crop that will assist in nourishing the soil – these are sometimes called cover crops or 'manure crops' if they are planted in the beds. My method is a little different, because the crop is allowed to stay in the paths, like any one of several clovers or an alfalfa that will take mild foot traffic and will do something to add to the fertility of the soil. If this crop is mowed in a sustainable manner – like without a gas powered lawn mower – the clippings can be put right back into the beds or added to a compost pile for more green material. Unfortunately, for those of us growing in most community gardens, control of perennial weeds is only as good as the worst gardener. If one gardener doesn't keep them in check, perennial weeds will infest the pathways and there is no good way to get rid of them without digging them out of the pathways. Not having perennial paved paths is another compromise one makes in community gardening.
Keep in mind that some kind of soil regeneration must be happening all the time or the soil will eventually not support food crops. It is better to do this regeneration little by little in our smaller gardens. Folks with larger areas, or a long vacation coming up, can plant cover crops to increase the soil's fertility over a season. For gardeners in Sunset Zones 22 and 24, that means a part of the garden can be left without growing crops to harvest every single month of the year. In areas where there is not a huge problem with perennial weeds, the paths supplement this soil enrichment by growing something like clover year round to improve the soils vibrancy. In any growing season, it is better to have the soil covered with some crop – even a crop of weeds is better than leaving the soil barren. Although it would be ideal if you were to get rid of the weeds before they began to go to seed. Protecting the soil from wind and rain is imperative and bare soil fares the worst. Having some plant there with roots in the soil makes all difference in keeping soil – especially on a slope – in place.

Once you've built good garden soil, you don't want it to leave. We work hard to make our soils the kind of soils our gardening friends will drool over. But one hard rain, or a Santa Ana event on bare soil, even really good soil, can ruin all that work.

Green manure crops have been a time honored way of helping the soil regain lost fertility. Farmers have known for centuries that bean crops add nitrogen to the soil and bulky plants add to the tilth of the soil. Alfalfa is prized for its extensive root system that breaks up the hard subsoil and bring nutrients trapped out of the reach of other plants into its leaves – adding them to the soil or compost pile brings all that into an area where it can be made available to your veggies.

Clover, as well as alfalfa, creates nitrogen – what is called 'fixing nitrogen' and is beneficial to most garden plants. Clover, as a member of the bean family – the Legumes, they are called – has a symbiotic relationship to a bacterium in the soil. The bacteria invade the bean plants roots and the plant feeds the bacteria – the bacteria return the favor by taking atmospheric nitrogen – which plants can't use – turning it into a form that plants can use. Growing fava beans, lentils, peas, or garbanzo beans all will add nitrogen to your soil – whether you harvest the beans or not. Whenever you think you need fertilizer, consider using a green manure crop instead. It takes longer, but the results are much more gratifying.

Once you have begun to work on your soil, never leave it uncovered to the wind and the sun. Those elements will destroy your soil and will not help your garden's production or water/nutrient holding capacity. It is best to use a cover of plant material, even weeds if you have nothing else! Pull the weeds, leave them in the path with their roots exposed to the sun and within 24 hours, they'll be toast and you can spread them along your paths or even place them near your plants (this is also a good thing to do with your cover crops – while it's better to put them in your compost (as greens), you can also pull the cover crop, lay them on the path to dry and use them as your pathway mulch.

In a different world, where the perennial weeds are kept at a minimum, a wonderful path planted of cover crops is a gift that keeps on giving. The green manure crop produces nitrogen that will eventually help your garden plants out, it's pleasant to walk on an almost lawn – even barefoot if you are so inclined. And kept up, looks positively divine, darling! We cannot do this at The Learning Garden – too many perennial weeds!

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
All cabbage family crops
Fava beans
Fava beans
Any cabbage family plant big enough to survive.
Potatoes (tubers)
Shallots (seed)



Garbanzo beans

Garlic (bulbs)

Shallots (bulbs)


*You must grow root crops in the ground from the very beginning because they transplant poorly, even if you are spectacularly careful in transplanting, very few will avoid having ugly deformed roots – it just is not worth the effort!

You can begin planting right now between the dying, dismal plants of summer – just get right in there and sow your seeds or transplant your little baby plants!

Good luck!  

21 August, 2018

Goodbye OSH!

I was actually asked to leave the Orchid Supply Hardware (OSH) this evening. It was sudden with all  customers were asked to leave as soon as possible and the doors locked behind us.

I was actually doing a restock for Renee's Garden seeds and had seeds (old and new) all over the place. I had to ask for some time to get my act together and get out. I took all the old seeds we'd checked out and left the seeds for 2019 in the store, thinking I'd come back Wednesday morning to finish the job.

But this evening, I see this headline on Facebook from the East Bay Times, publishing not far from the place that OSH was started:

All Orchard Supply Hardware stores to close by year’s end

Chain founded in 1931 as a cooperative in San Jose

This is a very sad moment in my life. I enjoyed shopping there since I found the store not far from me and found a LOT of what I needed and wanted. I found the employees motivated, happy (mostly) and willing to help.  And frequently found employees that really knew their stuff about the department they were in.  I had been with the Culver City store since it opened just over a year ago and I appreciated that staff the most. They were eager, it seemed to help, friendly and smart. As the gravity set in, I began to grieve for the many workers I knew, realizing that, for most of them, it was going to be a hard thing to deal with. 

I hate the idea of the stress these fine people will face through no fault of their own. 

You can find more information here. For all my friends who are affected by this, I hope this opens a better life for you - that this is only a bump on your life path.

And thank you for helping me find the whatchamacallit over on Aisle 24....


19 August, 2018

Garden Journals

One of the sharpest and most useful tools I own is a garden journal. In my journal, I can find the dates I planted various seeds, or when I transplanted my tomatoes and I can track major points in their growth with my notes.

A good journal is the way to learn from your mistakes even if you have a less than perfect memory.

A garden journal should begin by answering one major question:

Why do I want to grow in my garden?
What is the purpose of this garden?

OK, I can't count. But, honestly, you have to know where you're headed or you won't know you got there, if in fact you DO get there! Some answers to that question might be: I want to eat some of my own home grown food on a regular basis; I want to have fresh strawberries; I want to feel independent of the food system; I want to grow tomatoes; I want my children to have clean, pesticide free food. Or a combination of these. But to get there or to head that direction needs thoughtful and intentional steps. Often times when I go on consultations, I am amazed that people want a “garden” and that's all they really know.

Your garden journal changes that and allows you to move towards your ideals and helps you build a base of knowledge that will change your approach to gardening. You will begin to see signs, and by referring back to your journal, you will be able to see appropriate responses to encourage or discourage an event of some kind.

The Essentials

Your initial entries to your journal will be fairly mundane, but they are the foundation of your garden. First, include a drawing, or comprehensive photos of your garden with measurements. Find North and indicate that on your drawing. Note: Use a compass – LA's street grids are oftentimes NOT on a N/S axis. Which is a good thing!

Track the sun's travel over your garden. Note that it will travel closer to the north in summer and closer to south in the winter. If this doesn't leave you with an appreciation of the difference, track the shadows weekly for a few months. Take a day that you normally devote to taking it easy, decide to find the shadow of something that won't move, maybe the shadow of a fireplace chimney, at the same time everyday. Track how it goes over your garden through the year.

Just a little practice with the shadows cast from the sun, and the lengthening days of summer vs the shortening days of winter will bring a whole new appreciation of these things that happen in our world. It will also give insights to the rituals of the pre-Christian civilizations who aligned their holidays to the solstices and equinoxes that ruled their calendar, ordering their years' activities – most importantly when to plant – to their established norms.

Now you know where your sun comes from throughout the year and you can see how much shade you have to deal with. Just because you don't have eight hours of sun, don't give up! I have learned that light colored buildings reflect a lot of light and can make up for some of your garden's shortfall. You would like 8 hours of direct light for most food plants, but a large building bordering on the north can increase the amount of sunlight appreciably.

Practical Considerations

If you have had a little exposure to my teaching, you will know the first thing you plant in your garden is a chair. And though it's a funny line, I'm dead serious. “The best fertilizer is the farmer's shadow,” and that means, being there, you'll spot problems when they are small and be able to intervene BEFORE the damage is too far gone to deal with. If you need to, find a small table or a wooden box to use as a table – which I use for my coffee and my notebooks

If this is a new garden, START SMALL. I know you want the whole 40 acres planted before sundown, but hold on, Tiger! You can do that. But I'll bet you a tidy sum that should you actually do that, you will hurt your garden to the point you may never come back to it. Take on a manageable slice – maybe 3' by 3' to start. Plant that this week. Next week do the next nine square feet.

I mean for you to clear a small patch of weeds and plant that patch. Next week, do the same for the next small patch, from weeds to planting. This will prevent you from overdoing it on the first event. Remember, this is for the long haul and I want you to be able to keep up on this, besides that pause might enable you to not make a mistake and propagating it thru the entire garden! There's more I can say on this, but this is an article on your journal.

The Journal Itself

There are two ways to do the journal.
          1. Artistically Inclined – Means you can write legibly and draw your garden etc. Get good at this and you can publish a book
          2. NOT Artistically Inclined – do the text in a word processor file and import photos from your phone or camera to illustrate stuff. If you have to draw something, you can scan it into your notebook.
In my years of teaching, I have seen some gorgeous student notebooks done by artistically inclined individuals. That would not be me. I use the computer. You can make a hybrid and print your pages from the computer to draw on them or other pages. Whatever suits you – find the one that fits with you and your abilities and lifestyle.

A sample entry:

02 August 2018 82º/67º Clear Humidity: 67%
A warm day with a lovely breeze. My flat of basils sowed on the 26th are looking cute. Out of the 6 color-packs I planted, I have over 90 little plants. I will take these home and bring them in at night to prevent predation.

Harvesting several varieties of tomatoes – the biggest producer so far (it's early!) has been Nebraska Wedding. It's a good tasting tomato on a well-behaved plant about 3' tall. Their main drawback is a really tough skin. I've also had a few of the Illini Gold. A good solid fruit, well-behaved and also a tough skin. Haven't had enough of either to make a sauce. The heat wave a few weeks back really fried some of the vines.

Set out my colored cotton two varieties, finally; Arkansas Green Lint and Sea Island Brown. Need to gather up seeds from the green beans. Harvested the last of the broccoli seeds (Nutribud). And water!

Upcoming – plant out the basil for pesto day!
Get ready to plant the two beds without broccoli – what will go there?
I have massive amounts of seeds to clean broccoli/garbanzos/lettuce
Save some of the yellow tomatoes to make sauce
Get watering help for upcoming days – August and September

A Problem Arises

So, a couple of months into this, you are concerned. Your plants don't look like you thought they would and after re-reading the ad copy in the seed catalog, perhaps you missed-read the date by which they would be producing. Checking back you might find, there was a cold snap about the time they were getting pollinated – or maybe in your notes, you refer to a very hot day when you couldn't get out to water. Using that data, perhaps you can correlate that data with what is happening now? Perhaps you allow yourself to dig up one of your plants – or at least dig near the plant to see what you can see. You find the soil is very dry. Now, why would that be? You can see in your journal it hasn't rained since Ford was President (or something, like that). Your notebook will aid you in your sleuthing. Maybe rain wasn't the problem. Maybe you find out your irrigation system was turned off when you were planting earlier in the month? The more notes you take, the easier it will be to solve the problem. On the other hand, every day in the garden doesn't warrant it's own novel!

Or maybe your journal wasn't needed for a problem. Maybe it was “what was that fabulous tomato I planted last year?” All these data points work with you for a better garden. Record the dates when you plant plants. You will soon realize that all those dates on the seed packets do not really apply to us. Partly because we plant all year round, we experience much different days to maturity. Especially in our Fall planted root crops. Those figures are computed for days that are getting longer and warmer. Our Fall crops are planted as the days get shorter and colder and they, therefore, take a lot longer to get up to edible size! Honestly, it's not your fault!

If you are using a handwritten journal that you take into the garden, consider using pencil to do your writing; pencil won't bleed or smudge. Also carry it in a bag that water will not penetrate, whether it will smudge or not. Computer journals are usually left inside the computer which usually isn't watered (we hope!). If you do take your laptop into the garden, please be careful with it. I usually have the computer near the garden, but never IN the garden. At The Learning Garden, I leave it on the patio – within sight of the garden and in the shade – that gives sun protection to me, and dry conditions for the computer when I do begin to update the journal.

I know it seems like a hassle. However, you should take breaks while working on your garden, and I feel updating my garden journal is as important as the actual planting – AND – I am grateful to be able to switch gears whilst gardening. I can dig and plant and get all dirty and sweaty. Then take a moment to rinse my hands, wipe off my arms, pull out a cold drink (I like sparkling water, myself) and do my notes right at the garden as a break from the physical labor. Ten or twenty minutes later (or more, could be much more), I go back to the blazing sun and the physical work of gardening.

Keeping your own garden journal is satisfying and it the best way for gardeners to learn and become more aware of the garden's needs and predilections of weather and the soil you are dealing with. It is the fastest way to become a garden guru!

Give it a good go!