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!

david

21 July, 2018

I Say Tomato/You Say Tomahto; Dilemmas of Pronunciation Solved!

There's a lot of Latin used when one really gets into plants.  It can be a little intimidating.  Because of a somewhat rudimentary, and non-science!, education, most of my learning is from critical observation and reading. No matter what courses one takes, a healthy dose of learning by actually doing it, is probably the best education anyway.

This can be problematic - as my life has proved! It has been very hard, for example, to dive in deep enough to related subjects about which  I'm not very enthused - one reason my connection to chemistry can be a little nebulous at times - I would rather have a couple of teeth pulled rather than do time in a chemistry book. I have learned enough, but just enough and I'm not a wizard of the Periodic Table by any stretch of even my vivid imagination.

The other major problem in my life - especially as an instructor - is pronunciation. It can be a dead giveaway to say the right word, but pronounce it wrongly. I have done and still do that a lot. Many of the Latin words suffer from being pronounced in Latin, to my chagrin. Then sounding those words out phonetically with English rules and taking that result to bat, has caused me enough embarrassment. Even with pronunciation symbols in such books as Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners or Fearless Latin one can stumble and fail. (There are other Latin dictionaries, but these are two of the best.)

A Penn State shot of the flower (and check out those really
attractive leaflets slightly out of focus!) of Cicer areatinum - the plant
that started me on this quest for pronunciation

And then we were given the internet!  

Now we can be free from that kind of mistake!  Introducing pronouncekiwi! Because the Latin words do not stop. If you are going to do plants - and do them right - knowing their names becomes kind of important.  I have a talk this afternoon on chickpeas (garbanzos) and lettuce.  

So chickpeas.  How do  you say Cicer areatinum?  You type in prouncekiwi and Cicer areatinum and in an instant can hear several different voices from many different cultures saying those words as often as you press the button. In our example of the chickpeas, you will find 80 - yes, that's eighty!!! - different recordings of the binomial!  Amazing. I listened to them all and decided to emulate an English pronunciation that seems possible to wrap my tongue around (7th from the top).

Your mileage my vary! But swing by the pronouncekiwi and give it a whirl. I'm loving it! You too can know your pronunciation is spot on and say these Latin words loud and proud. 

We take tips....

david








12 July, 2018

A Gardeners' Rules to Beat The Heat In Southern California



This is formatted with the idea to post it on your garden shelf to remind  yourself how to avoid skin damage from the sun!  
  1. Iceland is nice this time of year.
  2. Start your day by making sure you have enough water – that you are hydrated t0 begin with. Coffee, unfortunately, doesn't count.
  3. Try to schedule your garden hours earlier or later in the day avoiding the hotter hours.
  4. If you must be outside working when it's hot, wear long sleeved shirts and long pants – the looser the better. Use cotton or linen which allow air circulation that wicks heat away from the body.
  5. Oily skin creams, sun blocker etc can clog the body's ability to move heat out from the skin.
  6. Drink plenty of water. Put some ice on your pulse points (like your wrist) – the cooled blood will circulate into your system providing more relief.  
  7. If you’ll be outside for a really long time, wet a bandanna, place a few ice cubes down the center, diagonally, roll it up, and tie it around your neck. Even without ice, this is a smart strategy.
  8. Take frequent breaks in the shade! Drink water in the shade or, be like me, nap in the shade and dream of Iceland.
Happy Gardening!  david

Notes on Gardening in July!

I remember as a child in Kansas in the 50's (the really LATE 50's), there was often not much to talk about, but we had, if nothing else, the Weather.  

"Hot enough for you, yet?" was a common greeting - of course, there was the other greeting 6 months later; "Cold enough for you, yet?" Rarely in the sweet spot of California does the weather make it to the first question level of conversation - but this year, July has outdone herself. I will say, in the strongest terms possible: July was plenty hot enough for me!  

Amid rounds of record breaking heat - new records were established all over the place - often replacing two-digit highs with three-digit highs. It has not been an easy ride for plant or beast! Consider this then, that until the end of June did the Learning Garden get its water turned back on! If we had gone into that heat wave without those few days of water, we would have been ruined for the rest of the summer - as it is, one volunteer with hoses cannot keep up the garden watered thoroughly enough to keep it alive. As July approached, I began to plot out which parts of the garden I was willing to let die. We were fortunate and the water was restored - as I write this now on the 12th, the water is off again and I am praying for some Grace - this is not the time of year to have this problem.  

Here's this month's journal entry:  


Our Gardens in July

Tomato Flowers - don't count your tomatoes until you pick them!
July has brought the heat. Now we are sorry we asked for it! More than in most years, this is the time to get a cool drink and say hello to summer in our Southern California gardens. For this reason among others, I insist that no garden should be created without seating for the gardener to glory in the work that has been done. This is not the month to do a lot of planting, if you can help it at all. Water is what your garden wants along with some weeding and harvesting. Don’t just pour water on your garden without exercising your noggin! Monitor the soil moisture and apply water as needed – but before plants begin to wilt. Try to water when less will be lost to evaporation – early or late in the day. I like to water under the full moon, listening to the owls, but I discuss that I my Master Class coming soon to a site near you. Stick a finger in the soil up to the first knuckle. Better yet, turn over a small spot of soil with your trowel. It should be slightly moist down about an inch or so. The surface of the soil can be quite dry and that's fine. A gardener is more concerned with the moisture level in that part of the soil where roots live.


It is most important to have water at the roots of plants – spraying water into the air to fall on the soil, is not very efficient. A lot of that water can be blown away from your plants (on to the neighbors!) and a lot evaporates off into the air. It is not very efficient at all. But there are other ways to to water that are better. All these other ways involve putting the water close to the root zone. The two ways to do this include some of the newest technology and some of the oldest technology. The newest technology is drip irrigation; the oldest is called an 'olla' – pronounces OYE-ya. Variations of ollas are found in several different ancient cultures and there is a move to put them back into gardens today.

But before we get to that, we need to know some things about water and how it moves in the soil. First of all, water 'sticks' to itself. If you over fill a glass of water to where it is actually higher than the edge of the glass, it often can hold together and not run down the side of the glass. The tendency of water to stick together is one of the qualities that make water so valuable a part of our world. So as water moves, it pulls other water along behind it.

Water moves down in the soil because of gravity. Water moves up and out of the soil into the atmosphere because of evaporation. Water moves sideways in the soil when pulled along by plant roots pulling water molecules out of the soil, which drags other molecules along behind. Water fans out from the point it drips into the soil to a more narrow or wider 'fan' depending on the composition of the soil; sandy soil, with it's large pore space allows the water to move more downward than outward. Clay soil, on the other hand, with small particles tightly packed causes water to expand outward much more dramatically than sandy soil.

Now, on to getting water to your plants' roots!

Drip irrigation has gotten a lot of attention over the last twenty years. A number of people who have played with drip, myself included, have come to feel it is less than 'as advertised.' In the first place, drip irrigation is a lot of plastic parts. However, compared to an underground irrigation system that are very expensive and difficult to install, drip systems are cheap and easy.

On the other hand, that means they are also relatively impermanent. Plastic can be easily broken – and therein lies the tale of the drip. The plastic seems to develop a magnetic attraction for shovels and other sharp instruments, which means it must be repaired constantly. Wild animals also find the plastic tubing an easy source for water – they will just make the hole a little larger and there is another repair awaiting your attention. Anyone who depends on a drip system, soon learns to observe the entire system while it's running at least once a month, I'd even suggest once a week – a lot can happen in a month and without this walk through, the first indication you have of a problem is usually a dead plant. The observation, is done more with one's ears than one's eyes, because you can hear the water making noises as it escapes from the tubing.

Furthermore, the pattern of wetness in the soil made by drip is not ideal for a number of plants. Plants did not evolve to gather water from a single spot with no other water than at that spot. For some plants, this becomes a deadly problem. Part of the strategy of these plants is to find water over a much wider range than less drought tolerant plants. As a consequence these drought resistant plants find drip irrigation a problem more than a solution. This is particularly difficult for the California Native plant palette than it is for plants that have been in the care of humans over the past hundreds of years. California Native plants tend to not do well with drip irrigation.

Finally with drip in the food garden, every replanting of a crop, requires the drip lines to be rolled up to facilitate preparing the bed and planting. This is a cumbersome project at best and is a disaster for the drip system at worst.

Drip has a lot of drawbacks even though it does deliver water to the roots with relatively little loss of water to the atmosphere and does reduce water waste. There is one other product called a 'leaky pipe or hose.' This technology has most of the good qualities of drip but is easier to deal with and the leaky hose sweats water all along its length which means there is a zone of wetness in the soil, more closely approximating natural conditions and the hose is less of a hassle to repair or move. It's not perfect but this is a reasonable choice for non-permanent plantings.

Ollas on the other hand, are a lot more
permanent and are not made of plastic.


Olla with a tomato plant in a ceramic planter- a good use of an olla that shows off all their good qualities perfectly. 

Made of clay, an olla (Spanish for 'pot,' as in 'soup pot.' ) is porous and water 'leaks' out. The olla is buried in the soil, then filled with water which seeps into the soil, spreading out to water nearby plants. How far the water moves in the soil is different according to the soil's texture, and needs to be tested for some accurate figures, but one can make some educated guesses in short order. Ollas are not a good candidate for trees and perennials with woody roots. They are somewhat fragile, but not as much as drip parts and they are not made from oil like plastic. Ollas do not have to be moved to plant a bed, as long as you are not tilling the soil in any way, and, of course, in my style of gardening, that isn't done. Ollas are absolutely fabulous in planted containers.

Do take steps to find ways to control the amount of water that is put in your garden – and no matter how you get water to the roots, make sure you mulch the beds thoroughly and save the water you do put down from evaporating off into the atmosphere.

Check the mulch level this month; insure it is deep enough to keep roots cool and prevent evaporation of the precious water you are putting down. I don't use fertilizer, which means my plants are never over-fertilized and with the constant use of compost and mulch, they are well supplied with all they really need to thrive.  I am cautious about using really good compost that might have a lot of nitrogen in it on tomatoes. They tend to use up all the nitrogen you give them by growing very large and healthy-looking plants and not setting fruit. For our climate, this isn't a disaster, you just have fresh tomatoes in September and October. But if you don't want to wait that long for tomato season to start, skip fertilizer or so-called 'hot' compost or anything with manure in it. Save all that for corn which is a notoriously heavy feeder.

Lavender Honey Ice Cream

It's time to cool down! At the Learning Garden we have a 4th of July Ice Cream Social and this is one of our annual favorites – one day I hope to supply the honey for this ice cream from one of my hives!

INGREDIENTS (for 2 quarts):
1½ cup honey
2 sprigs of fresh lavender
2 cups half and half
4 cups of whipping cream
6 egg yolks

DIRECTIONS:
Warm the honey with the lavender in a non-corroding saucepan. Taste after five minutes to check the strength of the lavender flavor and leave a little longer if necessary, until the flavor pleases you.

Heat the half and half and cream in a non-corroding saucepan and whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until they are just broken up. Whisk in some of the hot cream and return to the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the spoon. Strain into a container and stir in the flavored honey. Chill thoroughly.

Freeze according to the instructions of your ice cream maker and serve cold!


Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
NOTHING
NOTHING
NOTHING


Find a nice shady spot and with a cold drink, turn on the Dodgers and watch your plants grow. You can sit in your chair or put up a hammock to indulge yourself.

August 4th – It's the very next What To Do and When To Do It... believe it or not, we'll start some of our WINTER seeds! It's getting close to the time of our next wonderful growing season! You can redeem yourself if the summer garden wasn't up to snuff – or work to top your success! We'll also see if we can't do something to handle the summer produce that is pouring in right now! See you then!

Honesty in advertising forces me to tell you that the class activity, in opposition to my written word, was to plant seeds of two plants this month.  We planted one seed each of two different colors of cotton (yup, the plant produces colored cotton - more on that one day when I have the time and the bandwidth - and another round of tomatoes, specifically, one of my favorites, the Burbank Slicer, which is a determinate tomato, growing about 24 inches high, when it stops, sets some of the most tomatoey tasting tomatoes and dies. If you haven't grown it, do it! I plant it now knowing I will be able to harvest the tomatoes before the nights turn cold. It is an amazing container plant too, where I often plant it with basil and oregano and call it "Growing a Pizza!"  

david

09 July, 2018

Global Weirdness



Most folks, as they hear the talk of "global climate change" or "global warming" seem to envision it as a slow, but certain, slide into the future, not unlike going from Spring into Summer. Because of the regularity of life on Earth, we fail to appreciate what the real future looks like. Compounded by a lack of appreciation for what science is already telling us, most humans have a profound under-estimation of the changes already in motion around us. This is compounded by a certain set of politicians that willfully mislead the public as to the nature and the significance of "global climate change," thus making denial feel a lot more comfortable than it should.

"Global warming" doesn't give the average person the sense of the reality of our picture. As a man who has grown food for most of his adult life, I feel in touch with our world more than the average American.  This is what the "growing food" deal in light of global climate change looks like:  If I can tell, with some certainty, what kind of temperatures and the amount of rain coming (or not coming) in the next six to nine months, I can grow a crop of plants to eat and share. If those variables are inconsistent - especially if they are "consistently inconsistent " over time - growing food is a rigged crap shoot and the supply of food available will be greatly diminished. The seeds sown in Spring, need an environment that allows them to grow to full size, within a fairly limited set of parameters.  In all likely hood, the underprivileged will eat from a slender variety of hardy crops that can take weather extremes and still produce. Or we can use an abundance of inputs to keep farming the crops we want to eat. Those inputs may or may not work - they might be too much work, too expensive or the changes are too great for human intervention. 

To me, it's "global weirdness."  Human populations throughout the planet already face food challenges because of the lack of food. Even large areas will become absolutely uninhabitable - including most of the Mid-West - once the Ogallala Aquifer is depleted - possibly in my lifetime (I'm 66) -  and the depopulation of the Midwest,which is already at an alarming pace, will be complete.  Remember, as the European invaders crossed the plains of Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, they called that area, "The Great American Desert."  We produce tons of food there in large part because we are pumping the underground river, the Ogallala Aquifer, to extinction. 

That is one of several catastrophic blows that would severely impact our civilization as we know it.  If you haven't started your own garden by then, you're going to be late to the dance. Once more, the so-called "Okies" and other displaced populations, will flock towards the Mecca that is California - except, the Californian Mecca isn't here anymore. The irrigation of our great Valley has had it's own negative impact limiting the amount of farming and most of California's heavily populated areas will be under very tight water use restrictions soon, if they aren't already. Remember that export of the food we grow in California is a part of our economy, but there will be soon debates about the wisdom of sending our water overseas in the shape of rice, pomegranates and other foodstuffs, after all, without plentiful water, we can't grow these exports.

Humans interacting with the Earth, have created an imbalance that is lopsided, we are extracting more than we can safely extract, in terms of water and soil. The paradigm I wish all my students to learn is how to grow some of your own food and how to live as a part of a community. Small scale food growing is much less of a strain on the Earth - the most productive farms and the least disruptive farms are the small farms - soon, farms in our cities will be common - each neighborhood will develop their own resources for food. Without small farms, using less water to grow more food, this is a helluva mess - and mind you, small farms might not be enough to feed everyone - but it's a cinch that large farms won't do that either.

I am not a scientist, nor do I play on TV.  This scenario is from my own work in my own garden and my understanding of the role humans play in the destruction of this world.  I draw many of my conclusions in this essay from  many sources and authors, but the one book I believe more people should read is Out of The Earth; Civilization and the Life of the Soil, by Daniel Hillel.  

I am also greatly indebted to Robert Rodale's out of print "Save Three Lives," though you can often find the book used.  Wendell Berry leads the pack of other writers that have called me to think on this subject. 

The book that address the coming water crises, "Cadillac Desert" comes to mind as the first book to read on this subject. And for the way man has treated the soil to ruin large swaths of ecosystems (and is doing it with abandon today in that same Midwest) read "The Worst Hard Times."

Each of these books has a story to tell and I am deeply indebted to their authors for their contribution to my understanding of our planet Earth today. 

There is much to be done, but if we begin now, where we are (we can begin no where else!), we can begin to imagine and create the systems that we will need to survive in a much less predictable planet.

david


12 June, 2018

Still Some Space: BIOLGY X 498.10 - Greener Gardens: Sustainable Garden Practice

This course is taught by yours truly and Orchid Black. We've done this course for over ten years and it is always a blast! Many students report this is one of their favorite classes to take, and we love teaching it!  I just checked and there are still some spaces open. Class meetings take place in 325 Botany with three field trips. Our presentations cover a lot of perspectives on growing some of your own food AND saving water and other valuable resources. It turns out, if we only garden with the whole world in mind, we easily reach a new paradigm that not only feeds us, but also begins to correct the problems of our current lifestyles. I've got a bunch of new stuff up my sleeve and we CAN change the world starting right now!

Orchid Black and David King, co-instructors for this course
outstanding in a field. Not sure whose field it is.


The catalog copy on our course: 
Sustainability is today's buzzword and many people seek to create a lifestyle with a more favorable impact on the environment. From home and school gardens, to commercial sites, our gardens present the perfect place to start. Designed for horticulture students, gardening professionals, educators, and home gardeners, this course focuses on turning your green thumb into a "greener" garden. Topics include composting, irrigation, water harvesting, water-wise plants, eating and growing local produce, recycling, and moving away from a consumptive, non-sustainable lifestyle when choosing materials and tools. Includes weekend field trips to the Los Angeles River to see our relationship with water in the L.A. basin, as well as the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, focusing not only on California native plants but also on water-conserving planting design. Students also visit the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona, which advances the principles of environmentally sustainable living through education, research, demonstration, and community outreach.

Teaching and using gardening Practices that are sustainable, this course covers composting, irrigation, water harvesting, as well as weekend field trips to LA's sustainable gardens.

This is an elective course in both the Horticulture and Sustainability certificate programs. 

25 May, 2018

What To Do In The SoCal Garden, Saturday, June 2!

I teach a monthly garden class at The Learning Garden, on the campus of Venice High School, the first Saturday of every month, 10 to noon.  We actually meet in the garden to talk about gardening, so you get to see first hand my mistakes and my triumphs. I'm always experimenting with different plants and ways to increase the harvest or make my life easier.  While gardening is an art as much as any art in a museum, it is never definitively done - we never get to hang it on the wall.

Garbanzo beans 'on the hoof' ready for harvesting and threshing!
We'll talk a little about this workhorse of a plant and get into some
better watering habits!

In a way, it's that undefined time in the future that makes gardening such a vibrant art form - beyond getting to eat your finished project - if the bugs and weather have cooperated with you. There are so many things out of your control - but we do eat!  We have successful gardens!  I'll show you my experience of over 50 years of gardening and you can benefit from my failures! 

June is one of the best months for gardens in Southern California! Warm, but not too hot, makes June the perfect month to finish getting your summer garden in - if you haven't already. I'm harvesting the last of my winter crops, which opens up a lot more planting space for even more summer crops. Harvesting garbanzos, garlic and other crops, makes space for more peppers, okra, tomatoes and beans! We are doing both; harvesting and planting! And ideas on what to do with all this harvest!  

We do it all - 10 to noon, June 2nd - at The Learning Garden (enter from Walgrove Avenue on the west side of campus).  $20 at the door or $20 prepaid with PayPal.  Your money refunded if unsatisfactory - although I've yet to see any unsatisfactory money!  It's a steal and usually you go home with either seeds or plants - sometimes both!  

david

22 May, 2018

Buckets of Beans!

I've got three gallons of fresh green beans to give away.  

"How'dja know it was three gallons?" a friend of mine asked. 

"It's easy; see that bucket?  It's a three gallon bucket and it's pretty full!" 


Three gallon bucket full of freshly picked
green beans.  That's three gallons of beans in my book!
I grow beans almost as an afterthought, because I'm much more caught up in tomatoes, cucumbers and other typical Summer food fare. My favorites are yellow and purple beans. The purple beans because they will germinate in cool, wet soil (other beans will have poor germination, if they sprout at all, and will not produce much earlier than if you had waited - unless, of course you put down row covers or do other ground warming techniques). 

The yellow beans are a delight for pickling, I've pickled them for years, the yellow beans make a lovely visual in the jar and on sandwiches or in salads. 

But I needed an exercise for students, so I grabbed a packet of Slenderette Bush Beans from Renee's Gardens (they are sold locally in Orchard Supply Hardware - OSH) as well as by mail order. I had never grown these before, but here they were and in a pinch, we had twelve seeds in the ground and the exercise was complete. I forgot about them pretty much until this last weekend...

Walking by the plot, I realized there was a tremendous number of beans on these plants! It was, by any standards, an impressive crop! I came back later in the day and, leaving behind a number of beans that were not yet up to size, I filled my old bucket in no time at all. 

I learned from Renee Shepherd - the Renee in "Renee's Seeds" that these beans are an heirloom bean that has been around for more than 30 years -  being a selection of an old Dutch variety called Slankette. They are crisp and sweet and would be delightful steamed with a pinch of salt, pepper and a little butter. They are great raw! But they would be a tough sell for pickling because they are a slender bean and packing would be more difficult. Which is why I'm canvassing my neighborhood for folks who would eat a gallon or so of green beans!  

The beans on these plants are very easy to see and pick. With some bean varieties, you must pick them from two different directions to find the beans and even then, when you next pick you'll still see beans you missed from the last picking (another reason I like the purple and yellow beans - you can actually see them). These are not hard to find as well, even though they are green, the beans are in clusters and easily seen and harvested.

This was only the first picking and I purposely did not pick beans that were not up to size and so there are a lot of beans I'll be picking tomorrow! In addition, there were still a lot of flowers in bloom, so these three gallons may well be the first go round. 

I'd give Slenderette Bush Beans an A+ for flavor and productivity. I'd recommend you try them - especially if you are short on space! They are a fast growing variety, which means you ought to easily get more than just one planting of them in our long summers.

david








02 May, 2018

May: Growing Up In Your Garden


A good number of summer vegetables are largish plants and can easily eat up a lot more than their share of the square footage of your garden. For gardeners without a lot of space – or gardeners growing in containers – growing plants up is the best solution.

Many of us are familiar with the tomato cages for sale right now – these are an attempt to “grow things up.” Sadly most of them are not constructed with enough oomph to even last through one whole tomato season. There are better choices.

There are a number of plants that will NOT grow up no matter what you do, but just looking at the plant are there clues that show us which plants can be grown up? Yes!

Summer Plants That Can Be Trellised

  • Climbing beans – the seed package will tell you they are “climbing,” or, if you got them without a package, when the second pair of true leaves show up, the space between the pairs of leaves will be much longer than you'd expect. That part of the stem should be a couple of inches – if it's closer to a foot, you have a climber! Beans that are called “Runner Beans” are climbers.
  • Almost ALL melons – there are very few that are not abler to climb and those few are most likely a modern day hybrid and will be noted on the packet.
  • Most squashes – the exception will be the summer squashes – the winter squashes have long rambling vines that can be tied up easily. They need a sturdy trellis.
  • And while it may not be obvious, almost all tomatoes. When shopping for tomatoes, you often see them labeled “Determinate (or D)” and Indeterminate(or I). They are just what the words describe – Determinate tomatoes grow to a determinated height and no farther. Indeterminates don't have an “off” button – they keep growing as long as the weather suits them. The Indeterminate plants are really vines that we try to make stand up.







The tomato cages on the left, fold flat in the winter (or can do time as pea cages) while the “tomato ladders” below are more compact and seem to be a lot more sturdy. Cages are $55 for four, while the ladders are $50 for three (both plus shipping, so they end up being an investment). In my experience both of these are a better investment than the measly round things that are available locally. The circle cages do not actually work unless you help them with a sturdy pole helping them stay upright


.
Both of these structures - plus a bunch of other alternatives are available from Gardener's Supply - I have the ladders and I think they are about 20 plus years old. They are problem free and however much they cost, if they hang around for 20 plus years, that's what I would call a deal.












Concrete Reinforcing Wire is a real champ at this trellising thing! I have several pieces that came to me via a garage sale - I forget how much they cost, but with hunk of this stuff and some garden stakes (about 6' tall) to secure them, you have a deal!  

The large openings thru the mesh are big enough to get a hand thru easily – and said hand back out while holding a tomato. These can be used a number of ways. Just using it as a grid pattern, and stake it with some robust stakes, tomatoes or other climbing plants – even ones of some size like squashes and pumpkins, cucumbers, melons and almost any other climbing plant, will not conquer this wire! It is sturdy enough to bend it into shapes – you can even make a covered walkway with this stuff. Done right, you can walk under the leaves of your squash plant with the fruits hanging down around your head! It is magical.

Using them this way, storage is a cinch! One small space where they can be pushed out of the way against the wall and you're in like Flynn. Or, leave them in the garden and grow peas up them over the winter!

The First Nations of America had this trellis thing totally figured out. They grew corn and planted beans at the base of their corn. The beans used the corn to climb on while the beans “fixed” nitrogen in the soil for the corn (a high nitrogen user). Finally they planted squash at the base of the plants and the large leaves of the squashes shielded the soil from the rays of the sun, as living mulch, preventing water loss from evaporation and keeping the roots of the garden cooler in these very hot, dry southwestern climates. This type of garden is often times called the “Three Sisters Garden” and is a masterful example of using plants together in a symbiotic arrangement.

Looking at the plant – even a young plant – look for spaces between the leaves. Most food plants conform to a couple of growing patterns. Put on your “Botany Hat” cause here we go!

Each leaf comes off the stem at a place called a “node.” Nodes are important in many ways, but for today, we will consider them as important growth centers for the plant. If these nodes are close together, it indicates a plant that is not a good climber. If they are far apart, it is a good candidate. The space between the nodes is called the “internode” - how hard can that be? Long internodes mean good climber. If you understand this, then the one or two summer squashes that you can grow on a trellis will be easy to spot while the other summer squashes, all bunched up on the ground will be obviously a plant to leave on the ground.

If your trellis is wimpy, be prepared to repair it. The lima bean “Christmas” pulled down two trellises before I built one out of pallet wood and when that came down, I gave up on Christmas Limas! And that was a bean, imagine a squash or a cucumber plant?

Climbers are not only a common-sense solution to a space problem, they can make a wonderful design statement in your garden that brings your garden to a whole other artistic development – not only do you get more food from the same space, but your upright pieces in the garden can be painted to add additional color and provide more interest. Instead of tying plants up with only twine – you can use colorful ribbon to tie plants up adding more color to feast your eyes on!

Eggplants, peppers, okra and corn are not good trellising projects.

Plants that climb often have their harvest over a longer period of time. Plants that are smaller, officially known as "determinate (because their size is determined by their genes), don't. If you want to eat all summer long, grow pole beans. If you want to pickle or can your beans, plant bush varieties so you get them all ripe about the same time for processing convenience. Keep these options in mind as you plant to control the food coming in from your garden. Keep a log of what went where so you can avoid planting tomatoes into a space that was planted in nitrogen fixing plants. Tomatoes, growing the presence of nitrogen will not set fruit until they have burnt it up. In our climate this is not that big of deal – unless the fruit set holds until cooler weather had set in.

Take a moment and assess your summer garden. If you are in a very hot place with adequate water, consider planting your summer veggies a little closer together for complementary shade. Try not to shade the leaves, those need sun. But if you can keep the sun from the soil and the roots, you might find you have a better, longer harvest. Mind you, this would be in addition to mulching, which you already do, right?

Remember the adage: The best fertilizer is the farmer's shadow and enjoy your moments just looking at your plants and all you have done!

May is the last really good month to get your summer garden in, after this it gets hotter and drier and it's tougher on you and the plants. It's lovely outside – you want to be outside anyway – get out there and get busy! Waiting will make your job harder and the plants less happy. The time is now! Carpe diem!


Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
Winter squash
More basil
Beans
Zucchini
More summer squash
Corn
Tomatoes
Eggplant, peppers, okra,
Cucumbers
Peppers
squashes, summer first,
Beets*
Eggplants
then winter later in the month
Radishes*
Okra

Lettuce*
Cucumbers

Zucchini and winter squash
Basil

David's Greek Salad

It might be a bit early to think of the tomato harvest, and my admonition is to not 'count your tomatoes until they are on the plate;' oh what the hell... It's so close we can almost taste it, right?

Close to equal amounts of fresh tomatoes and fresh cucumbers. Do not slice neatly, but quickly and crudely chunk them into more or less bite sized pieces. I will be using San Marzano tomatoes and Armenian cucumbers for most of these this year. I love it! Greek salad with Italian tomatoes and Armenian cukes! Life in America.
Olive oil – enough to generously coat each bite, not so much as to float anything
Pepper to taste
Small slices of red onion for a some zing (the Italian 'Torpedo,' or Tropea onions are one of my favorites) – we're just doing some 'zing' here. The onions should not be the main attraction.
Crushed dried oregano (I like the Greek oregano, remember?)
Homemade or a really good store bought feta cheese also cut into chunks.
Mix them all together with laughter; the actual order things are placed in the bowl is not all that important, it's a forgetful, or disorderly, cook's dream!

Serve with:
Homemade bread, herb tea or lemonade and good friends... outside dining if you can!

Change it up as availability of ingredients dictates.
Eat till you're full and take a nap in dappled sunshine!
*In a protected, shaded, location.

Just stay outta my hammock.  

david