19 March, 2018

Are Those Seeds Any Good, Mister?

I was given a big bag of fava bean seed as the Seed Library of Los Angeles was clearing out some old seeds lately. The bag was labeled "Fava Beans, 2010"  I'm thinking "What is the longevity of fava beans anyway?" Most seeds figure to be close to dust over seven years (tomatoes being the common exception), but every so often, something was saved right and conditions all along favored longer life and the seeds will still sprout. I had no idea about fava bean seed, although, larger seeds seem to take longer to die than itty bitty ones (tomatoes definitely are the outliers!).  

Some quick research, I found a UC Davis article that said "When stored under favorable conditions, most bean seeds have a life expectancy of 3 years."  

It's hard to see, but this bag of fave bean seed is labeled 2010. 
Good? Bad?
What to do?  

Gosh. At 8 years, 2010 to 2018 seems like a long shot! But here's a whole bag of the stuff, I would really hate to throw it away. I don't know any magic, but sometimes a 'germination test' feels like magic. 

What Is a Germ Test And How Do You Do It?

Most seed savers abbreviate 'germination' into the monosyllable 'germ' and so you hear us talking about 'germ tests' not germination tests. Too much work to say all that!  

You will need a soft cloth or a paper towel. A water proof container - most folks use plastic zip lock bags. For this one, I used a bag that a loaf of bread came in and when I'm done, I'll wash it and use it again! 

Lastly, of course, you'll need some seeds and some water.

Fava bean seeds are big and bulky. They are not the most convenient species to take a germ test. First time out, you might want to do corn, peas, regular beans - something substantial but not as bulky as a fava bean.  

The number of seeds you will use for a germ test will depend on how many seeds you have and how much mental energy you want to spend. Educators usually talk in terms of 100 seeds. The beauty of this is that when you're done, simple count up the number that sprouted and you have the real percentage of viable seeds. And that works if you dealing in farm size quantities, but if you have only 100 seeds to start with, you'll be using the germ test seeds to plant! It takes a good deal of patience to plant already sprouted seeds.  

The actual appearance of my finished germ test.
Five beans per row, four rows - 20 seeds total.

So here we are.  I only used four rows of five beans and even that was hard to keep in the paper towel roll!  That's twenty seeds, so to get my percentage, I count my sprouted bean seeds and multiply by five and that will be the percentage out of 100.  It's hard to see in this photo, but there are 12 sprouted seeds (and by the way, this test was only for five days, if I really wanted to push things, I could have easily kept the seeds in the roll for up to 10 days, getting an even higher percentage, but I was in a hurry for many reasons).  Twelve sprouted seeds times five is 60%, because, if you're math challenged like I am, it takes five times twenty to make 100 and that's how we find the percent.  

Now 60% germination will not win any real award, in fact it is illegal to sell seed with 60% germination.  But in this case, to use these beans up, I would plant 2 seeds for every plant I want.  If I was wanting to have a fava in every spot where I planted them, I might sow two seeds per spot and then put a couple seeds into 4" containers to fill in any hole that ended up empty.

So, yes ma'am. These are good seeds enough for home use. They'll spend the summer in a cool, dark and dry place (in the plastic bag in my fridge with the door closed almost all the time) and I'll plant them out this fall. Or, you might find some of them with the Seed Library Of Los Angeles where you'll get double the amount to make up for the low germination.  

Soon, I'll be showing off my black garbanzo beans I'm SO excited about.  Do stay tuned!


15 March, 2018

Food Plants From the Ark of Taste We Can Grow In Southern California

In our Mediterranean climate, we can grow a lot of different food plants – in fact, almost all of them. The only time we find difficulty in growing plants that thrive elsewhere is with the perennials and fruit trees. Here are a list of many of the Ark of Taste plants we can grow in our SoCal gardens:

Algonquian Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
Amish Paste Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) – this is one of my favorites too.
Amish Pie Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Arikara Yellow Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (Physalis pruinosa)
Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Beaver Dam Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Bodega Red Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Bolita Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Boston Marrow Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Bradford Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus v. Bradford 1)
Brown and White Tepary Bean (Phaseolus acutifolius) 
Burbank Tomato (I know it as “Burbank Slicing Tomato) (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Canada Crookneck Squash (Cucurbita moschata
Candy Roaster Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Chalk’s Early Jewel Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Chapalote Corn (Zea mays)
Cherokee Purple Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Cherokee Trail of Tears Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Chiltepin Pepper (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum)
Christmas Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus)
Crane Melon (Cucumis melo)
Datil Pepper (Capsicum chinense)
Djena Lee’s Golden Girl Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Early Blood Turnip-Rooted Beet (Beta vulgaris)
Early Rose Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Fish Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Four Corners Gold Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Garnet Chili Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
German Pink Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Gilfeather Turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa)
Green Mountain Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Hanson Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Hayman Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas v. Hayman)
Hidatsa Red Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Hidatsa Shield Figure Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Hinkelhatz Hot Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Hopi Mottled Lima Beans (Phaseolus lunatus)
Hussli Tomato Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
I'Itoi Onion (Allium cepa var. aggregatum)
Inchelium Red Garlic (Allium sativum)
Inciardi Paste Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Ivan Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Ivis White Cream Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
Jacob’s Cattle Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying pepper (Capiscum annuum)
Jimmy Red Corn (Zea mays indentata)
Kentucky Limestone Bibb Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
King Philip Corn (Zea mays)
Kleckley Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)
Landrace Red Creole Onion (Allium cepa)
Lina Cisco’s Bird Egg Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Livingston’s Globe Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Livingston’s Golden Queen Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Long Island Cheese Pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata)
Makah Ozette Potato (Solanum tuberosum subsp. andigena)
Marrowfat Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Martin's Carrot Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
Mayflower Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Mississippi Silver Hull Bean-Crowder Cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata)
Moon & Stars Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)
Nancy Hall Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
New Mexican Native Chile Pepper (Capiscum annuum)
New Mexico Native Tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica)
O'odham Pink Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Orange Oxheart Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Pantin Mamey Sapote (Pouteria sapota)
Purple Straw Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Red McClure Potato  (Solanum tuberosum)
Rio Zape Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Rockwell Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Roy’s Calais Flint Corn (Zea mays)
Santa Maria Pinquitos Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Sea Island White Flint Corn (Zea mays)
Seashore Black Rye (Secale cereale)
Seminole Pumpkin (chassa howitska) (Cucurbita moschata)
Seven Top Turnip (Brassica rapa)
Sheboygan Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Sheepnose Pimiento (Capiscum annuum)
Sibley Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Spanish Roja Garlic (Allium sativum)
Speckled Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Stowell's Evergreen Sweet Corn (Zea mays)
Sudduth Strain Brandywine Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Hubbard Squash (Cucurbita maxima)
Tennis Ball Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Thelma Sanders Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
True Red Cranberry Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Turkey Craw Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Turkey Hard Red Winter Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
Tuscarora White Corn (Zea mays)
Valencia Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
Wenk’s Yellow Hot Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
White African Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor)
White Cap Flint Corn (Zea mays)
White Sonora Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
White Velvet Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
Yellow Cabbage Collard (Brassica oleracea)
Yellow-Meated Watermelon (Citrillus lanatus)

The beans, lettuces, peppers, tomatoes and wheats are very easy for saving seeds
The many okras, sorghums and squashes are a little harder but totally do-able.
Watermelons are hard to grow here, but if you can get it to grow, the good news is that no one will have a watermelon to cross pollinate your watermelon.

Seed Saving Resources

Because it's easier to find URLs online rather than typing them in, for my Intermediate Seed Saving Class for the City of Santa Monica on March 17th, I gave everyone THIS URL wherein to list the OTHER URLs.  

Seed Saving Resources on the Web: 

First, a word of caution:  ALL of these sites are written for climates that differ remarkably from our own.  We are a Mediterranean Climate, which means our climate resembles Rome and Athens much more than it does the rest of the United States. Refer to local seed savers when discussing time of year when to plant and harvest as it is not at all the same as these sites would have you believe.  Remember that as you glean all the other goodness these people have to say about seed saving. Also, this blog has a good deal of seasonal information that will prove helpful.  

https://seedalliance.org/all-publications/ This is the link directly to their publications page, but the whole site is worth exploring.  The number one book I use is from them.  Before you become too enamored with all they offer, on the left hand side, check "How To Guide" and then "Seed Saving" and you'll be able to download this 37 page guide. With this and a few add ons, you'll be set to start saving seeds. Once you've done that, go back and see what all they offer!

https://www.seedsavers.org/search  I have been a member of Seed Savers Exchange for almost 20 years. Of all the seed saving organizations in the US, this the oldest and the most venerated.  Clicking into "Search" you'll find some resources.  And get a membership while you're there.  We support Seed Savers Exchange. Our Crop-Specific Seed Saving Guide came from here.  

This is a go to "Isolation Distances" guide.  It's written for Mid-Atlantic and Southern US, but a mile here is a mile there and I use this as a starting point for the discussion. 

http://www.savingourseeds.org/publications.html  The above publication helped me find this site - lots of good information to love and treasure here.  

https://slola.blogspot.com/  For some local seed saving news, this is the blog I maintain for the Seed Library of Los Angeles  - also, check out SlOLA.org - we are updating the web site now (ever so slowly - we are all volunteers with real lives outside of our seed-saving) and soon should have a genuine excellent resource guide that will honestly get you hooked on seed saving and knowing how to do it!

In addition, for other info:  Open Source Seed Initiative 

Other Resources, Books: 

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History,Weaver, William Woys ©1997, Henry Holt It is now out of print and getting a copy can be hellish (NEWSFLASH: IT IS BACK IN PRINT!!!) It is a wonderful book that needs to be put back in print because the research he put into the book makes this to be the most informative books on heirloom vegetables that has ever been published. Mother Earth News has the entire book on a CD – you can find it on their website – of course that's not a book, but you will have the data.

A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers, Organic Seed Alliance © 2010 OSA This publication is a free download from organicseedalliance.org. It is a succinct guide with few frills but a great deal of good data. A free publication that is worth paying for! Organic Seed Alliance is a non-profit relying on contributions to fight the invasion of hybrids and GMO seeds in our lives. I suggest throwing a donation their way as they deserve it.

Breed Your Won Vegetable Varieties, Deppe, Carol © 2000, Chelsea Green Publishing The subtitle gets more to our point: The Gardeners' and Farmers Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, I had bought this book about three years ago and, for whatever reason, I ignored it. In preparing to teach seed saving one more time,, the subtitle pulled me in: Suddenly, it was a different book. She is very, very funny and her stories of seed saving are heart warming; I felt I had met a kindred spirit – I want to drive to Oregon and 'shoot the compost' about seeds over a brew or tea or whatever she's having. 


14 March, 2018

The First Offering of Urban Food Production, The Spring Edition

Three Winter veggies from the Fall class of Urban Food Production. In Spring we'll
be planting veggies for the hotter months including peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash -
to just name but a few!!!  Sign up now!

Starting April 8th at The Learning Garden, the first offering of the Spring course of "Urban Food Production" a long running Fall class will be offered at The Learning Garden. Teaching this in Spring has been a dream of mine from the beginning because we will be growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squashes and cucumbers - and so many more of your favs. Spaces are still available - sign up!! Course title (below) is the link to UCLA Extension.  Students get to harvest from their gardens throughout the summer (if they maintain them!).  

The syllabus doesn't say, it but we eat at every class!  Eating is an agricultural act!  So we have meals that reflect on seasonality in addition to being healthy, organic and delicious.  It's all part of the syllabus.

Questions?  Give me a shout!


I've taught gardening and horticulture for over 30 years,
which I hate to say because everyone thinks I'm an old fellow.
I'm still having a good time and I love teaching growing food to people.

BIOLGY X 489.6 - Urban Food Production

The production, packaging, and transportation of food are large contributors to our global carbon emissions. Throughout the Los Angeles basin, food gardens have sprung up producing local healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables while contributing energy and financial savings in difficult economic times. Using the history and current practices of growing food in the city as a template, this course explores how urban grown food reduces food budgets, encourages food sovereignty while addressing environmental concerns. Participants are each given a small plot for growing food where they can experiment with new ideas and enjoy their harvest. Topics include fruit trees, vegetables, and berries that do well in our climate as well as often overlooked food-producing perennials. We address pitfalls, challenges and practical answers to growing food in modern city lots where the "back 40" describes square feet and not acres.

13 March, 2018

Beginning Seed Saving - Easy Peasy!

We have all been “beginning” seed savers at one time or another. While some have been at it their whole lives, others have come to the party much later in life; others have saved one seed, for example, tomato seed, but haven't bothered with anything else. We can become intimidated by the seemingly endless bits of information from plant to plant and, overwhelmed, through up our hands in despair and put off learning it until next year.

I think I would have done that same thing as well, except I had already scheduled a seminar with me teaching seed saving to about 50 people in 3 months. I was kind of under the gun. I knew of some seed saving, after all, I knew my grandfather had saved seeds – I well remember the kitchen table covered with newsprint and tomato seeds spread out to dry before being  put into envelopes saving for next year.

I dove into several books (see bibliography below), reading them and comparing notes and tried putting what I was reading into action as best I could. I learned that reading about seed saving had it's limits. Doing seed saving taught me much faster, although a little theory up front was necessary. It's just you don't learn how to save seeds by reading everything the world has written about seed saving. We learn by doing it. And everything is easy if you know how!

You will make mistakes. Usually, the mistakes can be eaten and that's the end of it. Some mistakes end up in the compost pile. No big deal. Accept that making mistakes is your price for admission to the club of seed savers.

Start out simple and small. Do not overwhelm yourself. Choose a vegetable from the “easy to save seeds” list. If you already store dry beans, peas or other legumes to be hydrated and cooked in the off season, you are already saving those seeds! The only thing you might change is to look the plants over before you harvest from them, looking for the plant that had the most, or the biggest, maybe the earliest or the latest beans. Whatever you fancy as a good visible trait in your beans. Mark those plants you find to be “the best” and save seeds from those several plants to plant next year. By doing that over and over again, you are “selecting” for that trait and by golly one day you might have a variety that is bigger, better, earlier or later to call your own!

Chose your first seed saving activity from this list:
Garbanzo beans

Self pollination (seed savers often abbreviate that to just "self" or "selfing") is found in about 15% of all plants. It is really very predominate in the bean family, Fabacea, the grass family, Poacea – except for corn which is a plant unto its self. Some plants in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, do self-pollinate, others cross. Count on lettuce to always self and other sunflower-like plants to self only as a last resort.

Start with the self-pollinators as they are the easiest. You really have nothing to do but save the seeds! But what does that mean?

Black garbanzo beans are my current favorite thing in the
whole wide world! On the left, towards the top, the
very small flower and just to the right of center, the green pods.
These plants are slated to provide seeds for the Seed Library of Los Angeles
for next years cool season offerings.

Seeds always come after the plant has flowered – in fact, as far as the plant is concerned, producing flowers, which then produce the seeds, is what it's all about. There is a bevy of jokes of poor taste here, but I'll leave that to your imagination. You never see lettuce flowers because your whole gardening career is to eat it before it bolts. (Remember the term, “gone to seed?” Like a reference to a once prosperous town that has fallen on hard times, could be said “just went to seed” as a derisive comment – our 'job' as gardeners is to get rid of those plants before they've gone to seed.) Seed saving stands the traditional garden model on it's head.

(Working in my garden one day, in an area full of lettuce that had “gone to seed” - a man from the street called to me, “Is this your garden?” I said it was. Pointing to all the plants that were in various stages past prime eating time, “If this was my garden, I shoot myself!” because he was measuring it by a different metric. I saw seeds, he saw overgrown, spent plants.)

I have always believed that persistence and patience were the golden keys to gardening – and I think it's even more true for seed savers.
This lettuce is from some spilled seed so we
are unsure of its name, I think it's Merlot, but
name or no name, I'm saving the seeds. I'll
find out the name later.

I'll go into specifics in later posts, but for right now I would like you to do two things. I'd like you to buy a notebook – or create a Word document – in which to track your seed saving experiences. I want you to be able to track your seeds through a couple of generations to see how well you are doing – or if it's just not happening for you, and I'd like to you read part of ONE book listed below. Lettuce season for us is about over – if you have one variety of lettuce you love, let one or two plants go to seed – just by leaving them alone – if they are isolated to where you can cut down – or eliminate – the water, all the better. You will see the flowers fade and, as the plant becomes ever less attractive, you'll begin to see little cups – where the flowers once were – full of seeds – maybe 10 to 20 seeds in each one. Viola! You have saved seeds! You'll need to make sure they are completely dry and then store them – cool, dark and dry – for next season. More on that too!

If you have no lettuce left, get some beans in the ground and follow my advice above about saving the seeds that are more like what you want. I'll discuss how to store them in an upcoming blog (easy-peasy)! 


* observe your tomato flowers as they first open: do the inner parts of the tomato flower extend beyond the flower's tip? If so, you have a variety that can be pollinated by insects and is therefore not a “self-pollinating” tomato. This is more common in the old varieties of tomatoes, sadly, usually the ones you most want to save.

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History,Weaver, William Woys ©1997, Henry Holt It is now out of print and getting a copy can be hellish (NEWSFLASH: IT IS BACK IN PRINT!!!) It is a wonderful book that needs to be put back in print because the research he put into the book makes this to be the most informative books on heirloom vegetables that has ever been published. Mother Earth News has the entire book on a CD – you can find it on their website – of course that's not a book, but you will have the data.

A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers, Organic Seed Alliance © 2010 OSA This publication is a free download from organicseedalliance.org. It is a succinct guide with few frills but a great deal of good data. A free publication that is worth paying for! Organic Seed Alliance is a non-profit relying on contributions to fight the invasion of hybrids and GMO seeds in our lives. I suggest throwing a donation their way as they deserve it.

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, Deppe, Carol © 2000, Chelsea Green Publishing The subtitle gets more to our point: The Gardeners' and Farmers Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, I had bought this book about three years ago and, for whatever reason, I ignored it. In preparing to teach seed saving one more time,, the subtitle pulled me in: Suddenly, it was a different book. She is very, very funny and her stories of seed saving are heart warming; I felt I had met a kindred spirit – I want to drive to Oregon and 'shoot the compost' about seeds over a brew or tea or whatever she's having. 

These are the three I found the best.  Deppe's book (Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties) starts out with stuff I still do not understand, but half way through, the whole book changes into the  best stuff written about saving seeds and it is easily assimilated.  

When I teach seed saving the OSA guide is the one I recommend because it is free and, at 35 pages, it is always right on point.

22 February, 2018

A First Graft Conclusion

This is the conclusion to an article that can be found at http://www.lagardenblog.com/2018/02/grafting-introduction-part-1.html

Patience my be called a 'virtue' for most of mankind, but for a grafter it is essential.” The quote originally said “gardeners” but it is more than applicable to grafters. It's my quote, I can do with it what I please.

Before I let my students actually graft a tree in class, we find some wood from an apple tree and we work on it, making straight cuts – which are useful, if not essential – for eventual grafting. You will want to be able to control the knife in making a clean, straight and even cut. It must be straight up and down, no bows or bumps, and straight across, no twists or turns, and it must be the correct length in total.

Once you have found a piece of apple wood – or other deciduous fruit - and your knife is sharp, its time to begin your practice. We are going to work with a simple Cleft graft. The down end of the scion is cut to a “V” shape and the rootstock is simply slit down the middle. I actually prefer to switch these roles where the rootstock holds the “V” shape and the scion is split down the middle. The feeling I have is that the “V” on the bottom might collect moisture and rot at some point down the road, but there are many enthusiasts that will say “that's never happened to me!” So which is up and which is down can be a matter of preference. If “simple” is your only criteria, then the “V” should be on the scion.

Cutting the “V” is important and presently you will see how many ways it can be screwed up. You would like to make it with as few strokes of the knife as possible – two strokes is perfect – but three is not uncommon. You want to avoid the “whittling” of the wood if at all possible. Once you have sliced off one portion, a lot of what has been written above will make more tangible sense that it did before.

You want a piece of wood that has a very fine point on it with both sides cut straight – no dips and/or turns in the blade as it goes through. This is harder than it sounds. Resist the urge – you will feel it – to turn the scion around, using the thumb on your right hand to brace the knife cutting the wood! I know the knife appears stuck, but when it comes unstuck, it will slice right through the wood and on into your thumb. Keep the knife blade pointed away from yourself and gently rock it back and forth. Presently it will become unstuck and you can finish the cut bloodlessly. Patience. 

A good, clean and straight cut. Note the green cambium.

A poor cut, it is not straight and there is no way to make
the cambium of this with the rootstock.
Practice this cut as many times as needed to build confidence with your ability to handle the knife. It is normal to have to sharpen your knife mid-project as needed. You will want the “V” to be a very sharp angle. Making the slice in the opposite piece to this equation, is very straight forward: as near to the center, simply rock your knife to make a straight cut about as long as your “V” on the other piece of wood.

Before you begin to put them together, begin to wrap the rootstock with the Parafilm. Pull the Parafilm tight as you wrap, stretching it out and binding it to itself until you reach the beginning of the nascent graft. Place the the two wood pieces together. Inspect for cambium to cambium connection – this is the essential part of the graft. Wherever the cambium of these two pieces meet is the beginning of your new tree. If they don't meet, you have wasted your time and the tree's resources. Once you are certain you have the most cambium meeting you can, hold that graft very tightly while you finish wrapping the Parafilm over the graft. You can simply pull hard on the Parafilm and it will break where you end.

The receiving end for the cut's above.  Fitting the straight edge into
this piece of rootstock will be a piece of cake while
the curved cut will fail.
If the tip of your scion was cut, you should also wrap that in Parafilm. Remember, loss of water and cambium not matching are the two major causes of graft failure. Parafilm is relatively cheap, so use more than less!

Your graft, if done properly, will show signs of taking in 3 to 4 weeks, sometimes more, occasionally less. The weather has a lot to do with it. If you failed, don't worry. You've just joined the very large majority of grafters that have failed once or twice. Or more.  Whether or not your graft takes, make sure you examine the whole process and evaluate how well you were prepared and what parts of your technique needs refinement and work with yourself to improve your chances.

And know that every year, you must revisit these skills anew. I usually set aside a couple of one hour slots for a few weeks before grafting to get my skills into top shape.

Remember to remind yourself that grafting, while a science, is also an art. Some are gifted grafters, while the rest of us must work at it. But practice does make perfect.

This is your first graft to learn – there are more. I'll be doing an informal series on grafting over the next few months. Stay tuned and if you don't understand something – ask questions! I'll answer them for everyone's benefit.

The motto for all grafters should be:


13 February, 2018

A First Graft Introduction

This is intended to be a down and dirty introduction to grafting.  I am sorry it could not be kept to one blog post. I will post the finale in a day or two.  

Grafting is probably considered the most “mystical” of arts in that area known as “horticulture” as practiced by the gardening public. It is not mystical any more than sunrise and sunset is, but if you don't know the basics, it can be forbidding. Know the rules and it's just as common as a sunrise, don't learn the rules and you are lost.

Soon, I'll write out the story of how I came to be totally in awe of grafters and the event that changed my approach to garden science. In this small intro, I will introduce the basics of grafting as simply and straight forward as I can.

The absolute first thing to say about grafting is that you are working with really, really sharp knives.  Your first priority must be safety - afterall, you will be using YOUR fingers and these knives are sharp.  Have bandaids - at minimum, if not a well stocked first aid kit. ALL grafters I know, except those that ride motorcycles really (REALLY) fast, have at least some kind of first aid material in the same bag as their knives. Pay attention.  Ask those around you to not talk to you while you are grafting.  Do not graft while on the phone.  Do not graft while driving.  Give that knife and where it is pointed your full attention - all the time that blade is exposed. If it's sharp enough to graft, it's sharp enough to cut into you all the way to the bone.  I've done it. It doesn't hurt until it hits the bone and then it hurts for a very long time. Never point the sharp end of the blade towards any part of your body - especially your left thumb - that's the one that gets nailed the most.  Please! And thank you!

You need;
A very sharp knife
Two pieces of wood (described below)
And something to hold them together

These are grafting knives;  the bottom wood handled knife is a Tina bench grafting knife - it doesn't fold and cannot
carried with ease in a pocket, the next knife up is a Swiss Army in my favorite blade style (identical blade to the one above it), the next knife is usually considered best for budding.  The one on farthest right is just another grafting blade. The knife at
the top is my favorite - "new old stock" from eBay. I love the feel of this knife and use it for most of my work. It is resting on a roll of half inch Parafilm.
Your sharp knife does not have to be a grafting knife, although if you intend to graft as an ongoing project, you will find a grafting knife increases your chances of a good graft. Some grafters simply use those utility box cutters and break off the old blades instead of having to sharpen the blades. I found that a difficult tool to handle – but then again, I am pleased with my grafting knives and enjoy using different ones on different days, but that's me and my obsessive/compulsive personality.

But your knife must be SHARP. Even if you need to stop every several cuts and hone it a little.
The “Something to hold them together” has really improved in the last few years. In the past grafters have used plastic bags, electrical tape, duct tape (omigaud NO!) and tar. Today we have “Parafilm” and without it, I would not be a very good grafter. This stuff (can be found on eBay and Amazon as well as other sites – I even have a few rolls to sell pretty much all the time as I buy in bulk for my class). It is not expensive. As you pull on it, to wrap your graft, the Parafilm becomes more pliable and will actually begin to seal to itself with just a little pressure. When firmly wrapped, in all but the most difficult of grafts, Parafilm will hold your graft together. Certainly as a beginner, you would not normally be undertaking grafts that were above the cohesion of Parafilm to hold it together.

The “two pieces of wood” is what makes this all interesting. One piece of wood is a “scion” while the other piece of wood is “rootstock.” The scion possesses the fruit you want to grow on the rootstock. The rootstock is the rest of the tree that is not this scion. You can graft five apples to one tree. All the pieces you graft to the tree are 'scions.' That which holds them from falling to the ground is the 'rootstock.' In the case of the apples, the scion is collected because we want that apple's taste or usability; an eating apple or a cider apple, one that bears in late Spring and another the blooms in late Summer – whatever characteristics you feel you want in an apple.

If this is your first shot at grafting, I would strongly urge you to graft apples – the apple tree wood is easier to work with and the chance of success is strong. Citrus is one of the worst as it is really hard wood and difficult to shape. Get some miles under your knife and then tackle citrus.

The rootstock can be an existing tree on your property or you can order rootstock from some regional nurseries – they are not expensive. One chooses rootstock on it's qualities – some rootstocks withstand disease or wind or drought or dwarf your tree by a given percent. In Southern California most experienced apple growers would choose M111. I order my rootstock (sometimes referred to as “wood” in a generic way) from Raintree Nursery. They have always been reliable and prompt.  

Now we get to make our cuts. The scion wood should be about the diameter of a pencil and the part of the rootstock you are going to attach the scion to should be about the same diameter – it need not be exact, but the closer it is the better.

This shot, while of a rose, shows the ring around the stem that is called the Cambium. It is the living tissue of woody plants  and this tissue on your rootstock must be touching the scion's cambium. That is the thrust of grafting.

Thanks for dropping by - hope you get the chance to see my interview with Christy Wilhelmi, The Gardenerd on grafting coming out in a few days. And I'll wrap this, and our graft, up later this week.

The conclusion of this article can be found at http://www.lagardenblog.com/2018/02/a-first-graft-conclusion.html

03 February, 2018

Tomatoes The Gateway Drug to Gardening

Two really ripe cherry tomatoes and two getting ripe with a bunch of green tomatoes.

These pages comprise my notes for my February 3rd class, "Tomatoes, The Gateway Drug to Gardening.  While this does contain a lot of data, it certainly misses most of the off-the-wall impromptu humor that naturally happens whenever I open my mouth.

Caring For Tomatoes

  • Tomatoes are a warm weather crop. Usually setting them out in Southern California about tax day (April 15th) is a good bet.
  • Tomatoes prefer about 6 to 8 hours of sun to bring out their best flavors. You can cheat if you have a white wall that will reflect light – and heat – back to them, but too little light will result in weak and non-productive plants.
  • You will need to stake, trellis, or cage, and sometimes all three, your tomato plants to keep them off the ground. Have your support system ready when planting the tomatoes – waiting is guaranteed to see the tomatoes 6 feet long before you find yourself trying to coral those vines desperately into cages they refuse to go into. Save yourself (and the plants!) the grief!
  • Give each plant enough room to grow. Space “robust,” (along with “vigorous” these are code words for “tomato plants on steroids” - take these terms seriously) long-vined, indeterminate varieties about 3 feet apart. Stockier determinate plants can be grown 2 feet apart. Growing in containers, you’ll need at least a 36 to 48 inch pot for an indeterminate variety, or a 24 inch pot for a determinate variety. And stakes. And twine.
  • At the same time, lay 3 to 4 inches of compost on top of the soil which will provide minor nutrients and help hold moisture in the soil, keeping the moisture tomatoes love.
  • To grow a really strong tomato plant, bury two-thirds of the stem when planting. This will allow the plant to sprout roots along the buried stem, making your plant will be stronger and better able to find water in a drought. Please note that this deep-planting method only works with tomatoes (and tomatillos). Another note; if you are putting tomatoes into soil that has not yet warmed, lay the stem sideways under the soil surface in order to not go deep into the colder soil. Tomatoes planted in cool soil will never forgive you and will perform worse than tomatoes planted two weeks late in warmer soil.
  • Do not use Nitrogen fertilizer on your tomatoes! The plants will be bright green and lush but will not produce fruit until the N is burnt up. I don't know why, it just is. I tend to not use fertilizer at all, just copious amounts of compost. Most of our soils are loaded with enough nutrients to grow healthy plants, except N, which tomatoes don't need. Do not plant tomatoes in an area that grew beans or bean family crops last year, the Nitrogen they produce in the soil will still be present.
  • Immediately after planting, water seedlings to help settle them in.

  • You can combine fast-maturing varieties with special season-stretching techniques to grow an early crop – you will have tomatoes coming in much more regularly and the variety IS the spice of life.
  • Cover the ground with 2 to 4 inches of mulch to minimize weeds and help keep the soil evenly moist. Straw and shredded leaves make great mulches for tomatoes.
  • Water regularly, aiming for at least an inch of moisture per week (through rain or watering), more in the summertime. Even more during the Santa Ana winds. Keep your eye on your plants whenever you go out to pick. Irregular watering is one of the causes of blossom end rot, a fungus that ruins tomato fruit by rotting from the far side of the tomato (where the flower once was) and turning your fruit to an unappetizing mush.
  • Plant a variety of tomatoes, for different colors, different tastes, but more importantly to allow for different harvesting days. It does not hurt to plant more seeds in June/July for a fall crop. Sometimes this close to the ocean we get a better tomato harvest off the later plants. May's Malaise and June Gloom can be deadly to tomatoes.

Tomato Varieties
Tomato varieties can be divided into categories based on shape and size. Some of the more popular of these are:

  • Beefsteak tomatoes are 4” or more in diameter, often sliced for sandwiches and similar applications. They may weigh in at over a pound or more. Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin, and shorter shelf life makes commercial use impractical. But their flavor is usually among the most “tomatoey” of all varieties. These are often the “heirloom” tomatoes prized for that taste. Beefsteak tomatoes are the largest tomatoes and will not reliably produce a crop close to the coast. They need a constant 85ยบ day and night to set fruit. Because of our ocean influence, we rarely meet that condition and so production of beefsteak tomatoes can be scarce.
  • Slicing tomatoes are the ones often found in markets – not as large as the beefsteak tomato, but weighing in from 6 to 12 ounces, these round fruits are the common tomato to be sliced into salads or topping of tacos. Most tomatoes consumed in the US are slicing tomatoes and they will set fruit easily in our climate.
  • Plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are bred with a lower water /higher solids content for use in tomato sauce and paste, for canning and sauces and are usually oblong 3–4” long and 1½ – 2” diameter; like the Roma-type tomatoes, important cultivars in making tomato sauces – the famed San Marzano tomato is one of these. Other tomatoes, round like fresh eating tomatoes may be used for sauces, like the Burbank Slicer which doubles nicely for a paste tomato as well.
  • Cherry tomatoes are small and round, often sweet tomatoes, about the same ½ – 1”, same size as the wild tomato. Cherry tomatoes will set fruit the easiest and most prolific. I have always maintained that one eats cherry tomatoes only in the garden, you plant them to keep the gardener working and do not serve them because they are notoriously fork-adverse, slipping from one plate to another person's eyeball. Leave them in the garden or serve them presliced.

Determinate vs Indeterminate

Another classification of tomatoes is according to their growth habit. Most tomatoes are “Indeterminate.” Left alone, they will continue to grow longer and longer vines until stopped by cold weather or lack of water. Lack of things to climb on does not figure. The good news is that all the continuous growth will produce more tomatoes. With Indeterminate tomatoes, you get tomatoes over a long period of time.

Determinate tomatoes on the other hand, grow to their full height – usually about 3 feet – and stop. They flower and then all the fruits that plant will produce, will be produced in one flush and the plant dies. This is great for folks who wish to can tomatoes or tomato juice. If one is planting a determinate tomato only and wants tomatoes through the summer, a second and third planting will be required. Determinate tomatoes are the best for container and balcony growing.

Common Tomato Pests and Diseases

Some common tomato pests are stink bugs, cutworms, tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms, aphids, cabbage loopers, whiteflies, tomato fruitworms, flea beetles, red spider mite, slugs, and Colorado potato beetles. The tomato russet mite, Aculops lycopersici, feeds on foliage and young fruit of tomato plants, causing shriveling and necrosis of leaves, flowers, and fruit, possibly killing the plant.

A common tomato disease is tobacco mosaic virus. Handling cigarettes and other infected tobacco products can transmit the virus to tomato plants.

A common condition is Blossom End Rot caused by indifferent water. Tomatoes, while not being a water hog, need consistent watering. Watering too little followed by compensative overwatering will create fruits that rot from the blossom end destroying the palatability of the fruit.

Tomato seeds offered at the class, were presented as follows: 

*Limited Supply refers to the amount of seed I had of each at the class.  Students were asked to confine themselves to only one of the "limited supply" varieties. 

Limited supply*
All days to ripeness are from transplant!
Amish Paste

Acquired from the Amish near Lancaster, PN. Bright red 8-12 ounce fruits. Juicy flesh – top notch for sauce and fresh eating. One of Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste varieties. 85 days
Seed Savers Exchange
Black Krim

Russian tomato with deep red and green color. 8 ounce fruits with a deep, salty flavor. All the “Black” tomatoes have thin skins and can be a chore to harvest wnen fully ripe, but they are worth the hassle. Also a good container tomato, 80 days
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

A small heirloom slicer that can be used for paste as well. Developed by Luther Burbank,  3-4 inch fruit. The fruit has a very deep red color and a traditional tomato flavor. About 8 ounce fruit – great for containers!! 75 days One of David's favorites!
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Chocolate Cherry
Purplish-red 1” cherry tomatoes are sweet and are good for snacking (isn't that why we like cherry tomatoes?) Prolific vines bear trusses of 6 to 8 fruits at a whack. About 70 days.
Botanical Interests
David Davidson
Mid-size orange glove tomatoes in clusters o up to 7fruits. Great flavoer hinting of citrus. Keeps well. 90 days.
Seed Savers Exchange
Djena Lee's Gold Girl

Golden-orange fruits. 8 oz fruits. Delicious flavor, rich balance of sweetness and tanginess. 80 days
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Eva Purple Ball

Heirloom from Germany, 78 days, cherry red, 4 to 5 ounces, smooth round fruits
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Gold Medal
“The sweetest tomato you ever tasted.” An orangish-yellow with streaks of red, a wonderful bi-color tomato weighing more than 1 pound! Not good at the coast!! 75-90 days
Seed Savers Exchange
Illini Gold

4-6 oz bright yellow/orange paste-type tomatoes – 75 days; makes a sweet golden tomato sauce!
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Meaty fruits full of flavor and prolific production made this one of the best commercial tomatoes in years past. Prefers hot (and humid) summers. 75 to 80 days
Botanical Interests
Nebraska Wedding
Reliable producer of stunning 4” round fruits with glowing orange skin. Well-balanced flavor. @ 36” tall – still need some staking. 85 to 90 days
Seed Savers Exchange
Paul Robeson
Russian variety popular amoung tomato connoisseurs named for a famous Russian opera singer. Dusky brick red 6 to 12 ounces, nice acid/sweet balance, 80-90 days
Seed Savers Exchange
Red Zebra
Gorgeous 2½” round fruits, blood-red overlaid with jagged carrot-orange stripes. Very productive, slightly tart. 75 – 80 days.
Seed Savers Exchange
½ D
Rutgers University released this new “retro” variety to try to get back to the original “Jersey tomato” qualities of flavor, juiciness, texture, vigor, and all the other good stuff. Red round medium fruits. A tasty tomato bred for home gardeners 75 days @ 6 to 8 ounces
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Rutgers (the original)

Strong and vigorous vines, bear bright red 6 to 8 ounce fruits with excellent flavor – this is the tomato my grandfather planted year in and year out. Also good for sauce. A great all-purpose tomato. 75 days
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

75 days and will set fruit in cool and wet weather! 9-12 oz fruits for slices, Prolific. 75 days
Lake Valley Seed
Sungold Cherry
Just a few seeds! Tangerine colored fruits are among the best tasting cherry tomatoes in the world. The only hybrid in this list! 57 days
Botanical Interests
Sweetie Cherry

A well known tomato for it's strong tomato flavor. Smaller cherries (¾ to 1”) still have a great taste and are produced in clusters. Vigorous vines. 65 days
Botanical Interests
Introduced in 1870, sold at that time for $5/pkt (equal to today's $80!) sweet 5 to 7 ounce tomatoes ideal for slicing. 80 days
Seed Savers Exchange

Heirloom producing large orange 8 – 10 ounce fruits – firm with few seeds. Vigorous plant needs staking, A Slow Food USA selection. 75 days
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
White Cherry

Like eating candy. Can be grown in containers, Early fruiting 70 days – 1 ounce fruits.
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Yellow Bell

Roma shaped yellow fruits, Great yellow sauce tomato for salads or for making lovely tomato paste, juice, preserves, salsa, and yellow catsup!  Survives cool wet conditions better than other sauce tomatoes. 60 days
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange