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....


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

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

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!"  


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.