07 April, 2019

Urban Food Production, Spring 2019


Course Number: Biology X 489.6  

Instructor: David King

310.722.3656

There are no prerequisites for this course, although some experience with gardening will prove useful.

All classes meet at The Learning Garden on the Venice High School campus where it can be hot and cold by turns – but reliably MUCH MORE VARIABLE than other parts of Los Angeles. For your own comfort, please bring a sweater or coat to every class meeting. Class will meet regardless of the weather. Expect to get wet or dry or hot or cold as we will be outside for a portion of every meeting.

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 to produce local healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables while contributing energy and financial savings in difficult economic times. Using the history of growing food in the city in times of need as a template, this course explores how homegrown food can reduce your food budget and address environmental concerns. Participants each have 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 and how to grow food in modern city lots where the "back forty" describes square feet and not acres.

Textbooks Required:

Title The New Sunset Western Garden Book
Author Brenzel, Kathleen Norris (Editor)
Edition Feb. 2012
Publisher Sunset Books
ISBN 978-0376039170


There will be no assigned reading from the book, but it really is essential if you are gardening in Southern California. The most recent edition is not really necessary, however, it does have more data in it and with each edition Sunset pays more respect to food gardening.

This will be supplemented by postings on my Garden Notes blog, http://lagardennotes.blogspot.com/ . I hope to post most of the material in the days prior to the class when it will be used.

Textbooks, Recommended:

Title The Kitchen Garden
Author Thompson, Sylvia
Edition First
Publisher Bantam Books
ISBN 0-553-08138-1
*(She has a companion cookbook that is worth investigation too!)
Title Heirloom Vegetable Gardening
Author Weaver, William Woys
Edition First
Publisher Henry Holt
ISBN 978-0760359921
A NEW edition at last!!!
Title Pests of the Garden and Small Farm
Author Flint, Mary Louise
Edition 2nd
Publisher Univ of California Agriculture & Natural Resources
ISBN-13: 978-1879906402
Title The Resilient Gardener

Author Deppe, Carol
Edition First
Publisher Chelsea Green
ISBN-13: 978-1603580311


There will be no assigned reading from these books. The rest of the literature, as references, will prove invaluable to any serious student in this field. There will be bibliographies describing other books as the quarter progresses, I am a ferocious reader and not at all shy about suggesting books I think deserve your attention. From the bibliography, you will choose one book to read and report on. This report will be turned in at the end of class; see the point assignment structure on the next page.

Course Schedule (still under construction):

DATE
TOPIC
07 April
Introduction/Seed Starting/Urban gardening in context today/12 Points to a Better Garden Sustainability and Food Issues in Modern America/Visit Garden
14 April
Books/ Food crops of summer/growing up
21 April
Tools/Urban Gardens Bigger Picture
28 April
Planting/Sheet composting/Composting/ Planting Timing and Design/SLOLA/Seeds/Light/Water/
05 May
Sources/Annuals/ Soil Contamination and Remediation
12 May
Planting/Companions/Crop Rotation in a Small Garden/ Beekeeping?/Introduction to goat keeping (?)
19 May
Goats in the Urban Foodscapes
26 May
Holiday
02 June

09 June

16 June
Planning for Continuous Harvests/Potluck/Submit your journal etc for a grade.

(Syllabus may be changed as needed to reflect reality.)
Please note that in Spring quarter there are a few holidays and plants do not take a holiday. – we will need to ensure that watering happens to keep the plants alive if there is no rain while we all enjoy our celebrations.

Point Assignment Structure
Class participation (and cooperation)
20

Grade of A
> 90%
Garden Journal
20

B
>80%
1 page book review
20

C
>70%
Planting Project
40

D and F
Failing
TOTAL
100



I have two over-arching goals in all the classes I teach:
      1. To teach folks how to grow some of their own food.
      2. To teach folks how to be a part of a community.
If you want a good grade, keep that in mind. These are the things we will need as a people in the very near future. If we don't learn this, we will be in deep trouble.

Therefore, please note, I try to grade you on your personal improvement. Cooperation is counted more than competition in my classes.

Office hours are by appointment only – please call or email me. I am willing to meet with you; I want you to learn; I do not want you to struggle. Please do not hesitate to call me, rather than try to talk to me in class when I can't really give you undivided attention. Extra points are available if you wish to earn more credit.

Each class, as we start, will usually begin with lecture and then proceed to the garden where we will share the garden chores and harvest.

You are encouraged to experiment in the garden plot. Your process should be thoroughly documented in your journal – your thinking and your understanding of what is happening in your garden. If you have a problem, research a solution.

Pick one book from the ones presented in class to read and report on.

As often as I can, I will prepare some seasonal food to eat. There are no places to buy food while in class and we are here for four hours. Students are encouraged to bring in food to share with the class at all meetings. Students should bring in their own plate and eating utensils so we can have a minimum waste event. The last class meeting will be a potluck where we will all share local and fresh food! (That's the point, right?)

Criteria for your garden journal grade:
  1. Documentation of what you planted when
  2. Documentation of weather elements – temperature (minimum and maximum) as well as an precipitation and noting humidity or dryness, especially of Santa Ana winds.
  3. Germination per cent of plant sown from seed
  4. Choice of varieties sources and reasoning
  5. Success/failures discussed – alternatives to failures/expansion of successes
  6. Plans for the future
  7. Drawings (or photos) of the garden (either done by hand or by computer program) NOTE: this notebook is NOT your class notes – they might be included, but what I want are your garden observations!

Criteria for your garden plot grade:
  1. You should experiment and try something you have never done – explore!
  2. Our plot and adjacent pathways must be cleared of weeds.
  3. Our plot and adjacent pathways must be well mulched. (Up to me to find the mulch.)
  4. All of our plot should be attractive and be growing some food.
  5. Your journal should indicate you learned something from the plot, your journal and your plot are intertwined and work together.
  6. When presented with the opportunity, you should cooperate with other students, help those in need and be team member of this class.

The person who starts from seed vs. bringing in growing plants, will have plants not nearly as far along as the others – but stands to make a better grade if they have experimented with growing from seed – I am more interested that you LEARN in this class – just doing what you already have done doesn't teach you anything. We are all gardeners here, if we don't have patience yet, we soon will. Cultivate patience with your plants in this class setting.

All handouts (including this syllabus) will be available on the blog site:


Please keep a sweater or jacket handy. Class is not canceled on account of rain. As long as you can hear my voice, class will go on, though I will try to get us out of a rain.

14 February, 2019

First Time Offering: The SPRING Urban Food Production UCLA Extension Class!

It's been a year since I've taught at UCLA Extension, but now we have a course scheduled for this coming Spring Quarter! 

This is a new and different course with an old name. When I first began to teach Urban Food Production many years ago, it was a Fall Quarter class, but I envisioned the same class taught in Spring because that's how gardening rolls in the Mediterranean Climate of Los Angeles - we garden year round, the two big planting times are Fall and Spring. Finally, I now have the chance to teach that class - in Spring! I'm very excited about what we'll get to cover. 

Instructor with instructor's portable desk.


Students who have had Urban Food Production in Fall, will find very little overlap between the Spring and Fall classes - there will be some overlap, but on the whole this is a different course. We will do a light touch on soil - which was in the Fall class, but we'll show different aspects of soil science too. In Fall, we discussed chickens, so instead of chickens, we will look at some other livestock -  in keeping with our Urban Food Production concept.

The Spring planting palette is different and we'll use different techniques for these plants, plus we'll look beyond what we can do in a short class and find perennial truths that are guides for good gardening on through the years. 

You can enroll in Urban Food Production at this link.  I look forward to seeing you in class! You can respond to this post for more information if you wish. 

david

04 February, 2019

New Book on Soils For Gardeners

Understanding soils girds our work in the garden and is a part of a successful gardeners' ability to be successful. There are books out there on soil, I've mentioned a lot of them to my classes and I've probably said something here in the past. But most soils book are too heavily invested in "acres" while gardeners are planting "square feet," or they are so loaded with scientific words and concepts that an average, brain just melts under the onslaught. 


Written by Nancy Cipes and Gretchen Renshaw, 
Yet, we all know how important understanding our soil and how it works, accepting full well that this thing we call "soil" plays a major role in the creation and tenability of our creation. I have spent many years coming up with lectures that actually address what is going on in the soil with the roots of my plants and describing how that works to students without overwhelming them with science. What I have done for my students has been eclipsed by a book that does what I have tried to do, but does so by covering much more than my simple lectures have done. 

I heard about the book on line and immediately ordered it. When it arrived, the first chapter ran parallel to what is always my first words to each class on soil! I was so happy then to see that it went way beyond that first chapter, but stayed firmly in language that everyone can handle and included many of the same illustrations I have found to be useful. It covers a lot of ground and does so with simple elegance. I am ecstatic that there is now a book I can suggest for all my students that will give them a good grounding in these subjects. 

I am overjoyed to feature this book on my blog because it fills a niche that's been left untouched for far too many years. If you garden and you are not a soil scientist, get this book. You'll thank me sooner or later!  It's going to help you achieve your garden dreams.

david


30 January, 2019

Lots Goes On In A SoCal Garden in January!



Rain on a broccoli, the photographer and his camera. We are grateful for the rain - even if it is just so-called 'negligible precipitation.' Lack of water is our plague and we need to garden in ways that keep moisture in the ground. These little showers are precious even if they aren't the be-all and end-all for us.

One of the wonderful things of living in Southern California, this close to the Pacific Ocean is the delightful, mild weather we enjoy. This is both a blessing and a curse. Further inland and on almost all of the North American continent, 'gardening' this time of year means looking in the seed catalogs that have begun to fill your mailbox. If you aren't getting seed catalogs on a regular basis, you haven't been gardening a long enough – they will come like aphids to new growth.

One of the truisms I try to practice is to 'garden with passion and gusto.' Gardening to me means growing it yourself from seed to final product and learning what works and how it works. At the beginning of the year, with all the promise of newness and resolutions, this is an exciting time for me in the garden. On days it isn't raining, the cool weather makes some of the more strenuous work a little less onerous and on warmer days it is usually not severe enough to make such work too difficult.

So this is the time to do more than simply think about a general garden cleanup and get busy if you haven't done it already.

It is still time to look after the plants of perennial food growing in your garden. If I haven't yet, I begin to prune my fruit trees. This is one of 'those jobs' I tend to procrastinate as long as I can.
If you have no experience at fruit tree pruning, do your trees a favor and order a pruning handbook from University of California’s Agricultural and Natural Resources Division (ANR)1 or purchase a reputable pruning book. Remember that these trees will live a lot longer than a typical pet and we wouldn't treat our cats or dogs with the indifference many people show trees. Pruned correctly, an apple, plum or peach will produce luscious, tasty fruit for many years. It's actually harder on you (and the tree) to prune incorrectly, so find out how and do it as right as you can in the first place. There are very few 'professional' gardeners who actually know how to prune fruit trees. Some trees will only fruit on old wood and some only on newer wood. If you or the person you hire doesn't know this, you could ruin the tree for many seasons to come. Get someone who knows fruit trees and pay them or learn how to do it yourself! Make the cuts with clean and sharp tools and follow a few simple rules.

This is the tail end of the 'dormant season' when one typically purchases deciduous fruit trees, apples, apricots, grapes and perennial ornamental plants such as roses. If you are putting perennial herbs in the ground (sage, rosemary and thyme – parsley is a biennial, with apologies to Paul Simon), this is the best time to put them in the ground – even though you may plant them year round here. Buy your trees or vines from someone who knows where you live in order to insure you are getting plants that will produce for you. A local neighborhood nursery will only carry plants that will do well in your climate whereas a big box outlet will carry things that are more likely to grow over a much wider area. You'll also find the selection at most big box stores to be woefully short and the staff indifferent, at best, to your needs.

Mail order suppliers are excellent venues for purchasing trees. One of my best finds was from a mail order nursery. I called and talked to one of the staff asking a few questions. There is no replacement for a person with knowledge. Based on where I was gardening, he suggested I try my luck with Dorsett Gold apples. I took his suggestion and have been blessed with a delicious, sweet and crisp apple that has wowed visitors to the garden ever since.

In the past, when pruning fruiting trees, without fail, I followed the pruning by spraying the tree with 'horticultural oil' which was what I was taught back in those days. Horticultural oil is highly refined petroleum oil that pests have never developed immunity to. It is deadly stuff. At one time, everyone was taught to spray this stuff whether you needed it or not on all your fruit trees to prevent future infestations. After doing this for a number of years, I opted to not spray. Guess what. Most of the time, I found I was wasting my time, labor and money on trees that did not develop problems in the following year.

Well, what happens when you don't spray and the tree gets the ickies? Nothing really. Any insect you spray for is not going to kill your tree, it will, at worst deprive you of a crop, but not usually. If anything, you might get a smaller crop of apples or get apples with scab or some other non-fatal disease. The only disease that will kill your tree (fireblight) is not phased one iota by any spray.

When I began to spray on as “only as needed basis,” I learned that more than 90% of the time I was merely throwing my money and time away. I don’t need to do that, do you? If you get a problem that needs spraying, read a different book. I'm done with spraying anything.

Spraying has ramifications to honey bees – an insect we cannot do without. Simply not spraying for them, makes more sense than spraying for whatever prophylactic reason. Please consider not spraying at all. We are counting on our trees for food, so we will want to be proactive in their care, but we also need to be intelligent in our use of killing agents in our environment, and in particular around our food. Much of the problems we face in our world today are the result of mankind's irreverent and reckless use of “-icides” of all types and over using them 'just in case we might get an insect” instead of only if and when absolutely needed.

Somehow, our culture has become convinced that warring with nature is a fight we can win. We are foolish when we spray “just because.” If you have pests, deal with them as the year goes along – and deal with them in ways that avoids all “-icides.” We can be a lot more intelligent in our dealings with the critters that compete for our food supply; spraying admits we have failed to deal with something in a more positive fashion.

We were talking about pruning, right? So, on the other hand, all of your citrus fruit trees are evergreen and therefore can technically be pruned at any time of the year when they are not in flower or actually fruiting (some lemons you just have to look for a slow production time because stopping is not in their vocabulary). These trees are best pruned when there is nothing better to do and the day is not too warm, so the person doing the work doesn’t overheat.

This may be a cold month and, if we are blessed, rainy. But we still have to keep our eyes out for Santa Ana winds – sometimes hot and sometimes cool, but always dry and desiccating to all garden plants, and plants in pots suffer even more. If your skin is crawling and you need more skin cream, or lip balm, you can bet your plants need more moisture too! It’s best to get out there with a hose and help your irrigation system keep up – you’ll enjoy your garden more – the “best fertilizer is the farmer’s shadow.” Still.

Are you ready to think about summer yet? You mean you never stopped thinking about summer? If you are like me, you are completely overwhelmed with seed catalogs and drooling over their wonderful photos and the several hundred new mouth-watering, absolutely irresistible new varieties that all must be tried… in your one10’ square garden bed. If you aren’t getting these free catalogs, you haven't ordered from one yet. What have you been waiting for? Go to the list of seed houses (Appendix A) to make your day! Maybe your month!

Of course, you could skip buying seeds altogether and join with your neighbors in creating a seed library. Like a library of books, a seed library lends seeds, all 'open pollinated.' You allow some of the plants to flower and set seed and at the end of the growing season, return to the library the same amount you borrowed. It is a win/win situation in many ways (The Seed Library of Los Angeles, which I had a hand in starting, is described in Appendix B is one of them and it's for free! Well, $10 for a lifetime which is pretty close to free! Doesn't get a lot better than that. )

So, what will it be this year? Eight different sweet peas, half a dozen different lettuce plants? Look at all those tomatoes for sale and how about that new radish? If I knock down the neighbor’s garage, I think I could add some squash and pumpkins…. do you think they'd mind too much? Probably not if I give them the chance to eat some...

In the Garden, we are still putting out plants of broccoli and cabbage, chard and Brussel sprouts and we can still sow seeds of beets and carrots. Lettuce, the golden child of our winter gardens is the great hole-stopper – whenever any plant has to come out, have a six pack of lettuce on hand – preferably of different colors of lettuce – and plop one in the hole. One of my favorite tricks is to use red lettuces with green lettuces – or different shades of red and green to make a colorful food garden. Lettuce should be a top selection on everyone's list of border plants! Merveille des Quatre Saisons (about the only French I can say without sounding foolish, a marvelous red/green butter lettuce that performs well all through Fall to late Spring), next to Black Seeded Simpson (a very light green leafy lettuce) make a stunning color combo – but I also like Merlot, very dark wine red (aptly named!) alongside Black Seeded Simpson or Parris Island Cos, the quintessential Romaine lettuce. Color and shape, texture and form all come together in the lettuce patch – I swear I can't get through a seed catalog without ordering one or two more packets of lettuce seed. It is an addiction for me! The lettuce loves of my life right now are Merveille des Quatre Saisons, Black Seeded Simpson, Drunken Woman Frizzy Head (I'm not lying!), Parris Island Cos, Red Yugoslavian, Rossa di Trento, Tango and Winter Density. All I have to do, however, is look through a new catalog and I'm easily swayed into the leaves of another. And as if all that wasn't enough, I even like homegrown head lettuce; it's not nearly the garbage found in stores – the ribs are thick and filled with water making a marvelous refreshing salad for a warm day.

No one, no matter what kind of soil you have, should ever step into a garden bed. We want to keep the soil in these beds as fluffy and light as grandma's meringue (not my grandma! Some theoretical really-good-baking grandma!). Adding lots of organic matter will do that for you, but you must stay out of the beds – your footprints will ruin the 'fluffy' we are hoping for our roots.

If you have clay soils, be especially careful to not step in your garden beds. Make paths around the beds and make the beds small enough to reach the center without stepping into the bed – if you have the opportunity to collect tree chips from an arbor company, collect as much of the stuff as you can use or keep to use. Spread it three or more inches deep wherever you have to walk while gardening. You will need to replenish this every so often, but you'll find it so helpful as it keeps weeds from growing in the paths near your garden beds and provides you with the opportunity to walk all around your garden beds without getting mud on your shoes no matter how wet the day! Under the top layer of mulch, the wood chips will be breaking down 'growing' really lovely soil through the years.

Each chapter will have a chart like the one below. I indicate the months that are best for starting different vegetable seeds. “Start These in Containers” means you will plant the seeds in some kind of pot in a sheltered location (hopefully away from pests) to later “Move to the Ground from Containers.” The rest we start directly in the ground in the place they will grow to maturity. Some seeds can be done either way and, if that's the case, I will usually do both. The ones started in containers and moved to the garden will often mature later than the ones started in situ. This way you have two different harvest times if all goes well, but if not, the different strategies may pay off if one of the plantings gets hammered by a weather event or insects.

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
Ultra-early tomatoes
Carrots
Broccoli
Broccoli
Beets
Cabbage
Cabbage (early)
Fava beans
Chard
Lettuce
Parsnips
Peas
Spinach
Lettuce
Fava Beans
Fava Beans
Spinach
Lettuce

Lentils
Spinach

Cilantro
Kale

Peas
Cauliflower

Garbanzos
Garbanzos


Lentils


Here is the recipe for January, when chard and chickpeas (garbanzos) are in season:

Moroccan Spiced Chickpeas & Chard

Chard should be in abundance right now and that often leads to 'chard overload,' how many times can you steam chard and hit it with lemon juice and still wolf it down with glee? I'm limited but this recipe never seems to fail to satisfy.

The ingredient list only looks daunting. Most of that list is simply a plethora of spices and you will find you already have a lot of them and need to use them up sooner rather than later. I have made this missing a spice here and there and missing raisins (don't make it without raisins if you can help it they really add a delightful sweetness). It doesn't take long to make and the flavors run the gamut from sweet to savory and it is a delightful mélange. Serve with rice or quinoa for a satisfying vegetarian dinner.

• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• ½ sweet onion, minced
• 1 teaspoon paprika (sweet or smoked according to preference)
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• ½ teaspoon turmeric
• ¼ teaspoon thyme
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ¼ cup golden raisins
• 1 tablespoon organic tomato paste
• 1 bunch chard (about 8 ounces) washed, center ribs removed, and chopped
• 1 cup cooked chickpeas plus 1 ¼ cups of their cooking liquid, or 1 can organic chickpeas with liquid plus ½ cup water
• 1 teaspoon hot sauce or ¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)

Add the olive oil, onion, and garlic to a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or 3-4 quart pot, and turn the heat to medium. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes, then add the paprika, cumin, turmeric, thyme, salt, and cinnamon. Stir together and cook for a minute or two until fragrant. Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and turn the heat down to medium-low.

Be sure to stir every 3-5 minutes to ensure that the bottom does not burn and that your ingredients are evenly combined. You can add a tablespoon of rice flour if you like your stew thicker. Remove from the heat after 20 minutes. Serve with rice or quinoa.


1The book I use is sold by UC's ANR: Home Orchard: Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees Publication Number: 3485, Author: C. INGELS, P. GEISEL, M. NORTON ISBN-13: 978-1-879906-72-3 Copyright Date: 2007

01 January, 2019

My Diatribe Against Fertilizers!


January is always associated with new beginnings simply by being the first month in our current calendar. So we go with the flow.

Most gardeners the world over are stuck inside looking at seed catalogs – which conventionally  arrive about now – because the ground is frozen solid or at least cold enough to kill almost every seedling for a few more months! Having been raised in the mid-West, I have sat by the fire with a stack of seed catalogs next to me and proceeded to create orders of hundreds of seeds which, of course, Grandpa never ordered (he saved most of his own seeds and ordered parsimoniously – he lived on Social Security and whatever he could sell from his three acre garden. His bottom line and my expensive orders didn't mix. However, the seed companies trained me well for as soon as I was in charge of my own finances, I have ordered too many seeds annually with regular precision!

(On a side note: I need carrots for an upcoming workshop and after trying four times to get my carrot seed to sprout, I looked at the package and it was completely out of date. Take it from me, having learned it yet again, carrot seed isn't worth its weight in dust after 18 months. So I took to my catalogs. I ended up ordering Nantes Carrots from Pinetree Garden Seeds, of whom I've written before. Let me tell you, I have NEVER gotten a seed order this fast in my life! I'm thinking they've hired a clairvoyant and knew the order was coming two days before I ordered it. If I ever need something fast every again, you can guess who I'll be dealing with! Kudos to Pinetree Garden Seed!)  And as I've noted before, their packages are the best sized for us without forty feet rows. The selection is great as well.

Nantes Carrots from Pinetree Garden Seeds
Note the blunt ends, more of the carrot is
usable, and one of my reasons for choosing this variety.
But in Southern California, we just keep on trucking, all year round! Not only do we have some of the finest soils in the world, we have weather that allows us to grow much more variety than most of the rest of the planet! I am complaining about my carrots (above), but in what percent of the United States does one get to make that complaint in January? It's amazing what we can do here.

In January, as a part of a year long quest for knowledge, I want us all to consider on how we can limit fertilizers in our gardens. Most of the fertilizers we put down on the ground are wasted. Sometimes that's because the way we applied them was faulty or improper; sometimes it's because the soil already has enough of that fertilizer and cannot use anymore; sometimes it's because we diagnose our plants' problems improperly.

In Southern California, especially in Los Angeles county, the part of California I am most used to, I would easily bet that your soil has enough of all nutrients to grow plants except Nitrogen. This is true for a lot of California soils. You will have to supply Nitrogen to your plants. I don't use fertilizers at all. But I have to be certain my plants have Nitrogen to grow. How do I get those two ends to meet?

Before explaining that, note this: science considers Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium to be the three “Macro-elements” that are in the most demand by the plant for growth. We know we are missing N (the symbol for Nitrogen) without even looking for it because most California Flora are adapted to live in soils without N – if the plants needed N, the soils they would be the dominant species would have lots of N. Our soils don't. The lesson is clear and you don't have to be a clairvoyant to figure that out – just do a thorough inventory of what is there! But our veggies are not from California and they have evolved not only use Nitrogen, but lots of it . Most of the other minerals science says we need to grow good plants are found in good supply in our soils. Now, I know that's a huge generalization, and it doesn't substitute for a soil test, but that would be my assumption until proven wrong.

In my garden, we do not use Nitrogen fertilizer. Yet our plants are supplied with enough N to perform. We made this happen by planting plants that are said to “fix” atmospheric Nitrogen in a way that makes that N available to plant roots. These are crops from the different bean and pea families and we grow a lot of them. If I were growing my own garden, I would love to have pathways of clover, which also fix Nitrogen. This N, done the way nature does things, is in good supply in our soils. Nitrogen from commercial endeavors is frequently gassed off into the atmosphere serving our plants very little and putting more carbon in the air. However, if we use peas and beans we are sequestering that in the soil – which, by the way, is where it should be!

While this true for Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium are not a part of the atmosphere and so do not present that kind of problem. However, they are usually found in our soils with abundance.

Don't add more to what is there already. Again, these are broad generalizations, it comes from Southern California and it is based on my experience.  A soil test is the only way to tell absolutely what is in your soil. At one point, my garden was tested (a long time ago) and so I know I'm right, but this is my overall recommendation until you do get a soil test.

There are many more elements needed for a good garden soil, but they are no way needed as much as these three. (We talk about these other minerals in another chapter...)

Ideally, for our Nitrogen fix, we would grow beans and when done, cut them off at the soil surface, leaving the roots in the soil to decompose, but, while that does give one more Nitrogen, I don't often do it, because I'm ready plant something else there already and I can't wait. You will still get N in the soil, not just as much. Don't make yourself nuts trying sequester ALL the N in the soil, it's not worth it. Get some in and keep getting some in.

One big ol' Exception to the rule of Nitrogen: Tomatoes do not produce well with lots of Nitrogen in the soil! Do not follow beans or peas or any other N fixing plant with Tomatoes. For some reason they plants will grow and grow until the Nitrogen is used up. Then they will finally set flowers and begin to make tomatoes, but not until then!

Happy New Year to all of you! My Scottish Terrier, Mr Tre', and I wish everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year! Here's to great harvests, befuddled pests and lots of home grown food!  Thanks for reading...

david