30 December, 2019

Start The New Garden Year Off Right!

What To Do And When To Do It makes its 2020 debut! Still $20 at the gate! Ten to Noon, January 4th in our classroom or perhaps out in a part of the garden. Whatever happens, we'll be there and hope to see you there! 

Just a few different seed houses to peruse this time of year
before the rain stops and we can begin to plant again.
Always, your questions (about gardening, at least) answered! 
Dress warmly and be ready to get your garden underway for 2020! 

Got a question or want to pay with PayPal - greenteach@gmail.com! Thanks!

Happy New Year!

13 December, 2019

Class Notes for December 8 and 15

Rogers Red Grape

Urban Food Production meets this Sunday, December 8th at The Learning Garden at regular class time, (1:00 PM). The garden is on the campus of Venice High School - which is a 24 acre campus. We are the Northwest corner at the intersection of  Venice Blvd and Walgrove Avenue - our entrance gate is on Walgrove. 

Parking is on the street only. Do NOT park on the high school campus. Gates may be unlocked, but the staff will leave before our class is out and lock your car in. You will not get it back until 7:00 AM Monday. They are merciless!

Dress for foul weather. It will probably be cold and wet.

Coming by bus, the bus stop is at Walgrove. There is one Big Blue Bus that stops here on weekends and there are two Metro buses that stop here (33 and 733). Schedules on Sunday are lousy.

I will have a snack to share, if you like, bring your own snack share

Email or call with  questions. Please note, due to the amount of robocalls I get, you'll need to leave a message and I'll return your call.

Thank you, see you tomorrow, rain or shine!


NB This was supposed to post last Friday, not this Friday. Human error.

02 December, 2019

What To Do - December's Version! Dec. 7th!

Some huge runner beans given to SLOLA. They are relatives
to the Red Runner beans, but I don't even know what color
the flowers will be. Did I say these were "huge beans?"

The weather was against us, but when we found out we would NOT have power (ie for heat?), we elected to cancel. See us at the next What To Do or on 21 December at sundown (about 5:30 PM) for the Winter Solstice program we are famous for. Bring some kind of snack for everyone to share and join us. Dress warmly!
Thanks to everyone! Hope to see you around the Garden sometime very soon!


Huanglongbing Disease Seminar - stop the Asian Citrus Psyllid!

This webinar has come to my attention and I encourage anyone who has citrus or wants citrus to register. This disease is virulent and is destroying citrus plants in California and Florida. Florida is fighting the disease with genetic modification while California has chosen to deal with it in a more sane manner. The first line of defense is knowledge and the second line is to prevent the spread of the insect that carries the disease and thus contain it while more research - hopefully - will help us understand how to deal with this VERY difficult pest on one of our most valuable crops.

If you are growing citrus now or intend to grow citrus in the future, make this a priority. Here is the UCANR post on the seminar: 

We hope by now most people have heard about and are aware of the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), a small brown insect that carries a deadly citrus disease called huanglongbing (HLB), threatening all backyard citrus trees as well as the statewide citrus industry.

This insect feeds on newly developed leaves of all varieties of citrus trees and can spread the bacteria that causes HLB. The HLB disease can kill a citrus tree in as little as 5 years and there is so far no cure or remedy.

Learn more about ACP and HLB by joining the free UC Ag Experts Talk on December 5 from 3:00pm to 4:30pm. Dr. Elizabeth Grafton-Cardwell, Director of Lindcove REC and Research Entomologist at UC Riverside, will address monitoring for these insects and the disease, as well as what Californian residents and backyard gardeners can do if they're in an HLB-infected area.

For PCAs and commercial growers, a separate webinar will take place on December 4, from 3:00pm to 4:30pm. 
https://ucanr.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_DckhbNtyTcWFaES6JPloXAfor the PCA and commercial grower webinar.

24 November, 2019

Living With Pollinators

Many insects help pollinate our food crops and almost all of them have suffered setbacks in recent years from human interference in their habitat and lives. It's time to take notice of what humans have done and learn to live with our insect neighbors and how to foster relationships with them. With so many people on the planet, there is less space for the other species but we cannot survive without other species – including insects, or especially insects.

Bees and other insects are not the only critters that help pollinate our crops, although this handout might make it seem that way. We depend on birds, bats and other living beings to help with the pollination chores – however, insects are the one single most important pollinators to be found – and they are overwhelmingly under threat.

As the world's climate changes, many things will be impacted in ways we have failed to appreciate. One of these, most certainly, will be the complex interplay between pollinators and the plants they service. In the last few years of the last century, beekeepers in America became alarmed at the decline in honey bee populations – in fact, by some accounts, the feral bee population in the United States plummeted by 90% while domesticated bees were wrecked by mites and mysterious maladies – including 'colony collapse disorder (CCD)' wherein entire colonies of bees would suddenly self-destruct leaving an empty hive and maybe a few dead bees in its wake, but no clue as to what had happened. Beekeepers panicked as CCD wiped out all of their hives, some of their hives or only their neighbor's hives. Coupled with the corresponding decline in feral populations, the scientific community took sudden notice.

It's not just about the honey. Honey bees are our number one pollinators, keeping our food crops coming to the table as the hives are trucked from field to field. A lack of pollinators, especially the domesticated honey bee, foretells a lack of food production in many plants. The exact reason that bee populations have declined still has the jury sequestered, but we can look at the way bees have come to be kept and consider from that point what we might do to intercede on the behalf of the bee.

First of all, most honey bee colonies in the last part of the twentieth century have been in the hands of commercial beekeepers. Not only were they producing honey, but part of their income came from renting their bees pollinating services to citrus and almond growers, to name but a few. The bees return to their hive in the evening where they are shut in and driven to a new field in the morning where they work that field until deemed sufficiently pollinated and the process repeated, often covering thousands of miles per season as crops ripen from the south to the north. Bees were fed doses of miticides and antibiotics to keep them healthy through the stresses of their lives on the road. The plants they were pollinating were also fed chemicals – fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides and were themselves stressed in vast fields of monocultures. Somewhere along the line, modern man has gotten the idea that industrialization of food production was a good thing. I would argue that the industrialization of anything is a bad thing: Its only appeal is about producing profit only, a narrow way to define all lives. There are millions of things to do that don't involve profit that are more satisfying and less harmful to the environment.

In our modern world, many people have become so divorced from nature, the mere sight of a bee or a wasp (and the two are often confused) is cause for alarm. With this aura of fear, anything that flies and has a stinger is cause to haul out poison sprays or call in the exterminators. This fear of other life forms is mostly irrational and is one of the saddest phenomena of this era. We see it in 'anti-bacterial' soaps that proliferate in the marketplace and the fear of eating something directly from the garden.

(Note: Some folks truly are allergic to bees and this is not something to take lightly. In fact, every gardener should consult with his or her physician about the possibility of being allergic and if you find out you are, even if you only want to garden, there are anti-dotes that will allow you live until you can find medical attention and you should have that medication handy. Bees congregate in gardens and we want them to congregate in gardens! You can't garden without bees, so please, take good care of yourself and know that getting stung in a garden is as natural as getting dirt under your nails – if not as common.)

Honey bees are not the only pollinators, even if they are on the tip of everyone's tongue because of their precipitous decline. There are a host of solitary bees that help keep our crops pollinated and thriving. By not using fertilizers and pesticides, we go a long way towards making our garden much more a part of nature and less a part of the industrial world.

One of America's native bees is the Orchard Mason Bee. The name 'mason' is theirs because they lay their eggs in a hole and build a mud wall to protect the egg. When the egg hatches, the young bee must burrow through that mud wall to enter the world. But wait! There's more! The hole may be deep enough for the laying of five or six eggs. In that case, the last egg laid is the first egg out until the last egg out was the first egg laid! They hatch out in inverse order of being laid. It's something that boggles the mind, although there are many things in nature that boggle the mind.

Orchard Mason Bees and other North American species of insects pollinate a wide variety of plants and for them, we should avoid the use of poison in our gardens. They don't get the same amount of press as the non-native honey bee even though they deserve it. The honey bee makes honey and all in all is the most efficient pollinator we know of. But if we lose many more honey bees, we will have to rely more and more on the native American species of insects for the pollination of the food we eat. I'll bet we learn a lot more about the Orchard Mason Bee very soon.

In conclusion, plant flowers to feed the pollinators, allow at least a portion of your crop to flower for the pollinators and never spray insecticides except as a last resort after all else has failed. Insure these helpful life forms get the water they need (year round) to survive.

A fountain outside my office window where birds and insects come at different times to refresh themselves - some of the rocks are above the water level and are placed to be water free most of the time.

honey bees
Still on decline (although it is not as drastic) Honey bees are THE most important pollinators.
solitary species (i.e. bumblebees)
Declining Solitary bees, including a lot of Native North American bees have been as declining as honey bees.
pollen wasps
In decline
Declining Hoverflies are considered the 2nd most important food crop pollinator.
Butterflies and moths
In decline. All members of the genus Lepodopera are facing difficulty in survival. They are in precipitous decline.
Flower beetles

Vertebrates, mainly bats and birds, but also some non-bat mammals monkeys, like lemurs, possums, rodents) and some lizards pollinate certain plants. Among the pollinating birds are hummingbirds, honey eaters and birds with long beaks which pollinate a number of deep-throated flowers.


10 November, 2019

Some Suggested Reading for Seed Saving People

Against The Grain, James Scott, © 2017 Yale University Press, Tossing most of our understanding of man's initial impulse to move from hunter/gathererSome Su to living in communities that farmed, Scott takes the whole explanation for why humans made the shift and calls our current hypotheses mostly fictional! Not a seed book or seed guide, but a discussion about the beginning of civilization.

A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers © 2010 Organic Seed Alliance Publication, available at seedaliance.org/ publications/guide/seed-saving-guide-gardeners-farmers This is a free guide of about 35 pages. For free, it is the best deal on this page. It covers everything you need for saving seeds and it does so without fuss or mess. This is excellent for any seed saver; I have a copy at hand on my desk that has seen its fair share of use. (I downloaded it, put it on a memory stick, took it to my copy center, they printed the whole thing out for a few bucks and I bought a cover for it. The cover has pockets and I've added single pages to that I have found over the years. It, and Deppe's book, make up the most used portion of my library.)

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's and Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, 2nd Edition, Carol Deppe, © 2000 Chelsea Green Publishing This is my go to resource when I have questions about seed saving. Deppe's first half is all about plant breeding and a lot of it is over my head, but the second half of the book is simple, direct and precious. This is my favorite resource about seed saving. And there's all that breeding information in the front if you ever get the call to start breeding your own varieties!

The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, Janisse Ray, © 2012, Chelsea Green Publishing Janisse Ray is a writer with enough awards you'd think she'd give other, less-talented, writers a chance to win a prize or two, but in this offering, she presents a number of essays aimed at seeds and our understanding of them and how they affect our lives, our culture and our future on the planet. Of all the books here, this is the most charming and therefore easy to read, but she really does give instruction on saving seeds as well as everything else! If you can't imagine yourself reading anything about seeds, start here.

The Story of Corn, Betsy Fussell, © 2014, University of New Mexico Press This is a magnificent collection of our understanding of corn, from many different angles. Fussell has a masterpiece of a book, I have read it cover to cover twice and I'm planning to reread it again this year. This is a powerful piece of reading (as are most on this page), but I have special place in my heart for this book.

Where Our Food Comes From, Gary Paul Nabhan, © 2009, Shearwater Books, Gary Paul Nabhan has written a wonderful book describing the work of one of the world's most visionay seed scientist, Nicolay Vavilov and his efforts to end famine in our world. This book, while not about the act of seed saving, introduces the necessity of saving seeds cut against the background of the nascent Soviet Union's violent lurching towards a sustainable country. Surely as exciting as any who-done-it you've ever read and it really happened!

There are more... 


08 November, 2019

A List of Useful URL's

A List of Useful URL's

For your ease, you can go to my blog (http://www.lagardenblog.com/ ), find this article there and use the hyper-links to find each one.

UCANR – UC in our town means University of California and ANR means agriculture and natural resources – the UCANR is the “Extension” part of our university system. You'll find such wonderful websites as https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu/What-is-IPM/ - which introduces you to the idea behind “Integrated Pest Management” - which helps you – foremost, in identifying your insects and links will take you to pages that tell you a.) if it is beneficial or not; what insect species feed on that insect or need that insect to survive and b.) proper ways to control without using harmful pesticides.

One of the UC sites I visit frequently is http://homeorchard.ucanr.edu/ . It basically follow the out line of the ANR Orchard book – except the book is called The Home Orchard. Why they couldn't have the same name, I don't know, but I use both a lot – if you want to have fruit trees, use this site and book to get smart before – not after – you buy!

If you need more info on your Sunset Zone, http://cagardenweb.ucanr.edu/Your_Climate_Zone/ will put you in tune with where you are and what you need to do. I was amazed to see this is a UCANR website now!

And to see what publications you can get from ANR, go to https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/ and be amazed that they have articles on gardening and so much more! I consider “Pests of the Garden and Small Farm” as one of my most revisited book!

For seeds, for tools for cover crops and all, https://www.groworganic.com/ is a California concern out of Grass Valley, CA. They have six catalogs a year and I like getting these catalogs because they just don't try to sell you stuff, they spend a good deal of ink, explaining how to use the tools, or which cover crop seed you need to fulfill your needs. I have used these catalogs in classes as required reading material. They also sell the Broadfork that I brag about.

Gardener's Supply Company, https://www.gardeners.com/ is a commercial site, but they often have things I've found no where else. I've ordered tomato towers from them and the quality is very good.


03 November, 2019

Urban Food Production, Fall 2019; Remaining Schedule for Our Class This Term

Remaining Schedule for Our Class This Term

03 November
Planting/Composting/ Planting Timing and Design/SLOLA/Seeds I/Light/Water
Sources/Annuals/Seeds II/More tools
Planting/Companions/Crop Rotation in a Small Garden/
08 December
Chickens in the Urban Foodscape (Field Trip?) /Beekeeping
Planning for Continuous Harvests/Potluck/Submit your journal etc for a grade. Sustainability and Food Issues in Modern America

01 November, 2019

Introduction To Pruning a Fruit Tree

One of the concepts I use in my pruning is to acknowledge each tree has its own way of looking and I try very hard to shape the tree without fighting with it. In no case of pruning should you take more than 1/3 of the tree. That excessive pruning will damage the tree more than needs be and will cut out some of your production from the tree in the following summer. Be conscious at all times that you are dealing with a living plant, some of which will live longer than you if well cared for.

Do not move rapidly. This is not a race. I am often meditating a bit while I am cutting. I'd like to entertain the idea that the tree will cooperate with me if I take what I need to take from a consciousness of helping the tree rather than using a chain saw and whacking off major branches.

I did an orchard rehab job in Highland Park area of LA several decades ago. These trees were planted by an old man and when he died were cared for by several unconscious people without an ounce of horticultural knowledge and they were a mess. It took four years for the orchard to look like it should have looked and was finally producing tons of fruit. I saved all but three trees and the first two years, I hauled a truckload of branches out. The third year, we did very little to the trees. I wish that orchard still existed, but it was torn out to build more housing. In the end, it was a magical place to visit.

I approach the tree, reading the branches, looking for what I must remove first; I am not in a hurry.

Look at the tree as it is now .
Pause to deliberate (what does the tree want?).
Make note of the branches you believe need to come out (from the reasons below).
Remove Dead, Dying, Diseased or Crossing branches.
Pause again to deliberate.
Shape the tree to the shape that benefits the tree paying attention to its fruiting habits.

First off, Dead and dying branches – these are entrance points for insects and diseases.
Secondly, Crossing branches, which will hit against one another, abrading their bark and exposing the cambium and the wood, again an entrance point for insects and diseases.
Third, any sprouts coming from the rootstock, these compete with the tree for nutrients and might eventually actually overtake and kill the tree you were caring for.
Finally, there might need to be some further pruning to shape

You will find that heavy pruning encourages the formation of vegetative growth at the expense of fruiting wood, which of course, you do not want. Light pruning, on the other hand, encourages heavy fruit set which results in smaller fruit of poorer quality and possible broken branches. Since home growers must also keep trees to manageable sizes, strive for a balance between heavy pruning and renewing fruiting wood. In order to achieve this, you should know where your tree bears its fruit. See hand out below.

Almost all instructions, including organic instructions, on winter pruning would have you spray horticultural oil on the tree to eliminate any harmful insects on the tree. Horticultural oil is one of the most prized organic materials for combating harmful insects. The last time I used it, I had pruned a lemon tree – as with all citrus, there isn't much of a “spray window” when the tree is "dormant." So I pruned it, sprayed it and was packing up my kit, when a swarm of bees took to the tree. Now, like most organic materials, this oil kills every insect and here I was, watching these wonderful pollinators flying right into my freshly sprayed tree. I tried to spray the tree with water, but it's OIL, right? A lot of good that did. I have never sprayed horticultural oil since. In fact, I've not sprayed a thing in my garden or on my trees since.

A Few Resources

If you can deal with a local nursery, that's best – you want to pick your stock from looking at it with your own eyes. However, a lot of the cool stuff, you have to get from nurseries beyond Southern California. Here are some I like for for different reasons:

Trees of Antiquity, www.treesofantiquity.com – I am listing them first because I owe it to them. When The Learning Garden was first getting under way, one of their staff spent a long time with me on the phone and helped me choose the trees. I had never heard of Dorsett Golden and we got five of them on his recommendation. It was worth it. I have found them beyond knowledgeable and helpful.

Raintree Nursery, raintreenursery.com – a company too far North to have much in our range, but they are the ones that I have found reliable to ship my rootstocks here in time to have them just after the California Rare Fruit Tree Growers annual grafting and budding class. Their catalog is a dream to read, but we can't grow nearly half of it.

Dave Wilson Nursery, www.davewilson.com – a local company with a hitch – they are not a retail company, dealing only in wholesale. Their catalog is probably the best one for Los Angeles. Find what you want there and go to your local retail nursery – many of them will order it for you and you can pick it up near home. They promoted a plan in the early 2000's of putting four different fruit trees in the same hole. I don't know how they fared outside of my Venice area, but I never saw one of these experimental plantings near here that was worth the effort.

UC Backyard Orchard, homeorchard.ucanr.edu – Is an excellent site to check into every so often. They publish the Home Orchard book that figured heavily in putting together my presentations. I am ecstatic that they did such a good job with that book!

CA Rare Fruit Growers crfg.org – A group of amateurs that know their stuff! They can answer almost any question about fruit trees and, because they are local, they know the weather. Their website is loaded with wonderful data and is authoritative. I encourage you to look into this organization for like-minded people!

Essentials for Fruit Tree Pruning

Fruiting Characteristics of Common Fruit Trees

Type of Tree
Location of Fruiting Buds

Age of bearing

Amount of Pruning
Long Branches Spurs or Short Branches
Laterally Terminally Laterally Terminally


Major 8- 10 yrs. Moderate
Apricot Minor


3 years Heavy
Fig Major


1 yr & new shoots Various
Peach/Nectarine Major


1-2 yrs Heavy
Pear, Asian Minor Very minor

Major 6-8 yrs Moderate to heavy
Pear, European Minor Minor

Major 8-10 yrs Moderate
Persimmon Major Major Minor Minor New shoots at the tip of 1 yr branches Light (thinning)
Plum, European Minor


6-8 yrs Moderate
Plum, Japanese Minor


6-8 yrs Heavy
Pomegranate Minor


Short new shoots Moderate
Quince Major Minor

New shoots Light (thinning)

Tools For Pruning

hand held pruners pole saw
loppers sharpener
saw(s) pruning knife 
Pruning and Pruning Cuts

First, prune off any damaged or broken branches. Take them back as far as you can.

Secondly, prune off what we call 'crossing branches.' These are branches that come through the center of the tree, crossing from one side to the opposite, or are branches that are parallel and close enough to be touching other branches. They can abrade the branches they touch when moved by wind and that wound can be an entrance point for insects or other pests. These must come out; take them back as far as you can.

Thirdly, do some pruning to shape the tree. Part of 'shaping' for fruit trees is to limit their height. I know it will somewhat lessen your fruit crop, but any apple tree humming along at full production, will inundate you with way too many apples. A little off the top so you can easily harvest from the tree without fancy footwork or ludicrous convolutions will not be missed – the ease with which it can be picked will gladden your heart. And save your back.

Always use clean pruners – if you have pruned a tree that even might have a disease, or if you have pruned a tree from a different location, clean your pruners with Listerine, which research indicates is the only science approved disinfectant. I was taught to use a bleach solution, but unless you are a masochist, I'd suggest avoiding that. It ruins your skin, your clothes and your tools – although it does disinfect. There are kinder ways to do this.

Always try to cut back to an area that will heal. This isn't always possible, but to the degree you can, cut back to an area called the bark branch ridge. In this graphic, on the left side, the red line shows where the pruner will make it's cut – just below the red pruner handle, you can see a branch cut correctly. The bark branch ridge contains cells that will enable the plant to heal the wound. On the right of the graphic, you can see the three cuts needed to remove a large branch without tearing into the tree causing unnecessary harm.

31 October, 2019

David King's Garden Class November 2nd!!

Baby lettuce seedlings pricked apart for planting - maximizing your space!

Fresh from the Premier of my latest movie, I am not lying!, there's a lot to be done in our garden this month and we're going to pull some weeds and plant some seeds and make our gardens rock with good planting and harvesting vibes. With November, we really feel the garden shutting down - especially as there are only so many more days to spend your money, but our gardens just don't shut completely! We have lot's to do and less time to do it in, so..... 

What To Do And When To Do It this Saturday, 10 to Noon, in The Learning Garden with yours truly. What do we plant, how do we plant it, problems with your worm bin, and all kinds of questions and more answered!  As usual, we'll have a recipe for something current, talk about short term planning and some long term planning. Both are "yummy!" 

Enter off of Walgrove (park on the street please) and come on in! For a measly twenty bucks, get your day and your month started off right! Answers to your questions and a laugh or two besides for free! 

Looking forward to it!


27 October, 2019

Notes on Composting

Benefits of compost

Recycling – keeping plant materials out of the landfills – keeps landfills from filling up too fast, and keeps the sun's energy out of the landfill
Builds soil structure and fertility

Absolute Minimum Needed to Start a Compost Pile
Stuff to break down
Place to put it

Composting Piles and Methodologies

No pile – dig it into the soil (trench composting)
Plastic bins
Wire bins
Wooden bins (three)
No bins
Collect every waste you can for composting from your own house first
newsprint, tea bags, coffee grounds, veggie and fruit trimmings, food that died in the fridge; no dog or cat waste, bones and unused meat, these are poor choices, they break down slowly and/or they attract unwanted beasts.

Check with neighbors for their free waste i.e. coffee grounds, leaves,
find local waste that's free – wood chips, sawdust, Starbucks coffee grounds, scrounge your neighborhood for waste streams that could prove useful – another's trash could be your treasure


Commercial products that contain microbes to inoculate your compost pile. Most research shows limited use as the number of microbes multiply to full capacity in short order, but they would do that (more slowly) without the inoculation. No matter the claims made by the sales force for such products, most independent research indicate little, if any, positive long term effect from such products.

After too little water, the most common failure in compost piles is a lack of nitrogen – too little materials with not enough nitrogen to facilitate heating up or quick decomposition; all the detritivores need nitrogen to build their protoplasm and do to their work. Additional inputs of nitrogen will correct a slow pile, assuming that lack of water is not the problem.


Alfalfa – one of my favorites, sold as livestock feed in feed stores. One bale sells for under $20. It has some nitrogen and absorbs, and holds onto moisture making it an excellent addition to a compost pile. Alfalfa serves as a good compost stimulant and activator. Alfalfa sold as animal feed in dehydrated pellets or a meal works just as well too.
Apple pomace – any pomace – leftovers from crushing fruits for their juice. Will attract yellow jackets and other wasps so cover them with leaves or soil or straw or hay.
Banana residue – makes a compost pile go whoopee – seems well supplied with nitrogen and guarantee lots of bacterial activity
Beet waste – if you should move near a sugar beet processing plant – many books will recommend beet waste – be careful, though, now that GMO sugar beets have begun to be used.
Bonemeal – high in phosphorus if you find yourself within striking distance of a slaughterhouse. Ditto for blood meal. Five pound bags should last longer than the printing on the label.
Citrus wastes – from your table is sometimes denigrated as a compost pile component, but it is good in nutrients and breaks down quickly. If you are near a factory producing orange and other citrus products – sometimes available from some feed stores – the more peel the more nitrogen the final product will contain. They can be hard to break down.
Cocoa Bean Shells – for those that live near a chocolate factory – they are rich in nitrogen and benefit the soil no matter how they are used. They do not break down quickly so I have used them as pathway mulch. I have heard they are poisonous to dogs although I used them whilst living with two dogs and neither dog showed the slightest interest in them. They smell great, so you might find yourself gorging on chocolate as a result.
Coffee wastes – earthworms love them and they break down nicely. Slightly acidic they make a good mulch around any acid loving plant (skipping the compost pile altogether). Mix them with other OM as they hold moisture well. If allowed to sour, they will attract fruit flies.
Cottonseed meal – commercially available as fertilizer – used to be a great source of nitrogen but most of it is now GMO, as well being sprayed with insecticides of all kinds. I would skip it these days unless you can find a source of organic cottonseed meal. It is one of the most dependable long term organic sources for nitrogen, a rare thing for an organic garden.
Garbage – will be one of your most consistent and reliable components in your compost pile. Do not use meat craps, fat or bones in your pile for they take too long to fully break down and are very attractive to scavenging animals. When put into your compost pile, always mix with absorbent material like dead leaves, straw or hay and cover them completely with dirt or other substantive materials to prevent smells and discourage flies.
Grape wastes – from wineries, producing waste products in the way of skin residue, seeds and stalks by the ton in pressing season. Not a lot of nutrition but the bulk of organic plant matter may be useful to achieve a rapid hot compost
Grass clippings – most of us have these or can easily obtain them from neighbors who have them. Exceedingly rich in nitrogen, and will heat up on their own if put into a pile, but, because of their shape and high moisture content can pack down, rotting and turn slimy and smelly on you. Add grass clippings in small layers and mix with leaves, garbage and or other materials. Dried grass clippings will have lost most of their nitrogen, treat like hay or straw. If the source lawn is being treated with herbicides, use with care – although the composting process, if done properly, will remove most of those residues.
Hair – if you can get an amount of it is probably the most concentrated source of nitrogen you can get for free. Six to seven pounds of hair can contain as much nitrogen as 100 to 200 pounds of manure. Hair will decompose rapidly although it may pack down and shed water – mix with other materials to prevent that. Available for free from barbershops or hair salons.
Hay – you can buy a bale from a feed store – may contain weed seeds unless it was cut early – how would you know? If you can find spoiled hay from a farmer it will be free or at low cost.
Leaves – very compostable and available for free to most of us. Leaves, because of the extensive roots of trees that forage deep into the subsoil for nutrients, are a superior component in your compost. Pound for pound, leaves provide twice the mineral content of manure. They are low in nitrogen and may pack down slowing break down, but mixed with a good source of nitrogen and kept aerated, they are a fabulous resource.
Manure – used with discretion can be an important part of a compost pile. If you have chickens or rabbits (or any farm animal) I suggest you use it in your compost pile; but I do not encourage importing fresh animal manures if you do not know the animal. Many of our farm animals today get unregulated dosages of medications and that will be expressed through their feces and urine, furthermore, most animals today are not pastured and their manure will have high concentrations of urine in the manure – urine is high in salts. If you do have a source of manure, use it in the compost pile, get a hot pile and let it break down thoroughly before incorporating these items into your soil. If it smells like animal poop, it is still too fresh.
Paper – you can use paper of many kinds even those with colored ink and slick pages. The secret, and the problem, for using paper waste is they need to be shredded or chopped into fine bits for successful incorporation into the pile. I have used paper from an office shredder, but it was difficult to wet and until wetted was airborne faster than corn pollen. Wetted newsprint is excellent. Use like straw.
Pine needles – in the south it's called pine straw, but they break down super slowly. They are highly acidic and that means they should not be used intemperately. They have been found effective at controlling Fusarium wilts.
Rice hulls – a great source of potash and break down readily in your compost pile. They are an excellent soil conditioner, are loved in the compost heap and are a desirable mulch. Many soil conditioners contain large amounts of rice hulls for the 'fluffy.'
Sawdust – available from lumber yards or furniture refinishers. It is valuable as a source of a carbon and helps allow good air penetration into the compost pile. It is slow to break down – the robbing of nitrogen that is often a source of concern for gardeners, most research (my own anecdotal experience included) shows that is not a credible problem.
Seaweed – free and available on the beach, but, some folks worry about the radioactive level since the recent nuclear power plant problems in Japan. It has a similar nutrient level as manure, but should be composted while fresh. While I have worried about salt content, I see no mention of it in most composting literature. Seaweed contains a multitude of micronutrients essential to human and plant health. Mix with other materials and it will decompose quickly. Kelp meal can be used as an activator in compost.
Soil – not an essential component in a working compost pile, it can prove helpful. Soil can be used as an inoculate to imbue your pile with microbial activity. Most gardeners, though, add a small amounts of finished compost to a new pile as an activator, which is probably a better strategy.
Straw – adds few nutrients but does add organic material and helps aerate a compost pile. It adds carbon to the pile and is a sort of plant food. If using a lot of straw, add commensurate amounts of nitrogen. Straw that has already begun to break down is a wonderful addition to any compost pile.
Tea leaves – high content of nitrogen (about 4.15%) and breaks down easily.
Weeds – non-perennial weeds can be be placed in the compost pile as long as they are not seeding. Some weeds, like mallow, have an incredible tap root and bring materials from the subsoil up which is in the plant leaves and stems making their contribution to the compost pile much more desirable. However, some weeds, like Bermuda grass, which also has a tremendous root system (Bermuda roots are known to go as far as 27 feet deep!) will only grow in your compost pile – don't risk it.
Wood ashes – a valuable source off potash. Use cautiously for they have a strong alkalizing effect and might also increase soil salinity.
Wood chips – useful in the garden and compost pile. They do break down slowly, but even as they break down they increase the moisture holding capacity and aerate the soil. If your soil has enough nitrogen to begin with, decomposing wood chips should not adversely affect your soil's nitrogen availability.

26 October, 2019

Urban & Peri-Urban Gardens: The Bigger Picture

Essentially, this course is a course about urban and peri-urban food production. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines peri-urban agriculture as "agriculture practices within and around cities which compete for resources (land, water, energy, labor) that could also serve other purposes to satisfy the requirements of the urban population." The FAO is an excellent source for data and publications for research. The data urban and peri-urban farmers/gardeners need is either not produced in the the United States, or, when produced is frequently no more than an advertisement for chemical fertilizer and chemical weed mitigation.

The FAO, in “Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture” The challenge of supplying nutritionally adequate and safe food to city dwellers is substantial. Accomplishing this task under conditions of growth and congestion demands that policy-makers seize opportunities for integrating resource management and planning efforts, understanding potential linkages between rural and urban areas, and anticipating the changing needs of a country's citizens - both rural and urban. Part of the reason for the observed growth in UPA is due to its adaptability and mobility compared with rural agriculture. As cities expand physically, the frontiers between urban, peri-urban and rural activity blur and merge, presenting opportunities for beneficial linkages.

These gardens/agriculture land, in the peri-urban setting are often in competition for other projects as bits and pieces of open land, not already in use, comprise a diminishing percentage of the urban landscape. Peri-urban land, falls in the continuum between rural and urban, having varying similarities and differences along that continuum.

Peri-urban is that agricultural production that is closest to urban centers and more distant from rural tracts. While offering the chance to eat fresh vegetables and fruits, it is more difficult to grow and without the cooperation of the community around the growing area, can make growing healthy food impossible. Yet, the lure of having locally produced vegetables and fruit offers many advantages to the urban population in terms of taste and nutrition by virtue of the freshness of the produce.

Peri-urban gardening may be complimented with chickens and their eggs or goats and their milk, but the introduction of animals into the urban landscape can often bring a host of problems that are not found in a plant based operation. One of the biggest challenges in the coming years will be how can we grow sufficient amounts of food for the central city at a price that is affordable and yet high enough to support the farmer and the farmer's family. The face of a gardener/farmer, worldwide, is the face of a woman, so these questions are formed knowing that wage discrimination against women workers has been a constant problem in our culture and will need to be addressed as our food production changes in the coming years.

The concept of the peri-urban garden – and the urban garden, though at a more limited level – can only prove to be beneficial if these issues are confronted and solved:

          1. Water supplies are not contaminated by the urban/peri-urban farms, especially, but not limited to, those growing animals in addition to vegetables and fruit.
          2. Remediation of water supplies on site to clean the water to certifiable standards.
          3. Air quality is not compromised by dust or smell.
          4. Garden waste remains on site to be composted.
          5. Gardens take in plant waste for composting.
          6. Gardeners learn how to deal with vermin in a socially accepted manner or a wholesale change in society's concept of acceptable vermin damage.
          7. Inner city gardens might make a better contribution by growing mushrooms.
          8. Food will be fresher allowing for more nutrition and food security providing producers keep food properly until sold, by observing sanitation best practices. If not followed, the close proximity of people, animals and microbial presence will make this much more of a challenge in the future.
          9. Farmers are allowed to have multi-year leases – or, better yet, ownership – of the land they farm on, giving them the impetus to keep the garden clean from diseases and infestations.

The inner city, with skyscrapers, presents the most challenge for farmers. As one moves towards the outer city, with fewer floors between the garden and the sun, growing food generally becomes easier. It is probably not a stretch to assume that, as one moves further and further from the central city that gardens can be more productive – however, one can also speculate that the further you get from city center, the number of buyers close at hand diminishes as well.

Farmers already are producing and selling their goods along this line. They harvest their products for sale and spend Wednesdays or some other day at a farmers' market, direct selling their goods to consumers. Of course this is out in the urban, if not rural lands. These farmers' markets are the start of this decentralization of our food production and have proven successful and desirable for consumers and cities alike.

All these farms, from the urban and peri-urban areas are more likely to be smaller than the farms we have today while production levels must remain constant or increase. In addition, these farms, will specialize in certain products and diversify the goods they bring to market. Like
      1. Aquaculture – growing fish for market, using their waste for fertilizer for vegetables etc.
      2. Urban beekeeping, supplementing honey, wax and pollination services.
      3. and mycology – growing mushrooms which will be in a greater demand as science shows us all the benefits of different varities.
While our food supply will strain to provide enough calories for the populace at the same time it will provide a variety of foods that are uncommon today. Farmers all along the continuum will strive to find products they can feature and draw in customers in addition to the common products easily found in the market.

The positive effects that can be gained from an urban and/or peri-urban food supply include the following:
    • providing green spaces throughout the city, even to the inner downtown city
    • green space preservation will also enhance carbon sequestration – all food production done correctly sequesters carbon
    • reduce the heat island effect that is common in our cities already
    • recycling of gray water conserving water and reduce waste

At the same time, unwanted inputs will need to be dealt with, including:
    • chemical and physical of roadway exhaust
    • heavy metal residues
    • soil and water pollution including industrial chemicals, antibiotics and heavy-metals. Among others.

Obviously, inner city farmers, more than others, will be faced with a variety of waste material that is not common today. All waste products that can be safely used in composting and other natural breakdown of material, will be in abundance, however, the same can be said about materials we don't want which may be just as ubiquitous.

In addition to those growers striving to make an income, there will be average citizens that will still wish to grow there own. From the 1890's growing some of your own food in the city has been a part of the American life style. The modest beginning in 1890's, in the wake of the 1890's Depression that a formal community garden emerged, native to the United States. It was in Detroit, using vacant lots, the city government gave the laid off workers a chance to feed their families.

In that same era, in the 1890's, community gardens were created in San Francisco and Boston – both still active gardening cities to this date. New York had its first gardens in the early 1900's. And it too has remained a gardening city!

In World War 1, at the behest of the Wilson administration, Americans began to build their “Liberty Gardens” using their front lawns and other unused land to grow a 24% share of the food grown in the US, creating a tradition of growing your own food close to home. The term "community garden" came into use to describe collectively grown gardens and gardens with individual plots during World War I. The gardens opened the idea of city gardens/community gardens and the concept has been a part of the woof and warp of American life since that time.

The Roosevelt administration in WW2 wanted the food growing to stay in the hands of professionals and discouraged amateurs from planting their “Victory Gardens.” The populace would not have it and went about putting in driveway gardens, front yard gardens and parkway gardens and finally the Roosevelt administration succumbed and thew in with the people and Victory Gardens became a part of the American legend of the World Wars. These gardens were successful in producing healthy food for consumption for the folks at home – freeing up the traditional supplies of vegetables for shipping to the front. By May 1943 (we didn't go to war until December 1942), there were 18 million gardens producing food, which, along with rationing, allowed the US to ship food out to the war zones where many farms had been destroyed by bombing or other acts of war removing the farmers from the war zone and eliminating their ability to feed the populations in the conflict zone.

These Victory Gardens were a step towards urban gardens. Harking back to the community plots of 1890s, cities began to look for unused land to allow citizens to grow their own food for a nominal rental fee that paid for water use and sometimes fencing. Los Angeles has something more than 90 active community gardens, most started during the administration of Mayor Tom Bradley, showcasing LA's diverse cultures and culinary traditions.

Los Angeles' demand for community gardens has far outpaced the demand. In the 1980's, when I got my first community garden, the wait list was about two weeks and they gave me 4 plots to work in! Nowadays, I hear of people waiting years for a plot.

In the community gardens in Los Angeles, you pay an annual fee and are required to do a set number of community work hours in the garden. When I got my first plot in Ocean View Farms, plots were about 14 feet square and laid out on a slope facing the ocean, which is a few miles away, providing full sun exposure to almost all the plots. In conjunction with the Master Gardener program, UC Davis has written a beginning gardener's curriculum which is taught multiple times all over the LA Area – I teach two per year (Spring and Fall) for a nominal fee, to get people off on the right start in the community garden experience.