02 December, 2021

Heirloom Seeds: Who Knows?

One day a couple of years ago, I found a medicine bottle on my desk with some seeds.  Plastic medicine bottles, not being recyclable (because of the former contents) are a favorite for some seed savers. I looked for a note, but didn't find one, there was nothing written on the bottle, just a tablespoon's worth of seeds.

At first, I took them to be sweet pea seeds, but on a closer look these were okra seeds - larger than sweet pea seeds and missing the light spot (the "hilum" or the characteristic "eye" on many bean and pea seeds).  OK, so I had a tablespoon of okra seeds.  No note, no label, no nothing....  This was late summer and I put them aside - I figured we'd just grow it out and figure out what it was from the final product.

That's where we started.  In spring, I started six plants - gave a few away to interested parties and kept three to grow out at the garden.  It was a pretty normal flower for an okra, so we had nothing to help us there.  The plants grew strong and healthy, there was nothing unusual about the plants.  And when we got the fruit, guess what!

Not the best shot, but you can see the okra seeds,
round, in the center, ready to roll away.

It was just okra.  It was a good producer, nice pods, lovely flower, no complaints.  But it was **just okra**.  There was nothing that made it look different from any other okra on the planet.  It wasn't Burgundy okra, which would have had some reddish tones, it wasn't Jing, which is orange, it wasn't particularly long enough to be Perkin's Long Pod Okra.

Just an ordinary, gonna be gumbo again, okra.

After a deep breath, not having a wide variety of okra in the Seed Library, I decided to add it to the inventory and the only name to use was "Don't Knowkra."  And that's how we came up with our okra selection, Don't Knowkra - it is a good producer but an entirely average okra in all respects.  If you like okra, you'll not miss with Don't Knowkra.

The seeds roll right out of the pod when completely ripe -
in the meantime, they make for a creative shaker
instrument for children of all ages.

The okra seed pods are very interesting in that they ripen over a fairly long period of time and, as the pods age, the seeds simply roll out the end of the pod, and being round and all like that, they roll away from the mother plant.

I intend to revisit these pods again and take some photos with a quarter in them to show the relative size.  I'm more interested in saving seeds than shooting them!


28 October, 2021



October 2021

Squash and Friends

By: Ali FitzGerald
The Squash and Friends garden was planted for reasons both practical and impractical. It was mid-June, late into summer for southern California planting I’d been told. So, I did some research and found possibilities and potential in squash.

Squash was appealing mainly for sentimental reasons. They remind me of my favorite season in New England, especially pumpkins. One October, in college, I wrote down every free-associative thought that came to my mind on a giant pumpkin that I kept on my kitchen table. Some visitors thought it was funny, others found it disturbing. A great win, in my opinion.

I've tried to grow pumpkins many times at my parents’ house. My Dad worked in the yard every Sunday. It was his ritual and in turn the yard was always beautiful. His ease in all things garden made me think growing pumpkins would be simple. The first year, I didn’t read the package and planted several seeds in a much too small raised bed. The long vines became tangled and everything died. The next year, in the same space, I planted fewer seeds. I got two small fruits that were quickly eaten by a rabbit. The same thing happened the following year, so I gave up. 

When Daren showed Zara and I how to plant summer squash seeds in a bowl made of soil, the Squash and Friends garden truly was born. This technique helped overcome problems of infrequent watering and aqua-phobic ground. The directly sown seeds germinated in abundance. Success felt good. I wanted to know that high again, so I bought more; honey boat delicata, blue hubbard, zucchini and howden pumpkin.

A pumpkin harvest seemed unattainable and unlikely. At the time, there wasn’t much space, but I’d wanted the seeds anyway. I planted a single seed - on my late father’s birthday. With love, in memory, I marked it with an orange flag and checked on it weekly, afraid to get too attached. As Summer progressed, we added volunteer squash from compost and other “friends”;  zinnias, sunflowers, marigolds, tomatoes. They all grew around what became my lil pumpkin prodigy. I’ve been told it’s the biggest The Learning Garden has ever seen. I’m not much of a gardener really - it couldn’t have grown alone.

The Cool California Food

By: David King, Garden Master
Lettuce, the ubiquitous plant that is the main salad plant for most of the world, continues to play the starring role in salads with an abundance of colors and leaf shapes. For a few hundred years, lettuce has been slowly turned loose from it's plain leaf style and now the selections of lettuce are mind-boggling in their varieties of color and form; from red leaves that astound to soft leaves that do not crunch, from sweet tasting crunches to brilliant reds, some flashing like roses and others more maroon that anchor the lettuce on the plate.
Lettuce is easily grown – in cool weather. The plants are not pleased with heat, so Southern Californians tend to plant their lettuce seeds in Fall and continue to plant a few more here and there to keep it in supply, the warmer the weather the shorter their life-time. I like to plant a short row every other week – barely getting any soil at all on the rather tiny seeds – they need to be kept moist. In a heat wave, shelter your lettuce plants to keep them from bolting (prematurely breaking into flowers, after which they are no longer sweet crunchies, but tougher and not nearly as tasty. In the warmer months, put your lettuce in some shade; in the cooler months place them in places where you can protect them from our common sudden heat waves.
Some lettuce varieties that I enjoy include (the number is the supposed “day to maturity which often has nothing to do with reality.)

* Lolla Rossa (53) Little lettuce heads, ruby red that fades to a light green.
* New Red Fire (45) slow to bolt, a light red, a lot of variable colors and crunchy. 
* Merveille de Quatre Saisons (49) do yourself a favor and grow some of this French named lettuce that becomes the star of the garden and the salad plate

All of the proceeding varieties were from Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog, www.superseeds.com

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17 April, 2021

Grafting in a Pinch

 The Benefits of Grafting

To get plants to productivity sooner

A better tasting, or better producing fruit tree

Contain a too-large plant by using dwarfing rootstock

Use a resilient rootstock in a soil that otherwise could not

To put two varieties of the same fruit on one tree

Books about Grafting

Reference material:

The Grafters Handbook – Not easy to read, not easy to find and when found it will cost as much as $300! However, if you run across one of these that doesn't cost $300, grab it. It has been THE manual for a very long time and it is the only book that covers ALL – not just the popular – grafts. The information in this book is going to be lost soon.

The Home Orchard, UCANR – one of the very best books that includes notes on grafting, but presents caring for home orchards. A truly well-written book, impeccable in it's presentation and incomparable in the breadth and depth of grafting. Wonderfully written.

A Grafting Glossary

Adventitious - said of buds, shoots or roots arising out of order; not initiated by apical meristems

Apical Meristem -the growth region in plants found within the root tips and the tips of the new shoots and leaves, a mature cork cell is non-living and has cell  walls that are composed of a waxy substance that is highly impermeable to gases and water

Bark – the outer layers of the rind, consisting largely of cork, serving to protect the inner rind and cambium. See rind.

Bud – to insert an eye, or bud, when bud-grafting

Bud grafting – grafting with an single eye or bud, detached from a shoot along with a portion of rind and, in some cases a small slice of the wood

Callus – healing tissue arising from the cambium at wounds

Cambium – the layer of meristematic tissue between the wood and the rind from which further elements of both develop

Clone – vegetative progeny of one plant

Compatible – said of plants which when grafted together form a good, sound and permanent union

Cultivar – internationally agreed technical term for what, in English, is known as a variety .

Eye – a single bud or group of buds

Graft – where the scion meets the stock, the completed operation of grafting, the union, a term often wrongly used for scion

Graft – to prepare and place together plant parts so that they may grow together

Incompatible – said of plants which when garfted together fail to form a lasting union

Meristem – tissue capable of growth, either primary from which new organs develop (primordial of leaves, stems, roots) or secondary, by which special tissues (cambium, phellogen)

Meristematic – pertaining to meristems

Mother Tree – a tree selected as a source of scions, cuttings or seed

Petiole – leaf-stalk

Phellogen – meristematic cork producing tissue in the outer region of the rind

Rind – all the tissues external to the woody core of stems and roots, often termed bark

Rootstock – root-bearing plant on which the scion is grafted.

Scion – part of plant used for grafting upon the stock plant

Tissue – the substance, structure or texture of which the plant body, or any organ of it, is composed

Xylem – botanical name for wood

Safety First!

Before you begin to graft, think about your safety first. The knives you are working with are – or should be – very sharp. Keep that thought first in your mind. Always cut away from yourself, never towards yourself – this is the root of most accidents. We are trying to get a knife through some stubborn material and without a second thought, turn the knife towards our fingers without even thinking. Know where the first aid kit is and, if necessary, the closest emergency room.

Grafting Tools/Supplies

Essential Tools:

1 Knife exclusively for grafting cuts, many sizes and shapes, don't go cheap on this knife.

A means to sharpen that knife at the bench or in the wild (of course you could have two knives, one for bench work and one for field work, the only concern is that you have the means to keep them sharp!)

Sharpening devices – whatever cranks your tractor and helps you keep your blades sharp (you are more likely to be injured by a dull blade than a sharp one)

Some way to make the graft stable – Parafilm is the hot tip! Rubber bands are a pain

A small first aid kit. I am serious. And brush up on your ability to do first aid.

In teaching grafting, it proved important to keep students in pairs. Person A watches as Person B works with the knife and they switch. For your first few grafts, have a friend or fellow student watch you and then switch and you watch them.