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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

**UPDATE!** LA River at Atwater Creek Restoration, 13 August 2016

The Dodgers play that afternoon just a few miles south of our meeting place on the river.  PLEASE ALLOW ENOUGH TIME TO GET PAST THE TRAFFIC IF YOU MUST COME IN THROUGH THE DOWNTOWN AREA. IF YOU CAN AVOID IT, DO!  After checking traffic on the radio (KNX 1070 AM does the most frequent traffic reports) or on Waze, I will probably leave the Learning Garden, driving up the 405 to the 101, to the 134 and then take streets in once I've passed the 5 - maybe even go to the 2, depending on traffic.

Your friendly instructors would like to remind our lovely students that we have another field trip this coming Saturday.  We will meet in the parking lot at the confluence of Atwater Creek with the LA River.  A lovely walk along Atwater creek until it flows into the LA River.  For Orchid and I, this is a favorite.  Our starting point is the North Atwater Park. 

View North Atwater Creek Restoration in a larger map 

Chevy Chase Drive, once it makes that final right-hand swoop, dead ends.  As that right-hand swoop begins, the park itself is on the left.  On this map, almost exactly in the blue pin there is a parking lot where we will meet at 1;30 PM.  

This is a good field trip for a camera, and as usual plenty of water and cool clothing. Wear walking shoes and we'll proceed south from the parking lot along the North Atwater Creek on down to the river proper and back again.  Not far and we will amble along without urgency.  I imagine this will be a warm day, but check your weather sources - do take proper care of yourself with the incessantly persistent sunshine!  

Some background data on the site is available online, here.

And some photos from the day it opened for a little prespective.  

Hope you will enjoy this trip and hope you're enjoying the class.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Low Maintenance and Low Water Trees not Native to California

David's notes for  02 August:  

Avoid 'fast-growing' not only does it mean higher maintenance, but also higher water needs.

Select “Species Type” = Plants

Mobile Apps on Invasive Species

What's invasive appWhat's Invasive! (free)
iPhone][Android] The what's Invasive app displays local lists of top invasive plants and/or animals (with images and short descriptions to remind you of what they look like) that have been identified by the National Park Service or other invasive management authorities.
Calflora appCalflora Observer (free)
iPhone][Android] The Calflora Observer is a smartphone app that allows you to quickly and efficiently report wild plant occurrences. This application makes it easy for you to report the species name, date and location of over 10,000 California native and non-native plant taxa.
Invasive Plants appInvasive Plants in Southern Forests: Identification and Management (free)
iPhone] This app provides information on accurate identification of the 56 nonnative plants and groups that are currently invading the forests of the 13 Southern States.

This will be a list of mostly small trees (usually under 30'tall) – it is not inclusive, but it is a start and these trees will mostly not do you wrong. Always, always, always MULCH under your trees and when watering strive to get water down into the 18” root zone – if in doubt, use a soil probe. No freshly planted ANYTHING is drought resistant – even trees. In the first five or more years, special attention would be best until they get established.

Plant Notes
Apple Check for proper fruiting in our area and use a medium to dwarfing rootstock to keep the tree from overtaking you. Apple is one of the best for a home garden because you can make the apples last longer with proper storage
Almond Only a few will fruit in Southern California – make sure you have that covered (chill hours vary around here from 150 to 300 hours – anything with a higher value of chill hours must be avoided) - all of the fruit trees I've listed have a gorgeous floral display at some point in the year.
Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) Produces lavender-purple flowers in early or mid-spring. The flowers give off a spicy aroma and the leaves smell faintly of sage. Shape by pruning; flowers are borne on new wood. Not extremely drought tolerant, give it some water in dry times.
Crabapple Useful for producing pectin if you are in to homemade jams. White, pink or red flowers, self-pollinating and slow growing. Hardy without much care and a show in spring.
Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) This is a small tree of remarkable appearance when in bloom, early to mid-summer and attractive foliage come fall. The patchy attractive bark is reason enough alone to plant this tree – flowers in red, purple, white and is extremely heat resistant, not your most drought proof tree, and keep out of high winds.
Crataegus  sp. There are species from Mexico, Europe, and China, all are called hawthorns in common parlance. Flowers from magenta to white, they are attractive hedges and can make a good fence on their own with their deadly long spines. Berries make forage for birds and other species.
Jacaranda Jacaranda mimosifolia the common blue/purple-flowered tree around LA. Not so small, one of the large on this list,the prolific flowers are beautiful or messy depending on viewpoint. Drought resistant as a mature tree, it needs plenty of water to establish. If planted as a community street tree the effect is magical or messy, depending on viewpoint.
Jujube Ziziphus jujuba, the Chinese Date Tree is a delightful small tree with pinnately compound leaves and small brown fruit that tastes similar to apples and can be dried. You must have two trees to get fruit,the commercial varieties are almost always Li and Lang.
Magnolia Some species are barely more than shrubs – not to be confused with some that are quite large trees. Choose from: Star magnolia is a smaller variety of magnolia that produces beautiful, white, star-shaped flowers in early spring. The flowers are fragrant and long lasting. Grows up to 20' tall with similar spread. Cold and heat tolerant. Plant in full sun to partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. Saucer magnolia  (var. Little Star) only grows about 16' tall and 20' wide, producing large pinkish-purple flowers in early spring. Plant this magnolia in a sheltered area in full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
Maples Acer palmatum is a slow-growing small tree with beautiful, intricate, delicate leaves make this tree a real focal point in a garden. Foliage ranges from green to deep red; some leaves are light green, edged in red. Plant in partial shade in moist, acidic, well-drained soil. Protect from harsh afternoon sun
Pawpaw Needing more water than the other plants on this list, Asimina triloba is a 15' - 30' fruit tree native to North America, with a tropical appearance. Purple mid-spring blooms give way to green fruits that ripen to black with a pear/banana taste. Leaves turn gold in fall. Plant at least two trees for pollination. Prune off low-growing branches to give this shrubby tree a more tree-like appearance. Plant in partial shade in loose soil' full sun in CA will toast it...
Peaches Peach trees grow 15' - 25' with dark green leaves that provide a beautiful contrast with the attractive mid-spring flowers and brilliant mid- to late summer fruit. Plant in full sun, in moist, well-drained soil. Mulch to protect the shallow roots. Prune in late winter. Most peaches are not self-fertile, depending on the variety you choose, you may need to plant more than one.
Plums Many plums do wonderfully in our area – they are prolific and of all the fruit trees require the most effort in pruning and keeping them to size. They are not horribly drought tolerant and will need summer water – especially in their first 10 years in order to get established. They can be extremely showy with their dark purple leaves.
Quince Quince grows 6' - 10' tall and wide, producing bright scarlet, pink, or white blossoms in spring. Some varieties bloom again in fall, but at the expense of fruitfulness. Tangled branches and sharp spines may detract from its usefulness in small spaces but make it a first-class barrier plant!. Fall-ripened fruit can be used to make jelly or jam. Prune after flowering to maintain shape. 
Sweetshade Australian relative of pittosporum, Hymenosporum flavum, besides the great dark green foliage and the sweet (honey) scent of its flowers, it is the narrowness of this tree (to 6') that makes it useful in odd spots.
Tea Tree Tea tree (Melaleuca linarifolia) grows up to 20' tall and 12' wide. Native to Australia, the tea tree has aromatic, evergreen leaves and produces tiny white, pink, or red flowers from late winter into summer. Enjoys western coastal areas and is drought tolerant when mature. Plant in full sun. The peeling bark makes this tree much more interesting than a lot of other trees.

From Sunset magazine, with substantial edits from me:  
We need trees, especially during a drought. Trees reduce air pollution and erosion, create habitat for wildlife and other plants, and reduce the urban heat island—even hotter, drier conditions that arise in cities as a result of too much reflective pavement. Here's how to best care for your trees.
Water beyond the drip line. Most trees do not have tap roots (oaks and pines are among the few exceptions), therefore watering, fertilizing, and mulching at the base of a tree does not provide it the nourishment it needs. Roots grow 1.5 to 4 times beyond the canopy. In heavy clay soil, roots are pushed even farther horizontally and might be found 5 or more times wider than the dripline. 
Make sure moisture reaches 12 to 18 inches deep. Approximately 90% of tree roots are in the top 12 inches of soil. Use a soil probe each time you water to ensure that the moisture has reach 12–18 inches.
Remember the trees if you take out the lawn. Many established trees are planted in or near lawns. Removing a patch of grass, upon which trees might have been dependent for many years, for water due to excess lawn watering, can cause deep stress for the trees. So be sure to have a plan for continued water and fertilizing of those trees.
Look for signs of drought stress. Leaves on trees suffering from drought stress might wilt, curl, or turn yellow. On deciduous trees, look for scorching, brown edges or browning between veins. On evergreens, needles might turn yellow, red, purple, or brown. Drought stress might not cause the instantaneous death of a tree, but it weakens the overall health, paving the way for secondary insects or disease infestations in following years.
Skip the fertilizer. With a shortage of water, never fertilize which causes new growth and more need for water.
Mulch to retain moisture. Layer 4 inches of organic mulch to retain moisture between watering. Bark mulch or evergreen needles are great choices. Avoid stones as they can increase the temperature, resulting in additional loss of moisture. Refresh the mulch as needed to keep 3 to 4” of mulch over the roots.

Maintain proper pruning. Remove any broken, dead, or disease-infested branches as they can cause additional weakening to a tree's overall health. A tree with properly pruned branches will have improved structure and stability, aiding the tree in withstanding drier times.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


(NB:  As of 26 July 2016, this is not yet complete! From February on, the harvest notes are not finished.)

Keep existing garden hydrated

Harvest tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, okra, squashes, beans and other summer crop

Keep basil pinched to ensure production and prevent the plants from setting seed and dying

Weed as required – keep yourself hydrated and sunburn free.

Try to water only in the evening or early morning

In the beginning of the month, begin to contemplate the Winter garden and look online for seeds to purchase. Remember that soon you'll be able to plant garlic, onions and potatoes so don't overdo it on seeds!

Late in the month, you may start with seeds of cool season crops out of full sun (indoors under lights works too):
Brussels Sprouts
Fava beans
Onions (they are easier from purchased 'sets' or transplants)

Add 3” of mulch to your garden which should cut down on weeding and watering in the coming months. It will also allow the ground to hold water when (if) it rains.

All things being equal, in August, you will be harvesting tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, corn, melons, squashes. Keep the squashes picked or you will have gigantic squash that are mostly inedible. Pinch the tips of basil back to keep the plant from going to seed and use the pinchings in salads or cooked dishes. Green peppers will become red, purple or yellow if you leave them on the plant until they mature. For my taste, I'll wait until they change color, but many folks like green peppers as much as the mature ones. Beans should be kept picked unless you are growing soup beans which stay on the plant until the plant has died and is crispy. The pods should shatter easily when harvesting dried beans.

Continue picking summer fruit, learn how to dry, freeze, pickle, jam or can some of the garden's bounty and share with family and neighbors. The summer garden will produce through November in mild years, but is over by the end of September or October in most. As you see plants coming to the end of their productivity, pull the plants and begin to replace them with winter plants or seeds of winter plants. In fact, it often is not even necessary to pull the plant immediately – you can leave the okra or pepper in place and simply begin to sow around it. If you sow too close, you may find you will need to cut the summer plant off, leaving the roots, if pulling them out begins to affect your seedlings. If you leave the roots in the ground, they will rot and become food for the microbiology of the soil and once rotted, channels will remain for water to infiltrate the soil.

Days get shorter and hopefully cooler

Direct seed into the garden larger seeds – peas, fava beans, lentils and garbanzo beans

Direct sow beets, turnips all month long – you can continue to sow beets until late March – you can continue to sow turnips until April – although most folks are rather sick of turnips by that time.

Late in the month, sow seeds of radishes, carrots and parsnips – you can continue to sow carrots and parsnips until January. Sow your first spinach and you may continue sowing short rows of it until mid-February if you wish.

Direct sow any lettuces or other 'salad greens' now through March – and even beyond if you're willing to take the chance! These larger leafy things really do not do well in the heat – oftentimes, even if you get a harvest, they will not be the sweet leaves you were hoping for but instead will be bitter and not at all something you would want to eat.

Set out plants started in sheltered locations.

Use shade as required on young seedlings – nursery flats and a stick.

Continue to sow broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower as in August. You CAN sow Brussels Sprouts, but your harvest will be truncated by the end of cool weather and there is no more reason to plant kale and collards as they will produce on into summer.

Now there are significant short days and almost any winter crop is OK to seed or set out including:
Onions (buy transplants if you can)
Garlic and shallots (plant from bulbs)
Potatoes – white, red, blue, bakers and mashers – all of them, cut into chunks with at least one eye per chunk, allow to 'scab' over for a few days or dust with sulfur to help prevent soil born bacteria from attacking the open surfaces.
You can still direct seed any of the Legumes (fava beans, lentils, garbanzo beans), if you haven't yet
You continue with broccoli and other cabbage family members.

Be warned, there are often Santa Ana winds in October – they dry you and your plants out, keep an eye on the water in your garden if that happens.

By now, most of the summer harvest is in, perhaps you have a few of the Winter Squash still finishing up or some areas of drying beans. In open locations, start planting the winter crops. Try to keep the garden filled with producing plants. If you started lettuce in the shade back in August, you are able to harvest the outer leaves from some plants.

Have you ever heard of celeriac? Related to celery, this root crop has the flavor but lacks the pizzazz of celery. It is useful in soups but not for an appetizer tray because there is no channel for cream cheese or peanut butter. And it looks a little 'rooty.' Sow seed in a row directly even though the seed is really small. The root balls get about six inches in diameter if they are happy.

Now is when you can start using the planting stick – this invention makes easy work of succession sowing. Put your planting stick on edge and make a depression in the soil. Sow your seeds in the depression. All other seeds, cover with a small amount of garden soil and water well. Carrots are the exception. Do not cover carrot seed with soil, use vermiculite to cover them. All seeds should be moistened daily until they sprout – this is especially true with carrots. Follow a program of sowing carrots, beets and other root crops every week to get fresh roots all through the season.

In November, things begin to slow down significantly. You can continue to sow all cool weather crops with a shorter life expectancy. While in September you could sow cabbages that take three or four months (the big kraut or storage cabbages), now it's time to begin to limit yourself to the smaller, non-storage, cabbages which take up less space.

This is really your last chance to sow any garlic or shallots – after this, they won't have enough time to mature to fullness before the heat of summer. You can still sow those veggies that don't take so long to mature. I'm still willing to bet on carrots, but not parsnips which take much longer. Beets and turnips are sowable now through April or so.

You may have some harvesting to do, but the garden can be a little bare this time of year. All the summer crops are gone and winter crops are just babies – except turnips and radishes which take from four weeks to 8 weeks from seed to harvest. Broccoli. Broccoli does not need much succession planting and is a star in the winter garden. Cut the main head of the broccoli to eat, and begin to watch for the side shoots. Keep them picked and you'll have a whole ton of broccoli to eat over the coming weeks. This is not true with cabbage or cauliflower which only give off one harvest.

You almost have to have a good flashlight to garden! Really, if you can find time do a little here and there – if no rain, take up the slack with the hose. You can still sow carrots (and that'll be the last ones for this year); beets, turnips and radishes are all still on the sow list. If you have broccoli plants to put in, this would be about the last month I'd do that; cauliflowers aren't usually that tasty when they mature in the heat. Start seeds of cabbages (the smaller ones) and begin to think about where things will go in the garden for summer. Keep small lettuce plants on hand and every time something comes out of the garden, pop a lettuce in its place – lettuce is pretty, edible and fast! You can't have enough lettuce!

Try to go to holiday parties and enjoy a social life – the garden will still be there in January.

You can harvest radishes, turnips, maybe some lettuces and other greens. Perhaps you have a head or two of broccoli that will float your boat. Early cabbages might be ready to harvest soon, but the bigger kraut cabbages will take longer. The root crops (except radishes and turnips) will not be ready. If you have been reading the seed packets, you will note that my commentary disagrees with most of them. Because we sow in Fall, unlike the rest of the US, our days are getting shorter and cooler meaning our crops take longer than the packet says they will, which was written for Spring and longer/warmer days.

Keep planting in the ground: lettuce, short season carrots, beets, potatoes, celeriac, radishes, spinach,

Start in containers: lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, (these last two can be started now, but their production will be reduced by the coming warmer weather, both will last into the summer, but the flavor of kale grown in the heat is not the sweetness you expect, they are more bitter), peas, fava beans, lentils, garbanzo beans

Seed catalogs are in the mail! Most gardeners are now looking longingly and drooling to figure out which tomatoes, peppers, beans and other summer crops you will be planting. You will order too many seeds despite promises to yourself to not do it this year. You'll do the same thing next year...

You are eating good by now. You've got broccoli, lettuce peas, fava beans coming in – maybe a few baby beets and turnips, you are about sick of radishes which have been coming for months.

In the garden, you can still direct sow lettuce (and other salad greens), beets, radishes, spinach, and the first of the summer plantings: purple beans.

Start in your six packs early tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, summer squash – I usually try to do this around Valentine's Day.

Otherwise: If you haven't over-ordered your seeds for summer yet, get busy. You're not playing by the rules.

Continue to purple beans, lettuce, radishes, beets, radishes, spinach, You can begin to set out plants of basil, early tomatoes, later in the month, if you have space, sow early sweet corn (the exhortation for space comes from the fact that corn is a wind-pollinated plant and there must be plants in a block large enough to ensure pollination between the plants – do not plant individual rows of corn, plant in a block).

Continue to sow seeds of tomatoes and basil if you need to do succession plantings of these (each plant should produce for several weeks, if not two months). No it's time to sow peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons, all squash.

You can now put out beans of all colors, lettuce and still some radishes, beets, spinach if you love them. For summer, though, you can set out plants of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, you can start planting all corn now if you have space.

Add three more inches of mulch to your garden whether it seems to need it or not.

You can still start more tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons and squash and okra, Note that cucumbers, melons, and squashes tend to get powdery mildew in our part of the country and a good strategy is to plant a second follow-on set of plants. When the first planting gives up, the second planting takes over. You cannot do this with melons or winter squashes which must remain on the plant until they are fully ripened before picking.
Step back from your garden and take a look. It's really getting powered up about new – soon your neighbors will be getting tired of all the great vegetables you are sharing with them!

You can continue to set our plants of basil, eggplant, all melons and all squash and cucumbers. Begin to plant your main crop of green and yellow beans and all the dried beans, which will be left in the garden to dry on the plant. If you have room, plant more corn too.

Continue to sow as you did in April, but it's getting late – peppers, eggplant, and basil are still OK to start, but will not have a lot of time to produce as they would had you gotten to them earlier.

Plant in the ground: all the above; you can still get a crop, but it might not live to it's full term – furthermore, setting them out in June is hard on them – the heat can be problematic. If you do, you might have to supply some shade on extremely warm days.

Earlier tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans are a part of your diet by now. I'm sick of zucchini already, how about you? Peppers are getting ripe, you can see the okra coming on – get it while it's small and don't over cook it! That keeps it from being slimey.

Start your pumpkin seeds in 4” pots to get them going, then take a nap, with my permission.

Plant in the ground only out of extreme necessity – you will have to water almost daily until they are established. Do not plant without mulching. Water as needed, early in the day or in the evening.

For starting seeds this month, I recommend you continue napping.

Now it's already time to begin to think about your cool season seeds. Get out your catalogs and prepare to over-order those like we did at the beginning of the year or get online. Try not to buy your seeds locally -you get fresher seed online or by ordering directly from the seed company by phone – your seeds are in perfect climate conditions until they begin to pull your order.

If you do tomatoes right, by now you have enough to open your own Italian eatery.

Garden Tools For Garden Jobs.

The most important tools you use are the different parts of your body – your hands, your skin, your back, your knees and your legs. Chemical sunblock may be bad for your body, but it most certainly does nature no good once you've washed it off. A long-sleeved cotton shirt and cotton pants are cool and, if you can find organic cotton that costs less than the US Military budget, you are doing Gaia a good deal. Wear a hat (it's stylish anyway!) and comfortable shoes. Get gloves that will stand to the work you are doing – digging with shovels almost always means a heavy glove, gardening in containers is a piece of cake with cotton gloves or some of the new plasticized gloves. Get more than one type.
Have on hand muscle rub (I use stuff with arnica in it) and hand creams if you worry about callouses grossing you – or someone else out. Do some stretches to prevent injuries.

A. Stand up gardening/Mulch, Compost moving
  1. Double digger, aka broadfork
  2. Spading fork
  3. Compost fork
  4. Grain Shovel (aka Grain scoop)
  5. Spade
  6. Round point shovel
  7. Poachers spade
  8. Leaf rake
  9. Broom for clean up if needed
  10. Long handle vs. short handle
    1. Long handles – more leverage (easier to break), better for tall people
    2. Short handles – easier to fit into smaller spaces and more appropriate for short people
  11. Wheel barrow/gardeners cart
  12. Tarps (either the blue plastic or burlap) to make clean up easier 
  13. Mattock 

B. Kneeling gardening
  1. Trowel
  2. Hand fork
  3. Weeders
  4. Japanese hori-hori knife can be used as a trowel and a weeder
  5. The Stick tool (my 'invention')
  6. Scissors
  7. Kneeling pad or a small stool
  8. Dibbles
  9. Wire brush
  10. Sharp serrated knives
  11. Watering can or hose
  12. Tape measure
  13. I include a radio with my kit

C. Container gardening
  1. Trowel
  2. Hand fork
  3. Weeders
  4. Kneeling pad (?)
  5. Tarp
  6. Watering can or hose
  7. Machete
  8. Pot brush
  9. Container knife

  1. Seeding
      1. Widget
      2. Seeding tool
      3. Swiss Army Knife
      4. Pencil
      5. Marker
      6. Plastic tags
      7. Flats
      8. Newspapers
      9. Containers
      10. Journal or notebook!
      11. Chopsticks
      12. Soft nozzle for the hose or a Haws watering can

E. Harvesting
  1. Knives
  2. Scissors
  3. Pruners
  4. Containers – baskets, bags, dishpan – to wash and clean produce (as needed)

F. Pruning
  1. Pruners that fit your hand
  2. Folding saw
  3. Loppers
  4. Pole Pruner
  5. Large saw
  6. Sharp knife
  7. Specialty gloves if needed

G. Tool care
  1. Linseed oil for wood
  2. Any oil for metal
  3. Rags
  4. Sharpening devices
  5. Sandpaper in different grades
  6. Listerine to sterilize your tools

H. Almost all kits have
  1. Knife or knives
  2. Screwdrivers
  3. Pliers
  4. Measuring tape of some kind  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Soil Bibliography

Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil; ©1992 University of California Press, Hillel, Daniel. Hillel has written one of the most beautiful books on soil that has ever been published. This book introduces a little of soil science to the reader, but more than that, it fosters a love of the soil and an understanding about the magnitude and gravity of misuse and degradation; civilizations have paid little heed to the soil underfoot and it has cost them dearly. A delightful read!

Soils and Men, Yearbook of Agriculture 1938, © 1938, United States Department of Agriculture, The Committee on Soils. A government publication, no sane person will read from beginning to end! It is referenced here because it clearly shows the US government knew about the soil food web in 1938 and chose to ignore that information in favor of more commerce in chemical based fertilizers. We are at a point where ignoring the soil food web is too costly to continue.

Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition, © 2010 Timber Press, Lowenfels, Jeff and Lewis, Wayne. This is the second edition of the book that blew my eyes open on the biology of the soil and how we cannot ignore that biology plays at least as big a part of soil fertility as chemistry. We ignore biology to our own detriment and destroy our soils.

The Rodale Book of Composting, ©1992 Rodale Press, Martin, Deborah and Gershuny, Grace Editors. This is the only book to read on composting. Everything else is compostable. Only.

The Soul of Soil; A Guide to Ecological Soil Management, 2nd Edition, ©1986; Gaia Services, Gershuny, Grace. This fabulous and passionate book is injured by being targeted to farmers (only) and therefore all recommendations are written in “pound per acre,” when we need ounces per 100 square feet. When I used this book, I wrote up a formula in Excel to convert all these into a usable figure.

The Worst Hard Time, The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dustbowl © 2006; Mariner Reprint Edition, Egan, Timothy. Not strictly a soils book, but a real eye opener that shows how we are repeating many of the same mistakes today as what lead to the disaster we call the Dustbowl. This book is gripping reading and is not fiction. It really happened and it happened on a scale unprecedented in modern times. We can do it again if we fail to heed these words. A VERY good read on soils and man's relationship to them.

The Soil Triangle and It's Use

Taking soil samples for any kind of garden analysis should be done in a manner that will net you the results you need to make your garden more congenial to that part of the plant that lives in the soil – the roots. Roots for most of the plants in our gardens, live about 4 to 18 inches beneath the surface of the soil. Exceptions to this include most drought resistant plants (with roots that range some distance out and down) and other notoriously strong rooted plant – mention just about any weed and it will fall into that category. You want to take your sample around nine inches down. This method of taking a soil sample is effective for the soil triangle tests and is the preferred technique for soil samples sent to labs for testing.

What to do and How to do it

Follow these steps to determine the name of your soil texture:
1.Place the edge of a ruler at the point along the base of the triangle that represents the percent of sand in your sample. Position the ruler on or parallel to the lines which slant toward the base of the triangle.
2.Place the edge of a second ruler at the point along the right side of the triangle that represents the percent of silt in your sample. Position the ruler on or parallel to the lines which slant toward the base of the triangle.
3.Place the point of a pencil or water soluble marker at the point where the two rulers meet. Place the top edge of one of the rulers on the mark, and hold the ruler parallel to the horizontal lines. The number on the left should be the percent of clay in the sample.

4.The descriptive name of the soil sample is written in the shaded area where the mark is located. If the mark should fall directly on a line between two descriptions, record both names.

  • Remove as much surface organic matter as possible before taking your soil sample.
  • Put approximately one cup of soil into a straight-sided quart jar with lid.
  • Add approximately one tablespoon of alum or Calgon bath beads – this is a surfactant to help the particles separate from one another.
  • Fill the jar with water almost to the top.
  • Shake vigorously for several minutes to get all the soil moistened. 
  • Let the jar stand undisturbed for at least one hour, separation continues for as long as 24 hours with some soils.
  • The soil mix will separate into layers. The longer it sits, the more distinct the layers will appear.
    Determine soil type by comparing percentages with soil triangle. Follow arrows, for example—15% sand, 70% silt, and 15% clay—to merge at silty loam category.

    Practice Exercises:

    Use the following numbers to determine the soil texture name using the textural triangle. When a number is missing, fill in the blanks (note: the sum of %sand, silt and clay should always add up to 100%):

    % SAND
    75 10 15 sandy loam
    10 83 7



    52 21

    35 50

    30 55



    5 70



    45 10

    Sand will feel "gritty", while silt will feel like powder or flour.
    Clay will feel "sticky" and hard to squeeze, and will probably stick to your hand.
    Looking at the textural triangle, try to estimate how much sand, silt, or clay is in the sample.  
    Find the name of the texture to which this soil corresponds; that will be the descriptive name of your soil.
  • Understanding soil type will help you know how to properly amend, fertilize, water, and plant so that you will have healthy, disease-resistant, and pest-resistant plants.
  • Figure out the percentages of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter in the water – do not measure the water itself. The sand will be the bottom layer. Silt will be the next layer, followed by clay; the combination of these three should add up to 100%. Organic matter will float on top of the water and does not figure in the total of percentages.
All of your figures, clay + sand + silt will equal 100% or you have done something wrong. Remember, this simple knowledge of your soil will enable you to predict how it will interact with your plants and will determine a great deal about how you need to interact with your soil.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Greener Gardens Reading List Weeks 1 and 2, Summer 2016

Overview of Sustainability and Gardening:

 Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, Schumacher, E. F., ©1973 Blond & Briggs. This classic inspired much of the current thinking in sustainability. Although it does not relate directly to gardening, it explains the basis of the idea of natural capital. E.F Schumacher Society website: Their resource page is comprehensive.

 The Natural Step Story, Robert, Karl-Henrik, © 2002 New SocietyPublishers. Not a gardening book, this book details how Robert obtained general agreement on ecological change in Sweden, as well as a statement of the four conditions of sustainability.

Lazy-Bed Gardening: The Quick and Dirty Guide, Jeavons, John and Cox, Carol, ©1992 Ten Speed Press. A more accessible book than Jeavons’ “How to Grow More Vegetables: etc.” Written by pioneers in the U.S. of Biodynamic French-Intensive gardening, it tells how to create fertility on a closed-system basis, that is without inputs, by growing both calorie crops for humans and carbon crops for compost.

The Contrary Farmer, Logsdon, Gene, ©1995 Chelsea Green, and The Contrary Farmer’s Invitation to Gardening, ibid. How to garden (and farm) with the least effort and inputs possible, by someone who has been farming all his life, and fighting big ag at the same time. All of his books are excellent.  Gene has died but his blog is still at

The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural, Wendell Berry, ©1981, San Francisco North Point. This prolific writer and farmer articulated the problems of the loss of small farms and the tragedy of large ones while ag policy was changing to ‘get big or get out.’

Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, Nabhan, Gary Paul, © 2002, W.W. Norton. One of the original books on eating local which inspired many others, including Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle. All of his books are worth reading.
Eat More Dirt: Diverting and Instructive Tips for Growing and Tending an Organic Garden, Sandbeck, Ellen, © 2003 Broadway Books. This small book tells how to actually accomplish the act of gardening, including how to use tools, how to move big rocks, and why herbicide doesn’t work on concrete.

Square Foot Gardening and All New Square Foot Gardening, Bartholomew, Mel, © 1981 Rodale and © 2013 Cool Springs. Not an overview book, but specific instructions for small-space gardening.

Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies, Dell, Owen, © 2009 For Dummies. Dell has been telling the truth about the impacts and inputs of gardening for a long time. 

A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil, Astyk, Sharon and Newton, Aaron, © 2009, New Society Publishers. Explores the world food crisis and why
big conventional ag can't solve it.

Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer, Robin Wall, 2014 Milkweed Editions. Kimmerer, a Native American biologist, weaves together two ways of knowing the earth. Also, Kimmerer's article on Yes! Magazine, Nature Needs a new Pronoun., Environmental news website. Mostly policy.  Lighter environmental news, fun gadgets.
Yes! Magazine Stories of positive change.
Orion Magazine Deep thinking about nature and environmental issues.



David's Background Bibliography for Sustainability

Deep Economy, The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, McKibben, Bill, ©2007 Times Books Want a dose of hope? Here. McKibben has delved into a variety of alternative choices to find examples of human civilizations that actually approach creating a viable economy and lifestyle that considerably reduce man’s impact on the world.  Like most of the books following, this is not strictly a book on sustainability, in the main, - however, this is one of the MOST hopeful books that brings some of these issues to light.  One thing rings through out this book:  community is key to many of the answers of the future.

Easy Green Living, Loux, RenĂ©e ©2008, Rodale Inc. Breeziness belying a difficult resource book that will help you shop through the sustainable hype. A compendium of little helpful hints (the Heloise of our time?) and deciphering clues of labels and claims. She covers everything from the bathroom to light bulbs and beyond, helping delineate what the labels mean with all those fifteen syllable words on them.  However, this book like all the other books in this vein are limited by what we know today - the solution we learn tomorrow may well contradict the solution we applaud to day.  Still, we have to start where we are now - we really can't start anywhere else! 

Kitchen Literacy, Vileisis, Ann, ©2008 Island Press, Along the lines of the Pollan books, Vileisis brings us back to the knowledge every cook had in days before we let the ‘experts’ and the government tell us what to eat and why. Turns out it was better for us and for the earth.  This book is the history of eating dinner in America.  It also reflects on woman's role in society and the evolution of that role by virtue of how our lives have changed as regards to eating and effort of putting food on the table. 

Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil, Hillel, Daniel,
© 1992, University of California Press, There has been a recent spate of books on soil in the past ten years.  Preceding this glut by almost ten years, Hillel wrote the best of the lot - all the others are second rate.  Not to say they don't have a story to tell, but Hillel's book is not only science, but reads at times like poetry and his love of the subject is steeped in a deep knowledge that encourages affection and respect.  There is no other book on soil that teaches so much about soil with a deep spirituality and yet is science-based and science driven.  I truly love this book and it has been an inspiration for many years.

The Unsettling of America:  Culture and Agriculture, Berry Wendell, ©1997, Sierra Club Books,  Anything by Wendell Berry is worth reading.  Everything from Wendell Berry can be life-changing.  Wendell Berry, quirky and profound, looks at the world with a lens many of us only aspire to.  His writing is eloquent, his thinking eclectic.  Of the authors that have been instrumental in bringing me to where I am today, Berry is the one whose ability to see a much larger picture is the most constant and his range of vision deeper than anyone I can name at this moment. 

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver, Barbara et al © 2007 Harper Collins, When less is really more. Kingsolver and her family agree to eat only foods produced within 100 miles of their West Virginia home (everyone was allowed one exception and her husband chose coffee marking him as a sensible man) for one year. The story of how they did it and the results they achieved makes delightful reading and food for thought. One of the easiest books to read on this list, not only is it inspirational and a harbinger of hope, there are some passages that I recall as being some of the funniest stuff I've read in a while.  I still can be doubled over by someone with a thick Italian accent saying, "the seeds, senora, are in the squash!"
The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook, De Rothschild, David, ©2007, Rodale Inc. A lot of statistics that just overwhelm a person, but a viable list of Things To Do Today and beyond. Probably one of the more easily digested books of this contemporary genre. The most sustainable thing to do, however, is to get it from the library.  (That holds true for all these books.)

The Lost Language of Plants, Buhner, Stephen Harrod, ©2002 Chelsea Green Publishing,  Humans getting well should not get the earth sick. This is the ecological ‘why’ of alternative medicine, but be warned, you will never look as a fashionable layer of mascara the same way again either! Buhner's message is critical and crucial.  This work shows that how we think about the earth and our relationship to it absolutely needs a comprehensive overhaul in ways most of us have yet to imagine.  I think Buhner's writing is a little obtuse, but he is the only one out there with THIS message and it must be heard.

Reading List Week Two: Books About Sustainable Design Principles

Principles of Ecological Design, Ludwig, Art, ©1989 Oasis Design, This short manual gives rules for ecological design that are both simple and profound. An excellent companion to his other books which deal with greywater and water storage.

Gaia’s Garden, Hemenway, Tony, © 2000 Chelsea Green. This is the most accessible book about Permaculture for gardeners, especially for the West Coast. Directly applicable.

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Holmgren, David, © 2002, Holmgren Design Services. A more theoretical approach to sustainable design concepts.

Permaculture: A Designers' Manual, Mollison, Bill, © 1988 Tagari Publications. This comprehensive book is the textbook for the Permaculture Design class. A reference for those who have already been introduced to the principles, as well as a dual duty doorstop and blunt instrument :-). It is on this list for the sake of comprehensiveness, not because we expect you to read it. Mollison's out of print Permaculture One is much more accessible.

Design with Nature, McHarg, Ian, © 1982 John Wiley and Sons, Inc. This book is more a lanscape-level and regional-planning book, but has beautiful graphics and exposition about where to site projects. This book addresses the too-rarely asked question, “where is this project?” when designing.

The Power of Limits: Proportional Harmonies in Nature, Art and Architecture, Gyorgy Doczi, © 1981 Shambhala Publications, Inc. How the Fibonacci sequence and other aspects of the golden mean underlie proportions in nature, and how this has been used historically in good design.

Fukuoka Farming Bibliography

One Straw Revolution, An Introduction to Natural Farming, Fukuoka, Masanobu ©2009, a reissue of his 1978 classic, Fukuoka's first book on his extensive work in Japan. Decidedly with a Japanese bent (his main crop is rice and barley), he still presents a lovely description of his farming efforts that began as a reaction to the Western idea of agriculture and more that began to infiltrate Japanese society in the 1930's. His work continued until his death in 2008 (at 95).  His grain raising techniques became THE grain raising techniques in permaculture.

The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy, Fukuoka, Masanobu © 1985 Also out of print. And expensive. ($61, used on Amazon) Can be downloaded as a PDF, I had success at this site, but I do not warranty it to be 100% safe from commercial interests. 

The Road Back to Nature, Fukuoka, Masanobu © 1988 Out of print, but you can find copies reasonably priced on eBay, used copies are almost $70 from Amazon. From the back cover: Fukuoka's reflections on his trips to Europe and to America, his sense of shock at seeing the destruction wreaked in the name of agriculture. A collection of his lectures, articles and essays which outline his thinking on nature, God and man and his underlying optimism that good sense can still prevail and we can still turn it all around. This is a collection of articles, lectures and essays recording his impressions as he travels the world talking about his revolutionary 'do-nothing' agricultural methods. There is a spiritual side to a lot of his thoughts and an optimism that a change in lifestyles and farming methods could yet heal the Earth's wounds.

Fundamental Realities, an article by Hazelip, Emilia was found at the Fukuoka Farming Website – but as of this writing that website is no longer in existence.  However, You Tube has several videos with Hazelip describing how she has adapted Fukuoka's principles to a Western market garden.
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