Search This Blog

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Introduction to Tools and Their Jobs

Categories of Tools

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

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. Small 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
  5. And a radio to listen to the baseball game....

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Syllabus: Urban Food Production Fall 2017

Course Number: Biology X 489.6  

Instructor: David King


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

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

The production, packaging, and transportation of food are large contributors to our global carbon emissions. Throughout the Los Angeles Basin, food gardens have sprung up to produce local healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables while contributing energy and financial savings in difficult economic times. Using the history of growing food in the city in times of need as a template, this course explores how homegrown food can reduce your food budget and address environmental concerns. Participants each have a small plot for growing food where they can experiment with new ideas and enjoy their harvest. Topics include fruit trees, vegetables, and berries that do well in our climate as well as often overlooked food-producing perennials and how to grow food in modern city lots where the "back forty" describes square feet and not acres.

Textbooks Required:

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

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

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

Textbooks, Recommended:

Title The Kitchen Garden
Author Thompson, Sylvia
Edition First
Publisher Bantam Books
ISBN 0-553-08138-1
*(She has a companion cookbook that is worth investigation too!)
Title Heirloom Vegetable Gardening
Author Weaver, William Woys
Edition First
Publisher Henry Holt
ISBN 0-8050-4025-0
Almost impossible to find – out of print
Title Pests of the Garden and Small Farm
Author Flint, Mary Louise
Edition 2nd
Publisher Univ of California Agriculture & Natural Resources
ISBN 978- 0520218108
Title The Resilient Gardener

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

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

Course Schedule:

08 October
Introduction/Seed Starting/Urban gardening in context today/12 Points to a Better Garden
15 October
SLOLA/Seeds/Light/Soils/Water Garden Tour/
22 October
Tools/Varietals/ Soils and Fertilizers in the Urban garden/Plot Assignment/Urban Gardens Bigger Picture
29 October
Planting/Sheet composting/Composting/Vermiculture Planting Timing and Design/
05 November
Sustainability and Food Issues in Modern America/Supplies/Sources/Annuals/
19 November
Planting/Companions/Crop Rotation in a Small Garden/ Chicken Raising Sherilyn Powell/
03 December
Perennials/Bulbs as a part of your food supply/Beekeeping
10 December
Home orchard/Vines
17 December
Planning for Continuous Harvests/Potluck/Submit your journal for a grade.

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

Point Assignment Structure
Class participation (and cooperation)

Grade of A
> 90%
Garden Journal

1 page book review

Planting Project

D and F

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

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

Each class, as we start, will usually begin with lecture and then proceed to the garden where you will have your own small plot. As the sun sets earlier, the order will be reversed – everyone starts in their garden and then we go in to lecture.

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

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

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

The Learning Garden is open daily, 3 to 5:00 PM, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and 10 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday. You are welcome to come here and work on your plot or just come and hang out. It's always best to call ahead to make sure I'm here as sometimes I have errands or meetings off campus.

Criteria for your garden journal grade:
  1. Documentation of what you planted when
  2. Documentation of weather elements – temperature (minimum and maximum) as well as an precipitation and noting humidity or dryness, especially of Santa Ana winds.
  3. Germination per cent.
  4. Choice of varieties sources and reasoning.
  5. Success/failures discussed – alternatives to failures/expansion of successes
  6. Plans for the future
  7. Drawings of the garden (either done by hand or by computer program)
  8. Photos/drawings of garden's progress

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

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Our Final Field Trip: Atwater Creek

When trying to find this on a map - search for North Atwater Park and you'll get the right directions.

We are meeting at 1:00 PM.  We are hopeful you will make it and enjoy this opportunity to learn about this ecosystem and how it has been created to clean water before it flows into the Los Angeles River.

We'll see you there!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

David's List: Low maintenance and Low water Trees not Native to California

First off – avoid 'fast-growing' not only does it mean higher maintenance, but also higher water needs.

Secondly – check non-native plants against an up to date 'invasive species'list.  Select “Species Type” = Plants 

Mobile Apps on Invasive Species

What's invasive appWhat's Invasive! (free)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)The Calflora Observer is a smart phone 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)  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.

Slide #s
Malus pumila Check for proper fruiting in our area and use a medium to dwarfing root stock 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
Prunus dulcis 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.

Cotton Tree
Gossypium arboreum To about 15 feet, these are interesting trees that, with some pruning, make a delightful multiple interest tree in any front yard. Flowers that open yellow, slowly turn to red then black as the boll begins to grow, eventually opening up into puffs of white cotton. Also not so drought proof – a little summer water is appreciated.
Malus spp. 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 hawthornes 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 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.
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 spp. 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.
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
Olive Tree
Olea europaea
Melaleuca linariifolia Well cared for to 100' but usually closer to 30' (Melaleuca linariifolia) Tea tree 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 pealing bark make this tree much more interesting than a lot of other trees.

Asimina triloba Needing more water than the other plants on this list, the American pawpaw is a 15' - 30' fruit tree, 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..
Prunus persica 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.

Prunus spp. 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.

Cydonia oblonga 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.  Some scholars believe quince to be the forbidden fruit Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden.
Hymenosporum flavum, Australian relative of pittosporum. Besides the great dark green foliage and the sweet (honey) scent of it's flowers, it is the narrowness of this tree (to 6') that makes it useful in odd spots.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

2nd Field Trip - The Lyle Center

Note:  The drive out there always takes longer than you think it will - this trip will be further congested by the fact the Dodgers are playing a home game at 1:00 PM  Try to avoid downtown LA however you can!  

For a preview of the Lyle Center, you can go here.


After we finish our tour of the site, we will go down the hill to the "Farm Store" and get a bite to eat before heading back.  This has always been a point for some good conversation and sometimes even some "off the record" instructor talk.

On our way out, the Dodger game is scheduled to start at 1:00.  LA Dodger fans are known for being late (and leaving early) which means, downtown LA might be something you ought to consider avoiding. 

The way I'd suggest to do that, is to go north into the Valley (on the 405N) and take the 101 E to the 134 E to the 210 E and exit to the 57 S. Going south to the 60 or the 105, I have found to be deadly slow. 

Coming from Orange County, if the 57 is close to you, take that all way to our site.

Please note that depending on the game, the Dodgers might just be letting out so continue to avoid downtown LA. Unless we hear otherwise.  Reverse the above directions to get home. 

Remember our final field trip is next week!  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Soil Triangle

Using the Soil Texture Triangle

Follow these steps to determine the name of your soil texture:

1. Place the edge of a ruler or other straight edge 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 pen at the point where the two lines 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.

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.

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 that this soil corresponds to.

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 (the sum of % sand, silt and clay should always add up to 100%) - the last line has been left blank for you to fill in the numbers you assign to your own soil sample.

sandy loam












A Bibliography for Studying Soils

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! Highly recommended!!  

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 as early as 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.  A solid book, but if you are not making soil your primary career choice, this is a bit, um, overwhelming.

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. A fantastic basic book to working with soil in a garden.

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.

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.

Contents of this site, text and photography, are copyrighted 2009 through 2017 by David King - permission to use must be requested and given in writing.