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Sunday, December 20, 2009

An Email From Thomas Paccioretti

Note:  (I am amazed that anyone could have laughed at my greenhouse!)  I am reprinting Tom's email sent to those students for whom he has email addresses.  Please know I do not know, nor do I wish to find out!, who donates to our Garden.  The treasurer, Julie Mann, knows and respects a separation between my duties as the Gadenmaster and the man who assigns grades to UCLA students.

Thank you for understanding.


Hello fellow TLG classmates. I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season, maybe even enjoying some of the fruits of your labors at TLG. Yum.

It was unfortunate that I needed to be out of town on pot-luck Sunday, our last class. I hear you guys cooked up a storm. I was really looking forward to seeing you all and participating as you’re really cool and fun to be with. It’s our connections with people that makes this life all worthwhile, no? You all have been and will continue to be a great connection for me. One other thing I missed out on was giving my “I’ll match-you” presentation ( I practiced it for three days). It goes something like this:

I’ve been involved with TLG and have known David King and Julie Mann for less than a year, but I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen a lot in my days and there are few that I have met that match their commitment and excellence. They are doing good stuff. They struggle with financing, but you’d never know it. They make loaves for the hungry from our scraps. They make a difference in many people’s lives every stinkin’ day and I’ve never heard them whine. And they have good reasons to whine. They need stuff. They need stuff to help more people. And to help more people is their goal and passion. And now, to help them, has become mine.

To that end I have redirected my charitable contributions this year to TLG instead of the national charities I have previously donated to. TLG, we have seen, does good things and they do them well. We need more organizations like TLG and we need to help TLG help more people. So . . . you recall that greenhouse, without the glass, we made fun of? And you know who you are (one was me, of course). Well I’ve decide to start GRP, the Green house Restoration Project, and help raise the $25K David and Julie need to rebuild the thing right. It will provide TLG and all who benefit from it, the kids, us and those that wander in to enjoy a break from a hectic day, the facilities needed to go to the next step - propagation, production and preservation of precious plants (love the alliteration eh?). They have earned the right and our confidence to do this project. But, of course, they need some cash. Not a lot, as they have begged and bartered (don’t ask) for much of the labor and some of the materials, but not everything can be bartered for.

I want to motivate you to contribute to this project. I am fortunate enough to be in the position to match all of your donations to TLG from now until the end of the year. And I will make sure that all contributors will be permanently thanked with a lasting memorial at TLG. I haven’t figured out exactly what, but it will be something you’ll be proud of. And of course you’ll know that your tax deductible charitable contribution has been given to people that will do good things with it. I’ve have been moved by your involvement in TLG programs and the benefit TLG provides us and our community. Hail, hail and long live TLG. And long live you all.

Anything you can give will be greatly appreciated. You can use the TLG website -

All the best and happy holidays and here’s to wishing you a very happy new year.

So you signed up for the January propagation class, right? See you then there.


Tom Paccioretti
Grow what grows

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Plant Propagation for Gardeners


Instructor: David King
Phone: >>redacted<<

There are no prerequisites for this course, although some knowledge of basic botany would be extremely helpful. We meet on Sundays from January 10 through March 07 for 10 meetings. There is only one Saturday field trips, unless a miracle occurs. We will have a guest speaker from the Huntington if her schedule can allow her.
In the one scheduled ‘field trip’ we will all attend the WLA chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers meeting on February 13th, from 10:00 to noon. This is the day of their annual ‘Scion Exchange’ and is not to be missed if you can help it. There is no other forum in Los Angeles that offers a better introduction to grafting!
All other meetings are field trips on Sunday 1:30 to 4:30 PM to The Learning Garden, at the Venice High School campus. This site is close to the ocean and because we meet outside, please dress appropriate to the weather, which is invariably colder than one would imagine. We will do what we can to mitigate the cold and rain, should it come, but the material of the class is best covered with live plant material in the garden – which, of course, is outside.
We will also be working with potting soils and cut plant material in almost every single class. Dress so that you can comfortably get dirty and still stay dry. Dressing in layers is probably the best idea when it comes to being outdoors at The Learning Garden.

Course Purpose

This course is an introduction to the principles and practice of plant propagation, both sexual and asexual, and the science and art of grafting and budding.

Course Objectives

  1. Understand the care and safe use of tools in plant propagation.
  2. Understand the biology of sexual and asexual propagation of plants.
  3. Understand and use the different styles of propagation of plants.
  4. Be able to set up and use a plant propagation system.
  5. Demonstrate an understanding of the above by propagating different species of plants.
  6. Understand the physiology of plants sufficiently to be able to successfully bud and graft a variety of plants.


The materials presented in this course will enable the student to start plants from seeds and cuttings, in an amateur or professional setting and graft plants with a working understanding of botany.

Text for this course

Plant Propagation A to Z – Bryant; Firefly Books, 2003 It is readily available online or in the appropriate UCLA Bookstore. There will be many additional handouts from the instructor.
The Grafter's Handbook – Garner; Cassell Publishing 2003 This is a reissue of a classic first commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society. This is a recommended text (not required) but a serious student will find this an oft-referenced text with a wealth of information.
All material for in class will be available online at I will try to not have handouts in class to avoid wasting paper printing out handouts you may not care to keep and using the internet allows us to use videos (especially of grafting) from other sites you may find helpful.
Class Meetings
To each class, in addition to any note-taking tools you deem necessary (paper, camera, tape recorder etc), each student should bring propagation tools that will be described in our first class meeting. You will need pruners, a grafting knife, a regular pocket knife (or one knife with two blades for different purposes), a black, permanent Sharpie, a sharp pencil and a sturdy pair of gloves – leather preferred.


Your grade in this class is based on a checklist you will keep. You need to be able to perform each of the tasks on the log with sufficient skill and understanding of the process in order to receive a passing grade in this course. The completed checklist must be turned in the last day of class unless other arrangements have been made before hand with the instructor.

Instructor’s Office Hours

Please avail yourself of my willingness to meet with you at any time to discuss your progress in the course or to clarify instructional material or to answer any difficulties you are having. My preference is to meet with you at my office at The Learning Garden where we can cover material without distraction but I am willing to meet with students anytime, anywhere to assist you in learning; after all, that is the point your taking the class and my teaching it. It is my wish that all students learn and are profited by their enrollment in this course. Do not struggle; I am here to help.

At The Learning Garden:
THE FIRST AID KIT IS LOCATED ON TOP OF THE refrigerator in my office
Remember its location.

I’m very serious... So far only one student has had to have emergency medical treatment. Two others lived after we stopped the bleeding. These are very SHARP knifes.

A garden is filled with uneven surfaces, rocks, plants with thorns and other armaments and an infinity of possibilities for injury; most of the time in this course we will be using very sharp tools which deserve your utmost attention at all times, please give due attention and consideration of this. Remain on pathways and do not walk into planted beds unless it is absolutely necessary. Do not pick anything without permission – it’s common courtesy.

A garden and the plants do not talk; I feel responsible as their spokesperson and take that responsibility seriously. You may not abuse my plants.

Food and drink are allowed, but the removal of any trash or waste is entirely incumbent on the eator and/or drinkor.

We will probably have hot tea and coffee to mitigate the cool weather we anticipate needing to endure. Bring your own cup or mug and any eating utensils you feel you need.

Appropriate clothing is essential. Remember, Venice can be hot and cold by turns. Layering is suggested; a jacket or sweater close at hand is essential. We will meet regardless of weather. If it is a light rain/mist, we will continue work. If it is a gully-washer (as though we get those in Southern California), we will meet in a classroom or the greenhouse and carry on.

Point Assignment

For Credit Students. It is more important to me that you learn the material above all other considerations. I will endeavor through point assignment, lecture and demonstration to teach you in a way that will facilitate learning the material. If you aren’t understanding, please allow me to help you.
Class Participation

Tools You Will Need

Each student shall provide:

Pair of pruners – secateur type, like Felco #2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12 or 13. No anvil pruners allowed EXCEPT for those students with hand pain or arthritis that must use the ratcheting type of pruners. Felcos, especially the number 5, can be bought on the internet (eBay) for much less than locally. Coronas are ok. If you have ever used Felcos, you will be able to appreciate why I am so in favor of them.

Pruning knife – only used for plants. It is suggested that everyone also have a second knife for all the other needs in a garden. If one does not plan on doing a great deal of propagation needing a sharp knife, an inexpensive knife with break-away blades may be used. Grafting knives and horticultural knives are also found for reasonable amounts on eBay and other internet connections.

Pair of gloves – leather is preferred.

Sharpie – fine point, only black will not wash off

Pencil sharp, wooden (the Learning Garden does have a sharpener)

You will need to take notes, so paper is necessary – may I suggest you take notes in pencil because it won’t run if it gets wet and a pencil is a wonderful small dibber in a pinch.

The Garden (or instructor) will provide:
Cactus mix and potting soil to be used as needed
Watering devices
Root stimulating gel
Other tools and supplies as needed
Oil, sharpening devices, cleaners and rags for pruner and knife maintenance
Alcohol wipes and hand soap.
Plant material/seeds
First aid kit
Plant markers

If you forget your pruners or knife, I do have a few of each, and while I do have gloves, a pair that fits your hand is preferred (and a pair of gloves are somewhat personal too). I can sharpen your pruners and teach you how.

Lecture: Introduction – roll, Extension policy, meeting time and place, attendance and tardiness, tools etc. Tool selection and care. Sexual and asexual propagation defined. Introduction to the different forms of propagation. Botany as applied to propagation. Planting mediums.
Demonstration: Working environment; Safety and tool use
Practical: Planting medium mixes and mixing.
Lecture: Seeds, structure, germination and viability, collection, storage. Propagation, pages 47-74; seed starting problems and their solution.
Demonstration: Scarification/Seed sowing
Practical: Sowing seeds of different sizes
Lecture: General Propagation Methods and Application; Pages 47-113; pests and diseases and methodology to deal with them.
Demonstration: Division of perennials
Practical: Dividing perennial plants
Lecture: Meristematic tissue and the principles of propagation by cuttings; Return to pages 92-113
Demonstration: Different kinds of cuttings
Practical: Making cuttings
Lecture: Grafting and Budding
Demonstration: Saddle graft
Practical: Grafting and budding
Field Trip to California Rare Fruit Growers
Lecture: Grafting and other propagation techniques, Pages 75-91 and 114-123
Demonstration: Grafting a fruit tree
Practical: Graft a fruit tree
Lecture: Some of the odd-ducks of the propagation manual
Demonstration: Leaf propagation
Practical: Propagating something unusual.
Lecture: More difficult propagation
Demonstration: Fire scarification of a California native
Practical: Transplanting of seedlings
Lecture: Covering all things left uncovered.
Demonstration: As dictated by circumstances.
Practical: Work on your checklist.(Student evaluation of instructor…) FINISHING REQUIREMENTS FOR CREDIT STUDENTS

Our Class Meeting Locations

The Learning Garden

13000 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066
310.722.3656 (my cell)
The Garden is located on the south east corner of Walgrove Avenue and Venice Blvd. It is the first gate on Walgrove south of Venice – there is a small amount of parking inside the gate, there is no other secured parking, other than those few spaces, you are on your own.

California Rare Fruit Growers, West Los Angeles Chapter

Scion Exchange meeting on Feb. 14, 9:00 AM,
Ken Edwards Community Center
1527 Fourth St., Santa Monica, CA, 90404

Backwards Beekeepers Meeting, December 20th

A honey be (Apis mellifera) visits a flowering broccoli in The Learning Garden sometime last January.  The Unified School District does not allow bee hives to be kept on campus, but we know that someone near our Garden is harvesting lots of very good honey!  

The Backwards Beekeepers meeting is tomorrow, December 20th, at FarmLab in downtown Los Angeles.

I have been to meetings of the Backwards Beekeepers and I enjoy their conservation methods (don't destroy wild hives, turn them into 'tame' hives that someone tends!) and their advocacy for low chemical beekeeping.  If you have an interest in beekeeping, follow the link and show up!  I might be there, I think Sean will be there.  It would be a lovely way to spend a Sunday!  Hope some of you can make it out!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Independence Days - Sharon Astyk's Call To DO Something!

The cover to Sharon Astyk's new book, Independence Days, is a clever take off on a jar of canned pickles, but she writes about so much more than canning and/or pickles.  The theme however is very nicely used through out the book.  Gives a homey touch to a book that is about creating the depth of 'home.'  

It's been a wet Monday here in Los Angeles. Nice. There is a Kansan expression that is burned into my psyche, “Make hay while the sunshines.” This expression, and what it means, can kill a person in Los Angeles and I have to remember, “We're not in Kansas anymore...”

The expression is probably germane to all farming states and societies. The import is, you have to work the fields when you can work the fields – it might rain tomorrow and you'll be unable to work the fields. In a land that has an annual average of 38” of rain, this can be important when a single thundershower might ruin this year's harvest and therefore your family's chance for survival. This is the essence of the mid-West work ethic and it is instilled in their culture.

Coming to California where we go months without rain and trying to 'make hay' all those rainless days, takes its toll on a fellow. I still find, however, that I cannot truly relax, guilt free, unless it is raining enough to NOT work in the garden. Of course, other work, could be done, but there's that rain and I have a 'do nothing day' blank check – a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Today, has been uncommonly relaxing and I am really grateful.

Sharon Astyk has taught me a thing or two (at least!) about our 'ambiguous future.' I have finished reading her “A Nation of Farmers” and I am half way through “Independence Days.” The latter is predicated on a series of posts on her blog. This recent entry clarifies the reasoning behind Independence Days, both as a book title and as a movement.

Students of the Modern Backyard Food Production class will find Astyk informative and thought provoking, a resource and a challenge. I hope you enjoy this article and I hope you will create your own Independence Day form and check in with me or Sharon every so often to report what you are doing – little check-ins to help keep you on track.

Extension, by the way has assured me, you will be given your link to a course evaluation form very soon. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Orchid Black was your first guest speaker and Lora Hall (Ms. Chickens) was your second.  There will be space on the evaluation to rate them as well.  Both of them came out and brought their expertise and charm to our class without pay.  They did it for the love of doing it.

Next Sunday: Potluck. Hopefully we'll have that heater figured out. It works, believe me (please believe me?) but I need to go back and read the instructions. And I wasn't willing to do that with 30 students watching me. Call it insecurity...I'll see you on Sunday with your food in hand.  Yes, it's OK to use one of my recipes if you wish.  I, in fact, will use one of my recipes!  Probably something to do with petioles in a crust.  :-) 

You have been one of my favorite classes!  I will miss you all and our weekly get togethers!  I hope you can come 'round to The Learning Garden in the future or that I will see you in other classes.  If you know of venues where things I have to say should be said, please contact me.  Give my phone number and email address out freely - all the folks I don't want to have them already do have them, so it won't hurt.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bonus Post:: Holiday Shopping? Here's Book List for You!

Chard makes a lovely holiday gift, but I tend to give books much more frequently.  Something in these chards (maybe the color?) says "HOLIDAY!" 
 As you make up your holiday gift list, take a look at some of these books, they will make good gifts, raise awareness and you'll be acclaimed a wise person for selecting such an astute gift!  Or by them for yourself and be careful patting yourself on the back.  Following are some selections that I have found fascinating and readable.  Next year I hope I'll have one of mine on the list!
A Nation of Farmers by Sharon Astyk et al © 2009 New Society Publishers

Sharon Astyk is one of the premier writers of this decade.  She is a sharp, critical thinker, who writes form a personal style and experience.  She has her facts and she isn't afraid to use them.  In fact, I think the desire to be thoroughly based in reality has lead to a few more facts than I like, the specter of the future this book shows can be the difference between a bleak desperate holocaust scenario, or it can be one of abundance and peace.  How we will do that rests in a large way on how we grow the food we eat.  A new prospective that is enlightening and thought provoking – if not 'action-provoking.'  I read Sharon's blog almost daily because she has a lot of important things to say.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, et al © 2007, Harper Collins
One of the more accessible books on eating locally.  While some folks can afford new hybrid cars, and some folks can put up solar collectors and commute by computer, the majority of us will have to take other steps to lower our carbon footprint.  The Kingsolver family model how eating is a global statement – what is on the end of your fork has more to do with global warming than the car you drive.  Or how fast.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by J. Hertzberg et al © 2007 Thomas Dunne Books

You like fresh bread?  Who doesn't?  This book gives you a way to come home from work and have freshly baked bread from your own oven with dinner.  It is very good bread.  I have made loaves of this bread for my class and for many potlucks.  It is wolfed down with gusto.  This is good bread.  This is easy.  Do you need another reason? 

In Defense of Food:  An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan © 2009 Penguin Books
There is nothing written by Micheal Pollan that I have found wanting, but this book is the most powerful force to change lives that he has written.  Pulling on the same research that brought us The Omnivores' Dilemma, he brings the lessons to our dinner table.  Excoriating the nutritionists and the fads of modern American eating, Pollan is a voice of reason in the insanity of our supermarket abundance of empty (or worse!) calories.

Independence Days by Sharon Astyk © 2009 New Society Publishers

This is the most recent Sharon Astyk to hit the stands.  An important book of directions to real independence – independence is not won with a gun or massive buying power, but in being self-sufficient in your food.   How do you do that?  This is the manual and it makes so much sense.  The security we often seek in vain can be found in these pages – we don't need a world undone to need independence – the loss of a job or an injury can force us to face difficult choices.  As Katrina showed us in New Orleans, counting on the government might not be our wisest choice.

Oak, The Frame of Civilization by William Bryant Logan © 2005 W. W. Norton & Co.

I know this may seem a little out of place on this list, but I got to admit, Logan's book was one delightful read.  Page after page has some new tidbit to teach me and another tale of wonder about these magnificent trees that populate every continent in the Northern Hemisphere.  You cannot open this book without learning some little tidbit that will surprise and amaze.  This is a well-written and fast paced book of many surprises.  I really recommend it.

Renewing America's Food Traditions:  Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods, by Gary Paul Nabhan © 2008 Chelsea Green Publishing  

Nabhan's research into Native American foods (beans and corn, to name a few) gives him the special insight to understand their value to the world and how we can feed more Americans and the world if we only take some time to enjoy a good meal – if we will save food plants, we must grow them and eat them.  Can't think of a tastier preservation project myself, can you?  As usual Nabhan's writing is first rate. 

The Lost Language of Plants by Stephen Buhner © 2002, Chelsea Green Publishing 

If someone you know is into alternative medicine and they have not yet read this book, they are only dimly aware of what they are doing.  This book profoundly explores the depth of our disconnection with plants, specifically the healing herbs, and brings a sense of ecology and connectivity to a medical practice that few modern healers are more than slightly aware of.  Opens eyes, hearts and calls a thinking person to action.

The Omnivores' Dilemma:  A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan © 2007 Penguin Books
How do we get what we eat and does it matter?  This is Michale Pollan's quest as he opens the book. Looking at how modern America gets its food from farm to table is a fascinating tale that often discourages one from some of the things we often eat for granted.  This is the same research that brought us In Defense of Food although the focus is different.  Here Pollan looks at how our modern food has compromised the very essence of food in a never ending race to the lowest bottom line and the lowest selling price.  How come sodas are so cheap?
Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famine by Gary Paul Nabhan (c) 2008  Shearwater Publishing

Nikolay Vavilov was a Russian scientist who did more seed collecting than any other scientist in the history of mankind.  Convinced that diversity was the key to ending starvation by famine, he sought out indigenous plants from expeditions all over the world.  Unlike the modern model of filling the world's bellies with food of the First World, he sought out Third World plants and looked to them as being the most important living things on earth.  Vavilov died, ironically, in a Soviet prison of starvation, but his legacy overshadows groups like Seed Savers Exchange and other work to preserve the diversity of the world's food.

Do you have books you'd suggest for gifts for others (or for yourself?).  I read a lot and I'm always looking for new titles that need to be better known.   

Happy Holidays!  


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Year In Review: Part I, The Winter Garden

Fava beans are not only a tasty addition to a diet, they grow in the cooler months (about the same time you would grow peas), and the flowers are lovely. Give 'em room -they are big plants!

I grew up in NE Kansas and all through my childhood, spent winter months with the Burpee catalog. I would read all the descriptions of the vegetables and compare them over and over again. Grandpa, who saved his seed, had no use for 90% of all they sold, so I rarely got to see any of my multitude of lists even purchased let alone grown. Burpee went out of business for a while and had a bumpy few years, now is back, but really is only a shadow of its former self offering a rather paltry selection of seed that usually isn't much for the home gardener. However, many other catalogs (from seed companies or seed savers) have taken up the slack – I've written elsewhere on my favorite catalogs. But how was the year just past?

Of course, in LA, we've got the current winter garden just planted, but for LAST winter, here's some of our results:

Artichoke: I know I'm teasing the rest of the world, but I pay rent here so I figure I'm due my share of teasing. We had a great harvest last year of artichokes – mostly Green Globe Improved. They all produced big beautiful chokes with abandon. We had respectable harvest from Violetto which I love, but it wasn't nearly as productive.

Beets: Burpee's Golden and Chioggia - both are dynamite and steady producers year in and year out and both are usually from Pinetree although I have been known to get seed from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply too.

Broccoli: Nutribud is an OP of respectable performance; earliness is right up there with the hybrids and the size is comparable. As the name suggests, it is reported to have a higher percentage of glutamine. I add in a few plants of Premium Crop or (less often) Bellstar because I hate to rest on one crop, but I really expect most of my broccoli to be Nutribud.

Brussels sprouts: Bubbles was the hybrid we grew – someone had given me a couple of plants. They got whitefly bad and I couldn't see cleaning each little sprout thoroughly enough; although a friend did and sent me back a lovely dish of them (thanks Mary!). Between cabbage and broccoli, I think I get enough of this family to skip Brussels sprouts.

Cabbage: A good year for cabbage for us. We were donated a pointy headed hybrid, whose name has been lost to prosterity, produced huge 10 pound heads and was successful wherever we planted it, but was not any better than Danish Ball Head which is an OP heirloom. Both were huge solid heads and we ate and ate and finally learned how to ferment cabbage to be able to eat it the rest of the year (I still have some and this year's cabbage is in the ground !)

Carrots: I grow Mokum and Yaya, both hybrids. Yaya is the winner, but I can't always find the seed, I that came from some outfit in the Northwest I think. The seed was expensive (by my standards), but it was a sure winner in less than ideal soil. Mokum, from Pinetree, is always a dependable, decent carrot.

Cauliflower: Mark Twain is supposed to have said that 'cauliflower was cabbage that had gone to college' and I can't afford the tuition, so I stick to cabbage.

Celeriac: First year with this and I like it. I don't grow celery because it's a hard plant to grow and home grown celery has always tasted bitter to me. Celeriac, on the other hand, was easy to grow and produced well. You can't smear a hunk with cream cheese or peanut butter and have the same delightful appetizer, but it does a marvelous ballet in soups. Large Prague was our selection and I've not had experience with anything else.

Chard: (I'm dispensing with the 'Swiss' part, feel free to join me!) We had seed from Seed Savers Exchange of Five Color Silverbeet and seed of Pinetree's Orange Fantasia. Both were incredibly productive – although I've never known chard to be unproductive, so I'm not sure that's saying a lot. Someone gave us a few plants of Sea Foam and that one has spectacular production. Still, I like the red chard more and I think the orange is one helluva show stopper!

Fava beans: Windsor is my favorite and we get pounds of beans from each plant. In fact, I've given up on peas preferring to grow favas, garbanzos and lentils because I don't feel like I get enough to eat from peas.

Garlic: I love Spanish Roja and Music - hardnecks are supposed to not like warm climates, but I have great luck with them. Last year, the crows got to them. They don't eat the garlic, but they pull them out of the ground. After three or four go rounds with this (they pull, I replant), the cloves were hopelessly intermixed so which one was the better producer is anyone's guess. I'm starting with fresh seed garlic this year: Music, Spanish Roja, and Red Toch!

Kale: Redbor works for me. I had some plants of Dwarf Blue, but felt like that was a very stupid idea – same footprint for half the plant. What WAS I thinking?

Leeks: King Richard is my usual dependable producer but last year was a really so-so harvest. I think I ignored it too much.

Lettuce: I'm one of those who can't get through the lettuce section of a seed catalog without ordering four or five more packets! I could supply a large army with lettuce if I were given the land to do it. Marvel of the Four Seasons, Brown Winter, Red Winter, Deer Tongue, Buttercrunch, and on and on and on.

Onions: I buy plants from a local organic farm supply, but they sold out so I had NO onions. Disaster. But usually I grow their Italian Red Torpedo – a delicious onion that is absolutely stellar on the grill. Onions, unlike almost every other veggie we grow is 'day sensitive.' Most onions offered in the States will not bulb in LA because they are 'long day' plants and we need to grow 'short day' varieties. So most folks will not be able to compare to our experience.

Potatoes: We gathered leftovers from bachelor friends (they sprout in the pantry and we just plant them) - I don't know the varieties but we had a good harvest.

Shallots: Wow! I had never grown shallots before, but I have found they are easier to grow than onions and more productive! I planted seed from Pinetree and I was so impressed, I'm back for more! Olympus and Bonilla were both good performers.

Turnips: Purple Top White Globe is the only one I've ever had luck with and I have a LOT of luck with it.

All in all, this was one of the very best harvests we have ever had. We put up food, donated several tons to the Westside Food Bank and still ate like kings! It was all that compost, I tell you. The rain wasn't any great shakes (about 10” - less than our normal 12”) and there were several devastating hot spells in November, December and again in January. In fact, the winter garden last year got killed outright by a hard couple of weeks of Santa Ana winds that sent the thermometer soaring into triple digits several times and ruined numerous plantings. Oh, and I can't forget the mouse in the greenhouse that ate all the starts in January. Thank God for a long growing season!

What varieties have you had success with this last year?


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Month By Month Planting Guide for Southern California

A 'Cheat Sheet'

Lettuce seedlings shoot for the sky.  Well, maybe 'shoot' is the wrong word, but they are on their way!  One small packet of seed produces hundreds of seedlings for a fraction of the cost of a single six-pack.  You get much more for much less; it does take a little more skill and a little more patience. 
These generalizations are for The Learning Garden, located in Sunset Zone 24, less than 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean in an alluvial plain that is just above sea level. Cold air from the surrounding hills drains into our area and we are reliably cooler than much of the surrounding areas. If you are growing inland from us, your temperatures fluctuate more than ours. As one gardens further from the ocean, the temperatures are less moderate and the effects of heat and cold are more pronounced. While we can grow some cool season crops year round (kale and chard come to mind first), this becomes more difficult without the ocean's pronounced influence.


Plant in the ground: lettuce, carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, celeriac, radishes, spinach,
Plant in containers: lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, (these last two can be started now, but they would have been better started earlier – their production will be reduced by the coming warmer weather), peas, fava beans, lentils, garbanzo beans


Plant in the ground: lettuce (and other salad greens), carrots, beets parsnips, radishes, spinach, purple beans,
Plant in containers: early tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, summer squash


Plant in the ground: purple beans, lettuce, radishes, purple beans, beets, radishes, spinach, set out plants of basil, early tomatoes, later in the month, sow early sweet corn,
Plant in containers: tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons, all squash,


Plant in the ground: beans of all colors, lettuce, radishes, beets, spinach, set out plants of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, you can start planting all corn now
Plant in containers: tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons and squash, okra,


Plant in the ground: all basil, eggplant, all melons and all squash (including cucumbers, set out plants of same and all tomatoes, eggplants and peppers) green and yellow beans and all the dried beans; corn too, if you have room
Plant in containers: As in April, but it's getting late – peppers, eggplants and basil are still OK to start, but it's getting late


Plant in the ground: all the above, but it's getting late... you can still get a crop, but it will be cut shorter by any early cool weather; the last of the corn can go in early in the month
Plant in containers: after starting pumpkin seeds, take a nap


Plant in the ground only out of necessity
Plant in containers: continue napping


Plant in the ground: nothing
Plant in containers: towards the end of the month, in a shaded location, the first of the winter veggies can be started, cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, fava beans


Plant in the ground: nothing, until late in the month, start sowing turnips, parsnips, radishes, beets and carrots – keep seeds moist! Peas, lentils and garbanzo beans can be sown... If you grow onions from seed, start them now so you can transplant them out from October on.
Plant in containers: Cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, favas, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts,


Plant in the ground: by now you can begin to set out some of your cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, chard and so on. Continue with seeds as above... you can also direct sow favas if you want. Potatoes can usually be found about now as well as onions, garlic and shallots and they all should be planted from now until late November.
Plant in containers: More Cruciferae and favas, celery and celeriac,


Plant in the ground: More of September's plants can be sown – you still have time for all of them except onions, this will be the last month to plant peas, lentils, garbanzos and fava beans. Their growing season is too long to get the harvest you would want.
Plant in containers: I'm still sowing cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower, but Brussels sprouts are a longer season item so they're not a part of my efforts until next season's planting begins.


Plant in the ground: Too little light and too many parties make it difficult to find garden time – but if you have some things left over from November, try to get that done.
Plant in containers: Pretty much the same story, if you have time, do more from November.

There are two big shifts in Southern Californian gardening: At the end of September, beginning of October it's all about the winter crops. At the end of February, beginning of March, the focus all shifts to summer and the heat lovers. Seeds get started slightly before then (if you have the right conditions, up to six weeks before then!). 

In General:  

Plants Started From Seed In Situ include:  

All root crops, including radishes, carrots, parsnips, beets, celeriac

Plants that can fend for themselves against pests, like fava beans, peas, green and other beans.

Plants that tend to stress when their roots are messed with: corn.

This list, however is not laid in stone. I have seen folks transplant corn, favas and even carrots more or less successfully. In my experience, it is a waste of time to carefully transplant carrots only to get mis-shapened roots.

Plants to set out as transplants:

One could just say, “Everything else,” but that's cheating.

Some things really do benefit by transplanting, including: broccoli, cabbage, kale, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, to name a few. They can be set lower in the soil when transplanted making for stronger, more healthy plants.
Plants that start out really small and could easily fall victim to pests, like lettuce or any of the various greens. Small seed = 'normally' sown in a sheltered location to be transplanted later.

The bottom line, however, is what is convenient to you or what your preference is as a gardener. If you don't have time, and you have relatively few slugs and snails, you might find lettuce easier to sow in the ground. I have had rows of tiny lettuce plants mowed over night, so without a sheltered location, I rarely will direct sow lettuce or other soft delectable snail and slug attractants.


Recipe: East African Peanut Soup

Carrots, which help form the base for this stew, growing in the autumn sunlight.  Carrots can be one of the harder seeds to germinate, they are small and need lots of water to sprout.  However, they positively hate to be transplanted - the only sure way to get good carrots is from seed.  

When I made this for the class, I had only Basmati rice and so the consistancy was more 'mush-like' than it would be with the long grain rice called for in the recipe.  This is, no matter which rice is used, a fulfilling and satisfying main dish that is a substantial meal - especially on a cold day! 

4 Tablespoons olive oil
4 Tablespoons butter
4 ribs of celery, sliced
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
2 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
½ cup uncooked long grain rice
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 cups vegetable broth
1 cup peanut butter

Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the celery, carrots and onion. Sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice, salt and pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender.

Ladle out 1 cup of the broth and place in a small bowl and add the peanut butter. Stir until the peanut butter liquefies. Pour this back into the soup and simmer for another ten minutes.

Serve hot.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Basic Fresh Vinaigrette

1 finely chopped shallot
Vinegar, enough to cover chopped shallot w/ a little extra
Handful chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, basil, chive or mixture of)
1 Tspn mustard
1 tspn honey
Olive oil

Macerate chopped shallot in vinegar for at least 20 minutes.
Place chopped herbs in a bowl; cover lightly with olive oil. (Keeps the herbs from turning brown.)
Whisk shallots, mustard, honey, herbs & a pinch of salt in a bowl.
Drizzle 3x the amount of olive oil to vinegar.

Remember to look for the balance...this involves tasting as you go along!

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


If you are at all like me, there are only so many meals one can take of sauteed or steamed Swiss chard.  I like this dish because it is much more than just Swiss chard made limp and eaten.  Much more!  All ingredient amounts are flexible. 

This dish might seem to have daunting ingredient list. But don’t be put off; enough of the ingredients will already be lurking in your kitchen. And, if you leave out any one of the spices, it will probably still turn out well. In contrast to some meat tagines, which take hours to prepare and cook, this dish can be made from start to finish on a weeknight. And the flavor is a lovely mélange of spices, slight sweetness from the raisins, and savory flavor from the chickpeas. Serve with rice or quinoa for hearty vegetarian dinner.

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

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

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


Kale Salad Recipe

A few greens never hurt anyone, especially a little KALE. Don't tell anyone you really want to impress that it's good for you. Just kidding.
Kale is a great source of calcium, potassium, beta-carotene & other anti-oxidants.

This recipe is easy to make but requires a little prep time, meaning washing and taking the leaves off the stem. Removing the stem is key to how well the salad is can be quite fibrous if not removed.

I like to mix the varieties that are available, i.e., purple, Tuscan "dinosaur" & Russian kales, but staying with one variety is just as delicious.

Kale Salad
(4 single serve or 8 small side servings )

1/4 cup Liquid Aminos*
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 - 2 Lemons juiced; start with 1 and adjust to taste
1/2 medium Red onion, thinly sliced
2 bunches of Kale, cleaned, stemmed, ripped into bite-size pieces
Black pepper to taste

*Braggs Liquid Aminos, is probably the easiest to find @ a health food store, Whole Foods or your local co-op.

Mix liquid aminos, olive oil & lemon juice together in a bowl. Add sliced onions, let sit while prepping kale. This will take some of the bitterness out of the onions and soften them. Wash kale like you would spinach; dirt is well hidden so check front and back. Drying kale: I recommend getting a few drying kitchen towels, a baking sheet, lying each leaf flat next to one another in a row, making stackable layers as you wash individually. Pat leaves dry, slide stem off and rip into bite size pieces; place into large bowl.

Pour 1/2 of dressing with onions over kale. Toss gently with your hands! (you can use utensils but this way you get to feel the texture of the leaves and put some extra love into your dish.) Add more dressing until well coated.

NOTE: The liquid aminos will help release water in your kale so you will have extra liquid at the bottom of your bowl once your salad sits. Depending on how crunchy-raw you like your greens, you can serve right away or let sit for 20 minutes before serving. I like to make it in the morning, put it in the refrigerator and throughout the day I have something already prepared. The salad keeps well up to 3-days. You can play with levels of texture and taste with this salad, so make it your own.

Optional add-ins.
This is the basic recipe for this salad but you can add the following to layer it:

1 cup fresh sliced mushrooms with the onions.
1 Tbspn maple syrup or agave nectar, if to salty or sour for you taste.

Items to add when tossing the salad - last minute:

1 cup julienne, (thin slices), red or yellow peppers or both
1 ripe avocado, cubed
Handful fresh sprouts (whatever kind you like)
1 apple, thinly sliced
1 tsp sesame seeds

I'm sure there are more items out there to add to this salad, but most of all have fun while creating and sharing this wonderful healthy green from your garden!

Bon Appetite!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Stinking Rose: GARLIC

What is there not to love about garlic?

If you are a vampire then you might have some problems with it but with time you will probably get over it.

Roasted garlic turns into to this wonderful sweet flavorful paste as you witnessed yesterday. Fresh bread, garlic paste, brie and a little slice of apple...
mmmm good!

Simple and easy is what makes garlic so much fun to work with.

I find that it "layers" the dish. Meaning as you pick out the various flavors, garlic if used in good measure delights the senses.

Staying with our "fresh" theme, my goal is to suggest recipes that use as many garden items as possible. I know that fresh tomato season is coming to an end and may be hard to find, but if you canned some of your fruit you can give this recipe a go.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

More garlic than you think, sautéed in a good bit of olive oil until light golden.

Add chopped fresh tomatoes, a pinch of salt, and a little marjoram.

Let simmer down to sauce consistency, add fresh basil and taste for salt.
(J. Theroux)

No exact measurements are given on purpose. I encourage you to get involved with cooking your food intuitively. I know it may sound funny or even feel a bit awkward but if you take the time to grow it enjoy it to its fullest!

Remember to have fun and don't forget to taste along the way.



A Short List of Seed Houses

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog, with their slogan "Saving The Past for The Future," expresses a lot of what I think is important in a seed company.

This is a completely revised seed list in an effort to avoid seed companies that carry Seminis (Monsanto) products. To my knowledge, none of the following companies carry GMO seeds.

BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS; 2278 Baker Creek Road Mansfield, MO 65704; 417.924.8917 What a catalog! Beautiful pictures of the produce – vegetable porn for sure. I have never ordered from them, but I have heard good things about them.

BOUNTIFUL GARDENS; 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410 Organic seed; open-pollinated. A part of the work done by John Jeavons, a proud and active member of the population of organic and open-pollinated gardeners. If you see him, he owes me a laser pointer.

FEDCO; PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903 207.873.7333
They are rabidly anti-GMO, though they do carry hybrids in addition to open-pollinated seeds. A wonderful and extensive selection. (A lovely letter to customers can be found on their site, Sticker Shock Moves from the Oil Tank to the Seed Catalog. Someone who writes this beautiful deserves to get some of our money!)

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 I have purchased many seeds (and other things!) from Peaceful Valley – I love their catalog. They have an excellent selection of cover crop seeds as well as a lot of organic gardening supplies and tools.

NATIVE SEED/SEARCH; 526 N. 4th Ave. Tucson, AZ 85705; 520.622.5561 (Fax 520.622.5591) Specializing in the seeds of seeds of south western United States, concentrating on the ancient seeds of the First Nations People from amaranth to watermelon. A worthy cause for your money. Please note, this entry does not appear on the handout distributed in class, that is my error.

PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400
Probably the best for a home gardener – small packets of very current seed, a very good value. The smaller packets mean a smaller price so a person can order a lot more varieties and experiment. I have been a customer for many years.

SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership fees $35. Free brochure. Some organic, but ALL open-pollinated. There are two ways to save seeds: one is to collect them all and keep them in a huge building that protects them from everything up to (and including) nuclear holocaust. The other way is to grow 'em. You can find the chance to grow them here.

SEEDS OF CHANGE; 621 Old Sante Fe Trail, #10; Santa Fe, NM 87501; 505.438.8080 .com Organic, open-pollinated…pricey, I am not a fan.

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE SEED EXCHANGE; P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117, 540.894.9480 (Fax: 540.894.9481)
A commercial venture that is somewhat similar to Seed Savers Exchange, but really isn't an exchange. They do carry seed saving supplies - nice to have if you are going to save seed.

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