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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Modern Backyard Food Production: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Save

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. We will have access to a classroom for really rainy days; class will meet regardless of the weather. Expect to get wet or cold as we will be outside whenever possible.

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: Sunset Western Garden Book
Author Brenzel, Kathleen Norris (Editor)
Edition Feb. 2007
Publisher Sunset Books
ISBN 978-0376039170

Title: Growing Food In Southern California
Author King, David
Edition October 2010
Publisher Wobbly Press

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
Hard to find – out of print

Title: Pests of the Garden and Small Farm: A Grower's Guide to Using Less Pesticide
Author Flint, Mary Louise
Edition 2nd
Publisher Univ of California Agriculture & Natural Resources
ISBN 978-0520218109

There will be no assigned reading from these books, however, as references, they 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 like.

Course Schedule:
03 October
Introduction/History of Food Gardening/Introduction to Soils
10 October*
10/10/10 Potluck/Tools/Garden Tour/ Plot Assignment
17 October
Timing and Design
24 October
Soil Preparation/Composting
31 October
Sustainability and Food Issues in Modern America
07 November
14 November
Planting/Companions/Crop Rotation in a Small Garden
21 November
Perennials/Bulbs as a part of your food supply
28 November
NO CLASS – Happy Thanksgiving!
05 December
Home orchard/Vines
12 December
Planning for Continuous Harvests
(Syllabus may be changed as needed to reflect reality.)

* October 10th The learning Garden will be hosting a 100 Mile Meal Potluck – while you will not required to participate, you are encouraged to. It should be a lot of fun and the potluck will have several speakers talking about sustainable opportunities in our locale.

Point Assignment Structure
Class participation    20
Garden Journal        30
1 page write-up*     10
Planting Project       40
TOTAL                   100
* A sample one-page write up is the final page of this syllabus.

Office hours are by appointment only – please call or email me. I am willing to meet with you; I want you to learn and not 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.

Every week, Pamela Nears and or myself 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. The last meeting we will have a potluck where we will all share food cooked – local and fresh! (That's the point, right?)

The Learning Garden is open daily, 10 to 5:00 PM, every day but Monday. 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 chances off campus to earn money.

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.

The person who starts from seed vs. bringing in already growing plants, will have plants not nearly as far along as the others – but still 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. At the very least indulge me while I am assigning you grades.

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

In fact, it will have your assignment for next week. Please do this before you come to class.

BEETS Beta vulgaris
Botanical Information:
Chenopodiaceae, Goosefoot family
4 to 8” tall
Growing Season:
Spring, Fall and Winter

Seed to Harvest:
8 weeks or more
Spacing: 3” on a side
Seeds store: ~4

Choice Varieties: Chioggia, Burpee's Golden,

The sweet roots of beets are often over- looked because of their 'earthy' taste. The problem with most beets on dinner tables these days is that they've been out of the ground for a very long time – the earthiness overtakes the sweetness. These two beets, the Italian Chioggia and the Golden Beet from W. Atlee Burpee Co. breeding program in the late 1800's, are among the sweetest vegetables in any garden!

Starting the seeds: Direct sow in the garden, a short row every week or so all through the cool season

Growing: Keep the moisture as even as possible. Mulch the beets as soon as possible – don't cover their leaves, but bring the compost as close to the plants as you can without covering the leaves. Cut off the leaves of any that are too close together – throw the baby leaves in salads. Do try to give them enough space to make an edible root, an inch or so for those who want baby beets, two or more for larger roots.

Harvesting: Pull roots as you need them. Beets do not have to be pulled all at once and will hold in the garden for a few weeks – longer if it's cool out.

Preparation and Using: Beet greens can be used just the same as chard – they are, in fact, the same species, one bred for a root and the other for its leaves. They taste pretty much the same and can be cooked the same or used raw in salads.
Today, most folks don't realize that American sugar was beet sugar until the mid 1900's when we switched to 'pure cane sugar.' The roots, though, should be just par-boiled enough to get the skins to slip off. Slice them into convenient slices and sauté in orange juice until slightly al denté. This is a wonderfully sweet side dish. Cut red beets into heart shapes before sautéing and serve on Valentine's Day or another significant holiday for your love.

Problems: Not much in our climate, although snails will eat the baby leaves as they emerge.
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