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Monday, October 25, 2010

Shelia's Curry Squash Soup

Serves: 4
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion or 1 shallot finely chopped
1 clove garlic finely chopped
2 Tbsp curry powder or more if you like...
4 cups roasted or boiled squash
4 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbsp butter (optional)
S/P to taste

Saute onion & garlic in olive oil over medium heat, until lite golden brown.
Add curry powder and mix well.
Add cooked squash, coating with onion and curry mixture.
Add vegetable broth and integrate items well with salt & pepper.
I used an immersion blender in the pot or you can do in smaller batches slowly ~ add to a blender & mix well. Be VERY careful, the mixture is hot.
Add back to pot, test for seasonings & add butter if you like.

Serve with the following options: a dollop of cream and/or croutons

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Designing a Garden

Implementing some of my ideas about what makes a garden truly integrated to one's life, this little spot of heaven at The Learning Garden served us for a couple of years as 'the beautiful food garden' near the faculty parking lot gate - it was considered far too shady for vegetables until I harvested a bushel of tomatoes from three plants grown here!

There are a number of questions one must ask before one can even begin to look at seed catalogs in putting together a garden. This fact finding step is often overlooked and by itself can account for a good number of neophyte gardeners failing. Some of these questions seem silly perhaps but they are not.

It seems that one would know, but often one is only vaguely aware of, why they want a garden in the first place. But this question holds the key to progress in more ways than you can imagine.

If my 'why' of growing a garden is to produce 10 pounds of pinto beans to dry and store and I have a shady spot that is as big as a large tomato plant, then perhaps I need to reconsider where I will garden and begin by investigating community gardens in the area or a neighbor who would cooperate in my vision.

One important note that holds all gardeners in good stead is to list all the reasons why and keep them close at hand. And especially to include “to learn” as one of the big reasons, providing of course, you can learn from disaster. The really good gardener is not one who has had no disasters. The really good gardener is one who has had disasters and has continued to garden learning from the past and approaching the next season more sagaciously aware of the vagaries of gardening.

So... First order of business is to make a Why I Want This Garden List and populate it with every reason you can. On that day when the wiley world of popular culture calls you to come play when the Garden needs to be watered or else it will die, then you need that list to set your priorities straight. Obviously, I'm on the side of the garden, but in our very busy world of many choices, even I can admit to wandering away from my plants more than I should perhaps ought. Right now, instead of being a conscientious author and instructor, I should be weeding the area where I plan on planting garlic tomorrow. It is the way of this world. (It also explains why I believe in having a really good flashlight among my gardening tools!)

Beginning gardeners especially should not give this question short shrift. Those of us who have been at a while probably already have this list, even if it is only in the back of our minds. It wouldn't hurt to write it down before the mind begins to forget. Just saying.

Next, one has to survey the physical space. Questions that must be answered include the obvious, for example:

  1. What is the size of my garden?
  2. Where does the light come from or where is it blocked?
  3. How many hours of sunlight does it get in a day in summer?
  4. How many hours of sunlight does it get in a day in winter? (Ah, yes, the two are different!)
  5. What is the nature of the soil? (This was in part answered for us in the first lecture.)
  6. Where do I get water from to water my garden? Is there a spigot nearby?
  7. Can I plant near to where I will use the plants? I'm thinking of the kitchen...

Then there are a few less obvious that are no less important, but will change based on your reasons for growing a garden:
  1. What do I like to eat?
  2. How much do I think I need to sow to get a decent harvest?
  3. What crops will have a higher value to me that will increase my pleasure from the garden?
  4. What tasks in the garden do I find pleasurable?

And, in what might seem slightly incongruent to this discussion, the next most important question after 'why' for me is: where will I sit? This well may sound like an old man bitching about his knees or his back or something yet again, but it's not. In my evolution as a gardener, the genesis of this idea came from the old saying, “The best fertilizer is the farmer's shadow,” meaning of course, the plants that are attended to by the farmer will grow better than neglected plants. I had the epiphany one day that I would be a more effective gardener, if I had a place to sit down and drink a cup of coffee, or sit down and have an ice tea, or sit down and write something, or sit down and just LOOK at my garden. The key ingredient is that “I would sit down...” I would spend more time there and be aware of subtle changes more quickly (like, 'gee where'd all my seedlings go?') and be able to interact with the garden on a much more intimate level.

So, I ask 'Where will you sit?' in your garden. I like a bit of shade, a small table to hold my computer or my pad and my drink. I don't need much else. But, simply by this one addition, I find my relationship with the space changed dramatically. No longer is the 'garden' a distant thing, it is now a part and parcel of my world and I can be a part of it – it will not only feed me, but it will soothe me, it will help to heal me after a day of being bashed about in the office or any of the other slings and arrows of modern life. In fact, a large part of the stress of modern life, I believe, can be traced back to the lack of this kind of plant interaction that used to be part and parcel of human existence. Whether it is the box that holds some tools, or a fancy little Parisian outdoor café set, find something to sit on where you can leisurely appreciate your garden for more than a few minutes at a time.

The importance of soil is covered elsewhere – but do allow for some different considerations in light requirements in the city. Typically, a southern exposure is the best for all forms of food gardening, a western exposure being slightly less so and an eastern exposure slightly even more less (is that a proper way to say that?) so. However, a large tree or a large building on the near horizon can interrupt the amount of sun your garden receives. And note that the sun is much lower on the horizon in the fall and winter. This can result in a total lack of sun during those months.

On the other hand, I have discovered that city shade is often ameliorated by the presence of large light colored walls that reflect a quantity of light into spaces that seem as thought they should be dark. In one apartment, the front door faced north with a balcony 'in shade.' However, two light colored buildings (east and north) reflected light onto that balcony all day long which made that balcony the equivalent of full sun!

The bottom line, then is that an inventory of the light available for your plants can vary from what a person sees with just a cursory glance.

If you can't tell true north easily, you need to purchase a small, inexpensive compass. In Los Angeles, most of our street grid is NOT on a true north/south axis. This is actually very beneficial because that offset means that few spaces are truly in the shaded north side of a building. Almost always there is more light than one would think and that is good news. 


Making A Scale Drawing

Once you have completed the dimensional survey and have a list of figures that comprise the measurements of your garden, you are ready to transfer this information to a scale drawing. This will form the basis of your final design and allow you to plan the features, planting and furnishings in accordance with the limitations of your available space. The plan will also be the basis of your total cost estimate – important to some people like clients and those of us on a budget.

As with the survey, the preparation of a scale drawing is a straightforward business, but one that confuses many people. Drawing something to scale is simply reducing in equal proportion all the dimensions of the object, in this case, a garden project, to a size that can be shown on a piece of paper. At it’s simplest, if you take a dinner plate that is twelve inches in diameter and draw it on a paper so that it appears to be six inches across, then you have reduced the plate by a scale of 1:2. If you reduced it four times, it would be a scale of 1:4 and the drawing would be three inches across; if twenty times, 1:20 etc. Of course, there comes a point at which any further reduction results in an object on a piece of paper that is entirely too small to be useful – or even legible, some folks are certain my handwriting fits into that category. Choose a scale that is small enough to fit on a piece of paper, but large enough to allow sufficient detail in your work and remain sufficiently visible to you as you age.

In the case of most gardens, this scale is usually 1:100, or each eighth of an inch of drawing represents a foot of garden. In smaller gardens, try to work with 1:20 or 1:25 or even 1:50.
Before you make the drawing, make sure the finished plan will fit on your piece of paper by checking the overall measurements and converting them to a scale. If the garden measures 40’ by 20’, then by using a scale of ” to 1 foot (for practical purposes, 1:100), the final drawing will be 10” by 5” and will fit on a typical piece of paper.

Many people prefer to tape graph paper down to a board or a table (in my experience a board is more portable and can be taken into the garden and on fact finding forays to a nursery more easily than a table) and tape a sheet of tracing paper over it. Start near one of the corners, number the grid in inches up and across the sheet. Take your survey information and transfer the measurements onto the scale drawing.

Once you have lain your lines on the paper to show the layout of the space that will become your garden, indicate important items like the placement of drains, faucets, power outlets, doors and windows that open into the garden. Then indicate the position of sunlight obstructions and views that extend beyond the garden.

Soon you will have a complete drawing that encompasses your garden in detail, but in miniature. Indicate the direction of north on your drawing. This will prove invaluable as your design progresses.

Do not use this original for actual work, but photocopy it several times and use the photocopies for different parts of your work – keep the original separate in a file that you can go back to for additional photocopies as needed.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vanishing of The Bees: Movie Showing

 I have been able to flesh out more details on the upcoming showing of the movie, Vanishing of the Bees.  The facts:  it will be shown Saturday, October 16 2010 7.00 PM to 9.00 PM - 13325 Beach Avenue, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292.  It is free and we expect someone from the production staff to be on hand to answer questions that might be raised by the movie.  

Beach is the first street south of Washington Boulevard running parallel to it; 13325 is just west of Redwood Avenue, so it is extremely close to the Garden.  

This should answer all questions before we see the movie, except, who is bringing the popcorn!  

Monday, October 11, 2010

Saving Tomato Seeds - An Understandable How To

A few of the easier seeds to save, like corn, stored in closed glass jars - out of the sun!

Chiot's Run, a blog from north eastern Ohio, often has sound gardening advice and this time it's about how to save tomato seeds.  I've seen many other articles on how to save tomato seeds - this one was one of the most easily understood and straight forward.  I hope you find it interesting as well.


Edible Plants Bibliography

All of these books have contributed to the lectures in this class.

Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally, Kourick, Robert © 1986, Metamorphic Press, Santa Rosa, CA Probably the bible for this kind of garden. I own a first printing and a quick check shows that Amazon has it new for $33.46 (Permanent Publications; March 30, 2005), so it’s still a winner, after all these years.

Designing the New Kitchen Garden, Bartley, Jennifer © 2006, Timber Press, Portland, OR Lots of wonderful ideas and source material for a good many daydreams. And the source of some important lessons in creating a garden that can sustain more than just your spirit. By the way, you’ll know you’re a real gardener when you begin to receive the Timber Press catalog – they have a comprehensive list of gardening books that will help you get into the details of any aspect of gardening that you can imagine!

Edible Flowers, From Garden to Palate, Barash, Cathy Wilkinson, © 1995 Fulcrum Publishing, This is the only really comprehensive book on growing edible flowers – it’s a fascinating cuisine we have largely lost through neglect. Have an adventure and a nasturtium for dinner!

Heirloom Vegetables, Stickland, Sue, © 1998 Fireside Books, A wonderful introduction to heirloom vegetables and how and why to grow them! A fabulous read for all prospective vegetable gardeners. And now that the Weaver book is no longer easily available, this is the runner up.

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History,Weaver, William Woys © 2003, BookSales Inc, Originally published in 1997, it is now out of print and getting a copy can be hellish. The book sells for almost $300 used on Amazon! It is a wonderful book that needs to be put back in print because the research he put into the book allows this to be one of the most informative books on heirloom vegetables that has ever been published. Good luck in finding it, I'm sorry to say.

Sunset Western Garden Guide 8th Edition, Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, Editor, ©2007, Sunset Publishing All of the recent editions have their merit, but each successive edition has more plants and updates the scientific undergirding of gardening, so I encourage you to invest in the most recent edition you can afford (used copies are usually easy to find, either locally or at, I have a few for sale!). This is the number one go-to book for horticulture in Southern California; no other book is as authoritative as this one for our area. We cannot take advice from most gardening books and apply it to what we do in Los Angeles because our climate and soils are nothing like the rest of the world – especially those on the east coast and England where most books about gardening originate.

The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques, Creasy, Rosalind, © 1982, Sierra Club Books – This is where edible landscaping began! Still a good book!

The Grape Grower, Rombough, Lon © 2002, Chelea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT. Of several books on the subject of growing grapes, this is the most thorough, the best written and covers the most material. And they all cost about the same money. You’ll come to think of it as your very favorite, if you get into growing grapes for table or for wine. Chelsea Green is another publishing house you’ll want to investigate – especially if you get into sustainable living. Truly a pioneer publishing house with many wonderful titles to entice you into curl up with a good book.

The Home Orchard, Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, © 2007, Another great book from UC’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources – search out their website and you’ll find a wealth of free information there as well as publications like this one to purchase. This book is about the most thorough book on home orchards you will ever find - it is no only comprehensive, but comprehensible and easy to follow. There is no aspect of home orchards that is not covered in this volume.

The Kitchen Garden, Thompson, Sylvia © 1995, Bantam Books, Sylvia is from our area (she has written for the LA Times) so she knows a bit of gardening here. This is a great book that I refer to frequently.

Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, Reich, Lee © 2004, Timber Press, Portland, OR If you are not familiar with Timber Press, check out their website, they are one of the best publishing houses in the field of horticulture today and their catalog will make your eyes twirl. We can’t grow all of these fruits, but this book is an eye opener for what can be grown vs. what IS grown. Each plant’s fruit is described with directions for cultivation and a list of desirable cultivars. This is the ‘expanded sequel’ to the book that drove me nuts trying to find a way to grow currants in Los Angeles (an as yet unfulfilled dream).

There will be more books to follow.  

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Short List of Seed Houses

This is a freshly revamped 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.

BOTANICAL INTERESTS; 660 Compton Street, Broomfield, CO 80020; 720.880.7293. I 'have been dealing with these folks for only a couple of years - I have seen their seeds on seed racks here and there, but I really got to know them for the quantity of seeds they donate to Venice High School and other educational programs. If you order using one of the links on this blog, you benefit the garden because a portion of your purchase goes into The Learning Garden's seed fund.  Good seed.  Clean.  Good variety and a good price.

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. Someone who writes this beautiful deserves to get some of our money!  And they signed the Safe Seed Pledge - in fact, if was from them, I received my education on the Safe Seed Pledge. 

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. Although they have not signed the Safe Seed Pledge, by being 100% organic and open pollinated, they do not support anything close to GMO's and Monsanto.

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. Non-hybrid.  Non-Monsanto.

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, but I buy less now than I used to because they have not signed the Safe Seed Pledge.

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 - all seeds are heirloom and are 100% non-GMO and non-hybrid. 

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 and is much pricier. They do carry seed saving supplies - nice to have if you are going to save seed.

If you want to know who to more or less avoid, surf on over to the Seminis web site for a list of seed suppliers to home gardeners that are dealers for Seminis.  Mind you, not all those listed are selling GMO seeds.  This list will have seed suppliers that sell hybrids owned by Seminis (they have bought the majority of big seed suppliers operating in the United States, why the government hasn't looked at this as establishing a monopoly lies in the number of Monsanto employees that have held office, appointed and elected, in our government), and when Seminis bought those other seed companies, they acquired the patents held on hybrids.  Thus, while Big Boy Tomato was not created by Seminis, or Monsanto, and is not a GMO product, Seminis now owns the patent and purchases of Big Boy Tomato seed 'feeds the beast.'  

To be truly independent from this kind of chicanery, one must purchase open-pollinated seed that can be saved and will grow out 'true.'  These are concepts we will discuss in next week's class.


As Promised: Vegetables Grouped by Season

Suggestions for Cool Seasons:

Artichokes (a perennial)
Burpee’s Golden, Chiogga
Premium Crop, Shogun
Brussel Sprouts
Cabbage (including Oriental cabbage-like greens)
Mokum, Parris Market
Cauliflower – there are purple ones too!
Argentata, Five Color Silverbeet,
Fava Beans
Windsor; Aprovecho (sometimes appended with “Select”)
Florence Fennel (bulbing)
Romy, Zefa Fino.
Garlic (this is a long season crop, plant in Fall harvest next Summer)
Dinosaur or Black Kale
Carina, King Richard
more varieties than you can shake a stick at – or grow a mix!
Onions (also a long season growing; find “short-day” varieties)
Other leafy salad things
All-Blue, Caribe, Yukon Gold
French Breakfast, Fluo, Easter Egg, Purple Plum
Include all perennial herbs and perennial flowers. In addition, try some fun annuals like calendulas, larkspur, poppies (bread, California or Iceland types), sweet peas, and venidium. Make room for cilantro! Lots of cilantro!!
Suggestions for Warm Seasons:

Lettuce Leaf, Genova Profumatissima,
Beans - drying
Black Turtle
Beans - lima
Beans- snap
Roc d’Or, Romano, Royal Burgundy
Sweet Corn
Early Sunglow, Golden Bantam, Peaches and Cream, Country Gentleman
Lemon, Mideast Prolific
Asian Bride., Rosa Bianca
Peppers (Sweet)
Peppers (Hot)
Squash (Summer)
Zahra, Lebanese White
Squash (Winter)
Acorn, Spaghetti, ornamental gourds
Brandywine, Golden Jubilee, Italian Gold, Orange Sungold, San Remo, Stupice, Sweet 100’s, Yellow Pear and about a thousand others!

Plant from seed or buy transplants at a nursery of fun warm-season annual flowers like marigolds, cleome (watch the stickers!), cosmos, sunflowers and zinnias. These warm season flowers make cheerful bouquets. You can also grow everlasting flowers like statice and gomphrena. The widest selection of flowers and vegetables is available to those who start their own from seed and order by mail from the catalogs above and many, many others. 


Spicy Tomato Jam

Spicy Tomato Jam ( Approx. 1 1/2 cups)
Remember this is a condiment so have some fun with your favorite foods. This is a FRESH perishable product. Enjoy!

Cut in small pieces, 6 to 8 medium size Tomatoes.
Sprinkle equal parts of Salt and Sugar on the tomatoes.
( I invite you to play with other sweeteners besides processed white sugar. I used Coconut Sugar)

Let sit for a few hours, so they can let down their juices.

(Sometimes I do overnight, covered sitting on the counter)

Strain the sugar/salt water into a pan or pot, bring to a simmer, and reduce down until it has thickened to jam consistency. Stir once in awhile.

Add back in to pan the fresh tomatoes, fresh grated Ginger, and a couple of finely chopped Chile Peppers (or cayenne pepper), for heat.

Let simmer until “jam” has reduced to desired consistency.

Taste for salty, sweet & heat. Finish with a fresh grating of ginger root.

Shopping list:
Fresh tomatoes, Salt, Sugar, Ginger root, Chile peppers or cayenne pepper, Lemon (always keep one on hand just in case it's hot, squeeze a little juice in to help balance the intensity)


Monday, October 4, 2010

Assignment for Week 1

In one succinct paragraph, tell me the one most important thing you learned about soil in Sunday's lecture and email it to me before Friday.

Thank you, 

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