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Monday, September 26, 2011

Some Suggested Varieties for the Fall/Winter Garden

Artichokes (a perennial)

Green Globe – one of the more productive varieties, Green Globe is usually one of the varieties available in the farmers' markets and groceries.
Violetto – is not so often seen in the market. Not quite as productive but still quite acceptable. Like the name implies, it has a good splash of purple in it. Each leaf tip possesses its very own, very sharp spine which makes eating them an exercise in alertness. They are worth it.


Burpee’s Golden – there was a time when 'Burpee' was synonymous with seeds for the home gardener. While this is no longer true, way back there in that faraway time, Burpee bred a lot of wonderful crops that we still find useful today. This beet has lower germination rates than other beets, but boy oh boy: They are worth it! From the mere fact that they don't bleed red beet juice all over your fingers (and clothes!), Golden beets are very sweet. Sauté in orange juice. Pickle.
Chiogga – another heirloom. Very productive and sweet, not as sweet as the Golden, but running a close second. One of these beets, cut in half before being cooked, reveals alternating rings of a light red and white. They keep those alternating rings when roasted. A lovely side dish!


Nutribud (58 days) DeCicco (48 to 85 days?) and Waltham (85 days) are the heirloom varieties available today. Of these two, Nutribud is the best for container gardening but performs well in the garden too. The days listed behind each variety are the 'days to harvest' from the catalogs. This refers to an approximate day by which you may expect to harvest the broccoli heads from the day you set them into the ground (transplanted out). It is an estimate only – weather conditions and other factors speed it up or slow it down, but in these four varieties above you have the idea that DeCicco might come in first and Waltham last, all other things being equal. Broccoli is a wonderful home garden crop that keeps on giving over a long time with side shoots. For that alone, I prefer broccoli to the other cole crops and I give it more space accordingly.

Brussels Sprouts

Long Island Improved – 80 - 115 days. Brussels Sprouts are a largish plant but have the added advantage of providing a rather continuous harvest over many weeks. They also can be a pain if they get aphids or whitefly because they are very difficult to police and really tough to clean up to eat. But like broccoli, it does produce over a long season. If you are willing to fight off the aphids, it does make for some good eating! Roast 'em on the grill...


Danish Ballhead – A late season cabbage – not so good for containers, but a reliable producer for those who wish to preserve some of their cabbage. Note that all these cabbages are not savoyed cabbages. Those crinkled leaves of the savoyed variety hold dirt and also make very opportune homes for slugs – and one gets a lot of slugs in long season cabbage anyway.
Early Jersey Wakefield gets you a cabbage in about 70 days and performs acceptably in containers.
Mammoth Red– You'll get a 7 pound head in about 90 days, so it's not fast, but a few plants ought to keep you happy in red cabbage for a long time.


There are many different colors of carrots to think about growing – Pinetree Garden Seeds sells a carrot mix that includes a number of different varieties and colors! Most of these colors are old varieties that were shelved when popular opinion decided all carrots should be orange.
St. Valery – old time variety that is delicious main crop carrot. The only reason to grow this and not Scarlet Nantes is a personal choice – they are both good and produce well.
Danvers – sometimes called 'Danvers Half Long' is the selection for those who plan on juicing most of their carrots.
Paris Market – is the one to grow in pots. It's a little half-dollar sized ball of a carrot. You'll also see it called Parris Round.


Early Snowball – is an open-pollinated and is the earliest and tastiest of all the cauliflowers available. Other varieties are out there that are tasty but I think this one takes less work and compares well with the others. I am not a huge cauliflower eater – Mark Twain said, “Cauliflower is cabbage that's gone to college,” and for my money, I get more from cabbage or from broccoli.


Large Prague Celeriac – I'm not even going to list celery. In our climate, I don't think it's possible to get a sweet celery that isn't as tough as a sisal rope! Celeriac, on the other hand, has that delicious celery taste, is easy to grow and works as well as or better than celery in soups and other dishes. You can't fill it with peanut butter or cream cheese like you can celery, but how healthy is that anyway? And if that's the only advantage, stick with celeriac!


Five Color Silverbeet – All the chards taste about the same to me, so I like to plant this chard to get all the different colors – some of them are quite wild. (Australians call chard “silverbeet” which is a nod to the fact that chard and beets are the same exact species of plant.) Dependable and beautiful, you can't beat this one in the garden or the kitchen. But all the chards are good producers and keep giving into the summer in our climate. Start finding recipes for it, you'll need them!


Slo-Bolt – Holds slightly better than older varieties in heat (cilantro does not like to grow in heat) and the plants are a little larger for a better and longer harvest. Try growing it in some afternoon shade with extra water. Successive sowings help somewhat, but it's near impossible to have cilantro when you have tomatoes. I know, it's sad.

Fava Beans

Windsor – Though not the only fava out there, this one is probably the premier fava bean for a home garden. Not for those of us with very little garden space, a typical fava plant can get to be four and half feet tall or more. One plant, happily tended, will provide enough fava beans for two folks unless they really intend to chow down on favas! (Fresh grated parmesan cheese on fresh raw fava bean seeds marks you as a dedicated fava eater and you will need more than one plant!)

Florence Fennel (bulbing)

Fino – Usually used raw or cooked in Italian cuisine for its sweet, anise-like flavor, don't let it go to seed or you'll have this all over your garden as well.


This is a long season crop, plant in Fall for next Summer's harvest.
Chesnok Red – The three varieties listed here are all heirloom varieties. This variety doesn't store so well, but the taste it holds even after cooking is worth the trade off!
Music – A slightly spicy, incredibly flavorful garlic, this is one of the most popular types around.
Spanish Roja – I have grown this hard neck garlic for years – one of the finest flavored garlics I know. Not just hotter, the subtle tones that weave through the taste allows this garlic to compare to the common garlic in the supermarket equal in flavor as a fine Cabernet compared to a 'box of wine.'


Dinosaur Also called Tuscan Black Palm or Lacinato. A unique kale with very large, rounded, well filled, meaty leaves. Plants are large, hardy, and vigorous, and the flavor, if you like it is 'bold' and if you don't like it, it's 'overwhelming.'
Nero di Toscano – A three feet tall plant with dark, meaty, puckered leaves, the color of a blue spruce. The striking ornamental leaves have a fine flavor harvested young and cooked simply in olive oil.


King Richard – This leek grows nicely in our winter and quickly makes a decently edible leek in something like three months. To get a longer white part of the root, bring up the soil around the base of the plant – if you do, you will be rewarded with more usable root.


Many more varieties than you can shake a stick at – or grow a mix! There are many different colors and types, get as many as you have room for! I usually can't keep myself to less than 10 varieties at a time! Almost all of them are open-pollinated varieties and all are a gift from God!


Like garlic, these are long season plants. Look for “short-day” varieties, though most catalogs don't specify long or short day varieties so much these days.
Italian Red Torpedo – Peaceful Valley Farm Supply has these as 'sets;' young plants to set out. This is my very favorite onion. Onions are slow by seed but I've had wonderful success and may offer my own seedlings for sale this year. This is simply the best tasting onion you can get – on the grill, to die for! You might grow others that keep better in storage as well, but don't pass on these!


Italian Flat Leaf – A brighter, more intense flavor, though you will find the curly leaved varieties just as easy to grow in Los Angeles. The flat leaf is easier to dry for summer use.


Super Sugar Snap – I admit that I've mostly given up on peas. They take lot of space and don't exactly over-produce, they get mildew and croak early and I'd rather grow another row of fava beans which are much more productive. Eat the whole pea with these and skip the shelling.


Yukon Gold – A ton of varieties are available, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply will have seed potatoes available in mid-October; try purple and red potatoes – they are less than super performers this close to the ocean, but oh how yummy!


French Breakfast – The standard radish for dependable crops. All radishes are easy to grow and are very quick to harvest – usually around 20-25 days.


Bonilla – Onions are a hassle (and don't really cost that much in the market), shallots are easy to grow and replace the expensive shallots one would need to buy at the store. This hybrid shallot is quick and easy from seed. I got a remarkably good crop with little effort in my first year to grow them -even though I got them in rather late! Dried, they make a good long term storage item.


America – A semi-savoyed spinach. Most of the spinach we remember from way back were all savoyed spinaches, but savoyed (wrinkled), holds dirt better than smooth; I'm all for leaving the savoyed spinaches behind.
Bloomsdale Long-Standing – this was such a great improvement in old spinach varieties for the precise reason that 'long-standing' was not a quality of spinach – and this variety will still bolt at the drop of a hat and carries a hat in case one needs to be dropped. One hot day and you can loose the whole crop. Spinach is one crop I can take or leave.


Purple Top White Globe – Will get to be the size of a small foreign country if you let them, but they are better when small. This is THE turnip we think of when we picture a turnip in our minds.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Class Assignment For Week Two

1.  Write me an email from the email account where you prefer to receive my emails.
2.  Bring a one pint, clean jar with a lid to the next class meeting.

Thank you,

Class Syllabus for Modern Backyard Food Production

UPDATED 25 September 2011
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 2011
Publisher Wobbly Press
ISBN Not yet available - but by class meeting two!  Price unknown this second...

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
Impossible to find – out of print
Title Pests of Landscape Trees and Shrubs: An Integrated Pest Management Guide
Author Dreistadt, Steve H.
Edition 2nd
Publisher Univ of California Agriculture & Natural Resources
ISBN 978-1879906617
Title The Resilient Gardener

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

There will be no assigned reading from these books, except Growing Food In Southern California. 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 like.

Course Schedule:

25 September*
Introduction/History of Food Gardening/Introduction to Soils
02 October
Tools/Garden Tour/ Plot Assignment
09 October
Timing and Design
16 October
Soil Preparation/Composting
23 October
Sustainability and Food Issues in Modern America
30 October
06 November
Planting/Companions/Crop Rotation in a Small Garden
13 November
Perennials/Bulbs as a part of your food supply
20 November
Home orchard/Vines
27 November
Planning for Continuous Harvests
(Syllabus may be changed as needed to reflect reality.)

* Please note the first class meeting will be truncated to two hours. The instructor has been chosen for an award and we need to end before three in order for him to get there! We will choose to extend two classes for one hour or four classes for half an hour in order to make up instructional time. The class will choose the manner in which we will make up the two hours.

Point Assignment Structure

Class participation
Garden Journal
1 page write-up*
Planting Project
* 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 and Tuesday. 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.
  5. Your journal should indicate you learned something from the plot.

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 until I have assigned your grade.

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.

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.