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Saturday, October 27, 2012


Composting Piles and Methodologies

No pile – dig it into the soil (trench composting)
Plastic bins -
Wire bins
Wooden bins
No bins
Vermicomposting (later)

Collect every waste you can for composting from your own house first
newsprint, tea bags, coffee grounds, veggie and fruit trimmings, food that died in the fridge
no dog or cat waste, bones and unused meat are poor choices,

Check with neighbors for their free waste i.e. coffee grounds, leaves,
find local waste that's free – wood chips, sawdust, Starbucks coffee grounds, scrounge your neighborhood for waste streams that could prove useful – another's trash could be your treasure


Commercial products that contain microbes to inoculate your compost pile. Most research shows limited use as the number of microbes multiply to full capacity in short order, but they would do that (more slowly) without the inoculation. No matter the claims made by the sales force for such products, most independent research indicate any positive long term effect from such products.

After too little water, the most common failure in compost piles is a lack of nitrogen – too little materials with not enough nitrogen to facilitate heating up or quick decomposition; all the detritivores need nitrogen to build their protoplasm and do to their work. Additional inputs of nitrogen will correct a slow pile, assuming that lack of water is not the problem.


Alfalfa – one of my favorites, sold as livestock feed in feed stores. One bale sells for under $20. It has some nitrogen and absorbs, and holds onto moisture making it an excellent addition to a compost pile. Alfalfa serves as a good compost stimulant and activator. Alfalfa sold as animal feed in dehydrated pellets or a meal works just as well too.

Apple pomace – any pomace – leftovers from crushing fruits for their juice. Will attract yellow jackets and other wasps so cover them with leaves or soil or straw or hay.

Banana residue – makes a compost pile go whoopee – seems well supplied with nitrogen and guarantee lots of bacterial activity

Beet waste – if you should move near a sugar beet processing plant – many books will recommend beet waste – be careful, though, now that GMO sugar beets have begun to be used.

Bonemeal – high in phosphorus if you find yourself within striking distance of a slaughterhouse. Ditto for blood meal.

Citrus wastes – from your table is sometimes denigrated as a compost pile component, but it is good in nutrients and breaks down quickly. If you are near a factory producing orange and other citrus products – sometimes available from some feed stores – the more peel the more nitrogen the final product will contain.

Cocoa Bean Shells – for those that live near a chocolate factory – they are rich in nitrogen and benefit the soil no matter how they are used. They do not break down quickly so I have used them as pathway mulch. I have heard they are poisonous to dogs although I used them whilst living with two dogs and neither dog showed the slightest interest in them. They smell great, although you might find yourself gorging on chocolate as a result.

Coffee wastes – earthworms love them and they break down nicely. Slightly acidic they make a good mulch around any acid loving plant (skipping the compost pile altogether). Mix them with other OM as they hold moisture well. If allowed to sour, they will attract fruit flies.

Cottonseed meal – commercially available as fertilizer – used to be a great source of nitrogen but most of it is now GMO, as well being sprayed with insecticides of all kinds and I would skip it these days unless you can find a source of organic cottonseed meal.. It is one of the most dependable long term organic sources for nitrogen, a rare thing in organic gardening.

Garbage – will be one of your most consistent and reliable components in your compost pile. Do not use meat craps, fat or bones in your pile for they take too long to fully break down and are very attractive to scavenging animals. When put into your compost pile, always mix with absorbent material like dead leaves, straw or hay and cover them completely with dirt or other substantive materials to prevent smells and discourage flies.

Grape wastes – from wineries, producing waste products in the way of skin residue, seeds and stalks by the ton in pressing season. Not a lot of nutrition but the bulk of organic plant matter may be useful to achieve a rapid hot compost

Grass clippings – most of us have these or can easily obtain them from neighbors who have them. Exceedingly rich in nitrogen, and will heat up on their own if put into a pile, but, because of their shape and high moisture content can pack down, rotting and turn slimy and smelly on you. Add grass clippings in small layers and mix with leaves, garbage and or other materials. Dried grass clippings will have lost most of their nitrogen, treat like hay or straw. If the source lawn is being treated with herbicides, use with care – although the composting process, if done properly will remove most of those residues.

Hair – if you can get an amount of it is probably the most concentrated source of nitrogen you can get for free. Six to seven pounds of hair can contain as much nitrogen as 100 to 200 pounds of manure. Hair will decompose rapidly and may pack down and shed water – mix with other materials to prevent that. Available for free from barbershops or hair salons.

Hay – you can buy a bale from a feed store – may contain weed seeds unless it was cut early – how would you know? If you can find spoiled hay from a farmer it will be free or at low cost.

Leaves – very compostable and available for free to most of us. Leaves, because of the extensive roots of trees that forage deep into the subsoil for nutrients, are a superior component in your compost. Pound for pound, leaves provide twice the mineral content of manure. They are low in nitrogen and may pack down taking a long time to break down, but mixed with a good source of nitrogen and kept aerated, they are a fabulous resource.

Manure – used with discretion can be an important part of a compost pile. If you have chickens or rabbits (or any farm animal) I suggest you use it in your compost pile; but I do not encourage importing fresh animal manures if you do not know the animal. Many of our farm animals today get unregulated dosages of medications and that will be expressed through their feces and urine, furthermore, most animals today are not pastured and their manure will have high concentrations of urine in the manure – urine is high in salts. If you do have a source of manure, use it in the compost pile, get a hot pile and let it break down thoroughly before incorporating these items into your soil. If it smells like animal poop, it is still too fresh.

Paper – you can use paper of many kinds even those with colored ink and slick pages. The secret, and the problem, for using paper waste is they need to be shredded or chopped into fine bits for successful incorporation into the pile. I have used paper from an office shredder, but it was difficult to wet and until wetted was as airborne faster than corn pollen. Wetted newsprint is excellent. Use like straw.

Pine needles – in the south it's called pine straw, but they break down super slowly. They are highly acidic and that means they should not be used intemperately. They have been found somewhat effective at controlling Fusarium wilts.

Rice hulls – a great source of potash and break down readily in your compost pile. They are an excellent soil conditioner, are loved in the compost heap and are a desirable mulch. Many soil conditioners contain large amounts of rice hulls for the 'fluffy.'

Sawdust – available from lumber yards or furniture refinishers. It is valuable as a source of a cabon and helps allow good air penetration into the compost pile. It is slow to break down – the robbing of nitrogen that is often a source of concern for gardeners, most research (my own anecdotal experience included) shows that is not a credible problem.

Seaweed – free and available on the beach, but, some folks worry about the radioactive level since the recent nuclear power plant problems in Japan. It has a similar nutrient level as manure, but should be composted while fresh. While I have worried about salt content, I see no mention of it in most composting literature. Seaweed contains a multitude of micronutrients essential to human and plant health. Mix with other materials and it will decompose quickly. Kelp meal, purchased, can be used as an activator in compost.

Soil – not an essential component in a working compost pile, it can prove helpful. Soil can be used as an inoculator to imbue your pile with microbial activity setting your new pile on its way. Most gardeners, though, add a small amounts of finished compost to a new pile as an activator.

Straw – adds few nutrients but does add organic material and helps aerate a compost pile. It adds carbon to the pile and is a sort of plant food. If using a lot of straw, add commensurate amounts of nitrogen. Straw that has begun to break down is a wonderful addition to any compost pile.

Tea grounds – has a high content of nitrogen (about 4.15%) and breaks down easily.

Weeds – non-perennial weeds can be be placed in the compost pile as long as they are not seeding. Some weeds, like mallow, have an incredible tap root and bring materials from the subsoil up which is in the plant leaves and stems making their contribution to the compost pile much more desirable. However, some weeds, like Bermuda grass, which also has a tremendous root system (Bermuda roots are known to go as far as 27 feet deep!) will only grow in your compost pile – don't risk it.

Wood ashes – a valuable source off potash. Use cautiously for they have a strong alkalizing effect and might also increase soil salinity.

Wood chips – useful in the garden and compost pile. They do break down slowly, but even as they break down they increase the moisture holding capacity and aerate the soil. If your soil has enough nitrogen to begin with, decomposing wood chips should not adversely affect your soil's nitrogen availability.

More will be revealed in class....


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sweet Dijon Salad Dressing

Today's class planting garlic.
Today's salad was composed of Yugoslavian Red Butterhead Lettuce, a generic romaine lettuce, some pecans (left over from last week), pomegranates and feta cheese (a brand imported from Israel found at Trader Joe's).  The lettuce and pomegranate came from today's Mar Vista Farmers' Market.  

The salad dressing we used turned out very yummy!  Here is the recipe, although I maintain, it needs the 'overnight in the fridge' to meld the flavors.  i was not impressed last night, but this morning, it was very yummy.  

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup dijon mustard
4 teaspoons sugar

Place the cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil and sugar substitute into a jar with a tight fitting lid. Close the jar, and shake vigorously to blend. Refrigerate until chilled before using.

Balsamic vinegar and honey (along with a bit of mustard) salad dressing.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. dijon-style mustard
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl whisk all ingredients to combine or put all ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Use immediately or keep, covered and chilled, up to one week.

Makes 2/3 cup dressing.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Varietal Suggestions for Cool Season California Gardens

Artichokes (a perennial)
Green Globe Improved, Violetto
... no special varieties....
Burpee’s Golden, Chiogga, Detroit Dark Red,
Nutribud, DeCicco, Waltham, Calabrese
Brussel Sprouts
Long Island Improved
Cabbage (including Oriental cabbage-like greens)
Glory of Einkhuizen, Copenhagen Market, Mammoth Red,
Dragon, Nantes, Paris Market
Early Snowball
Large Prague Celeriac,
Chard (the 'Swiss' don’t really grow it.. why do we give them the honor?)
Fordhook Giant, Five Color Silverbeet, Ruby (or Rhubarb Red)
Vates, Georgia Southern
... no special varieties....
Fava Beans
Windsor; Aprovecho (sometimes appended with “Select”)
Florence Fennel (bulbing)
Garlic (this is a long season crop, plant in Fall harvest next Summer)
Chesnok Red, Music, Spanish Roja,
Dinosaur (Lacinato), Red Russan,
... no special varieties....
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)
Italian Torpedo (! you will love this on the grill!)
Other leafy salad things
Flat Leaf, Tripled Curled,
Hollow Crown, Harris Model
Dwarf Grey Sugar, Green Arrow, Tall Telephone, Mammoth Melting,
All-Blue, Caribe, Yukon Gold, many, many others!
French Breakfast, Fluo, Easter Egg, Purple Plum
... no special varieties....
America, Bloomsdale Long Standing, Viroflay
Purple White Top, Golden Ball

There are also other vegetables that are not commonly grown you might want to try – I've not tried all of them!

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!!

All of the perennial herb (oregano, thyme, rosemary, mints and so on) are best planted in fall. Ready yourself for fruit tree (and shrub) planting after the first of the year.   


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Cheat Sheet for Planting Times

Probably in May, a squash on its way to be transplanted.

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.

There are two different ways to plant seeds (and I always suggest growing from seed): 1. In the ground – right where the plant will grow, you must do this for root crops, but many plants can be planted in the ground directly or, 2. In a container in a sheltered location – like in the house or on a porch. This is usually done for plants that start out very small and benefit from more attention and care. It is also almost always the way to start tomatoes and Cruciferae (aka Brassicaceae) that benefit from being placed deeper in the soil when transplanted.

Note:  This document is always being revised based on each season I grow food and it is in no way a 'complete' list.  It is, however, a really good starting point and will get you close to 'right' most of the time.

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 & 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, did I say it was 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 – extreme necessity
Plant in containers: continue napping

Plant in the ground: nothing if you can avoid it
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, leeks, shallots, onions...

Plant in the ground: nothing,that is until late in the month,then start sowing turnips, parsnips, radishes, beets and carrots – keep seeds moist! Peas, lentils and garbanzo beans can also be sown...
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 for seed can usually be found about now as well as sets or seed bulbs of onions, garlic and shallots; they all should be planted from now until late November.
Plant in containers: More Cruciferae and favas, celery and celeriac, 

In October and November especially when you have seedlings or seeds in the ground, be on the lookout for Santa Ana winds.  Keep that upper quarter inch of soil or so moist even when these winds blow - that can mean watering a little every day... don't soak the ground but keep those seeds moist or you will loose the whole bunch.

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, shallots, garlic and fava beans. Their growing season is too long to get the harvest you would want. Although the legumes can be planted if you are willing to take a lesser harvest or are using them as a cover (green manure) crop.
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 the next cool growing season.

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 of all that's listed 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 shifts to summer and the heat lovers. Seeds get started slightly before then (if you have the right conditions, up to six weeks). 


Facebook Group

To the students and fans of Modern Backyard Food Production:  

There is now a Facebook 'group' page for this and the other classes I teach.  Please direct your browser over to Facebook and sign up for it.  I hope it becomes a way to facilitate information being shared from person to person and to enhance our learning experience in all the classes I teach.  

Please note: if you are NOT a Facebook fan (I wasn't for a very long time), there will be NO information required for the class that is not posted here.  Facebook has the online social networking covered, and while we could do something like that with Bling, using Facebook is the easier, and more robust, solution.  

Data needed for the course, will posted here first, if I am the originator - if anything posted by someone else on Facebook has an impact on the course, then I will repost it here in the blog.  There should be - I hope - considerable overlap.


October In The Southern California Garden

Seedlings in terra cotta pots getting ready to be transplanted into slightly larger containers.  On the left, broccoli and cabbages have two seed leaves while the two pots on the right must be onions or leeks because they only have one seed leaf each.   

In all the books from back east and England, you'll find fall as a season of 'going to rest,' 'putting the garden to bed' and other allusions to 'sleep' and restoration. It is not true for in the Mediterranean Climate! We are in our other Spring and this Spring is really closer to the Spring that other parts of the world experience. This is our shot at carrots, peas, and other cool season plants. We either have all our space filled with plants, or we've just got a part planted with big plans (dreams) for the rest. So the Winter garden is in full swing. Later this month, if I have grown any green manure cover crops I will cut them down, leaving the plant material in place and cover with a thick layer of mulch. I would like to allow this to “mellow” (meaning I want this material to begin breaking down into nutrients the plants can use) for about 2 weeks or more before placing the next crop in.

I tried to plant one chard plant because I only need one to provide me with enough chard for all my needs, but there are so many colors to choose from, I feel a need to grow at least three: yellow, red and the orange really knocks socks off. These plants provide continuous chard over a long season, sometimes even 'over-summering,' obviating the need for succession planting. Almost everything else though, benefits by being sowed at intervals throughout the season, a process called 'succession sowing' or 'succession planting.'

A person plants a garden to get to eat the very freshest of food – you don't pick your veggies and put them in the fridge to 'age' before you eat them – well, at least, that isn't the intent. So, to the degree possible, only plant enough of what can be eaten in a reasonable amount of time. As a single person, I have found that an eighteen inch row for most things is the perfect size to grow enough to supply fresh carrots, beets, parsnips, cutting lettuces, for any given time. A typical planting schedule for me might look like this (the words in parenthesis name the varieties I like):

Week 1 – carrots (St. Valery)Week 7 - lettuce (Black Seeded Simpson)
Week 2 – beets (Golden)Week 8 – carrots (Scarlet Nantes)
Week 3 – parsnips (Hollow Crown)Week 9 – beets (Red Ball)
Week 4 – carrots (Dragon)Week 10 – spinach (America)
Week 5 – beets (Chioggia)Week 11 – turnips (Purple Globe)
Week 6 – turnips (DeMilano)Week 12 – beets (Albino)

Quickly you see that, though I do eat parsnips and turnips, I don't eat nearly as many of them as I do carrots or beets. Your situation might be different in that you could care less at all about ANY parsnips, but spinach is near and dear to your heart so you would have spinach in the rotation much more than I do.

Another way to do the same thing, for a larger family, is to plant three different things per week – carrots, beets and spinach in week one; turnips, lettuce and parsnips in week two; carrots, beets and parsnips in week three. Or spinach planted in one row every week all cool season long. Tailor the program to your needs! You might also find that you need longer rows – I wouldn't imagine that an 18” row would suffice for a family of four! Play around with the scheduling and the row length and the mix of plants you grow until you find what your family needs. At which point, of course,their needs will change, but you'll have a lot more data with which to figure out the new schedule.

In our smaller gardens there is no room for the proverbial 50' row of carrots which means succession planting of a given vegetable is one of the staple strategies for your daily grub. Another good point about putting in many smaller plantings of crops is the ability to harvest these vegetables at a smaller size, which is just the ticket for a garden in containers. Don’t get suckered into the “bigger is better” routine. A huge cauliflower might serve as a great subject in a “look what I grew” photo contest, but the cauliflower you pick at half the size will be the one your tastebuds will reverently remember.

A mark of the very good gardener is one who has his/her succession sowing down to such a science that allows them to place fresh vegetables on the table without lag time or a concentration of over-abundance that fluctuate to nothing to eat for a few weeks in between. Learning how to do this well has been the work of a lifetime for many and is still a moving target. But at least I know what I’m shooting for... and now you do too.

Direct sowing of seeds gets far too much mystical billing. It’s easy. The hard part, in our busy world, is staying disciplined enough to keep them moist. Remember, the seed wants desperately to grow, that is its “job.” If you provide enough water for the seed to break the seed coat, you will soon see a little pair of leaves above the soil. These are called cotyledons and, if there are two of them, you have what is commonly referred to as a 'dicot' (“di” meaning two), horticultural shortcut word for dicotyledon. There is only one other kind of flowering plant we would be concerned with in a vegetable garden and that has only a single seed leaf and is called a 'monocot' (one-leaf). Monocots, meaning 'monocotyledon,' are all the grasses, which includes grains like corn, wheat, rice and barley. And a lot of your weeds!

Take note of all the little cotyledons of the plants you grow and soon you will be able to tell them from the weeds. This is somewhat important. If you can rid yourself of weeds before they get really big, you have a much easier job of it; if you rid yourself of all the wrong plants because you mistook the lettuce for dandelions, you'll be a very disappointed and frustrated gardener! I have done this, I am not too proud to say. Learn them quickly to forestall the sadness of hoeing up your own plants.

Composting is one of the more essential parts of gardening. Gardening is a life cycle and composting is that part of the cycle that returns nutrients and fertility to the soil. In our culture, we don't like the smell or the thought of decomposition, yet a knowing gardener loves the smell of rich compost; that ever so slightly 'sweet' smell, incidentally, is from actinomycetes, a fungus that is in the same group of organisms as penicillin.

Somehow, fall always reminds me of composting probably because I grew up in those colder climes where fall signals the oncoming winter and so marked the end of the growing season. And that leads to thoughts of composting. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

You can get absolutely nuts trying to build a scientific compost pile, but let me offer that I don't do all that.Decomposition happens. Simply leave some veggies in your fridge too long and tell me they did not begin to decompose. And you didn't have even think about carbon to nitrogen rations (c:n). You do want to understand the process – especially if you don't have the space to leave something sit for 9 months, which is what I tend to do – to get usable compost in less time than it takes to grow a decent cabbage.

Remember you have 'browns' and 'greens,' names that are somewhat misleading. 'Browns' refers to carbon material which is mostly, or usually, brown. This is dried leaves or woody pieces. 'Greens' are those materials full of nitrogen – usually represented by grass clippings, but all of your table scraps are nitrogen sources too and they too are classed as 'greens' regardless of their color. While we can specify the ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio, achieving it is always a meandering attempt to meet a moving and approximate target. Believe me, you'll never have composting materials in the right amounts to achieve an ideal c:n ratio, which is considered to be 25-30 parts per brown to 1 part of green. So, add all the green you have and scrounge around to dig up enough brown to make it work. You can add newsprint or cardboard to the pile to bring up the carbon level ('brown') if you have those around, Mix well and water – keep moist. Make a pile that is at least three feet high by three feet long by three feet wide; this is the minimum size to create a working compost pile. Keep moist. Turn the parts that are inside outside and the parts that are outside inside. Keep moist. Not soggy, but moist. In about 9 weeks of warm weather, you'll be able to use fresh compost. Sift out the big honking pieces and return them to the pile (they will help get the next pile off to a better start) and build it again.

Honestly? I usually dig a trench about one foot across and two feet deep and as long as it needs to be to handle what I have to compost. I pick a part of the garden I won't use for a few months and add the compostable materials, covering with soil as I go. I add to the trench each day I have more to compost. Eventually I'll simply plant right into that soil, starting in the oldest part of the compost ditch. No big deal and it works without a lot of reading. Or thinking. I did this when I had a small garden and kept working compost into the soil in this pattern. On the Plus side, it's not a rodent attractor and it's no muss, no fuss. It's perfect for a single or two person household that doesn't produce a lot of compost. It would also work as an overflow method for folks using worm bins as their # 1 composting method.

You can find the composting technique that thrills you. The important point is that none of these rich materials, food or garden waste, ends up in a land fill. All of the plant wastes from the kitchen and table are the best components for a rich garden and they are free! The benefits of composting for your garden and keeping valuable material out of the landfill are a double whammy of 'why this is important!' You don’t need to worry about doing it perfectly... everything rots eventually.

If you are building a compost pile, you don't need to buy a black plastic container or any other kind of device. The black plastic composters were probably designed back east and made black to absorb more heat; we don't need it here, having plenty of heat (usually) to go around. A simple thee feet by three feet by three feet pile will do. One thing to be careful about is to keep your kitchen scraps covered with some 'carbon' kind of material or you may attract rodents. Just the simple precaution of burying food scraps under a decent layer of dried leaves will help prevent a mouse problem.

A smelly compost pile has too much water. Hold off watering for a few days, work in some dry carbon material without more wet and soon it'll be OK.

Rodale's book on composting is listed in the notes section. Get it, it's a great resource.

For apartment dwellers, condo owners and others with no easy access to land, vermicomposting is the answer you are looking for! And you didn't even know you had the question! It's easy, the result can be used on plants in pots and your garbage need never grace the entrance of a landfill ever again!
You will need
  • 10 gallon bin or 20 gallon bin
  • 1 lb or so of worms (you can start with fewer, the population will expand to account for what you feed them)
  • Cardboard or newsprint
  • Kitchen waste 
Most home stores sell two storage bins that work very well for vermicomposting.  The smaller bin is a 10 gallon container by Rubbermaid called Roughneck Storage Bin #2214-08. It’s dimensions are 9” x  21” x 15” , comes with a lid and is available in various colors.  This size works well for a family of two. 

A worm bin can be made of wood, but plastic seems to work better longer because it won't rot. Your bin must be tightly covered – worms cannot live in light and you don't want them to escape! Punch or drill holes around the top third of the vertical walls to allow air to circulate – punching them with a nail is best because any larger of a hole will be an escape hatch for the explorers in your worm population. You should do the same thing with the lid. Oxygen in the bin will allow the breakdown of materials to proceed aerobically, which means it won't stink and your worms won't suffocate.

Wet a sheet of cardboard or a section of newsprint – soak thoroughly and wring out to where it is as moist of a well wrung sponge. Worms will use this as bedding, and eventually you'll need to replace it as time goes by.

Red wigglers will reprocess kitchen waste such as: vegetables, fruits, eggshells, teabags, paper coffee filters, shredded paper towels, and coffee grounds. They particularly like pumpkin, watermelon and cantaloupe. Avoid citrus fruits because they are too acidic for them. If you pamper your worms by cutting food scraps into small pieces, the worms can finish them off that much faster. I am not, however in the business of making life wonderful for a bunch of worms – I throw my stuff in whole and they take care of it sooner or later. Burying the food scraps into the bedding will help you avoid fruit flies and adding meat or fish to the bin is not advised for many reasons.

Feed the worms your scraps as you have them available -ideally, no less than twice a wee – however, I have gone on vacation for a week and fed my worms nothing in that time and did not come back to a hell hole of a worm bin. Don't stay up nights worrying about them. These worms prefer a pH of something close to 7 and the temperature needs to be between 50? and 84? F. Don't let the bin dry out – keep it moist like the compost pile.

Harvesting the vermicompost can be done several ways, but the way that is easiest and therefore my choice is called 'side-harvesting.' Feed the worms on only one side of the bin for a few weeks which will cause the worms to migrate to that side. You can then begin to harvest the worm compost from that unoccupied side of the bin where you will eventually, once you've finished harvesting (over a few weeks), begin to add fresh bedding on that side causing them to migrate to the new bedding and allowing you to harvest from the second side.

You can make a it lot more complicated than this, but you have better things to worry about, yes?

In planting seeds, please note that root crops are never planted in containers to be transplanted later. There is a really good reason for this: they do NOT transplant well. Onions, and onion family members are the exception. Carrots and parsnips abhor being transplanted and beets and turnips suffer so much shock it is not worth the trouble.

While I often start lettuce in six packs in a sheltered location, it can sown in the soil directly as well. I like to do both, when a plant will let me do both because they each have advantages and drawbacks. Plants that are transplanted will suffer some shock in the transplant and that will slow them down a bit. However, plants grown directly in the garden are often subjected to harsher conditions that can overwhelm a small plant; a hard rain, pests that consume the whole plant while it's small. If you can, start plants both ways to maximize your chance a good harvest. Fava beans, garbanzo beans, lentils and peas can also be grown either in containers or directly sown.

Slower growing small plants, though, really do benefit from growing in a sheltered location. In this group, I put broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. These are also plants that one should set in the ground lower than they were in the original container, so transplanting them makes great sense.

This is a busy month – and the more you do early, the happier you will be! As the month rolls along, sunset gets earlier towards an unreasonable hour and you'll regret the missing outdoor light.

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
More of the cabbage family!
Fava beans
Cabbage family members from early September
Fava beans
Fava beans



Other green leafy vegetables


Refer to the text for exact dates.

Winter Squash With Pecans And Bleu Cheese

4-1/2 pounds winter squash
3 tablespoons olive oil 
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 
1 cup pecans 
1 cups crumbled Roquefort or other bleu cheese 

 Heat the oven to 425°F. 

Halve the squash, leaving the skin on, and scoop out the seeds, then cut into 1-inch cubes; you don't need to be precise, just keep the pieces uniformly bite sized or so. 

Throw into your oven until tender. 

Toss the hot squash into a bowl and scatter with the pecans, crumbling the cheese over, all and toss together. This can be a wonderful side or you can get more involved and create a main course dish from it. 


Sunday, October 7, 2012

For Snack Today

Today's recipe, modified for a grill: 

Nigella’s Winter Squash With Pecans And Blue Cheese

4-1/2 pounds winter squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup pecans
1 cups crumbled Roquefort or other blue cheese

Heat the oven to 425°F. Halve the squash, leaving the skin on, and scoop out the seeds, then cut into 1-inch cubes; you don't need to be precise, just keep the pieces uniformly small.

Put into a roasting pan with the oil and dried thyme. Roast in the oven for about 30-45 minutes or until tender.

Once out of the oven, remove the squash to a bowl and scatter over the pecans and crumble over the cheese, tossing everything together gently.

This has many strings to its bow: It serves as a vegetarian alternative to the Thanksgiving turkey; it gussies up a plate of cold leftover turkey; it adds the right balance of mellow warmth and tang to any plain wintry dish; it is a good whole meal on days when you just feel fleshed out.

Snagged from NPR.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Soil Triangle

Print a copy of the triangle for class tomorrow.  Sorry this has gotten up so late!

Soil classification is typically made based on the relative proportions of silt, sand and clay. Follow any two component percentages to find the nominal name for the soil type. For example, 30% sand, 30% clay and 40% silt:

Find 30% along the bottom (sand) line, and follow the slanted line up and to the left. Stop at the horizontal line for 30% clay, and find the soil type: clay loam.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Driving On The Westside (on Sunday) May Be Hazardous To Your Mental Health

(From our local Venice Patch...)  Avoid getting caught in presidential traffic jam this Sunday:

President Obama will attend several events in Los Angeles on Sunday and the Los Angeles Police Department is advising motorists to stay away from those neighborhoods in the presidential motorcade's path.
The major event is an afternoon "30 Days to Victory" fundraiser concert and rally at the Nokia Theater, at L.A. Live downtown. It will feature performances by Jon Bon Jovi, Jennifer Hudson, Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry and Earth, Wind and Fire.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, will speak. Rallying remarks by the president are likely at about 6 p.m.
Prior to that, the president is scheduled to arrive at an undisclosed location in the Beverly Hills area Sunday afternoon.
The president's exact itinerary has not been announced for security reasons, and it may change. The following is information from LAPD:
12:30-2:30 p.m.
Pico Boulevard between Overland Avenue and Beverly Drive.
Avenue of the Stars between Beverly Glen and Doheny Drive.
Sunset Boulevard between Beverly Glen and Doheny Drive.
3-5 p.m.
Sunset Boulevard between Beverly Glen and Doheny Drive.
North Whittier Drive between Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard.
5-7 p.m.
Avenue of the Stars between Wilshire and Pico Boulevard.
Motor Avenue between Pico Boulevard and the 10 Freeway.
Streets around L.A. Live and the Nokia Center.
9:30-11:30 p.m.
Motor Avenue between National Boulevard and Pico Boulevard.
Avenue of the Stars between Santa Monica Boulevard and Pico Boulevard.
7-9 a.m.
Avenue of the Stars between Santa Monica Boulevard and Pico Boulevard. 
— City News Service contributed to this report.
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