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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Greener Gardens Reading List Weeks 1 and 2, Summer 2016

Overview of Sustainability and Gardening:

 Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, Schumacher, E. F., ©1973 Blond & Briggs. This classic inspired much of the current thinking in sustainability. Although it does not relate directly to gardening, it explains the basis of the idea of natural capital. E.F Schumacher Society website: Their resource page is comprehensive.

 The Natural Step Story, Robert, Karl-Henrik, © 2002 New SocietyPublishers. Not a gardening book, this book details how Robert obtained general agreement on ecological change in Sweden, as well as a statement of the four conditions of sustainability.

Lazy-Bed Gardening: The Quick and Dirty Guide, Jeavons, John and Cox, Carol, ©1992 Ten Speed Press. A more accessible book than Jeavons’ “How to Grow More Vegetables: etc.” Written by pioneers in the U.S. of Biodynamic French-Intensive gardening, it tells how to create fertility on a closed-system basis, that is without inputs, by growing both calorie crops for humans and carbon crops for compost.

The Contrary Farmer, Logsdon, Gene, ©1995 Chelsea Green, and The Contrary Farmer’s Invitation to Gardening, ibid. How to garden (and farm) with the least effort and inputs possible, by someone who has been farming all his life, and fighting big ag at the same time. All of his books are excellent.  Gene has died but his blog is still at

The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural, Wendell Berry, ©1981, San Francisco North Point. This prolific writer and farmer articulated the problems of the loss of small farms and the tragedy of large ones while ag policy was changing to ‘get big or get out.’

Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, Nabhan, Gary Paul, © 2002, W.W. Norton. One of the original books on eating local which inspired many others, including Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle. All of his books are worth reading.
Eat More Dirt: Diverting and Instructive Tips for Growing and Tending an Organic Garden, Sandbeck, Ellen, © 2003 Broadway Books. This small book tells how to actually accomplish the act of gardening, including how to use tools, how to move big rocks, and why herbicide doesn’t work on concrete.

Square Foot Gardening and All New Square Foot Gardening, Bartholomew, Mel, © 1981 Rodale and © 2013 Cool Springs. Not an overview book, but specific instructions for small-space gardening.

Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies, Dell, Owen, © 2009 For Dummies. Dell has been telling the truth about the impacts and inputs of gardening for a long time. 

A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil, Astyk, Sharon and Newton, Aaron, © 2009, New Society Publishers. Explores the world food crisis and why
big conventional ag can't solve it.

Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer, Robin Wall, 2014 Milkweed Editions. Kimmerer, a Native American biologist, weaves together two ways of knowing the earth. Also, Kimmerer's article on Yes! Magazine, Nature Needs a new Pronoun., Environmental news website. Mostly policy.  Lighter environmental news, fun gadgets.
Yes! Magazine Stories of positive change.
Orion Magazine Deep thinking about nature and environmental issues.



David's Background Bibliography for Sustainability

Deep Economy, The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, McKibben, Bill, ©2007 Times Books Want a dose of hope? Here. McKibben has delved into a variety of alternative choices to find examples of human civilizations that actually approach creating a viable economy and lifestyle that considerably reduce man’s impact on the world.  Like most of the books following, this is not strictly a book on sustainability, in the main, - however, this is one of the MOST hopeful books that brings some of these issues to light.  One thing rings through out this book:  community is key to many of the answers of the future.

Easy Green Living, Loux, RenĂ©e ©2008, Rodale Inc. Breeziness belying a difficult resource book that will help you shop through the sustainable hype. A compendium of little helpful hints (the Heloise of our time?) and deciphering clues of labels and claims. She covers everything from the bathroom to light bulbs and beyond, helping delineate what the labels mean with all those fifteen syllable words on them.  However, this book like all the other books in this vein are limited by what we know today - the solution we learn tomorrow may well contradict the solution we applaud to day.  Still, we have to start where we are now - we really can't start anywhere else! 

Kitchen Literacy, Vileisis, Ann, ©2008 Island Press, Along the lines of the Pollan books, Vileisis brings us back to the knowledge every cook had in days before we let the ‘experts’ and the government tell us what to eat and why. Turns out it was better for us and for the earth.  This book is the history of eating dinner in America.  It also reflects on woman's role in society and the evolution of that role by virtue of how our lives have changed as regards to eating and effort of putting food on the table. 

Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil, Hillel, Daniel,
© 1992, University of California Press, There has been a recent spate of books on soil in the past ten years.  Preceding this glut by almost ten years, Hillel wrote the best of the lot - all the others are second rate.  Not to say they don't have a story to tell, but Hillel's book is not only science, but reads at times like poetry and his love of the subject is steeped in a deep knowledge that encourages affection and respect.  There is no other book on soil that teaches so much about soil with a deep spirituality and yet is science-based and science driven.  I truly love this book and it has been an inspiration for many years.

The Unsettling of America:  Culture and Agriculture, Berry Wendell, ©1997, Sierra Club Books,  Anything by Wendell Berry is worth reading.  Everything from Wendell Berry can be life-changing.  Wendell Berry, quirky and profound, looks at the world with a lens many of us only aspire to.  His writing is eloquent, his thinking eclectic.  Of the authors that have been instrumental in bringing me to where I am today, Berry is the one whose ability to see a much larger picture is the most constant and his range of vision deeper than anyone I can name at this moment. 

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver, Barbara et al © 2007 Harper Collins, When less is really more. Kingsolver and her family agree to eat only foods produced within 100 miles of their West Virginia home (everyone was allowed one exception and her husband chose coffee marking him as a sensible man) for one year. The story of how they did it and the results they achieved makes delightful reading and food for thought. One of the easiest books to read on this list, not only is it inspirational and a harbinger of hope, there are some passages that I recall as being some of the funniest stuff I've read in a while.  I still can be doubled over by someone with a thick Italian accent saying, "the seeds, senora, are in the squash!"
The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook, De Rothschild, David, ©2007, Rodale Inc. A lot of statistics that just overwhelm a person, but a viable list of Things To Do Today and beyond. Probably one of the more easily digested books of this contemporary genre. The most sustainable thing to do, however, is to get it from the library.  (That holds true for all these books.)

The Lost Language of Plants, Buhner, Stephen Harrod, ©2002 Chelsea Green Publishing,  Humans getting well should not get the earth sick. This is the ecological ‘why’ of alternative medicine, but be warned, you will never look as a fashionable layer of mascara the same way again either! Buhner's message is critical and crucial.  This work shows that how we think about the earth and our relationship to it absolutely needs a comprehensive overhaul in ways most of us have yet to imagine.  I think Buhner's writing is a little obtuse, but he is the only one out there with THIS message and it must be heard.

Reading List Week Two: Books About Sustainable Design Principles

Principles of Ecological Design, Ludwig, Art, ©1989 Oasis Design, This short manual gives rules for ecological design that are both simple and profound. An excellent companion to his other books which deal with greywater and water storage.

Gaia’s Garden, Hemenway, Tony, © 2000 Chelsea Green. This is the most accessible book about Permaculture for gardeners, especially for the West Coast. Directly applicable.

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Holmgren, David, © 2002, Holmgren Design Services. A more theoretical approach to sustainable design concepts.

Permaculture: A Designers' Manual, Mollison, Bill, © 1988 Tagari Publications. This comprehensive book is the textbook for the Permaculture Design class. A reference for those who have already been introduced to the principles, as well as a dual duty doorstop and blunt instrument :-). It is on this list for the sake of comprehensiveness, not because we expect you to read it. Mollison's out of print Permaculture One is much more accessible.

Design with Nature, McHarg, Ian, © 1982 John Wiley and Sons, Inc. This book is more a lanscape-level and regional-planning book, but has beautiful graphics and exposition about where to site projects. This book addresses the too-rarely asked question, “where is this project?” when designing.

The Power of Limits: Proportional Harmonies in Nature, Art and Architecture, Gyorgy Doczi, © 1981 Shambhala Publications, Inc. How the Fibonacci sequence and other aspects of the golden mean underlie proportions in nature, and how this has been used historically in good design.

Fukuoka Farming Bibliography

One Straw Revolution, An Introduction to Natural Farming, Fukuoka, Masanobu ©2009, a reissue of his 1978 classic, Fukuoka's first book on his extensive work in Japan. Decidedly with a Japanese bent (his main crop is rice and barley), he still presents a lovely description of his farming efforts that began as a reaction to the Western idea of agriculture and more that began to infiltrate Japanese society in the 1930's. His work continued until his death in 2008 (at 95).  His grain raising techniques became THE grain raising techniques in permaculture.

The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy, Fukuoka, Masanobu © 1985 Also out of print. And expensive. ($61, used on Amazon) Can be downloaded as a PDF, I had success at this site, but I do not warranty it to be 100% safe from commercial interests. 

The Road Back to Nature, Fukuoka, Masanobu © 1988 Out of print, but you can find copies reasonably priced on eBay, used copies are almost $70 from Amazon. From the back cover: Fukuoka's reflections on his trips to Europe and to America, his sense of shock at seeing the destruction wreaked in the name of agriculture. A collection of his lectures, articles and essays which outline his thinking on nature, God and man and his underlying optimism that good sense can still prevail and we can still turn it all around. This is a collection of articles, lectures and essays recording his impressions as he travels the world talking about his revolutionary 'do-nothing' agricultural methods. There is a spiritual side to a lot of his thoughts and an optimism that a change in lifestyles and farming methods could yet heal the Earth's wounds.

Fundamental Realities, an article by Hazelip, Emilia was found at the Fukuoka Farming Website – but as of this writing that website is no longer in existence.  However, You Tube has several videos with Hazelip describing how she has adapted Fukuoka's principles to a Western market garden.

July 9th Field Trip Directions and Notes

At 1:00 PM, we will start the field trip at Garden/Garden 1718 and 1724 Pearl Street in Santa Monica, across the street from the Main Campus on the backside.  (Bring quarters to feed the meter!) 

The gardens are easy to find.  Do plan on shielding yourself from the sun and have plenty of fluids on hand to stay hydrated. 

Approximately at 3:30, we will leave Garden/Garden driving east bound on Pearl to 23rd Street, turning right and staying on it as makes a curve near the Santa Monica Airport and changes its name to Walgrove Avenue.  Continue southbound and parking on the street near Venice High School and join us in the garden.  Parking on campus is not advised - the grounds people will NOT notify you when they are going home and locking the gates. I can get you out, but it involves driving over their lawn and down a curb, both probably illegal.  We will be on campus till about 5:00.  We will be doing a project in water abatement at the garden - this will be a practical application of some of the things you are learning in the course and certain to be valuable towards cementing your understanding. 


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Owen Dell's Article: Introduction to Sustainability

No one has made a more cogent introduction to this subject than Owen Dell.  Devour this: 

This article originally appeared in Pacific Horticulture magazine, Winter 1998. Reprinted by permission.


Imagine a garden that rarely needs pruning, watering or fertilizing. One where natural controls usually take care of pest problems before the gardener even becomes aware of them. A peaceful garden where the sound of blowers, power mowers or chain saws never intrudes. Imagine a garden that also serves as a climate control for the house, keeping it cool in summer and warm in winter, a garden that traps rainwater in an attractive streambed to deeply irrigate the trees and recharge the ground water, one that provides habitat for wildlife and food for people. Imagine a garden that truly works. This is the sustainable garden, not barren or sacrificial, but as lush and beautiful as any other without all the struggle and waste. Yes, it is just that simple.

Southern California landscape consultant Randall Ismay has calculated that 80 percent of the total cost of a garden over its lifespan is maintenance labor and materials. Only 20 percent, then, goes into its design and construction. That is often partially attributable to unrealistic limitations on the designer’s time and corner-cutting on the installation, but for the most part, that 80/20 split is due to poor design that creates a permanent maintenance burden far greater than is necessary. It is through ignorance and carelessness that we create gardens that are needlessly needy.

On another front, most of the materials that go into the initial construction of the landscape -- the concrete, lumber, stone and gravel, and all the rest -- are either non-renewable or severely damaging to their environment of origin. Consider decomposed granite, a popular granular paving material that is attractive, inexpensive, easy to install and permeable to rainwater. On those counts it is a sustainable material. Yet, it is a soil type that is strip-mined from once-pristine mountains.

It is unfortunate that even proponents of sustainable landscaping have for the most part ignored these off-site impacts and satisfied themselves with creating gardens that, while they may be internally more sustainable than conventional ones, pillage nature in the course of their development and so are mere symbols of sustainability. Indeed, their hypocrisy does violence to the idea of sustainability.

So, what’s a better way? How does a sustainable garden actually work? Here are some of the nuts and bolts of this evolving approach to gardens...BUT WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

In the old xeriscape days, some people were afraid that the government was going to come and take out their lawn and replace it with cactus and rocks. Similarly, sometimes the idea of a sustainable garden conjures up the image of a barren, sad place that bears little relationship to the gardens we know and love. What will you have to give up to gain all these benefits? And what will it look like?

Well, the truth is that a sustainable garden can look pretty much like any other garden. Sustainability is independent of style. A Japanese garden can be sustainable. So can an English border, a desert garden, you name it. About the only thing you might have to forsake is that acre of bluegrass in the front yard, but even that could be more sustainable if it were replaced with a yarrow lawn that uses half the water and requires mowing only a few times a year.

Design your garden in whatever style you want, applying the principles of sustainability as you go.


THE GARDEN AS A SYSTEM. First and foremost, a sustainable garden is a system, just as nature is a system, just as the human body is a system, or for that matter a computer or an automobile or a toaster oven. It consists of a complex of interrelated parts that work together to create a functioning whole. Just as your body remains alive and healthy due to the combined and harmonious workings of the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the endocrine system and all the rest, so a well-designed garden will thrive when the insect system, the soil system, the water system, the plant system, the drainage system and many others are united in the common task of preserving the integrity of the whole. Until the garden is designed and managed as a system, our relationship to it will be primarily reactive -- pulling weeds here, cutting back overgrown plants there, watering when rainfall is insufficient for proper growth, fertilizing when the native soil cannot bear the demands for nutrition placed upon it by hungry exotic plants.

RELATIONSHIP TO PLACE. No system that is placed in an unfavorable environment will ever function successfully. Imagine a car in a world with no gasoline. For the garden to work well, it must have a finely-honed relationship to place. This means using plants from appropriate climates that will survive for the most part on what nature offers here and now, without subsidies from outside. The natural soil will be hospitable to these plants without the need for amendments and fertilizers. The natural rainfall will be adequate to meet their water needs. The temperatures will be agreeable to them without artificial modifications of the microclimate. In other words, the garden will be adapted to the carrying capacity of the land.

The hardscape elements -- patios, walkways and the like -- will be placed to take advantage of natural site features and microclimates and will be built of simple materials, preserved in a state of nature or nearly so, and that come from on site or nearby.

In the ancient days of Japanese gardens, the designer would spend a year on the site, watching the sun come up and go down again, every day for a complete cycle of seasons. In this way, he was able finally to understand the site well enough to make propitious decisions in creating the garden. Today, we expect drive-by design and we get the results we deserve.

HOMEOSTASIS. Nobody gardens nature. Have you ever wondered how that works? A natural ecosystem exists in a state of active balance, remaining stable until a triggering event changes the rules for a time. A hillside of 20 year-old chaparral is an example of what botanists call a "climax plant community." That is, one that has reached its mature state and will remain quiescent until it is disturbed, typically by wildfire. In the climax condition, natural processes go on at a languid pace -- weeds are shaded out by the dense canopy of Ceanothus and toyon and sage, animal burrows are undisturbed by land movement, plants gradually grow larger, insect populations remain stable. Biologists define "homeostasis" as "tending to maintain a relatively stable internal environment." By designing a garden in which the plants are given a favorable environment and room to grow, it is possible to create a homeostatic condition that will serve the garden and the gardener well for decades to come. In ignoring this principle. we create gardens that are sub-climax plant communities, always in a state of instability and therefore demanding of much care and many resources.

INPUTS AND OUTPUTS: A properly designed garden brings in fewer materials for its construction and later for its care, and generates little in the way of greenwaste, air pollution and other flows to the outside world. Let’s think for a moment about what comes and goes in the garden and how we might use less without giving up any of the things we want.

INPUTS: BUILDING MATERIALS: Consider first what is on the site that might be utilized to advantage. Boulders can be rearranged into an attractive retaining wall or dry streambed, for instance. Soil can be molded into adobe blocks and those can be used to build walls and other structures. Poles cut from that stand of weedy Eucalyptus trees can be used as lumber for arbors, fences and other garden woodwork. Similarly, whips pruned from fruit trees can be woven together into an attractive fence or trellis. The more you can use from on site, the less damage you do to other places, the less pollution is caused by trucking things in from far away, and the more money you save.

In many cases, materials of some kind will need to be brought in, especially where structures and paving are involved. Turn to re-used materials like railroad ties and broken concrete for your first choice. If they don’t satisfy, select from materials such as wood that come from renewable sources rather than things like concrete that, though abundant, is non-renewable. Also consider the "embodied energy" of the material: the total energy that is required to produce and deliver the material to you. Minimally-processed materials like lumber and decomposed granite and gravel have a low embodied energy, while things like brick, tile and concrete have a high embodied energy. Don’t forget recycled materials -- plastic lumber made from soda bottles and wood waste for example. There are even ways to treat ordinary soil so that it will solidify into a solid surface for walkways and roads. Finally, ask where things come from and consider the impact your purchase will have at the source.

INPUTS: WATER: Conserve water by selecting plants that are native to a climate similar to yours and that are known to be drought-tolerant. Then provide a high-efficiency irrigation system such as drip and learn to manage it properly, applying only enough water to replace what is used up. Mulch all your plantings to reduce evaporative losses from the soil, which can be significant. Keep weeds down; they use water too. Consider planting less densely to match the biomass to the carrying capacity of the land. And of course, reduce lawn areas to only that which you will use functionally, not ornamentally. Finally, where it is appropriate and safe to do so, grade the site (and perhaps build a dry streambed or percolation basins) to keep valuable rainwater on the site. You might even consider installing a cistern or other rainwater storage system to hold water for use during the dry season. It is possible to have a full, attractive planting with little or no supplemental watering during normal rainfall years. Remember, nobody waters nature.

INPUTS: FERTILIZERS: Minimize the importation of fertilizers by selecting plants that have low nutrient requirements and by fertilizing less often at lower application rates. The best fertilizer is compost that has been made from the very plants you’re fertilizing, plugging another leak to the outside world. If you do have a lawn, use a mulching mower that finely cuts the clippings and blows them back down into the lawn, possibly the world’s shortest trip to the compost pile. This is called "grasscycling" and it really works.

INPUTS: PESTICIDES: Similarly, reduce the need for pesticides by planting pest-resistant varieties and giving them satisfactory growing conditions. Just as a person thrives with a good diet and plenty of exercise and sickens in the absence of these things, so it is with plants.

When pests do show up, practice a little benign neglect first. Think of insects as co-inhabitants of the garden and remember that for most pests there will be one or more kinds of predators that can show up to keep the situation under control, at no cost to you. If a pest problem begins to get out of hand, import an appropriate ben-eficial insect as your first line of defense. Beneficials are efficient and voracious and never take a day off. Besides, learning about the relationships between insects is as much fun as learning about plants. Only if the beneficials don’t work (and please give them time to do their job) then you might consider using a least-toxic pesticide like insecticidal soap to knock down the population.

If a plant suffers from chronic, disfiguring pest damage, consider replacing it with a more appropriate species. Remember that of the hundreds of garden chemicals, only a handful have ever been tested for their effects on people, animals and the environment. Besides, volatilization of garden chemicals contributes to air quality problems.

There’s one other secret about avoiding pest problems and that is to build diversity into your plant palette. A mono-culture is much more vulnerable to pests and diseases than a more complex blend of things from many plant families.

INPUTS: HERBICIDES: Rather than applying herbicides, keep weeds down by avoiding large expanses of low-growing ground covers that provide newly-germinated weed seeds with a perfect environment for their development. Use a drip irrigation system to keep the soil dry and therefore unwelcoming to weeds. And mulch! Apply 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch such as shredded bark or tree chips in all planted areas. (Avoid letting mulch pile up around the trunks of plants, and watch out for tree chips that contain lots of live seeds or come from diseased trees.) Hand pull weeds when they’re young, remembering the old gardener’s adage, "One years’ seeds is nine years’ weeds."

INPUTS: FOSSIL FUELS: Fossil fuels are used in the garden in some sneaky ways. Of course, trucking materials from afar and making trips to the landfill burns gasoline, but do you realize that many chemical fertilizers and pesticides are made primarily from petroleum byproducts? And of course, all that gas-driven equipment uses petroleum, too. By planting right-sized plants that don’t need cutting back so often, and by keeping their growth steady with a lean diet of organic fertilizer and water, you’ll be reducing the need to use all that equipment to cut them back and haul them to the dump. (And don’t forget that the soft new growth stimulated by fertilizers and water and constant pruning makes the plants more susceptible to pest infestations.) If you do need to prune, use hand tools rather than power tools to eliminate one more source of fossil fuel use.

INPUTS: TIME: A sustainably designed and managed garden will require much less time to care for, because it is inherently stable. By taking our cues from nature, we adopt the self-maintaining character of the natural environment. A plant with room to grow is one that doesn’t need to be pruned. A healthy plant is one that doesn’t need to be sprayed. A building material that is at or close to a state of nature (such as a boulder) doesn’t need to be cared for like many highly-refined materials systems (painted wood, for instance). And build things to last so that you don’t have to replace or repair them for a long time.

INPUTS: MONEY: A garden that uses so few materials and requires so little care has just got to be less expensive, right? Right. Even if the design and installation were to cost more (which probably won’t be the case) the garden will still be much cheaper to live with because there’s not much to do but enjoy it. You’ll start getting a return right away and it will continue for the life of the garden. In fact, one of the best things about a sustainable garden is that it gets easier and easier to live with, because it grows more and more stable as it matures. Compare that with a traditional garden that demands more and more time and money as the trees and shrubs get too big and need to be cut back oftener and oftener, as the thirsty plants grow larger and need more water, and as the poorly-built structures need constant tinkering to keep them from falling apart. With a sustainable garden, you time and your money are yours to enjoy.

OUTPUTS: GREENWASTE: The biggest item on the output side of the ledger is the trimmings that leave your garden and go to the dump. Why have we accepted this for so long? By and large, the only reason for trips to the dump is that the plants don’t have enough room to grow. Why plant a 20 foot tall plant when you want a 6 foot hedge? Why plant a 100 foot tall tree in a small patio? And why, please tell me, put Juniperus tamariscifolia, which grows up to 20 feet in diameter (you could look this up) into a 5 foot wide parking strip? Yet these things are done all the time, and not just by naive amateurs either. Yes, you might have to wait an extra year for a right-sized plant to grow to the size you want, but you’ll be saving yourself a lifetime of cutting and hauling and looking like a fool.

So plant the right size plants and then allow them to grow naturally, pruning only to remove crossing or damaged branches. By fertilizing and watering less, you also generate less greenwaste. Then, recognize that greenwaste isn’t really waste at all, but a valuable element in the garden system -- feedstock for your composting operation. Chop it into small pieces, pile it up (half green stuff and half brown stuff), squirt some water on it and you’re on your way to a supply of compost that can be returned to the garden to supply valuable nutrients and beneficial soil microorganisms. Throwing away garden trimmings is like burning dollar bills.

OUTPUTS: POLLUTED RUNOFF: Fertilizers and pesticides leach out of the soil with each irrigation and find their way into the groundwater, streams and the ocean. If you don’t use them in the first place, you won’t have to worry about this problem. And if you grade the site to retain water, any bad stuff you do have around will stay around.

OUTPUTS: AIR POLLUTION: Similarly, the volatilization of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides into the atmosphere won’t be a concern if you don’t introduce them into the garden in the first place.

According to the New York Times, a lawnmower operated for an hour emits as much pollution as driving a car 50 miles. Far worse, in two hours, a chain saw emits as many hydrocarbons as a new car driven 3,000 miles! That’s not a typo. When the California Air Resources Board added up the pollution from all the power equipment used by the landscape industry, loggers and arborists, it equaled that produced by 3.5 million cars driven 16,000 miles each. That doesn’t even count equipment used by homeowners. Reduce this problem by cutting way back on your use of gas-driven garden equipment, especially two-cycle engines that power chainsaws, weed whackers, blowers and hedge trimmers. Use hand tools or electric tools instead. And remember that because your garden is designed to require little pruning, you’ll be needing this equipment less anyway.


HARVESTING FROM THE WASTE STREAM: We can go beyond merely minimizing our consumption and waste. The garden can actually reduce overall waste by harvesting materials from the waste stream. Here are a few suggestions; with a little imagination you can come up with more. Glean feedstock for your compost pile from restaurants and grocery stores. Try coffee grounds and discarded produce, for instance. Use chips from tree trimming operations in the neighborhood to mulch your beds; tree companies are usually happy to drop off chips for free or for a modest fee. Better yet, use the wood as lumber for garden projects such as benches, fences, etc. Broken concrete can be stained with ferrous sulfate fertilizer to look like stone and then stacked to make retaining walls or set in a bed of sand to make stepping stones or a patio. Waste of many kinds from construction projects can be turned into small structures or garden art. One of the nicest planters I’ve ever seen was a discarded brake drum from a large truck; these can be obtained for very little money from a heavy-equipment mechanic or a junkyard. There’s a mountain of interesting material going right by your house every day on its way to the landfill. Use your imagination and make use of some of it.

PROBLEMS NO ONE HAS SOLVED YET: Until they learn to make pipe out of soybeans (not so wild an idea as you might think), we’re stuck with PVC pipe and all its drawbacks. For now, use drip tubing where you can; it’s made from non-reactive polyethylene that doesn’t contain dioxins and doesn’t require solvents for assembly.

Many recycled mulches are made from construction waste that may contain lead and other contaminants, or from chipped trees that may inoculate your soil with oak root fungus and other diseases. Plus, some of these materials can be very flammable, especially during hot weather. For now, I recommend using caution when purchasing these materials and if there is any doubt, use shredded redwood or fir bark instead.

As far as I know, no one has come up with a durable, hard paving material that’s also sustainable. For now, we’re stuck with concrete. In fact, paving materials in general tend to be destructive at their source. Use mulches in pathways where there is minimal traffic and save the hard stuff for the front walk and other public areas. If you must use concrete, specify a high-flyash content mix that uses waste from coal-burning power plants, and is much stronger and more durable than conventional concrete.

GO BEYOND SUSTAINABILITY: Unlike buildings, gardens are naturally solar-powered. They are also capable of producing food for people. Plant an orchard and a vegetable garden. Make use of the productivity of your land to grow food instead of just flowers. It’s sure to be superior in every respect to those supermarket tomatoes that we all like to belittle. If you produce more than you can eat or preserve, give the rest away to a homeless shelter or rescue mission. Or to the neighbors; they like ripe tomatoes and juicy plums, too.

Don’t forget the wildlife. Provide shelter, nesting materials and food for birds, mammals and other critters. Grow plants that attract beneficial insects and they will reward you by patrolling the garden for you.

It’s time that gardens began to give back rather than take, to become part of the solution to our problems rather than part of the problem. 

20 Questions, More or Less

We will go over these questions in our first meeting.  The answers are not the point.  The answers to 21 to 25 will suss out where you are today.  A telling exercise will be to look at those answers upon completing the course.

  1. How far does the average food item in a grocery store travel to get there? 1500 miles
  2. What is the number one reason food prices are going up over time? Price of oil
  3. Grain that is used to make 25 gallons of ethanol will feed one human being for how long? One whole year
  4. Other than farming, where does most of the nitrogen fertilizer that is polluting our water come from? Cities, i.e. lawns, parks, and sports fields
  5. While continuing to drive to work, what is the single most ecological way you can commute to your work (assuming your car is in good running condition)? Drive the speed limit
  6. Which consumes more water, a vegetable garden or a lawn? Lawn
  7. Which food in the grocery store uses the most pesticides? Strawberries
  8. Which is better for the environment, corn or grass fed beef? Grass fed.
  9. Do longer working hours and less vacation have an impact on the environment? (Deep Economy, p. 115)
  10. Are larger farms more productive and necessary to prevent starvation? ** Nation of Farmers: NO
  11. What is the amount of the tax Ireland places on plastic shopping bags? $ .22.
  12. What is the biggest resistance to giving up plastic bags? Dog poo pick up bags
  13. What is the least sustainable crop grown in present day Los Angeles? Why? Lawn
  14. What is the annual topsoil loss in the US? 5 billion tons
    13.a. How may years to make an inch of soil? 500 years
  15. Why is habitat a sustainability issue? Habitat provides eco-system services...
  16. Name two issues with invasive plants... a.) they create monocultures that destroy habitat and b.) create fire conducive conditions
  17. Which tail-pipe emission most affects our regional ecosystem? Nitrogen
  18. What is the tail-pipe emission that most negatively affects plants of all regions? Ozone
  19. How does conventional annual cropping contribute to global warming? a.) fossil fuels; b.) carbon loss from plowing; c.) nitrogen off-gassing to N2O; d.)
  20. What is wrong with synthetic N fertilizers? Volatize into the atmosphere or pollute ground water
  21. Can you sequester carbon in your own garden? How? See note A below...
  22. Name two plants you would choose to grow in a sustainable garden. Defend your choice.
  23. How do you define ‘sustainable?’
  24. Why should one be concerned with sustainability?
  25. What do you want as your personal legacy in this regard?

NOTES On Each Question:
  1. ( track individual items
  2. .
  3. .
  4. .
  5. .
  6. . Lawn Is The Largest Crop In America – more than 63,000 square miles almost the size of TX
    If the entire turf surface was well watered following commonly recommended schedules there would. . . be an enormous pressure on the U.S. water resources, especially when considering that drinking water is usually sprinkled,” the researchers found. “At the time of this writing, in most regions outdoor water use already reaches 50-75 percent of the total residential use.”
  7. EWG: More than 98 percent of strawberry samples, peaches, nectarines, and apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
    • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
    • A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.
    • Single samples of strawberries showed 17 different pesticides.
    10. .
    11. Rechecked as of 21 June 2016
    13. DWP gave out rebates to ditch your lawn.
    14. this quote also from Pimental et al in 1994: 'During the past 40 years nearly one-third of the world's cropland (1.5 billion hectares) has been abandoned because of soil erosion and degradation...'”
    15. An ecosystem service is any positive benefit that wildlife or ecosystems provides to people.  The benefits can be direct or indirect – small or large. 
    16. .

Note A: Soil has the ability to store carbon, preventing it from entering the air as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and contributing to climate change. No-till farming and gardening—growing crops with little or no tilling or plowing—may be particularly well suited to sequestering carbon, especially when combined with organic practices.

Soil organic carbon (SOC)—carbon that derives from organic materials and is stored or sequestered in soil—accounts for approximately 58 percent of the total organic mass found in soil. It is the largest global pool of terrestrial carbon. But historic levels of soil organic carbon far exceeded modern-day levels. Globally, most agricultural lands have already relinquished approximately 50 to 70 percent of their initial SOC stores. This loss of SOC contributes significantly to the levels of climate-altering carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; approximately 792 billion tons of carbon emissions from 1750 to 1999 can be attributed to the loss of SOC. The depletion continues today, fueled by land-use changes and the regular plowing and tilling of agricultural fields.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Greener Gardens: Sustainable Garden Practice Syllabus

Course Name, Units Greener Gardens: Sustainable Garden Practice, 4 units
Req # 2455538
Course Number X498.10
Quarter, Year Summer, 2016

Course Information:
Location: Classroom, The Learning Garden, 13000 Venice Blvd. campus of Venice High School (enter off of Walgrove Avenue, parking on the street)
Dates: Tuesday – June 21, 2016, 6:30-9:30 PM through 16 August
Field Trip Dates: Saturday, July 9, 1:30 PM 4:30 PM
Saturday, July 30, 1:30 PM to 4300 PM
Saturday, August 13 1:30 PM to 4300 PM

Instructors Information:
Name: Orchid Black/David King
Email Policy: We will have no set office hours, however, we will be available by phone and by email. We are willing to meet with students by appointment.

David King is a noted Los Angeles food gardener with over 40 years of experience. He has served on the board of the American Community Gardening Association and the California School Gardening Advisory Board. His first book, Growing Food In Southern California is due out later this year. He is the director of The Learning Garden and the Founding Chair of The Seed Library of Los Angeles, and co-founder of Seed Freedom – LA, the group spear-heading the anti-GMO ordinance in Los Angeles.

Orchid Black is a garden designer and owner of Native Sanctuary which offers native plant consulting, habitat creation and sustainable design services. Orchid’s gardens have been featured on the Theodore Payne Foundation’s garden tour. Orchid writes and lectures about native horticulture, water-saving strategies, and sustainable gardening.

Course Description:
Sustainability is today's buzzword and many people seek to create a lifestyle with a more favorable impact on the environment. From home gardens to school and commercial sites, our gardens present the perfect place to start. Designed for horticulture students, gardening professionals, educators, and home gardeners, this course focuses on turning your green thumb into a "greener" garden. Topics include composting, irrigation, water harvesting, water wise plants, eating and growing local produce, recycling, and moving towards a sustainable lifestyle when choosing materials and tools. Includes weekend field trips to the Los Angeles River to see our relationship with water in the L.A. Basin, as well as a native garden with sustainable features, focusing not only on California native plants but also on water-conserving planting design. Students also visit the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona, which advances the principles of environmentally sustainable living through education, research, demonstration, and community outreach. This course will enable students to understand and appreciate the changes we will need to make in our gardens to achieve ‘sustainability.’ A multitude of differing strategies will be presented allowing students to choose the extent of their involvement with more sustainable gardens and, ultimately, a more sustainable life style.

Course Objectives/Learning Outcomes:
At the end of this course, students will:
  • Understand the concept of sustainability and its relevance to the modern garden.
  • The reasons to consider sustainability.
  • Be able to use the concept of sustainability in the creation of a garden and its maintenance.
  • Understand and be able to present to others the concepts and ideas of sustainability and the myriad of alternatives to an overly consumptive garden style.
  • Learning Objective

Course Resources

This course will not have a text. There will be an extensive bibliography from which the material presented has been gleaned; some books more practical, some theoretical, while others present our current situation and the problems that affect our daily lives and the gardens we grow.

Course Overview

This course is designed to be practical. Upon completion, students will be able to employ many different strategies to reduce consumption of water and oil-produced products and create beautiful and productive gardens that comprise a much smaller carbon footprint than most contemporary gardens.

For this course we will utilize a blog page ( to post handouts and extra material to the class. There is an RSS feed that sends each posting automatically to your email so you can have access to handouts whenever they are posted. This approach is most handy when dealing with field trips because links to maps can be posted and any last minute updates are easily available. If this technology is new to you, another classmate or David will guide you through it. It is not difficult.

Those of you on Facebook, there is the “Greener Gardens” group. While not specifically composed of UCLA Extension students, it includes students from David's classes with some talented professional contributors. Handouts are posted there as PDF files. Occasional job offers and other items of interest are posted as well.

Course and Extension Policies

Grading: All grades except Incomplete are final when filed by the instructor of record in an end-of-term course report. No change of grade may be made on the basis of reassessment of the quality of a student's work. No term grade except Incomplete may be revised by re-examination.

Refunds: Refund requests will be accepted until the close of business on the final refund date, which is printed on your enrollment receipt.

Changes in Credit Status and Withdrawals: Students may petition the Registration office for changes to credit status, or to withdraw from classes, prior to the administration of the final examination. (After the midpoint of the course, a change in credit status to one requiring assessment of student work will be permitted only with the endorsement of the instructor-in-charge.) Under no circumstances may a change in credit status or withdrawal be approved for a student who has sat for a final examination.

Cheating: UCLA Extension students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of academic and related personal misconduct, including but not limited to the following enumeration promulgated under Regental authority.
“Dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University. Theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others, or violation of others' copyrights.”
Sanctions may include Warning; Censure; Suspension; Interim Suspension; Dismissal; and Restitution.
Absences: If you must miss class please notify us as soon as possible. Make up work will be penalized as late. More than 3 absences in a quarter, including field trips, may result in a failing grade.

Your grade will be predicated on class participation and your choice of one project (or a combination of one of each for extra credit should it be needed or desired) or one paper of no less than 5 pages on aspects of sustainability; topics and project possibilities will be discussed in class. We encourage students to use their own area of interests when choosing their project or topic.


Your grade will be based on the following: Your grade will be calculated using the following scale:
Final Project
Percentage Scale

Miscellaneous Information:

The room where we meet has no reliable source of heat therefore we suggest you dress in layers. It is wise to carry a flashlight as well; the lighting leaves somewhat to be desired.

There is no place to purchase any drinks or snacks nearby. We will have coffee and/or tea if desired. Classes held at the garden in the past have enjoyed a range of homemade snacks from the instructors and/or other students.


Session + Date
21 June
Introduction to Sustainability

28 June
Design for Conservation of Resources

05 July
Bring soil sample from your garden.
09 July
Garden/Garden and The Learning Garden
Afternoon Field Trip
12 July
Water I: Water Conservation
Preliminary discussion of paper/project choice
19 July
Water II: Water Harvesting

26 July
Sustainability of Front Yard Food

30 July
Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies
Afternoon Field Trip with Lyle Center Faculty
02 August
Sustainable Planting Palette
Project completion benchmark
09 August
Habitat and Hardscape

13 August
LA River
Afternoon Field Trip
16 August
Sustainable Gardening: The Next Frontier

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.