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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Learning Garden Leads The Way






The Learning Garden has been at the forefront of a new movement on how are foods are produced. Borrowing heavily on some fine agricultural traditions (One Straw Revolution; essays by Wendell Berry; several books on soil and biota of the soil) combined with some 50 years of gardening experience, The Learning Garden moved to planting without straight rows from the beginning. The discouragement of straight rows was done on purpose to change perspectives on the plants themselves. A break with the past was needed and we wanted to show everyone, we were not making the old mistakes.

This type of gardening might be called messy, but that is a response to what we grew up knowing of raising food. We thought those straight lines were done for the plants but they no, they suit a human paradigm. Today in the garden, we like how the breaking of straight lines leads us toward breaking up our old ideas about agriculture. The straight lines of the past were done to increase production and the ease of work for the farmer – but that was always predicated on tilling the soil. We don't till the soil (and we strongly urge you not to as well) and automatically, we are free to plant our plants anyway we want and not using rows allows us to fit more plants in per square feet.  The increase in plants helps shade the soil and make the immediate microclimate more forgiving.  

We aren't into a clean field – meaning, weeds are tolerated. In fact, in fallow beds we let them grow with impunity. There is nothing worse than bare soil and so we would rather have weeds growing up until the time we plant it.  Furthermore, many of those "weeds" are fantastic forage for insects - and we want more insects not less.  Leaving the weeds to flower - along with our crop plants to flower - provides sustenance for a bee population declining in free fall and for butterflies and birds.  The idea is to have a large insect population to reach homeostasis in the soil.

Instead of tilling the soil, we put out 3 inches of compost in Fall and three more in Spring. This feeds the critters in the soil and they "plow" this material into the soil. Thousands of trips of worms and other critters mix our compost with the soil, feeding themselves in the process and causing vast multiplication of their kin. From this, we get soft loamy soil that absorbs up to 40% more water than unamended soil, with less loss of topsoil. Furthermore, the soil is pliable, soft and easy to plant. The critters in the soil increase the fertility of our soil without adding costly petroleum-based fertilizers and we get the compost for free!

We import large quantities of this material – turning waste products from other households into rich, fertile soil instead of being dumped into land fills. This composted material without tilling actually sequesters carbon in the soil. If farming were to do this kind of agriculture, we would be over 50% on our way to ameliorating the excess carbon in the atmosphere.  (Put another way, the old style of agriculture - that is to say the agriculture from the 1950's to today - is the largest contributor of carbon in our atmosphere! Our little garden does not sequester that much carbon - but it shows the way.)

So, while we don't look like a conventional garden, our way offers a number of benefits:
  1. There is no need for tilling and all that expense of energy, mechanical as well as human.
  2. Plants are grown without the addition of expensive fertilizers and in the complete absence of pesticides. (These two points and one above are all reduction of our dependency on fossil fuels!)
  3. What was once a waste product going into our ever fuller landfills now becomes an integral part of food production – nothing is really wasted.
  4. The lack of tilling the soil means our garden is a carbon sink removing carbon from our atmosphere and sequestering it in the soil, where it once was before modern farming released it into the atmosphere at such an alarming rate.
  5. Allowing weeds to persist in unplanted areas helps keep insect populations high and in homeostasis.
  6. Permitting some plants in our garden to go to seed further supports our insect populations and allows us to save seed for next year's crops - increasing the number of locally adapted seeds that will produce in the LA Basin with its soil, water, and Mediterranean climate - all different from the rest of the country.

The benefits we create for ourselves and the world are too important to ignore. In the future, this is what gardening and farming will look like, not so far away. The expense of fossil fuels and their lack of availability is going to increase the price of fertilizers and pesticides to the point that they will no longer be efficient enough to be worthwhile. We will let the insects reach a point of homeostasis where there are no significant losses from insects as they take care of one another. Tilling with fossil fuels will become as rare as hand-writing letters are today. Food will be grown locally and the food miles will be measured in steps.

And carbon will be sequestered in the soil and the soil will once again hold water for a much larger space of time.


We can take a little mess for all this good. 

david

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Notes from the Growing Food In SoCal Lecture Today

Categories of Tools

The most important tools you use are the different parts of your body – your hands, your skin, your back, your knees and your legs. Chemical sunblock may be bad for your body, but it most certainly does nature no good once you've washed it off. A long sleeved cotton shirt and cotton pants are cool and, if you can find organic cotton that costs less than the US Military budget, you are doing Gaia a good deal. Wear a hat (it's stylish anyway!) and comfortable shoes and your set. Get gloves that will stand to the work you are doing – digging with shovels almost always means a heavy glove, gardening in containers is a piece of cake with cotton gloves or some of the new plasticized gloves. Get more than one pair to fit the different tasks you do in the garden.

A. Stand up gardening/Mulch, Compost moving
  1. Double digger, aka broadfork
  2. Spading fork
  3. Compost fork
  4. Grain Shovel
  5. Spade
  6. Round point shovel
  7. Poachers spade
  8. Long handle vs. short handle
  9. Wheelbarrow/gardeners cart

B. Kneeling gardening
  1. Trowel
  2. Hand fork
  3. Weeders
  4. The Stick tool
  5. Scissors
  6. Kneeling pad/etc
  7. Dibbles
  8. Wire brush
  9. Sharp serrated knives
  10. Watering can or hose
  11. Tape measure
  12. I include a radio with my kit

C. Container gardening
  1. Trowel
  2. Hand fork
  3. Weeders
  4. Kneeling pad (?)
  5. Tarp
  6. Watering can or hose
  7. Machete
  8. Pot brush
  9. Container knife

D. Seeding
  1. Widget
  2. Seeding tool
  3. Swiss Army Knife
  4. Pencil
  5. Marker
  6. Plastic tags
  7. Flats
  8. Newspaper
  9. Containers

E. Harvesting
  1. Knives
  2. Scissors
  3. Pruners
  4. Containers – baskets, bags, dishpan – to wash and clean produce (as needed)

F. Pruning
  1. Pruners that fit your hand
  2. Folding saw
  3. Loppers
  4. Pole Pruner
  5. Large saw
  6. Sharp knife
  7. Specialty gloves if needed

G. Tool care
  1. Linseed oil for wood
  2. Any oil for metal
  3. Rags
  4. Sharpening devices
  5. Sandpaper in different grades

H. Almost all kits have

  1. Knife or knives
  2. Screwdrivers
  3. Pliers
  4. Measuring tape of some kind     
Tool And Supply Sources


Lee Valley is primarily a Canadian company with some interesting ideas – things you'll NEVER see elsewhere. Some of them have proven really handy while others that I've bought have been duds. This is a catalog you'll mostly look through, wistfully hoping you have a rich uncle who is near death.

Gardeners Supply has some good items, I like them. If you see something you like, wait. It will be on sale and will be at a much more reasonable price. Avoid the plastic crap.

A Half Moon Hoe... One Day it will be mine!
Gardener's Edge is owned by AM Leonard, supplier of tools for big horticultural enterprises. Good prices, good tools, many in-house brands that are as good as named brands (or better) for a better price.


Peaceful Valley Farm Supply always carries some good tools, their prices are reasonable, but their shipping can kill any buzz you might get on price. Their website is a nightmare to use – go there, find their phone number and call for a print catalog.

John Jeavon's company has stuff you can't usually find anywhere else, like old-time wooden flats (instead of plastic).

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has small quantities of seed saving supplies – if you play in that field – everything from corn shellers to self-sealing seed envelopes.

Frost Proof Supply is mainly for professionals, but they have things that are hard to find and they carry a full line of tools. I have found them reasonable. Their website sucks and they don't have a print catalog.

And I get a lot of my tools and supplies online through eBay, twine, dibbers (from England!), good prices on Haws Watering Can (yes, you can find the FineAsRain roses with the rubber back there too) and service is usually quick.  The drawback is that many of these folks are there to sell sell sell and they really have no concept of the actual product, but, on the other hand, I have bought a LOT of stuff on eBay and I've been less dissatisfied than I have been with companies here in LA where I could walk in the store! Often times there is no such thing as service and eBay is well policed and hats off to their policies that make the consumer really King. 

david



Sunday, June 26, 2016

Organic Matter Into The Garden

Our almost completely cleared out driveway that was loaded with compost and wood chips!
We estimate that almost 140 cubic feet of compost went into the high school garden beds!

Those of you who had seen our driveway lately might be kind of shocked to see it so empty.  It took a crew of about 20 people to clear all that compost and wood chips out of our drive and put them all to work in the garden.  

More than half went into the high school students' beds raising the level of organic matter by inches.  Organic matter - in this case, compost that wasn't quite finished - is essential for the growth of good plants and it helps the soil sequester carbon - besides making for the sweet yummy stuff gardeners all over the world love to have in their garden!  

This work could not have been done without the 20+ volunteers that stepped up for The Learning Garden in the annual Day of Service that is put on by the Agape International Spiritual Center.  We count ourselves privileged to be able to participate year after year because these folks come out with the attitude that they are here to change the world - and they do change ours.  

Gardeners know, though it cannot be seen today, the work we did yesterday will be seen by the students when they return in August.  The soil we were able to cover with unfinished compost topped off with wood chips, will be moist and full of life while the areas that remain bare to the elements, will be chalky dry and difficult to work.  The mulched areas will also be more free of weeds. 

Our volunteers got the majority of the high school beds covered in one day!  We'll get restocked with material and we'll go at the rest of the beds and try to have the entire high school garden area covered before school starts again.  

Thank you, Agape volunteers!  Your work was outstanding!  Thank you thank you thank you for your work, for your joy and for your willingness to take a tough project and do the work with laughter and enthusiasm!  

david

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Feeding The Masses

I got into an argument with a blogger, who, using one study, attempted to extrapolate that all organic food was contaminated.  Then, apparently not feeling conflicted at all, listed all the restrictions on using manure in the organic standards that dictated the manure to be composted before being added to the field and felt he'd done himself proud.  
Perennial Wheat - less impact on the environment
than conventional - annual - wheat.


I wrote him back and was declared to be a man who avoided truth and dealt in hearsay.  I don't want to revisit the whole thing, but let's say I spent more words with him than I should have because he obviously had some sort of deal that made his bias unreproachable. Like he was getting paid to fight organic farming. 

To me, it is handily apparent that any other kind of farming should not even be called "farming."  And we don't have a lot of time to figure this out.  

Take these separate facts together, for instance: 

Conventional farming allows thousands of tons of topsoil to be eroded from our farms - some of the best farmland in the world - and sent down to the Gulf of Mexico every year! There is not an unlimited supply of this topsoil.
Conventional farming poisons much of the environment where it is practiced with nitrates showing up in drinking water and other pollutants in the soil. These pollutants are as bad or worse than the pollutants from other sources and kill reptiles, birds and fish.
Workers in conventional farming are exposed to known human carcinogens on a regular basis without any regard for their health. The World Health Organization lists glyphosate as "possible human carcinogen" while the State of California announced it intends to list it as a human carcinogen without the "possible" attached. The only thing preventing that from happening now is a lawsuit by Monsanto to stop it completely.  Profits are more important than people, once again. (Look at their record!)

Those three things alone, in a sane society, should be enough to shut down our conventional agriculture in a heart beat.  Conventional farming is also subsidized by our Federal government because by and large it is not sustainable on its own.  Organic food costs more because those farmers are not subsidized.  And yet, hundreds of folks flock to farmers' markets every week to purchase the fruits and vegetables that won't give them cancer.  Americans, as a whole, spend less on food than any other first world country.  Of course, our cheap food gets us into health troubles galore and if we were to figure that into the equation, what is more expensive than cheap food?  

The Learning Garden teaches folks to grow some food.  Maybe you can't grow all of what you need, but grow some of it, and participate in the process of feeding yourself and your family.  We give you the knowledge and then your food is no longer cheap, but closer to free.  It's amazing what you can grow with just a pinch of seeds.  If one joins the Seed Library of Los Angeles - your seeds will be free!  (After a life time fee of $10!)

You can see by the list on conventional agriculture above, that the practices of conventional farming are not sustainable.  You cannot poison a pest away without ruining your ecosystem.  Conventional farming is only about 70 years old.  Non-conventional farming is several million years old.  One is a great experiment and guess what?  It's not organic farming, which is tried and true. With our more modern understanding of the soil and the way true fertility is achieved, we are in a position to have a food production that heals the damage done by industrial ag, replenishes our top soil, and heals the ecosystem. And doesn't kill off farmers and farm workers!  

At The Learning Garden we have gardened for ten plus years and now we have learned that the way we garden sequesters carbon from the atmosphere into the soil.  We have known all along that our way impacted the environment in more positive ways. We have known that our use of common waste (the compost from the City of LA and chipped wood from tree services) and our own compost, has made good soil that grows healthy plants. We knew that not using fertilizer made for slower growing plants which made them less susceptible to insects allowing us to not use any pesticides.  

We've proven that this organic model works here.  

We just wanted good food and look at all the good we did by accident!

david   

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Purple is the Color of My True Love's Leaves!!

Purple Kale - the colder it gets, the prettier
(and tastier!) it becomes! 

We are feeling purple in The Learning Garden these days!  

Starting on the 2nd of Janurary, we present the  Growing Food in Southern California class with the Gardenmaster.  Is one of your resolutions to make your garden more productive, and more satisfying for you?  Are you hoping to learn more about sustainability?  Get yourself on over here Saturday morning for this class at 10:00.  No need for an RSVP - we have the class regardless and there is always a theme.  This month, we hope that everyone has a desire to grow more food, so we'll address your needs, your questions specifically so you are on the right track from Day Two!  

A spiffed up Gardenmaster!
Don't be fooled, he still has dirt under his nails.
Attendees this month will get a baby PURPLE artichoke plant from a new variety being bred here locally, called Winetka Purple.  We're helping to make the variety become stable (the last part of creating a new strain of vegetable), which means, these plants are triply exciting to grow - you get to eat some, you get to watch some of them bloom (wow!) and then save seeds from those that look like we want them to look like.  It will be a fun and learning experience for everyone.

Later on in the month - as an added bonus, the Seed Library of Los Angeles has their first meeting of the year on January 16th, Craig Ruggless, the man who created Winnetka Purple Artichokes will tell us how he did it and what is left to be done.  These chokes are beautiful and have lots of the food parts we are all so fond of.  Especially if you got some of our seedlings on January 2nd, you really will want to be here on the 16th to hear the whole story!  

Make plans to be a part of these two events this month!  

January 2 - 10:00 to Noon, $20 at the gate or PayPal to greenteach@gmail.com - discounts for prepaying for five classes (one free).  

January 16 - 2:30 PM the monthly meeting of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA) - free to attend - to join and check out seeds, $10 for your lifetime.  

Get your growing off right in 2016!  Grow some of your own food!

david



Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Perennial Foods for a Toasty Future

Mesquite Pods are one of the foods of the future!
No matter what it's called – Global Warming, Global Climate Change or, as I like to call it Global Weirdness – might be already influencing our gardens. 
  • Why is that our apple trees have not gone dormant for the past three years?
  • Why do we have really low temperatures (for Los Angeles) followed by a heat wave of unsettling proportions?
Honestly, I don't know if these are the effects of global anything – and in truth, we'll only see it in hindsight anyway. But, this topic is valuable for your garden today whether or not we'll be toasty.

Perennial food plants, giving you harvests year after year without being replanted, are less affected by bad weather or unseasonal storms or weather patterns. Some of our best food comes from these plants and most of them are easier to grow and maintain with only a little training.

This Saturday, December 5th! 10 AM $20 (No RSVP required!)
Pay by PayPal to greenteach at gmail dot com

david

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Summer's Other Awesome Veggies

OK! We've planted tomatoes – now what? 

Summer has loads of other edibles and let's give them some attention! This month, take home some seeds of other veggies that love the heat and you'll love to eat! Greek salads to combine the tomatoes with cucumbers.... Peppers and zucchinis to pop on the grill... And that's just the beginning!

Van Gogh's The Sower



We will cover all the other summer crops and save water too! You can grow vegetables on considerably LESS water than lawns! As usual, dress to get dirty in a gardening sort of way and show up with your questions!

Class is April 4, 2015, 10 to Noon at The Learning Garden

David King, Gardenmaster of The Learning Garden, teaches gardening classes for UCLA Extension and writes (some say excessively) about growing food in Southern California.  He is also the Founding Chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles and led the fight to make Los Angeles a GMO Free Zone.  A gardener for over 50 years, he has answers to your questions (and if he doesn't, he'll make something up!).  Entertaining and knowledgeable about almost every facet or gardening, the $20 for this class will be the best twenty bucks you spend on gardening!