Friday, December 24, 2010

Looking Forward to SLOLA's Future

A friend of mine shows off a Christmas Lima Bean, named for the bright red and white seeds.  A productive Lima bean that persists right through our winters, 'Christmas' is on my list of seeds that I hope SLOLA will save - what is on YOUR list?  

Right now SLOLA (the Seed Library of Los Angeles) is in a formative stage and we have committees that deal with some things that aren't so interesting for most of us. We have to have rules/bylaws; we need to set standards and create protocols with structure – and we have to do it from whole cloth in order to make this vision of a seed library work and make it work for the generations to follow – if we set something in motion and fail to make it strong as an organization and institution, we could see all the work go for nothing if the seeds cannot be kept with pure genetic lines maintained and attention to all the little details wherein the Devil resides.

But... If you are at all like me, seeds are one of my playgrounds and I love to fiddle with them. When I'm not planting them, I'm dreaming about them and I'm making lists of what I'll plant later this year or what I hope I will be able to plant soon or maybe some rare heirloom that I can't find will obsess me for days until I either find it or give up trying.  I grew up in Kansas and during the winter, with snow over the garden, I would page through the seed catalogs, memorizing the ones with the descriptions that captured my imagination, making long lists of the ones I wanted Grandpa to buy.  He saved his seeds, so really never did take second note of my long lists, but I learned a lot from those seed catalogs and the fascination of a house-bound ten year old gardener for seeds is still with me today.

At the December meeting I asked everyone to come back to the January meeting (the 15th) with a list of 25 vegetable seeds they would like to see be a part of the collection of seeds that SLOLA offers. I hope you've been playing with this list; I have! I have about already over shot twenty five, so anyone needing additional suggestions, I'm ready to supply you with several to give you a full list!

But after I had made the list, I began to daydream about the future of SLOLA; a time when there is no real bylaws committee and the database committee is ad hoc, coming together only to solve a problem or to work out a better solution as warranted.

When that time comes, I see a Potato committee, a Lettuce Committee, a Pepper Committee and a Corn Committee and committees for every seed for which there is an interest in carrying on specific traits or creating newer cultivars. Each committee is looking at that plant and the different varieties available and perhaps even making new open-pollinated cultivars that improve the plants we can grow in the Los Angeles Basin. Perhaps in a few years, the L A area could be awash in the just-released “Bonilla Potato” or the “Spitz Red Leaf Lettuce!” Maybe there will be a super-productive red-skinned (and fleshed!) potato called “Rose Spuds” or a “Souper Soup Bean!"

The possibilities could be even more productive than the hybrids we see today – the only reason hybrids have become so much more productive than open-pollinated seeds is the amount of research that has gone into them – and that productivity has been at the expense of other, arguably just as important qualities, like taste or ability to grow and produce well in the micro-climate of the LA Basin. What has been done with hybrids can be approximated with open-pollinated plants. Corporations won't do it because there is no profit in it for them that justifies the research and trials – but a seed library can and should put efforts into breeding more productive stock for our areas.

But we will also need people who have mechanical skills to create appropriately powered machines to help us keep our seeds and make them even more available to more people. I have pondered for years the idea of a bicycle powered grain thresher, a device that would pound the wheat kernel free from the husk that holds it and winnow out the debris of the husk leaving a person with a wheat berries to be ground. Already my mind is turning to a similar contraption that will remove all the corn seeds from a cob without burning blisters into a person's hands.

It's not just wheat seeds that need threshing – several other vegetables can be hard to break out of coverings – and who knows? - maybe one day SLOLA will offer some varieties of wheat that do well in Los Angeles – or perhaps rice or other grain – they do comprise a large part of our diets.

But first veggies. Then I'm very keen on herbs – culinary and medicinal and flowers – edible and medicinal - and even those flowers that are not edible and 'only' good for the spirit, like my favorite, sweet peas. They are 'food for the soul' as some wise person a few years ago said. 

The idea that one day we can have a small catalog of seeds available to members that will cover all the major vegetables and a few of the not so major ones as well, is tremendously empowering and exciting. I can't even think of this for a few minutes before I get all enthusiastic and I want to run out and plant another row of something that needs to be saved and dream of a future of a secure food supply, made secure by a few people who saw and acted on their uncommon common sense..

Times that are tenuous are often the times of greatest creativity. Certainly, in a turbulent economic time, faced with the greed of behemoth companies like Monsanto and others, a determined band of Los Angelenos came together to fight back the only way they could; by planting a seed of something that could grow.

I remember the old line: "Hope will never die as long as seed catalogs are printed.” Perhaps we can say, “Hope is ours to plant and harvest; we tend our own hope and hold our own destiny in our hands,” once again like our forebearers once did and we can claim their independence because of the seeds we have planted today.

Long live SLOLA!!

Here's MY current seed list of seeds I want to save first, subject to change as I think of more, in no particular order:

  1. Queensland Blue Squash
  2. Cannelini Bush Bean
  3. Flammé Tomato
  4. Tango Lettuce
  5. Drunken Woman Lettuce
  6. Merlot Lettuce
  7. Merville des Quatre Saison Lettuce
  8. Nutribud Broccoli
  9. Burpee's Golden Beet
  10. Five Color Silverbeet Chard (AKA Rainbow Chard)
  11. DiCicco Broccoli
  12. San Marzano Tomato
  13. Cherokee Tomato
  14. Pencil Pod Wax Bean
  15. Royal Burgundy Bean
  16. Parris Island Cos Lettuce
  17. Jalapeno Pepper
  18. Corno di Toro Pepper
  19. Scarlet Nantes Carrot
  20. Chioggia Beet
  21. Purple Top White Globe Turnip
  22. Copenhagen Market Cabbage
  23. Winningstadt Cabbage
  24. Country Gentleman Corn
  25. Golden Bantam Corn
  26. Garden Peach Tomato
  27. Fiber Flax
  28. White Cherry Tomato
  29. Gossypium arborense
  30. Gossypium hirsutum
  31. Gossypium barbadense
  32. Christmas Lima Bean
  33. Albino Beet
  34. Bulls Blood Beet
  35. Calabrese Broccoli
  36. De Cicco Broccoli
  37. Mammoth Red Rock
  38. Early Snoball Cauliflower
  39. Bloody Butcher Corn
  40. Mexican Wedding Corn
  41. Stowell's Evergreen Corn
  42. Armenian Cucumber
  43. Long Red Florence Onion
Hope your list is just as long and varied and I hope we can have all of these in our inventory by this time next year... Oh..  And Merry Christmas (Lima Beans) to you and yours!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Goodbye 2010 & Hello 2011!

We are really grateful for all the support The Learning Garden has received from the communities we serve.  At this time of year, we ask everyone who reads these words to take advantage of the liberal tax allowances available when when you contribute to a 501(c)3 organization.  We are a such an organization and we depend on donations as our primary means of support.  With all that we do, serving under-served populations through our unique position at Venice High School and in the Mar Vista Community, please consider us as you make your final financial gifts for 2010.

We are grateful for your generous support and we will put your funds to work to create the kind of programs that will benefit our constituency, addressing many of the problems concerning our society today and the future our children will live in.  

Thank you.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

SLOLA Is Real!

It was a bitter cold afternoon, and I honestly don't know if my goosebumps were from the cold or being awed at the participation and dedication of the people who braved the cold to come out to The Learning Garden's Chi Patio to form the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA).  We elected officers and established a $10 membership fee.  It is hoped that this will be a lifetime fee, but we have no history to go on.

The meeting went smoothly - perhaps the cold inspired folks with more  to say to moderate their comments? - and we all left with a real sense that we had 'done something' to make Los Angeles a better place to live, a more sustainable, yes, even 'resilient', city.  It was as though we had offered a stone from David's sling at the Goliaths of the seed industry who have pushed the home gardener further and further from their demographic. 

We meet again on January 15th at 2:30 in the afternoon.  Part of our agenda will be ask all members to sign the Safe Seed Pledge and promise to learn to grow their plants in a way that will help us provide a long term solution to the crises of our loss of genetic diversity and to keep alive these valuable older seed varieties that gardeners can save to grow next year and be independent of the seed industry that pushes more and more hybrids on the average gardener.

This was an exciting meeting and already we have twelve initial members.  When I handed over my ten bucks, I felt almost as though I signed another Declaration of Independence.  All these wonderful people out in the cold to insure a safe seed supply in Los Angeles just made me absolutely giddy!

Please come out and be a part of this vital community effort to help save the seeds of history to feed us today and tomorrow.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Events Upcoming at The Learning Garden

Events upcoming at The Learning Garden - Please mark your calendars!! The picture shows our 'booth' at the recent Homegrown Culver City.  You could have been there; it was a lovely day in the park with a lot of very wonderful people!

13 November – Westside Produce, drop off at 9:00, sorting and repackaging begins at noon with pick up and distribution at 1:00. Excess produce exchange. We are in the quarantine zone for the Mediterranean Fruit Fly – if you live outside of the quarantine area, please do not participate in the exchange to allow the quarantine to be most effective. A quarantine is one of the most ecological ways to deal with destructive pests and The learning Garden fully supports the quarantine.

25 November – Thanksgiving 11:30 AM to whenever we are sufficiently past full. For the 6th year in a row The Learning Garden extends an invitation to the clients and staff of Program for Torture Victims to enjoy this quintessential American holiday on our patio. We do this potluck style, so please bring whatever dish you feel is the very embodiment of Thanksgiving. We have the turkey lined up as well as mashed potatoes – everything else is open for anyone to bring. You can't have too much of anything on Thanksgiving! In keeping with our ecological policies, please bring your own plates and service ware.

04 December – 9:00 AM to Noon – Growing Food in Southern California On our patio, David King, Gardenmaster, will teach growing food in our unique climate – all the up to date information you'll need to enable your garden to the best ever! What do you do in December and January in a climate that doesn't freeze? Here's where to find out and get tips from a successful gardener with over 40 years experience of doing it organically. $25 and the best $25 you can spend on your garden in LA. More information?  Email the Gardenmaster

04 December – 1:00 to 2:00 PM - New Volunteers Orientation on the patio. Reserve your space with Sheri Powell-Wolf at her email address: sheri(at)compostteana(dot)com.

04 December – 2:00 to 3:30 PM – The initial planning meeting for the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA). We will meet on the patio or in a campus room if weather forces us indoors to begin the plan for SLOLA, laying the groundwork for a viable seed source for all of Los Angeles that defies the insidious nature of copyrighted genetic material and keeps food in the hands of people, not corporations. If you have in interest in this, join us in making the seed library the best one in the country for all of us in Los Angeles. More info from the Gardenmaster.

21 December – 6:30 to 9:30 PM Winter Solstice Celebration A stress free celebration in December! It's almost sacrilege, but that's what we have. With Camille Harris as our Mistress of Ceremonies, we say good bye to 2010, letting go of all of it and prepare ourselves to embrace 2011. A free and peaceful, stress free observance of the changing of the seasons with a fire and a bit of ritual affirming our willingness to join with nature.

01 January 2011 – Welcome to the New Year – no Growing Food Class – wait till February!

29 January – 10 AM to 3 PM – Seed Saving Seminar with Gardenmaster David King. With all the interest in avoiding Monsanto and Genetically Modified Organisms, the only one certain way to do it, is to grow your own and save your own seeds for planting next year – like our forefathers and foremothers did. To be able to sow last year's crop of seed next year, you have to save them. This seminar will cover that as well as breeding plants and why this information is vitally important today. $40 registration if you register before January 22, $45 thereafter. You may register at the door if space allows, however, we do expect this to be a well attended seminar. A simple, yet substantial, vegetarian lunch is included. More information from the Gardenmaster.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The Learning Garden was privileged to host a 10-10-10 event, answering the call of Bill McKibben's call for everyone across the planet to do something to cut our use of fossil fuels.  The Learning Garden's event was the 100 Mile Potluck - everything that came to our potluck was to have originated within 100 miles of the Garden.  

We had a great attendance and delicious food for one and all.  If you didn't make it this year, look for 11-11-11 events next year!  Run right over and put it on your calendar now!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Possible Answer for Colony Collapse Disorder!

A couple of 'girls' from the hive I caught over the summer, congregate at the entrance to their hive.  All worker bees are female, as is the queen.  Each hive has only a few males, drones, whose only job is to mate with the queen - definitely part time employment as she mates only several times at the beginning of her reign and that holds her for the rest of her life.  

Honey bee populations all over the world have been taking a huge hit over the past decade or so, but the New York Times published a report on October 6th that scientists believe they might have found the culprit - actually a team of culprits.  You can read the whole story at this link. If this is indeed the source of the problem, it would answer a huge mystery.  However, this is not the end of it, even the article states: "Scientists in the project emphasize that their conclusions are not the final word. The pattern, they say, seems clear, but more research is needed to determine, for example, how further outbreaks might be prevented, and how much environmental factors like heat, cold or drought might play a role."  Many observers of bees, myself included, still wonder if pesticides and other human interventions might be playing a roll as well.  

Even though answers still seem somewhat distant, very little bit of progress gives hope.  Up to 33% of all the food we eat is created by the activity of the honey bee.  Losing the bees would be a devastating blow to the world's food supply.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Venice Boulevard Will Be Closed On Sunday, October 3!

From the Mar Vista Community Council Email List: 

This notice is to remind everyone that Venice Blvd between the beach and the 10 freeway will be closed all morning on October 3, 2010, for the Kaiser PermanenteLos Angeles Triathalon.  The boulevard will be closed from approximately 6 am until 12 noon.
For additional information please visit the Triathalon website here.
The Triathlon will begin at Venice Beach at 7:15 am with the swim segment. The bike course will shut down Venice Blvd from the beach to the 10, Fairfax from the 10 to Olympic, and Olympic from Fairfax to Staples Center. Please note, there will be NO CROSSING POINTS on this year's course. There will be a rolling open from West to East as the athletes finish the race. All streets will be opened by noon.
The Department of Transportation will be aggressively enforcing all temporary parking restrictions for this event to secure the safety of the participants and to facilitate the movement of traffic around road closures. Typical vehicle recovery costs are in excess of $130, which does not include the $60 citation fee. Below you will see a Department of Transportation map that shows the triathlon course and approximate closure and opening times.
Thank you for your cooperation in helping the Kaiser Permanente LA Triathlon become one the World’s premiere athletic events.
Please click on this  map for a full size PDF file of the DOT map.

Friday, September 24, 2010

60 Jars of Pesto and Still Counting!

Look at this nefarious vagrant!  Would you dare to buy a jar of pesto from him?  

Well, you should!  He's making The Learning Garden's famous pesto using basil harvested only minutes before being blended in with heirloom garlic (Spanish Roja), pine nuts, freshly ground pepper and freshly ground Parmesan cheese.  The resulting pesto has a substantial kick with a distinct aroma and flavor.  You can copy the recipe, but without our garlic and basil, your pesto will only be a shadow of the stuff we put out.  Just saying, you know?

Tomorrow, September 25th, is our 7th Annual Pesto Day.  For a mere $10 you get a plate of pasta with our famous pesto, salad, Italian sausage (or meatless if you prefer), a slice of Italian bread, a glass of fresh made lemonade and a dessert of some delight.  Hob knob with those in the know!  We will have some 60 odd jars of pesto for sale at $10 a pop too.  

Funds generated from this event will help The Learning Garden recover from the burglary that occurred just over a week ago. The damages, so far, have been assessed at something in the neighborhood of $4500; a huge hit to our budget.  If you've ever considered donating or helping a school garden at some time in the past, now would be an excellent time to step up and show you care. 

Shine up your tastebuds for our event,m 2-5 in The Learning Garden, entrance on Walgrove, just south of Venice Boulevard in the Mar Vista part of LA!  


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Learning Garden's Newsletter for September

If you would like to read our sort-of monthly newsletter, this links to the most recent edition. You can subscribe at the bottom of the newsletter and it will appear magically in your inbox shortly after it is sent. 

We thank you for your support!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Now You Don't

The day after...  The palm tree has come down and has gone away.  The greenhouse, staff and students are much safer and the light has changed remarkably in the areas impacted by the palm.  Already we can see the plan of a refurbished green house taking effect.  It's all very exciting.  

'In other news,'  the Garden suffered another break in last night, losing chain saws, tables, Felco pruners, a scythe and other tools to someone who thwarted the school gate to get into the Garden.  Locks were cut and where that wasn't possible, a crow bar was used to pry the locked door of the tool shed open.  We believe they ventured into another part of Venice High School campus and were caught on security video, but it makes us wonder why we don't have a security video camera?  From a clock on the wall in my office that stopped, they were in the office at 2:41 AM.  I will post a wish list asking for folks to help us recover from this loss.  


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Today Is The Day!!

Now you see it.  Take a long last look for today is the end of the palm tree that towers over the greenhouse.  This palm, Washingtonia robusta, is the one remaining of two palms that had grown up over the greenhouse.  It was the falling fronds of these two palms that broke the greenhouse glass and left the greenhouse an open shell.  With the demise of this very tall tree, the greenhouse and the adjacent shade house are now much safer and passage by the greenhouse is safer too.  Fronds from this tree have come crashing down around students as they come to and from the Garden.  So, on many accounts, the tree needed to go.  

Now that these fronds no longer threaten the greenhouse, staff or students, we can begin to restore the greenhouse to a usable structure that will work for us - this Winter's UCLA Extension class, Propagation for Gardeners, will the be the first one that will be able to propagate their cuttings in a proper greenhouse!  In addition, this term, Venice High School horticulture students are going to be growing herbs to sell at the Mar Vista Farmers' Market and an enclosed greenhouse will enable us to provide basil year round! 

This is a big step forward for The Learning Garden.  It makes us almost giddy.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Before And After Beauty Shots: Basil

On September 2nd, readers of this blog remember I posted pictures of Sheri (Compost Teana) spraying our basil plants with her aerated compost tea (ACT). This picture shows one particular plant that was sprayed that day. Sheri came back on the 12th and sprayed again - mind you, this isn't just to get some bigger plants, it's to get some bigger plants by September 25th!!

I was able to get out and look at the plants this morning as the day started. I am really impressed with the growth on the plants, but that's not the whole story. Not only are the plants larger, which you can see in the photo below, but the color and thickness of the leaf is also different. The sprayed plants are decidedly darker and the leaves are thicker, more substantial.

I would not suggest that this spraying schedule is the best. In my mind, we are overdoing it and if the plants were treated this way for an entire season, I think you might end up with white fly or aphids (certainly that would be a good experiment!) because the succulent growth is their target. But in our case, where we have to have the goods by the 25th, I don't think the aphids and white fly will gear up fast enough for a full scale invasion.

What I do recommend is using foliar sprays, especially the aerated compost tea done Sheri's way. I would use that once or twice in a season - not three times in three weeks like we have done unless you have, like us, an 'emergency:' You've invited your boss and 60 of her best friends over for a meal of pesto and a gift of a jar for everyone only to discover you only have 35 plants! That kind of emergency.

At any rate, here is the same plant in twelve days showing the phenomenal growth it has put on, and the growth is healthy and lush, not spindly and anemic.  This is wonderful looking basil plant, so robust, caused me to consider coming up with a song, "The Twelve Days of Basil."  While most of it sits unwritten inside my head, day four would be 'four cloves of garlic..."  and I'll leave you with that tune running on a loop inside your head.

ACT - it works! Thanks Sheri!

Where did I put that pesto recipe?


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sweet, Not Sour, Grapes

Wen-Chia Parker and I both took photos of these bunches of grapes from the central grape arbor in the Garden.  Her photo turned out so much better (another "I-phone vs. Blackberry" where the I-phone wins.)  This is her photo, easy to tell the difference because it's in focus....

It's ironic that this is the second Concord grape, a cutting off the first one - this plant has well outstripped its parent plant and has these bunches of grapes - the ones that are left after the ones we harvested and walked through the Garden munching on.  Concord grapes, the quintessential AMERICAN grape, bursts a sweetness into your mouth that fairly screams "I am a GRAPE!" and then the tartness, some would say bitterness of that purple skin.  I love the whole bite all the way through - except for the seeds.  I grew up on jelly made from Concord grapes (now that's a messy job!) and grape jelly is still a huge treat for me.  Maybe next year we'll have enough to make jelly?  

We have another grape, the name I'm not too certain about, but it is supposed to be exactly like a Concord only seedless - now, that's something I'm willing to wait for! 


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Another Take On 'Bee's Knees' From NPR

Using the same title of my post a few days ago, NPR has a photo display of bees' knees, and other parts, using gold dusted bees seen through a scanning electron microscope. This is a bee's foot photographed at some incredible  level of amplification with the microscope. 

The book, named appropriately, BEE, will be published by Princeton Architectural Press.  There will be a local showing of the prints, December 2 through January 8, Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Building B-3 Santa Monica, CA.  I have included this sample just to give you a taste of what will be in this exhibit - please note, this is only a tiny photo and web reproduction is nothing at all like seeing things in reality! I urge everyone interested in bees and bees in art to attend this exhibit!  Ought to be intriguing and quite an education all in one.


Friday, September 3, 2010

We Got Sprayed!

Sheri Powell-Wolff of Compost Teana's Organic Landscape Design and Maintenance, came over to The Learning Garden yesterday to spray our basil plants.  We will have our famous Pesto Day on September 25th and we need to have all the growth on these basil plants that we can get by then.  We will prune off any flowers that form (and put them in salads!) and that will help the plants get bigger.  

Sheri's company, Compost Teana's (get it?) provides 'aerated compost tea brewing and application service for Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego' - she also does organic landscape design and maintenance.  And her name is NOT Teana.  Right. The key is ACT - aerated compost tea.  In the past a shovel full of compost was dropped in a burlap bag and allowed to 'brew' overnight - kind of the 'Lipton Tea' model of infusing.  That methodology has gone the way of the postprandial cigarette. 

Sheri started to learn about compost teas and how to make the aerobically active compost teas from a book that I often recommend, Teaming With Microbes, and has gone on to study it much more in depth.  I know that the compost tea she sprayed on my plants will work with the plants to make them more lush and substantial, without a lot of that soft growth that comes from just fertilizer.  If you are a gardener of any kind, I urge you to read the Teaming book.  I had been tapped to teach a class on soils to help out for one quarter at UCLA Extension, and I finished this book about halfway through the course. It opened my eyes and I changed all the rest of my lectures in the course to reflect what I had learned. This books points the way to the future and a new model for how we grow plants. 

A mid-summer crop failure left us bereft of most of the basil we will need for pesto day, September 25th (it gives me the willies just to write that date!) and since we use a special Italian basil, we can't just run out and steal leaves from anyone's basil, although that had crossed my mind.  It is the ingredients in a recipe, any chef or good cook will tell you, that makes a dish special and that's what we have here:  heirloom garlic from European stock, basil that was bred in Italy and really good olive oil and Parmesan cheese.  We grind all these ingredients with freshly picked basil and jar it up for sale - Pesto Madness Pesto.  And we're not the only people who say it's the besto pesto!  This stuff is magnificent over pasta or just on bread.  

Pesto Madness Pesto goes on sale September 25th in the Garden.  You may prepay to reserve yourself a jar or two.  This year, we expect to not have nearly as many jars to sell as last year!  And we always run out.  Orders are filled on a first come, first served basis.  $10 for an 8 ounce jar of heavenly pesto.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

It's the Bees' Knees

A few of our ladies coming and going from the little hive here at The Learning Garden.  Soon, they will be moved to a home off campus before school starts.

I have tried to adopt swarms of bees several times over the summer - each time a caught swarm and placed them in my hive and each time, they absconded after spending a day to a few weeks in the hive.  They just didn't want to stick around.  After the third attempt had failed, I decided to experiment. 

I put this small five frame hive, often called a 'nuc,' out into the Garden overlooking an African Blue Spice Basil.  The African Blue Spice Basil is a perennial basil and every single plant we have in the Garden is covered with honey bees, which I figured gave my hive a desirable location for a group of bees ("If  you lived here, you'd be home now" kind of advertising campaign.)

Inside of two weeks, I observed bees busily coming and going from the hive.  After two more weeks of observation, I put on my bee suit and opened it up:  bees!  With new comb being drawn and all the signs of a productive hive on my hands.  I opened it up again yesterday and checked on their progress.  They really do have a home there and I find it very exciting.  

School starts on September 13th and the hive will have to be relocated before then.  Here's hoping they make the move intact and once in the new location, they continue to keep house in my little hive!  


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Free Compost!

The Learning Garden received a fresh load of compost this morning.  It is free to all schools and non-profits - for individuals, we ask for a donation to help keep our gates open.  It is entirely voluntary, we would rather you have the compost and garden than not, but if you are comfortable giving a donation of any size, we are comfortable in accepting it.

Note that this compost will move quickly and I have already asked the city to keep another load on tap for us - schools all over the westside are coming into session and there are seven or eight school gardens using our compost site as their primary pick up.  Also note that everyone should ask before taking the woodchips in this same area - we can the compost on cal, but the woodchip supply is a little less certain and we will need lots of woodchips to get ready for the coming school year ourselves.  

We are here 10 to 5 everyday except Monday.  


Monday, August 23, 2010

Upcoming Events in The Learning Garden

August 28th Henry Jun Wah Lee, L.Ac will hold a lecture: Introduction to Chinese Taoist Face Reading: Understanding and Using Your Deepest Gifts and Transforming Your Greatest Challenges Your face is a mirror that records your past, reflects your present and forecasts your future. Each feature, shape, line, wrinkle, mole and marking tells a story about who you are. It reveals your life’s deepest gifts and greatest challenges. To know Chinese Face Reading is to know your true nature and the nature of those around you. It can help you find your soul mate, identify the ideal business partner or employee, build stronger teams, and strengthen relationships. More importantly, it can help you recognize your own innate strengths and weaknesses so you can leverage them effectively to live a more powerful and fulfilled life. In this 90 minute lecture, Lee will introduce the nearly three thousand year old practice of Chinese Taoist Face Reading. You’ll gain insights about your own true nature — your unique gifts and challenges — and learn powerful tools for utilizing Chinese Face Reading to improve your life. RSVP: Please RSVP by calling 323-540-4180. Space is limited. Admission: $20, of which $5 will be donated to benefit the Learning Garden.

September 11th – 9-Noon – The Annual Pepperdine Day of Service in the Garden, preparing the Venice High School beds for the fall term. Come out, get sweaty and do good work in the Garden

September 25th – 11:30 to 1:30 Our Time Bank Monthly Meeting and Potluck Our Time Bank is a community of people living and working in the Culver City, Palms and Mar Vista area who support each other.  For every hour you help another member, you gain a Timebank Hour. Come out and see why a local economy based on the exchange of time rather than money is a way to create a more meaningful life.
September 25th – 2:00 to 5:00 PESTO DAY Returns! For a mere $10 admission you get to eat a plate of pasta with Italian Sausage, salad, genuine Italian bread and a drink. You may also purchase jars of pesto to take home and enjoy or give as gifts and enjoy – it freezes magnificently and can be a healthful and inspiring addition to meals throughout the long cold California winter.
October 3rd – 1:00 to 5:00 PM UCLA Extension class 'Modern Backyard Food Production' starts in The Learning Garden and runs for the next couple of months. This elective course in Extension's Gardening and Horticulture Certificated Program brings students into the world of really local food where the 'back forty' really is square feet and not acres. Not only does the course cover vegetables but includes raising chickens and herding honey bees. Homegrown and homemade food is featured weekly! Contact UCLA Extension for registration details.
Also in October – Victory Garden Circle Master Gardener volunteers will organize and lead low-cost Victory Garden Circles and teach the basics of gardening. These classes of instruction and hands-on activities will introduce gardeners to the basics of growing your own food. You can attend one or all, but by attending all four classes, participants will become UC-certified Victory Gardeners. Contact the Gardenmaster for details.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Seed Library of Los Angeles; SLOLA

Vegetable seeds tightly closed in jars to keep them more viable are all from The Learning Garden's growing over the past couple of years. These very seeds could be the beginning of a seed library for the Los Angeles area.

The Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA) has been brewing for some time – and it's not quite soup yet – there are hurdles still to cross. But it is closer to reality because The Learning Garden has taken on the challenge of making it happen.

A seed library works very similar to a book library or a tool library. The main difference – and the real nut of the difficulty in making it viable – is that seeds are living entities having a life expiration that puts a whole new urgency into the program.

Once you have joined a seed library – you check out seeds from them just like you would a book. You plant the seeds and grow out your crop, at the end of the season, you return fresh seeds, from your crop, to the library. The library benefits from being able to offer the next person fresh seed and you benefit from having free seeds. It's a win/win and it keeps Monsanto out of your garden and denies them profit from feeding your family.

The Learning Garden, more than any other local entity is the perfect place for a seed library because of the wealth of variety we alone can bring to the table. We have vegetables, California Natives and medicinal plants from which we can store and provide seed – our own inventory of seed is massive giving us the lead in this field. We also have space to be able to grow out seed that needs to be refreshed.

The challenges of making this work are, as follows:
  1. We need volunteers to run the seed library – catalog and inventory the supplies and to run the 'open' days
  2. We need a database complicated enough to thoroughly track the seed and insuring viability for those checking out the seed but simple enough to be used by volunteers – I have experience with Access and it is certainly complicated enough, not so much usable. Friends suggest File Maker Pro, but I have never used it and don't have the cash to get it, making that a moot point.
  3. We need to create a space just for the library to store seeds and have available to them. That, I think can be managed by the Garden by rearranging some of the space in my office and we can turn part of that over to a seed storage space.

So, at this time, I'm looking for some folks willing to devote some of their time to start and run a seed library and some way to log the seeds and the persons who have joined. AND I'd like to learn who is interested in joining a seed library and checking out seeds. At this point, I'm considering a nominal $10 membership fee, which I think should net someone life time membership (your life or my life or the life of the seeds?) – other than the start up costs, I can't see a seed bank costing a great deal to run. I've got an ancient computer around here, if I can get a database program on it to run, that solves that end of the equation. Perhaps there will need to be a fine if you don't bring back the seeds on time, like an overdue book.

Let me know – and I'll keep you posted as we move forward.


Friday, August 13, 2010

A Hatful of Beans!

Just a day late from the first anniversary of The Learning Garden (Almost) Daily, I've picked a few beans - a whole hatful, it turns out! Set against the leaves of the plants themselves, there's quite a bit of yummy here!

These are my favorite yellow bean, Pencil Pod and they've been picked at their peak of goodness.  I hope to supplement these with a few other beans from a famers' market and make my delicious pickled basil beans! 

Pencil Pod is a good variety for anyone's use, but they are especially suited to canning and pickling.  They tend to be very straight and that makes getting them in a jar a  *drum roll, please* snap.  Curvey beans need not apply - getting a jar tightly packed with wiggly beans takes more than twice as long and is less than half as satisfying.  They never seem to come out with nearly the same appeal and the beans are never tightly packed which makes keeping them under the brine solution almost impossible - you'll end up with tips that just aren't appetizing.  

You will be able to find my recipe for pickled beans in my forthcoming book and that's the only way unless you know my secret.  But this one tidbit alone will make the book worth its price - guaranteed.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Growing Organic Food and Summertime Garden To Do’s

The Learning Garden was 'on the air!'  This last Saturday, Gardenmaster David King was on the Cindy Dole show talking about August in the garden and some of our upcoming events in The Learning Garden.  You too can surf on over to Cindy Dole's website and hear the whole shebang!

I'm going to - I was so excited to be on the air, I'm not sure what I said!  


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

August Things In The Garden In August!

I am so grateful I was talked out of calling this blog "The Learning Garden Daily..."  even at "Almost Daily" it's tough to justify my lack of posting. I admit to taking a bit of a breather and I haven't done a lot of posting this last month - call it "Ice Cream Burn Out."  We're looking forward to some rock'n'roll times in August and if I don't get this out now, it may never get out, so here goes.


7th - 9-12 - the very best three hour gardening workshop in Los Angeles.  You'll laugh till you cry and come out the other side thinking, 'by golly, I learned a lot!'  The first Saturday of each month I do a class called "What To Do And When To Do It" and it is just like that - what DO you plant in August?  What else do you do in August?  OK, besides go on vacation.  This is the class that answers all your questions about gardening - if you don't get your questions answered, you didn't ask it!  $25 per class - discount if you purchase four at once.  We have coffee and tea - bring your own cup and whatever you put in your coffee or tea.  Dress to get dirty because we go out into the Garden and actually garden! 

7th - 1:00 to 2:30  our first Volunteer Orientation - starting this month, all volunteers will be asked to attend an orientation - this gets everyone on the same page and allows volunteers to get to know one another and we have a system to get everyone online all at once - and everyone gets to know the Garden, its mission and can learn how they can fit in the whole thing.

7th - 4:00 - 8:00 PM - The Spirit of Medicine Festival / Adopt-A-Plant Day Redux designed to display the full scope of Chinese Medical practice in a non-professional setting
Schedule of Events -
4:30 - 5:30 Robert Newman leads a plant walk and explains the therapeutic benefits of various species in the garden. Immediately after Robert's talk, over 30 different species of plants will be available for adoption or by donation.
5:30 - 6:30 Christine Chang lectures on cosmology, cooking and the secret to radiant health.
6:30 - 7:30 Lorraine Wilcox explains the Power of Mugwort Fire and discusses how to make Moxa from Artemisia argyii. Various species of Artemisia will be available for adoption. We will raffle various items by local artisans!
7:30 - 8:00 Qichen Guo demonstrates the vital energy cultivating practice of Chen Style Tai Ji Chuan. 
8:00 - Sit by the fire and celebrate a wonderful day!

We have more events over this horizon, but I wanted to make sure you had the chance to get these on your calendar!  

More later soon!


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy July!

A lovely bit of rhubarb pie is topped with a scoop of vanilla, a favorite flavor combination from growing up in Kansas! 

We'll post all of July's calendar soon, but we wanted to make sure you know about a few of the events happening this weekend.  

On July 3rd at 9 AM, we host our monthly series "What To Do & When To Do It - growing food in Southern California. This well received class covers all the gardening you need to know to grow your own veggies in Los Angeles.  Gardenmaster David King takes you through the basics on into his own master techniques of growing a good garden.  Never dull and monotone, the $25 spent on one of these classes is one of the best values for any class on anything anywhere!  

The next day, Sunday is the Fourth of July - and keeping with our tradition for the third year in a row, we are holding our Fourth of July Ice Cream Social.  We'll have several different flavors from the garden - no, not beet ice cream!  But fun flavors - like, oh, say apricot ice cream.  But some exotic and unusual ones too.  Games are played, like the raw egg toss or croquet.  Always a fun and relaxing way to spend the afternoon of the Fourth - we start serving at 2:00 and go until the ice cream runs out - or 5:00 PM - which ever comes first.  Bring a homemade pie, crumble or a fool and we'll give you a free plant!  

Now that's enough to keep you busy this weekend.  We'll post more soon on what else we've got on our calendar... SOON!  


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summer Solstice - Sunday (Tomorrow!) At 7:30!

A sunflower shining brightly stands in for a photo of the sun, of which I have none, to advertise our Annual Summer Solstice Party tomorrow evening at 7:30 PM on our patio.  

Bring some cookies or some little thing to gnosh on, we'll have hot mint tea and a lovely fire and our resident madame of ceremonies, Camille Harris, will lead us in marking this sacred event.  Let's watch the sun go down and observe the passing of seasons and keep time with Nature. It's a lovely way to slow ourselves down from the frenetic daily industrial life we have allowed to become our guiding authority. 

Break out and resonate in harmony with our Earth!  


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Drip Irrigation: A New Take on Old Technology

Out of the ground to show its shape, an olla (pronounced 'oy-ya' or 'oh-ya') sits waiting to be installed and then filled with water. 

One more of our 'modern' technologies has been proven to be but an updated petrochemical based revision of an earlier, more earth friendly, idea from some civilization regarded as backward by most Western peoples over the past several hundred years.

Ollas are simple. They are only unglazed terra cotta jugs.  Once it is planted in the ground with only the flare of the neck sticking out, plants are planted around the olla - at different distances depending on the water needs of the plants and the texture of the soil - the olla is filled with water.  For most efficient operation, cover the open top with a non-porous pot, cup or even a flat rock or a plate, to prevent water from being wicked up into the atmosphere.  Depending on your soil and your crops, a large olla like this ought to not empty out in a week or so.  However, please note:  The real test of whether you need to fill the olla is NOT whether or not it is empty - it is the amount of water in the soil around the olla!  Remember, the olla is only the transit point for water in the soil.  

This low tech system of watering has no moving parts and no electricity usage.  You can use it when you go away on a vacation and it is much more efficient than even drip irrigation.  Some of the plus points over drip:
       * no plastic petrochemical production
       * no moving parts to break 
       * even less water lost to evapo-transpiration  
       * no constant upkeep or broken parts, cut water lines to fix or replace
       * not one single drop of electricity  

On the other hand.... they are fragile and somewhat pricey.  This little guy cost me $30 (from Path to Freedom's Shop), and I picked mine up myself.  I actually broke one of two when I picked the first one up and the second rolled into it, breaking its neck.  They were good to me and replaced the beheaded one.  While they won't be as likely to be damaged once in the ground by humans, woody roots (like woody perennials or trees have) could crack the terra cotta.  Other than that, they seem to be relatively maintenance free.  

They do require monitoring and refilling, however.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gardenmaster Shed Break In

The lock still intact, the hasp bent but not broke, it was the screws pried from the wood that proved to be the weaker point as the thieves simply heaved them out of the door to gain entry to the Gardenmaster Office. 

Not so much a loss to the Garden, but for the third time the Gardenmaster shed has been broken into.  This time the criminals evidently knew there was a possibility of music instruments in there and sadly they were right.  Stolen items include the Gardenmaster's bass and guitar as well as several tool bags of music gear, items which wouldn't have been there had there not been an injured wrist the day of a band rehearsal last week and these were left to a time of less painful lifting. 

The culprits made a much bigger mess of the place by pulling out drawers and dumping the contents and doing the same to my other tool bags - like the grafting and sharpening bags that are used in teaching these subjects.  But the only things taken were music gear - not even a power drill and electric saws; our computer in there was too old to bother stealing and they left it and all sorts of other tools behind.  Total loss is in the neighborhood of $2000, but the biggest loss is the heartbreak.  

At least that will be healed with time and a spirit, a determination and creativity cannot be stolen.  Looking for a good used acoustic/electric bass, preferring an Epiphone Natural El Capitan with a cutaway (they don't make 'em anymore).


Friday, May 14, 2010

It's True!

Not certain if it's a broken or not, but it's certainly painful!  Chasing the dog around the drive and he made a U-turn that I didn't.  Damn dog cheated using his lower center of gravity.  Actually, it was in front of the prostrate rosemary plants and I think I slipped on their detritus on the asphalt .

Anyway... it will slow us down but a bit!  I'll take lots of ibuprofen and keep it elevated - thanks to all those volunteers who keep us running with and without me! 

I had planned to be gone on Sunday anyway; I'll be out for a minute on Saturday AM to finish off some things I left hanging when I took my header, and I'll be back on regular schedule on Tuesday.  

Last Thursday's pickling didn't happen - I'm hoping we can do it this Thursday - I'm going to try out a new steam canner.   I saw this in operation last Fall and it's the cat's meow because it can do a lot more than just be a canner - and it's stainless steel!  Awesome! 


After this was posted, I did get a call from my doctor and the x-rays show no broken bones, just a bad sprain.  Two weeks - or so - in the brace.  Good news!  

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Last Class for Victory Gardens This Sunday!

Betty Goldstein (left) and Nancy Mills (center) discuss a point with two of our current crop of Victory Garden students last Sunday.

It's hard to believe that it's already been three meetings and this coming Sunday will be our last class of our Victory Garden Series.  Betty has taught the last two classes and Nancy has been the lead TA for all of them.  Sunday's class will have to choose if they are going to keep meeting and how often.  We hope they will become a core group that is a part of The Learning Garden and our ongoing mission.


Earth Day Tours of TLG

Venice High School students work on the presentation table this last Monday...

Because of inclement weather last Thursday, the actual day of Earth Day, tours of the Garden were postponed to this last Monday.  Students from Walgrove Middle School and Beethoven Elementary School came through our Garden and visited a variety of booths that provided information on some environmental challenge faced by our society today:  there was a cloning booth, farm workers booth, plastic bottle booth, composting booth and many, many more.  The visiting students were not only educated by the Venice High School students, there were games to play that reinforced the learning and treats for all visitors.  

It didn't rain on either the real Earth Day or our celebration of Earth Day, but both days were cold and cloudy and rain seemed to be imminent on almost every day between.