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!