Monday, May 20, 2013

New Season, New Garden

Last year was a fallow one for us, but new things are sprouting in the garden in 2013.

We rearranged the garden, for starters. While we hardly have an over-cultivated plantation, we like to plant our regular favorites in different places each year. Our plot gets intense sun from mid-morning until nearly 7 p.m. We've shifted our bean trellis so that it cuts across the garden diagonally.  We've added a new and colorful knitted trellis for growing beans on.  We're hoping that will provide a little bit more shade or filtered sun across the hours of the day.

Our most ambitious addition is an herb garden. Seeds have been started and purchased plants have even been transplanted to larger pots.  The gardener is clearing lawn from a strip along the western cinder block wall. Karen has started exploring border devices to see the plot off and provide a little bit more raised bedding.

I've been clipping the oregano we had more often.  I've also trimmed the thyme I purchased and mint.  I'm discovering the herbs do much better when trimmed.  I have a pile of herbals and instructions for drying, distilling, decocting and infusing with herbs.

In the front of the house, we planted seeds for hollyhocks, nasturtiums, zinnias and daisies. So far only the nasturtiums have come up.  There's some interesting double-leafed sprouts coming up, but it's hard to tell at this stage if they are planted seeds or volunteers.

Photos to come with the next post.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Remembering Stephan Megerdichian and His Gardens

Several of us are remembering a neighbor who recently passed away, Stephan Megerdichian Sahaki, with a donation to the Los Angeles Master Gardener program.

Mr. Megerdichian loved to garden.  In Iran, where he lived until the 1990s, he had rose bushes. In Sherman Oaks, his last home, he had geraniums happily tumbling through the railings of his balcony to brighten the streetscape. It is a tradition in his culture to send huge bouquets of flowers for display at the funeral and the grave. Forgive us, but we have chosen to make a gift in his name to a program that will keep blooming forever.

Master Gardeners in Service to the Community

The Master Gardener program is part of the University of California Cooperative Extension program for Los Angeles County. Offered every spring, the Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program provides intense gardening training to enable volunteers to help low-income residents grow their own food.  They learn about organic gardening, growing vegetables, fruits, flowers, shrubs, trees, soils, composting, pests and harvesting.

After their training, the Master Gardeners provide free gardening workshops and give technical expertise to community, school, shelter and senior gardens throughout Los Angeles.

In 2011, the 236 Master Gardeners volunteered 14,909 hours, serving 132,363 low-income gardeners in Los Angeles County at 271 locations including community gardens, school gardens, homeless and battered women’s shelters, senior gardeners and fairs and farmers markets.

University Caliber Knowledge Applied to Your Backyard

The 64 Cooperative Extension offices in California are local “problem-solving centers,” according to the Extension’s Los Angeles County website. They are the “bridge between local issues and the power of UC research.” Their focus ranges from helping farmers (both commercial and backyard) solve pest problems, grow more efficiently, apply smart water-use strategies, promote healthy diets and nutritious foods.

The website offers the home gardener wonderful information including Los Angeles-focused gardening tips and checklists by month, gardening articles on a wide variety of subjects, informational brochures on growing tomatoes, saving water, pruning trees and amending soils.

The Extension also offers classes as part of its Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative. Planning ahead to a bounteous harvest, you can also get involved in the LA County Master Food Preserver Program. This 12-week program teaches you how to use canning, pressure canning, freezing, drying and fermenting to preserve food.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sweet Peas: Admire the Flowers or Eat the Peas?

Sweet peas bloom in my birth month (April) -- and I love them. I love the soft colors, the complex flowers, the scent and the seasonality.

This year, when someone asked me for a birthday present idea, I said, "How about some sweet peas?"

I was standing in a farmer's market staring at buckets of bundled blossoms. A bouquet of sweet peas was what I had in mind. The delivered gift was a half dozen sweet pea plants tightly rolled in newspaper pots.

I just got them planted in the garden at the edges of the knitted trellis. They'll be fighting onions for ground space.  We don't have the soaker hoses set up yet so they will be at the mercy of whoever mans the watering can.

Will they bloom this late? Do they make edible legumes?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Know Your Soil For Best Garden Results

I've always taken soil for granted. It was there. You put seeds into it. You put water on it. Plants grow and produce flowers, fruit or vegetables.

Gayle Weinstein, author of Xeriscape Handbook; A How-To Guide to Natural, Resource-Wise Gardening, takes a different view: “Soil . . . acts as a highway between life and death, land and atmosphere, plants and animals.”

It stores water, air and nutrients and makes it possible for an exchange of elements and chemical reactions to occur, she adds. She describes soil as being animal, vegetable and mineral combined.

Here are six tests Gayle recommends for getting to know your soil. Grab a shovel and a quart jar. Dig up two cups of dry soil two-to-six inches deep from the areas you want to test. Gather a glass of water, dish washing detergent and paper towels. A soil pH kit, a meter or litmus paper will be needed for the final test.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Arugula, the Gourmet's Fancy, Grows Easily in California Backyards

i've always been crazy about arugula.  The peppery tingle it gives your tongue is as far from iceberg lettuce as it gets.  Discovering it in chi-chi restaurants, I always envisioned it as a hot house plant.

On a recent trip to Italy, it was everywhere.

Rocket, roquette, rugula and rucola -- it's all arugula. Scientifically, it's called Eruca Sativa.  Not surprisingly, it's a member of the mustard family. It natively ranges the boundaries of the Mediterranean from Portugal and Morrocco to Lebanon and Turkey.

The nutritional data for arugula is astounding: 2.5 calories for a half-cup serving!! with high doses of vitamins A and C, folate, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and potassium to boot.

The Romans grew arugula both for its leaves and its seeds.  They used the seed to flavor oil and empower aphrodisiacs.  It was a convention of Roman meals to offer a salad of greens such as arugula, romaine, chicory, mallow or lavender seasoned with a cheese sauce.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Can Worms Save My Relationship with Composting?

After a few too many brushes with anerobic decay in my kitchen compost pail, my passion for composting is cooling. I'm quite sure that my carbon footprint for toting a small pail of fresh compost a couple of miles to the Fink Farm compost bin more than exceeds any benefit to be gained from returning green waste to the ground.

An alternative currently has me firmly in its grip: kitchen vermiculture. To describe this in simple terms, you take a set of stacked, ventilated trays and add 1,000 red worms (Eisenia foetida), bedding materials, a little water and up to five pounds of food waste a week. The worms digest the waste, creating casting that are rich in nitrogen, phosphates, potash, calcium and magnesium. The castings can be put in the garden. As the worms finish the waste, they crawl up into the next level of the bin.  The lower tray can then be emptied into the garden.