Seeding the new forest garden

forestgarden dec2015A forest garden is a garden of perennial plants that produce food.  It is often designed to look “forest-like,” with trees forming a canopy above, and smaller plants creating a “forest floor” effect underneath.

As part of the Westchester Community Oven project, we had always intended to try adding a food forest garden to the Community Garden at Holy Nativity.

Since the spot chosen was under an asphalt parking lot for at least 30 years, the first step was some soil remediation.

Cactus juice preservative for the cob oven

opuntia juiceI’m “cooking up” a batch of Opuntia juice preservative.  It is a traditional weather coating used on adobe and cob structures.  We will be adding it to the final coat on the Westchester Community Oven when we re-surface it next weekend.

I had to post this because it is absolutely a frightful color of green.  No filters in that photo!

To make the preservative, you finely mince or puree cactus pads (Opuntia species, better known as prickly pear, or “nopales”), which yields a goopey green glop.  Then you pour this into a 5-gallon bucket of water, at which point it doesn’t mix with water right away, so it really looks like Shrek had a horrible head-cold.   

Adobe Brick-making Success!

Adobe Brick Making at the Community Garden at Holy Nativity, May 2015

Adobe Brick Making at the Community Garden at Holy Nativity, May 2015

This past Saturday, we had LOTS of fun making adobe bricks at the Community Garden.

Kids, both small and tall, got to experience squishy-squashy mud.  It is so tactile and cool and smooth, and once you start, you just can’t get enough of it!

Root knot nematodes

someone else’s photo, that looks like what we saw

Yesterday in the Community Garden, we discovered that we are experiencing an attack of Root Knot Nematodes.  The beets we pulled up had failure to thrive, failed to form a beet root, and had tons of tumor-like growths on the hair roots.  Yuck.

The excess of one organism — to the point that we call them a “pest” — is a system imbalance.  It’s probably due to something lacking in the overall micro-ecosystem.

I’m sure our beets this year were weakened from lack of proper rain, and from excess high temperatures this season, so they were particularly succeptible.  My guess is that we probably have had low levels of root knot nematode everywhere for years, but thus far the soil ecosystem had kept them from flourishing and becoming an out-of-balance pest.

We grow organically, so that streamlines our treatment choices.  The goal is to regain the soil-ecosystem balance.

Building a Food Forest garden – cover crops

We’re designing a Food Forest garden, to be built later this spring.  We’ll be tearing out asphalt, cleansing and rejeuvenating the soil, and recrafting the space as a community gathering area with a cob bread oven and food forest.

Today I’ve been studying cover crops and compost crops for the “rejeuvenating the soil” part. 

Crop rotations in So. Calif: When to change seasons

VCRW front 100 It’s autumn in Southern California.  Or is it?  The weather has changed.  Wait, it’s changed back again…

Contrary to what East Coast people say, Southern California does have its seasons.  But there’s rarely a clear “cutoff” date.  Add climate-change-driven Weather Weirdness to the mix and it can be totally confusing, even for veteran gardeners.

How do you tell when it’s time to change crops in your rotation?

Greywater: Legal and Not

Water.  Our gardens are aching for it.  And as toasty spring lengthens into official summertime, water needs will only increase.

Meanwhile, we’re completely overlooking a rather abundant water resource.  Greywater.  That’s water which has been used once before but doesn’t have anything nasty in it.

And since garden soil has enormous power to filter and cleanse a lot of what’s in that water, it seems like greywater and gardens should be a perfect fit.