Soil building

Soil building

Feed your soil. Your soil feeds your plants and your plants feed you. — Paraphrased from John Jeavons When I teach the soil-building session at my class series at the Community Garden at Holy Nativity, I always bring along my little friends – a trio of oversized, gooey brown jelly-plastic earthworms left over from a friend’s Halloween display. When I pull them out of their box, I make certain to jiggle them, just so, and invariably someone in the audience…

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There’s too much to learn!

There’s too much to learn!

I’ve been hearing this line lately, as Transition Los Angeles works with people to help them adapt toward post-petroleum lifestyles. “There’s too much to learn!” But look at what you already know. Look at the massive amount of knowledge you have acquired in the past 3 to 5 years to learn to effectively use that electronic communications gadget you carry in your pocket or purse. A decade ago, you didn’t know those skills. You acquired them recently and rapidly. Look…

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Rediscovering Production

Rediscovering Production

To consume means to destroy. That’s why “consumption” was the name given to tuberculosis. – Vandana Shiva[i] Producing food. For the most part, people alive today have lost touch with this most basic of human activities. Instead, we have become consumers. We acquire things. We accumulate things. We value ourselves and others based upon the things we have accumulated. Quite a few people are now trying to “green” their lives and plant gardens, but (as a recent L.A. Times article…

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The Evolving Question

The Evolving Question

My personal garden has been a grand experiment. For the first 15 or so years I dabbled at growing vegetables. At first it was about novelty: How could I stretch the tomato season? Tangy mesclun, nutty Christmas limas, and smoky salsify – what unique tastes could I bring to table? Quinoa, cassava, favas – what exotic plant varieties could I grow? In the early days, my garden featured lots of California natives, and organic techniques simply meant more birds and…

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High-yield vegetable gardens

High-yield vegetable gardens

How to obtain incredible yields from a small urban square footage, and make it all look beautiful, too! 1. Plant edibles. It sounds really obvious, but Americans tend to plant way too many flowers. Fill your space with food plants and then add a few flowers in the left-over spaces. Learn which food plants are handsome: the glossy evergreen leaf of citrus rivals any ornamental hedge. Pomegranates are breathtaking in nearly every season. 2. Take advantage of our year-round growing…

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Nourishing with Compost

Nourishing with Compost

When we broke ground at the Community Garden at Holy Nativity, the site was old grass and junipers. Not the nice kind of grass, but the scratchy stuff that kids won’t even romp on. Photographic records showed that the space had probably been grass and junipers for over 30 years. You can imagine what our garden soil was like at first. It was dull dead nothingness. There was next-to-nothing in the way of soil life. Most areas of our city…

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How Much Mulch

How Much Mulch

Emilia Hazelip, gardening near the fields of France, used straw — about 10 inches of it! A local homestead project once stated on their blog that they use 4 to 6 inches of mulch. Lowenfels and Lewis are far more conservative, specifying 2 to 3 inches, however they are in a cooler, moister climate. Regardless, you need a lot! At the Community Garden at Holy Nativity, if we’re transplanting seedlings (such as those sprouted in little pots) we will mulch…

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A Thick Quilt of Mulch

A Thick Quilt of Mulch

“Nature abhors bare soil,” said French Permaculturist Emilia Hazelip. When you take a hike in the mountains, have you ever noticed how the shrubs drop a thick layer of leaves? In their natural state, shrubs make their own mulch. Peel back a thick layer of garden mulch, particularly in the springtime when everything is still moist. Right at the interface between mulch and soil you’ll notice a very rich layer. You might catch a few soil critters scampering away. You…

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Smooth or Chunky

Smooth or Chunky

In the gardens of my youth, the soil texture was definitely chunky. Chunky then meant sandstone and shale rock pieces – chunks so hard you could not break them with a pick, let alone with the tender root of a seedling. Smooth was what was left over when the chunks of rock were removed and pitched over the cliff! Smooth was fine textured, powdered sandstone. In those days, my mother was the gardener and I was the observer. Organic methods…

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Drop Yer Bloomers

Drop Yer Bloomers

Lately I’ve been growing impatient with impatiens. Petunias, snapdragons, bouganvilla, ficus, bird-of-paradise: our Southern California cities luxuriate in year-round ornamental gardens. Pretty bloomers, yes. But truly, a mix of non-functional tropical plants slurping water in what is really a desert climate, usurping land use where urban space is now so precious. Lawns and nonfunctional landscapes are a haughty scoff: “I don’t NEED to produce food.” Historically, these ornamental gardens and sweeping lawns originated with the emergence of the middle class…

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