A Tramp in the (Organic) Garden

Seeds, Smack Talk and Assorted Gardening Madness in South Pasadena, Los Angeles

Friday, June 30, 2006

My Summer Heirloom Vegetables and Crops List

I’m so excited about this season's collection of plants I’m growing! From left to right in the photo, the teepees are filled with beans, lemon cukes, more beans, more lemon cukes and melons.

I also have all different sorts of heirloom tomatoes I planted from seed- GREEN GRAPE, ISIS CANDY, KENTUCKY BEEFSTEAK, ANANAS NOIRE, HILLBILLY, NYAGOUS, BLACK KRIM, and some red one my mom got from Home Depot, and a BRANDY BOY hybrid I got from someone on Craig’s List. In between the tomatoes I’m planting a couple varieties of heat- tolerant heirloom lettuces- MIGNONETTE BRONZE and CIMARRON. Of course there’s ITALIAN SWEET BASIL from seeds I smuggled in from Italy, PURPLE OPAL BASIL I started from seed, ARUGULA from saved seed, (which is so easy to grow) and perennial herbs- CHIVES, CITRUS THYME, MARJORAM, and a YELLOW VARIEGATED SAGE. Thyme is so essential in the garden- a fantabulistic ground cover and excellent for cooking. You must plant fresh herbs! You’ll never go back to those little plastic containers of $3 herbs that are slimy and wilted.

A few others are some CHINESE RED NOODLE BEANS, a long bean that is supposed to reach up to 18” and keeps it’s red color when cooked! Also, CHEROKEE TRAIL OF TEARS pole beans that I received as a gift, PURPLE JALAPENOS, LEMON CUCUMBERS, and EARLY FRAME PRESCOTT melons, which were grown before 1885 and which I’m going to try my hand and trellis for the first time. They were often grown in cold frames in Europe and are only about 2-3 pounds, and are supposed to be delicious and gorgeous. I bought most of these seeds from Seed Saver's Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

I was also given some sweet seedlings- EGGPLANT and PEPPERS- from one of my gardening friend’s father- in- law who starts all of his seeds with a heat pad and lights in his house in Newbury Park. I’m not even sure what varieties these are- but what the hell! Eggplant flowers are gorgeous….what a mysterious plant. Also a YELLOW BELL PEPPER from my neighbor in the coolest bright yellow plastic pony pack.

What else? Oh yes, some INDIANA GIANT COCKSCOMB- the flowers are hot pink and supposed to reach up to 14“ across! What a size queen. I started them from seed but they are lingering in pony packs in my back yard right now….ooops!

That's about it....right now...oh- also in the works is an IVORY PEAR white tomato...little tiny seedlings even now, so late...but let's try it!

Don't Be Cheap and Lazy- Amend Your Soil with Organic Compost or Quality Amendment!

Ever heard the expression "Plant a $1 plant in a $5 hole" ? Absofreakinglutely true! Especially when it comes to planting your precious veggies and anything that bears fruit and flowers. So don't be cheap and lazy, people- ammend your soil! I know it's a pain in the a** to drag a big bag of compost or soil amendment from the car to your yard. I know. I know how the lazy mood strikes and you're just not in the mood to get dirt all over the car and on your clothes. I know. And I know that's it's like "ouch" when you end up shelling out like 28 bucks for like three bags of Bumper Crop. Believe me, I know. I know and I hear you, and if you were here right now I'd give you a big hug and we could drink rioja and talk for hours about this and at the end of the night we'd be best friends. I'd hug you and tell you why building up a healthy soil is the most important thing you can do for the health of the plant. I'd pour you another glass of rioja, bum a cigarette off of you, look deep into your eyes, and tell you that a healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy organic garden. That feeding the microorganisms in the soil and building up a good earthworm population was an act of love. That building a healthy soil was akin to having a healthy diet- and that it was the pillar of good health. I'd stroke your cheek, pull the hair away from your forehead and whisper gently that you should amend your soil at planting time and mulch with compost or amendment throughout the season. That having a healthy soil could ward off pests and disease and reduce stress for your plants. And that it could only be accomplished by amending your soil with organic matter. I suggest BUMPER CROP soil amendment.

Let me tell you why you should ammend your soil :

1-Don't be lazy! Carrying 2 cubic foot bags of compost builds muscle! It's like free exercise! Have you taken a look at your panza lately? Trust me, you ain't getting any younger and you need all the help you can get, my friend!

2-Adding organic matter to the soil every time you cultivate it makes it easier for you to dig and work through your brick hard clay soil in the future, especially if you are planting vegetables. Make a luxurious soil and INCREASE IT'S WORKABILITY! (I'm appealing to your laziness first)

3-When you add organic matter to the soil, you INCREASE THE SOIL'S CAPACITY TO HOLD WATER. The little bits of organic matter will hold moisture and make it available over a longer period of time than pure clay or sandy soils.. This is very important for the health of your soil and the plant- and you get to WATER LESS, which is especially important with sandy soils which retain very little water.

4- Regardless of whether you have a clay soil, or perhaps live near the beach and have a sandy soil, amending your soil will improve the structure of your soil. It will help sandy soils retain nutrients and moisture and will improve aeration and compaction in clay soils, loosening them up and making their fertility and nutrients more readily available, and, very important for clay soils -IMPROVES DRAINAGE. Ultimately, you are IMPROVING IT'S PHYSICAL STRUCTURE. The plant's roots will love you...

5-COMPOST ADDS IMPORTANT NUTRIENTS TO YOUR SOIL. Compost and soil amendments contain many micronutrients that you cannot get from traditional fertilizers.

6- A soil high in organic matter will help ATTRACT EARTHWORMS. They love a good soil rich in organic matter. Earthworms in the soil help increase aeration and irrigation through their tunneling, improve soil quality as they digest soil and produce nutrient rich castings. Earthworms are your friends. Invite them to that party in your soil, baby!

7- Organic matter in the soil will help FEED AND ENCOURAGE BENEFICIAL MICROORGANISM POPULATIONS. These beneficial soil microorganisms include bacteria, protozoa, actinomycetes, and fungi. All these miniscule critters help decompose organic matter and help form humus, as well as help plant roots extract nutrients from the soil. If you are used to feeding your plant with chemical, water soluble fertilizers (which you should stop doing right this second), this will naturally help your plant reduce it's dependency.


A- AVOID AMENDMENTS AND PLANTING MIXES WITH SEWAGE SLUDGE IF YOU ARE PLANTING EDIBLES! . Sewage sludge is basically composted human shit, and contains a lot of heavy metals that could end up in your vegetables, fruits and edible flowers. While appropriate for ornamentals, I wouldn't use it on edibles. By the way, not to gross you out, but most conventionally grown produce is grown with composted sewage sludge...another reason to grow your own organic produce or buy organic.

B-BEWARE OF CHEAP COMPOST- SOME OF IT IS STILL "HOT"! That means the carbon/nitrogen chemical reaction has not fully finished and there is still excess nitrogen. Excess nitrogen can burn your plants, similar to what happens if you overfertilize with nasty chemical fertilizers. The bag of cheap compost may smell like ammonia, and might actually feel hot. Let this bag settle for a week or longer in a quiet place and come back to it later when the carbon/nitrogen reaction has completed and the compost has fully decomposed. Trust me on this one- I once spread some cheap compost from a large discount chain on my plants and because it was so "hot", the excess nitrogen burned the foliage on ALL my plants. I was devastated- all my plants were "burnt".

C-NEVER EXCEED THE RATIO OF 50% NATIVE SOIL AND 50% AMENDMENT AT A TIME. Amend the soil every time you disrupt the earth, (for example to cultivate the soil because you are adding a new crop) but never stray from this ratio. The soil you create will be too rich for the plant- better to add a little every time you plant.

D-I really suggest getting the good stuff- don't cheap out when it comes to ammendment. I suggest BUMPER CROP SOIL AMENDMENT found at any good nursery- it comes in a 2 cubic foot bag.

E-Don't get crazy when amending the soil for NATIVE PLANTS. Amend a little when you plant, depending on what the species desires, but keep in mind that most native plants would rather be mulched than have their soil structure and microorganism relationship disrupted. Also, many native plants actually prefer a thin, un-enriched, pure native soil. Let the earthworms do the work for you- the one time you get to be lazy in the garden.

Is that too confusing?? Hope not!

Monday, June 26, 2006

In Love With: Takashimaya Rose Petal Black Tea

I discovered this tea almost 2 years ago at Takashimaya (Takashimaya -693 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10019 near 54th St. 212-350-0100) in New York- the most exquisite, delicious tea you will ever find, an absolute mandatory daily indulgence. It's like drinking a delicious perfume, and even the boys are wowed by it. Beauty in all it's forms transcends gender. I drink it with artisanal orange blossom honey and soy milk. It's also amazing iced. If you don't live in New York, you have to order it by calling in and placing the order and giving your CC #, which nowadays seems very odd. You don't have a PO #, or a confirmation #, it's just all trust. I love that you receive your parcel with a hand written thank you card and the tea is delicately wrapped.

Why do I live in L.A.????

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Wanna See My Melons?

I think one of main reasons to grow melons is to be able to say "Wanna see my big juicy melons?" I mean really, how can one resist? This is all coming from a little Size A chica. Wanna check out my lemons?

Anyway- here's some shots of my Early Frame Prescott melons- a smaller warted melon- grown from organic seed of course. (The wet brown stuff on the leaves is liquid seaweed and liquid Dr. Earth fertilizer). It's a variety suitable for trellising, as long as you support the growing melons with a sling or something similar. I made bamboo teepees and plan to add horizontal levels on as they grow. We'll see about the slings....challenging? I gave a few seedlings away to friends, and I'm personally so excited to grow them this year. They are so jolie-laide!! And I'm also not very good with curcurbits, you see, which makes it all the more challenging. They get powdery mildew and poop out on me. But I'm spraying the foliage with seaweed emulsion to help combat any fungal foliage pathogens and they look pretty healthy so far. I'm so in love with the foliage....and I'm already sensing a mushy love phase with all things melon. Check out the Victor Schrager and Amy Goldman book on melons- the photography and styling is amazing. I wish I had all the room in the world for more melons...too bad we agreed to plant a lawn to accommodate that little badminton habit....

I need a farm...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Growing Lettuce in So. Cali.

Growing lettuce, I'm convinced, is absolutely one of the purest things you can do in life. The satisfaction you reap from sowing a lettuce seed and ending up with a bowlful of the most delicious goodness ever is so freaking amazing. I used to just broadcast seed all over the ground and harvest the new baby lettuce leaves as they grew, but this last winter I planted pony packs with one seed per cell and ended up with some amazing heads of lettuce. I was so proud of myself, I have to say....lettuce is great for the ego.....I grew MERVEILLE DE QUATRE SAISONS and a spotted variety called SPECKLES, which I think is really a butterhead also known as BUNTE FORELLENSCHLUSS. We also grew some LOLLA ROSSA and some corn mache from some seeds I smuggled in from Switzerland.

Here's some pics of the early winter seedlings and here's a pic of my cute hubby doing a nighttime harvest for dinner. We have this flashlight you strap onto your head and it's perfect for nighttime dinner harvests. Also some more MERVEILLE DE QUATRE SAISONS that I planted from seed. (I planted it between 2 tomato plants- the shade of the tomato plants will provide some protection later on in the summer.) Notice how the edges of the leaves are a bit gnawed and bedraggled.

Be aware, though, that in southern cali, lettuce is typically a winter grown vegetable! There are some varieties that fare well in the summer heat, though most would be prone to bolting into flower much more quickly than in winter. If you live near the beach or have that coastal influence you have a better chance with summer lettuce. If you are inland give it some shade or a little protection from the sun. Treat it nicely- plenty of water and no plant stress. And if you do grow some bitter lettuce, before you eat it, soak it in water for a bit- you'll find that this reduces the bitter flavor and makes lettuce crisp and palatable once more. Fo shizzle!

I'm planting some lettuces during the summer and will give you my feedback. I got most of them from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds . This place is in the Ozarks, and their tagline is "preserving our ethnic heritage", which as a café con leche, half Mexicana/half white girl makes me nervous a little bit (what's that slogan about anyway) , but they're totally cool and really all about keeping seed strains clean, open-pollinated, etc. We need more of that attitude. I got CIMARRON, MASCARA, MIGNONETTE BRONZE. AND FORELLENSCHLUSS. I just planted MIGNONETTTE BRONZE and CIMARRON for the summer, and I have a few heads of MERVEILLE DE QUATRE SAISONS on their way. CIMARRON is a romaine type lettuce which resists bolting- and it's from the 1800's! What a way to re-connect with history. Think Vive Le Revolution! MIGNONETTE BRONZE is great for tropical hot weather and was introduced in 1898. I will let you know how these work out.

This fall I want to plant lettuce sampler pony packs and give them away to my peeps. Lettuce for the world!

Tomato Obsession- It Ain't Pretty

You know that part in the movie Half Baked where Bob Saget gets up in the middle of a Marijuana Anonymous meeting and is like " I sucked dick for coke, man." Well, that's basically the type of behavior of anyone in the middle of a full blown tomato obsession- it's crackish and whorelike behavior.

I admit it- it's in my title- I'm a plant tramp. I'm a seed slut. I'm a compost whore. What do you want me to do? It's the middle of the June and I'm prowling the internet for highly coveted GREEN GIANT tomato seeds. Ordering VINTAGE WINE seeds from 2006 just because I got to have a little taste of the good stuff. IVORY PEAR- I just need a little bump, baby. Just a little something to get me through the next day or so. Someone is giving away a BRANDY BOY seedling on Craig's List? I don't grow hybrids, baby, but when mama needs it, mama needs it. Leave it my front porch....

Here are some places besides Seed Saver's Exchange to get seeds and heirloom plants from: Cynthia's Love Apple Farm in California , and another small seed company Amishland Heirloom Seeds , Gary Ibsen's Tomatofest , and Scott Daigre's Tomatomania sales, which is where I caved last year and instead of planting all the tomato seeds I had bought, ended up getting tomato plants- LUCKY CROSS, COSTOLUTO GENOVESE, CARBON, BLACK PLUM, AUSSIE TOMATO...another great one for tons of heirloom tomato varieties.

I planted an abundance of extra tomato seeds THIS year and have given most of them away. I think I grew and gave away about 60. I started them all from seed, nurtured them with Dr. Earth organic fertilizer and good Gardener's Gold potting soil and gave them all the love I had to give. The varieties for this year- all primarily heirloom, open- pollinated, no F1 hybrid love here. Most were from Seed Savers Exchange. I grew KENTUCKY BEEFSTEAK (orange), PATIO ORANGE (small orange tomato suitable for pot culture), NYAGOUS (black), GREEN GRAPE (determinate green cherry), ISIS CANDY (bicolor red orange cherry), ANANAS NOIRE (multicolored), HILLBILLY (yellow flushed red), BLACK KRIM, BLACK BRANDYWINE. I love black tomatoes- they are tops.

I then started another wave of seedlings-all cherries: RIESENTRAUBE (an extremely old one with nipples), YELLOW PEAR (a farmer's market classic) , IVORY PEAR (supposed to be like little white grapes). I'm sort of curious about white tomatoes. They seem so unappetizing and tasteless...but I'm giving it a shot. I'm commanding a friend from work to plant these seedlings mid season. Commanding!

So whilst in the middle of potting up seedlings, and when I should have been working diligently at work (it's research), I was....planning my lineup for next year! And ordering a few samplers (a little pick me up) from a couple of places. And not only was I planning the lineup, I was accepting more tomato plants from strangers! And I hadn't (and still haven't) made room for the tomatoes yet to be planted- like Green Grape, Isis Candy, a huge Black Krim I'm saving for the front which get's full day sun, Plus the Brandy Boy! What the hell am I thinking?

A Brief Intro

Hello there! Hey this is a brief intro to my life, gardening and otherwise. I live, love and garden in Highland Park in Los Angeles. It's between Downtown LA, South Pasadena, and Echo Park- and it's a veritable mecca of sunshine and sin, lemme tell you. It's a zone 11, according to the USDA, and I think a zone 21, 22, something like that, according to the Sunset Western guide. I don't remember. The soil is clay, clay, clay. Light brown, absolutely no organic matter, and turns into a brick when it's hot and dry. It's crap and I've had to amend the soil like it was going out of style. Alkaline clay soils are very, very typical of Los Angeles and Southern California. You are lucky if you garden in one of those pockets of luscious silty loam. Soil that's actually black and fertile! And it gets plenty hot on the Eastside- so hot that when I go "into the city" which is Hollywood or the westside, I feel fresh cool and relaxed. Aaaaah. Especially know that I have AC in my car...shhhhiiiiiiiiiiiitttttt. Mama knows. Mama knows how to do it up!

Anyway, I started a gardening blog last year by almost the same name when I was sort of lushing it up and could never find it again. Oooooops! Live and learn, I say.

We rent a space in Highland Park- we don't own, which makes gardening a little more of a challenge. When we started- the entire backyard, a space of about 25' x 40' was only dirt except for a mulberry tree in the corner and a huge Canary Island pine. I had a million ideas, but didn't like the idea of landscaping the property completely with perennials with out leaving an area to plant vegetables, other edibles and annuals. We argued and fussed over what we should do with the large tabula rasa space- even getting into an argument one night at The Chalet. Eventually we decided to go with the most mundane of layouts- plant a lawn in the middle to accomadate that little badminton habit, create raised beds along the sides for rotating seasonal plantings, and plant other perennials along the other sides. How boring and suburban! (Gone were my plans of walking through a lush meadow into a small clearing to wine and dine!) And why should I spent $1000 on plants when I can propagate my own? I opted to rely on cuttings and other propagated plants to fill the garden. So that's been a little bit of the running theme of the garden. Buy only the basics and propagate the rest. Friends are only too willing to give you cuttings, and succulent swiped here or there- well who's to know?

The backyard was nothing but weeds when we first moved in, but glorious weeds I might add- filled with ladybug larvae, ladybugs and all sorts of sweet flowers. It was still magical to me even when it was dirt and weeds. I'll try to find a photo somewhere.....but anyway, here are some shots of it kind of recently. In fall when the tomatoes had grown into a wall of vegetation, one this spring, when I hijacked all the garden chairs, stripped off the cushions and used them to hold seedling flats, and one this spring when all the winter plantings had gone to flower and the cymbidium was looking gorgeous. And one of our porch- it looks like a charming cottage. Our house is lopsided! It's all a bit messy, but so what?