Friday, December 31, 2010

A blessing for the new year

Something just beyond the horizon beckons us forwards to become who we already are but do not know it yet... Rilke
This natural impulse for growth: I see it in the seeds I sow, the plants that grow, the flowers that bloom. What is that all about? I don't know but this drive for growth seems to be something quite fundamental about life. With that thought in mind, sending this blessing out to all: may this new year be a good year of growth for all, in whatever form it may take!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New condo for the worms

As a gardening geek, getting a trendy looking new worm condo for my holiday present was a stroke of pure awesomeness. This one is available to residents of our city for a discount. If you are in southern California, google your city or county to find whether your municipality offers this.
worm bin
The worms' new condo, named Wriggly Wranch tm, comes with a bottom level spigot for the precious worm tea, legs to keep off the ground, and coconut coir for the worms' first bed.
worm bin

The good: Nice to have two trays so that you add the fresher veggies in the top bin. The spigot is a nice addition. In the previous setup, I had been using my turkey baster to suck up the worm 'tea'. Maybe I can retire the turkey baster from gardening.

The bad, maybe: Wriggly Wranch tm used to come with three trays instead of the two. We'll see if I need that third tray. The collecting spigot is also located about an inch above the bottom of the tray, which means in order to get any worm goodness, you'll have to have more than an inch of liquid to accumulate. Seems like a lot of liquid to just have hanging around. On second thought, I may have to bring out the ol turkey baster out of retirement.

Nice FAQs on worm composting explored on this blog post at North Coast Gardening.

I'll see how this works out.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry sweet peas to all

For the first time, I have a spray of my favorite flowers just in time for the holidays. Yup, this is early, even here in Southern California.
first sweet peas
Directly seeded into the ground in August, and note this is NOT when I usually plant, my sweet peas grew like weeds. I think they liked our weird cold summer combined with those few weeks of weird hot weather in November and December. For support, I use one of those horribly shaky and wobbly 'tomato cages' you can purchase at chain garden stores but I turn them upside down, the legs up in the air, and use stakes to stabilize the whole thing. I tie a ribbon round the legs and the peas grow up the sides, confining the sweet peas to a small spot, perfect for a tiny garden. Sweet peas are my favorite fleur. Their fragrance always reminds me to take a moment and relax so I am happy to share these with you this holiday season in this way.

first sweet peas

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Hummingbird Wars

During our amazing December warm spell, right before the record-breaking big rains in southern California, I noticed intermittent buzzing sounds in my bicolor tree mallow, followed by feathery swooping things whizzing by my head.

malva and the bee, originally uploaded by luvarugula.
No way could I ID them visually as all I saw was a blur, the usual for me with hummingbirds. Although a novice birder, I use sound so I knew they weren't Anna's nor Costa's. When it escalated to be quite the epic battle I wandered over to the tree mallow and came upon one fearless hummer, refusing to budge as he sat on a nearby branch as though daring me to do something. Fine, I thought, I'll get a shot of you so I left to get my camera. When I came back, he was still there so here he is, giving me the evil eye. An Allen's, I think. hummer number one

Then along came the other hummer, a bit larger and greener. It chased Allen number one off but hummer number two was a bit more elusive after he secured the tree, so skittish so I couldn't get a better shot.

hummer number two, originally uploaded by luvarugula.

Allen number one, of course, came back in full attack mode. At which point, I needed to leave. But all throughout this month, even in our epic rain, I could still hear them battling even though I couldn't quite see them.

I'm wondering if they are migrating through. I usually don't see Allen's as much as Anna's hummingbirds.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Notable posts

LATimes on how a local community garden makes their compost. Wish we had something like that going in our community gardens but as you will see, it is quite intense, requiring major committment.

I'm always fascinated with hummingbird dynamics especially at a feeder. Enjoyed reading about the one hummer standing her ground, with cuuuuute photos, well worth the peek.

It's the local bobcat versus the chickens , complete with a youtube video filled with crazed squawking and clucking. Yup, you can tell they nearly lost their lives.

Impressive! Curbstone Valley grows their own thanksgiving turkey.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cilantro on my mind

IMG_2290, originally uploaded by luvarugula.
My fail-safe plant, the one I can rely on to germinate and grow, is cilantro, gorgeous and fragrant.

As a garden seeder, I never know what will come up after sowing. Not only that, I know the bazillions of slugs in my garden lie in wait for any new shoot, probably drooling in their sleep each day.

However, cilantro rules. All year.

Sow thick
I sow seeds, thick, every few weeks in microplots, usually in between plants.

Mulch well
I top with an alfalfa mulch, my favorite, and, voila, I see little shoots in a few weeks. Mulching helps retain water as well, essential these Santa Ana days.

My rule of thumb: figure out what family your plant belongs to. Your next crop should not be from the same family. Cilantro hails from the Apiaceae family, same as carrots, dill and fennel. I find cilantro is a nice plant to grow after tomatoes (Solanaceae family) and any type of brassicas (from, yup, the Brassicaceae family), such as broccoli, radish and arugula.

I bet I lose a few cilantro shoots to the ravenous hordes of slugs in my garden but I'm now suspecting they prefer other sprouts, such as spinach and lettuce, the ones I never see in my garden.

Family Apiaceae
Coriandrum sativum

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bunny tale

Pssst! Hey, get me outta here!

bunny, originally uploaded by luvarugula.
Today the bunny is gone, off to live in a private home. She came to us quietly, probably tossed over the fence and abandoned to fend for herself in the community gardens. Probably nirvana for awhile, as we have a lot of weedy plots with places to hide. We don't know how long she was on her own.

Thanks to some of our community minded gardeners, she was caught, placed in very nice enclosure donated by a local business, and fed well with fresh carrots from the gardens and rabbit chow. Her nickname, Little Shirley, was in honor of the gardener where her cage was kept. We know she enjoyed being let out of her cage to jump around and create burrows because she became quite skilled at running away, as in "Noooooo, I'm not going in that cage!".

I used to see the bunny in the mornings, sitting in her box. By the time I left, she would be completely out of her box. I would catch her peering at me intently, surely wanting to be let out.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Leeks, mostly

Leeks, originally uploaded by luvarugula.

Grabbed a pack of leek seedlings from the Santa Monica Farmer's Market. This is my first year of leeks. We'll see how they grow.

It's dead, Jim

Sometime ago my laptop died, leaving me without the usual way to post photos. The dilemma is this: because I'm using borrowed computers, I want to avoid downloading any new software onto anyone's hard drive space. I had been using Picasa, a service requiring a download of Picasa software onto the computer. Hope to figure this out soon so I can get more photos out of my garden. With fall and winter a major planting season here in southern California, I've been busy.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The unexpected gifts

I visit my community garden plot at least three times a week, usually in the morning before I start my day. As I open the gate and trod down the sandy path to my plot, I find myself slipping in to garden-mode, where I review my inner to-do list while I admire the quiet in the air and the smell of coffee from the shop across the street.

I'm curious about what new things I may find in my plot. Invariably, I need to check all the newly planted micro-spots while I mentally check off where I see new weeds, the false garlic or even the errant blackberry cane.

Then I collate my to-do list with whatever needs to be down now, today, asap, and off I go. Watering is usually the last item, especially if I've planted seeds or replanted something. Weeding is the first item on most days. Mucking around in the compost bin is somewhere on the list.

I find myself going into a zone most times than not, with minutes flying by quietly.

Aside from the obvious harvests from my garden, I find the gifts from my garden to be a place where I can zone into another space, calm and quiet.

What unexpected gifts do you get from your garden?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Santa Monica Main Street Community Gardens Highlighted

The LA Times shines a spotlight on Santa Monica's Main Street Community Gardens on their blog. Well-done, as I think the reporter's feel for the gardens is authentic and true to the spirit of the place. 
Main Street welcomes the public to see the results as long as a community gardener is working inside. Tourists stroll through regularly, taking a break from window shopping. And despite the remaining fences, gardeners have grown to support one another in tough financial times, in sickness, in ways that go beyond watering a neighbor’s plot during a heat wave.

"One thing I’ve learned," McCorry said, "is that gardening makes you generous."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Did the name change?

Well, yes. I did change the title of this blog.

And why? I didn't quite like the narcissistic feel of the first title. Though "How Does My Garden Grow?" certainly reflects what goes on in my mind when I visit my garden plot or when I blog, I was never quite comfortable with it. Longish, bulky. It was a start, especially since I think it really is difficult to come up with a good title for a blog. Really.

I'm going with the current title for now. It's simple, it works, it's different.

Why do you compost?

Assuming you do compost, why do you compost?  Do you wish to avoid filling up landfills? Is it to have control over what goes in your garden? Does it connect with your frugal self? Do you like having worms for pets? Do you crave worm tea for your garden?

I was thinking about this as I dropped more wilted veggies into my little compost pile. I have stacked two 15 gallon pots, with something at the bottom to catch any compost drippings. For that, I use my trusty baster, stolen from the kitchen. Have no fear, know I'll get a new one for turkey day.  The earthworms are slowly migrating from the bottom pail to the top one, now filled with fresh coffee grounds, mushroom bits, broccoli peelings, egg shells, and carrot fronds.  Lovely stuff, not smelly at all. 

I'm getting quite attached to my worms; I think of them as my new pets.  It's a neat little ecosystem, ending with more compost for my garden. More control over what goes into my garden is appealing, as is the sense I'm putting less stuff into the landfills.

Composting is it's own quiet metaphor, the process of taking leftovers, unused bits of pieces normally ending up in the trash, and becoming food, home and sustenance of another process. 

I'm not sure what is the most salient reason why I compost. So many ideas and desires all in one.  It makes me wonder why others compost.
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Successful Santa Monica garden sharing

Glad to see the Los Angeles Times blogging about Santa Monica's efforts to increase garden sharing, a mutal program setting up homeowners who are willing to open up their garden to someone who is interested in gardening.  This is critical especially since community garden spots are becoming rarer than hail in Santa Monica. I know this well since I was on the community garden list for a plot for over 10 years.
Ellu Nasser, a farmer's daughter from Oregon, moved here five years ago and has been on a waiting list to get into Santa Monica's Main Street Community Garden since then. About a year ago, she signed up for the Santa Monica Garden Share program instead, which matches willing homeowner with landless gardener -- an arrangement that has worked well in Britain, where the idea originated, and in the Pacific Northwest
You can get more information directly about Santa Monica's program on garden sharing.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cheers to my hardy volunteers

If I didn't sow any seeds, I know I would have a large mountain of volunteer nasturtiums and pumpkin plants, sure to overtake the other plots around me. By the way, know this is not a way to become popular and well-liked in a community garden.

In the center my plot would sprout a humongous tower of nasturtiums, flowers waving gaily at everyone. On the sides would be the volunteer pumpkins.

Here are two that grew over this summer, despite the wet and cold weather we endured that we euphemistically called 'summer'.
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Saturday, October 2, 2010

A spotlight on Southern California community gardening

Woohoo! The LA Times will be covering the community gardening scene in Southern California, devoting a weekly column on their newsite and paper. Here is the first piece.
More than 70 community gardens dot Los Angeles County alone, some dating back more than 30 years. Even the L.A. Community Garden Council isn’t sure about the total because some gardens are growing under the radar.

In the months to come, I’ll be blogging here on Southern California’s community gardens -- the people, the plantings, the gardening conundrums, the expert solutions. Bookmark L.A. at Home and look for my new posts every Wednesday as I bounce from community to community, meeting gardeners such as Milli Macen-Moore at the Milagro Allegro community garden in the northeast L.A. neighborhood of Highland Park.
If you are interested in the community garden scene, please be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How do you compost?

I bring this up because I have been surprised to find how satisfying it is to keep a compost pile. It's easy to do especially if you are fortunate to have garden space. Besides, what else will I do with my cucumber peelings and wilted lettuce leaves?

Know it's been quite a frugal adventure so far on my part. I dump my wilty leaves, eggshells and chard rinds saved from the kitchen into one cracked 15 gallon bucket set in a quiet spot in my garden. I keep it covered with a heavy clay top, necessary to keep the neighborhood riff-raff out.

It didn't take long for the earthworms to find my compost, probably crawling in through the crack in my container. Since my compost pile evolved into a worm composting setup, I no longer worry about the temperature of my pile or how much browns and greens I have added. I feed my worms regularly with kitchen scraps and eggshells, occasionally the egg carton torn up.

Every few months when I do new plantings, I 'harvest' some of my compost for the soil. I take the top of my compost pile, which is really a clay top, dump all the newer stuff out, and dig out the stuff at the bottom.I find whatever it is down there to be swimming with earthworms.
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The oldest stuff goes into my garden to start the new plantings. I throw back the stuff I pulled out into bucket.

I'm happy. I 'grow' my own compost, I have a use for my headed-for-the-trashcan greens, and my earthworms must be happy because they multiply faster than rabbits.

I must be in sync with the LA Times dry garden lady because she just wrote about composting here.
Spread burlap near the bin. Using a pitch fork, empty the still-cooking mass of unfinished recent additions onto the cloth, taking a short break to allow various creatures involved in the decomposition process to recover and retreat. As you pause, cuss. Curse the designers of these contraptions and every blithe garden writer who ever extolled one.

Stop moving the half-digested compost to the burlap once you reach finished compost. That it is done to perfection will be evident to the eyes, fingers and nose. It will be almost black. It will crumble to the touch. And it will be headily sweet-smelling.

Start scooping this finished compost into a wheelbarrow.

Monday, September 13, 2010

People watching squirrel

Oh, the life of a community garden squirrel, with time to lounge and catch some rays while checking out the urban wildlife. All he needs are some shades and a towel.
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Santa Monica Mountains hike

Mallows were in full bloom in Solstice Canyon. I used to be quite the fanatic about keying and id'ing flowers while hiking but I can't seem to find my books.

We spied developing walnuts in the trees.
Juglans californica, black walnut, family Juglandaceae

It was sometime after 1903 that a homesteader named Henry Keller built this hunting cabin originally of stone and tin to withstand wildfire; however, in the years following, wood porches were built, meaning it was no longer fire-proof. The Corral Canyon fire of 2007 destroyed this cabin.

This sycamore was scorched by the Corral Canyon fire of 2007 fire but it has survived.

There is still a running stream traversing Solstice Canyon, complete with minnows.

These lizards were checking us out, one eye cocked on us while sunning on a log.
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

How do you save your tomato seeds?

Caught the LA Times garden/food writer, Emily Green, on her LA Times blog on saving tomato seeds:

"Squish them out into a jar," Chetelat said. "Let them ferment on counter. The fungi will work on fruit pulp. Rinse in a strainer and pop the seeds onto paper to dry them." (UC Cooperative Extension offers more detailed instructions on how to save tomato seeds.) Store seeds in a cool dry place, then start them inside next April. Ninety days later, you should have fruit, probably closer to the Fourth of July than Memorial Day, unless something wonderful happens.

Be sure to check out that excellent link she recommends for more detailed info. I do the same as above but with one change: I dry my seeds on coated paper plates. If using paper, I found the seeds tend to stick while drying, becoming one with the paper. Not a good thing.

I have a different take on starting seeds, perhaps my adjustment to being close to the beach. I find April on the late end to begin. Though not as warm as inland, our weather is actually milder and less extreme in terms of the night time low temps in the winter. I actually start my seeds as early as December, indoors, though I may have to change this since our new place doesn't seem to get as much windowsill sun. I can get the earliest plants into the ground by February. I keep planting, however, to May at the latest. I only plant cool climate tolerant tomatoes because they have fewer issues with our cloudy and foggy summers.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Finally harvesting Maui onions

Looking leekish, my Maui onions have finally grown up and are ready for harvest. I think I planted them a bit too close but I didn't think they would grow this big.
This photo below shows them in May.

The shot below is one taken in March, newly planted.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A July morning in Southern California

Being one block from the beach, there is our June gloom, continuing into July, with the sky overcast nearly all morning and the morning dew on my plants. I like how the dew highlights the outlines of my plants, pretty but definitely not summery.

Tomato flower

Green tomatoes will stay green a bit longer. I'm glad I plant only coool weather tolerant toamtoes. These are my Japanese Black Trifele, apparently a Russian tomato. I bet there is an interesting back story to this variety but I haven't yet found it. Though this is my first year growing these, I'm already quite fond of them.
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Corn leaf

Cabbage leaf

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Green Black Cherry tomatoes

Green Japanese Black Trifele

Green Momotaro tomatoes

Green Stupice tomatoes
Green bean
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Sunday, June 27, 2010

I'm being followed by a moon flower

I inherited my community garden plot from someone who I believe was cultivating a moon garden, a white flower only garden. There has been about several years since I've taken over this plot and still find surprises emerging. This year, I have amarylis sprouting. True to form, they are all white or pale yellow flowers.
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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Blues at The Getty

I always get a kick out of visiting the garden at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. I'm always envious of the person who buys the plants for the garden. I want that job! It seems they end up buying the most unusual variant of any plant available for their garden. Tonight, the blues were in fabulous bloom.

I like this trellis below. I would like to order one for my garden.
Here is a closeup of the trailing flowers.
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