When we changed the name of this occasionally updated string of musings from SurviveLA to Homegrown Revolution to make it more national, as the publisher of our upcoming book the Urban Homestead requested, we had one big challenge. While Mrs. Homegrown Revolution hails from the snowy mountains of Colorado, Mr. Homegrown Revolution has never lived anywhere else other than sunny Southern California. And neither of us have tended plants outside of this Mediterranean climate, one of the rarest types of climatic zones on the planet.
But if we’ve learned anything universal about growing food it has been to work with nature rather than against her, or as we prefer to say–don’t fuck with nature. For those of you who live where it gets cold, fucking with nature means trying to grow a fig tree. For us it meant trying to grow a lawn, a foolish water-wasting mistake we made in our pre-SurviveLA days. Working with nature means finding plants that belong in a climate similar to your part of the world. We’re not native plant fascists and will gladly source plants from other similar climates, but we don’t believe in nursing sickly plants that can’t take our heat, or need lots of water.
This season we’ve pledge not to be tempted by the allure of the seed catalogs. We’re going to grow edible and useful plants that thrive in Mediterranean places. Thankfully that includes a lot of interesting options, some of which we already have–figs, artichoke, grapes, prickly pear cactus, rosemary, thyme and lavender.
One new addition that we’re planting from seed is Capparis spinosa, commonly known as capers. Every year we make faux capers from nasturtium seed pods, but this year we thought we would start the real thing. The caper bush is an attractive plant that tolerates bad soil and dry conditions, in short perfect for the front slope of our little hilltop compound.
But nature could still screw with us. Capers are notoriously difficult to start from seeds (which we ordered from Trade Winds Fruit). According to Purdue University’s Center for New Crops and Plant Products,
“Caper seeds are minuscule and are slow to nurture into transplantable seedlings. Fresh caper seeds germinate readily – but only in low percentages. Dried seeds become dormant and are notably difficult to germinate and therefore require extra measures to grow. Dried seeds should be initially immersed in warm water (40°C or 105°F ) and then let soak for 1 day. Seeds should be wrapped in a moist cloth, placed in a sealed glass jar and kept in the refrigerator for 2 – 3 months. After refrigeration, soak the seeds again in warm water overnight.”
We’ll also need to wait a few years before we have a crop. But if our capers manage to establish we’ll be letting nature work for us.
It looks like we may be fucked, so to speak (sorry for the potty talk–too many cocktails tonight perhaps). Homegrown Revolution reader Brian writes:
“you are brave. but potentially foolish. this thing is one of the toughest plants i’ve ever grown in the south bay. i eventually ordered a tiny little plant, i think from papa geno. anyway, good luck with the seed, i know i wasted 2 years on them before i caved and went for the cutting. even now, this thing is fickle. so far, my little plant is on year 3, ( so, year 5 of my project ), is about a foot in diameter, and i get about 15 flowers a summer. about enough for one dinner of puttanesca. still, i persist! go forth and conquer!”
Brian was right! Many months later I have an inch tall, very weak seedling. Lesson: plant first, blog later!