I drank a bottle of MiricleGro and then got on my riding lawn mower

We’re deep in the middle of the deadline for our next book, coming out in November–more on that soon! Today some links:

Solar hot air collector made out of soda cans. Built-It-Solar Blog.

From the two steps forward and three steps back department. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attends a groundbreaking ceremony for a school garden. So far, so good. But it’s sponsored by Scott’s MiracleGro who chipped in some dough in return for having their name and products liberally applied to the garden. A good science lesson for the kids? LAist.

Memo to Scotts MiracleGro: Unprecedented Pesticide Contamination Found in Beehives. Beyond Pesticides Daily Blog.

And speaking of bees: sign a petition to legalize bees in Santa Monica here.

Crop Mob! Volunteers help small farmers. Cricket Bread. Via Joe Linton (thanks Joe!).

Green Roof Growers announce new sub-irrigating pot experiments. Green Roof Growers.

Last but not least: Man arrested driving riding lawn mower down the street while drunk. The Buffalo News Via Garden Rant.

UMass Soil Testing

I finally got around to trying out the University of Massachusetts’ soil testing service and can report that it’s fast and cheap. I tested two areas of my yard for both nutrients and heavy metals and found out, more or less, what I expected, that I need to add a small amount of nitrogen. Surprisingly, for having such an old house, I don’t have a lead problem. It costs just $9 for the basic test and $13 for the basic test + heavy metals. The order form and instructions can be found at http://www.umass.edu/plsoils/soiltest/. Why test? UMass sums it up nicely:

  • to optimize crop production.
  • to protect the environment from contamination by runoff and leaching of excess fertilizers.
  • to aid in the diagnosis of plant culture problems.
  • to improve the soil’s nutritional balance.
  • to save money and conserve energy by applying only the amount of fertilizer needed.
  • to identify soils contaminated with lead or other heavy metals.

The brochure they send with the results is geared towards New England soils, but beggars can’t be choosers. This test is a bargain, but I’d check first with your local extension office to see if they offer free or low cost soil testing first. Should you want the Cadillac of soil tests, vegetable gardening expert John Jeavons recommends Timberleaf Soil Testing. I’ve seen some Timberleaf reports and they are quite detailed and informative.

The cutting edge of soil testing is about the living inhabitants of the soil, all those microorganisms, fungi and other critters rather than just old “NPK.” Dr. Elaine Ingham is a pioneer in this field. She offers “Soil Foodweb” testing via her website. I’ve read some grumbling from academics about some of her ideas and her commercial endeavors, particularly related to aerated compost tea. However, soil foodweb testing makes intuitive sense to me, though I have not tried it. You can read her interesting Soil Biology Primer here, and make up your own mind. There’s also an excellent book based partially on her research, Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web.

Thanks to Cool Tools for the tip on UMass.

A Fishy Mountaintop

We considered putting an aquaculture project in our next book but ultimately decided a against it, because we felt it’s too complicated a subject for most people.Aquaculture/aquaponics also seems to require just the right context. Even here in sunny Los Angeles we’d have to figure out a way to keep the fish warm during the winter, not to mention the use of lots of  water in a very dry place.

Austrian permaculturalist Sepp Holzer has developed an innovated aquaculture system.While, obviously, Holzer’s mountaintop setup is very unique, his problem solving through sophisticated but low tech means is universal. There’s something to learn from his methodology, even though few of us will be able to recreate his specific innovations..

I haven’t read it, but Holzer has a book: Sepp Holzer: The Rebel Farmer.

Via BoingBoing.

A silly note, but I had to point it out. Judging from the video, kudos to Holzer for being a proponent of traditional Austrian alpine clothing. Can we make that a trend? Nice to see.

Update on the Food and Flowers Freedom Act

Some thirty people showed up today for a Planning Commission meeting in support of the Food and Flowers Freedom Act. The commissioners loved us and approved the Planning Departments suggestions that the code be amended to allow “truck gardening” and off-site resale of produce and flowers grown in residential zones in the City of Los Angeles.

The tide is turning. Once the poster child for urban blight and bad planning, Los Angeles may just take the lead the in access to local, healthy food. I almost cried when I heard a Planning Commissioner lovingly describe the taste of a homegrown tomato.

There’s still two more steps, however, before these changes become official policy. The clarification to the code must still pass through another committee and be approved by the city council. Your continued support at these next two meetings, which have not yet been scheduled, will be appreciated.

Legalize Flowers and Fruit!

Believe it or not, under current zoning laws, it’s illegal in Los Angeles to grow flowers or fruit in a residential neighborhood and sell them. Tomorrow the Los Angeles Planning Commission will review this outdated rule at a meeting in Van Nuys. If you’re in Los Angeles you can help by attending this meeting. For some talking points see the website of the Urban Farming Advocates.

Positive change is coming to Los Angeles. The smog chocked wasteland of my youth is suddenly seeing a lot of talk of bicycles and local food. But we’ve got some work ahead of us–please come to the meeting tomorrow! From the UFA website:


The urban farming movement needs your support at the public hearing tomorrow in Van Nuys.
Your voice and support for the MOVEMENT is critical.
The hearing will take place tomorrow: Thursday March 25. Come at 8:30am. Expect to be there a few hours. When you arrive, please fill out a speaker’s card.
Van Nuys City Hall
Council Chamber, 2nd Floor
14410 Sylvan Street, Van Nuys, 91401

The Food & Flowers Freedom Act is about allowing Angelenos to sell homegrown fruit, flowers and seedlings offsite, at local farmers’ markets for example.

See more coverage of this issue at the LAist and the Huffington Post.