Giveaway: The New Sunset Western Garden Book

We’ve got five copies of the The New Sunset Western Garden Book to give away to lucky readers. All you have to do is leave a comment here telling us where you live (not your address, but your city or region) and name your favorite tomato variety. This way we’ll build a list of the best tomatoes to help everyone with their summer selections.

Tuesday, March 6th we’ll announce the five winners here by the name they leave in the comments–so no anonymous entries, please. We’ll work out delivery details from there.

Please be aware that this book is written for gardeners who live the western portion of North America: California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, or New Mexico.

Book Review: The New Sunset Western Garden Book

The Sunset Western Garden Book was one of the first gardening books we picked up when we bought our house back in 1998. A new version is out this month, now dubbed The New Sunset Western Garden Book, and it’s a significant improvement over our old copy.

Lavish photos have replaced the drawings of my 1998 copy. The new edition has significantly more coverage of edibles, including a vegetable planting schedule as well as nice photographs of veggies worked into ornamental landscaping schemes.  One of the improvements I’m most pleased to see are lists of plants for attracting bees, butterflies, birds and beneficial insects. And Hawaii, Alaska southern British Columbia and Alberta residents will be happy to find their states and provinces included.  I also find Sunset’s zone system more useful than USDA zones.

I have a few minor quibbles with some of the advice. Adding compost when planting trees is not a good idea. Neither is solarizing. And, speaking as a beekeeper, I would never recommend using imidacloprid under any circumstances. I am happy to see invasive pampas grass moved from “maybe don’t grow” to “definitely don’t grow.”

But it’s the plant list that forms the heart of this book. Even though much of this information on the internet now, I still prefer to get it in book form. I trust the curatorial expertise of Sunset’s editors and the climate specific advice for those of us in the Western US. And the plant lists are still extremely valuable when planning a new garden or remodeling an old one.

ETA: Check out Sunset’s handy online plant finder.

We’ll be giving away six copies of the The New Sunset Western Garden Book tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Huntington Ranch Workshop: Foraging and the Living Kitchen

This Saturday March 3 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m, our friend Nancy Klehm will be leading a workshop at the Huntington Ranch entitled Foraging and the Natural Kitchen. So you’ve got two reasons to go–Nancy and the Ranch are truly amazing. Here’s the details:

Living Kitchen is a series of informal foraging and cooking workshops that aims to reorganize our connection to land, ourselves and our communities through the awareness of the spontaneous and cultivated plants around us. Led by Nance Klehm, this workshop will walk participants through the Huntington Ranch and discuss the strategy of food foresting that specifically incorporates or allows for spontaneous vegetation to build soil health, create habitat, and provide food and medicine for humans. During the tour, participants will explore the web of relationships of these plants as well as taste, smell and gather wild plant material to prepare a light foraged meal. This workshop is about direct experience, new tastes, and sharing with others.

Members: $60. Non Members: $70.
Registration: 626-405-2128

Insect Hotel

This is old news, but we thought it worth repeating in light of last week’s review of Attracting Native Pollinators.

Above is a picture of the winning design of a native pollinator habitat built by Arup Associates in response to the Beyond the Hive competition put on by the City of London.  The Core77 post we’re linking to has more views and also some pics of the runners up. It might give you some ideas for building your own habitats at home.

Saturday’s Quote: Spring

 

NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—   
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;   
  Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush   
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring   
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;         
  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush   
  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush   
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.   

     –Beginning of the poem, Spring, by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)

Help Us Find the Ideal Urban Chicken Breed

Townes Van Zandt with chicken

We are in the market for new hens and lately it has occurred to us that the best breed criteria for our situation is not a breed which lays most frequently, but a breed which maintains its egg production as it matures–even if that means that it doesn’t produce as many eggs per week as a typical high production hen.

Does that make sense? Because Erik is such a soft touch, we have to maintain a nursing home for hens. It would be great if our ladies would continue to contribute eggs into their dotage. It is less important that they are daily producers in their youth, because the two of us can’t eat that many eggs.

This is not what hens are bred for–I understand that. Laying hens are bred to give as much as they can for two years, after which they are usually culled. Long term laying isn’t much of a consideration. But I thought this trait might be more apparent in some of the heritage breeds.

Let me know if you have an old hen still laying, and what kind of hen she is.

Erik adds this: In The One-Straw Revolution Masanobu Fukuoka mentions he has just such a hen–but he doesn’t go on to tell us the name. Anyone know about Fukuoka’s chickens?

Compost pail failure

We have one of those standard, stainless steel compost pails–the kind you keep on your countertop to collect scraps. It’s a couple of years old. Last week, it began to leak from the bottom. This mystified me because a) it’s stainless steel and seemed a quality item and b) it had no seams on the bottom. For a while I wondered if there was a miracle at work–you know, sort of the composting version of a weeping Virgin Mary. But today I took it into strong light and found one teeny tiny hole and pits that look like they soon will be holes, too. I assume the pitting is a caused by the acidity of the compost juice?

Has anyone had something similar happen?

Our consultants agree it smells fascinating.

Los Angeles Earthen Oven Class – May 25-27, 2012

We’re very pleased to announce that adobe master Kurt Gardella will be leading an earthen oven building class at the Root Simple compound. We’ve both taken classes with Kurt and he’s an amazing instructor. Details and registration information:

Earthen ovens are inexpensive to build, fun to use, and provide baking environment impossible to recreate in the kitchen.  This May, Kurt Gardella returns to California for three days to teach you how to make your own earthen oven.  Kurt has built dozens of these ovens in New Mexico, and has great expertise in both adobe construction and earthen plasters and finishes. Attendees will leave the class with the knowledge necessary to built an oven of their own, with materials that you may already have in your yard.
The class is suitable for bakers, building professionals and do-it-your-selfers, and is a great introduction to adobe construction and earthen plasters covered in more depth in adobeisnotsoftware’s other classes.
Topics Include:
  • Local considerations and the siting your earthen oven
  • Soil and material selection, sourcing and testing
  • Foundations and oven base design and materials
  • Sizing
  • Sand Form and Oven Domes
  • Natural oven plasters and finishes
  • Firing and baking in your oven.
Instruction Type:
This is a hands-on class. Attendees will have the opportunity to get dirty and use tools and equipment typical of adobe construction and earthen finishing. Due to the course format, enrollment will be limited to 10 individuals.  In the unlikely event of inclement weather, instruction will occur indoors.
Instructors:
Kurt Gardella teaches adobe construction at Northern New Mexico College, is Director of Education for Adobe in Action, and is certified as an earth-building specialist by the German Dachverband Lehm.
Ben Loescher is a licensed architect, founder of adobeisnotsoftware and principal of golem|la, an architecture firm specializing in adobe construction.
Location:
The class will be conducted in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, and hosted by Root Simple.  Coffee and nibbles will be provided at the beginning of the day; lunch is included.
Registration:
Click here to register.  Early bird tuition is $190/person for registrations before April 20th, standard price registrations will be $220 after that date.
Questions?:

Cheap and Natural Handsoap–and a rant

This is just a quick tip. If your family prefers liquid soap to bar soap, one easy way to avoid all the creepy, expensive, colored, perfumed, anti-bacterial liquid soaps on the market  (and all the plastic they come in) is to just use liquid castile soap to wash your hands.  Ah, but yes–liquid castile soap is runny. Indeed. I can hear the complaints already. 
The way around that problem is to use one of them fancy-schmancy foaming soap pumps. You can buy them at specialty retailers, but it’s probably cheaper to buy one at the supermarket, use up the soap and then start refilling with liquid castile soap. The one in our bathroom is an old Method pump and is still working fine after three years.
The secret of the soap formula used in foaming pumps is that it’s super-diluted. It has to to diluted because full strength soap clogs the pump.  It’s kind of a scam, when you think about it, that when you buy a foaming pump you pay as much or more for diluted soap than regular liquid soap. However, the dilution factor works perfectly with castile soap. As Dr. Bronner says:  Dilute! Dilute! Dilute!
Dilute your castile soap quite a bit for use in a foam pump. Start by filling the dispenser no more than 1/4 full of soap and then filling it the rest of the way with water. See how that works for you. You may prefer it a little stronger or a little weaker. 
In any case, you’ll pay less for each full dispenser of soap, and you’ll have the comfort of knowing your soap is all-natural, safe and free of additives.
***
Rant Warning:
Speaking of which, I saw the most appalling thing in the grocery store today and I had to rant about it: The Lysol® Healthy Touch® No-Touch Hand Soap System.
This is a twelve dollar, battery operated (4 AA) soap pump fitted with an electric eye, so it spits out soap when you pass your hand under the nozzle. It dispenses Lysol anti-bacterial soap, which comes packed into special cartridges–meaning you can’t fill the dispenser with whatever soap you like. The tagline for this product is, “Never touch a germy soap pump again!” 
I love the double-speak of Healthy Touch/No-Touch. Is the underlying logic that no touch is healthy? Time to evacuate to our plastic bubbles!
Three cranky thoughts on this product:
1) First, the obvious. When you touch a soap dispenser, you are about to wash your hands. When you wash you hands, you kill all the germs. It doesn’t matter how “germy” the dispenser is–unless you plan to suck on it. This device is about as needful as evening wear for hogs.
2) In 2002, at the urging of the AMA, the FDA evaluated anti-bacterial soaps. The AMA was concerned that these anti-bacterial soaps (i.e. Triclosan-based products*) may be breeding super-bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. The FDA’s findings were, as reported at American Medical News:
“Soaps and lotions that include antibacterial agents have no benefit over ordinary soap and water, but more research is needed to allay or substantiate concern that these substances may be leading to increased rates of antibiotic resistance.”
So anti-bacterial soaps are proven to be no better than regular soap and water and maybe, just maybe–there’s still research to be done–they could be disastrously worse. Why roll the dice on this one? It just doesn’t make any sense. For me, this makes anti-bacterial soaps about as needful as evening wear for hogs accessorized with a doomsday device.
3) And finally, the wastefulness of it all makes me cry. Note the the cheap plastic shell and electronic innards assembled in Chinese factories–not to mention the big-ass clamshell package it all comes in. How long will the average unit be employed? A year? If does last more than a year, how long will Lysol keep making those plastic cartridges?  Oh, and joy! We’ll have more toxic batteries to figure out how to dispose of–all so we can wash our hands.
Arggghhhh! I’ve got to go visit the chickens or something. My knickers are all in a twist.
Thanks for listening.
*I know I have alcohol gel fans in the readership and I don’t believe those were part of the AMA’s concerns. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.