Avid Gardener Series: Responsible Water Usage for Edible Landscapes

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UPDATE: Sorry to say that this class has been cancelled due to lack of enrollment. We’re going to rework the content into a one day or afternoon class. Watch Root Simple for the announcement and we hope to see you at the Huntington!

Hey gardeners, we’re teaching a three part edible landscaping course April 2, 9, and 16 from 9 a.m.- 12 p.m. at the Huntington Ranch.

Learn creative ways to grow a delicious, drought-conscious garden in this hands-on series. Sessions will take place in The Huntington’s Ranch Garden and will address drip irrigation, greywater systems, plant selection, mulch and soil health, and more. The Huntington Ranch is a beautiful edible gardening demonstration area that is seldom open to the public.  The class will focus on growing food in our increasingly dry and challenging Southern California climate.

Picture Sundays: Famous Cat Statues

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Hint to public artists–the people want a good cat statue not some plopped down abstract thingy. They’d take a dog statue or some old dude on a horse too, but that would be the subject of another blog post. Today, we celebrate two famous feline statues. Above is a statue of Trim, the first cat to circumnavigate Australia and the subject of a book by the ship’s captain Matthew Finders.

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Next is a statue of Samuel Johnson’s cat Hodge sitting on top of a dictionary and pondering some oyster shells. It’s located just outside Johnson’s house in London and is inscribed, “a very fine cat indeed.”

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UPDATE: Root Simple reader Peter noted a glaring feline statue omission on my part: the statue of Mrs. Chippy (who should have been named Mr. Chippy) that sits atop the grave of Harry McNeish, ship’s carpenter of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. McNeish carried a lifelong grudge against Shackleton for having shot Mrs. Chippy along with the expedition’s dogs. Yet another strike, in my opinion, against the Shackleton-as-model-CEO cult that got going just before the 2008 economic meltdown. By way of contrast, please ponder the lengths that the crew of the Karluk went through to save the ship’s cat Nigeraurak during a disastrous 1913 arctic expedition. Read that story here.

Saturday Tweets: Chia Seed Granola, How to Measure a Tree and Fake Locksmiths

Working Big: A Teacher’s Guide to Environmental Sculpture

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Let me tell you how on-board I am with any children’s DIY project book that begins with pictures of Robert Smithson’s monumental land art.

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Working Big: A Teacher’s Guide to Environmental Sculpture resonates with me due to many childhood trips to the LA County Art Museum at the height of the minimalism art era. Working Big applies some of the art notions of that period to group activities for kids using cardboard, plastic bags and junk. The result is visually striking projects reminiscent of Smithson and the Ant Farm.

If only the NIMBYs around the Silver Lake Reservoir would let us do this:

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Damn the nanny state!

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You can download a copy for free, along with a lot of other amazing and outré 1970s publications here.

Best Practices for Gardening in Contaminated Soil

File this ad under "bad ideas."

File this ad under “bad ideas.”

The benefits of growing food in cities (nutrition, exposure to nature) outweigh the very low risks of lead contamination. This is the conclusion of a recent University of Washington study:

It is highly unlikely that urban agriculture will increase incidences of elevated blood Pb for children in urban areas. This is due to the high likelihood that agriculture will improve soils in urban areas, resulting in reduced bioavailability of soil Pb and reduced fugitive dust. Plant uptake of Pb is also typically very low. The exceptions are low-growing leafy crops where soil-splash particle contamination is more likely and expaneded hypocotyl root vegetalbes (e.g. carrot). However even with higher bioaccumulation factors, it is not clear that the Pb in root vegetables or any other crop will be absorbed after eating.

The paper outlines a set of best practices for dealing with contaminated soils. You should always:

  • Wash fruits and vegetables from your garden. Also wash your hands and don’t wear shoes in the house.
  • Compost, compost, compost! Compost dilutes the overall amount of lead in soil and encourages healthy plant growth which also dilutes the (usually small) amount of lead a plant will uptake. Apply compost annually since it breaks down over time.
  • Plant away from painted surfaces of old (lead paint era) buildings.

Some other things to consider especially if you garden with children under 5 years old:

  • Don’t eat a lot of carrots, radishes, redbeets or turnips grown in contaminated soil. The edible portion of these plants consist of xylem tissue that traps lead (potatoes are OK since they are phloem fed). That said, you’d have to eat a lot of contaminated root vegetables to elevate lead levels in your blood.
  • Adding phosphorus fertilizers will decrease the bioavailability of lead.
  • In general root vegetables uptake the most lead, leafy greens less and fruit almost none.
  • The most conservative approach is to grow in raised beds.

The main concern is for children under 5 years old. If your soil tests high in lead and you have young ones you should consider doing your edible gardening in raised beds and limit their exposure to garden soils to a few times a month. Mulch and ground covers will also decrease lead exposure in the other parts of your yard.

The paper concludes that for older children and adults, “There is little indication that growing or eating food from urban gardens will result in high Pb (lead) exposure.”