Los Angeles Bread Bakers Demo This Weekend

First off, along with co-founders Mark Stambler and Teresa Sitz I’m proud to announce the Los Angeles Bread Bakers (LABB). Click on the link to join us via Facebook.

This Saturday April 9th at 2 p.m. LABB will demonstrate how to create a starter (levain) at Good Magazine’s Launch Weekend. The event will take place at:

Atwater Crossing
3229 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Looking forward to meeting new LABBistas. LABB’s goal is to share techniques, put on workshops and build wood fired ovens.  If you’re not in LA we hope you’ll consider forming bread baking groups all over the world!

Geoff Lawton Soils Video

Help, I’m turning into a soil geek. I just spent an evening viewing a video entitled Soils featuring permaculturalist Geoff Lawton.

What I like about this video is that it’s not just about soil, but Lawton actually shows you what you can do to improve your soil. In the DVD he demonstrates how to build a compost pile (lots of carbon material), contoured vegetable beds, a compost pile heated shower and a simple vermiculture system using an old bathtub to name just a few projects. You get practical tips in a professionally produced DVD. Here’s a trailer:

Soils is available for around $40 US on the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia website, which also has an interesting blog. In an email the Institute said that they allow educational screenings of Soils as long as you don’t charge admission. So get some friends together, watch this video and then go shovel some manure! It would also make a nice addition to a school library.

Thanks to Scott Kleinrock of the Huntington Ranch for the tip on this one. Scott said the Geoff Lawton Food Forest DVD is also worth viewing.

Los Angeles Announces Parkway Cemetery Program

Merging interest in “green” burials and urban land remediation, the City of Los Angeles just announced a groundbreaking new program: parkway cemeteries. Like many cities across America, Los Angeles has a huge debt, $350 million to put a number on it. So it comes as no surprise that city officials are seeking innovative ways of enhancing revenue sources. 

Most often a tangle of weeds and compacted earth, parkways have seen attention in recent years as space for community orchards and vegetable plots. With LA’s new program, for just a $375 application fee and approval of the homeowner, you can designate your final resting spot on the street of your choice.

In announcing the plan Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa positioned the parkway cemetery program as a transportation solution, “Why subject your relatives to lengthy commutes to visit your grave when we can have distributed ‘drive-through’ cemeteries?” Adding, “We’ve got all that lawn out there so why not use it?”

A special thanks to Doug Harvey for tipping us off to this story.

Novella Carpenter Update

We posted yesterday about author and urban farmer Novella Carpenter running afoul of the law in Oakland for “agricultural activities”. She has a clarification on her blog and some new, alarming information. She makes clear that she was busted for selling vegetables not growing them. The disturbing news is information she received that the people who reported her may have been animal rights activists upset that she eats her rabbits. Read more on her blog Ghost Town Farm.

Podcasts for the Urban Homesteader

Let’s face it, mainstream radio programming, both talk and music, stinks. Podscasting democratizes the medium. Anyone with a microphone and laptop can make and distribute a podcast and, while quality varies, there’s a huge amount of excellent, highly specialized programming available. So should be on the iPods of urban homesteaders? I’ve got a few suggestions:

Survival Podcast
We just appeared on this podcast, which is hosted by Jack Spirko. Jack is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to gardening, permaculture and a host of other topics. His listeners, many of whom now read this blog, also know a lot about the subjects he covers. And, refreshingly, there’s no conspiracy theories on the Survival Podcast, no need to get out the tin foil hat. I highly recommend this podcast even to those who would not think of themselves as survivalists.

SALT: Seminars About Long Term Thinking
This is a series of seminars put on by the Long Now Foundation, headed by Whole Earth Catalog founder Stuart Brand. As, I believe, urban homesteading is a kind of long term thinking, the topics of these talks should be of interest to readers of this blog. Make sure to listen to the episodes that feature Nassim Taleb, Wade Davis and Philip K. Howard.

KCRW Good Food
Hosted by chef Evan Kleiman, Good Food explores the diverse food cultures of Los Angeles as well as tackling national issues related to the food system. Kleiman explores these topics with a sense of humor.

A Way To Garden with Margaret Roach
I learned about this podcast from the folks at Garden Rant who pointed out that there are very few gardening related podcasts. Perhaps most good gardeners are allergic to spending time in front of a computer? I enjoy this show, though those of you in places that have “winter” will get more out of it.

The C-Realm Podcast
OK, I’m a bit on the woo-woo side of things, to be honest. The C-Realm podcast is a very professional and thought-provoking show hosted by “KMO” that delves into everything from permaculture to zombies. It’s kind of a thinking person’s Coast to Coast AM.

The Kunstlercast
Author James Howard Kunstler’s weekly rant about the mess we’re in. It would be a real drag if Kunstler weren’t so damn funny. While most would call Kunstler a “doomer” I’d point out that he offers plenty of solutions–pedestrian oriented design, rebuilding our rail network, etc.

Boot Liquor
A greater danger to the future of our great nation is, I believe, not fossil fuel depletion, but instead the watered down “country” music coming out of Nashville in the past few decades. We should worry more about Miley Cyrus than turbulence int the Middle-East, in my humble opinion. Boot Liquor is an internet radio station not a podcast, but I thought I’d include it since it’s the musical soundtrack of the Root Simple compound. Boot Liquor plays real country music, songs about boozing, driving big rig trucks and raising hell (sometimes all in one song). If you’ve got iTunes you can find Boot Liquor amongst the country music offerings.

At some point we’ll get around to creating a Root Simple podcast. In the meantime what podcasts do you listen to?

Novella Carpenter Harassed by City of Oakland

Urban farmer and author Novella Carpenter is getting harassed by city of Oakland employees. From her blog Ghost Town Farm:

Here’s the deal: After getting off the plane from Salt Lake City and making my way home to a cup of tea, I sit down at my kitchen table and I see this guy in a City of Oakland car taking photos of my garden. I go down and he said I’m out of compliance for “agricultural activities”. I’m supposed to get a Conditional Use Permit for growing chard. The annual fee: $2500.

My two cents. Get involved in local politics to change outdated planning codes. We did it in LA with the Food and Flowers Freedom Act. In the meantime let’s lend Novella our support and best wishes.

Organic Gardening Magazine Tests Seven Different Potato Growing Methods

Doug Hall, writing for Organic Gardening magazine, did a test of seven different potato growing methods: hilled rows, straw mulch, raised beds, grow bags, garbage bags, wood boxes and wire cylinders. His conclusion? Raised beds worked the best giving the highest yield. Some of the other methods worked well too, though I wonder about black materials, such as grow bags, in our hot climate.

The last time we grew potatoes we used a stack of tires. Results were mixed. I think painting the tires white to reflect heat might have worked better. For most of you reading this, the opposite would probably be true. Black materials such as tires or grow bags would help keep your ‘taters warm in cool climates.

Read Hall’s article here: “7 Ways to Plant Potatoes

And let us know how you grow your potatoes . . .

Why I Grow Vegetables From Seed

Chard destined for failure

On the last day of a vegetable gardening class that Kelly and I just finished teaching at the Huntington, we needed to demonstrate how to transplant seedlings. The problem was that we didn’t have any seedlings at home ready to transplant, so I had to make a trip to a garden center.

That sorry errand reminded me why I grow from seed.

All of the seedlings at the nursery were uninteresting varieties and root-bound–way too big for their pots. And someone tell me what’s up with the trend I’ve noticed recently of selling mature tomato plants in small pots? I suppose novice gardeners probably think they’re getting a better value with a large plant, so the nursery has an incentive to sell root-bound stock.

In fact, every last vegetable seedling at the nursery had root systems as congested as the 405 freeway on a Friday afternoon. When roots hit the bottom of a pot you get what John Jeavons calls “premature senility,” resulting in stunted growth and plants that go rapidly to seed.

On occasion I’ll buy seedlings, as when I failed to get my tomato seeds to germinate last year. In that case, Craig from Winnetka Farms had some on hand. And there’s a guy at one of the local farmers’ markets that has decent seedlings.

But nothing matches the variety, cost savings and quality of DIY seed propagation.

More On Preventing Plants From Falling Over

Mrs. Homegrown’s post on her storm-flattened flax patch reminded me that I had a photo I took while taking John Jeavons’ Biointensive workshop earlier this month. In front of Jeavons is a bed of fava beans, also notorious for falling over in the slightest breeze. The randomly strung network of twine will support the fava as it grows.

You can see from my own fava bed below that I could have benefited from this low tech solution:

While I didn’t lose any fava in the storm, the plants are sprawling all over the adjacent, narrow path making it difficult to harvest.

As Jeavons says, the expert is the person who has made the most mistakes!

Germinator Update

Last year my tomato seeds failed to germinate. Why? It was just too cold.

I vowed to build a cold frame and this winter I made good on that promise. I’ve upgraded the plastic sheeting on the “germinator” to rigid plastic awning material (plastic sheeting over a flat surface doesn’t do well in rain . . . duh). If I were to build this thing again I’d construct a sloping top, especially if I lived somewhere with actual weather.

Before–plastic sheeting on a flat surface–a bad idea! What was I thinking?

The automatic vent lifter (available from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply) works great, popping open the germinator to keep the seedlings from frying during the day (remember this is Southern California).

The sight of my tomato seedlings was a highlight of the week:

If I lived in a colder climate I might consider incorporating a compost bin inside my cold frame to keep seedlings warm, a heat mat, or growing indoors under lights.