How to Plan a Vegetable Garden

Today I did the unthinkable and made good on one of my many New Years resolutions: I planned our 128 square foot vegetable garden a year in advance. Here’s how I did it:

Identifying Seasons
Using an Ecology Action pamphlet as my guide, Learning to Grow All Your Own Food: A One-Bed Model For Compost, Diet and Income Crops, I divided the year into three seasons. Most of you reading this blog probably have two: a cool season and a warm season. Here in Los Angeles we have:

  • warm: April-July
  • hot and dry: July-October
  • cool: October-March

Picking Planting Dates
Using the handy Digital Gardener’s Southern California Vegetable Planting Schedule I chose planting dates (in April, mid-summer and Septmber/October) for each season and marked them down on my Stella Natura calendar. I identified the vegetables I’d like to grow choosing only those veggies that have done well in the past and that we like to eat.

A planning form from Ecology Action

Deciding How Much to Plant
To decide how much to plant I rely on the charts in John Jeavons’ book  How to Grow More Vegetables. I took his three day Biointensive gardening class early last year and recommend it highly, especially for learning how to use the, at first, intimidating charts in the book. Jeavons handed out a handy planning form during the class that works with the tables in the book to help organize your garden. With experience, I also now have an idea about how many square feet of, say, lettuce it takes to keep me and Kelly in salad for a season. While not everyone likes Jeavons, I can say that my best years in our vegetable garden have been when I follow his methods (minus frequent double digging).

Planting Compost Crops
Jeavons stresses the importance of learning how to grow your own compost and fertilizer. I adapted the food/compost ratios suggested in the Ecology Action pamphlet to match our climate. Instead of growing a big winter compost crop (Ecology Action is in cooler Northern California) I decided to treat the late summer/early fall as our “winter”. Growing vegetables in the hot, dry late summer here in Southern California is, frankly, a pain in the ass and water intensive. It’s a time when I’d rather just take a break from vegetable gardening and just grow a bunch of drought tolerant sunflowers, amaranth, cowpeas etc. On the other hand, winter here is the best time to grow all those cool season crops like lettuce and arugula. Using Ecology Action’s suggestions I came up with a compost/food growing ratio:

  • spring/summer – 33.3% food, 66.7% compost
  • summer/fall 100% compost
  • fall/winter 66.7% food, 33.3% compost

The compost crops will reduce my gardening workload, build fertility and assure that there’s always something growing and no sun-baked bare soil.

Apologies for a Southern Californiacentric post, but you can use the same process to identify dates and how much seed you need for any climate. In fact, if you know of a good vegetable planting schedule for your climate please leave a link in the comments.

Update: Scott left a link for readers in Texas. The Texas A&M Extension Service has a vegetable planting guide here.

And meansoybean left a link for vegetable gardeners in Montreal which you can see here.  

Thanks to Hak, here’s Southern Nevada

Kristen sent one for all of the US based on your USDA zone here.

2011 in Review: The Garden

It’s was a difficult year in the garden. A lead and zinc issue screwed up my winter vegetables garden plans. At least we managed to find some river rocks and put in a path.

I found this photo from December 2010. I was certainly a lot more organized that year.

For 2012, I’m putting in raised beds to deal with the heavy metal issue and we’ve already planted more native plants. But most importantly one of my New Years resolutions is to plan the vegetable garden ahead of time. And I’m going to take better notes (though I’ve been saying this for ten years now). Those notes simply being, the date a veggie is planted and the first and last harvests of said plant. That info will make coming up with a planting schedule easier in subsequent years. At least if I keep my many resolutions!

In Chaos Order, In Order Chaos

Periodically Mrs. Homegrown and I teach vegetable gardening classes. For the students, I’ve been looking for a way to illustrate nature’s complex, non-linear dynamics that, paradoxically, seem ordered. I stumbled across this cool sculpture that neatly summarizes the idea of “in chaos order, in order chaos.”

Imagine each of the hammers standing in for one of the systems in your garden, insect life, nutrients, microbes, fungi, etc. Now imagine intervening in the motion of one of those systems. The point is that, with complex non-linear dynamics, we don’t know what the end result of our interventions will be. Best not to monkey with the system . . .

You can see more sculptures by the creator of this video at

Kelly’s 2012 To-Do List

Even the kittens will help, not hinder, the New Productivity of 2012.

I feel like Erik really threw down a challenge with his mammoth resolution list, so here’s my to-do list for 2012. It’s much less ambitious. I think I’ll schedule the concrete activities for certain weeks and months, and post a calender to keep me on track:

-No lingering over breakfast, no excuses such as “just one more cup of tea” or “I’ll just check one more blog” or  “the cat needs my lap”,  i.e. a new striving for morning productivity. This means 1/2 hour to eat and defog, then I must do things.

-Related to the above–stick to my designated daily schedule, as if I had a real job and boss looking over my shoulder.

-Accomplish my “yucky list” this month:  switching banks, upgrading my RAM, getting a new passport, and making appointments for a physical, a dental exam and an eye exam. (In terms of engaging with the medical establishment, I prefer to behave as if though the zombie apocalypse has already occurred, thus I’m well overdue for a complete overhaul.)

-Organize the labels or tags on Root Simple so our dear, somewhat abused readers can find information when they want it.

-No processed sugar for the month of January. Or beer.  (sigh)

-White flour, crackers, tortillas, pasta & etc. are designated as “treats” this year, as opposed to “staples.”

-No internet surfing until after supper. No email in the morning. Email at noon and in the evening.

-Repaint the living room, hall, two bedrooms and the breakfast nook.

-Spend more time outside loving the garden–just being with it, regarding it with joy instead of judgement.

-Learn to identify trees.

-Take up archery again. This means starting with practice in the back yard once or twice a week, until I have the chops back enough to visit the range without embarrassment.

-Purge the closets. To do this, I’m going to have to either pretend we’re moving and have to pay to ship every object, or if I’m in a more morbid mood, I’ll imagine what what would happen if Erik and I were hit by a bus and people had to come in and clean out our closets. I don’t want to be remembered posthumously as a giant, acquisitive hamster of questionable taste and strange habits.

-Make a dress. (This will make Erik laugh because he will remember the last dress I made. I’ve had 15 years to recover, though.)

-Make a pair of shoes. Or perhaps just tall spats to start.

-Start a gratitude journal. I’m so cynical, really, that the very phrase “gratitude journal” grates on me. Which is exactly why I have to keep one.

-Get fit. To be more concrete, my goal is to be able to keep up with Erik on his masochistic hikes.

-One date night a week with my very ambitious but rather sweet husband.

Erik’s New Years Resolutions

Normally I don’t do New Years resolutions. This year my resolution is . . . lots of resolutions. Here’s the list. I expect you to hold me to it:

  • get HAM technician’s license
  • learn Morse code
  • attend CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) classes
  • build cob oven in the backyard
  • organize messy office so it doesn’t look like an episode of Hoarders
  • organize supplies in garage into labeled boxes
  • turn the garage into the ultimate man cave
  • fix bad knees
  • return to the fencing strip
  • increase running distance
  • organize bug-out box
  • backpack more often
  • camp on Santa Rosa island again
  • plan out garden ahead of time instead of playing catch-up at the last minute
  • return to biodynamic practices in the garden
  • learn how to sharpen knives and tools
  • improve writin’ skills
  • start a podcast
  • shoot some how-to videos
  • create an iPhone or iPad app
  • check email only twice a day
  • clean up the graphic design on the blog and organize information better
  • take more time to cook
  • keep the kitchen spotless
  • ferment vegetables more often
  • celebrate the wonderful awesomeness that is Mrs. Homegrown each and every day

And that’s just January. It’s going to be a great year for everyone in the urban homestead movement! What are your resolutions?

Zombie Apocalypse Poll Results

2012—year of the goat?

The poll results are in and a solid majority thinks that things will get worse in 2012. The results, with 617 votes:

  • 187 30% things will get better
  • 309 50% things will get worse
  • 121 19% things will stay the same

I had intended to editorialize about how I see 2012 going. But I can’t say it better than this anonymous comment:

I could not answer the poll. My first thought was that things will get worse. I was thinking from a world wide view, economic, food wise, etc. But I thought again and decided that really those things don’t matter. I expect things around my house to get better. My love for my wife will grow and I hope hers for me. We may spend more for less, have shortages of this or that. But those are not a good measure of better or worse in my life. So my answer is that I purpose to have a better year no matter how the rest of the world does.

I’d also encourage all to read the wise blog post of Archdruid John Michael Greer, “Hope in a Cold Season.”

Feiyue Shoes: The Poor Man’s Vibrams

I’m cheap and just don’t want to pay $100 to run “barefoot” in those funny Vibram shoes even if everyone I know swears by them. So, I run . . . barefoot. In two years of actual rather than Vibram-mediated “barefoot” running, on both concrete and dirt paths, I have yet to even get a scratch.

But there have been a few times when I’ve encountered a particularly gravely path. Ouch. On those occasions I’ve been experimenting with slipping on a kind of Chinese martial arts shoe called Feiyue. Think of them as the poor man’s Vibrams as they cost less than $20.

Are they durable? More than you’d expect for a $15 shoe, but they won’t last forever. Are they attractive? Not particularly. And wearing them around makes me want to bust out a few parkour moves for our next book signing.

Thanks to Elon Shoenholz for the tip on the shoes and parkour moves. 

2011 in Review: Urban Homestead Trademark Dispute

As the year draws to a close I thought I’d review some of our posts from the previous year starting with an update on the trademark dispute over the terms “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading”.

In February of this year the Dervaes Institute (DI) sent a cease and desist letter to over a dozen different individuals and organizations including our publisher Feral House/Process Media, public radio station KCRW, Denver Urban Homesteading, and the Santa Monica Public Library. In addition DI successfully manged to get Facebook to take down a page about our book The Urban Homestead, that our publisher had put up, in addition to Denver Urban Homesteading’s Facebook page. As of this date both of those Facebook pages are still down.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Winston & Strawn LLP have generously assisted us in challenging the DI’s trademarks. The DI filed a motion to extend discovery earlier this month. I expect a decision from the Trademark Court sometime next year but I’m not going to predict when. The Trademark Court works slowly and via correspondence. We’ll let you know of any major developments.

Thanks again to the support of all the readers of this blog and to our attorneys.

For more background on this issue see our February 21 post.

Other People’s Poo: Biosolids in the Garden

It’s people!

Why not use city compost in your garden? Ecological designer Darren Butler, at a class I was sitting in on, showed a soil report from a site that had used compost from the city of Los Angeles. LA’s compost contain biosolids, a euphemism for sewage. The soil test showed high levels of:

  • zinc 196 ppm
  • copper 76 ppm
  • sulfur 5,752 ppm

The problem isn’t human waste, it’s all the other stuff that ends up in the sewer. I see a future when we’ll be responsibly composting human waste (see Joseph Jenkin’s website for how to do that). But watch out for that free city compost.

Update: A blog reader, Helane Shields, left an interesting series of links about biosolids in the comments. Thanks Helane!

Tomatoes in December

It ain’t pretty but I’m not complaining.

Note to self: the tomatoes that sprout on their own are always the healthiest. The cherry tomato above has reseeded itself for at least 12 years. Sometimes its offspring survive the winter and grow as a perennial. Our climate sort of permits this but occasionally a cold night will kill tomatoes off. And each year the fruit declines in quality.

This summer I transplanted two tomato seedlings that sprouted in the yard on their own. One turned out to be the offspring of the Italian red pear tomato I grow every year and the other a somewhat boring but prolific yellow cherry tomato.

It’s Christmas and all of these tomatoes are still growing and producing. I’ve got an unintentional food forest started here. One of these days I’ll just give up starting seeds and let nature do her thing!