Gardening Resources in Los Angeles County

Opuntia illustration

Perhaps because the real estate market is heating up again, we’re getting a lot of requests for gardening resources in the Los Angeles area. It thought I’d list our favorite resources in this blog post that I can refer people to. But I need your help–please let me know in the comments if you know of a resource that I should have included.

Soil Testing
Wallace Labs. When you fill out the form check off the box for “Standard Agricultural Soil Suitability Analysis.” All healthy gardens start with a soil test and Wallace Labs will have your results delivered by email within a few days.

Tree Care LA (Nick Araya, ISA Certified Arborist and Oscar Sanchez). Nick and Oscar did a great job with our trees. If you care about your trees, hire a certified arborist not just some dude with a chainsaw. It costs is nothing when you consider how much you’ll pay to fix the damage from a limb falling down on your roof in the next big winter storm.

Fruit Trees/Berries
Bay Laurel Nursery (mail order bare root). Order in the fall for January/February delivery. Get your order in soon as they often sell out of popular trees. Get trees with low chill hour requirements. Look up your chill hours here.

Check out Dave Wilson Nursery’s handy guide to backyard orcharding,

Do not plant any grapes that aren’t Pierce Disease resistant. And personally, I would not plant citrus.

Vegetable Gardening
When to plant:

Our favorite seeds, Franchi Seeds, are available at, and at Sunset Nursery in Silver Lake.

Vegetable gardening classes: Grow LA Victory Gardening Initiative.

Visit the Huntington Ranch for ideas and inspiration.

The Environmental Change Makers offer a number of great classes and publications: How to Get Rid of Bermuda Grass, and How to Make Your Garden GMO-free Booklets about high-yield organic vegetable gardening in SoCal’s unique year-round growing season Monthly organic vegetable gardening classes at the two community gardens in Westchester

Monthly vegetable gardening classes at The Learning Garden at Venice High School.

Seed Library of Los Angeles (meetings and seed saving classes).

Keeping Chickens
Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts


How to videos starring Kirk Anderson at the Backwards Beekeepers blog.

Greywater/Rainwater Harvesting
DIY option: Art Ludwig’s free laundry to landscape plans at Oasis Designs. Or buy his books, Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems – Includes Branched Drains and Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds for Domestic Supply, Fire and Emergency Use. Brad Lancaster’s book: Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond (Vol. 2): Water-Harvesting Earthworks

Greywater Corp (design, installation and classes)

Retail Nurseries
Apartment Therapy has a good list.

Annie’s Annuals (mail order from SF Bay area).

Garden Design/Maintenance
Help me out here readers–if you know of some good folks leave a comment . . .

Getting my Ham Radio License


I often find myself doing a kind of cultural dumpster diving, searching for forgotten activities waiting to be rediscovered. Most of this scavenging takes place at Los Angeles’ massive central library on lower level two, where all the how-to books are shelved.  This month I’m finally acting on something I’ve contemplated for years: getting my amateur radio (i.e. Ham) technician’s license. I’ll be taking the test in the middle of the smart phone era.

Curiously, when I’m deep in the cultural dumpster I often run into fellow scavenger John Michael Greer, a.k.a. the Archdruid. When I met him at the Age of Limits conference he held court on some of my favorite forgotten ideas: appropriate technology, fraternal societies and Ham radio. A Ham himself, Greer recommended I read an amazingly odd book, Instruments of Amplification, which actually has directions for building your own transistors from junk. I’ll probably never get around to any of those projects, but I of A may be the ultimate DIY text.

But I’m not just being contrarian. I’m looking forward to being of service to my community in the event of a disaster such as an earthquake.

I’m curious to know if any of our readers are Hams? Leave a comment . . .

Eight Things to Consider When Saving Vegetable Seeds

seed saving

The directions for seed saving in our last book, Making It, almost got cut. Perhaps we should have just changed those directions to “Why it’s OK to buy seeds.” The fact is that it’s not easy to save the seeds of many vegetables thanks to the hard work of our bee friends.

That being said, Shannon Carmody of Seed Saver’s Exchange gave a lecture at this year’s Heirloom Exposition with some tips for ambitious gardeners who want to take up seed saving. Here’s some of her suggestions:

1. Maintaining varietal purity
Is the vegetable open pollinated or hybrid? Hybrid seeds don’t produce true to type. You can’t save and regrow the seeds of hybrids, at least not without a lot of complicated multi-generational outcrossing in order to create a new variety that produces true to type. [I’ll note that I’m not anti-hybrid. The increased vigor of hybrids can be advantageous if you’re having trouble in your garden.]

2. Know how the vegetable is pollinated
It’s much easier to save the seeds of self-pollinating vegetables such as beans, peas and tomatoes. Remember that bees can fly for miles–anything pollinated by insects have to be isolated or caged to prevent cross-pollination. And many vegetables have weedy cousins. Try to save the seeds of carrots without caging and you may get a carrot/Queen Anne’s lace hybrid that won’t taste good. And some supposedly self-pollinating plants such as tomatoes have rogue varieties that can be cross pollinated by insects.

3. Consider your climate
Bienneals require two years of growth in order to set seeds. If you live in a cold climate that could be a problem.

4. Population size
Serious plant breeders often plant a minimum of sixty plants so that they can choose the most vigorous for seed saving. And they’ll often plant just one variety to reduce the risk of crossing. One way around the population size requirement is to crowd source the problem and get a bunch of friends to grow the same vegetable.

5. Space requirements
Some biennials get really big in the second year. You’ll need to make sure they have space and won’t shade out other plants.

6. When to harvest
Fruits harvested for seed may need to stay on the plant for a long time. For example, eggplants that you want to save seed from need to be harvested well past when they’re still edible.

7. Prepping seeds
In general, seeds harvested when dry, such as lettuce need to be air dried before storing. Seeds harvested wet, such as watermelons, need to be washed with water before drying and storing. Tomato seeds need to be fermented in water for a few days before drying.

8. Storage
Moisture is the enemy of seed storage. Those packs of desiccant that come with electronic gadgets can be recycled and used in your seed storage boxes.

There’s no shame in buying seeds

In our small garden it would be nearly impossible to save the seeds of readily pollinated vegetables such as members of the Cucurbitaceae family. But it would be great to have varieties of vegetables adapted to our dry Mediterranean climate. Most seed saving operations use lots of fertilizer and water and the result is vegetables that are adapted, unsurprisingly, to requiring tons of fertilizer and water. Native Seeds/SEARCH is a notable exception. But we need more regional seed saving groups run by trained horticulturalists. In the meantime I buy seeds and stick to saving just the easy ones–beans, peas and tomatoes.

If you want more information about seed saving the bible of the subject is Suzanne Ashworth’s book Seed to Seed.

How have your seed saving endeavors gone? What seeds do you save? Have you ever gone through the trouble of bagging seed heads or caging plants and hand-pollinating?

Vegetable Garden Note Taking

A page from Thomas Jefferson's garden diary.

A page from Thomas Jefferson’s garden diary.

My worst mistake in the fifteen years we have been gardening here in Los Angeles has been my shoddy note taking. Even though we don’t have frosts to contend with, it still can be tricky to figure out when to plant vegetables.

In a lecture I attnded at the National Heirloom Exoposition, Sonoma County gardening guru Wendy Krupnick had a simple suggestion for what to take notes on in your vegetable garden:

  • variety
  • planting day
  • first harvest
  • last harvest
  • comments

She suggested a minimum of three years of note taking.

If only I had this data! If there isn’t one already, someone should come up with a social note taking app for vegetable gardening that would aggregate information for each local microclimate. Leave a comment if such a thing exists.

And for more great gardening advice from Krupnick, check out Most of the info is relevant even if you don’t live in Northern California.