Going to Seed

radish podsTidiness is a very pleasant thing inside a house. Outside, in a yard or garden, it’s not at all a good thing. I’m really tired of the cult of tidy.

We seem to be confused. We conflate our yards with our living rooms, the space beneath our shrubs for kitchen floors. Popular opinion seems to believe our flower and vegetable gardens should be maintained like trophy rooms, like curio cases.

Our mistake, of course, is thinking that everything is about us. That our yard, our garden, our little patch of land actually belongs to us and we have the right to maintain it exactly as we like. We might own it on paper, but we share it with hundreds, thousands, millions (if you want to get into soil biology) of other lives.

Of course, if we maintain our yards to exact standards of tidiness–say our yard consists of a lawn and some shrubs along the drive with the dirt beneath them blown clean, we probably are not supporting much life at all. We’ve put up the No Trespassing sign, and creatures listen.

front bed seedy 2It gets even more sparse if we spray herbicides and pesticides all over the place. All of the invisible life vanishes. Any creatures which visit are just passing through.

The land is eerily silent.

But life is waiting to come back. That is what is so amazing. It jumps back if given even half a chance. If you open the door just a crack.

All we have to do is sit back and relax.

Stop with the obsessive yard work.

Stop paying the yard crew.

Stop spraying chemicals around.

Just stop.

Leave the leaves. Let fallen leaves and pulled weeds stay on the land to protect and nourish the soil.

Let volunteers bloom.

Let your garden go to seed.

mustard seedyIf we live with fussy neighbors, or under the impression that our gardens should look like the ones in the magazines, we might work hard to keep our vegetable and flower gardens impeccable, starting seedlings in advance to replace aging plants so there’s never any sense of “decline” in the garden.

I’ve always let parts of our garden go to seed, but this year, more than ever, I’m attuned to it. I’m reveling in the beauty in it, and I’m understand the generosity of it down deep, on the soul level.

lettuce bloomingIn the past I struggled to leave the plants as long as I could stand it, knowing they were doing good in their later life cycle, but also feeling like my yellow, straggly garden made me look lazy or incompetent.

I was also acutely aware of the long gaps between harvests that would occur if I waited for plants to go to seed before replacing them. Now, I’ve given up all that anxiety, and I revel in this time.

The insects feast on the flowers which bloom on our lettuce, our arugula, our radishes, our mustard, our fennel. Predatory wasps hunt alongside lady bugs and diligent bees of all types.

argula flowerWe have more birds than ever in our yard, and they love our overgrown, browning beds, because of course they’re eating the seeds or the bugs on the ripening plants. They would not, however, allow me to take any pictures of them doing these things.

They love all the weedy places, the vacant lots and over grown side yards. Those places are full of flashing wings and trilling songs. It’s already a seed time of year here in LA on our fast moving calendar, and I’m watching the birds feast. I love watching the little finches balancing on thin, swaying plant stalks in the golden light of the afternoon. The world is full of moments of perfect, unconscious beauty like that.

Once the seeds are eaten, and the plants are brown and empty, I cut the stalks down at their base, but I don’t throw anything away. Everything stays in the yard, on or in the ground. The plant which fed us and the bee and the finch will now finish its work feeding the soil. Feeding the soil is its deepest work.

And–never worry!– some seed always manages to hit the ground despite all the competition, ensuring volunteers will come up next year, and feed us all again.

radish pods 2An aside:

One area where I have to admit that I am less than generous is in the matter of radish seed pods. These I don’t leave for the birds, because I like them so much.

Most of you gardeners are probably very familiar with radish seed pods. If you aren’t, they are the fat little pods that show up after a radish plant of any type goes to seed.

They taste like radishes, pretty much, sometimes they’re sweeter, sometimes they’re spicier. Radish pods are both a bonus crop and a fine consolation prize, because even if your radish roots end up puny or woody or otherwise disappointing, you can always eat the pods. They’re best fresh, picked a handful at a time as a snack or to put in a salad, but you can lactoferment or pickle them, too, using pretty much any pickle recipe you prefer.

087 Foraging Controversy with Lisa Novick

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Goldfinches on Hooker’s Evening Primrose. Photo: Lisa Novick.

On the podcast this week we talk to Lisa Novick Director of Outreach and K-12 Education of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants. We contacted her after seeing her blog in the Huffington Post, Forage in the Garden, Not in What’s Left of the Wild. In that post Lisa expresses her concern about foraging and suggests that people grow native plants in their yards and in public spaces. While our conversation is California-centric, I think, the principles we discuss apply to other regions. During the podcast Lisa mentions:

Hooker's Evening Primrose in bloom. Photo: Lisa Novick.

Hooker’s Evening Primrose in bloom. Photo: Lisa Novick.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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The Fine Art of Determining Peach Ripeness

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How do you know when your peaces are ready to pick? For home growers it’s all about color. According to the University of Georgia,

Ground color is the best field indicator of peach maturity. . . The ground color of a peach approaching maturity is light green. A break in color toward yellow is the first definite indication of maturity. Brightening of the red over-color of the skin is another, though less reliable, index of maturity. Red color is typically dull prior to the green to yellow break. When the underlying ground color breaks to yellow, the red brightens and can easily be selected. Color judgments are reliable with many older varieties, but new highly colored varieties with higher percentages of red over-color have diminished the usefulness of color in maturity determination.

Farmers have access to a few tools that can make ripeness determination easier such as this expensive gadget that measures firmness or a brix meter for determining sugar content. These tools could only be justified if you were planning on growing, shipping and selling fruit. More useful for us backyard growers is this gallery of peach fruit color stages.

I’ve been picking them a little on the green side and letting them ripen inside in order to stay ahead of the squirrel menace. This year we’ve eaten a lot more peaches than the squirrels have.

Science, Blogging and Peaches

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Allow me the privilege of taking myself to task. Last week I proudly proclaimed that I had solved the squirrel problem once and for all by covering our peach tree in bird netting. A week later I’m not so sure of my pronouncement.

The simple problem is that there’s no scientific control in my little backyard study. On Friday, Kelly and I took the netting off the tree and picked most of the peaches. Guess what? The peaches we left on the tree are still there. At least for now, the neighborhood squirrels are eating something else.

Now let me dream for a moment. Imagine if Elon Musk would stop his silly attempt to put people on Mars and would, instead, fund research into more down to earth subject matter: how best to grow tomatoes in a backyard? Does tap water kill sourdough culture? Does hugelkultur work? These are, of course, the sorts of subjects our underfunded Extension Services could look at if they had more resources. Right now they have to concentrate on commercial agriculture with backyard horticulture taking a distant second.

Until Musk has that low-tech road to Damascus experience, we may have to crowd-source some answers ourselves. While still anecdotal, I really appreciate your comments on my posts. It may not be scientific but it’s a start. And, of course, it’s always good to remember that great Socratic lesson: that we don’t know and may never know the answer to a question especially when it involves something as complex as life. In short, we may never outsmart the squirrel.

But I think we could do a better job leveraging our experiences using the power of the internet. While I don’t have the educational background or temperament for this, let me put this idea out there: how about putting together crowd-sourced experiments and observation into backyard food production? It seems like some great apps could be developed to do this.

What do you think? What are the first questions you’d like answered?

Tree Bondage

Robert-Kourik-with-Roots
Ladies and gentleman, this is how you do a class announcement. Robert Kourik, our guest on episode 69 of our podcast, sent me an email that had me laughing and wishing that I lived in Northern California so that I could attend his upcoming talk:

Tree Bondage: and solutions 

I’ll show dozens of misshaped, abused and tortured trees, from mangled roots, to poorly-tended trunks and grossly manipulated canopies. I will show photographs of trees in bondage and discuss healthy alternatives. (Or, whether or not it should be reduced to firewood!) Be prepared to be shocked as well as educated.

You will:

  • See how trees can be mismanaged
  • Learn how to “repair” damaged trees
  • Learn how to avoid the hurtful aspects of the damaged trees shown
  • See examples of the correct way to plant, irrigate, compost, fertilize, mulch and prune trees

Where: The Seed Bank, 199 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma, CA 94952

When: Thursday June 2nd, 6:30PM

Phone: (707) 773-1336

Robert Kourik, Metamorphic Press
PO Box 412, Occidental, CA 95465
www.robertkourik.com
https://www.facebook.com/RobertKourik?ref=hl

Author & Publisher
“Understanding Roots” http://www.robertkourik.com/books/understanding-roots.html
“Drip Irrigation for Every Landscape and All Climates”
“No-Dig Gardening, for a Healthier Soil & a Sustainable Garden”