021 The Queen of Quince

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A conversation about the ultimate slow food, quince, with Barbara Ghazarian, author of Simply Quince and Simply Armenian. If you have room, you should definitely make room for a quince tree. If not, you should work with this amazing fruit. During the podcast Barbara discusses how to prep and cook quince. We also talk about savory dishes made with quince and take a detour into a discussion about muhammara. We also discuss:

You can find out much more about quince on Barbara’s website: queenofquince.com. You can connect with Team Quince on Facebook and on Twitter: @gotquince

If you’d like to plant a quince tree check out the selection of bare root trees at Bay Laurel Nursery. Order soon as they sell out.

If you want 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. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Yet More Reasons to Mulch

Image: Wikimedia.

Image: Wikimedia.

From a water conservation perspective alone, our trees need a good layer of mulch. But there are many more reasons to mulch, according to research by James Downer, Farm Advisor with the Cooperative Extension in Ventura County, California:

  • Mulch provides nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.
  • A serendipitous accident in one of Downer’s studies revealed that mulch changes soil structure so that mulched soils are able to absorb more water than un-mulched soils.
  • And, most astonishingly, mulch provides habitat for beneficial fungi that repel the dreaded root rot organism Phytophthora cinnamomi.

Downer is also a mulch myth buster:

  • Adding a layer of mulch does not rob soil of nitrogen.
  • And Eucalyptus mulch? Not a problem.

His recommendation is to apply a layer of six inches of mulch made from chips approximately an inch in length. This application will settle to around 3 to 4 inches. Why is this the optimal amount? According to his research, more mulch risks leaching nitrogen into rivers, streams and oceans. Less mulch does not give you the benefits.

There are other caveats and subtleties to mulching. For those details check out Downer’s handy pdf, Mulch Effect on Trees.

Free Online Gardening Lectures from the University of California

I just got back from a combined Master Gardener/Master Food Preserver conference put on by the University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (I became a Master Food Preserver back in 2012 thanks to a truly awesome training program put on by our local Extension Service and taught by Ernest Miller, a guest on episode 14 of our podcast).

I’ll share some of what I learned at the conference in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I thought I’d link to a bunch of Master Gardener lectures from UCANR that you can watch online. There’s a lot of good advice here that will apply to backyard gardeners, even those outside of California. Time to cancel the Netflix:

UC Master Gardener Videos

Leaf Blower Lobbyists

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At the risk of becoming an anti-leaf blower blog, I wanted to follow up on one of Emily Green’s points in the podcast I posted yesterday. Leaf blowers do indeed have lobbyists who work out of a swanky office near Washington D.C.: the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI).

If your city tries to enact a ban on leaf blowers the OPEI will orchestrate a campaign to stop the measure. I’m not against outdoor tools (chainsaws, in the right hands, are very useful). But landscapes that depend on and are shaped by machines need to go. And let’s sweep away the leaf blower lobbyists while we’re at it.

This reminds me of the work of an artist friend of mine, Steve Rowell, who has a project called Parallelograms that maps the physical landscape and architecture of lobbying that surrounds this nation’s capitol. So Steve, you can add the OPEI offices to your list . . .

020 Emily Green on the Mow and Blow Landscape Paradigm

Image: Emily Green, chanceofrain.com

Image: Emily Green, chanceofrain.com

In episode 20 of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and I discuss the mow and blow landscape paradigm with writer and avid gardener Emily Green. During the discussion Emily also talks about the politics of lawn culture and the unholy alliance of politicians, the real estate industry and landscape maintenance tool manufacturers.

Emily has written for many newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and the Independent. She blogs at Chance of Rain.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times in 2011 Emily says,

What would you do if a neighbor came to you and asked, “For 20 minutes every week, may I turn on your vacuum cleaner, smoke detector and garbage disposal and run them all at once?”

Holding that thought, consider if the neighbor added, “Ah, may I also blow noxious dust your way for those same 20 minutes?”

Imagine that not just one neighbor on the street asked it, but eight. Imagine that each one just wanted their 20 minutes to blare noise and blow dust. It would be sometime between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Add up the minutes and they would equal about six straight days of noise a year. The dust would stay suspended longer, an element of smog.

Given the choice, most people would say “no” in terms unrepeatable here, so most Angelenos don’t ask for permission. They just blast noise and blow dust at their neighbors. They call it gardening.

If you want 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. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Mown and Blown: The Problem With Leaf Blowers

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I had just spent an hour sweeping our front porch, staircase and the sidewalk in front of our house. While I was sweeping I looked up to see the thick film of dirt covering the front of the house that I had spent months painting on scaffolding. Then I looked down the block and noticed a member of Los Angeles’ legion of mow and blow crews kicking up a huge cloud of dust. In an angry moment I later regretted, I glared at him and pointed at my broom. He smiled in return.

Why are leaf blowers bad? The reasons are almost too numerous to mention. Journalist Emily Green points out that during a drought,

It’s more important than ever to stop this practice and that leaves be left piled near trees, grass left where it falls after mowing and that leaf blowers not leave the truck. Any foliage that spills into streets should be raked. Leaf blowers in drought send dry earth airborne to lethal effects for asthma sufferers, particularly children and infants.

Tk by Tk Datetk.

Power Tools by Rubén Ortiz-Torres, 1999.

Los Angeles banned gas powered leaf blowers in 1998. The ban has never been enforced. Artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres captured, perfectly, the racial and class tension surrounding the ban in a series of customized power tools, including the tricked out leaf blower above. It’s hard to address the problems with leaf blowers without also getting into the thorny politics surrounding race, class and immigration.

Leaf blowers exist in a symbiotic relationship with “low maintenance” landscapes which consist of a lawn and brutally pruned hedges.  These water hungry landscapes provide neither food, beauty or habitat. (They are also not enjoyed by people: half of the suburban participants in a UCLA study of home life in SoCal never went into their backyard.  Another 25 percent went outside for a few minutes a week.) Yet this style of landscape is our dominant style of landscape because the homeowner doesn’t need to think about it, and the maintenance crews can move through the space with their machinery quickly. Volume allows these business to charge little for their services, which makes their services affordable to most homeowners, which encourages homeowners to keep their landscapes in a form easily serviced. In other words, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. And it’s a cycle we can’t afford anymore, for so many reasons. And for me, our reliance on leaf blowers is emblematic of all these problems.

I struggle with how to tackle the leaf blower problem. In a perfect world, the mow and blow crews would get horticultural education that they could then use to charge a living wage to maintain ecologically beneficial landscapes. Homeowners who couldn’t afford gardening services would discover the joy of gardening.

I’ve also thought of getting our neighbors together to discuss the issue and come up with alternatives, but I’m not sure this would work. So I’m going to toss the issue out to you, our dear readers.

Do you have a leaf blower problem where you live? Is this just an LA problem, or is it a national or international problem?

Has your city attempted a ban? If so, is the ban enforced?

Has your city provided education for gardeners?

Have you ever had a conversation with your neighbors about leaf blowers?

What are ways you’ve thought of dealing with the leaf blowers?

What solutions do you think could shift the mow and blow paradigm?

Why You Should Grow Pomegranates if You Can

pome

If I could only have one tree I think it might be a pomegranate. Why?

  • Pomegranate trees have beautiful, bright red flowers in the spring and handsome yellow leaves in the fall.
  • They grow fast.
  • They have few pests.
  • They are drought tolerant.
  • They produce delicious fruit.
  • Require low chill hours.
  • They live long–200 years or more.

The big downside for, probably, most of the readers of this blog is that pomegranates are frost sensitive. And the fruit will split if it rains in the fall. But if you live in a warm, dry climate you need to get one!

The variety we have is Wonderful, not all that exciting as this is the variety at the supermarket. If I had to plant one again I’d probably choose a more exotic pomegranate. That said, Wonderful is still wonderful–big, juicy and delicious.

The time to order your bare root fruit trees is now! Our favorite source, Bay Laurel has a nice selection of pomegranates. Just order now for winter delivery, as they sell out. Pomegranates can also be propagated easily from cuttings and, along with figs and olives, are just about the only fruit trees that aren’t grafted.

Do you have a pomegranate tree? What variety do you have?

Compost Piles on Fire!

Image: Wikimedia.

Image: Wikimedia.

Call it a weird, unintended consequence of our ongoing drug war, but apparently indoor compost piles are igniting house fires all across the U.S. Pot growers stack up their leftover biomass and, soon after, the whole house goes up in a puff of smoke, so to speak.

It got me wondering about two things. What’s the biology of a compost pile fire? And do non-pot growing folks in cold climates commonly have indoor compost piles?

First the biology. BioCycle has a whole article on fire prevention in municipal composting facilities that covers this common problem.

So what situation(s) can lead to a fire? Here’s what can happen with a low moisture, large pile with little air exchange, combined with water getting into the pile in a place where there is enough air to support biological activity and chemical oxidation, but not enough to cool the pile.

An old, dry compost pile, or a pile of overs screened out of the finished product, is a case in point. Water seeping into the dry compost can restart microbial activity and initiate reheating. A “macropore” or crack from the hot spot to the surface often develops into a vent, or chimney. Air movement up through this vent draws more oxygen into the hot spot where heat is being generated, rapidly escalating the transition from a biological fire to smoke and glowing embers. Appearance of this hot, humid air at the surface can be an important indicator that heating is taking place inside the pile.

Compost pile fires are unlikely for most home scale gardeners. One preventative technique recommended in the Biocycle article is to keep piles smaller than 12 feet high. Not a problem for most backyard gardeners.

Now a question for our readers around the world: who, other than pot growers, have indoor compost piles?

019 Garden Nerd Christy Wilhelmi

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On the podcast this week we review different approaches to backyard vegetable gardening with “Gardenerd” Christy Wilhelmi of Gardenerd.com. Christy is also the author of Gardening for Geeks and has a podcast, The Gardenerds Tip of the Week. During the show we discuss:

  • Biodynamics
  • Biointensive/French Intensive
  • Alan Chadwick’s Garden at UC Santa Cruz
  • John Jeavons
  • Double digging vs. no-till
  • A documentary about Ruth Stout
  • Breaking up soil with permaculture method
  • The power of mulch
  • Square foot gardening
  • Peat moss vs. coir
  • Growing carbon and compost crops
  • Heavy metals
  • Phytoremediation with milk thistle and chicory
  • What to fill a raised bed with
  • How to deal with shade
  • Integrating livestock: chickens and bees
  • What to do with Peruvian pepper trees (Schinus molle)
  • Attracting pollinators

You can also connect with Christy on Facebook and Twitter.

If you want 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. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

An Ancient Quince Recipe

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The Karp’s Sweet quince in our front yard, despite struggling in terrible soil, has finally started producing. This year we got about three pounds. Some of the fruit gets sunburned (note to self–put up some shade cloth next year!). But I’ve been able to cut out the browned part.

Each year the question comes up as to what to do with the fruit. You can eat Karp’s Sweet quince raw, but the texture is still quince-like, which is to say somewhat gritty and course. And each year I promise I’ll pick up a copy of Barbara Ghazarian’s comprehensive book Simply Quince, but somehow I never get around to it.

Last year I tried to make quince jelly, but overshot the jell point and ended up with jars of delicious tasting, but disagreeably hard quince gum. And Kelly just threw out my burned membrillo from last year.

This year Kevin West, author of Saving the Season came to the rescue with an ancient (the first known reference to a sweet preserve) and simple recipe by Pliny. The full recipe is on West’s website,  but to summarize you simply cook quince in equal parts honey and water until it turns red. The addition of a small amount of cracked pepper cuts the sweetness ever so slightly. You can then process the jars in a hot water bath. The end result is quince slices preserved in honey. It turned out great and, without having to worry about the jell point, reduced the anxiety level associated with preserving my entire harvest at once.

Do you have a quince tree? What do you do with the fruit?