Compost Outlaws

Yard Trimmings being used as “ADC” at the Bradley Landfill in Sun Valley

Our neighborhood comrade Tara Kolla, who grows sweet peas for farmer’s markets in her urban backyard, has been busted for . . . composting! Specifically for composting fruit and vegetable scraps from a local restaurant. From last Friday’s Los Angeles Times:

Tara Kolla said she was doing a good thing for her Silver Lake Farms business while doing the right thing for the planet by filling a garbage can each week with produce scraps from a nearby restaurant and dumping them into her compost.

A neighbor did not see it that way and complained about the compost, which Kolla has in two wood boxes covered with black plastic.

“I didn’t put it here to offend anyone. I put it here because it’s a work area,” Kolla said one morning as she showed a visitor her half-acre urban farm, where she grows flowers as well as some other crops to sell at farmers markets in Echo Park, Hollywood and Silver Lake.

In August, Kolla received a letter from the Los Angeles Local Enforcement Agency telling her to “cease and desist” composting food waste that was not generated at her home. The letter was signed by David Thompson, the agency’s program supervisor, who declined to talk on the record. But a city spokeswoman said there would be no additional action taken if there are no more complaints.

It turns out it’s against the law to compost material not generated at your own residence. So when you take back that bag of coffee grounds from Starbucks to put in your compost pile you’re an outlaw. It’s a law that benefits the status quo, where the the city and private contractors haul away all that perfectly good organic matter that could be nourishing our neighborhood gardens, parks, and street trees and stuff it in . . . the dump.

There’s a dirty little secret with what happens to the organic matter we all some of us put in the green bin (a trash can provided by the city some municipalities to separate out yard trimmings) in the city of Los Angeles and many other municipalities. According to a friend of mine who works in the recycling business, 80% of the green bin contents in Los Angeles (county?) [Editors note: see neighborhood colleague, and fellow "trash geek" Jeremy Drake's correction in the comments section. Drake says that LA City does not use green bin contents as ADC. My friend may have been refering to LA County waste practices.] are used as “Alternative Daily Cover” or ADC. ADC, which in addition to yard waste can consist of all kinds of things including broken glass and construction materials are used to cover up trash dumped into landfills. So while our friend Tara gets busted for composting, some cities go about taking the same perfectly good organic matter and toss it into the dump along with the rest of our garbage.

The green bin is a sham, but it gets worse. According to Mayor Sam’s Sister City, classifying waste as ADC “allows dump operators to escape paying State per ton fees which in turn are used for State recycling and enforcement programs.”

There’s a opportunity in this composting kerfuffle for an elegant solution. Anyone who gardens in the city knows how important, and sometimes difficult, it is to get enough organic matter. How about regional composting facilities? Instead of trucking organic matter from restaurants and yards to far-off dumps (and generating tons of diesel particulate matter on those long hauls), how about we compost it closer to home? We’ll need skilled workers for this, perfect in a time of rising unemployment. This is precisely what our friend Nance Klehm does in Chicago, taking the waste from 6,000 daily meals at the Pacific Garden Mission and, with a large worm composting operation, turning that waste into prized worm compost which is sold at a farmer’s market. The operation is staffed with homeless clients from the Mission. Waste is reduced, gardeners get compost, homeless people get work and everyone benefits.

Now let’s change these silly composting laws and get to work . . .

[Editors note--Tara had a correction to the LA Times story--she does not "dump" stuff in her compost pile, but skillfully and responsibly layers green and brown materials. You can take a compost class from her at the Norman Harrington / Franklin Hills Community Garden. More information at Silver Lake Farms.]

Seaching for Seeds

Old school seed searching: order assembler standing next to racks containing packages at the W. Atlee Burpee Company, 1943
It’s never too early to start planning that garden. And towards that goal, Mother Earth News has created a nice custom Google search engine that scours over 600 seed suppliers. It’s the perfect way to find those obscure plants and varieties not at the local nursery. The search engine even includes our favorite seed company, Seeds from Italy. You can test out this new tool here on the Mother Earth website, or on the right toolbar of Homegrown Evolution.

Now it’s time to go plant some oca!

Busting open a Durian

Via Mark Frauenfelder over on BoingBoing, a trailer for Adam Leith Gollner’s entertaining book, The Fruit Hunters:

Is their something about being an older white man of a certain age and exotic fruit? Mrs. Homegrown has become concerned about Mr. Homegrown dropping talk of durian into conversations at inappropriate moments of late. And look out Mrs. HG, because Mr. HG just heard about the Mimosa Nursery (thanks beer making Scott!), purveyors of exotic fruit trees here in Southern California. From my web research it looks like Mimosa has at least two locations, one in Anaheim and the other at 6270 Allston in Los Angeles. We’re planning an expedition soon . . .

End of Season Tomato Review

Homegrown Evolution had ambitious plans to review each and every tomato variety out of the garden this year, but alas, we fell behind in our bloggulating duties and planted way too many tomatoes. So here, as “winter” appears in Southern California (it’s raining, that’s how you tell), we’ll review what worked and what didn’t work.

The tastiest tomato award goes to the Pineapple variety pictured above. Not only did this heirloom tomato have the best flavor, it was also the prettiest tomato we’ve ever grown, a brilliant yellow with streaks of red in the middle of the fruit when you slice it. And they’re just about as big as a Cadillac Escalade. We saved some seeds and will definitely be growing these again next year.


The most productive, trouble free and productive tomatoes this year were plain old Romas and San Marzanos, both of which provided a summer of tomato sauce and enough extra fruit to do some canning. Two hybrid cherry tomatoes we grew in self watering containers, Sun Gold and Sweet 100 also did well. The Romas have the additional benefit of being fusarium wilt and verticillium resistant. It may be organic gardening heresy to say this, but hybrid tomatoes such as Roma are the best varieties for beginning gardeners to grow due to their trouble free and disease resistant qualities. The down side is that you can’t save the seeds.

We also grew Syrian Giants, but unfortunately our Doberman Pincher ate most of them on late night raids. Perhaps because the Syrians grew in less than ideal partial shade conditions, they weren’t that tasty. See also our earlier reviews of Banana Leg and Red Currant varieties.

Most of the tomatoes were grown in cages made from concrete reinforcing wire (instructions on making tomato cages here) in raised beds with a drip irrigation system as pictured above. As an experiment for folks in apartments or with limited space, we grew a bunch of tomatoes in self watering containers on a strip of concrete next to the back wall of our garage (note crappy picture below). You’ll see that we were too lazy to put the container tomatoes in cages–don’t do this as you’ll have a sprawling ugly mess! Nevertheless, the containers worked.

So readers, leave some comments! Tell us your favorite tomatoes this season. Weigh in on the heirloom vs. hybrid issue. We’re sure that forward thinking folks planning seed purchases for the spring would appreciate the advice.

A Used Tire Compost Bin

There’s so many damn used tires littering the sidewalks of this grungy town, Los Angeles should incorporate them into the city seal. Thankfully tires make a fine raw material for building projects and Homegrown Evolution has been experimenting with their many uses over the past year. This week we built a compost bin.

Step one is to cut out the sidewalls. You might be able to do this with a sharp knife, but it’s much easier with an electric saber saw. We used a knife to cut a slit to get the saber saw started. Once both sidewalls are cut out you just stack your modified tires up, fill it with compost, put a cover on it (we used a piece of scrap aluminum), and fetch a beer.

We’ll post another tire project soon.

Action!

To those frustrated with national or even local politics, I say just get out there and do something. In the words of London’s guerrilla gardener and author Richard Reynolds, “The point at which I became a guerrilla gardener is when I realized that I would get a lot more accomplished by just getting out there and doing it than phoning up the council and complaining about the landscape all around me.” So skip those endless returns and watch a mini-doc of one of Reynold’s actions:

Via City Farmer News.

Garden Swap

Growing your own vegetables is a great way to add flavor, nutrition and, if done carefully, save money in our uncertain economic times. But what if you live in an apartment and don’t have any land to call your own? Homegrown Evolution’s in-box contained an answer to that problem for folks in the Los Angeles area. We love this idea:

Cultivating Sustainable Communities (CSC) is launching its newest project. GardenSwap is an opportunity to pair up urban gardeners with their neighbors who have yard space in order to grow and share in the profits of urban food gardens.

Urban gardens are not only fun; they support low-carbon food production, create economic development, inspire healthful eating, build community, create opporunities for education, address watershed health concerns, create productive green open space, and beautify communities.

CSC is currently taking requests for participation in this program. If you’d like to participate either as a gardener or a land owner who is willing to share yard space (and some garden profits!) with a neighbor (we’ll help you find a neighbor), please contact me at [email protected]

Full contact info:

Gabriela Worrel, Executive Director
Cultivating Sustainable Communities
117 Bimini Pl. #110 Los Angeles, Ca 90004
(310) 452-5356
[email protected]

Fruitacular!

Noel Ramos, writing to correct an inaccuracy in my guava post (“Guayabas” is the word used all over Latin America for guava not “guyabas”) was nice enough to include this amazing photograph of some of the many kinds of fruit that you can grow in Florida: red bananas, sugar-apple, canistel, pink guayaba, dragon fruit and orange-flesh lemon.

Noel is the director of communications for Slow Food Miami, “an eco-gastronomic organization that supports a bio-diverse, sustainable food supply, local producers, heritage foodways and rediscovery of the pleasures of the table.” I hope the photo above will encourage readers in the Florida area to get involved with this organization which is working worldwide to fight the industrialization and fast foodization of what we eat. Not in Miami? Look for a local chapter via Slow Food USA.

Noel also has contributed articles to another remarkable group, the California Rare Fruit Growers which strives to preserve and explore the mind boggling biodiversity of fruit trees. And speaking of biodiversity take a look at Noel holding a Rollinia or Biriba, a fruit tree native to the Amazon region that also grows in Florida.

Some have described the taste of this fruit as like that of a lemon meringue pie.

Guyaba Guayabas (Psidium guajava)

Just last week I was spotting L.A. river blogger creekfreak while he bench pressed a whole bunch of weights (was it 300 pounds?) at our local YMCA. Between hefting all that poundage (we’re both getting ready for the inaugural L.A. River Adventure Race), the conversation turned to a productive guyaba fruit tree on the grounds of the L.A. Eco-village, where the creekmesiter’s crib is located.

Guyaba (Psidium guajava–”guyaba” is the Spanish Dutch word for “white guava”) is a small tree native to Central America. It’s one of around 60 species of guava and is also known as “apple guava” and “yellow guava”. According to the California Rare Fruit Growers, it can be propagated by seed or by air layering. The apple guava has a delicate tropical flavor, and according to creekfreak, some varieties have edible seeds. The fruit off creekfreak’s tree rots really quickly, so don’t look for him to be opening a booth at your local farmer’s market. The tree seems fairly drought tolerant, but more productive with water. Guava expert Leslie Landrum notes that the guava is a “weedy tree, a tree that likes disturbance. It likes to grow along roads and in pastures. Animals eat the fruit and spread the seeds around.”

It’s also a fruit so tasty that creekfreak occasionally has to chase off guyaba rustlers poaching specimens off his tree.

Urban Farming in Oakland

Public radio station KCRW has an excellent interview with urban farmer and writer Novella Carpenter. Carpenter has pigs, goats, ducks, chickens and more all on a small lot in Oakland, California. You can listen to the radio interview here (along with some other interesting segments on hunting caribou, cooking pasta, roasting peppers, and more) on chef Evan Kleiman’s show Good Food. You can also check out Carpenter’s blog, meaningfulpursuit.com. We especially like Carpenter’s advice to take small steps towards your urban farming goal rather than trying to do too much all at once.