Welcome to the Summer Fruit Season

Homegrown Neighbor here again. I just picked the first peaches of the summer from a tree in my backyard. They are an early variety called Florida Prince. One was so ripe it immediately started oozing fresh peach juice onto my hand which I readily licked off. It was intensely sweet and full of peach flavor. The peaches all have the most wonderful aroma. Grocery store fruit never has a smell that intense and lovely. Yesterday I ate my first plum of the season as well, a variety called Beauty. It was super sweet and delicious. I am very happy to begin the summer fruit season. I will continue to gorge myself on these sweet treats while they are at their peak over the next few months. And now for the shameless plugs- I’ll be at the Old L.A. Farmer’s Market in Highland Park this afternoon selling veggie seedlings and fruit trees. So come and visit and pick up your very own peach tree and some growing tips. And did you know fruit trees are excellent for irrigating with greywater? Learn how you can irrigate your home orchard with your old laundry water at the greywater workshop tomorrow night with my Homegrown neighbors. Soon you will have an abundant and water-wise garden.

Wonderful Worms

 I’ve been composting with worms for many years now and I am continually impressed by how good they are at what they do- eat our garbage. 

For those who want to start a worm bin of their own you can either buy a bin or make your own. I must say the black, stacking bins made from recycled plastic work very well. They are well designed to allow for a lot of waste in a small footprint and provide good drainage, which is absolutely key for worms. I’ve also made my own bin and I’ll write about that in a separate post. Target has also come out with a fancy worm bin they call the MIO(I’m not sure how to make the link work so you’ll just have to look it up) . I’m incredibly jealous because I wanted to be the first to come out with a snazzy, hip worm compost bin. The Target bin is cute but unlike other prefab bins it is not made from recycled plastic. I still kind of want one. 
Mr. Homegrown has encouraged me to share my failures because apparently readers of this blog love to hear about projects gone awry. I’ve only had one problem with worms but it was a doozy. I had been composting with worms for several years without a glitch when I got overly enthusiastic and threw everything off. There is a local juice bar that doesn’t compost. All that lovely, ground up juicing waste just ends up in the trash. So I decided to take home a big bag- maybe twenty pounds of ground up carrots, wheatgrass, apples, kale and whatever for the worms. I spread it out as a layer in one of the bins. Several days later I noticed flies. I opened the bin and there were all of these hideous larvae crawling around. Now I love worms, but larvae are just gross. They were some kind of fly larvae. I screamed and jumped up and down shrieking for about 5 minutes. I closed the bin and decided to wait. Composting is all about balance. I knew I had thrown off the equilibrium of my worm composting system. After about five days of just letting the bin do its thing I started by slowly adding just my morning coffee grounds. I put down a thick layer of shredded newspaper to keep any more flies from getting in. After about two weeks I had restored the balance, the larvae were gone and the worms and I have lived happily ever after.

City Farm Chicago

Chicago’s City Farm is a stunning bit of green smack in the middle of the concrete jungle, sandwiched between the remnants of the controversial Cabrini-Green housing project and the Gold Coast. A program of the non-profit Resource Center, City Farm sells produce to chefs, operates a vegetable stand and provides opportunities for economically under-developed neighborhoods.

City Farm is a mobile endeavor. The basic idea is to take advantage of some vacant land and, when the inevitable development comes, pull up everything and move on. Assuming that urban land is contaminated, the City Farm folks simply piled up about three feet of compost, soil and mulch right on top of the broken concrete and asphalt of its current location. All that soil will move when the yuppie condos replace the salad greens and radishes. City Farm is an idea that makes sense in big U.S. cities which, despite astronomical real estate prices, have large amounts of unused space.

The growing season is just starting up at City Farm and I’ll have more photos when I get back to Los Angeles (forgot a camera cable thingy). Many thanks to Nancy Klehm for hosting me here, filmmaker Deborah Stratman for loaning me a bicycle and to Lora Hall for the fantastic guest blogs.

Stickers for the Organic Gardener


Via BoingBoing a clever re-purposing:

“Evil Mad Scientist Labs wants you to proudly label your organic garden with these handsome “Now Slower and with More Bugs!” stickers, originally produced to adorn software products. The influence of the Slow Food movement is increasing, and gardening is getting ever more popular. Even the tech bloggers are posting about local pollinators and getting beehives. In this environment, it is fitting that a new use has been found for our Now Slower and with More Bugs stickers, which were first seen in the wild back in December 2007. If you find a good use for them, we’d love to see pictures in the flickr auxiliary!”

More on Hops in Containers

On the question of growing hops in containers that we posted on earlier this week, Shane in Santa Cruz, CA says:

“I think hops will do great in a container, if they are deep enough. I’ve heard you need something like a 1/2 whiskey, at least. The roots can go as low as 9 feet below ground.

I’m on my 2nd year of hops, cascade in nice soil, and brewers gold in what ever was in the ground. The brewers gold did better last year growing 18 feet and providing summer shade to a south facing window. The cascades only went 8 feet. I followed the same watering and feeding (never) for both.

This year my cascades are doing better, they are about 18 inches high so far. The brewers gold only 2 inches. This is in Santa Cruz, CA.”

Shane also contributed a very useful link to an article on Growing Hops in Containers. One of the suggestions in the article, for those of us in hot climates, is to grow hops on an east facing wall so that the plant is sheltered from the hot late afternoon sun. As Shane points out this can serve a double purpose–providing shade to cool your casa. Sounds kinda permacultural. Thanks Shane!

Hops in Southern California

From hop rhizome to young vine

Several people have asked a question we were curious about: what varieties of hops are best to grow in warm climates such as Southern California? We asked around and the consensus seems to be Cascade and Nugget among others. Greg Beron, one of the co-owners of Culver City Homebrewing Supply Co., has a couple of different hops rhizomes for sale that he says grow well here in Los Angeles. The shop’s parking lot, in fact, has many small plastic barrels planted with hops vines growing up string attached to the east side of the building.

Homegrown Evolution’s own hop farming experiment ended in the spring of last year after we accidentally plopped some home built scaffolding on top of the tiny vine while undertaking the heinous task of scraping and painting the front of the house. Planting it in terrible soil doomed it to failure anyways. We’re experimenting with growing both Cascade and Nugget hops in a big self irrigating planter with the hope that we can transfer them to the ground next year or the year after. In the meantime we’ll improve our soil with another application of “craptonite“.

Some hops growing links:

Hop Gardening

A list of Hop varieties for all climates

How to build a PVC hops trellis

Satan’s House Plant: More on Asparagus setaceus/plumosus

Photo by Mr. Subjunctive

It seems like we hit a raw nerve with our mention of one of our least favorite plants, Asparagus setaceus. Just in a case you’d like to know more about this demonic plant, Mr. Subjunctive, a garden center employee with a fantastic blog, Plants are the Strangest People, has a detailed post about Asparagus setaceus (apparently also known as Asparagus plumosus).

Shiitake Happens


Well, actually, shiitake doesn’t happen. It’s back to the drawing board for our first experiment in mushroom growing. We ordered a kit and dutifully followed the directions, but a combination of high temperatures and too much or too little water resulted in the result you see above, what looks like a cake with a skin disease. And even if we got a crop the cost of the kit was too high to make the process economical.

The kit came pre-inoculated with spore that, given the right conditions, should have produced a block full of tasty shiitakes. Instead we got what mushroom folks call “aborts”, mushrooms that grow a bit and then stop. Aborts are potentially edible, but you need to pick them before they rot. Picking off the aborts can also prevent the rest of the growing medium from becoming infected with unwanted molds.

It’s now way too hot in our house to grow mushrooms and we’ll have to wait until next winter for any further experiments. We’re going to try some different methods and will report back on the results. Tips from readers are appreciated.

And speaking of reader tips, an anonymous commenter on our self irrigating planter post noted that indoor marijuana farmers have been experimenting with container gardening for years and that Homegrown Evolution would be wise to take a look at the kind of innovation that comes with higher (so to speak) profit margins. Good point. In trying to find better sources for information on small scale indoor mushroom growing (other than the current go-to expert who will remain nameless and who I think is a bit of a hype-meister) I kept coming across books on growing the sort of mushrooms that cause visions of plant gods and lizard people. It’s proof that good ideas often come from the combination of improvisation and subterfuge. Just take a look at prison improvised weapons and booze to see what resourceful folks with time on their hands can come up with. We certainly don’t grow anything illegal here, but we like to keep an open mind when it comes to our sources.

For those who would like to read more about growing mushrooms at home here’s one way to do it.

Least Favorite Plant: Asparagus Fern (Asparagus setaceus)


Today, a new feature on the blog: least favorite plants. I’ve always thought that it’s more fun to read a bad review than a glowing one, so why not extend the concept to the plant world? But we’re not going to rant about “weeds”, which Ralph Waldo Emerson defined as, “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” As active foragers we’ve found virtues in what most people think of as weeds, plants like broadleaf plantain and stinging nettles. Instead we’ll focus our horticultural wrath elsewhere.

Asparagus Fern (Asparagus setaceus) is the scourge of my backyard gardening existence and a plant many will recognize from floral arrangements. The bozos who owned our house before us planted one of these nasty things underneath the avocado tree. It entangles itself through the branches of the tree, winding it’s way upwards as much as ten feet in a season. It’s impossible to pull out of the ground and its sharp thorns make thick gloves essential when attempting to beat it back. When I saw a vendor at a farmer’s market selling potted Asparagus setaceus, I felt like I was witnessing a crack dealer in an elementary school lunchroom. As a houseplant it’s probably fine, but in our climate where it can grow outside you should keep this out of the hands of neophyte gardeners.

Asparagus Fern ain’t a fern but it is a relative of asparagus. The shoots may or may not be edible depending on who you talk to. Even if you could eat the shoots, you would have the world’s smallest side dish. Breed a one inch tall pig and you could make tiny pork chops to go along with your buttered Asparagus setaceus.

Thankfully for most of the readers of this blog, Asparagus setaceus is not cold hardy. It’s originally from South Africa which has an identical climate to LA, meaning this house plant can easily escape here and wreak havoc amongst the palm trees and smog.

Now, what rogue state can I get to carpet bomb my Asparagus Fern patch?