Artichoke Season at the Homegrown Revolution Compound


You can’t ask for a more perfect plant than the Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) which is also one of the most ideal plants for our climate here in coastal California. Let’s count the other reasons:

  • They are perennial, producing and abundant crop starting with the second year.
  • Artichokes are attractive, making an ideal choice for edible landscaping.
  • They spread like crazy.
  • Suckers can be transplanted elsewhere.
  • They’re damn tasty either steamed, combined with pasta or made into an omelet.

They do best in foggy coastal places but will also grow in the warmer interior where the Homegrown Revolution compound resides. In cooler locales they will thrive all year round. In warmer places they die back in the summer but return like crazy in the early spring. We just cut them to the ground when the leaves die off. It’s a huge plant so make sure you give them plenty of room–at least a six foot diameter circle, preferably more, for each plant.

The only drawback is that aphids love them, so they require constant spraying down with a hose to blow off the damn things, not to mention thorough cleaning in the kitchen. Our love of artichokes means that we’ve gotten used to eating the occasional aphid.

They may even have medicinal uses according the the Plants for a Future Database (which only gives them a measly 3 out of 5 score for usefulness!),

The globe artichoke has become important as a medicinal herb in recent years following the discovery of cynarin. This bitter-tasting compound, which is found in the leaves, improves liver and gall bladder function, stimulates the secretion of digestive juices, especially bile, and lowers blood cholesterol levels.

The artichoke is also the primary ingredient in Cynar, a aperitif distributed by the Campari group. No doubt, Cynar may become the primary libation around the Homegrown Revolution compound this summer . . .

Loquat Season

For some mysterious reason our corner of Los Angeles has an abundance of loquat trees (Eriobotrya japonica) that, at this time of year, produce prodigious amounts of fruit that mostly goes to waste. Many of these trees live in public spaces, the parkway and people’s front yards making them prime candidates for urban foraging i.e. free food.

The tree itself has a vaguely tropical appearance with waxy leaves that look like the sort of plastic foliage that used to grace dentist office lobbies back in the 1960s. In short it’s a real tree that looks fake with fruit that nobody seems to care about.

The loquat tree invites considerable derision from east coast types. Blogmeister, extreme cyclist, and fellow stair climber Will Campbell came to the defense of the under-appreciated loquat in one of his missives a few years back. And up-and-coming rock musical performance artists My Barbarian give the loquat an amusing cameo appearance in their video Pagan Rights, Part IV.

We’ve noticed that the street loquats we’ve sampled vary widely in quality, due perhaps to genetics or simply the amount of water they get. Apparently most loquat trees are sold as seedlings, but if you’re planning on planting one of these things it’s best to get one that has been grafted specifically to produce quality fruit. Much like an apricot tree, the loquat tree will produce larger and better quality fruit if you cull some of the future harvest early in the season.

So while the geeks at boingboing link to the latest Second Life phenomenon, Homegrown Revolution is proud to present a more useful set of loquat linkages:

General loquat info

Loquat jellies and jams

Loquat wine

Loquat chutney

How to Stake Tomatoes

Our tomato staking method around the Homegrown Evolution compound is simple and lazy. We plant our tomatoes and then surround them with rolled up concrete reinforcing wire. Normally used to reinforce concrete slabs, reinforcing wire comes in 3 1/2′ by 7′ sections. We use a circular saw with a metal blade on it to cut off the bottom rung, so as to leave spiky wires with which to stick the reinforcing wire tubes into the ground, but this is not absolutely necessary.

Once in place that’s it. According to So Cal gardening guru Pat Welsh, tomatoes surrounded by a reinforcing wire staking system need not be pruned nor will they need any additional staking.

Over time the reinforcing wire rusts lending the garden a certain deconstructed vibe.

A garden that looks like a meth amphetamine lab

This year around the Homegrown Revolution compound we’ve finally thrown off the tyranny of the beautiful. There’s simply too much of what we call “garden porn” out there. Coffee table garden books, Martha Stewart and 24 hours of bullshit home improvement shows set up expectations that drive us all to useless spending at nurseries and home improvement stores all in pursuit of unattainable ideals, at least unattainable for anyone not employing slave labor. Forget about creating a mini Versailles–it’s time to get down to business and grow stuff you can eat. Our new criteria for success in gardens is this–a garden must simultaneously provide food for our table and habitat for beneficial wildlife, and it must take care of itself with a minimum amount of human intervention.

We also need to start growing food everywhere we can. There’s an ugly concrete patio just off our back door. We could have spent much money and effort to jackhammer it and replace it with a yuppie entertaining deck but instead we’re growing food on it. We built some self-watering containers (for instructions on how to do this see our earlier post) and we’re growing collard greens, tomatoes and southern highbush blueberries, so far with great success. It looks like a meth amphetamine lab. But since it provides tasty fresh food, who give a damn?

Silver Lake Farms

This week Homegrown Revolution visited Tara Kolla the founder of Silver Lake Farms. Kolla runs a ambitious and beautiful flower farm on a medium sized lot right in the heart of Los Angeles. She specializes in freshly cut sweet peas, but also grows anemones and ranunculus and sells them at the Echo Park, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and Los Angeles Arts District farmer’s markets. Kolla believes in the power of the local, and only sells at farmers markets within a five mile radius of her unique urban farm.

But best of all Kolla will be sharing her gardening knowledge with a new class she will be offering:

“Organic Gardening: Introduction” takes place at Silver Lake Farms on Sunday, March 18 from 1pm-3pm. There are 12 spaces available for this class so register now at http://www.silverlakefarms.com or call (323)644-3700.

Also, as a reminder–permaculture expert David Khan will be offering his regular introduction to permaculture this Saturday March 3rd. After the lecture Mark McAfee President, of Organic Pastures, LLC. will present a talk entitled “Got Real Milk?”. Lunch will be available but you must RSVP. See www.sustainablehabitats.org for more information.

Purple Sicilian Cauliflower


The Homegrown Revolution compound’s purple Sicilian cauliflower (Cavolfiore di Sicilia Violetto from Seeds from Italy) from our illegal parkway garden is now ready for the table after four months since planting from seed. Cauliflower needs some attention; it needs to be kept moist and it’s prone to aphids, but the little buggers can be blasted off with a hose fairly easily. While the plant takes up a lot of room and doesn’t yield a lot per square foot, what most folks don’t seem to know is that the leaves of cauliflower and broccoli plants are edible as well, although best when small.

Ultimately if you’ve got the space cauliflower is worth the effort, especially this particular variety, since when it gets down to it, the Man’s cauliflower at the supermarket just does not compare to the rich flavor of our home grown version. And if flavor isn’t enough to convince you to grow your own, cauliflower is one of those plants that demonstrates the groovy world of fractal geometry, where the smallest parts of the plants maintain the geometry of the whole. Take a look at the even more fractal broccoli cauliflower mashup, chou Romanesco.