Damned Figs!


“In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.”
-Matthew 21:18-19

We find it hard to cut down a mature tree, especially a fruit tree. But after living with a substandard fig tree for ten years we finally understood this biblical episode, and chopped the sucker down.

Our holy land type climate in Los Angeles makes it a cinch to grow figs. It also makes it possible for all the fig trees in the neighborhood to hybridize. We speculate that the previous residents of our humble compound let a feral fig tree grow. Unfortunately this tree produced fruit with the texture of Styrofoam packing materials and the flavor of . . . Styrofoam packing materials. We tried everything from drying to making jam with these accursed figs but never got satisfactory results. During the day flies laid their larvae in the fruits yielding gooey masses that would drop to the ground to provide rotting fig feasts to visiting rats and possums.

We replaced the fig tree with the Valencia orange tree in the photo above. One of the most important lessons we’ve learned in our ten years at this address is that if you’re going to plant a tree to choose varieties carefully and, when space is at a premium, plant trees that yield food or medicine. We’ve also never regretted cutting down the forest of useless trees we found when we first moved here–Frederic Law Olmstead cut down a few thousand to build Central Park after all.

More on our new front yard orchard soon (which, of course, includes a fig tree).

UPDATE:

Homegrown Evolution reader Krystel sent us a link to a very amusing site, God Hates Figs.

Gardening Classes at Silver Lake Farms

Local gardening guru Tara Kolla, who we met in the course of writing our book the Urban Homestead, will be hosting a series of very reasonably priced classes at her beautiful urban farm in Silver Lake beginning in March. Topics include vermicomposting, organic gardening and more. Full information on the Silver Lake Farms website. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, we highly recommend taking a class or two, and sign up early as space is limited.

How to Homestead

Homegrown Evolution’s Self Watering Container video is up on the brand new site How to Homestead, described by its creators as:

“the only site on the web providing you with a collection of how to homestead videos to stream or download. No longer relegated to the rural sphere, homesteading can be done anywhere and we are here to show you how.”

With many homesteading activities, from chicken slaughtering to tortellini making, internet based video is a useful resource when you don’t have a friend or relative to show you a skill first hand. Kudos to the How to Homesteaders and we look forward to future episodes on this nicely designed site.

To celebrate the launch of howtohomestead.org, director Melinda Stone will be presenting an evening of short films and performances about self-sufficiency and sustainable DIY activities at San Francisco’s ATA space, located at 992 Valencia Street on March 29th at 8:30 p.m. For more information on this screening see www.othercinema.com.

Daikon Radish!

We’ve had a crappy vegetable harvest around the Homegrown Evolution compound this winter though, as you can see from the picture above, the artichokes and rosemary in the background are thriving as they always do. Here in Los Angeles, winter is usually the best season for growing things, as perverse as that may sound to folks in the rest of the US. But for us, some combination of bad timing (not getting stuff in early enough), depleted soil and cold temperatures have contributed to a less than stellar garden.

But in the midst of this failure we’ve had a few successes. Last year we made daikon radish pickles from radishes we picked up at our local farmer’s market. (see here for our post and a recipe). This year we grew our own daikon radishes. Like all radishes, daikons grow fast and are as hardy as weeds. Radishes are defiantly the “gateway drug” of vegetable gardening. Grow them, and you’ll be on your way to tougher to grow things like broccoli and cauliflower. Like all root vegetables loose soil is a plus, especially for daikons, so it’s best to grow them in a raised bed.

We’ve also discovered that all radish greens are edible, as they are members of the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes broccoli, cabbage, kale and many others. With many of the root vegetables we’ve grown, especially beets, we’re actually more fond of the greens.

Now if we had the money for a contest, we’d offer a free Homegrown Evolution branded thong (we’re working on that so be patient) for the first person to find the grazing chickens in the picture.

Save the World–Poop in a Bucket


Learn about composting your own poo by checking out our new post, How to Save the World by Pooping in a Bucket, at the consciousness shifting blog Reality Sandwich, for which we write a regular column.

And should you want more potty talk you’re in luck due to a minor sewage synchronicity going on in the magazine/internet world. As we wrote our meditation on human waste, a number of other stories on the subject came out at the same time:

  • A Mother Earth News reader submitted a photo and description of a handsome sawdust privy made out of an old garden hose box. Very clever!
  • Science Daily reports on Converting Sewage to Drinking Water.
  • So take that laptop into your “meditation room” and get some reading done!

    Growing Potatoes in Tires


    Chicago homesteader extraordinaire Nance Klehm, temporarily in residence here in Los Angeles, gifted us with some beautiful seed potatoes which we just planted. As we did last year, we’re growing them in used tires filled with compost (see our surprise potato harvest in a post from last September). As the plant grows you add another tire to the stack, causing the growth of more potatoes. An alternate method, suggested by Homegrown Revolution reader Chris, is to dig trenches and mound up earth around the base of the potato plant as it grows.

    We’ve planted earlier this year, to see if our potatoes will do better in Southern California’s mild spring weather. One disadvantage to this earlier planting might be all the rain we get in January and February. Soggy soil can cause the potatoes to rot before they start growing. We’ll keep our fingers crossed–we’ve had a streak of bad luck with our plantings this winter.

    Incidentally, Nance will be delivering a lecture and walk at Machine Project on Sunday February 10th at 1 p.m. See the Machine Project website for more information.

    Turnip Greens via The Silver Spoon

    It took us way to long to discover that turnip greens are edible. They’re better than the turnips themselves, in our opinion. So how did we finally figure this out? The answer is by thumbing through a cookbook everybody interested in growing their own vegetables should own, The Silver Spoon*, which has a section devoted just to turnip green recipes.

    The Silver Spoon is a 1,263 page cookbook recently translated into English. It’s the Joy of Cooking for Italians, except instead of tuna noodle casseroles and other American cooking abominations, the Silver Spoon will tell you what to do with a cardoon, a carp, or the aforementioned turnip greens among many other edibles. While we appreciate the crusty old Joy of Cooking’s advice on cooking raccoon, The Silver Spoon is so good that we feel like throwing out all the other cookbooks we have.

    But back to the greens. Turnip greens have massive quantities of vitamins A, C and K and a pleasant mild taste. The leaves have some barbs on them which disappear during cooking. In past years we have grown an Italian variety called Rapa da Foglia senza Testa or “rabe without a head”. A better name for it would be “turnips without the turnips”, as it’s a kind of turnip green. This year we’re growing turnips for Ms. Homegrown Revolution’s fermentation experiments and the greens have been a side-benefit.

    *Note this link will take you to our new online bookstore. Tacky? Perhaps. But we’re capitalists.

    Borlotto Bean Lingua di Fuoco

    One of our favorite vegetables, Borlotto Bean Lingua di Fuoco, is once again growing in our garden from seeds we saved from last year. We usually eat our Lingua di Fuoco (tongue of fire) beans young in the pod, but they can also be shelled and eaten fresh or dried. The handsome red speckling, which gives the bean its name, disappears when you cook them. The plant comes in both pole and bush versions.

    Borlotto beans are basically the Italian version of kidney beans, hailing originally from the New World. Italian folks traditionally use them in soups. We’re considering growing an edible wall of beans along the south side of our house this spring in order to see if we can grow enough to collect dried beans and make some soup. For cultivation and harvesting details for dry beans click on over to the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute.

    It may seem like we’re pimping for Seeds from Italy, but these beans are yet another success we’ve had with the Franchi’s companies seeds that Seeds from Italy imports. We just discovered the competition, Italian Seed and Tool, which imports the rival Bavicchi company’s seeds. We’d appreciate feedback from anyone who has ordered Bavicchi seeds.

    Cichorium intybus a.k.a. Italian Dandelion


    Our illegal parkway garden has got off to a slow start this season due to low seed germination rates. We’ve compensated with a trip to the Hollywood farmer’s market to pick up some six-packs of seedlings. One plant we made sure to get is Cichorium intybus, known in Italian as “cicoria” or chicory, but somehow, in the case of leaf chicory, mistranslated as “Italian dandelion,” probably because the leaves resemble the common dandelion weed, Taraxacum officinale (a relative which is also edible).

    Both Cichorium intybus and its weedy cousin share a powerfully bitter taste that took our supermarket weaned taste buds some time to get used to the first time we tasted this plant. Changing the cooking water a few times if you boil Italian dandelion is one way to deal with the bitterness, but we prefer to just throw it together with some fat in a frying pan, such as olive oil and/or pancetta. We also add some hot pepper flakes for a nice hot counter-punch. Italian dandelion makes a good companion to balsamic vinegar marinated pork or game (squirrels perhaps–they’ve been stealing our lemons!).

    The big taproot this perennial plant has means that it can bust through crappy soil. The bitter root can also be ground up to make a coffee substitute or flavor additive. Never having tried this we’re a bit sceptical, especially since it lacks caffeine, but it’s worth an attempt this coming year.

    Since we purchased seedlings we have no idea what cultivar we’re growing, but seeds are available from Seeds from Italy, which has an astonishing number of varieties.

    And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma

    The ducks of Petaluma Urban Homestead

    A big thanks to Suzanne and Paul of Petaluma Urban Homestead for giving us a tour of their bit of heaven on earth. Root Simple forgot to bring the camera so you’ll have to check out their blog to see what they are up to. They make a damn good hard cider by the way.

    We also had the privilege of meeting the inspiring Trathen Heckman of Daily Acts, publisher of the journal Ripples. If that wasn’t enough, Suzanne took us to an open house at the Center for Regenerative Design to see the wonders of permaculture applied to the breathtaking northern California landscape.

    We’re back and fired up to work on our own humble plot here in Los Angeles which is looking a little neglected after a busy fall. More soon . . .