Skunks, are they edible?

Skunk issues in the garden this winter have led to murderous thoughts. Those thoughts, in turn, caused an intemperate Google search which turned up the following gem from the March 1959 issue of Boy’s Life:

Incidentally, skunks are edible. The Indians ate skunk and so has many a trapper. I tried it, rolling pieces of cleanly-skinned carcass in flour and browning and steaming them in a skillet. The meat is light in color and well flavored. It is better than raccoon or opossum, but a skunk is bony and not as well padded with meat as a rabbit.

Not that I’m considering this yet. Somehow the thought of a locally sourced Los Angeles skunk is particularly unappetizing. And a reader mentioned that they kept a skunk as a pet. But I am curious to hear if any of you have tried skunk, raccoon or possum. Will we see any of these locally harvested meats on the menus of hip local gastropubs?

Warning: This Blog is Based in a Mediterranean Climate

A fresco from Pompeii depicting many familiar plants.

I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time: write up a sort of this-blog-is-in-a-Mediterranean-climate disclaimer. There’s a certain amount of awkwardness when discussing vegetable gardening in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months. I imagine that most of the readers of this blog are either taking some time off from gardening or gardening under a hoop house. But for us here in Southern California it’s the prime agricultural season, when rain falls and the hills are green. It’s my favorite time of year. But I imagine most of you are puzzled by discussions of picking veggies in the middle of January. As puzzled as I would be about topics like bursting pipes and hoop houses.

It’s my hope that you can learn from our successes and mistakes during your winter months and apply ideas when your garden warms up. But I’m also happy to get comments from gardeners in other Mediterranean climates around the world such as South Africa. There is a lack of information about Mediterranean edible gardening in English and without that information, growing here can be frustrating. Most gardening books, websites and the info on the backs of seed packages are completely useless here. For an author, it’s not economical to write Mediterranean gardening books since the market is so small–as a percentage of the earth’s surface this climate is exceedingly rare.

Paradoxically, it’s a culturally significant climate. The foundational literature of the west–ancient classical texts and the bible–are full of references to plants such as figs, olives, pomegranates,  and grapes. We have all of those plants in our front yard.

There’s also one big misconception about Los Angeles: that it’s a desert. Mediterranean climates such as ours get twice as much rainfall as do deserts. But like deserts, we have to be frugal when it comes to water. All the rain we get comes at one time. Between the late spring and early fall there is no rain at all. Those of us who live here ought to concentrate on plants adapted to long dry periods.

And because of our climate I have a house rule at Root Simple about not talking about the weather on our blog. Why? Because it’s really, really boring. Nothing ever happens. Most of the time it’s sunny. Around this time of year it rains occasionally. In June it’s kinda cloudy. That’s all there is to say.

For those of you who live here in Southern Calfiornia I’ve found a few good sources for edible gardening information:

The Digitalseed Vegetable Planting Calendar and the Digitalseed Flower Planting Calendar


The New Western Garden Book: The Ultimate Gardening Guide (Sunset Western Garden Book)

Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening (3rd Edition): Month by Month

And for those of you who live where it regularly freezes and snows, you’ll be amused to hear that in all of my years of gardening the first time that I’ve ever had plants get serious frost damage was early Tuesday night (it does occasionally dip just below freezing in the LA basin). And, I promise, that’s the last time I’ll discuss the weather.

Thankfully I’m married to a gifted writer who grew up in Colorado. When it came time to write our books she was able to recall that phenomenon called “snow.”

On why our vegetable garden is such a disaster this year . . .

One of the front beds–soil problems, I think, are causing the gap in the middle of the bed.

I’m having my annual gardening-caused mental meltdown. When it comes to vegetables this winter (the best time to grow them here in Los Angeles) if it could go wrong it did. Vegetables are needy, fussy plants and we’ve not had much luck with them recently. So I thought I would list the factors, natural and human that went into this year’s lackluster veggie garden in the hopes of preventing future bouts of veggie neurosis.

The aesthetic disaster that is the new keyhole bed. And let’s not even talk about the skunks.

Acts of Nature

  • Bad weather—a freakishly hot fall planting season–lost the first round of seedlings despite using shade cloth.
  • Soil issues–clearly time to do a soil test in my raised beds or just bite the bullet and get some new soil. Something is out of balance.
  • Mammals–I’ve never had so many midnight skunk raids. Someone tell me if skunks are edible.

Looking better than last year, but the backyard still needs some design help.

Oh, the humanity

  • Fatigue and frustration–the double knockout punch of skunks and the hot weather left me on the ropes with little enthusiasm for ongoing gardening maintenance.
  • Ego–forgetting that urban homesteading is not about self-sufficiency—to chase self-sufficiency is a fool’s errand. I should be happy just to have a few good salads and be thankful that I can buy good vegetables at a local farmer’s market. I don’t think self-sufficiency is a good goal even on a large piece of land. We humans are meant  to work together, hang out in groups and share goods and knowledge. I’ve got some talented vegetable growing neighbors. Perhaps it’s time we put our heads together and help each other garden. We’ve talked about it in the past, but somehow never got around to it.
  • Lack of engagement with the garden. For me this is the most critical issue and I think it is related to dissatisfaction with the design of the garden, particularly the backyard. I don’t want to hang out in the backyard because it just reminds me of how much work I’ve got to do. This becomes a vicious cycle. I then don’t put in enough work to get plants going. Time to come up with some new design ideas–perhaps the neighbors can help here to.

So how are things shaping up in your gardens? If it’s winter where you are, what are your plans for the coming year?

Hay Hooks–The New Hipster Accessory?

With so many city chickens I predict that hay hooks will become just as indispensable to the urban hipster as is the fixed gear bicycle. After years of hauling staw bales up the 30 steps to our house (to use as bedding for the chickens) I just broke down and bought a pair.

A vaquero at the feed store intervened with a neat tip when he saw me struggling to use my new hay hooks to load some bales into a friend’s truck. Here’s what he showed me. Note the red arrow in the photo above. Odds are with new hooks that this distance needs to be shortened a bit. My hay hooks were much easier to use after the feed store guy bent them using one of the anchor points in the truck bed.

In addition to the steps, my other reason for owning hay hooks is that I have to navigate bales down a narrow side yard. Hay hooks make the maneuver above a lot less awkward.

Now when will we see Bianchi come out with the hay hook equivalent of the Pista?

Garden Design: Quantity vs. Quality

There’s an old saw, probably apocryphal, about a ceramics teacher who divided her class in two, made one half spin as many pots as possible while the other struggled to create one perfect pot. The students who were graded by quantity rather than quality made the best pots. I’ve noticed, from the years I used to be in the art world, that he most talented creative folks I’ve met crank out lots of material.

So how do we apply the quantity over quality principle to laying out a garden–especially since you often get only one chance a year to get it right? Above you see some of Kelly’s ideas for the parkway garden we planted in the fall. I think it is at this first point in the process–when you’re just sketching out ideas–when it’s best to generate as many drawings a possible, stick them on a wall and see which ones pop out. I think Kelly made more than the three drawings we saved, but we certainly could have done more–I’d say 20 minimum.

Part of what we learn by focusing on quantity is about making mistakes and learning from them. But I think there’s more to it than that. A gifted high school English teacher of mined likened our creativity to a tank of water. Sometimes you have to drain off the not so great ideas at the top in order to get to the good stuff that lies deep in our unconscious. Letting go of stifling perfectionism also forces us to try out ideas that might not have come to us otherwise.

I wish you all a quantitative 2013. Best of luck with your gardens!