Know Maintanance

I have a new favorite gardening blog, Grounded Design by landscape architect Thomas Rainer. I especially enjoyed his provocative post, Why I Don’t Believe in Low Maintenance Landscapes:

The low maintenance dogma reveals something about our culture: we don’t know how to BE in our landscapes. When someone asks me for “low maintenance,” what I hear is: “I don’t want to deal with this landscape.” Maintenance is nothing more than gardening, a personal investment into the landscape. I’ve long said that gardening is a relationship with a piece of ground. That relationship is the single most rewarding aspect of gardening. If the act of gardening is a relationship, then low maintenance gardening is code for “let’s just be friends.” Or “I’m just not that into you.” Low maintenance is permission to disengage, pull away, and let go. When we do that, our landscapes suffer. And so do we.

Rainer on Gardening in Small Spaces
I found out about Rainer via Garden Rant, who interviewed Rainer on the topic of small garden ideas. As we struggle with some design mistakes we made last fall, Rainer’s advice really rang true:

Don’t bring a plant into that garden unless it has a striking form (spiky, billowing, vertical spire), strong foliage color (blues/golds/purples, etc), or a long season of blooms (2 month minimum).

We had to redo our yard after last year’s lead soil reports (more on that in another post), and the design of our own space is a frequent source of marital disagreements. After reading Rainer’s advice together we vowed, “plant drama, not couple drama.” Looking forward to reading more from this gifted designer and writer.

Five Gallon Ideas: A Blog Devoted to the Five Gallon Bucket

I’ve got a new favorite blog: Five Gallon Ideas which is, as you might have guessed, devoted to what to do with five gallon buckets. Incidentally, my favorite place to find five gallon buckets is behind bad bakeries–the sort that go through buckets of crappy frosting. My favorite use for five gallon buckets? Self Irrigating Pots, of course!

Let us know where you scavenge five gallon buckets and what you like to do with them.

The Ecology Center of San Juan Capistrano

Kelly and I had the privilege of doing a short talk this weekend at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. If you’re interested in Southern California food forestry, greywater, chickens, you name it, this is the place to visit. They have an amazing garden, classes and a well curated gift store. When people ask us how to design garden and house systems in SoCal, we’re going to send them to the Ecology Center.

Home Food Preservation Resources

I’m honored to have been included in this year’s class of the Los Angeles Master Food Preservers, a program offered by our local extension service to train volunteers to teach food preservation in under-served communities. I thought I would share the textbook resources from the class as they are an excellent set of reference books for your homesteading library. And many are available for free online. Like all information from the extension service system, they are research based.

First off is So Easy to Preserve a large collection of recipes, everything from canning to dehydrating, all carefully tested and in line with current U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety recommendations. The book is put out by the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension.

We also will be using the Complete Guide to Home Canning, put out by the USDA and available for free online. Lastly, there’s the classic Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, a reliable introduction to the subject.

In addition to covering food safety issues, I like these carefully researched food preservation guides for their reliability. If I’m going to commit the time to doing a food preservation project I like a reasonable chance of success. While we learn from our mistakes, I’d prefer to have a few more jellies and a few less accidental “syrups”.

You can connect with the Los Angeles Master Food Preservers on Facebook and via their blog.

Reasons and Resources for Growing Your Own Grains at Home

The world’s smallest patch of Sonora wheat

Reasons to grow grain
Why grow some of your own grain? I can think of a bunch of reasons:

  • You can plant unusual varieties
  • The large amount of biomass for your compost pile
  • Forage for livestock
  • Easy to grow and maintain
  • Part of a rotational strategy for maintaining healthy, disease free soil
  • Know that your grain is not contaminated with pesticides

    How to grow grain 
    Growing grain is pretty much the same as growing a lawn (most grains are grasses, after all). The main problem, as with a lawn, is dealing with weeds. I can weed by hand the ridiculously small Sonora wheat patch I planted in January. When dealing with a bigger piece of land, the traditional, organic approach is to grow some sort of weed choking, nitrogen fixing plant such as cowpeas the season before planting grain. In Southern California, wheat is planted in January, as far as I can tell. In most other places it is planted in the fall.

    I looked through a couple of books for growing grain at home and the best I could find is Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers by Gene Logsdon, originally published in 1977 but recently updated and re-released. Logsdon covers the full spectrum of grains as well as legumes. Included are instructions for harvesting, threshing and winnowing by hand. Logsdon is an entertaining and engaging writer who calls small backyard grain fields “pancake patches”. My pancake patch will probably yield exactly one pancake, but I’m looking forward to the result. Logsdon was my guide.

    How to winnow and thresh by hand
    At a Grow Biointensive workshop in Willits last year they taught us how to thresh and winnow wheat with just hardware cloth and an electric fan:

    Using your feet you rub the seed heads against a piece of 1/2 inch hardware cloth attached to a board. You then lift off the hardware cloth and sweep the grain into a kitchen trash can.

    Then you dump the grain in front of a fan to separate the wheat from the chaff. Several passes are necessary.

    An optional last step is to pass the grain through special seed cleaning screens. It works great, but the screens are expensive.The alternative is more passes in front of the fan. I’ve done this process with flax and it worked just fine.

    If you’ve grown grain tell us how it went by leaving a comment!

    On Monday the final post of Root Simple’s grain week in which we will tackle why eating grains and other carbohydrates are so unpopular in the past decade.