Question for Folks in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle

Our new book will be coming out in the spring, and we’re thinking about doing a small book tour up the west coast this May. Stodgy old-fashioned book signings make us miserable–we much prefer to be interactive. We prefer to do talks, panels, workshops and demos. We really like meeting new people and seeing what they’re up to. For this reason, we’d love to leave the beaten track for this book tour. We’re looking to hook up with like-minded venues/organizations/groups in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

If you have any suggestions, let us know. We’re pretty sure our publisher will set up a gig for us at the esteemed Powell’s. Beyond that, though…we’d welcome any ideas.

ETA: You can make suggestions here in the comments or send us an email: [email protected]

Advances in Gardening Series: The Perennial Herb Bed, Patience and Plant Spacing and Breaking Your Own Rules

No, this is not a pile of weeds. Someday it’s going to look good.


Mrs. Homegrown here:

One of the big lessons of gardening is patience. One way gardening patience is expressed is in planting perennials: buying leeetle teeny plants and planting them vast distances apart and then waiting with your hands politely folded until they grow to full size. A very common landscaping mistake is to go out and buy a bunch of gallon-sized landscape plants and plant them close together, just so the yard looks good right away. This practice has probably worsened with all those “overnight transformation” type TV shows.

Two things are questionable about this scenario. First, it makes both financial and horticultural sense to plant young, small plants. Small plants are cheaper, they catch up with the gallon-sized perennials in no time at all, and will probably be healthier in the long run.

The second is a question of spacing. Perennial plants used in landscaping tend to be bushy things, plants which will need some room when they grow up. Too often they don’t get the space they need and end up looking pathetically smushed together within a couple of years. They can’t express their natural shape, and different plants end up intertwined and melded together like conjoined twins, then forcibly sculpted to size in odd box and muffin shapes.

In short, when planting perennials, you have to place them in reference to their full size. And that size always sounds impossibly big, but in fact, it is is true.

My perennial herb bed above does not follow this advice on conservative spacing. You can’t see from the picture, but this area (which is about 9′ x 6′) is planted with a rose geranium, culinary sage, white sage, yarrow, rosemary, lavender, aloe, lots of thyme and a sick native rose which is probably not going to make it. The spacing between the plants is not quite what it should be. Erik looks at it and shakes his head and does that thing with his mouth which means his lordship does not approve. But I’m holding my ground on this one. This is a working herb garden, not a perennial border. I wedged more plants in there than I should have because I fully intend to be harvesting from each of the plants regularly. If I fail to do that, yes, the bed will look too tight.

Right now, crowding ia the last of my problems. Even if the plants aren’t quite far enough from each other, they are still small, and there is a heck of a lot of bare dirt between them. Ordinarily I’d recommend to anyone in a similar position to fill in all that empty space with a thick layer of mulch. It represses the weeds, saves water, and makes the area look nice. Again, though, I’m not following my own advice.

See, I feel bad about our recent leveling of the yard. Our bug balance (predator bugs vs. problem bugs), had been really nice for the past few years, but now I fear it’s going to be all wonky. Helllllooo aphids! To counterbalance that, I want as many insect friendly plants going as possible in our yard this year. So instead of mulching, the space between the perennials is seeded with all sorts of random stuff. Borage and California poppy and nasturtium are predominant right now, but that will change as the year progresses.

The little perennial herbs are in danger of getting lost under all those boisterous feral flowers. I’ll have to make sure they don’t get smothered. In the meanwhile, nothing is big yet, which means the weeds are popping up like crazy. I hate weeding. Usually I do everything in power to arrange things so I have no weeds. In this case, though, I’m weeding because I want my flowers. And you know, I don’t mind it so much because I know it’s for a cause.

Advances in Gardening Series: A Progress Report

Yes, you’ve seen this before. But Erik looks so bad ass with his sledgehammer, I just had to put it up again.

Some of you may remember that back in November we ripped out most of our back yard, redesigning the layout to maximize our growing space, and accommodate interests we have now that we didn’t have when we put in the original plantings.

We’ve learned from this experience that you should never be afraid to change your garden. Stuff grows back. Too often we get in a rut and are unable to see the potential of our own familiar spaces. Beyond that, we get attached to plants, even if they’re doing very little for us or the yard, i.e. : “But that shrub has always been there!” I don’t know if we’re even attached to the plant itself, but rather to the idea of permanence.

Anyway, our yard looked like it had been bombed flat for a couple of months, but it’s starting to green up now, so I thought I’d share a few progress pictures.

One of the features I wanted in the new yard was a rotating bed to produce medicinal herbs and flowers, lots of them, enough to dry and store in bulk. I tore out my old, tangled herb bed and laid out what I call The Fan of Pharmacy.  Here’s the area in November, with drip installed and some tiny seedlings in place. Chaos reigns in the background:

Now below  you can see a new pic of the fan from a similar angle. The plants in this rotation are calendula, chamomile and poppy. The calendula and chamomile are just starting to bud and flower. In the left foreground you can see The Trough of Garlic ™ and to the right, The Germinator ™, both of which are also part of the redesign. The birdbath has always been part of our yard, but it used to sit somewhere else. In the background you can make out The Screens of Discretion (tm) and two raised vegetable beds. Right now they’re mostly full of salad stuff. That’s the chicken coop in the rear left. In the dead center is what I call The Hippie Heart (and yes, that’s tm’d too.). I’ll come back to the heart:

I like the view better from the other direction. In the center foreground you can see twig with a label tied to it. That’s one of our brand new fruit trees.:

This below is a pretty uninspired picture of The Hippie Heart, a raised bed which is about 5 feet across, made by simply digging up and mounding earth–and adding some compost and other stuff. This bed came about because we had an open space in the center of our yard, and heaven forbid we have any unused space in our yard!:
The original idea was that we’d just mound up a raised circle, and allow natural pathways to evolve around it, sort of like a roundabout in the center of the yard. But a circle didn’t really fit the space. What fit was sort of bean shaped. While working on it, I realized the shape was closer to a heart than a bean. Now, we’re cynical big city types, and aren’t likely to put large valentines in our yard, but the thing wanted to be a heart and I saw no way to stop it. Besides, I like having a heart in our yard that looks up at the constant helicopter traffic.
I’ve deemed this bed as my experimental work space. I’m curious about growing plants out of things I have in my cupboard: seeds, spices, etc.  The center of the heart is planted with bulk bin flax. The edges are planted with lentils.  Since I have no idea about the origins of the seed, I’m not sure what it will produce, but it’s fun to find out. In the summer, I’m going to switch it out for sesame and cumin and chickpeas.
Next up in Advances in Gardening, what happened to the rest of the herbs.

So I had this dream

Here I am, with the soon-to-be-forgotten worms and a fantastic class of Waldorf kids

Mrs. Homegrown here:

So last night I had this dream that I was sitting at a kitchen table with someone (don’t know who it was) and I noticed something that looked like a dried out worm coiled on the edge of one of the dishes. I pointed it out to this other person, and she reached out and crushed it with her fingertip. It crumbled to pieces on the tabletop. I laughed and said, “I sure hope that’s not one of my worms!” She laughed, too, and mischievously blew the crumbs in my direction.

And thus does one’s subconscious work. I woke with a start, remembering that, after showing off my worms to class of visiting school kids, I’d left the bin out on the back porch for a night, and day, and half of another night. Usually the worms live in the kitchen. I jumped out of bed and brought them back in.

The problem with worms is that they’re so darn quiet.

The worms are fine. They’re tough, and our weather is mild. But I was a little worried about them  because they are house-worms, acclimated to room temperature, and I’d left them out in the open, on concrete, and in a shallow bin.

See, worms can take care of themselves just fine if given the room and resources they need to cool themselves down, warm themselves up, and regulate their moisture. However, when they’re in a shallow little bin, they just don’t have much latitude for adjustment. It’s our responsibility as worm keepers to regulate their environment.

Luckily for us and our forgotten worms, even though it was unseasonably warm yesterday,  the sun is low on the horizon, so our back porch wasn’t baking in the western sun, like it does most of the year. Otherwise, the worms, being unable to hide deep in the soil, might have steam cooked in the bin during that long, forgotten day. 

Of course, worms can be kept outdoors in all but the most extreme temperatures, but their bins need to be sited correctly–kept in nice shady spots, protected from the rain, and elevated from cold-conducting cement surfaces. (Maybe some of you folks who live in snow country could chime in on what you do with your worms when it’s freezing out?)


Bare Root Fruit Tree Season is Here!

Yet another Internet “un-boxing.” This time fruit trees.

Our bare root fruit tree order just arrived from Bay Laurel Nursery. We ordered:

  • Tropic Snow Peach on Nemaguard rootstock
  • Panamint Nectarine on Citation rootstock
  • CoffeeCake (Nishimura Wase) Persimmon
  • Saijo Persimmon (pollinator for CoffeeCake)
  • Flavor Finale Pluot on Myrobalan 29C rootstock
  • Santa Rosa Plum on Citation rootstock (pollinator for the Flavor Finale Pluot)
  • Flavor Delight Aprium on Citation rootstock

The plan is to follow the Dave Wilson nursery’s backyard orchard culture guidelines which we blogged about in detail here. In short, you plant trees close together and prune the hell out of them to keep them small and manageable. We also used Dave Wilson’s handy fruit and nut harvest date chart to, as much as possible, assure that we have some kind of fruit ready to eat during most of the year. All of the varieties we chose have low chill hour requirements since we live in USDA zone 10.

No Caffeine, No Migraines

Image courtesy of I Can Haz Cheezburger



Mrs. Homegrown here:

A while back I posted about my coffee addiction and search for coffee alternatives. Again, thank you so much for all of your suggestions–I’ve enjoyed them.

As nothing is more tedious than listening to other people rattle on about their health concerns, I’m going to try not to belabor this post. All I have is a simple message, and that is if you are a chronic migraine sufferer, you may want to consider cutting caffeine from your daily diet.

Of course this is hard to do, as most migraineurs live in an intimate tango with caffeine. All I have to say is that I’ve had migraines all my life, and they were becoming more frequent. My first impulse was to attribute them to other causes, but my gut told me to try caffeine. I tapered off caffeine over the course of a month, then went totally clean for a couple of weeks, after which I assumed I was “clean.” (That’s when I wrote that last post–in retrospect I’m amused by its cheery outlook. I was about to get slammed with true withdrawal)

You see, the headaches did not stop. They actually got worse. I wondered if my theory was wrong. And, of course, I really wanted caffeine whenever my head started hurting. That craving told me perhaps I was still in withdrawal. So I persevered, for perhaps two months of total abstinence and complete misery, and then the headaches stopped. Just stopped. It was like magic.

The lesson here is that it takes a long time for your body to adjust to the lack of caffeine, so you’ve got to be patient.

Since then, I’ve allowed a little caffeine back in my life. It seems important for me to not take it in the morning, because that’s where the habit is most strong, but I will have green tea or iced tea or decaf in the afternoon sometimes, and I get away with it. However, it is a slippery slope. While traveling this Christmas I got cocky and started playing with fire–drinking the straight java–and I ended up with my first migraine in a long time. That just served to confirm my theory. Overall, I’d say my migraines have been reduced by 80 or 90 percent.

Everyone is different, and migraines are a complex phenomena. This may not work for you, but it has worked well for me, so I just had to put it out there. As much as I loved my coffee, it wasn’t worth the pain.

Poo Salon and Urban Forage Classes with Nancy Klehm

Our good friend Nancy Klehm is coming to town for a visit. We’ve invited her to be a guest lecturer at our “Academy of Home Economics” and she’s agreed to teach a couple of classes. If you live in the LA area, this is a chance not to be missed.

First, who is Nancy?

Nancy Klehm is a radical ecologist, designer, urban forager, grower and teacher. Her solo and collaborative work focuses on creating participatory social ecologies in response to a direct experience of a place. She grows and forages much of her own food in a densely urban area. She actively composts food, landscape and human waste. She only uses a flush toilet when no other option is available. She designed and managed a large scale, closed-loop vermicompost project at a downtown homeless shelter where cafeteria food waste becomes 4 tons of worm castings a year which in turn is used as the soil that grows food to return to the cafeteria. 

More information on Nancy can be found at her website, here: http://www.spontaneousvegetation.net/

Class #1:

Poo Salon
Friday, February 18th, 2011
7-9pm, Echo Park, $15

Have you heard about the concept of humanure composting? It’s the practice of composting human waste. It’s practical, easy, green as can be, and totally off the grid. Better still, all the cool people are doing it. Whether you’re interested in a viable emergency toilet, dream of living off the grid or are considering a revolutionary urban lifestyle, you’ll want to know these techniques. Nancy, a world class humanure expert, describes this class as part philosophical discussion, part problem solving session, part introduction to the technology of composting.
• Foraged snacks provided. BYOB to share.

SOLD OUT. But you can put yourself on a waiting list for a possible second session by sending an email with “Poo Salon waiting list” in the subject line to: [email protected]

Class #2

Urbanforage with Nancy Klehm (aka Weedeater)
Sunday, February 27th
2-4:30 pm, Echo Park, $25

Learn about the plants that share this city with us!

Urbanforage is an informally guided walk through the spontaneous and cultivated vegetation of the urbanscape. Along the walk, we learn to identify plants, hear their botanical histories and stories of their use by cultural use by animals and humans and share antidotes of specific experiences with these plants.

This walk will start with sharing an herbal beverage and end with a simple herbal food shared over discussion of the experiences and questions generated by the walk.

SOLD OUT. But you can put yourself on a waiting list for a possible second session by sending an email with “forage waiting list” in the subject line to: [email protected]

Los Angeles Fruit Tree Pruning Workshops

Homegrown Neighbor here:

Growing fruit trees has obvious rewards. You can eat the fruit at its peak, straight off of the tree, full of flavor, aromatic and juicy. And the sight of an apple, peach or other deciduous tree in bloom is an ephemeral yet breathtakingly beautiful sight. But many of these trees will not bear good fruit without proper pruning. Good pruning encourages stronger limbs able to hold heavy fruits, prevents limb breakage, improves air circulation and light penetration and overall makes for a more attractive tree. Improper pruning or sheer neglect can mean weak, spindly limbs, a chaotic looking, ugly tree and puny fruits.

But how do you know what to cut? I’ll be teaching two workshops this weekend for the locals. The first is this Saturday, January 15th at The Learning Garden in Venice. The workshop will run from 11 am-12:30 pm and there is a suggested donation of $25. The Learning Garden is at the southeast corner of Walgrove Avenue and Venice Blvd.

Then on Sunday, the 16th at Milagro Allegro Community Garden in Highland Park at 1pm as part of their ‘Organic Sundays’ series I’m teaching another one.

And for those of you who aren’t local, the Homegrown Evolution team is going to work on some web based stuff for you. I’m going to teach Mr. Homegrown how to prune (in exchange for help baking bread, which I’m terrible at) and we will take photos for a blog post explaining the basics of fruit tree pruning.

Help save our oaks

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Sometimes I hate this city. And county. Tonight I learned two things: the first, that the city thinks it would be a great idea to create a parking area for idling buses in the center of one of our most vibrant pedestrian zones; the second, that the county plans to allow the Dept. of Water and Power County Department of Public Works to level a gorgeous oak grove this Wednesday, Jan. 12th to make a dumping area for flood debris. The first is just silly, the second is tragic. We’ve destroyed so much of our native landscape that what remains is incredibly valuable and irreplaceable. The thought of leveling 100 year old oaks for such a wasteful, temporary use makes me want to cry.

If you’d like to help, consider the following:

–It’s late notice, but there’s a protest tomorrow: 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 11th at 500 West Temple in Los Angeles. 

–Sign a petition

–Send a message to 5th District Supervisor Michael Antonovich, and while you’re at it drop a note to the whole LA County Board of Supervisors.

–Get updates on this situation from our friends at LA Creek Freak or in Facebook.

Thanks for your help.

The Great Cellphone Debate

The one that worked–with bail bond ad!

Kelly and I share a cellphone, and I’m always trying to think of ways to ditch it, if just to have one less bill every month. I often deliberately leave it at home when out of the house. I hate being interrupted by it and I dislike the social awkwardness of public phone conversations. Not that many people call our cellphone anyways as we don’t give out the phone number much. When I need to text someone (them young folks!) I use my laptop and Google Voice.

Yesterday, on a bike errand sans cellphone, I found myself in a situation where I needed to call home to get some information. Five payphones later, I finally found one that worked. Payphones have been in decline for years, of course, with the advent of cellphone service. Kind of a shame since I wonder if cellphone networks will work in an emergency. And what about people too poor to afford a cellphone?

Now, I don’t want this to turn into a anti-technology rant. I recognize that many people have to carry cellphones because of job and/or family obligations. And they certainly are convenient when it comes to things like finding someone at an airport, not to mention all the features of those smart phones (our phone ain’t “smart,” so others must think of me as crazy when I’m surprised at what you can do with one of those iPhone thingies).

But I wonder if we need a time out to consider the unintended consequences of cellphones. Are cellphones creating a generation of less independent children, always tethered to parents and civilization? Is all that RF radiation good for us? Then there’s the Miss Manners questions: all that texting at the dinner table, at parties, at school, in houses of worship.

At the same time I’m intrigued with developing some of the how-to content of this blog into a phone-friendly format. It’s not like cellphones are going to go away. Maybe it’s better to work with the technology.

Leave some comments! How do you all negotiate cellphone usage with a non-consumerist lifestyle? What positive things come from cellphones? If you’re cellphone free, why and how do you manage?