Going to Seed

radish podsTidiness is a very pleasant thing inside a house. Outside, in a yard or garden, it’s not at all a good thing. I’m really tired of the cult of tidy.

We seem to be confused. We conflate our yards with our living rooms, the space beneath our shrubs for kitchen floors. Popular opinion seems to believe our flower and vegetable gardens should be maintained like trophy rooms, like curio cases.

Our mistake, of course, is thinking that everything is about us. That our yard, our garden, our little patch of land actually belongs to us and we have the right to maintain it exactly as we like. We might own it on paper, but we share it with hundreds, thousands, millions (if you want to get into soil biology) of other lives.

Of course, if we maintain our yards to exact standards of tidiness–say our yard consists of a lawn and some shrubs along the drive with the dirt beneath them blown clean, we probably are not supporting much life at all. We’ve put up the No Trespassing sign, and creatures listen.

front bed seedy 2It gets even more sparse if we spray herbicides and pesticides all over the place. All of the invisible life vanishes. Any creatures which visit are just passing through.

The land is eerily silent.

But life is waiting to come back. That is what is so amazing. It jumps back if given even half a chance. If you open the door just a crack.

All we have to do is sit back and relax.

Stop with the obsessive yard work.

Stop paying the yard crew.

Stop spraying chemicals around.

Just stop.

Leave the leaves. Let fallen leaves and pulled weeds stay on the land to protect and nourish the soil.

Let volunteers bloom.

Let your garden go to seed.

mustard seedyIf we live with fussy neighbors, or under the impression that our gardens should look like the ones in the magazines, we might work hard to keep our vegetable and flower gardens impeccable, starting seedlings in advance to replace aging plants so there’s never any sense of “decline” in the garden.

I’ve always let parts of our garden go to seed, but this year, more than ever, I’m attuned to it. I’m reveling in the beauty in it, and I’m understand the generosity of it down deep, on the soul level.

lettuce bloomingIn the past I struggled to leave the plants as long as I could stand it, knowing they were doing good in their later life cycle, but also feeling like my yellow, straggly garden made me look lazy or incompetent.

I was also acutely aware of the long gaps between harvests that would occur if I waited for plants to go to seed before replacing them. Now, I’ve given up all that anxiety, and I revel in this time.

The insects feast on the flowers which bloom on our lettuce, our arugula, our radishes, our mustard, our fennel. Predatory wasps hunt alongside lady bugs and diligent bees of all types.

argula flowerWe have more birds than ever in our yard, and they love our overgrown, browning beds, because of course they’re eating the seeds or the bugs on the ripening plants. They would not, however, allow me to take any pictures of them doing these things.

They love all the weedy places, the vacant lots and over grown side yards. Those places are full of flashing wings and trilling songs. It’s already a seed time of year here in LA on our fast moving calendar, and I’m watching the birds feast. I love watching the little finches balancing on thin, swaying plant stalks in the golden light of the afternoon. The world is full of moments of perfect, unconscious beauty like that.

Once the seeds are eaten, and the plants are brown and empty, I cut the stalks down at their base, but I don’t throw anything away. Everything stays in the yard, on or in the ground. The plant which fed us and the bee and the finch will now finish its work feeding the soil. Feeding the soil is its deepest work.

And–never worry!– some seed always manages to hit the ground despite all the competition, ensuring volunteers will come up next year, and feed us all again.

radish pods 2An aside:

One area where I have to admit that I am less than generous is in the matter of radish seed pods. These I don’t leave for the birds, because I like them so much.

Most of you gardeners are probably very familiar with radish seed pods. If you aren’t, they are the fat little pods that show up after a radish plant of any type goes to seed.

They taste like radishes, pretty much, sometimes they’re sweeter, sometimes they’re spicier. Radish pods are both a bonus crop and a fine consolation prize, because even if your radish roots end up puny or woody or otherwise disappointing, you can always eat the pods. They’re best fresh, picked a handful at a time as a snack or to put in a salad, but you can lactoferment or pickle them, too, using pretty much any pickle recipe you prefer.

Help Plant a Garden — and Help a Local Eagle Scout

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If you’re a local and have idle hands tomorrow, our friends at the Community Garden at Holy Nativity could use your help:

On Friday June 24, Eagle scout candidate Taylor Martin will hold a workday for his Eagle project. And Taylor needs a bit of help. Taylor’s project extends the Community Garden at Holy Nativity. His team has already removed a large area of lawn, and on Friday they’ll be planting six fruit trees. It will transform the entrance to the church.

Friday is supposed to be Taylor’s completion date, and there’s still a lot to do:

  • installing headerboard (9am)
  • composting the planting areas (morning)
  • planting trees, flowers, vegetables (afternoon)
  • assembling benches (all day)

It’s a fun chance to work with an (exuberant) team of young scouts and to help get another section of food gardens built.

Start time is 9am, and we’ll continue all day until it’s done. Bring your own garden gloves. If you’d like to help with assembling benches, bring your own toolbox. Although much of the project site is in the shade, we recommend sun hats / sun protection.

The Garden is at 6700 West 83rd in Westchester – Los Angeles 90045. Please RSVP if you can come.

If you can’t make it on Friday, the Environmental Change-Makers will hold a separate workday later this summer to install a meditative labyrinth that will be open to the general public. Taylor’s project creates an embracing space for this special addition to the garden.

The Root Simple Workshop

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In honor of the national Week of Making, and Adam Savage’s call to share our maker-spaces, I’m giving you a virtual tour of the Root Simple workshop. Take note new homeowners: if I could go back in time I’d have set up the workshop and organized my tools before we began the extensive remodeling we had to do when we moved in back in 1998.

Our house is on a small hill and the garage/workshop is at street level. The garage is a partially buried concrete bunker built in 1920 and sized for two Model-Ts. We had to install a steel girder to stabilize the structure and a pitched roof and siding to waterproof our bunker. You can see the garage at the very beginning of the drone flyover that Steve Rowell shot for us. Our chariot, a Honda Fit, lives in one half of the garage. It’s hard to believe that this tiny subcompact car is 30 inches longer than a Model-T.

In the other half of the garage is my workshop. Being somewhat of an extrovert, the main thing I like about the workshop is that it sits right on the sidewalk so I get to interact with the neighbors while I work.

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For my workbench, I picked up a set of really cheap used cabinets at my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore and painted them with a homemade chalkboard paint. I topped the cabinets with some cheap pine butcher board from the Home Despot. The recipe I used for the chalkboard paint is:

1 cup latex paint
1 tablespoon cool water
2 tablespoons unsanded grout

You can use any color of latex paint that you like. The chalkboard paint allows me to label all the drawers and cabinets in the garage. Naturally, there is pegboard on every spare wall to hang all the random tools I need regular access to. Kelly came up with the striking bright orange/white/black color scheme.

Our friend Lee Conger noticed the labeling on these cabinets that point to our overly eclectic interests:

IMG_1187It’s like our heads need to be KonMaried! And fencing purists will note that the label should be “epee parts” not “swords.”

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Our three bikes and cycling accoutrements are kept locked to a pole. Always lock your bikes, kids, even when they are in the garage!

The one last touch I want to add to the workshop is a small and comfortable “thoughtstyling” chair along with a rolling whiskey cart. Half of “making” is philosophizing, after all.

The Most Attractive Cargo Bike in the World

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While doing an image search about home coffee roasting (I’ll post on that later this week), I stumbled across what I think is the most handsome cargo bike I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the delivery bikes for the Portland based (of course) Trailhead Coffee Roasters. They also seem to have an equally attractive mobile brew bike that you can rent out for events.

Though not as pretty, I’m still very happy with my Xtracycle cargo bike and use it for hardware store runs and to avoid the fistfights that break out over parking at our local Trader Joes.

Do you have a cargo bike? If so, what kind?

Coffee Roasting Demo at Summer Nights in the Garden July 8

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The Los Angeles County Natural History Museum puts on a fun and free series every summer called Summer Nights in the Garden. It’s a fun mix of hands-on science demos, crafts, food trucks, music and cocktails in the museum’s beautiful garden. We’ve been a part of it each year and we’re returning on July 8th from 5-9 p.m. to do a home coffee roasting demo.

Of all the crazy home ec things we do around the Root Simple compound, coffee roasting is one of the simplest and most rewarding. I can’t believe that more people don’t do it. We’re going to show you how to roast your own coffee with a Whirley-Pop stove-top popcorn maker. Sweet Maria’s Home Coffee Roasting has generously donated the green beans we’ll be using. We’ll be repeating the workshop 6 times throughout the evening. There is a separate, free reservation system for the workshops that you can sign up for once you are on site. But show up early as the workshops fill up quickly.

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Black Rock Observatory.

If the coffee roasting demo is not enough to get you off the couch, there will also be a macrame workshop with Elsie Goodwin of Reform Fibers (this really takes me back to my 1970s childhood) and stargazing with the Desert Wizards of Mars who run an astronomy camp at burning man and who have created some amazing portable observatory buildings.

Music will be provided by DJ Aaron Byrd and Boom Boom Boom.

The event is free but you need to RSVP and show up early.