Borage (Borago officinalis)

Borage, just about to bloom. Borage is an ugly sounding name for a beautiful and useful plant. The moniker is probably a corruption of the Andalusian Arabic abu buraq or “father of sweat”, a reference to it’s diaphoretic qualities1. Both the leaves and the blue flowers (sometimes white flowers) are edible and have a refreshing cucumber like taste. Borage is an annual herb that we plant in the late fall here in Los Angeles for...

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Real Estate Bubble Bananas

There’s a house in our neighborhood that’s been for sale for over a year. Two months ago the for sale signs disappeared, junk mail littered the front porch and the mow and blow guys stopped showing up, leaving the lawn to go wild. A busted sprinkler head creates a nightly fountain as the houses’ infrastructure lapses into a timer operated zombification. We knew the nice young family that used to live here and I hope that they w...

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Thyrsus: the new hipster accessory

Ancient thyrsus on left, modern hipster version on right. The traveling exhibition Pompeii and the Roman Villa, currently at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has a few nice tchotchkes worth considering for those of us attempting to garden in Mediterranean places. One of the centerpieces of the show, a large fresco depicting a garden, includes many familiar plants: chamomile, oleander (who knew oleander existed before freeways!), strawberr...

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Rubber Sidewalks Rescue Trees

Homegrown Neighbor here: I love trees and all of the things they do for us. They shade us, feed us, house us. Trees are something we just need more of here in Southern California. I used to work at an urban forestry non-profit, TreePeople. So I am familiar with the challenges of the tree/sidewalk interface. I have fielded calls from people frantically trying to save trees that are being ripped out because they are lifting the sidewalk. I hav...

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Row Cover as an Insect Barrier

It ain’t pretty but it works. As one would expect, cabbage leaf worms love cabbage and nearly every other member of the brassica species.  Which  is why I’ve become a real fan of row cover material as an insect barrier. The perp in question. It rarely freezes here so I use the thinnest row cover possible, specifically a product called Agribon-15. If you live in a cooler climate and want to use row cover for frost pr...

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The Homegrown Mailbox: How and Where Do I Get My Soil Tested?

When you write a book you get questions. In our case, due to the sinking economy in California, they are delivered by Kevin Costner on horseback rather than by email or regular federal postal trucks. No problem, we like questions. A caveat here: like Nancy Klehm, the Green Roof Growers and Black Swan author Nassim Taleb, we prefer the term “practitioner” to describe what we do as opposed to “expert”. We favor experience o...

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Gardening in an Apartment Windowsill

Photo courtesy of Helen Kim Without exaggeration, this is the most amazing garden I have ever seen. It’s easy if you’re the king of France to create the gardens of Versailles, but a much greater achievement to bring nature’s abundance to an apartment windowsill in Los Angeles. It’s the handiwork of a talented photographer named Helen Kim who, in this tiny space, grows cucumber, basil, lemon verbena, alfalfa sprou...

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Plymouth Rock Monthly

What magazine had 40,000 subscribers in 1920? Answer: the Plymouth Rock Monthly, a periodical devoted to our favorite chicken breed. We have two “production” Barred Plymouth Rocks in our small flock of four hens, and we’ve found them to be productive, friendly and, with their striped plumage, an attractive sight in our garden. While the internet is an amazing resource for the urban homesteader, there are a few holes in this ele...

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Problems Part I

The road to urban homesteading ain’t smooth and involves more than a few potholes along the way. Some of those potholes will swallow a bike tire while others are big enough for a Hummer. But with persistence it becomes easier to deal with the occasional bump, lessons can be learned and future mistakes avoided. With the popularity of our earlier blunders post, I’d like to begin regularly sharing problems as they develop. Here’s...

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