Getting Ourselves Back to the Garden

Image: Environmental Changemakers

Our cities and suburbs abound in underused, wasted space. What if we transformed those empty, never used lawns and parking lots into gardens and community spaces? This is exactly what the Environmental Changemakers did in collaboration with Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Westchester, a suburb of Los Angeles near the airport.

This past weekend a 10th anniversary party was held to celebrate the collaboration and recognize the leaders of the two organizations, Joanne Poyourow, founder of Environmental Changemakers (and a guest on episode 33 of the podcast) and The Rev. Peter Rood, Rector of Holy Nativity.

The garden has since metastasized from the side of the church’s building to the front and worked its way into the fringes of the small parking lot. A large adobe oven was added and bread and pizza baking events and classes take place on the second Saturday of the month. Recently, part of the front lawn became a community playground.

Many church grounds sit idle during the week. Not Holy Nativity. As Rev. Rood put it to me once, “This is a community center that just happens to have a church attached to it.” While the word “community” gets overused in this case it manifests as a genuine openness to collaboration. Poyourow, not a member of the church, put many years of work into the garden as well as hosting lectures and events.

We have a lot of underutilized space in our communities. Congratulations to Poyourow and Rood for showing us what Charles Eisenstien speaks of, “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” That possible world is right in front of us, here in the present waiting for us to put down our phones and get to work.

Luddite’s Moonshot: Dealing With Leafy Green Pests

In my post soliciting “Luddite moonshots” Kyle replied, “How to grow any sort of brassica or leafy green without having to constantly poison these jerks. I opted for none of the above this year because it is so demoralizing.” Then he linked to the Wikipedia article for the banana slug.

While we have no banana slugs down here in the southern reaches of California we have plenty of other brassica and leafy green pests, principally the cabbage leaf worm. I’ve come to much the same conclusion as Kyle and grow only arugula and lettuce during our cool winter season. I leave the kale cultivation to the professionals. There’s nothing wrong with growing the crops that do best in your climate and passing on the rest. The nicest brassicas I’ve ever seen were on a farm in perpetually foggy and cool Bolinas, California.

That said, I had one season of flawless leafy greens through the combination of rich compost and row cover, specifically Agribon 15. The row cover thickness you use will depend on your climate. I opted for the lightest available as we often have freak heat waves in the winter here.

But I haven’t deployed any row cover in years. It’s a pain to use. You have to be diligent in making sure the whole bed gets covered and it’s hard to see the plants under the cover without having to pull it on and off. And row cover won’t prevent slugs. Here’s UC Davis’ advice for dealing with slugs and snails. LA’s abundant mouse and rat population keep our snails and slugs in check. We can send you some if you’d like.

119 A Chat With the Gardenerd

Christy “Garden Nerd” Wilhelmi dropped by the Root Simple compound to talk to Kelly and I about everything from loquats to bees to climate change. You can find her blog posts, podcast, YouTube at Gardenerd.com. She is the author of two books, Gardening for Geeks: DIY Tests, Gadgets, and Techniques That Utilize Microbiology, Mathematics, and Ecology to Exponentially Maximize the Yield of Your Garden and 400+ Tips for Organic Gardening Success: A Decade of Tricks, Tools, Recipes, and Resources from Gardenerd.com. During the podcast we discuss:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

How to Make a Hexagonal Raised Bed

Bloggers such as myself sometimes have the tendency to put up a post with the promise of “detailed instructions to follow” and then, lacking the oversight of an editor, somehow never get around to delivering the goods. Over the weekend I got a request for detailed instructions on how to build the hexagonal raised beds we posted about back in 2014. So here you go.

Materials
You will need six 6-foot pieces of 2×6 lumber. I would suggest pressure treated lumber. I chose the dimensions for these beds to make them as big as they could be and still be able to comfortably reach into the middle of the bed. These dimensions will also minimize waste (since we’ll be using 6′ lumber).

Tools
This project requires a compound miter saw, a tool on my list of recommended homestead accessories. Mine has gotten a lot of use over the years for everything from gardening projects to building furniture.

The angle at the corners of a hexagon are 60º. Therefore, you will need to set your saw to 30º (90º-60º=30º).

With the saw set, you just need to cut 12 sections, each 2’6″ long, with that 30º angle at each end. Secure the pieces together with screws at the corners.

Although I did not do this I would recommend reinforcing the bed by screwing a 2×4 in the center as above.

If you have a table saw (which I did not have when I built my beds) you could reinforce the corners with another 2×4 ripped at an angle. My beds did fine without this step. You could also make these beds taller if you need to by adding more courses of lumber. And if you’re the welding type, these beds would be very handsome (though expensive) if done in metal.

Pros and Cons
While I was pleased with aesthetics of my hexagonal beds they no longer grace our backyard. The area in which they resided became too shady to grow vegetables in and also became the strip mine that supplied the clay for our adobe oven. Our landscaper has proposed making this part of our yard a rain garden. More on that project later in the year.

One disadvantage of beds with this odd shape is that they are harder to critter-proof. I don’t consider this a deal killer, but it’s something to think about if you have the hoards of marauding mammals that nightly assault our backyard even in this very urban part of Los Angeles. You can see in the first picture that I ended up creating a sort of bamboo teepee to provide support for beans and tomatoes and on which to attach bird netting (which the marauding mammals easily breeched).

I’ve posted about the pros and cons of raised beds in the past. Unless you have a compelling reason to build raised beds I think it’s always better to grow in the ground. That said, these hexagonal beds look really nice and I would make them again if I lived somewhere with less mammalian interference.