136 Garden Fundamentals with Robert Pavlis

On this 136th episode of the Root Simple podcast we talk to author and gardening expert Robert Pavlis about how to improve your soil, how to start seedlings in the winter, how to take care of houseplants and much more.

Robert Pavlis lives on 6 acres of land that he has developed into a large private garden he calls Aspen Grove Gardens that contains around 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees in southern Ontario, Canada. He is a Master Gardener, speaker and author on gardening subjects with a background in chemistry and biochemistry. Normally I go over questions with guests before we begin but Robert and I just started talking so we’ll join the conversation mid-stream as Robert is telling me about his upcoming book Soil Science for Gardeners. During the podcast we talk about:

  • Soil science for home gardeners
  • The problems with soil tests
  • Soil prep for native plants
  • Fungi inoculation products
  • How to open up compacted soil
  • Sources for organic material
  • Ugh, landscape fabric
  • Cardboard in the garden
  • Hügelkultur
  • Winter sowing
  • Baggie technique
  • LED lights
  • How to water houseplants

You can find Robert at: GardenFundamentals.com, GardenMyths.com on YouTube and via the Garden Fundamentals Facebook Group.

Also–subscribe to Bike Talk!

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.

Thankful for the New Rain Garden

One day during a high school English class, here in Southern California where I grew up, it started raining. The entire class spontaneously got up and ran to the window to view the downpour. Our teacher, a transplant from the East Coast, having just lost control of her classroom, looked confused. A moment later I could see in her face that she realized she was dealing with a room full of kids to whom rain is a novelty, something worthy of news reports and, these days, hashtags. Regaining control of her classroom, she patiently explained to us that she came from a place where not only does rain fall from the sky more frequently but that there was something else called “snow.”

This past summer our landscaper, Laramee Haynes and crew installed a rain garden in our backyard and Kelly and I cant stop checking it now that the rainy season has returned. The garden takes the water from the back half of our roughly 1,000 square foot roof. Using this handy online rainfall harvesting calculator, in an average year we could send almost 6,000 gallons of water to our backyard.

We ran a pipe from the rain gutter way back into the yard along a fence. The pipe terminates at a simulated gravel filled stream bed that spills into the rain garden. Kelly has just started planting the wet lower part of the rain garden with native plants including water loving Douglas irises (Iris douglasiana). She planted the dry outer edges with desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), coyote mint (Monardella villosa) and assorted grasses.

Alas, my hopes of building a little boat in which to row back and forth across our new seasonal pond have been dashed by the fact that our soil drains quickly (which is a good thing). We’ll post periodic updates to let you know what worked and what we killed.

135 Larry Korn: Rest in Revolution

Root Simple reader Pat just informed me of the passing of Larry Korn, who was a guest on our podcast in October of 2015. Larry was probably best known as the translator of Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution but that underestimates what he did in his life. Larry, almost single highhandedly, is responsible for bringing Fukuoka’s revolutionary ideas to the rest of the world. A few people have told me that Larry’s words in this interview changed their lives and so, in his honor, I thought I would repeat the episode.

Larry authored an autobiography One-Straw Revolutionary. In this interview we talk about Larry’s experience living on Fukuoka’s farm and we delve deep into Fukuoka’s natural farming philosophy. During the discussion we cover how natural farming is similar to indigenous agriculture and how it’s different than permaculture. We also talk about the mystical experience that changed Fukuoka’s life. Larry’s website is onestrawrevolution.net.

If you want 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. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Beautifying the Home Grounds: Your Source for 1920s Outdoor Project Inspiration

I have a simple design process here at the Root Simple compound. I ask the house what it wants. The house, being a fuddy-duddy, vaguely colonial bungalow build in 1920, invariably tells me that it want something fuddy-duddy and vaguely colonial. It doesn’t want innovation or Starchitects or Pottery Barn or Ikea. The house doesn’t care what I want. My most successful outdoor and indoor projects have been ones that nobody notices, that look like they were always there.

If you have a fuddy-duddy 1920s house in need of some trellising, outdoor furniture or an arbor take a look at Beautifying the Home Grounds by the Southern Pine Association, part of the always useful Building Technology Heritage Library on archive.org.

I’m using Beautifying the Home Grounds as a design resource to replace the horrible flipper fence I installed a few years ago and the aging entrance arbor that fence is connected to. I’m thinking of going with arbor number 13.

I’ve already done the rendering in Sketchup. Boring, yes. But sometimes boring is just what your house wants.

Olive Questions

Lacking an Italian or Greek grandmother, I’ve got to crowdsource my olive curing questions. So, my dear Root Simple readers: have you cured olives? What method did you use and how did they turn out?

The Frantoio olive tree that I planted in the parkway a few years ago produced a bumper crop of olives this year. Last year every single olive hosted olive fruit fly maggots. This summer, to reduce the olive fruit fly population I put some torula yeast lures in a McPhail trap in the tree and removed any fruit that had any signs of infestation. I change out the yeast tabs every month. The strategy seems to have greatly reduced the infestation. I lost probably around a third of the olives but had more than enough un-maggoty olives to fill three half-gallon jars. Today I plan on sweeping up any olives on the ground and removing any remaining olives from the tree to, as much as possible, further knock the olive fruit fly population.

Contents of the McPhail trap.

I chose a brine method to cure the olives and followed the recipe in the informative UC Davis publication, Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling. With any luck I should have olives in three to six months. The Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog suggests changing out the brine periodically, which leads to more questions for readers: do you change out your brine? How did you season the brine?

While my attempt at growing annual vegetables was a disaster this year, let me say how thankful Kelly and I are to have planted fruit trees ten years ago. The most successful: pomegranates, figs and olives.

If you’d like to try curing olives, but don’t have any trees of your own, you can always forage them. In the past month I’ve spotted fruiting olive trees in Hollywood on a side street adjacent to the Kaiser complex, in a parking lot on Sunset Boulevard, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. Just don’t use the scarred fruit as that’s the sign of maggots.