Garden Like a Pirate

“Damn ye, you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by Laws which rich men have made for their own security, for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by their knavery.”
– Captain Bellamy from A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates by Captain Charles Johnson

In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, we at Homegrown Revolution would like to introduce the concept of Pirate Gardening. Pirate Gardening involves claiming unused land that does not belong to you for growing food crops. The first bit of land we hijacked was our own parkway, that bit of dirt between the sidewalk and the street that technically belongs to the city, but is the responsibility of the homeowner to maintain. It’s yet another space, like the vast asphalt hell of parking lots, garages, freeways, car lots, auto repair shops, and junkyards in our car-obsessed city dedicated to the needs of the personal automobile.

We decided to flaunt the city’s strict rules about this space which dictates the kind of things that can be planted (basically nothing that would inhibit someone from getting out of their Hummer), and plant a vegetable garden instead. The idea was twofold: to provide vegetables for ourselves and our neighbors, and to do it in a way that would be aesthetically pleasing. Now, if we lived in some tight-ass place like Beverly Hills or Glendale some bureaucrat would, no doubt, have busted us by now, but in the City of Los Angeles, where code, building and traffic enforcement are non-existent, nobody seems to care. If we were Republicans we could probably have dug our own open pit mine or built our own miniature coal fired power plant without any City of LA official giving a damn.

For our piratical parkway garden we built two six by six foot raised beds, filled it with quality garden soil, and stuck in two matching wire obelisks for growing beans and tomatoes. Much to our surprise it has been a big success – we had a bumper crop of carrots, beans, turnips, garlic, onions, and beets in the winter and our summer crop was cherry tomatoes. Currently the beds are empty as we wait for this incredibly hot summer season to cool down (thanks for the global warming everyone!) and we are just about to plant an assorted winter crop of beans, broccoli, and assorted greens.

We’ve encouraged neighbors to help themselves to vegetables from the parkway garden, though few have. What has been nice has been the conversations We’ve had with neighbors while watering and tending the space. Several neighbors have said that it encouraged them to plant their own vegetables, albeit in their back yards. With more people growing vegetables our neighborhood becomes more self-sufficient and a wasted space has been reclaimed.

If all such marginal spaces, parkways, freeway embankments, vacant lots, and median strips were claimed by piratical gardeners and used for growing food, nobody would ever need to buy crappy supermarket produce. It’s time to seize all unused urban land matey and remember the words of Captain Bellamy as you do so, “I am a free prince”.

Grow Italian!

It’s almost time to start planting seeds for the most productive growing season in Southern California – winter. While our friends in the cold parts of the country will be freezing their asses off we’ll be picking gourmet salads (sorry to rub it in). Since the climate here is like southern Italy, we like to plant Italian varieties. Which brings us to the source of many of our seeds at the Homegrown Evolution compound, Seeds from Italy.

Italians dig vegetables, and the offerings of the Franchi Co., which the folks at Seeds from Italy import, show a tremendous diversity of species and varieties. Why grow the same boring vegetables supermarkets carry anyways? Also, Italy and California both have similar climates. We’ve been growing Franchi vegetables for several years now and have enjoyed everything from sweet beans to powerfully bitter weed-like greens. The purple Sicilian Cauliflower we grew last year was a revelation – fresh cauliflower is a billion times better than store bought cauliflower though, along with broccoli, it can be challenging to grow and it takes up a lot of room. It was still worth it, as was the somewhat less difficult to grow quick maturing broccoli rabe Seeds from Italy caries.

Our seed selection committee is meeting this week to decide on what we’ll be growing and we’ll get more specific in subsequent posts. We’re intrigued with agretti, and we’ll be looking at more perennial vegetables after the multi-year success of our artichoke plant. We’re also jumping on the permaculture bandwagon this year with an experiment in the backyard. And look for more root vegetables in our illegal parkway garden.

Lest we come across as Eurotrashy, here’s two domestic seed companies that have interesting varieties:

Seeds of change.

Native Seeds which sells Native American seeds

By the way, for us in L.A. the back of the seed packages have no connection with our climate. You need a book like Pat Welsh’s Southern California Gardening to set you straight on what to plant and when to plant it. Now get out there and plant some seeds.

Mutant Squash


Today’s incredible picture comes from photographer, bike cultist, and composting Culver-Town revolutionary Elon Schoenholz. It’s a freak squash that grew out of his regular old household compost. The funny thing is that nobody at the Shoenholz Compound – neither Elon, wife Bryn nor new bambina Nusia eat squash – so the origin of this new hybrid compost squash is a mystery.

This brings up a bit of botany. Plants “do the deed” with flowers which contain both male (pollen-producing stamen) and female (carpels) organs. Flowers produce seeds, which depending on how they were pollinated may or may not produce offspring that resemble the parent. Some plants pollinate themselves before the flower opens thus producing seeds that are the same variety as the parent. Other plants rely on insects and birds for pollination and can produce offspring that are hybrids if the pollinating bug or bird happened to visit another variety. Squash has completely separate male and female flowers that appear on the same plant, a characteristic called monoecism (from the Greek meaning “same household”) which is an evolutionary strategy for avoiding self-pollination. Corn is another example of a monoecious plant. Plants can only cross pollinate within their own species so watermelons can’t cross with lettuce, for instance. But there are many different varieties of squash, everything from butternut squash to spaghetti squash to various inedible gourds, so you can get some very freaky mutant cross-breeds. Results of these hybrids can be unpredictable. with accidental squash hybrids tending to get tough. But some hybrids are a crap shoot that pays off. The SurviveLA compound has wild cherry tomatoes that have self-seeded for years with excellent results–producing some of the best tomatoes we’ve ever eaten, with no work whatsoever on our part. But this summer they seem to have hybridized again and now yield less flavorful fruit.

More information on the botany of pollination and advice on saving vegetable seeds can be found in this excellent article. Also of note, the new issue of Make Magazine, the Popular Mechanics of the geeky hipster art school crowd has a story on “hacking your backyard plants”. But in the meantime, a tip of the SurviveLA hat to a new squash variety: Cucurbitaceae Nusia.

Get Off Your Ass and Plant a Survival Garden!

Tired of going to the market to buy crappy vegetables that taste out of season no matter what time of year it is? Tired of garlic from China and grapes from Chile? Why waste land, if you have it, on things you can’t eat? And why not have some fresh produce on hand in case of the inevitable zombie invasion.

Now, vegetable gardening takes some practice and unfortunately very few books deal with the specifics of Los Angeles’ unique Mediterranean climate. Most gardening books and the information on the back of seed packets are written for schmucks in the northeast who have to deal with things like cold weather. This is why you need a copy of our So-Cal homegirl Pat Welsh’s Southern California Gardening Guide which deals with more than just vegetables. Looking like an extra from the gardening club scene in the Manchurian Candidate, Pat Welsh has written a book with a handy to-do list for each month, useful since maintaining a vegetable garden here over a year-round growing season can get complicated especially if you want to keep a steady stream of produce on the table. In general, remember that winter here is the best time for most crops with the summer reserved for stuff that can take the heat like tomatoes and basil.

So get out there and plant your own food and remember our rule here around the Homegrown Evolution homestead: if you gotta water it you gotta be able to eat it.