Friday, December 31, 2010

It's December 30. We have not had phone service since before my birthday, on December 22. Because of that our access to television and the Internet has been sporadic, a few hours each day during business hours. They say we'll get our service back some time in January, maybe the second week.

We do not live in the backwoods. We live in downtown Los Angeles. We did not have an earthquake - it rained. We are not contracted with an obscure, fly-by-night provider, but with AT&T. And it is not just us. Many families in our area are also affected, though how many, is anybody's guess.

It took five days before news of this failure made it into the LA Times. I cannot imagine this kind of failure being taken so sanguinely, so matter-of-factly, ten years ago. As a nation, our expectations have been lowered. As I watched my government bungle Hurricane Katrina years ago, watched bodies bloating and floating in the streets, I had the feeling that something was being demonstrated to us - a break in the contract between the people and the government. We were being presented with a black bordered letter that said, "You are on your own."

I have not missed the phone service much, to tell you the truth. We have cell phone and though we live in a canyon and have to walk outside into the middle of the street to make or take a call, we have been able to do so. The television and Internet have been replaced with reading and knitting.

Two nights ago we had a wind storm and the electricity went off. I'd already been to bed but was awakened by my husband and son. I listened to the wind whip from beneath the cozy covers, in the inky darkness. I pulled up the covers and returned to sleep. In the morning I awoke to the blinking constellation of appliances needlessly sucking electricity just to tell me they are there and ready to be used. Many of them tell me the time, a task once reserved for clocks.
I've been reading about the peak oil crisis. That will happen when just more than half the oil on earth has been accessed and used. It's downhill from there. Though our lust for oil, as a population, will continue to grow, our supplies will dwindle, leading to sporadic, and then lengthening shortages of oil, spikes in the price, and other instabilities.

At first I was alarmed, and my mind raced through scenario after scenario, all doom and gloom. Then I tried to figure out how to survive. For instance, our greatest oil requirement goes to the getting of food, so we will need to grow more food locally, to shift our tastes from expensive imports - sugar, coffee, and chocolate (three entire food groups!), to more sustainable fare - beans and greens. We will need community, we will need to work together and help each other, as it looks as if our governments have excused themselves.

Then, as I moved from alarm, through every-man-for-himself survivalism, I realized that peak oil may be the thing to bring the corporate plutocracy to its knees and allow us to toy with another way of life. Progress may slow and even halt as we look backwards and once again daily wind a clock, or perhaps listen to distant church bells toll the hours. We may once again see the bright swath of stars across our night sky, unimpeded by light pollution. We might once again grapple with our small size and significance in the face of a vast universe and unforgiving Nature that still does not bow to our designs. We might go to sleep when it's dark and rise with the Dawn. As the treadmills and eliptical devices gather dust we might learn to walk or ride bikes. We will need to learn to turn to each other, and indeed, expect less and less from those who have taught us that food comes packaged in plastic and life without shiny things is not worth living.

This last week I have gone to bed earlier, and slept later. I've knitted. I've cooked. I've gardened. I've read - picking up books here and there at random - the anatomy of insects, the early pioneer days of America, Amy Sedaris's Crafts for Poor People. We've almost finished the pot of beans I cooked the day after Christmas. Today I'll catalog my seeds and calendar their planting. This weekend we'll prune the apple trees, saving the small limbs to feed the rabbits we plan to begin raising in the Spring.

What if, instead of meeting these breakdowns with fear and anger, we greeted them with gusto - with a renewed sense of community? What if we recreated ourselves in the image of mere man? What if we gave up the ideas of imaginary friends, government authorities, and corporate spooks, and learned to take care of ourselves and each other? What if the phones and the lights were turned off and instead of panicking, we created a new world blended from the past - which is no longer past - and the best of our present lives?

What if we started now and had the candles and ghost stories ready for the next time this happens?

Monday, December 6, 2010

A homemade Christmas

This is a really bad photo, but I wanted to upload it before the recipient could see my lovely handmade blood puddle pillow. It was SO easy to make. Thanks to whomever made the original, which I found on BoingBoing recently. What fun!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What a great Saturday!

This morning we woke up and slogged our way over to Pasadena for a class at Ardenwoods Edibles with Nysha Dahlgren and Craig (what IS his last name?) of Winnetka Farms on growing winter vegetables.

What can I say? I had the best time. Great funny, smart people, that we really liked. We kind of all just sat around and shot the shit while feasting on luscious salads, ciabatta, Nysha's delectable homemade soups, and Christmas cookies. It was supposed to be urban but ended up urbane.

(The pictures I took were horrible so I won't include them.)

When we left we were sent on a pilgrimage to Roma Italian Market and Deli, just around the corner. We walked in and quickly found the owner - a wonderful, proud and conspiratorial man behind the deli counter. He gave us generous samples of cheese and cotto and prosciutto. He pressed upon us wine and recommended a panetone for Christmas. We discovered his olive bread and had gave us hulking samples of that with more cotto, so we bought a loaf. I kept thinking of Omar Khayyam, "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou, Beside me singing in the Wilderness--Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"

We left the store and headed to Theodore Payne Native Nursery. We picked up a mantilla poppy for me, a golden current bush for our food forest, and an apricot mallow for Ken. We also bought two packages of native sunflower seeds and two horse chestnuts.

Then I came home to S&F (stretch and fold) my sourdough. I was a little late and it was crawling out of the bowl. Couldn't believe how it looked.

Life is sweet.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kelp in your compost

I've read that seaweed is good to put in your compost but was unsure about the legalities of collecting it.

At Compost Happens!, Marion Owen writes,

Pound per pound, kelp supplies more minerals than any other material on the planet. In the garden, it also aerates the soil and makes an excellent mulch around potato plants, fruit-bearing shrubs, bulbs and perennials. And, contrary to popular belief, seaweed does not add harmful salts to the garden.

Kelp is what I call a 'neutral' ingredient, in that it doesn't fit in the nitrogen or the carbon category. Yet, it benefits every compost pile by adding fluff.

I wrote to the city of Huntington Beach and asked if I could collect kelp on the beach for my compost. They replied, "You may collect the kelp that washes up onto the sand but not while it is in the water."

Good to know.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Unlikely Sisters


Permaculture introduces the idea of guilds, or plant groupings. The standard example is corn, beans and squash. The beans grow up the corn stalks, the squash covers the ground around the beans and corn crowding out the weeds. The corn and beans shade the squash.

As I was walking through our yard today I took a closer look at a palm in the middle of our yard. I don't know if you can tell, but it's tipped. We have Spanish moss growing from the underside of the tree, in its shade. Above the Spanish moss on the topside I found a patch of chickweed growing - an edible weed perfect for a salad.

Walking around the palm I found a young fig tree growing. I've seen this before. If you look up into the canopy of skyduster or canary palms growing in Los Angeles, you'll often see figs, flowers and other opportunistic plants cultivated by birds and furry denizens of the night.

I doubt this fig will prosper, but I'll let it stay and observe what happens.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Facebook: Banned for Being Married and Lazy

My Facebook account was disabled. I was required to document my name so I scanned a copy of my driver's license and marriage certificate, which in the state of California is enough to document my name. My banks accept both my pre- and post- marriage names and no one has ever accused me of using a fake name. Here's Facebook's final ruling:


Fake accounts are a violation of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Facebook requires users to provide their real first and last names. Impersonating anyone or anything is prohibited, as is maintaining multiple profiles on the site. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reactivate this account for any reason. This decision is final.

Thanks for your understanding,

The Facebook Team

So, because I am a woman who married and took my spouse's name but did not get around to changing it on my California Driver's License I am impersonating myself and my account is canceled. There's a lawsuit in there somewhere.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Facebook Facists


Facebook deleted my account because I didn't use my "real" name. I used my married name instead of my legal maiden name. That must have taken some digging by someone.

Anyway - years of connections vaporized. I don't have a "government-issued" ID with my "real" name on it to get my account reinstated. What a disappointment!

It's crazy. I used my site for family genealogy and gardening. I'm practically a little old lady - not exactly a bomb-throwing anarchist.

The last thing I posted was a video of a 14-year-old gay boy in a midwestern M-state standing up for a suspended teacher who stood up for him. Was I too gay? Do I have an offended family member who complained? Sheesh!

The New Yorker: Sandor Katz

This week's New Yorker has an article on the underground food movement featuring Sandor Katz of Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved.

Don't miss it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Seeds Savoir

I was just listening to one of those FM station to the left on the dial - NPR, KPFW, something like that. A seed lady was being interviewed. A woman called in with a comment. The woman claimed that if you held a seed in your mouth for 9 minutes before you planted it, the seed would be softened by the enzymes in your saliva and learn to grow food specifically for your physical needs.

WTF?! It gets better.

The seed lady warned that if the food you grew in your garden was going to be fed to anyone else, it would be unwise to put your DNA in it.

Jesus wept.

Cherry Kefir Water

I've been struggling to make decent kefir water for about a month now. Kefir water crystals are different than the milk crystals, though they are just as finicky. My first five or six batches tasted like sweat. I saved the crystals, but dumped their product. I had followed directions, but that didn't seem to help.

I finally had success with the following recipe, which I created.

1 quart spring water (bottled - my filtered LA tap water didn't seem to work)
1/3 cup demerrara sugar
1 T. unsulphured molasses (I used blackstrap)
2 T. dried unsulphured cherries
all the water kefir crystals that you have - about 1/2 cup in my case

I combined the above in a jar, covered with cheesecloth, fastened with a rubber band. After a day I taste tested it. It still had a slightly sweet flavor. At this point I strained the mixture and poured the kefir water into old plastic water bottles and put them in the fridge.

A day or two later I opened a bottle - over the sink - and a healthy head spilled out. It poured like beer with an inch of foam. It was delicious. It tasted a little beery and I need to check it with a hydrometer for alcohol content. I don't want the kids drinking it if it has alcohol in it, but mostly it tasted great.

Two days later I went to pour another glass (and take this picture). I slowly removed the plastic cap and it shot from my hand like a champagne cork. Damn! It's still decicious.

It reminds me of a floris, though not as sweet. It has a clean flavor with rich, fresh cherry tones. This may be a probiotic health food, but it was as good or better than many of the dry fruit ciders we've been buying lately. I see a steep learning curve in front of me, but one that promises to be rewarding.

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Back to the Ranch Links


We spent Friday and Saturday at the Huntington's 2-day Back to the Ranch event. It was wonderful. The first day consisted of academic presentations, the second was more hands on. Speakers the second day were people from our own neighborhood - Tara Kola (hilarious) and Eric Knutzen and Kelli Coyne (double hilarious) and my favorite - Darren Butler - hilarious and very very thought-provoking. "We are all soil - in human format". My inner Keanu Reeves kept repeating, "Whoa, man!"

As there is too much to document, I'll included a photo of Friday's lunch, and links I gathered from the different speakers.

The lunch was from Little Flower Candy Company and included black-eyed peas, brown rice with orange sauce, a chiffonade of toasted nori, sesame seeds, grated carrots, steamed green beans, red pepper slices, cooked or marinated mushrooms, microgreens and crackers. At first, eating the unseasoned black-eyed peas, I thought the meal was very bland, but was I continued the tastes of the individual items emerged and then blended. It was all very fresh and refreshing. Delicious.

Rose Hayden-Smith
Grant High School sells salsa that they make themselves from vegetables they grow in their school garden

US Youth unfit to serve in military due to obesity

Women and food riots hasten the end of the Civil War

Victory Gardens - A boon in hard times, Rose Hayden-Smith

Harriet Johns, 11-year-old gardener during WWII

Mexican Avocados


Visited Cookbook on Echo Park Boulevard yesterday. It's a wonderful little shop selling local produce. We bought a Mexican avocado - like a small, purple eggplant. The skin in so thin you can eat it. The skin is much like that of a nectarine - you almost don't notice it. The avocado was green inside, standard buttery fare.

We immediately took the pit and set it to sprout. What a wonderful tree that would be to add to our growing food forest!
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Saturday, November 13, 2010

School Lunches, Part 2

The day after the meeting I went back to my son's school and asked for a tour of the cafeteria. The cafeteria manager took me through, explaining in detail district policies.

First, let me tell you, it was the cleanest kitchen I've ever seen. I worked in food service for 15 years and know kitchens.

Second, there were large boxes of beautiful green pears, cups of sliced cucumbers, and bags of fresh oranges and grapes.

All the kids in the school are served in plenty of time.

That's not to say that this system is a complete success. I'd like to do a survey of how food comes into the school. I suspect the following:

- LAUSD meals
- lunches from home
- junk food from local stores
- food ordered delivered
- junk from black market sales (backpacks)
- snacks from the student store

It would be interesting to figure out creative ways to positively impact these outlets.

In addition, though the kids must select fresh fruits and vegetables, many of them go immediately into the trash. I'd like to place one or two large fruit baskets to collect the whole fruit. They could remain available to children throughout the day and perhaps go to a food bank in the evening. The school could not do this, but a volunteer could. It seems a crime to teach kids how to throw good food in the trash.

There is an environmental club, and a vegetarian club, at the school. I want to see if together we might be able to occasionally offer different fare - salads, vegetable wraps, vegetable sushi. At least we could occasionally have classes to learn how to prepare these.

Stay tuned.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Big Lunch

I went to an LAUSD meeting this afternoon about school breakfasts and lunches.

Dennis Barrett, head of the Food Services Division, was there along with the head chef, Mark Baida. Mr. Barrett covered some of the highlights of a document he distributed, the "2010 Strategic Performance Review."

There were some amazing statistics in Mr. Barrett's talk and in the document:

12,000 LAUSD students are homeless

That's 12,000.


168,000 receive food benefits of some kind
80% of the students receive free or reduced meals.

LAUSD served 122,000,000 meals last year for $89,000,000.

LAUSD Food Division has reduced the use of salt, sugar, and fat and increased the number of fresh fruits and vegetables served. 90% of the fruits and vegetables come from California, most from within 200 miles.

What concerned me most was that 96% of secondary schools do not allow their students 20 minutes to eat, in fact, some students do not have time to eat at all, relying instead on a black market of junk food and food carts. For many of the students, lunch is the most substantial meal of their day - and they are missing it.

What concerned the other parents was flavored milk - strawberry and chocolate, which I agree is unnecessary but was absolute anathema to them. They kept bringing it up, harping on the number of grams of sugar.

When reminded that this wasn't a menu meeting and that the milk issue had to be addressed at a board meeting, one woman practically yelled that she would keep bringing it up until there was no more strawberry or chocolate milk.

What was the next burning concern? Jaime Oliver's Food Revolution and how LAUSD was making a big mistake not letting this wonderful man help our children.

He may be wonderful - I don't know. I watched one or two of his shows in West Virginia and found them contrived and emotionally exploitive. I felt embarrassed to hear the parents fawn over a celebrity, as if he were the only answer to the district's problems.

I couldn't stay after that. I was really embarrassed.

I love the food movement and believe it has great potential to change lives. That's why I went to the meeting. But more and more I have to wonder. All I ever see are white people at these events, and on the rare occasion when there is a person of color you can bet he or she will be front and center in a photo on the blog.

To live up to its potential the food movement has to resist getting bogged down in issues of flavored milk when kids in the schools are going hungry. For too many children in LAUSD, the choice between strawberry or chocolate milk is the kind of problem you want to have.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Olive harvest at Caltech today

Vincent Van Gogh's Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun, 1889
If only! Damn, I have to work in Glendale and will miss this community harvesting of the Cal Tech campus olive trees. It's from 8:00 AM - 2:30 PM Friday 11/5 (first day of Diwali too) and the event includes a Mediterranean-themed lunch and culinary demo and tasting.

I'm crazy for olives - all kinds - and go out of my way to locate new sources (I still remember the first time I spied the barrels of olives at Mr. Marcel's). It's just a bonus that "Olives, have oiled the wheels of civilization since Jericho built walls and ancient Greece was morning news."*

Though I'm missing this year's harvest I intend to use the brine cured recipe of Tom Apostol, Cal Tech Professor of Mathematics, as soon as I can lay my hands on some fresh olives.

My latest olive escapade involves a more recent obsession, Shikas peppers, hot orange Bulgarian peppers. Trying to work them into various recipes my most successful has been as part of this black olive tapenade.

UPDATE: Here's coverage of the 2008 Caltech olive harvest with lots of pics.
* Mort Rosenblum, Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Los Angeles Farm Land

A cousin of mine lived in Los Angeles in 1911 and wrote about it:

We moved to a community in a rural area south of Watts. We had a lovely home. There was a large beet field across the road. The rows of beets started near the Long Beach car tracks and stretched as far as one could see. It was the most beautiful countryside.

Hard to imagine.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I <3 Bacteria (and yeast and mushrooms)

My husband, Ken, turned me on to this great article today about bacteria, Bacteria 'R' Us.

It tells about the bacteria in a certain type of squid. The bacteria use “quorum sensing” and when they know there are enough of them, they become bioluminescent. This makes the squid invisible to predators from above. Each day the squid ejects the colony of bacteria to prevent overpopulation. This is the same thing I end up doing with the three sourdough starters I'm nursing.

The article tells about how we have more types of bacterial cells in our body than we do human cells, how bacteria organize and may even effect our thoughts.

We love bacteria at our house, and anti-bacterial anything is banned – good old-fashioned soap works well enough. Besides the three sourdough starters, I'm working on milk and water kefir, and just decanted my first batch of kombucha. It turned out perfectly. I never thought I'd be converted to kombucha, but now I'm a believer. I'm very sensitive to caffeine but had a cup of kombucha – made of black and green teas – yesterday afternoon (well past my caffeine cut off time) and slept like a baby last night. Perhaps the bacteria processed the caffeine, as well.

I have great hope for the redemption and revival of bacteria, and hope that bacteria and mushrooms will be increasingly used in daily life and for bioremediation.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Green Tomato Relish


I'm using up all our green tomatoes today, canning green tomato relish. Here's the kitchen assembly line. In the back is the pressure cooker, working today as a water bath. The stainless pan in front of it holds the cooking relish. Two plastic cutting boards guard against spills and slips from kettle to counter. I fill here and carry them with the jar holder to the water bath in the back.

I ended up with 9 small jars of relish. To be fair, I've found a preserved product tastes completely different popped open at the table served with a meal, than it does at the stove testing from the leftovers.

The day reminded me of a story I read by M.F.K. Fisher The Measure of My Powers 1936-1939. She was living in Switzerland, on a small estate the locals nicknamed Un pƒquis.

I canned often, too. We had three cellars, and I filled one of them with beautiful gleaming jars for the winter. It was simple enough to do it in little bits instead of in great harried rushes as my grandmother used to, and when I went down into the coolness and saw all the things sitting there so richly quiet on the shelves, I had a special feeling of contentment. It was a reassurance of safety against hunger, very primitive and satisfying.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sourdough Buckwheat Monday

This morning we had Alaskan Frontier Sourdough Hotcakes from Sandor Ellix Katz's Wild Fermentation.

I am completely incapable of following a recipe and so swapped out some of the flour with buckwheat, added vanilla, a little more sugar and salt (helps with rising) and a little less baking soda (tones down the sour). The hotcakes turned out really well and the boy loved them - actually only wants these from now on. =)

His enthusiasm surprised me as the buckwheat made them a slightly unappealing grey. They required a higher heat to brown. Oh, and the dough climbed out of the bowl sometime in the night but didn't make it far. Use a big bowl.

Night before, mix together:
1/2 cup bubbly sourdough starter
1 cup filtered water (LA tap water contains chloramine which may kill the starter)
1-1/4 c flour (part buckwheat, if you please)


Next morning when ready to cook, add:
1 egg
1 T. vegetable oil
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda

The key to successful pancakes is to heat the skillet for a full five minutes before pouring your batter. I heat mine full blast for a couple of minutes, then turn the gas down to about the 1/4 mark and continue heating.

Flip the hotcakes when they're bubbly all over.

This recipe is a tad on the crêpey side and made about 12 4" pancakes.

An aside: A study at the Canadian University of Guelph suggests that sourdough white bread is easier on your blood sugar than whole wheat bread. The study is definitely worth a read.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Never more than 6 feet away

This little fellow crawled in through the kitchen window this morning and kept me company. He's sitting on a piece of broken glass that the former residents used to mulch the garden. I had a little talk with the spider. We decided that if I would not kill him he would be on his way. I know spiders are good but I'm still not that comfortable around them.

My son suggested I make a loaf of bread with a Jack O'Lantern face. I took a chance and hydrated the flour with canned pumpkin and water. It turned out very well, though I have not cut it open yet. That's 4 ingredients, mind you: flour, water, salt, and pumpkin. I used the stiff starter that Mark Stambler gave me. Can't wait to taste it.

I still had half a can of pumpkin left so made us smoothies with kefir, frozen bananas, cinnamon, sugar and pumpkin. Delicious. The boy loved it. I'll slowly cut back on the sugar. Getting him to drink 8 ounces of homemade kefir is victory enough for today!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pride cometh before a fall

Yesterday's bread was not my best effort. I forgot to flour my cloth so I could not get it onto the pan in one piece, or score it, AND I forgot to turn the heat down so it cooked too fast at first. It was still much better than store bought but not pretty enough to pass on to my friend.

Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Oops, I did it again


White bread this time - like no white bread I've ever had before. Yum.

As the loaf cooled the crust cracked - very rustic.
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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Success at Last


I've had regular, yeasted bread down cold for a long time, but lately I've been trying to make bread with wild yeast - with homemade starter. I have two starters I'm maintaining: a sourdough starter I began several weeks ago with just flours and water, the second was given to me by Mark Stambler from the starter he uses to make his famous Silver Lake bread.

At one point my sourdough starter, which was originally very bubbley, appeared to have given up the ghost. I fed it anyway, and added about 1/4 cup of Mark's starter. It began to bubble again, but this time with very fine and subtle bubbles, like champagne.

Over the last weeks I've made a half dozen loaves and they've all been spectacular failures - inedible and unsalvagable. Today my luck turned. I used the recipe in Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen's book "The Urban Homestead." I followed it fairly closely, though speeded it up a little being that the weather is so warm. What resulted is the bread above - comprised of sourdough starter, flour, salt, and water. I cannot tell you how pleased I am. The flavor is deep and complex, the texture varied and open, the crumb is moist but light and the crust is hard. It's perfect.

I think I haven't been cooking my bread long enough, and perhaps the ambient temperature was not warm enough for it to ferment properly.

Many thanks to Mark Stambler, Kelly Coyne, Eric Knutzen, and all the little microbes out there that made this bread possible.
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Venus Flytrap Mossarium

It's been awhile since I've posted. It's been a rough week - temperatures above 100 ravaging my fall squashes.

My one solace can be found in the little mossarium I put together for my son. He's fascinated by carnivorous plants so we found him a Venus flytrap. It was not doing well in the little pot so I put this together and it is now thriving. The bottom is a glass pot found in the bathroom section of Cost Plus for $3.99. The top is a glass plate found in the kitchen department for $1.99. The rest in yard gravel washed, activated charcoal, reconstituted moss and Spanish moss that grows freely in our yard.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mad about trombetta

We're getting a fresh crop of fruit. Last week we had some blossom rot. It was hella hot which may have had something to do with it. I added some calcium as the plant works so hard I thought it might need it. Pretty, though, eh?

I was curious as to what was causing this pattern of destruction on my sunflower leaves. I could not find any bugs anywhere near. The other day I found out - the bushtits - not much bigger than hummingbirds - sit on the stalk and peck away as if it were their own personal salad bar. Cute.

Eggplant is one of the prettiest plants in the garden - big scalloped green leaves with purple fuzz, deadly nightshade flowers and defensive thorns. Made a lovely stir fry the other day with Japanese eggplants and homegrown shiitake mushrooms.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Three tomatoes - a case study

1. a black zebra, 2. a pineapple heirloom, and 3. a mystery heirloom.

Earlier in the season I am more inclined to follow the rules and so, when I planted the black zebra and the pineapple tomato plants - next to each other in matching black buckets - I assumed I'd have the same results. Oh, but noooo.

The black zebra, above, companion planted with a volunteer french hollyhock infected with rust, took off. It climbed out of its cage, like an errant toddler, and went to visit its neighbors in their cages. It fruited early and often and continues to fruit even on a vine that is almost snapped in half, with but a whisper of a connection through which water and nutrients flow. This tomato is insane, indefatigable.

Next to it resides the finicky pineapple heirloom, above, host to one of my favorite fruits. I religiously pinched and contained it and thus it resembles a nineteenth-century corseted virgin. It is lovely and dense, with fitful and exuberant leaves unfurling with the same promise of verdancy I've witnessed in marijuana plants (in online galleries, of course). But alas, it has only just this week flowered and is still deciding if it will fruit. I believe it's worried about its figure.

(That's the black zebra to the left, shamelessly groping the pineapple tomato.)

My mystery heirloom, above, which my husband brought home from the Silver Lake farmer's market may be a pineapple, or a Russian white. Either would be fine with me. I really didn't have a place for it and stuck it haphazardly in a shady area of the yard. It coughed and sputtered along, not doing much of anything. Later I planted next to it an eggplant, a pepper and cucumbers. Maybe because of the others I watered more and it benefited. The mystery heirloom took off. Because I did not care much for it I rarely pinched it and did not bother to cage it, and now, despite my neglect, it bears more than 20 ripening tomatoes. Oh, what color will this fruit turn?

As far as best practices with tomatoes, all I have to say is, 'Go figure.'

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What may I do in Los Angeles?

I've been slogging through the interwebs trying to figure out what is legal for me to do with my Los Angeles property. May I have bees (no)? May I cultivate and sell potted herbs (yes)? May I keep chickens (yes, non-commercially)?

As I've successfully traversed the system and come out the other end without assistance from city engineers I'll share with you the road to my success. A caveat: YMMV. Things change, and by the time you read this the home version of our game may be vastly different. Verifying these things for yourself should be easier with the following information.

1. Find out your zoning code.

Go to the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety.

Under the second tab [LADBS Services] select [Zoning], then [Zoning Information]. The first link is [Parcel Profile Report]. Click on that.

Type in your street number: 111
Then your street name: Mockingbird

Do not add "Lane", or "Street", or anything like that - just the name.

Hit [Search].

Under #2: Basic Zoning Information for Parcel
The last piece of information - [Zone(s):] will be your zoning code. In my case my zone is R2-1VL. The key piece of information is before the hyphen. Basically, I'm R2, which means "residential, 2 units". The "IVL" has something to do with building height - irrelevant to this discussion.

2. Accessory Uses

What you are interested in is what you can do with your property besides living in your house. This is called an accessory use.

You will want to peruse the Accessory Use definition under Section 12.03, Article 2, Chapter 1of the Municipal Code. See below on how to get there. It covers garage sales, exotic animals, historic cars, etc.

There is a manual at Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety nicknamed the "Zoning Manual" linked at:
The real name is "City of Los Angeles Zoning Code Manuel and Commentary, Fourth Edition." This is a lot of question and answer and NOT the hardcore zoning information that you are looking for - but you might be interested, so I'm linking to it.

What you, my hardcore, nerdy urban farmer friend, are looking for is:

The American Legal Publishing Corporation, for the City of Los Angeles

Click on [Municipal Code]
Then, in the left hand menu, click on the [+] next to [Municipal Code], then [Chapter 1 General Provisions and Zoning].
Next, click on the [+] next to [Article 2 Specific Planning - Zoning Comprehensive Zoning Plan].

Here you will see definitions and all the zones listed, with their section numbers: OS, PF, A1, A2, RA, RE, RS, R1, R2, RU, RZ, etc. These are listed in order of restriction - least restrictive (OS - open space to more restrictive - R2, in my case). Click on the link for your zone.

In my case, R2 (section number 12.09), the first thing I need to notice is that I can use my property for anything "permitted in the 'R1' One-family Zone", so I'll need to go back and read the R1 section, as well. R1 is less restrictive than R2, so my rights include those of R1, and any additional restrictions listed for R2..

Item number 6 on this page lists: "Accessory uses and home occupations, subject to the conditions specified in Section 12.05 A.16. of this Code. (Amended by Ord. No. 171,427, Eff. 1/4/97, Oper. 3/5/97.)"

Section 12.05 A.16 covers the conditions and standards for home occupations - working out of your house.

You will have to get a business license from the city, and a sales tax number through the state. Since you will only be able to sell in Los Angeles you will have to collect sales tax on your sales. You might want to consider liability insurance for your business. These are requirements and this suggestion are not covered here.

Now, I'll use the left hand menu to go back to zone R1.

What I am interested in her is item number 3.
(Amended by Ord. No. 181,188, Eff. 7/18/10.) Truck gardening; the keeping of equines, poultry, rabbits and chinchillas in conjunction with the residential use of the lot, provided that:
and it goes on to tell me the restrictions.

The important part here is Ordinance number 181.188

This very cool ordinance, the "Food & Flowers Freedom Act", was signed into law on June 4, 2010. It was ushered into existence by the Urban Farming Advocates of Los Angeles. Read the ordinance. At the top you'll see a bunch of numbers. These correspond to various zones, which I've explained below.

12.03 Definitions
12.04.09 'PF' Public Facilities Zone
12.05 'OS' Open Space Zone
12.06 'A2' Agricultural Zone
12.07 'RA' Suburban Zone
12.07.01 'RE' Residential Zone
12.08 'R1' One-family Zone
12.09.03 'RMP' Mobilehome Park Zone
12.17.5 'MR1' Restricted Industrial Zone

R2 is not listed as my section is incorporated in R1. So if your zone is not included here, make sure it's not included in another zone.

The definitions section is important, though definitions for farming and truck gardening may be read in the ordinance.

FARMING. The cultivation of berries, flowers, fruits, grains, herbs, mushrooms, nuts, ornamental plants, seedlings or vegetables for use on-site or sale or distribution on-site or off-site.

TRUCK GARDENING. The cultivation of berries, flowers, fruits, grains, herbs, mushrooms, nuts, ornamental plants, seedlings or vegetables for use on-site or sale or distribution off-site.

These sound the same. The difference is truck gardening only allows sales off-site, whereas farming allows sales on-site.

So, living in R2 I may cultivate and sell the items listed under truck gardening, but to sell plants off-site legally you need a nursery license. If you read the zoning code, however, nurseries are not allowed in most zones. There seems to be a conflict. Cultivating herbs and ornamental plants and seedlings is definitely nursery work as defined by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. It does seem that Ord. No. 181,188 allows truck gardeners to have a nursery license.

There are different kinds of nursery licenses. Since I am just starting out I chose NIPM 2.4: Fee Exempt License (35 KB) which requires I sell less than $1000 worth of product, that I cultivate that product myself, and do not sell my product outside of Los Angeles County. If I succeed within these modest parameters I will return and shop for a different, more full-fledged license.

Hope this is clear. Again, this is not legal advice - it is only what I learned going through this system myself. I hope that I have given you the tools to help you figure out for yourself what you can do with the property on which you live.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Will Monsanto sue Mother Nature?

The chemical company Monsanto created an herbicide-resistant canola which is grown widely in Canada and Australia. When the wind blew seeds into Percy Schmeiser's canola field, Monsanto sued him for patent infringement and Schmeiser lost.

Now, grad students Meredith G. Schafer and Cynthia Sagers, from the University of Arkansas science department, have found wild canola bearing modified genes growing in a broad swath in North Dakota. They are growing in the wild, where they are not supposed to grow.

Scary stuff. Why is Monsanto allowed to tinker with the planets survival, and on top of that, sue people when their crops are contaminated by Monsanto's Frankensteinian creations?

Stories like these make growing your own food seem even more subversive.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Catio = Cat + Patio

Since we have coyotes that visit our yard our three cats stay indoors. So this summer I wanted to build them a cat cage so they could hang out outside with us. We bought a roll of fencing for about $37 at Home Depot and I found this bookshelf on the street. I basically wrapped it with the wire and fastened it with galvanized poultry net staples (3/4"). The only tools were wire cutters and a hammer. The shelves are made of three slats. I popped out the middle slat, allowing the cats to go between tiers. Old cutting boards and towels create platforms for them to chill on.

The door is lazy-ass genius at its best. Look at these cool hinges. I just cut the door one cell bigger than the opening all the way round, then bent the top row of protruding wires to make hinges and then fasten it shut with refer chip clips. Today I'm splurging on those snappy little office supply fasteners - they'll be more secure. Don't worry. I wired the back of the cage to the post on the retaining wall so it won't fall over.

We have three cats and one is big and grumpy. I'll put him in the bottom, replace the missing slat above him, and he'll have his own compartment away from the other two trouble makers.

I've seen similar bookshelves at Home Depot for around $20. I might buy another one and put the two together. Yay, kitties!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sleeping bee

It was an unseasonably cool morning - closed all the windows last night and slept under blankets. On my morning walk through I found this bee sleeping it off on a tomato leaf. As you can see by the fuzziness of the photo I was more caffeinated than he was. I returned later to make sure he was alive and indeed, he had begun to stir.

Next door was this fellow - not sure what he is but have seen him around before.

I'm a little sad this morning. One of my squirrels injured one of his back legs - you could see his glassy eyes were full of pain. He's one of this year's newbies. He looked at me as if saying, "I didn't know this was part of the game." I left some shelled peanuts for him, hoping to make his life a tiny bit easier during this transition.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dairyman's Cooperative Creamery of Boise Valley

This medal belonged to my grandfather, Charles Leroy "Roy" Larson. It was fashioned so that you could hang it from the button hole of your overalls. It looks well worn so I assume he wore it often and was proud to wear it.

According to Wikipedia, "...the lowest days of the Great Depression brightened for area dairymen...," because of area cooperatives. They "...provided milk checks to those who were members of the cooperative, enabling them to pay their taxes and provide food for their families."

My mother, a staunch Republican, balked at the thought that my grandfather would have been involved in anything as socialistic as a cooperative, but there you have it - proof that he belonged and that he wore that medal with pride. The cooperative folded in 1970.

I never met my grandfather - he died before I was born. But I know he worked hard as a farmer, dealing with both successes and failures. It wasn't easy. He worked as a sharecropper for a long time before he was able to afford his own land. He died in his 50s, from heart failure. Too much heart, spent too fast.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Evening Primrose

Evening primrose, or oenothera biennis, grows wild all over our yard. As the seeds mature I gather them and throw them for the next year's crop. It's such a lovely flower, similar to a four-leafed clover in shape. It is considered to be a weed, and like other "white men's foot prints" appears where the land has been disturbed, though it may be quickly crowded out by other, more successful, plants.

While some consider it a weed, I consider it old-fashioned, tall spires with simple yellow flowers that seem to bloom one at a time. It's not at all showy

Roots, and young leaves may be consumed. The plant has astringent and sedative properties and can be used to make a tea. It has been used to cure asthma and respiratory problems, gastro-intestinal disorders, and to speed heeling. Its common name is King's cure all.

The seeds contain gamma-linoleic and linoleic acid. Oil from the seeds has been used to alleviate pain associated with menstruation and menopause.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Poodles Beware!

Some of you may have thought I was kidding when I referred to the poodle graveyard, up behind the abandoned well, in the lumpy, bumpy area of our yard, but I wasn't. We have coyotes - serious coyotes, and they like our backyard. Our cats are indoor cats, much to their dismay.

The other day I was raking leaves from above the patio and heard a clunk. This is what hit the pavement. Poor poodle.

Update: I thought it was a poodle skull but after researching a bit, discovered that it is a cat skull. Poor kittie. Of course, I love the kitties, but they eat my birds, so am always chasing them out of the yard.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The women in my family

Miss Jeanette Pinkerton married Joe Maxwell after his first wife, my cousin Della Stewart died in the flu epidemic of 1918. Miss Jeanette garnered a few minutes of fame in 1935 due to her prolific chickens.

Five Haskell Hens Lay 337 Eggs Over A 3-Months Period
Mrs. Joe Maxwell [Jeanette Pinkerton Maxwell] of this city believes some kind of a record in egg production has been broken by five hens which she owns. During the past three months she had received 327 eggs from the five birds, or an average of more than 64 eggs each.

The following report is made by months:

Mrs. Maxwell states that the only feed given her hens were scraps from the table.
Haskell Free Press, April 4, 1935, Courtesy of Jack Carrigan.

My cousin Mollie England Stewart wrote this letter to her parents in Mississippi, December 12, 1916.

I make a lot of butter to sell. I sell it around here and to the pedder 25 cts can get 30 cents at town.
Courtesy of Mary McAllister.

My great-grandmother, Amanda Peterson Larson, made cakes which she sold, along with butter, in town on Saturdays. I still have her butter mold.

When I was young Mr. and Mrs. Sundell would pull up to our house in their Model T truck on Saturday bringing us fresh eggs from their farm. They'd always stop and chat with my mother and me. It was a little taste of Swedish farm life that survived the new world.

This wasn't a trend or a lifestyle, or a novelty - it was just life. People made their own food, and sold it to make a living and to sustain their communities. And they enjoyed their lives. I want to go to there.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Maim your Television

We didn't exactly kill our television, but we maimed it severely. We cut the cable and saved ourselves upwards of $150 a month. We substituted the cable with a basic Netflicks account and a Roku for downloading from Amazon. Now we watch commercial television and movies on demand (in three different rooms) for less than $10 a month.

How is this relevant to farming?

We have a 15-year-old boy. He rarely watches television, but when he does he doesn't see commercials. McDonalds, Burger King, General Foods, and the like do not reach him in our home. He knows where food comes from and has little interest in the offerings of agribusiness.

Most of our meals are made at home. Last year we sent him to visit his grandmother in D.C. She eats out a lot and planned to treat him with trips to McDonalds. He was miserable. He's totally spoiled. At home he has bread, tortillas, and pasta made from scratch, vegetables from our garden, and fruit from the farmer's market. His father makes a lunch for him to take to school each day, containing a homemade energy bar which I wrap in wax paper and art from magazines. It was a week before he realized I was making them and they weren't store bought.

Needless to say, he's healthy, strong, and thin.

Netflicks has some great movies. I just finished watching Killer at Large: Why Obesity is American's Greatest Threat - very informative.

You don't have to kill your television, but you can drive it to its knees and make it serve you.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Bastille Day

It's really the first hot day of summer. Until now it's been mild, but this morning it was hotter in the house than it was outside. I can smell smoke on the air, but not wildfire smoke - more like barbecue smoke, and flowers.

The garden is doing well, everything is getting bigger, and since I put down another layer of hay, good things are sprouting up all over, like sunflowers.

My lettuce sprouted yesterday, but today it's gone. I think something is eating it.

western scrub jay
Say hello to my little friend.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The White Man's Footprint

There are three plants commonly referred to as "white man's footprint," though as a nickname it was probably applied to many more. The three plants are common plantain, common mullein, and Kentucky bluegrass. The adjective "white man's" should tip you that the term was coined by native Americans. These plants appeared where the land was damaged or disturbed - where the earth was tilled, where roads were being built, or where mine tailings were accumulated. They were the signature of agriculture and industry, and as such, the arrival of the white man.

Common plantain and common mullein are two of my favorite plants (or herbs, or weeds). In Idaho, where I grew up, they appear everywhere, though I've seen both in California. They both have broad leaves so are commonly referred to as "docks". Both have traditional medicinal uses.

Plantago major
This is a low weed, about 10 inches at its tallest. The leaves are deep green and striated. Thin flower stalks originate from the center, topped like a Q-Tip with a one inch flower spike. The flowers on the spike bloom in sequence - a little burst of white satellites in an orbit perpendicular to the stalk.

I find something calming about this weed, either in its ubiquity or humility. It is known to be invasive, though I've had no luck incorporating it into my yard.

The English and American common names respectively: greater or common plantain
Vernacular names: waybread, cuckoo's bread, St Patrick's dock, snakeweed, snakebite, rat's tail

Verbascum thapsus
An impressive giant of a plant, mullein towers over a person. It starts with a low-growing, foot-wide tuft of velvety grey-green leaves, similar to lamb's ear. It then shoots up a massive spike decked the length with bright yellow flowers, similar to a hollyhock. The flowers resemble those of Hookers evening primrose.

The plant may be cultivated but draws insects so may better foraged.

The English and American common names respectively: greater or common mullein
Vernacular names: Jacob's (or Aaron's) rod, velvet dock, old man's blanket, hig candlewick, Bullicks lungwort, feltwort, and most colorfully, cowboy's toilet paper

The third plant known as "white man's footprint" is Kentucky bluegrass. Attempts are being made to replace this non-native grass with native grasses.

Also negatively associated with colonial encroachment is the "white man's fly," or the honeybee. These were imported to the America's in 1610, somehow surviving the six to eight week trip on ships to the Americas.

Philip Ackerman-Leist reminds us, in his book, Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader, that the appearance of the "white man's" legacy was seen as "...[harbinger] of the coming infiltration of a culture obsessed with domestication and, in many cases, dominion."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cactus Surprise

I was walking through the lumpy, bumpy part our yard today, a little left of the abandoned well, in a part of the yard I rarely visit. There, among a tangle of geraniums and ivy, was a paddle cactus sporting an apricot-colored flower.

I don't remember putting this in the ground - it may have been here before us. I have no idea what it is. It is broad and paddle shaped, deep green, with small tufts of white needles, making it look a bit like dotted swiss. The flower turns into a red fruit, though most of these had already been consumed.

I'm looking forward to cleaning out this area so I can see the cactus better.

I trimmed the lavender today and cut a bunch for wands, or shall I say wand-shaped bunches as I don't have a goddessy bone in my body. It was a nice task for an unusually cool July morning.

My first attempts to make these failed as the stems would snap when I bent them. So what I did was cut all the blooming flowers off my lavender. Then I sorted them into four categories: dewy fresh new blooms, half-bloomed but not seeded, partly seeded but still in bloom; and too far gone. I started with the dewy fresh new blooms and realized the stems on these were soft enough to bend. With the second batch two out of 18 stems snapped, and the third I left as a bouquet and did not bend the stems.

Sometimes just figuring something out on your works better than searching youtube for a tutorial.

My lavender from the guy in the white van at the Hollywood Farmer's Market. All his plants: vegetables, herbs and flowers, are in 4" x 4" pots and cost a dollar each. They have never failed me. I have to remember to ask him what kind of lavender this is next time I see him.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Veteran Farmers

In yesterday's LA Times food section was a story about returning Iraqi veterans finding work as farmers.

From Swords to Plowshares, Thursday, July 8, 2010

It was very inspiring. Colin Archipley owns Archi's Acres - a 200 acre former avocado farm in Escondido. He was a Marine who returned from Iraq in 2006. Michael O' Gorman is the executive director of Farmer Veteran Coalition, an organization in Davis that hosted a career fair.

Jason Rich, a Navy man returning from Afghanistan works with veterans. He said, "It's meditational in some ways. You get to shut down the noise in your life."

Then there's Hungry Mother Organics, in Carson City, NV. This "veteran-centric" farm has several veterans on staff. It turns out they've teamed with Whole Foods to sell their produce while taking Whole Food's scraps to create compost for the food they grow.

Matt McCue, an Iraqi vet, said, "Farmers have to save the world - that' our job." He's a partner at Shooting Star CSA in Fairfield, CA.

It's wonderful seeing food and gardening (farming) offered as an option to our returning veterans.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Seed Grenade

At and maker - a ceramic hand grenade filled with seeds for urban guerrilla gardening.

I can't find it now, but last year I found earrings and bracelets with little containers that leaked seeds as you walked around. Lovely idea.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Planted White Sage

Today I pinched back my tomatoes and planted a white sage I bought at the Sunset and Vine Farmers Market from the Theodore Payne nursery. I've been sitting on it for awhile, but finally put it in the ground. I rescued my old soil sifter and used it to remove the more inhospitable aspects of my Los Angeles soil - the big chunks of dead clay that looks very much like asphalt.

"Hey,whatcha doing?"

As I sit on the couch typing this, the squirrels and jays take shifts in the tree just outside the window. They stare at me, urging me to throw another handful of peanuts on the patio. The garden is practically mulched with peanuts and peanut shells and I've had to work out intricate methods to prevent both the birds and squirrels from displacing seedlings to cache peanuts. I can't help it, though, I love them. I have my favorites - Mama squirrel, who takes peanuts from my hand, and a big disheveled blue scrub jay who always looks like he just got out of bed. He follows me through the garden as I work. He sits atop the tomato cages and coos whisper songs. I've read they only follow you for food but I don't believe this is true. They are very bright birds and the way they play, with other jays and with me, suggests sociability.

Yesterday I moved ferns that I pollinated from spores to seed trays. There are staghorn ferns and asplenium nidus - bird's nest ferns. We'll see how this second phase works.

I pulled some nigella pods today, and collected the seeds.

The cool thing about farming in Los Angeles is that there is an almost infinite number of ways to do it.