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!