Why I Am Growing a Garden This Season

The drought. We are all trying to save water. I haven’t bathed in weeks. I barely flush the toilet. But dammit, I am growing a garden this year. Why?

Because I’m part of a farm tour.

Just joking.

I’m growing my own vegetables this year this year precisely because there is a drought. 80% of a California’s water is used for big agricultural operations. Almonds. Grapes. Oranges. Rice. All water hogs–and much of the harvest is sold overseas. By planting a diverse garden that will feed local people, I am saying: this is the scale that is sustainable.

Small farms care about tending their soil, building their soil. One of the biggest benefits of healthy soil is less run-off during irrigation. In Deborah Koons Garcia’s documentary, Symphony of the Soil, scientists at the Rodale Institute showed that conventional agricultural-use soil doesn’t retain water, it just runs off, causing erosion and making the soil saline. But in organic or deeply mulched soils, that water is held in the soil, to be better accessed by the plants’ roots.

A small urban farm can also draw upon local resources in order to water–eg the washing machine. It’s legal to use washing machine water in your garden if these 12 guidelines are followed. You don’t need a permit. We use a special laundry soap (Oasis) so we can water our fruit trees with washing machine water. Our household of six people does about 3 loads a week, meaning 120/gallons a week go toward watering our 29 fruit trees.

There’s also a method called dry farming–basically torturing your poor tomatoes, squash and potatoes by withholding water. But as a salty old French grape farmer told me once, “We make our grapes suffer, and they taste better for it.” Same principle with your veg: mulch and add compost to your veggies, water the plant until it sets fruit, then stop watering completely. You’ll get a smaller yield, but better tasting produce. Note that this will only work if the plant can reach way down into the deep soil–it doesn’t work for container gardening.

Ok, that’s my spiel–what are you doing to save water, and garden at the same time?

P.S. This Sunday, May 31, I’m on a panel for Oakland first Book Festival!! 1:30 at Laurel Books in Frank Ogawa Plaza. Come on by, I’ll be giving away some plant starts.

Denver Report

Howdy, just took a quick trip to Denver. I was invited by Lisa Rogers of Feed Denver, an urban farming organization that was putting on a conference for folks in Denver growing food in the city. I was blown away by some of the urban farmers I met. It’s always so humbling and fun to meet some fellow dirt grubbers. We have many of the same troubles and triumphs.

Here’s Lisa, a farmer from Seattle named Patrick, and Steve, a farmer at 5 Fridges Farm.
denvergh

5 Fridges was really cool. Steve uses 1.5 acres of a 13 acre nature preserve (yes, in Denver city limits) to grow a CSA for 70 families!! Holy bio-intensive planting. Besides veg, they also had goats and chickens.
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And they had built a commercial kitchen that they were going to rent out for classes and pickling sessions.

One of the big problems in Denver is the dang land is so expensive! I was shocked to hear about the high rents and property values. Some of it is that Denver is having a boom, partially driven by the legalization of recreational pot. Seems like every warehouse was growing the stuff, and so there are fewer places to live so rent is high. Denver rents were as high as those in Oakland/SF!! It actually made me worry about what will happen when (if?) California passes recreational pot legislation. Will it be another giant land grab? Sadly, one of the oldest urban gardens in Denver–Gabrielle’s Garden, run by UrbiCulture Community Farms–has to relocate because developers are selling the land for $3 million dollars. It reminded me of Hayes Valley Farm (RIP).

But then there was good news, too. I met a husband and wife team who have 7 acres of family land in Denver that they are cultivating. Everitt Farms is hoping to become a community center and market, selling produce and flowers.

The scale, the wide open spaces, the potential–that is Denver.

Farm Tour: June 13

Oh goodness. I’ve been in deep dormancy for the past three months, only now just feeling like peeking my head up and checking in on the blog. Here’s the report:
-The two bee hives are doing extremely well. They are heavy with honey and lots of signs of new hatchlings.
-I expanded the chicken run. The girls were not getting enough exercise, so I opened up the back area for them. In addition to weed control, they are now eating dead bees, disturbing ant habitat, and probably eating codling moth larvae under the apple trees. Their eggs have turned a much darker orange color.
-I have been eating way too much broccoli. Got a little crazy with the planting and now we have to eat it every night for dinner. Good problem to have.
-Planted the last fruit tree in our mini-orchard a few weeks ago. I read about the new Zaiger’s NectaPlum in Sunset magazine and had to buy it. Only 300 chill hours!!
-Finally, finally, replaced the yucky, disappointing sour orange (supposed to taste like a Seville but it never did) with a Bearss lime–to recreate the one that died a few years ago.
-Gearing up for a couple turkeys. Getting poults in May, raising them til T-day.
And, I’m going to be part of the Institute of Urban Homesteading’s Urban Farm Tour 2015. June 13, mark your calendars, and check in soon to buy tickets. It’s such a fun event, and I can’t wait to show off the trees, the turkeys, and maybe a drip irrigation system if I ever get that off the ground.

Grow a Little Fruit Tree

First class of 2015!! Because I’m teaching full-time at University of San Francisco, I’m not teaching regular classes at GhostTown Farm any longer. Such a bummer–but I can only do so much…However, the lovely, talented Ann Ralph of Berkeley Hort fame will be teaching a class at my place. It’s a pruning class and she will be going over all the aspects of growing fruit trees in backyards. She’s a big advocate of keeping trees small and manageable. Since we have over 30 trees on the farmlette right now, this is the perfect classroom to learn winter pruning by actually pruning my trees (please, don’t f- them up!!).

More details here; the GT Farm class is February 1!!!

East Harvest Pruning: Winter Workshop – $40
http://www.littlefruittree.com

Saturday, January 17, Oakland, 10:30 am -12:30 pm
Sunday, January 18, Berkeley, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm
Saturday, January 31, San Pablo,10:30 am – 12:30 pm
Sunday, February 1, GT Farm Oakland, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm
Sunday, February 8, Berkeley, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Preregistration is required.
Contact littlefruitree@gmail.com or (209) 296-5797

“I loved your workshop! The information, the clarity of your teaching style…all of it!”

Timed pruning offers a simple and revolutionary approach to fruit tree care: winter prune for shape and summer prune to keep trees small and easy. This hands-on class teaches the simple logic of pruning. You’ll learn the benefits of creating short trees, how to engage in the pruning conversation, make aesthetic decisions, and trust your judgment. The class includes information about seasonal fruit tree routines and pest and disease control with ample time for questions.

Instructor Ann Ralph’s book, Grow a Little Fruit Tree, about using pruning to fruit trees at people-appropriate heights, is newly available from Storey Publishing. She managed the fruit tree department at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery for ten years.

Fruit Tastings

Wolfskill. I kept hearing about this mythical USDA germplasm reserve that sometimes hosts fruit tastings of the specimens that grow there. Someone told me they once went and wandered through a fig orchard, plucking ripe fruit as they walked, tasting the mind-blowing varieties. I somehow missed the invite to the stone fruit tasting (must’ve been in July or August) at Wolfskill but managed to make it to the persimmon and pomegranate tasting this October.
In a word: WOW.
The location is up in the Capay Valley, near the town of Winters. It’s hard to find, the signs are subtle. For a reason: fruit nerds might swoop in constantly to taste the 100 plus varieties of fruit growing on the more than 150 acre plot of land. I know I would. But about three times a year, they swing open the gates and allow the public to come taste. persimmonspeoplewolfskill
The grounds are lovely, bursting with fruit at every turn (gentle reminders not to pick grapes or olives were posted). Instead of traipsing through the orchards willy-nilly, the good people at Wolfskill had harvested the fruit for us, and arranged it in a decorative but functional manner. The fruits were all labeled and we were given a tasting sheet. Fruit geeks (recognizable by their pith helmets) and families milled around the long tables, sampling.
The persimmons: I dunno. Persimmons are weird. I loved them when I first tried them after moving to California, but these days I feel like they are just a leetle bit bland. I do adore dried persimmons, though.
persimmonswolfskill
I can really get excited about pomegranates, though. I have a Wonderful growing at my place, and the shrub makes the most delicious, juicy fruit. The only problem with poms is the staining color.
pomswolfskill
So, imagine my delight when I saw the white (ok, yellow, really) pom there at Wolfskill. Only problem? It was kinda bland. The good news was this most delectable pink, non-staining variety called, myagkosenyannyi rozovyt. It tastes just as complex and rich as Wonderful but it is pink. The poms from Wolfskill are mostly from a former Soviet botanist named Gregory Levin–hence the long-ass name. Read his memoir, Pomegranate Road, if you want the skinny on his life as a pom collector. Now the trick is to get a hold of some of the myagkosenyannyi rozovyt germplasm (aka a cutting). Because it’s a research orchard, you can only get cuttings if you are affiliated with a research institution (GhostTown Farm Laboratories?). I’m trying to work my USF credentials to get a few stems, though–wish me luck. If I’m successful, I’ll have a few myagkosenyannyi rozovyts to harvest in the next few years.
Photos all by Leilani Buddenhagen

Charlie Cart

Oh no, I’m in love with this little cutie: ffe40ec520f90de86513f977a4020060_large

It’s a classroom kitchen on wheels! With an oven! I just saw the prototype at the Edible Schoolyard and almost swooned. I need one. Not for my house, but for teachin’. This semester I’m teaching at California College of the Arts and boy we could use a kitchen in the classroom. So far my class has threshed wheat, made sauerkraut, eaten bugs (some of us), poached eggs, and made quesadillas. We’ve improvised with desks as cutting boards and a Korean stove to cook stuff, but this Charlie Cart would have made things a lot easier. I can see how it could be used on urban farms, at schools, and by local food not bombs chapters. Check out their kickstarter campaign, and please donate if you can!

http://bit.ly/charliecart