Podcast with Sierra Magazine

I love radio! So when Sierra Magazine invited me to answer gardening questions, I was game. Kanchan from Spiral Gardens joined me and here’s the show–we are the second guests. First up is a conversation with a Johnny’s seed company, then me and Kanchan.
Check it out:

Life is a bowl of cherries

It’s cherry season!!


There are two sweet cherry trees on 28th Street, and my they have grown. One of them was in the fire we experienced November of 2017, and got pretty charred on one side because the redwood shed burned to the ground, and they were close together. The trees also suffer from ants setting aphids on the leaves. Sometimes the leaves curl beyond recognition, especially on the tips. And man, they really want to grow tall. I keep ’em pretty short with summer pruning. Despite these problems, the cherry trees are fruiting and surviving.

There’s something about cherry trees–I associate them with luck, maybe because of a slot machine toy I had as a child? When I look up into a tree and see those happy red cherries dangling up in the canopy, my heart opens up. Especially when the sky is so blue, and the leaves are so green. What a crazy color combo.

While we were picking cherries, I was thinking about what I had read in an online class that I just signed up for. The class is one of a series of online lady permaculture teachings. This feminine angle is crucial for me–I’ve had a knee-jerk reaction against permaculture because in the aughts when I was learning more about it, it was always taught by some white guy. I’m sure a white guy can teach a permaculture class but why was it always a white guy? It made me feel weird. So the free class I signed up was just what I had been craving, the thing that had been missing from the teachings I had experienced before: it’s called Emotional Permaculture. It’s taught by Heather Jo Flores, of Food Not Lawns fame. What I love about her and this project is they are coming at permaculture from a female perspective, where the emotional landscape is just as important as your garden landscape. Here’s a quote from the course:

In the current culture of political and environmental chaos, it is more important than ever that we cultivate a personal ability to not only endure catastrophic conditions, but also to find joy in the process. 

My kid, Frannie, climbed up into the tree and picked a bunch of cherries. I have a photo of her from six years ago when the trees were first planted. franwithcherrytree

My friend Jibril, who caretakes the garden now, said he got quite a few cherries too, before the birds did. As we drove off, I thought about Flores’s words again: we are enduring and finding joy, even though there has been–and always will be–pain too.


Back to the Roots

It’s been a weird couple of months. Feels like a horror movie, and we all want to know: when will this end?

For me as an urban farmer, it’s been a weird couple years.

I had been an urban farmer but due to various circumstances, I had slowly let everything go: the rabbits, the goats, the chickens, the bees, and finally the garden. I became a Costco shopper and I grew ornamentals. Why, I thought, should I raise chickens, when I can just buy eggs from the store? Deep in my prepper mind, I knew that the day would come when the knowledge base I had collected might come in handy again, but but I will admit it: I got soft.
Part of it was I became separated from the farm. My partner Billy and I, and our 8-year old daughter were evicted from the house where we had started the urban farm called Ghosttown back in 2003. Separated from the land we had been tending for 15 years, we settled in a duplex in North Oakland with a concrete driveway. I gave my chickens to friends, my bees absconded from the hive around the same time we got evicted. The orchard and garden are still growing, but are tended by a different group of urban farmers who are rooted in social justice, herbal medicine, and working with the people of West Oakland. I moved on knowing this was right action.
But now, with Covid raging, and cracks in our society revealed to show inequities and weaknesses in the system, we have to do something as citizens. A friend told me this is our zero gravity moment. We are all up in the air, struggling to feel grounded. When we do land, how will the circumstances be shifted? Can we make things right, finally, for once? This is what inspires me–we need to demand a new way of living. We need more edible parks like Dover Park in Oakland, we need community orchards, we need to dig up streets and plant vegetables like Starhawk told us. We need to look at models like permaculture, but not the white male interpretation, the emergent strategy version.
I am suddenly called again, back to urban farming. My friends at Sierra magazine asked me to write a little something, here’s a story about gardening with children. Also, I found myself up in Solano county picking up a colony of bees. They are happily buzzing in the backyard. I am reminded, this is how it all started before, with a colony of bees. It’s a first step toward getting grounded into the Earth again.

Damson plum season

The other day I was out watering my vegetables when I noticed my plum trees. There are two of them planted near the chicken coop. They’ve always been my low-achievers in the garden. One is a Euro prune, the other a Damson. I planted them about 8 years ago with the idea that they were both European plums, so they should cross-pollinated with each other. Every year: never any fruit. Flowers, yes, but then nothing. Maybe they don’t like each other’s pollen?

So there I am watering and I see…blue blobs. Not hanging from the branches but clinging very close, next to the trunk and on the bigger branches. Fruit, baby.

I collected the eggs and plums together. Don’t worry, I’ll wash them. This photo doesn’t do justice to their weird blue color.

So I got a few damsons this summer. I’ve got a good feeling about them. Next year, perhaps I will attempt to make June Taylor’s amazing fruit cheese, which is a non-dairy concentrated fruit paste. It’s so f-ing delicious. Maybe you can find some damsons at the farmers market and try it out. Let me know, too, if you have any favorite recipes for these blue babies.

May 20th Pollinate Event

Do you know the myrobalan plum tree? Of course you do! It’s the volunteer plum tree that seems to sprout up overnight in your sideyard and proceed to take over, dropping meh-tasting plums all over the ground come summertime. Some people harvest the fruit but the flavor tends toward bland, and the jam from these plums tends toward soupy. A friend of mine tried rebranding them into “big ass cherries” but if we are honest with ourselves we know that these plums lack that cherry bite that almondy-cherry yumminess. So what do you do if you have one of these trees in your backyard and you don’t have a chainsaw and a stump grinder?

Look toward Pollinate, the urban farming supply store in East Oakland. They have one of these cherry plum trees in their “back 40”, but they have transformed it. With John Valenzuela, Yolanda at Pollinate transformed that meh tree to a wow tree by grafting all kinds of yum plums and apricots onto the tree. Because the myrobalan was a pretty large tree, the new grafted branches are now huge too, only a few years after being grafted.

Come see it–and me!–in the flesh May 20th as Pollinate celebrates 5 years of business. I will be there at 2pm, hanging out and signing books by the old plum tree. They have a great selection of urban farming supplies, beekeeping stuff, and plants! and of course, trees.

Pollinate is on 2727 Fruitvale Ave; for more info, https://www.pollinatefarm.com/

Fig Leaf

The orchard looks pretty wild these days with all this good rain. Blue borage flowers are everywhere, the raspberry canes seem like they grow an inch a day, and some brassicas have gone to flower. All the trees are in leaf now, too, including the late to the scene sour cherry. The fig tree has its terminal bud leaves which means it is time to cook!

Chris Lee or Samin Nosrat told me about the power of a fig leaf as a cooking vessel. You just pick large fig leaves, give them a wash, and use them as a wrapper around protein. Here’s some halibut I wrapped in fig leaves, drizzled with olive oil and sprigs of thyme.

After tightly wrapping the fish, throw them in the oven at 400 or on the bbq, even better.

As the fish cooks, the fig leaf gives off a subtle flavor of coconut which infuses into the fish! This halibut was so good, we ate it before I could take a photo. But it’s also good with salmon.

Happy spring!