Friday, April 18, 2014

SLOLA's April Meeting, 19 April, in The Learning Garden at Venice High School

at 2:30 PM
in the Learning Garden 
This month's timely topic: 
Practical Responses to Drought 
With Orchid Black  
Water is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy garden and practicing water efficiency has never been more important that it is today.
Orchid is a noted designer of California Native Plant Gardens and has taught a UCLA Extension course Green Gardens: Sustainable Garden Practice with David King for the past five years.  Brilliant and provocative, she shows practical and do-able steps to save water, something every gardener, in or out of SLOLA should do.  Orchid will be one speaker not to be missed.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

California Native Plants From Seed

Flowers of Romneya coulteri at The Learning Garden,
grown from seed stratified with fire.
Before we begin to think about how to propagate California native plants from seed, let's think about why we might want to grow California native plants. The native vegetation, through evolution, is adapted to this climate, these soil types and interacts with other natives (insects, mammals, birds, reptiles) in an ecological dance that was going on long before humans arrived, and certainly before the present civilization of humans arrived on scene. Their niche in the ecology of California gain some advantages to the gardener:

They Save Water
Once established, many native plants need little or no irrigation. Not only does one save the limited amount of water we have available, that saves one money.
Lower Maintenance
Less pruning and no fertilizers means less work for a gardener, saving time to learn more propagation and take more courses at UCLA Extension
Pesticide Freedom
Native plants interact with the insects of their environment in a way that eliminates pesticide use. The pests and diseases evolved with the plants and native plants have their own defense against them. Beneficial insects often become collateral victims when we spray pesticides (even more true if we use organic methods). Stop poisoning ourselves and our world.
Invite Wildlife
Native plants, birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and interesting critters are, as noted above, co-evolved to be here. Current research shows confirms what many have intuited for many years: native wildlife clearly prefers native plants. California’s wealth of insect pollinators can improve fruit set in your garden, while a variety of native insects and birds will keep your landscape free of mosquitoes and plant-eating insects. Open your garden to these wild living things that live among us, despite what we have done to their habitat.
Support Local Ecology
While creating native landscapes can never replace natural habitats lost to development, planting residential and commercial gardens, parks, and roadsides with California natives can provide a “bridge” to nearby remaining wildlands.

California native plants are a world unto their own, mostly because we have so little familiarity with them. By that I mean, our culture's experience with growing these plants is something like 250 years – many a good deal less, like 60 years. And that is also the time we've been selecting them for our gardens. On the other hand, beans, lettuce, cabbage, onions have been in cultivation for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years. Over that time, civilizations have selected year after year those plants that adapt to our culture, or in the case of stubborn plants, we have figured out how to make that plant grow to suit us. This selection process has yet to occur for California natives. Add to that the fact that these are plants from the driest of the world's Mediterranean climate that have adapted to survive with cool, wet winters and long, hot, droughty summers, in a land ravaged by frequent wildfires and you have plants that are, by nature, not ready to accept the regimen we intend to use to make them grow.

The cycle that California native plants live by is almost perfectly backwards to the cycle by which we want to make them grow. We want to plant in Spring (along with our tomatoes and marigolds) and have flowers blessing our landscape by July, if we insist on this, we will spend much more money on therapy than plants! Plant California natives in fall, when we hope for rain to establish them, and enjoy the fecundity of flowers in March/April. Right now, in the California native garden, some salvias are blooming, I've seen Blue Eyed Grass and some poppies blooming. By mid-March, the scene is breathtaking!

Being essentially wild plants, these plants of our home employ many different mechanisms to ensure that at least some of the seeds will find conditions acceptable to carry on the family name. These mechanisms cause for wacky germination of their seeds that drive gardeners batty and can be imitated by gardeners, if one knows the mechanisms a given plant uses to germinate at the most propitious moment for plant survival include:
  •      germination after a fire
  •      germination after cooler temperatures indicate winter
  •      germination as daylight gets longer, indicating more longer days
  •      germinating over a long period of time to have at least some of them hit ideal growing conditions

Meeting some of these conditions, for a gardener can be difficult. In order to imitate conditions that would break these inhibitors, one must understand the process the seed goes through in order to mimic it. In the case of fire causing germination, is it the heat, the chemical residue left by the fire or both that causes the seed to germinate when there is less competition for natural resources? If it is chemical, the commercially available 'Liquid Smoke' could be added to the container of the initial watering and might be the key to unlock germination. If it is heat, one will need to start a fire over the seeds to get the heat. For example, in germinating Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri) the fire that would burn around these seeds in nature, would be composed of Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) leaves. When I want to start Matilija Poppy from seed, I cover them with Live Oak leaves and set them on fire. My thought is that the temperature, the chemistry needed for the poppy to sprout will best be approximated by those leaves of the oak with which it can often be found. I might be just a little too fixed on this, but my results of poppy germination have been excellent.

Cold and heat is usually coupled with the word 'stratification,' cold stratification being the most common.

Collecting and Drying Local Seed


Make a point of picking only plants growing in prime locations. Individual plants with many insect holes and obvious poor health are probably located at the extremes of their preferred growing conditions and may also have distinctly atypical biochemistries as a response to their compromised growing conditions. Always check around the vicinity after you have located a desired plant. In fact, it should be stated that the best collector has scouted the area weeks ahead of going to collect seed – this needs to be a thoughtful and deliberative process. 

However, there may be times when there isn't any 'wiggle' room – in that case, be cautious, always error on the side of restraint. A thoughtless collector can wreck havoc on an ecosystem. There may be a whole field of your desired plant over the next rise or around the bend in the road. On the other hand, it may be the only one in the whole valley – and should be absolutely left alone. Furthermore, a plant common in one state may be a rare, protected plant in the next state, so check with a local California Native Plant Chapter first if in doubt.

Certain conservation practices are always necessary. The following figures should be your guide only.  We all know seed collectors that have paper bags in a spare room filled with seed from ten years or more ago that have never been germinated (and at this point are probably dead) so once more, error on the side of caution.  If a plant grows in large stands, never take more than a third of the plants' seed. If it is a large, solitary bush or tree, never pick more than a fourth of the seed. If it is a large stand of perennials that is healthy, you can be more relaxed with the material as they have more than one year to produce more seed.

Wherever you gather, presume that you will come back the next year to the same place and find the plants still healthy. Don’t make a common mistake of looking many days for a plant, finding it at last, and taking a whole load of its seed back with you – it’s like you are punishing the plant (indeed the species!) for your frustration. And most of it, mark my words, will go to waste.

Remember, know a few plants well, know what you will need and don’t try for the record amount of seeds never planted (and in a year, designated 'uncertain germination percentage').


Dry your seeds promptly upon return. Lay the seed on screens away from direct sunlight in a dry place and, above all, away from rodents and insects. Fear of insects and rodents have spurred me to use my food dryer to do the job as quickly as possible. Dry your seed as promptly as possible and, once dry, place in paper envelopes or in glass jars. Make sure your seed stock is insect free before storing. It can be terribly disconcerting to find your stored seed has become insect larvae feed and you have nothing to show for your work.


Monday, November 4, 2013

The End Of GMOs

An anti-GMO sign prepared by a Seed
Freedom LA member for the
March Against Monsanto in May 2013
Tomorrow Washington state will vote on a bill to label genetically engineered seeds (GE), commonly called 'GMO's' for 'genetically modified organisms' – a term coined by the industry itself because the 'genetically engineered' moniker was deemed to be harder to sell to the public.  In honor of that,  some activists want to make sure 'GE' is used as much as GMO.  A similar effort went down to defeat in California just last year after millions of dollars were spent to keep consumers stupid. A corresponding smear campaign is being waged in Washington, in fact spending even more money in Washington (per capita) than California, and as I write this, the race seems neck and neck.

Those wishing to keep Americans ignorant of the pervasiveness of genetically engineered foods do not tout how great the seeds are – knowing full well that every claim they ever made about their product can be easily refuted, sometimes by their very supporters! For example, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), with many former Monsanto employees and predilection for supporting the dubious GE technology (even pressuring foreign countries into purchasing them with our government's State Department help) conducted a 15 year study that clearly shows NO increase in yield by GE seeds – and another that proves that MORE pesticides have been used, showing the absurdity of 'less pesticide use' claimed by the purveyors of these seeds. There is no good reason to use GMO seeds. Improvements in the last decade of corn production on US farms was attributed to regular breeding of hybrids and not GMO seeds. By the USDA itself!

It is time we come face to face with the truth: GE seeds point the way to an apocalypse that is far more real than any other we have faced with exception of nuclear meltdown – either by war, or more likely by a nuclear power plant.

The landscape of a world where GE crops are grown would be an Armageddon. The claims that we need GE seeds to feed the world are bogus to begin with, but imagine for a moment what what the GE industry is proposing for the way food is grown. Vast fields of genetically related corn and beans, sprayed by a toxic cocktail to rid all these fields of insects and weeds.  All these acres of like plants with like chemicals are an invitation – which are already very apparent in fields across the US today – for Nature to respond with new and 'improved' weeds and insects – in this time, GE companies have been forced to coerce the USDA and FDA to increase the allowable levels of insecticides in our foods by eight fold! Why? Because the weeds and insects EVOLVE! And they will continue to EVOLVE. (One wonders if the scientists in these corporations are creationists? Certainly this experiment with GE plants and their poisons will prove evolution is not just a 'theory!')

Already proposals are surfacing for the use of a component of Agent Orange as an herbicide on our food to the horror of anyone cognizant of the potential of Agent Orange for destroying human life.

But this is the way it HAS to go!

Always, ever increasing amounts of poison in ever increasing potency. 

Where would this end? It can't. There is no stopping evolution. Nature responds. And soon the soil is so toxic nothing will grow. There is no hope in chemical agriculture. Eventually a point is reached where there is more death than life and you can declare the soil as dead. And populations of unintended victims - other insects, weeds, birds, mammals, reptiles - of the poisons have died off, to extinction or to endangered levels. The soil, lifeless, blows away or floats down the river to clog our precious dams and ruining waterways. Using the word 'Armageddon' is not far fetched. Without concerted action, this is the specter before us today.

Voting to label GE or GMO crops is a good first step. Hopefully, with consumers getting the chance to choose, it will spell the end of this ill-considered experiment. In fact, though, we cannot rest until they are banned. Completely. 

Every cell in a GE plant has changed DNA. When a GE plant is mated with a regular plant, the regular plant inherits the GE traits, fouling it and destroying it for use as food in the eyes of a majority of consumers (why labeling is being fought with so much money). The economic devastation to the United States' trade balance is already quite high and will only get higher – especially as more 'non-GE' crops are found to have GE markers in them, transferred by simply growing close enough to be crossed by GE pollen. 

This should be a crime, but currently US law makers have seen fit to protect the pollutor and not the pollutee. The best technology involving GMO or GE crops will be the technology that gets the modification OUT of the crops that are collateral damage in this money making venture that costs other humans, their food and the environment it grows in.

Banning GE or GMO crops is the only solution that solves the problem and it must happen sooner than later - time is not on our side! Already, a Canadian study has been published showing widespread GE contamination in supposedly clean crops and in the wild!  This is NOT good news for future generations.  Not only have these GE companies behaved badly at getting government approval and support (through donations to political campaigns), they have acted with the utmost lack of responsibility in allowing their damned pollen to spread without any intention of containment or prevention of contamination of wild plant or plants on adjacent farms that did not want GMO technology.  The recent debacle of the GMO wheat in Oregon is an example of the irresponsible behavior of these corporations. Their crimes are against humanity and nature and there is no hyperbole farfetched enough to paint a picture of the damage they have done.  We will pay in our increased medical bills and an appalling devastation to wildlife and the environment for decades to come.  


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Glass Gem Corn

Glass Gem Corn 
Our story with Glass Gem corn starts late last year at a SLOLA meeting.  We had a speaker who brought an ear he had grown (talk about an early adopter!) and passed it around for folks to marvel at - truly it is one of the most beauteous of corns of all time.  I remained skeptical because everyone talked about how beautiful it was, but no one ever said how it tasted!  Beauty, as the sole reason, is not a good enough reason for me to waste valuable real estate and water on a plant.  I passed over several offers to grow Glass Gem until...

Jo Anne Trigo of Two Dog Nursery called me with an offer. She had plants of Glass Gem corn to share with SLOLA would we grow them?  It might have been in conversation with her or doing some research on the variety that I came across the fact that this is a popcorn that changed my mind. No wonder there was no mention of how it tasted!  It was a popcorn.  I raised popcorn as a boy in Kansas (sold it for 25 cents a pound) and growing popcorn remains a fond memory for me.  So we accepted the plants.

It has been the subject of other posts in other blogs, but I screwed up royally.  Being in a city, we have rodents around and our compost pile supports a small host.  We do not have rodent problems with most of our harvest however because we also are home to a Cooper's Hawk who patrols from our Chinese Elm.  My screw up came when I sited the corn too close to the compost piles.  The rats were able, once the kernels began to form, to easily slip from the compost to the corn without interference from the hawk.  Proving my theory to be sound, corn thirty feet away (flowering at a different time, I will point out just so you know both  crops could be saved for seed) suffered no predation.  

We got a pitiful amount of seed - most ears were fully eaten, only a few (on the opposite side from the compost) had much of any seed.  

Jose Miguel Palido Leon, a SLOLA member announced he had seeds of Glass Gem corn grown at the Southwest Museum garden - with many other American plants grown by the tribes in our area.  A garden that would make a marvelous SLOLA field trip some time soon!  I visited Jose and picked up a bag of Glass Gem seeds he donated to SLOLA!  

These will be available for check out on a very limited basis!  We will want to be certain that whoever checks out the seed we have knows how to save corn seed and prevent cross pollination so we can build this into a viable seed resource for Los Angeles. There is enough seed from the two groups of seed (ours from Two Dog Nursery and Jose's) for probably three people to grow them out and enough to reserve to allow for crop failures.

To whet your appetite, there are two resources on the web where you can see Glass Gem corn for yourself.  Seed is available from Native Seed/SEARCH in Tucson, AZ and their ad copy gives you a hint of the beauty of this corn. Run your mouse over the image for a treat.  

But the best shots of Glass Gem corn come from a blog post from Seattle, WA - amazing corn and amazing photography!  You can easily see why this corn has tweaked the imagination of so many people.  And for a bit of the history of this corn, check out this page that gives some history to the variety - but I want to point out, that the page also says the seed is not available while it has been available (even if in limited quantities) from Native Seed/SEARCH for about two years.

By the way, the rest of Two Dog's corn they planted at the nursery and got a much better return than we did!  

Wait'll next year - the cry of gardeners and baseball players everywhere!  We'll get ourselves some Glass Gem corn to show off...  Next year!


Monday, October 7, 2013

A Few Terms Defined

Big fat lettuce flowers getting ready to open up and show off
their yellow petals before the seeds ripen up.
The term “organic gardening” when it was first becoming a household word, took a lot of flak for being 'inaccurate' because “all of life is organic” and therefore it meant nothing, or so the critics said. Of course, whether or not it was accurate, the term stuck and today, no one would bother to challenge it.

Today, we talk about 'open-pollination' and hybrids and we have the terms slightly off-kilter. Wet talk of open-pollination as being the opposite of hybrid, but that's not necessarily the case. Let's start at the beginning to unravel these terms.

In the very beginning of agriculture, the selection of wheat strains from wild plants into cultivated plants produced immediate changes to the plant, including larger seed heads, larger seeds, and seeds that shattered – ripened and easily removed from the plant – occurred rapidly once the plants were being selected by humans. Over the years these changes became stable traits in the selected plants. Grown over time and having minimal assistance from humans, possessing a variety of genotypes and phenotypes (the genetics inside the plant and the physical appearance of the plant, respectively) these plants are called landraces. A good definition of landrace would be:
“... a variety with a high capacity to tolerate … stress, resulting in a high yield stability and an intermediate yield level under a low input agricultural system.” A “low input agricultural system”is the agricultural systems that are not the American mechanized, chemical stew, environment destroying agriculture and is the agricultural system of most of the world. Older strains of wheat are 'landrace wheat' – in Canada that is 'Red Fife,' in southwest America, 'Sonoran' wheat is the landrace as two examples. Landraces are the only truly 'open-pollinated' seeds grown.

The landrace might be selected by a farmer over and over again to arrive at a variety that is special to that farmer. He begins a process of 'closed-pollination' to ensure the cross is stable. Once he has a stable hybrid, we begin to call it an 'open-pollinated,' abbreviated 'op' although it probably isn't op – but it is the term we commonly use to indicate that this variety is NOT a hybrid.

But a 'hybrid' is just a cross of two different parents. Usually when we say 'hybrid,' though, we mean an unstable hybrid or a hybrid cross that has just been made. When two lines of plants are crossed, the first generation is called the “first filial” generation, abbreviated F1, a subsequent generation would be F2 and so on.

Still these are the terms you'll find in seed catalogs. Op means it is a stable variety. Hybrid means it is an unstable variety. A stable variety will come true if you save the seeds of that variety, the subsequent plants will be very much like the parent generation. Saving seed of an unstable variety will not breed true – the resultant population will include off types that reflect the different lines of the original parent plants.

I hope this explanation helps a little bit in learning more about seed saving. I've been studying the new book by John Navazio, The Organic Seed Grower. Written for commercial organic seed production, in a world where no such book has existed, this is not a light-reading book, but boy is it chockful of information that has caused more thinking and a much deeper understanding of the vagaries of seed production. The copy I am using will eventually become a part of SLOLA's book library and I'll buy own copy – it's not cheap, but it is worth the money.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Organic Garden Workshop Saturday Sept. 7th

September is Planting Month for Your Best Winter & Spring Crops!

David King's ORGANIC GARDEN Workshop  "How To Grow Food in Southern California without chemicals."

              Saturday Sept 7
          10am - Noon.     $20.

Topic: Planting Winter Crops Now 

Join in as David demonstrates how to "Grow Good Soil" for Southern California's best winter/spring growing season. This starts with what we do now in September -  We'll actually be planting and transplanting our fall crops and finding out which ones are best for "your" own garden, no matter how big or how small . . . .  David has a few treats in store for those attending along with the usual fun stuff we do!  

Arrive early, we start at 10am

Do you have questions about particular plants in your garden?  Are they living next to good companion plants? Help nature be her finest, as you cultivate your garden with natural techniques. 

Are you experiencing plant issues in your garden? Bring a sample with you, so we can help you diagnose.

The Learning Garden, Venice High Campus, Entrance on Walgrove
Parking on Venice Blvd.

David King, Garden Master with over 50 years of farming & gardening experience will instruct and answer all your questions. Reserve your seat today. A single class is only $20. and a series of six is $100. (The series does not expire until you attend six classes)

For More Information 
& to Pay Online
You can also pay before class

Friday, August 23, 2013

Blog/Website Changes

Readers of the "Record of the Seed Library of Los Angeles" have seen some jarring changes in the past week and we hope you've not been put off by them - expect a few more tweaks and changes over the next couple of weeks.  

The impetus for the changes have come about as a by-product of a web page overhaul.  This blog appears in the SLOLA webpage and from the beginning we've had challenges with the way it showed up in the website. Often we would have several copies of the same blog post, frequently up to four copies in a row, and there seemed to be no way to make that go away.  The 'call' feature didn't work with any celerity and occasionally blog posts did not appear in a timely fashion; in at least one case, the blog post did not appear on the site until after the event was over.  

So.  To change all that and make it more workable, the web people decided to link the blog to the site rather import it to the site.  Now folks on the webpage click a link and come to Blogger (where it is written and housed) to read the blog.  This has many advantages and is a nice, neat solution.  It has one drawback in that the blog is not consistently branded with the SLOLA website and as the weeks wear on, we hope to tweak it to make it look more like the rest of the website.  

Any suggestions?  Let us know.  We'd like to make this an enjoyable read for everyone!  

Thanks for reading.