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Farm Girl

Aug 04

2014

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Drought Tolerant Landscaping

More than half of California has been experiencing the most severe level of drought since the federal government started issuing drought reports in the late 1990s. California is more than a year’s worth of water short in its reservoirs and the state’s top and sub soil moisture has nearly been depleted. The drought’s effects are hurting central California’s irrigation and leaving northern and southern California at increased risk for wildfires. The state has adopted regulations to fine those who waste water up to $500 per day.

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In light of a recent trip to the Coachella Valley and bearing the 120 degree heat, this week I would like to share environmentally efficiently uses of water by utilizing drought tolerant landscaping.
The most common plants for low maintenance and drought tolerance are cacti and succulents. Integrated with the desert’s existing natural landscape of rocks and gravel, this landscaping style is climate conscious and not wasteful. Trees that do well in the heat include, Palo Verde, Euclayptus, and Olive. There are also various flowering shrubs like Rockrose, Desert Spoon, Oleander and Woolly Thyme, which give soft pink blossoms.
Which ever style you choose is right for you, it is responsible and very respectable to be environmentally conscious, not only to benefit our and future generations but also for your wallet.

May 13

2014

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Beginning Summer Gardens

Most people tend to have an aversion, or hesitation, to gardening because they don’t have access to acres of farmland or weren’t naturally born with a “green thumb”. But the truth is, those requirements are mere myths. Even in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, the novice gardener can easily start a small garden using a box planter for a window or balcony.

Inspired by a delicious Tomato and Basil Pie recipe courtesy of P. Allen Smith, today, I am focusing on vegetables. Growing your own garden can be very satisfying, functional and also sustainable, as you can literally reap the fruits of your (minimal) labor.

Tomatoes are a great vegetable for beginning gardeners, especially in Southern California as they require warm temperatures and plenty of sunlight. One could easily have a vibrant multicolored garden of solely tomatoes, as the different varieties reach upwards of 700. Ranging from Amana Orange to Black Krim and Green Zebra to Purple Russian, the myriad of tomato varieties will keep your salads vivacious and translate into bold design choices.

Carrots are another vegetable that often result with great gardening success and also come in a variety of brightly colored species. Starting with White Satin to Yellow Pak, and transitioning from traditional orange Hercules and Purple Haze, carrots are

Basil is also a for beginners because it can be grown from a sunny windowsill indoors. When the leaves are a desirable size, one can easily pluck them for use and the plant will continue to provide fragrant leaves. An added bonus is that tomatoes and basil are a great companion plants and can be used in a variety of cooking options.

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Dec 18

2013

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Why Bother to Grow Your Own

I grew up in a very beautiful rural part of England in a large country manor house which afforded my grandfather the space to grow a lot of food and bad tasting homemade wine. He prided himself on the compost pile, the fragrant blooms from the walled rose garden and his competition sized marrows that always won the summer garden fete.  This garden was his mental sanctuary while raising a second family in his 60’s. My childhood memories muster up the smell of rich soil, shelling peas and big fat strawberries. I had no idea of the virtues of good eating then, but it was an introduction to a life outdoors.

Fast forward – I married an outdoors man, who also grew up with the same “garden to table” environment, but more out of necessity due to real poverty. It was more than a hobby, he knew food in the garden meant food on the table. But being a man of extremes, he now takes it to an entirely new level of science as he has taught me the many ‘why factors’ of growing your own food.

Growing your own, or possum living as I call it, is an alternate self respecting lifestyle and choice.  It is a way of living and is more than just about having better tasting and more nutritious food. It is for us about getting off the commercial grid and taking control of our life. Growing teaches you to work within the rhythms of nature’s seasons and in harmony with it. It’s about personal growth and gaining patience.  It builds relationships between us, the garden and the land.  It’s spiritual, educational, addictive and it is for our benefit.

For me it’s also about colour!  The colours seem to represent different properties within the food and essential food colour groups, which fascinates me.  Our garden is a living art canvas and a micro world of intense animal life that includes bees, birds and butterflies that  absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen for a healthier environment.

So here are a few factors to consider about the ‘fresh’ food you eat:

(1) As population expands, food demands expand and quantity becomes more important than quality. Corporate farms are a loveless business,  profit per acre is what matters,  not your nutrient intake.  A corporate farm’s god is the profit pie chart. Private family style farms, like most of your weekly farmers markets, care and have a more personal investiture.

(2) The caliper of the term organic is very wide. What qualifies for organic in terms of food is a broad spectrum. Just because it professes organic, it does not always mean truly organic and that it comes from the best soil.

(3) It has been estimated that one third of the U.S. health care costs could be eliminated through an increase in nutritious diets.

(4) U.S. supermarket’s “fresh produce” now grows in soil in which 85% of the minerals have been depleted.  In essence, the soil is dead.

(5) The soil a plant grows in reflects the quality of the food you eat. Soil is a living organism that provides all the nutrients a plant needs that is then reflected in the food.  If the minerals are not in the ground, they will not be in the food.

(6) Fertilizers, at the apex of soil nutrients, contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, known as the “big 3.” Unfortunately, the types used in mass corporate farming  are largely synthetic, which does not lend itself to healthy living soil, it is harmful to local streams and lakes as well as their riparian life.

(7) Cold storage, although necessary for the mass market,  means an extreme extended shelf life.  Fresh can mean 4-6 months prior to your purchase.  And those big shiny polished apples you reach for, that gleam like majestic orbs, are sprayed with shellac, which is a furniture polish of sorts. Simply washing your produce won’t remove that.

Abraham Lincoln once said,  “Population will increase rapidly and er’ long the most valuable of all the arts will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil.” And we are in fact very much heading that way now.

So, if we know mass produced growing, or let’s  call it ‘ manufactured food,’  provides inadequate benefits  and you have the option to organically grow at home in dynamic living soil, which will produce untold benefits within your food, why not home grow? We all need to eat and eat the best way we can. We all know the benefits of healthy eating and exercise .

It’s relatively easy to get started and does not need as much space as you think, but you do need good soil and adequate sunlight.  You can grow in a pipe, which is about 20 lettuce plants in a 6′ vertical pipe. You can grow on a patio, in a window box or start a community school garden.

Optimally,  organic gardening should be about relationships.  This concept is called either companion gardening or bio intensive gardening. The idea is to maximize limited space and to put together plants that mutually enhance each other’s growth and nutritional  productivity.  Just like in life with people, so too in plant life – symbiotic companions.  When grown in this relationship, plants become stronger, disease resistant, attract more beneficial insects and will produce more and better tasting fruit with higher nutritive value. For example,  a small garden can thrive as a robust multi producing haven if the right plants grow together. Green beans and strawberries grown together mutually enhance each other’s lives and productivity, bibb lettuce and spinach also thrive together in close proximity. This method of growing translates to four times in special efficiency.  However, if a bad companion that behaves as an antagonist, such as a tomato plant next to a potato or fennel plant, they will harm each other or subdue their productivity. A human analogy – much like the Hatfields and the McCoys. And as Johann Wolfgang von Goeth said,  “Nothing happens in living nature that is not in relationship to the whole.”

Jun 12

2013

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Nothing Better…

First batch of summer potatoes.

 

Potatoes

 

 

 

Feb 07

2013

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Bulb Lasagna

For those of you still planting your spring bulbs, the Dutch ‘bulb lasagna’ planting method, used by my favorite English gardener Sarah Raven, is a great way to get a dense and flowery pot display. To start, the largest and latest flowering bulbs should be planted at the deepest layer while the smallest and earliest flowering bulbs should be planted at the top layer. The emerging shoots of the lower layers will bend around anything in their path and keep growing to the top. Remember that all bulbs will need to be planted 1″ to 1-1/2″ apart, the first layer can go as deep as 12″ and there should be 2″ of potting compost between each layer. For more gardening tips, visit Sarah Raven’s website and happy planting!

Oct 19

2012

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Peach Picking Sundays

For the most part, life on a farm is hard and heavy work, through quite rewarding. There are those days when it is important to enjoy the fruits of one’s labour and share the bounty with friends. We went peach picking last weekend and made a great day of it with lots of eating, picking, tree climbing and everything in between. A perfect Sunday spent with great friends and good wine.

Sep 28

2012

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Peach Picking

This weekend is the start of the ‘Last Chance’ peach picking season.  It’s a late peach when you consider we are almost in October and the season comes to an end in three weeks.  It is a worthy trip for those wanting to grab a last taste of summer.

 Pictured above is our neighbor’s farm, The M & M Peach Farm, earlier this spring, rich in blossom. So, get out of LA for a day of countryfication and pick to your hearts content.

$ 40 a box – you pick.

Sep 18

2012

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Wood Gardening Tools

Line and Post
A traditional tool that’s in every true gardener’s shed and which comes out whenever there’s planting to be done. Got to get those lines straight; no self-respecting gardener will have wobbling lines of lettuce or spinach, corn or carrots, due  to not having his line stretched tautly between a post at one end of the row and one at the other, and following it all the way along.  That way, when the first leaves show above ground they’ll be like a row of soldiers.

Sep 13

2012

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Blue Eggs

Sister Mary, our chicken

It is not until you have actually had farm fresh eggs – truly fresh – that you can appreciate their goodness. The perfect blue of these Araucana shells, which house a yolk that stands tall and proffers a rich, deep saffron gold orb, has a perfect flavour that is heaven sent. The yolk colour is a result of the greens and insects they get to eat – a gourmet diet.

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Sep 06

2012

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The Importance of Dynamic Soil

Good soil, good food, that’s a maxim you can live by, and a way to live more healthily too.