Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Lemon Tree, another must see film

Though not a documentary like The Garden, the film The Lemon Tree is an equally powerful portrayal of  the connection and bond formed between people, the land and the plants they nurture from the soil.  I cannot recommend this highly enough!  You can see it at the Raphael Theater and support the efforts of the great independent film makers and theaters that recognize that "block busters" aren't the only movies worth making.

Chickens, Chickens Everywhere

For those of you unable to attend Steve's Backyard Chicken workshop on Thursday, check out the great front page article in Saturday's IJ. Elizabeth and I carpooled out there and the scenic drive alone was worth the price of admission.  Plus it was a great excuse to support Kevin Lunney and pick up 3 dozen oysters out at Drake's Bay!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Another Wednesday afternoon aftermath

Wednesday afternoon highlites

Marin Magazine Redux

I mentioned a few blogs back that Marin Magazine did a piece on Organic Farmers in the May issue.  Well, I wrote a letter to the editor about it and it was published! Check it out:

Dream Gardens

How fun to see and hear the first group's interpretation and manifestation of what a dream garden is to them.  You could see that a lot of heart and hard work went into each presentation and clearly we have all learned some important lessons by taking the class.  A couple of messages really stood out to me: gratitude vs. abundance (Elizabeth); do it anyway (Liza); remember edges and borders (Coleman/Janet); think big (Dion); work with what you have (Jenny); sometimes you have to throw your plans out the window (Rob); make it a community effort (Mark/Will). The messages/reminders that I hoped to communicate in my presentation were: know where you are, dreams can evolve.

Although this was the first of two classes more about what we've learned rather than about "instruction,"  there were certainly a couple of nuggets of information that I took home from Steve and Wendy: alfalfa is not a one season cover crop (deep roots); artichokes need to be divided every couple of years, and true Green Globes are best; apples are biennial; and, most importantly, my two new Santa Rosa Plums will not fruit unless I can bring in at lease a branch of another American (not European) plum like a Burbank.

We also talked about some good salvage resources: Heritage Salvage in Petaluma (, Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley (, Building Resource in San Francisco (

Some of us prolonged our second to last class, staying on for some "extra credit" work time planting zucchini, potatoes, peppers, scallions, basil and more lettuce, chard and bok choi.  You'd think we had no room left, but Steve remedied that by having us dig up many rows of our cover crops including quinoa and amaranth.  Oh well, easy come, easy go- see how unattached we've learned to be!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Come to work day!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart

Check out this new release by one of my favorite garden writers.  A blogger on Garden Rant (a great blog for home gardeners) Amy Stewart is also the author of  The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms, a fascinating read on the essential role of earthworms in forming and preserving the soil that is so critical to all of us.

Isn't the title of her new book is irresistible, especially after last weeks weed discussion!

What is Certified Organic anyway?

Well, I'll get to that. But first I want to fast forward to the end of the day.  Did you all go home feeling as satisfied as I did?  What a great feeling to have planted out the last rows of beans and corn not to mention all those fabulous melons!!  Of course farm work is never done, but I really felt justified in allowing myself a private, "we did it!" when reflecting back on the last two months.
That being said, we sure had a Full (note the capital F) day on Wednesday.  Steve started off by answering a couple of questions from class members:
Q: Why rotate crops? A: How healthy is your soil?  A healthy soil (ecosystem) doesn't require rotation. Rotation serves two purposes: fertility and disease reduction.  So if you've planted a heavy feeder like corn, follow it with a soil booster like beans or peas.  If your tomatoes developed Verticillium Wilt, follow it with a brassica that is not susceptible.  Barring disease, tomatoes can be grown in the same location for years as long as you prepare your soil with lots of...that's right: COMPOST!

Q: What's up with corn? A: Corn is a grain like wheat and rice. It's in the grass family, making it a monocot. It's also a super heavy feeder. A minimum 5x5 plot is necessary to be productive but most important is human pollination (i.e. the artificial simulation of wind) to ensure that every silk gets pollinated.  Because this is a wind pollinated crop it is important to take the unusual step of sowing seeds against prevailing winds to maximize natural pollination.  Wendy likes to soak corn seeds in diluted Maxsea (a kelp based fertilizer) before planting the seeds in warm soil.  (N.B. How do you know if the soil is the right temperature? Stick your hand in it!)

Q: What's up with weeds? A: Check out "Weeds of the West" published by the Western Society of Weed Science, a great reference book on what weeds you might expect to find in our area. 
Q: Are all weeds bad? A: Most aren't pernicious (excepting bermuda grass, oxalis and convovulus!) and many are medicinal.  They also serve as a good indicator of the kind of soil you have.
Q: How do you control them? A: Rototill (let them grow, rototill, let them grow, rototill); hoe; mulch paths; drip irrigation; solarization. DON'T LET THEM GO TO SEED!

So back to the original question at hand "what is Certified Organic"? Certification is based on the adoption of USDA standards set in 2002 known as NOS (National Organic Standards). Certification covers livestock, human food and fiber and requires inspection by a credited certifier like MOCA (Marin Organic Certified Agriculture), CCOF, Oregon Tilth, etc.  In California we actually have two certifying entities: SOP (State Organic Program) as well as NOP.  Certifiers themselves (like our guest Anita) have to be "certified" as well through an auditing process conducted twice every five years (certification audits for imported items are conducted annually).  

The key information for certification is covered in the handout Anita gave us and can also be accessed online on MOCA's website:  But I think my biggest takeaway from the morning was this: keep meticulous records.  You can follow every regulation to the tee, but if you don't have the records to prove that you have done so, your diligence is worth nothing. 

As we concluded in the classroom, Wendy made an important observation.  While NOP certifies farms, it is us who certify NOP.  Just as public outcry was responsible for the USDA revising their first set of (lame) standards for Organics, it is public outcry that will keep them in line.  This is not just a privilege, but a responsibility of us all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Dedication...

If we've learned nothing else from this class, we all know that successful farming and gardening is all about feeding and cultivating the soil.  From compost building to cover cropping, it is the behind the scenes, soil building work that enables our plants to grow healthy, strong and tasty and allows us to garden year in and year out.

Well Friday's Dedication was also about behind the scenes work.  While we can all be in awe of the incredibly lush and verdant patch we have created out of an empty swath of dirt (I mean soil), I left on Friday in awe of the work and cultivation that went into getting us that soil in the first place.

The IVC Farm was years in the making, as Steve Kinsey recounted to us, and required the grit and yes, dedication, of so many people and organizations to put together.  From county officials like Steve, to UCCE, to the College, to the Corps, to our instructors; so many people worked tirelessly to make this teaching farm and the educational program that goes with it, a reality.

So thank you Nanda, thank you Ellie, thank you MariLee, thank you Steve and Wendy, thank you all for the fertile growth we are privileged to enjoy as a result of all your preparation.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Detailed notes are on Steve's blog, but for the short version, read on. Just remember, the basics are quite simple: treat pests by using the least toxic methods first and only using chemical interference as a last resort (if ever).  

The most important step in controlling pests is accurately identifying them.  If you don't know what insect or other animal is causing your problems, pretty obvious stuff here, you won't know it's lifecycle and habits, and those are the keys to treating the buggers most effectively and least toxically.  

Once you know which pests you're dealing with, your first line of attack is prevention.  Usually pests attack unhealthy or overly stressed plants, so this is where good cultural practices come in.  One of the most common causes of pest problems (insect/disease) is planting the wrong plant in the wrong place and/or watering it inappropriately.  Again, it seems pretty obvious, but I can't count how many times people have come into Sloat looking for a pesticide when their problem could easily have been prevented by selecting the right plant for the given location in the first place.  As always, it just comes back to knowing your soil, knowing your plant material and knowing your micro-climate.

Mechanical controls (like traps) and Biological controls (like predators) are considered the next line of defense in IPM.  But Tolerance is another approach as well.  "Knowing where you are," as Wendy pointed out, comes in handy here.  Some people can't tolerate a single hole in a single leaf, others of us don't mind eating holey greens, and others of us (that would be Will) don't even mind eating a few of the hole causing creatures!  In short, it is as always, all about balance: balancing your aesthetic and food producing needs against natural, ecosystem responses to human interference (AKA gardening and farming).

Besides the resources mentioned in class (Pam Pierce's book and the Master Gardener Handbook), the UC Davis website has loads of specific information on treating specific pests using IPM methods.  I've added it as a link off to the right. Definitely check it out!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Garden Tour of Marin's Eco-friendly Gardens

On Saturday, May 9th over 20 gardens are on a self-guided Tour that features rain gardens, cisterns, native and drought tolerant plants, native no mow sod, edible landscapes, bees, permeable surfaces, smart irrigation controllers, pesticide free gardens, and vineyards and much more.

The best part is--it's FREE to Students!!! and it includes admission to a Post-tour Event that features free Eco-Seminars, a native plant and seed sale, shopping boutique and dessert cafe. Most gardens are open from 10am to 2 pm
Details on gardens, seminars,etc. are in the Garden Guide-available to everyone who registers.

For more information visit or call Gina at 499-3202

Sponsored by the Marin County Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program and Marin Art & Garden Center