Blog Category: Grow
checkout the city farm blogs to learn about our takes on farm & city life
checkout the city farm blogs to learn about our takes on farm & city life
Being car-free, I often write about walking in L.A., stopping to smell the roses and star jasmine, seeing a tiny green shoot defy city life and flourish in the crack of the sidewalk, the minutiae missed when you’re hurtling by at 40 miles an hour. But I also take for granted the ease with which I navigate my familiar city. Walking through the busy streets of London can be hazardous to your health, or at least your life expectancy, should you forget that the bus barreling down the narrow roadway drives on the left side of the road. The city has graciously painted guidance on many a street corner, telling tourists to “look left” or “look right,” but what about looking up?
As you make your way through the throngs of central London, you see signs directing you to gaze skyward, and you might catch a glimpse of green from the rooftop gardens growing veggies. You might also catch sight of a swarm of lawyers and bees. The London-based international law firm Olswang transformed its rooftop into a bio-diverse garden, growing flowers and food, and is now home to over 80,000 bees. Volunteers at the firm, trained in bee-keeping, are part of a self-sustaining bee network in the community.
We’ve talked before about the secret life of bees here on the blog, and why we so desperately need our bee network. As the law firm’s Website reminds us, that “environmental changes, pesticides and new diseases are all causing the world’s bee population to decline rapidly. The issue is so serious that it has been recognised as a global phenomenon by the United Nations. Yet bees are crucial to our ecosystem; of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.”
In a continuing quest to bring back the bees, what will you plant? Check out my previous post to get tips on growing bee-friendly sunflowers, and think about what else you want to add to your garden to attract the pollinators to your yard: from heather to red-flowering currant to English lavender.
Is London leading the way for growing from the roof down? As its Rooftop Greenhouse initiative reminds us: “Not only can we grow food crops and consume them in the building below, we can also make use of the greenhouse to heat the building during the day, and the building to heat the greenhouse at night.”
Back across the pond, the folks behind Fresh Food Generation noticed under-served communities in Boston, who, lacking the food trucks of other areas, as well as grocery stores with options for organic, affordable food, were in need of healthy food choices. The team formulated a plan to “retrofit a food truck to serve healthy, locally sourced meals at affordable prices in neighborhoods that have been missing out” on the gourmet food truck trend, providing them with locally sourced, nutritional foods, year-round. Original Green, based in Los Angeles, is a project of home&community, inc., and supports homesteading, urban farming, and food entrepreneurship in low-income communities.
What is your city doing to grow green and fight hunger? What do you dream of doing and growing? Tell us in the comments, or over on Twitter @TheCityFarm.
Look Right. Look Left. Look Up. London reminds us that life is to be lived in balance, looking both ways, eyes on the street for safety, with plenty of pauses to look up, look around, and take in the swarming and buzzing of life around us
(Photo credit: Olswang Rooftop Garden)
What fruit or vegetable are you most like? It’s a great ice-breaker for that awkward first date or soiree. And? If people look at you like you’re crazy, you can cross them off the list for your next gardening party.
I’d like to think I was a hearty vegetable, with my love for the unknown and unexpected in life, for traveling off the beaten path. But researching the growing needs of the long, cylindrical fruit of the Cucumis sativus, I found myself thinking: I am one sensitive cucumber. I, too, require regulated temperatures, too cold, and I won’t flourish (or leave the house), too hot I wither. Too much stress? I too become bitter.
That’s right, your summer cukes might not be the refreshing addition to your salad if you allow them to get stressed out in the garden, and the level of bitterness depends on the severity of the stress. And just like us introverts, they definitely need their space: If the leaves start to turn yellow, give them more nitrogen by giving them more room to breathe. Organic Gardening suggests you grow trellised plants 8 to 12 inches apart, and hills with one or two seedlings should be spaced about 3 feet apart, with rows 4 to 5 feet apart.
Like tomatoes and squash, while cucumbers are most often treated as a vegetable, due to having an enclosed seed and developing from a flower, cucumbers are classified as accessory fruits. Native to India, cucumbers have a long, flavorful history; even the legend of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest surviving works of literature, describes people eating cucumbers. From India they made their way to Greece and Italy, and later into China, who is one of the world’s greatest producer of the crop.
When they’ve been raised healthy and happy, cucumbers are your best beauty friend. We all know to slap them on puffy eyes, and Positive Health Wellness states that the fruit has powerful antioxidants and flavinoids that are thought to reduce irritation. 90% water, they help keep us hydrated on those extra-hot days when we might grow a bit bitter. They’re a good source of B vitamins, and the dark green skin contains vitamin C. While they may seem like delicate flowers that demand careful conditions, they do their fair share of hard work around the house.
Do you have experience raising happy cucumbers? Tell us in the comments or over at @TheCityFarm.
I only make the coffee so I have the grounds to grow a greener garden! I’m NOT addicted.
“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” ~ Dave Barry
I admit, I was once that person whose first move in the morning was reaching blindly (there was no energy for the putting in of contacts or donning of glasses) for the coffee pot, beans ground the night before, water at the ready, to brew with the push of a button. On a dare in my early 20s, I weaned myself off caffeinated coffee, clearly dependent on it for college life. I swore I could do it, and I can’t turn down a dare. I could handle my 21 unit, basketball playing, part-time nanny life without my multiple cups of joe! And I did. I may have been a bit slower on the court that season, but, as my friend noted, my eyebrows appeared “more relaxed.”
“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”
~ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
I’ve weaned myself to one morning cup, one of which I’m rather picky about. Raised in the northwest, a coffee snob is just another term for a denizen of Portland.
Is coffee such a bad addiction, in the long run? One study says yes, while the next study says no. Meanwhile, the world keeps making mud, from drip machines to Turkish stovetop pots to French presses to baristas in white lab coats concocting the perfect cup.
While you sip your morning latte, consider that there’s little debate over how good the grounds are for your garden. Brew it, savor it, and scatter it. Sunset magazine reported back on the benefits of adding grounds to your — ground, after sending to a soil lab the coffee grounds Starbucks gives away for free. “Turns out the grounds provide generous amounts of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper. They also release nitrogen into the soil as they degrade. And they’re slightly acidic, a boon in the Western climate. Dig or till them into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.”
Serious Eats gives us the rundown on why these nutrients are part of any great garden fertilizer: “Nitrogen allows plants to convert sunlight into energy; phosphorus helps that energy get transmitted throughout the plant through its root system and cells; potassium helps the plant retain moisture, which aids photosynthesis.”
To start your coffee habit, store your grounds in an airtight container, and add them directly to your soil, then cover with mulch, or add to your compost pile, making sure it’s at a ratio of one fourth of your other compost items. Bonus: coffee ground compost keeps the rodents away, apparently having never “acquired the taste” for the delicious drink.
Beyond growing a more productive garden, Organic Authority notes eight other ways to use coffee grounds around your house, including using them to clean caked on pots and pans, or in lieu of baking soda for odors in your fridge or freezer. For the more ambitious among us, there’s a recipe to make coffee soap. I love coffee scented – everything, but I know my limits. Who’s going to get crafty and take on the task of trying out the soap recipe and reporting back? And check out The City Farm’s Coffee Mug and Spoon Set to add some color to your morning java!
“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.”
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
Share your coffee and composting stories with us here in the comments, or at Twitter: @TheCityFarm
Have you ever found yourself in the wild (or as wild as you can find, if you’re a city dweller), and felt suddenly overwhelmed by being one with the world? Those moments always come to me when I’m outside. I remember sitting outside on the front stoop of our house in Tennessee, the fireflies coming out, one by one, timed with the sun dropping down below the horizon. A warm summer night, the air buzzed with heat, electricity, and the flickering lights of bugs in the fields. It’s a bit of a spiritual experience, feeling something beyond one’s self, connected.
“The Divine Presence was strongest outdoors, and most palpable when I was alone. When I think of my first cathedral, I am back in a field behind my parents’ house in Kansas, with every stalk of prairie grass lit up from within. I can hear the entire community of crows, grasshoppers, and tree frogs who belong to this field with me. … My skin is happy on the black dirt, which speaks a language my bones understand.” ~ Barbara Brown Taylor
Growing plants that trigger those feelings can help us remember how our bodies are connected to this earth, how we survive when the planet thrives. The birth flower for May, lily of the valley, is delicate and beautiful, with red-orange berries. A sweet smelling flower, it’s a perfect reminder of spring. But don’t let the graceful blooms fool you, it’s a plant with poison. According to MentalFloss, the plant’s toxicity is its defense against animals eating its seeds. All parts of the plant—the stems, the leaves, the flowers and the berries—are extremely poisonous.
Happy birthday to you, May Babies! Taurus folk born by May 20th are known for their earthy, realistic ways of living. Later May kids born under the Gemini sign are typically intellectually inclined, forever seeking information. Does that describe you? Have you planted your birth month flower? Careful where you choose to put down your roots: lily of the valley are notorious for taking more than their share of space, so it’s best to plant them up against a wall or driveway, and curtail their wonton growth.
Planting outdoors, find a spot that has light to moderate shade, and soil that drains well. The bulbous roots are called “pips,” and it’s best to cut an inch off them before planting. Perennials, your lily may not flower the first year. Or, to grow indoors, try these tips from Erin Boyle on Gardenista. I love how Erin concealed the plastic pot in a wooden box, and filled in the gaps with moss. An elegant way to bring the connection to earth into your home.
(Photo Credit: ©Wayne Claflin)
Is your garden a work of art? I have a loose interpretation of the term, believing that all things growing green are works of art, from overgrown wildflowers to carefully curated shrubs and succulents. I was anti-gnome / fake deer until I watched “Amelie,” and now want to send every garden gnome on an adventure before placing him to settle in amongst my vegetables, whispering his travel stories of flight to beets and carrots as they root into the ground. (I’d prefer to live within the world of children’s books.)
How does your artistic vision flow over into your garden? A gnome here, contrasting colors of oranges with blues and purples there? A “Mud Maid?” Check out io9’s compilation of some of the strangest garden art out there, from Artigas Gardens (Jardins de Can Artigas) in La Pobla de Lillet, Catalonia, built between 1905 and 1906, designed by Antoni Gaudí, to a Plastic Bottle Vertical Garden by the Lar Doce Rar (translated: Home Sweet Home) project, in Brazil, to a Tree Circus in the Gilroy Gardens, created by Axel Erlandson between 1925 and 1963.
How will you embrace art in your green space? The juxtaposition of the hard and the soft with a prickly, sturdy cactus living in harmony with soft fern fronds or delicate soapwort? BHG.com has a guide to the elements of a beautiful garden, from strong lines directing one’s gaze, to curved lines creating peace. Like any artistic pursuit, it can be good to know the guidelines. Play with the rules. Break them.
What have you been doing lately with your green, artist’s thumb? Do you have any additional lighting in your garden or yard, to allow you to enjoy the colors a little later in the night? Much like a painting or mixed media piece, you can play with texture, form, shape. I’d love to see what you have created! Post photos of your works of garden art to @TheCityFarm and @RebeccaSnavely, or leave a link in the comment section to your photo collection online!
My memories of May Day stem from my pagan youth in the public school system of Eugene, Oregon. We decorated construction paper to staple into a colorful cone for the wildflowers we picked. Teachers herded 8 year olds into a circle around a makeshift, maypole, where we grabbed hold of the thick ribbons attached at the top, and learned how to bob and weave amongst each other, wrapping the pole in a beautiful braid of spring colors.
I had no idea why I was doing this dance. And now, I’m more aware of the first of May as a day of protest for workers’ rights around the world. But while I’m raising my voice on behalf of justice, I’d also like to regain a bit of the celebration of spring. According to Brittanica.com, the celebration of the first of May probably originated in ancient agricultural rituals – where people gathered flowers and branches, wove floral garlands, and danced around the maypole. It may have been a ritual to ensure the good growth of crops, and as the site reminds us, when our crops and food flourishes, we all flourish.
Though May Day is traditionally the celebration of spring, in southern California, it’s already looking a lot like summer. The days are getting longer, the sun is warming up the earth, and I’m dreaming of flip-flops, sundresses, and backyard barbeques. Visiting a friend’s front patio this weekend, I saw the beginning of her corn crop, planted in a wooden container, and wondered if I could make space in my courtyard apartment to grow some of my own.
Since corn grows up, not out, you don’t need a huge container, but, in order for it to pollinate properly, you do need to plant the seeds in at least three rows of three or more plants. And because it’s a tall crop, you can plant smaller plants next to your corn, a la the “three sisters” plan: corn, beans & squash, that, as legend has it, Native Americans grew together, ate together, and celebrated together.
SFGate.com tells us city-growers to choose a sweet corn that doesn’t grow as big, such as the “Precocious” or “Golden Bantam” variety, and to have patience before you plant, the soil should be about 70 degrees F. Plant the seeds two inches deep, 4 inches apart, with rows separated by 8 inches. According to SFGate, soil must remain moist but not wet at all times until the seeds sprout, which can take one to two weeks. Once the seeds sprout, thin the seedlings so the remaining plants are 6 to 8 inches apart in the row.
I’d love to bring freshly picked ears of corn to toss on the grill at my friend’s next BBQ. I’m just wondering if I could borrow this truck I saw parked in my neighborhood to do so? I can already see myself in it, wearing sundress & sandals, a bundle of home-grown corn in a City Farm satchel on the passenger seat: it fits perfectly with my urban farmer or vineyard owner dream / alternate reality! Read more on growing an edible garden here.
I spent a few of my formative years in the south, and though it took me some time (and lots of swimming pools and iced tea) to adjust to the heat, humidity, and slower pace of life it enforces, I miss it. I miss that the very air has a weight to it, slowing you down as you move through a day that I can only describe as “soupy.”
I find ways to revisit the south, through literature—the stories of Flannery O’Connor, or television—if you haven’t seen the first season of “Rectify,” watch now to live inside a gothic southern story. So when I saw that “Mud” was streaming on Netflix, I settled in to be transported to the dark waters and swamps of the Arkansas Delta, a region of the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain, sometimes called the Mississippi embayment. In it, Matthew McConaughey pays a man who is known as Mud. On the run from the law, Mud befriends two 14 year old boys. It’s a beautiful story about the belief in love, the friendships that can sustain you, and what to do in case of snake bite. (Spoiler alert – but really? The foreshadowing is pretttty heavy-handed for that one.)
Watching Mud struggle to survive on a deserted island of the Delta, I began to wonder. If he’d just been a Boy Scout, might he have foraged his meals from the land, and not have to convince kids to steal cans of beans for him?
Googling edible plants in the Arkansas Delta, I discovered Osmunda claytoniana, the “Interrupted Fern,” named for the gap in the blade that wither and fall off. “Fragmentary foliage resembling Osmunda claytoniana has been found in the fossil record as far back as the Triassic,” Wikipedia tells me. So clearly the plant is a survivor. But could it help our man Mud survive his time in the wild, as his bag of sandwich bread runs low?
They’re beautiful ferns. I recommend planting them, if you live on the eastern side of the U.S. And a bonus, they’re deer-resistant. But. “Unlike those of the Ostrich Fern, the Interrupted Fern’s fiddleheads are not readily edible, due to their bitter taste and a tendency to cause diarrhea. The base of the stipe and very young buds are edible.”
They lost me at diarrhea. A man on the lam does not need that. Moving on.
Not surprisingly, dandelions grow on the Delta, and as I previously posted, dandelion greens are the fountain of youth, and would have kept Mud supplied in iron and vitamin E.
Camellias are edible as well – and since they often bloom in the late fall, they can double as garnish for your holiday meals. Mud was a man of faith, in the power of love, in the curative properties of bonfires, in the luck inherent in certain objects. I think he would have boiled some camellias into a tisane. The flowers are used for teas, and known for their antioxidants, they may also play a role in treating cancer. Though the studies are inconclusive, green tea from the camellia plant contains polyphenolics that may inhibit the formation of tumors.
Sassafras – Trails.com notes that sassafras is a main ingredient in the making of gumbo, and the small bush has black colored berries that have been used in the United States for over four hundred years. If Mud could procure molasses, the roots of sassafras, when boiled, could be made into his own, artisanal, criminal-on-the-run root beer.
If you were deserted on an isle, would you know what to eat? Check out my previous post on growing edible gardens. I’d love to know what you forage from your garden, or from your morning walk – leave us a note in the comment section, or on Twitter @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.
I don’t know why, but while researching “the history of tulips,” I sit up straighter, and the voice in my head pronounces the phrase in a British-nanny accent, a la Mrs. Doubtfire. Which is odd, since the flower was first cultivated in the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey), and imported into Holland in the sixteenth century. There’s something about tulips: at first right and proper, they turn wanton, wild with abandon, fully open and flouncing their last days, dropping their velvety petals to the ground.
I visited Portland, Oregon last weekend. Usually known for its roses, was the City of Tulips. Everywhere I turned was a riot of brightly colored blooms, reaching straight toward the bright sun, a rare sight in the spring sky.
If you’re like me, by the time tulips are on your radar, it’s too late to plant them to enjoy them in your own garden. According to SF Gate, tulip bulbs require at least 14 weeks of cold weather to help them store the required nutrients to bloom when the weather warms. 14 weeks is three and a half months. So … (This forced me to do actual math, you guys. It was not pretty. I’m a writer, not a wizard.) If you want to see spring flowers, you’ll need to set your Google or Mac calendar alert to plant your bulbs in early or late fall, depending on your zone.
Even though you’re looking ahead to fall, it speaks of spring and hope, to open your calendar so far in advance, and plan on what you will plant, to set a foot in the future. The Farmer’s Almanac advises planting six to eight weeks before a hard frost is expected and when soils are below 60 degrees F. This timing ranges from early autumn (Zone 4) to late autumn (warmer zones). And though tulips prefer a site with full or afternoon sun, when in Zones 7 and 8, choose a shady site or one with morning sun only.
Seems a good time for a tulip festival. The Skagit Valley fest in Northwest Washington state runs through April 30th, and besides the beautiful tulips, there are wineries to visit, a distillery where they make vodka and moonshine, whale watching trips, a street fair featuring arts and crafts from over eight states, and more. Moonshine & tulips. Carpool?
Could a dandelion save your life? Maaaaybe not. But it could make it a whole lot longer. The NYT Magazine piece entitled “The Island Where People Forget to Die” references the Grecian diet of dandelion greens that contribute to this small isle’s longevity. Dr. Ilias Leriadis, a local doctor on the Greek island of Ikaria, a place populated with healthy 90-somethings, spoke about a local “’mountain tea.” Made from dried herbs endemic to the island, the tea is enjoyed as an end-of-the-day cocktail. “He mentioned wild marjoram, sage (flaskomilia), a type of mint tea (fliskouni), rosemary and a drink made from boiling dandelion leaves and adding a little lemon. ‘People here think they’re drinking a comforting beverage, but they all double as medicine,’ Leriadis said.”
I always loved dandelions, the bright yellow flowers cheery, the puffy white heads just begging to be blown into the air. With one puff, the beautiful seeds float away into the air, slowly landing wherever the wind took them. Then I was caught – a spreader of weeds in my mother’s garden. But, as DailyOm’s Madisyn Taylor notes, “one person’s weed is another person’s wildflower.” Weeds are defined by their tendency to thrive, often where they are not wanted. “In a sense, weeds are harbingers of this wildness, pushing their way into our well-ordered plots, undermining more delicate flora, and flourishing in spite of us.”
I tend to thrive in a wild, overgrown garden, too. And, as food prices rise and I continually learn how important digging in the dirt is to both my soul and my stomach, I love being able to eat from the earth, especially in case of that pesky zombie apocalypse. And, if you don’t want to treat your lawn with chemical fertilizers or weed-killers, harvesting your dandelions will help keep them in check.
According to SF Gate, dandelion greens “provide four times as much calcium, 1.5 times as much vitamin A and 7.5 times as much vitamin K as broccoli. This leafy green vegetable also contains twice as much iron and three times as much riboflavin as spinach, and, while spinach provides no vitamin E or carotenoids, dandelion greens boast 17 percent of the daily adult dose of vitamin E and 13,610 international units, or IUs, of lutein and zeaxanthin per 3.5-ounce serving. However, dandelion greens are lower in vitamin C and folate than either spinach or broccoli,” so mix up your garden and your diet.
To eat like a Greek, add dandelion greens to your tea or salad, Ikaria-style. The lifestyle on the island sounds like a dream for those of us longing to escape the race of rats in the city. Describing a day in the life of one couple, Buettner writes, “Like that of almost all of Ikaria’s traditional folk, their daily routine unfolded. … Wake naturally, work in the garden, have a late lunch, take a nap. At sunset, they either visited neighbors or neighbors visited them. Their diet was also typical: a breakfast of goat’s milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and bread. Lunch was almost always beans (lentils, garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion or a spinachlike green called horta) and whatever seasonal vegetables their garden produced; dinner was bread and goat’s milk.”
Who’s moving with me to Ikaria? As long as my Netflix works there, I’m IN.
If you’re not ready to retire to a Greek island, are you ready to embrace the weeds in your yard? If you’re foraging for dandelion greens, be sure to avoid places where weed killer may have been sprayed. How will you prepare them? “The tender leaves can be sautéed like kale, and the flowers are prime for dipping in tempura batter and frying or baking into a sunny loaf of bread. Even the root is edible, making for a coffee-like drink or base for ice cream,” writes Leslie Kelly, over at SeriousEats.
So the next time you see the delicate puffy ball of dandelion seed poking up through your garden, let go the stress of a weed-free life, enjoy blowing the beautiful seeds into the winds, and then reap the benefits and greens of the dandelion.
(Photo Credit: Ramon Felinto)
Never have I spent so much money at Trader Joe’s. Never have I felt so badly for my Uber driver, who voluntarily lugged a box of bottled water up the steep incline to my apartment. After a series of 4-5 point something Richter-scale earthquakes in the southern California region, my father sent a loving, wise, and panic-inducing email. Having lived, unprepared, through the 2011 earthquake in Tokyo, Japan, Papa Snaves (as you’re allowed to call him if you should ever have the pleasure) sees some patterns, and advised me on what he wished he had done in the days leading up to the “big one.”
My shelves now stocked with non-perishable cans of tuna, peanut butter, and nuts, I am set to enjoy the. most. disgusting of emergency meals, should the big one hit Los Angeles. Though I plan to re-stock my wine & chocolate stash to eat by candlelight, to make up for the tuna / peanut butter combo, I now wish I’d planted an edible, earthquake friendly garden to graze when the stores shut down for lack of supplies and / or electricity.
What can you plant that requires no electricity or water to feed you well should an emergency shut down your usual food supply? According to SeriousEats.com, “most edibles want ‘full sun,’ or about six hours per day of good quality sunlight. (There are exceptions, like lettuces, which do well in shade.)” And if you’re lucky enough to get more than six hours of sun, take some time in your space to scout out areas that have natural shade as the sun rays shift. Sunset Magazine has a page of links to dig into to tease your edible gardening taste buds. And after you’ve done the work, take a seat on a tree stump and eat straight from your garden, from beans and lettuces to tomatoes and potatoes.
If, like me, your green space in the city is limited, check out GardeningGuides.com for the sizes of containers you need to grow a delicious salad of radish, pepper, cucumber, carrot and more!
And if the big one does not hit, my nerds assure me you’ll still need to be ready for the Zombie Apocalypse. So. Let’s get growing. (I like the idea of hosting a garden tea party with your local zombies. What do you think would be their favorite veggie?)
Do you remember your first artichoke? With an almost prehistoric look growing in a garden, to the untrained eye, they appear impossibly inedible. And, as a thistle that was cultivated to be eaten, they lose their deliciousness once they bloom. Did someone teach you how to prepare and eat this armored veggie? There are YouTube videos on everything now, from how to massage your cat to how to eat an artichoke. But why watch a video, if Adrien Brody has offered a private lesson?
I am actually kind of uncomfortable name-dropping from my days as an assistant in film. Omg, did you know about that time I talked to Bono on the phone, and he gave me his digits…for my boss to call him back, but still. I had to tear up the paper, for fear I’d drunk dial him.
I digress. Back to not-name-dropping and my first artichoke experience. I was doing oh-so-glamorous assistant work, 16-17 hour days working with director Keith Gordon on The Singing Detective, a film version of Dennis Potter’s acclaimed BBC series. We’d broken for lunch, and I was sitting with Adrien in the area cordoned off for meals. (I may have had a slight crush on him.) The folding chairs around us empty, we chatted over plates of food, until the caterer interrupted us with an artichoke requested and prepared especially for Brody. Oh, the life of an actor.
Giving myself away as a rube raised in the sticks, I admitted I’d never eaten an artichoke, and with great detail, he showed me how to dip each petal in the melted butter, and scrape the goodness off with your teeth, then removed the heart to share it with me. I know. Stop it, Adrien Brody.
Who knew artichokes were so dreamy? Will you plant some this spring? In mild zones, they are perennials, so choose a spot where they will grow for up to five years, keeping in mind they can spread to four feet wide, and just as tall. In zones 6 and colder, you can plant them two feet apart, as the freeze will keep them from reaching full maturity, according to Bonnie Plants website, which also recommends light, fertile, well-drained soil—sandy or loam is ideal. Artichokes produce buds in the second growing season, so if you live in colder climates where your Cynara cardunculus will only survive one season, check out Organic Gardening’s tips on vernalization – tricking them into thinking they’ve lived through one winter so they’ll produce when planted. And when you’re ready to harvest, enjoy your artichokes with a little seasoning from these Salt and Pepper Shakers.
“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” ~ Thomas Jefferson, who grew over 300 varieties of more than 90 different plants.
(Photo credit: NPR – Thomas Jefferson’s Vegetable Garden)
I got a little distracted this week while researching beets – the recipe for a beet, arugula & goat cheese grilled sandwich is calling to me to grab the ingredients, and not just inhale, but savor its goodness. How great would it be if you could get them out of your garden? (Extra points if you’ve got a goat and make your own cheese.) It’s rumored that beetroot was offered to Apollo in his temple at Delphi. This is the root vegetable of the gods, people. You better be on the beet bandwagon.
March is a great month for planting your beetroots, which thrive in cooler temperatures. Beets grow best in loamy, acid soils, with the pH ranging between 6.0 and 7.5, according to Organic Gardening. And if you’re city folk without the room in your garden for these space craving plants (they are best planted three to four inches apart, and need to be thinned), a container that is at least one foot deep will work, as well. Be sure to water often, to maintain moisture. The Farmer’s Almanac notes that it can take between 50 and 70 days for most varieties to mature, but to harvest them before the greens grow more than six inches. And don’t throw away the tops, cut and store those greens for salads; they too are packed with nutrients.
Because this is the internet, there is the space, and time, for Love Beetroot, a website dedicated to all things beet, including the history of its evolution. The beet evolved from the sea beet, first domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. At the beginning of its life with humans, it was mostly used medicinally, to treat constipation, and various skin issues. Sexy beet. In the same species as chard, its leaves were more often made into a meal. Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension has a rather dry page dedicated to the history of the beet, which informs us that what we Americans call chard, applies specifically to the leaf beet (Beta vulgaris variety cicla), or beet that develops no enlarged, fleshy root. (Sidenote: Enlarged Fleshy Root is a GREAT name for a band.)
According to Love Beetroot, “the rounded root shape that we are familiar with today was not developed until the sixteenth century and became widely popular in Central and Eastern Europe 200 years later. Many classic beetroot dishes originated in this region,” including borscht. But beet recipes abound beyond borscht, and if you’re not eating your beets, you should: the veggies are chock-full of fiber, are rich in vitamins A and C, and have more iron than spinach. The View from Great Island site has a Grapefruit and Roasted Beet Salad with Lime Vinaigrette, here. You can even sneak them into your kids’ diets by baking them into cakes.
I can’t remember when I fell in love with ranunculus, but it seems to be about the same time the rest of the U.S. did. So much for my dream of being a trend-setter. I started seeing them everywhere, from wedding bouquets to my farmer’s market flower stand.
Justine & Jessica, those lovely ladies over at Foxglove Brooklyn who gave us tips on buying sustainably sourced flowers, said the ranunculus craze fully formed about four years ago, and it’s still going strong. Jessica noted that they’re an alternative to that old classic, the rose, and while other blooms like orchids or tropical blossoms have had their moment in the glory of the wedding bouquet, the ranunculus isn’t fading as fast, continuing to hold its place in the hearts of hipsters, brides, and flower stands around the country.
The brighter the better for my house, as they add pops of color to my love of white bedding and collections of green plants. A potted bunch, an impulse buy at Trader Joes, grows on my front stoop, so that I have them both to cut and put in my kitchen, and to enjoy outside, as I sit with a book in the warm early spring sun. (Sorry to those who don’t live in Southern California!)
The name Ranunculus is Late Latin for “little frog,” perhaps, according to Wikipedia, for the fact that it thrives near water. (See? Everything about it is adorable.) If you’re looking to tell someone how you feel with flowers, and want replace the language of the rose (yellow for friendship, white for purity, orange for passion), Real Simple claims they mean “radiant with charm,” while Teleflora says that a bouquet of ranunculus states “I am dazzled by your charms.” I wouldn’t hate on that message delivered to my door.
A close relative of the buttercup, the common name for the ranunculus is the Persian Buttercup. But unlike its cousin, that ubiquitous buttercup you held under your chin as a child to find out if you love butter (and who doesn’t?) it’s not listed on weeds that will overtake your yard. A perfect addition to your cutting garden, plant the ranunculus in the fall to see spring flowers in March, and if you plant them now, you’ll have flowers in June and July, that last up to six weeks. According to Garden.org, “ranunculus are frost-hardy cool-season perennials. They perform best where winters are relatively mild and springs are long and cool. … [They] are most popular in the mild-winter regions of the South and West, in states such as California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana (USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 11), where they grow best.”
When you’re buying your bulbs, go big. The “jumbo” choice, 2-3/4 to 3-1/8 inches in circumference, will produce up to 35 flowers for you to cut for your home, or to share. And if your yard isn’t ready for spring yet, you can plant them indoors, to transfer outside. Garden.org suggests you “place pots in a south- or west-facing window or under grow lights,” and to keep the temperature around 55°F. Once early spring has sprung, slowly introduce the potted plants outside, for increased increments of time, bringing them indoors at night.
There are so many images to grab one’s attention at the Tate Modern Museum in London. The room covered in floor-to-ceiling war propaganda posters, Lee Ufan’s piece “From Line,” so spare, so haunting, its meaning about space that “appears within the passage of time, and when the process of creating space comes to an end, time also vanishes.” So how did a daffodil stop me in my tracks?
In his 1937 painting, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, Salvador Dalí captured the exquisite anguish of Facebook, errr … self-love-gone-wrong. The daffodil, the birth-month flower of March, is also known as Narcissus pseudonarcissus – Narcissus, of that Greek legend of yore, where the young man was so entranced by his own reflection, he died from the frustration that he could not embrace his own mirror image. (Heed the warning, all ye who post multiple selfies and then can’t. stop. looking. at. them.)
As the Tate describes him in Dalí’s work, Narcissus was a “great beauty who loved only himself and broke the hearts of many lovers. The gods punished him by letting him see his own reflection in a pool.” When he died from his inability to embrace his reflection, the gods immortalized him as the narcissus, daffodil, flower. For this picture Dalí’s play “with ‘double images’ sprang from Dalí’s fascination with hallucination and delusion.”
Every spring at my local Trader Joe’s, there are bunches and oodles of daffodils for mere pennies on the bloom for sale. If you’re giving them to the March baby in your life, and don’t want to write the words hallucination, delusion, or obsession with image on the birthday card, take a look at some of the common meanings for the flower: esteem, regard, and as the Daffodil Society notes, “in China, it is associated with ‘good fortune’ and in Japan, ‘mirth and joyousness.’ A French Language of Flowers postcard attributes the Narcisse with ‘esperance’ – “hope.’”
If you want to obsess over the beauty of the blooms in your own backyard, plan to plant them in the fall. The Farmer’s Almanac suggests choosing high-quality bulbs that have not dried out, and the bigger, the better. Two to four weeks before your first fall freeze, plant the bulbs 1-1/2 to 5 times their own depth. The site notes that “where winters are severe, make sure there is at least 3 inches of soil covering the bulb.” I’m looking at you, polar vortex people.
And the beauty of daffodils, beside their bright, sunny colors and reminder that spring is on its way? They’re perennials, so be sure to allow the plants to grow and yellow after the bloom – so the bulbs can gain the energy they need for the following spring. And, as Southern Living suggests, use a bulb fertilizer at planting time, and then sprinkle it over the bulb bed each fall (follow instructions on the bag) and water it in. Look for a 10-10-20 formulation with controlled-release nitrogen.
Talk to me: about your favorite work of art that sparks your imagination, about your selfie-obsession, or about daffodils. Do you have any in your garden? Are they starting to poke their way up into your garden? Send photos to us via Twitter: @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely or share them with us on Facebook!
(Photos: Daffodils via LesleyLyle.com; Metamorphosis of Narcissus: Tate Modern)
Raise of hands (click of the mouse in the comment section): Who is a fan of Amy Poehler’s character Leslie Knope in Parks & Rec? I have to admit to only watching sporadically, but I love the idea of a woman so devoted to her community that she is personally picking slugs off a complaining neighbor’s sidewalk.
Living in the sprawl of Los Angeles, it’s easy to forget that there are people out there who foresee a greener, cleaner, pedestrian and park-friendly city. Known as a concrete jungle, L.A. is slowly growing greener – through the creation of parklets, former parking spots transformed into café seating for reading, eating, or meeting friends, or equipped with workout gear and places to play foosball or chess, as well as the 50 Parks Initiative, that aims to green the city after the destruction of the recession, reclaiming abandoned and foreclosed places as green spaces.
Surrounding yourself with beauty can actually make us healthier. In Krista Tippet’s “On Being” interview with Esther Sternberg, she explores how “architects are working with scientists to imbue the spaces we move through — the sights, sounds, and smells of them — with active healing properties.”
Ms. Sternberg, whose books include Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well Being and The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health & Emotions, references a well-controlled study by environmental psychologist Robert Ulrich, of hospitalized patients, that “even with all these controls where the single variable that differed between patients was the view out the window, what he found was that the patients with a view of a grove of trees left hospital on average a day sooner, needed less pain medication, and had fewer negative nurse’s notes than patients who had a view of a brick wall.”
Knowing that, how can we stop staring at brick walls, and make our city a healthier and happier place to live? According to the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks, “The keys to the successful implementation of this initiative are; (1) the establishment of local partnerships; (2) the use of a community driven design process; and, (3) the strict use of low maintenance design standards. Each new park created through this initiative will be developed through an incremental process as resources, and funding are identified and secured.”
Want to add more green, community, and life to your part of the city? Contact your councilperson, and ask what you can do. A city is alive, showing the soul of the people who live there. We may not be willing to de-slug our neighbor’s sidewalk, but I have faith there’s a little Lesley Knope in all of us.
(Photo: Los Angeles Parklets, The Architect’s Newspaper Blog)
They both hit the glass window at the same time, and fell with a soft thud, two little hummingbird bodies stilled mid-flirtatious-flight. Horrified that their mating ritual had resulted in coma conditions, I watched as my mother opened the sliding door and knelt over the tiny birds. They’re alive, she proclaimed, and created a sugar water mix to nurse them back to flight, when they woke from their love-stupor.
It was the first time I’d seen the teeny birds up close, and I was enraptured. As a child, I’d believed the old wives tale that hummingbirds never stopped whirring about. (I wasn’t one to lean towards the logical.) As an adult, I’ve carefully cleaned and filled with sugar-water the feeders at a friend’s house, sitting and enjoying the bitty-birds as they perch on the plastic ledge, dipping their beaks into the fake-flowers.
I love the image of the birds so much, I stock up and give away greeting cards that baffle my friends (but, they reply, I’m not technically getting married / having a baby / honoring a dead pet) from Papyrus, simply for their logo, the round sticker with the image of the bird, and the reminder they include: “Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration.”
Papyrus’s site continues to explain that, “Hummingbirds open our eyes to the wonder of the world and inspire us to open our hearts to loved ones and friends. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and to savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.”
Want to bring more awareness, presence and hummingbirds to your backyard, sans sugar water? Plant bright flowers that will draw them in. Hummingbirds do not have a great sense of smell, and beeline for color. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests you choose reds and oranges, and create a habitat that will give them shade, shelter, food, and security. Their list includes petunia, foxglove, lily, and something called soapwort, which I HAD to look up.
According to Wikipedia, soapwort, or Saponaria, is a genus of flowering plants in the pink family, Caryophyllaceae. They are native to Europe and Asia, and are commonly known as soapworts. They are herbaceous perennials and annuals, some with woody bases. The flowers are abundant, five-petalled and usually in shades of pink or white. (You’ll want to choose the deep pink, for your olfactory-challenged hummingbird friends.)
Gardening Know How shares that “the plant makes a good addition to empty beds, woodland edges, or rock gardens. Soapwort seeds can be started indoors in late winter with young transplants set out in the garden after the last frost in spring. Otherwise, they can be sown directly in the garden in spring. Germination takes about three weeks, give or take.”
With spring just around the corner, will you plan to plant soapwort in your garden? It also grows well in containers, for those of us concrete-bound city dwellers. And a bonus: it was named “soapwort” as it works as a detergent! Checkout The Herb Gardener for tips on how to use your Saponaria inside, from a gentle cleanser for your quilts, to a facial cleanser or shampoo!
As I write this, it’s a lovely sunny day in late January, the clouds rolling away from the hills that surround Los Angeles. Clouds of disappointment, I named them, begrudgingly admiring their beauty while cursing them for dashing our drought-induced hopes for rain. Instead, they lightly sprinkled the city of Angels, causing drivers to panic at Water Falling from the SKY, but doing little to alleviate the driest year on record.
Governor Brown has asked Californians to voluntarily cut back on water use by 20%. I chopped my hair into a pixie cut, thus reducing my shower-time. You’re welcome, Mother Earth. But, I don’t know. It still feels like I should do more. So I’m going to ask YOU to. To plant drought-resistant cacti.
“The cactus of the high desert is a small grubby, obscure and humble vegetable associated with cattle dung and overgrazing, interesting only when you tangle with it the wrong way. Yet from this nest of thorns, this snare of hooks and fiery spines, is born once each year a splendid flower. It is unpluckable and except to an insect almost unapproachable, yet soft, lovely, sweet, desirable, exemplifying better than the rose among thorns the unity of opposites.” – Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire”
But the cactus need not be just an unapproachable plant, as Modern Farmer points out in their piece on the prickly pear, asking the most popular question of the decade, is this the new kale? The pads (nopales) are used to make nopalitos, an okra-like dish often added to tacos and scrambled eggs in Mexico. I remember my first experience of the prickly pear fruit: borne to my taste buds via a delicious, bright pink margarita. And the fruit isn’t limited to Mexico and California. Modern Farmer’s Sam Brasch, notes that, “according to a study by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Ethiopia, Morocco, South Africa, Peru, Argentina and Chile all have significant acreage devoted tonopales for either human consumption or as livestock feed,” and parts of Italy love the fruit so much, the country comes in second only to Mexico in cactus fruit production.
Locavores love the plant for the same reason Governor Brown would probably agree with me that you grow it – it requires very little water to thrive. And it’s good for you, as Brasch notes: “Health conscious lovers of nopales point to the vast amounts of vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber in the plant. Studies also seem to indicate nopales as an effective treatment for diabetes and hangovers.” (Which is handy, as the hangover likely came from drinking that margarita made from the fruit of the plant.)
Walking in Southern California, one sees so many succulents – they’re beautiful, and good for the eco-conscious gardener, but beware before you harvest them, and listen to Baloo’s wisdom, as sung to Mowgli in The Jungle Book:
“Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don’t pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw”
Or else? Watch out. A friend accidentally used his paw when he saw the ripe fruit on our walk to a restaurant, and spent the rest of the night avoiding handshakes and pulling tiny prickles from his fingers.
Visit Mother Earth News to learn how to start your own prickly pear patch from just a few cuttings, and Modern Farmer’s tips on how to eat your prickly pear. Do you already have cacti in your home or garden? What are your favorite recipes when you harvest the fruit? Leave a note in the comments, or tell us on Twitter: @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely
If you’re starting a drought resistant yard or garden, check out my previous post on persimmon trees, too!
(Photo – The Spanish Gardener)
Have I mentioned that my mother is a liar? She prefers “teller of tall tales,” and she often adds an element of truth to the tale, making it a story easier to swallow as unlikely-but-true. So when she told the tale of a new mom who brought her beautiful but orange baby back to the hospital, only to be told to cut back on the baby’s whipped carrot diet, I believed her. She was, after all, an RN in the maternity ward.
Years later, I’ve begun to question almost everything my mother told me. For instance: That music truck? IT SELLS ICE CREAM. But, after coming across a beautiful bunch of carrots fresh from the dirt at an outdoor market in Paris, I decided it time to learn more about the root. And in doing so, I learned that my mother was, for once, not weaving her words into a tale, but that baby was being fed too much beta-carotene. And, according to Rebecca Rupp, author of “How Carrots Won the Trojan War,” “raw carrots release only about 3 percent of their total beta-carotene to the human digestive system. In boiled carrots, where the cooking acts to break down the root’s thick cell walls, up to 40 percent is released; and blended or juiced, carrots release up to 90 percent.”
And if you’re thinking grandma might have lied to you about eating carrots so you could see in the dark, she did. But there’s truth in the need for vitamin A, which carrots are steeped in, for healthy eyes: “Vitamin A … is perhaps best known for its effect on eyesight. In the retina of the eye, vitamin A binds to a protein (opsin) in the rod cells to form the visual pigment rhodopsin, which allows us to see — more or less — in the dark. In fact, the first hint of vitamin A deficiency is impaired dark adaptation (‘night blindness’), and a severe or prolonged lack of vitamin A can lead to permanent blindness.” (Rebecca Rupp, “How Carrots Won the Trojan War: Curious (but True) Stories of Common Vegetables”)
I’m sorry. You don’t care about juicing vs. cooking or night vision, you want to know how carrots won the Trojan War? According to Rebecca Rupp as well as the World Carrot Museum, carrots originated in what is present day Afghanistan 5000 years ago, purple, “scrawny, highly branched, and unpromising, these wine-colored roots belonged, like their plump cultivated descendants, to the Apiaceae family.” And those “primitive purple, violet, red, and black carrots owed their color to anthocyanin, a pigment that dominated the carrot world until approximately the sixteenth century, when a pale yellow anthocyanin-less mutation appeared in western Europe. It thus must have been an anthocyanin-laced purplish carrot that Agamemnon’s soldiers legendarily munched (presumably quietly) inside the Trojan Horse ‘to bind their bowels,’ and that Greeks on the home front used to concoct an aphrodisiacal potion or philtron. Like any vegetable even vaguely resembling a penis, the carrot was thought to be a passion promoter.” (Rupp)
I know. I’m never going to be able to eat a carrot the same way again. But we love them, raw, cooked, juiced: Americans consume about twelve pounds of carrots a year (up from a mere four annual pounds in 1975). After making their way to Europe in the 12th century, and being honed into the sweet, orange snack we chomp on today by the Dutch, carrots made their way to America with the first settlers. According to Rupp, they were planted between tobacco fields in Jamestown, and Jefferson grew carrots in several colors at Monticello.
For a twist, add the leafy-topped veggie to your bridal bouquet or boutonniere, their lacy, leafy tops were the original inspiration for Queen’s Anne Lace, descended, we read in Rupp’s history, from ex-cultivated escapees. The Queen of these lacy flowers is said to be Anne of Denmark, wife of England’s James I and an expert with the needle and thread. “Queen Anne challenged her ladies-in-waiting to make a piece of lace as fine as the flower of the wild carrot. The Queen herself, not surprisingly, won hands down, and the flower was rechristened in her name. Less romantically, it is known as bird’s nest or devil’s plague.” (For the sake of the future of your wedded bliss, I’d call it Queen Anne’s Lace, not devil’s plague.)
And? While we’re not going to be able to take a field trip to the World Carrot Museum, you can visit it online, and get your carrot facts fix. You can plan that field trip to a carrot festival near you, like the one in Holtville, California, a town of 6005 folk that calls itself the Carrot Capital of the World. The festivities kick off this Friday, Jan 31st, when they crown their Carrot Festival Queen and her court. And if you want to rival the small town’s crop, check out The Old Farmer’s Almanac guide to grow your own.
(Photo credit: Carrots in Color from Mixed Greens Blog, Paris Market, Rebecca Snavely)