Tomatoes

Guess what we picked today? I’ve just finished freezing the large ones to make into tomato jam and tomato sauce later, or seasoning and setting the smaller ones out to sun dry. We’ll sell these fantastically tasty foods at our Marketplace in November.

Last year, 2016, we had no tomatoes until the Fall.  I couldn’t figure out why. Our summer temperatures were over 100F for days on end, peaking at 116F several of those days. The nights never cooled off and sleeping was difficult. It turns out that the tomatoes didn’t like the heat either. If temperatures consistently stay over 85F and don’t dip below 75F at night then the flowers won’t set fruit. And here I was thinking that tomatoes loved the heat! They just love the warmth, like I do.

Tomato flowers are self-pollinating. Each has both male and female parts and it takes vibration from winged insects and gentle warm winds to pollinate. Others flick them with their fingers, or set a tuning fork on them to simulate insect vibration. If there are very hot, dry winds, pollen dries out and isn’t viable. If the humidity is so high that it is sticky out the pollen swells and sticks, unable to fall to the female part of the flower. When the temperatures lowered in the Fall, even though the day length was shorter, the tomatoes quickly put on fruit. 

Here in Southern California’s inland area we don’t receive snow, so tomatoes can last outside as a perennial vine for several years. However a good way to keep tomatoes for use after summer is to prune it, hanging the vine with the tomatoes in a dry area with good air circulation. The vine will die but the tomatoes – especially sauce or paste tomatoes such as Roma – will stay in excellent condition for months.

Tomatoes enjoy a good deep watering, and then let go dry in between. The tomatoes are more flavorful that way as well. Most of the tomatoes we harvested today came from volunteers that had popped up along our fenceline and receive no water, and others receive water once or twice a week along with the trees by which they are planted.

This apricot tree has been struggling with the heat and heavy clay in which its been planted, and as it has too few leaves there isn’t anything protecting the trunk and branches from the scorching heat… except for this tomato plant. The tomatoes vine upwards away from nibbling animals and are easy to pick, and the apricot receives shade. (Remember that growing under trees that have an upward growth is great, but only grow companion plants outside of the dripline of trees that have heavy skirts such as citrus and avocado).

When tomato vines die down, cut them at the soil surface and then either bury them or cover them with compost and then plant right around them. Worms love tomato vines and roots, and the vines will return nutrients to the soil. Also, tomatoes don’t care about being planted in the same place twice, so don’t worry about crop rotation. The only issue you might have is that if you plant a different variety the following year, seeds from the previous year’s tomato might come up there as well. 

If your tomatoes crack on the vine, that usually means too much water, or that you’ve dumped some fertilizer on them and the growth spurt was too quick for the expanding fruit. Don’t use chemical fertilizers. Period. For anything. If you dose the tomatoes with fertilizer you’ll have lots of vines and little fruit. Also, if the tomatoes have blossom-end rot (round black dents in the bottom of the fruit) it means there is a calcium deficiency, so to prevent this bury crushed egg shells where you’ll plant tomatoes, or pour sour milk or milk products around the tomato plants. 

We have tomato hornworm in our garden,but they don’t get out of control because we have birds. They take care of most of the caterpillars in the garden. Besides, the tomato hornworm is the young of the Sphinx moth, 

a large lovely moth that you may see in the night.

If the temperatures remain tolerable this summer, we here at Finch Frolic Garden can look forward to lots of tomatoes to dry, can, freeze, eat fresh, make into sauce… whatever. Tomatoes are truly the taste of summer.

Growing Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) were never one of my favorite foods… until I grew and ate one. It was a transformational experience. An entirely different experience from store-bought. If you’ve never had nor liked white sweet potatoes, grow one and try it. Or if you have to load marshmallows on top to get the orange ones down, you won’t need that gook with home grown. 

And by the way, what you find in a US chain store are all sweet potatoes, although the USDA calls the yellow ones yams just to make them different. A true yam has a rough bark-like skin and is an African dietary staple.

I put them in curries, steam them and top with a little vegan butter, cinnamon, chili-con-limon, a very light sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lime. I eat them here, I eat them there….. anyway, you get the picture. Not only are they low in fat and heavy in beta carotene, but people who eat a lot of healthy starches such as sweet potatoes, taro, cassava, potatoes, etc. have fewer chronic illnesses. Just don’t load the starch down with salt and fat.

Sprouting and growing your own sweet potato is different from growing the common potato, which is a swollen tuber in the solanaceae family. Sweet potatoes are tropical vines that need sunshine and warmth, and a lot of room to spread.  Give them space or provide a support because the vines can sprawl ten feet. The shiny leaves, unlike potatoes, are edible and very decorative.  You can grow them in large pots in the house as long as you have space for the vines (up and over the window?). The flowers are pretty, too. 

There are all kinds of sweet potatoes and crosses: purple inside, purple outside,yellow, orange,
white and combinations thereof. They are all delicious. Some grow with clumps of potatoes directly under the plant, and some spread out and grow  wherever the vine roots. You can grow them inside or outside, as long as they have warm soil and sunshine. For warmer areas, plant slips out in May or June. Its extremely easy to grow sweet potatoes. Here are some options:

Buy an organic sweet potato and keep it in a warm, dry, semi-dark place until you  begin to see it sprout.  Allow these slips to grow until they are several inches long. Then give them a gentle pull; if they come off easily they are ready to root. You can keep sprouting from that potato, or just eat it. Put the slips in a glass of water in a bright window for a few days and you’ll see them begin to root. After that they are ready to plant.

Or, take your organic sweet potato and cut it into wedges about an inch long. Suspend the chunk, cut-end down, over a glass of water so that the bottom is wet but the piece isn’t submerged. Do this by sticking three toothpicks around the sweet potato so that the toothpicks are over the edge of the glass. Many sprouts can come from a chunk, so you can keep harvesting until the base starts to go bad. Follow the directions above for removing the slip, rooting and planting it.

What you don’t want to do is to bury an entire sweet potato. It might sprout, but the plant will have all the nourishment it needs from the big potato and won’t form many if any new ones. By planting slips you are forcing the plant to grow storage units, or sweet potatoes.  

Be sure they are planted where the soil is well-draining, and watch out for animals in your area because sweet potatoes are very yummy to everyone.  The soil should be enriched with compost, but not straight manure. Give the tubers a fighting chance by gently loosening up the soil under and around the planting hole with a garden fork. Remove any visible rocks or stones that might misshape or injure the tubers.

If you live where you can plant bananas outside, sweet potatoes are a great companion plant in a banana circle/guild. I’ve planted them as a groundcover (and choosing those varieties that root directly under the center, planted them in gopher cages). They are very ornamental.

 In the right conditions you can grow sweet potatoes year round inside. Sweet potatoes want warmth so they are ideally suited to being planted indoors in areas where there are short summers. This is an excellent use for old fishtanks. 

In the fall the vines will die off, and that is when you dig up the roots and enjoy them! Now you cure them – an important step for flavor development. Be sure that the roots are dry on the outside and keep in place at about 85F – 95F with a lot of humidity – about 80%, for five – ten days. They will develop a thicker skin, have a deeper flavor and be better keepers.  Keep one for resprouting.

So sprout and grow your own, and don’t keep them just for Thanksgiving. Bake them like a regular potato and really enjoy a fabulously healthy meal. And maybe you’ll find one that looks like a walrus.

 

 

M’s Turk-ish Eggplant Stew

Miranda here, posting a recipe by request.  

So here’s the deal. Eggplants are creepy.

Don’t get me wrong, I think they is one fine looking piece of … fruit? vegetable? alien pod? whatever. And so much variety in shape, size, colour, etc., that the eggplant area of my life is delightfully well-spiced (you know, ‘variety is the spice of life‘…. Okay). I dig it.
But … they also seem kinda poisonous, and like, what’s up with being the texture of wet packing foam fresh and like the lovechild of a mushroom and a whelk when cooked? I see you decided to go with ‘slippery’. Well played Mme. Aubergine, well played.

It’s taken me a long time, an exercise of my palatal boundaries (aging, as Shakespeare noted, does play dickey with our tastes), and an interest in slaking my mother’s insane hunger for eggplant to reach parley with this ‘edible’. 

I’ve disCOVered … it’s quite nice. Mixed with other stuff. Cooked like, a lot, usually with spices. Hey, does everybody want a bouquet of only baby’s breath? No. I like my textures diverse, and my baba ganoush like, 90% pita chip.

To get to the point, I composed this delish eggplant recipe with reference to Almost Turkish Recipes’ Vegeterian Eggplant Stew (Etsiz Patlican Güveç) and Taste.com’s Beef and Eggplant Stew and a hearty helping of rugged individualism. It came out preh-tay awesome, I am required by inherent truthfulness to say. Diane loves it for its rich layers of flavour and healthy, hearty vegetabliness that make it the perfect combination of comforting and exotic. There’s something for everyone in there! Plus, you can stroke some more hash marks into your summer “Zucchinis/Eggplants/Tomatoes ENDED” tally with a sauce-stained smile once you’ve roused yourself from your stewy food-coma.

Celebrate the small victories.

(Mme. Aubergine can celebrate a gracious concession from one former eggplant separatist.)

Enjoy.

M's Turkish Eggplant Stew
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 3-4
 
The perfect combination of comforting and exotic, and an amazing way to use up summer vegetables.
Ingredients
  • 1 large eggplant (larger than big grapefruit) or equivalent amount of smalls
  • 1 zucchini about 6 in. long (soft center cut out) or equivalent amount of smalls
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled
  • 3 seitan filets (equivalent to 4"x4" each) or other vegetarian protein product, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped thin
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced unless you like larger pieces
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. thick tomato product: tomato paste, fresh tomato concoction, specialty ketchup, etc.
  • 1½ cups broth (I have used leftover broth from making seitan before, or veggie broth)
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil, more or less
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil, more or less
  • Black Pepper to taste
  • [Optional additional spices, in any combination: ½ tsp. ground ginger, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp. ground paprika, Touch of chili/pepper of some sort]
Instructions
  1. Use vegetable peeler to stripe the eggplant and zucchini lengthwise. Chop into ~ 1 in. pieces, or to preference (eggplant will shrink in cooking, so can leave larger chunks).
  2. Chop potatoes smaller (1/2") to keep cooking time down.
  3. Heat a large pan (I prefer to use our flat-bottomed wok) on high until very hot.
  4. Toss in eggplant and zucchini as well as potatoes and seitan and allow to sear, stirring on and off to prevent burning.
  5. Drizzle some sesame oil and/or olive oil around the edges of the pan to stop the searing and allow the veggies and seitan to begin to fry.
  6. When seitan begins to brown a bit, turn down the heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until onions are browning (don't allow garlic to burn, as it cooks faster than onion).
  7. Add spices and ketchup, and stir on medium-low for a few moments to fully incorporate.
  8. Pour in broth and stir well.
  9. Cover, and set to simmer for 30 min. If it's looking too soupy towards the end, remove the cover and raise the heat until it's less liquidy, but it should be like a thick stew.
  10. Serve with rice or couscous.
Notes
We count on the excellent leftovers, so I always make extra, but it is filling so portion size may be smaller for some. May also be made a few hours early, left in the pan on the stove and reheated to serve. For seitan recipe see Diane's post: http://www.vegetariat.com/2015/01/seitan/.

MCK

 

Manipulating Cold

In areas such as here in flatland San Diego we don’t receive a lot of cold. We’re growing both tropicals which don’t want the frost, and stonefruit, brassicas and other plants that do better with a good chill. So when frost comes we need to manipulate it.

Of course the best possible practice is to plant where there are optimal conditions for your particular types of plants and trees. Trees that need chilling should go down where frost settles. Tropicals should go higher where frost will roll past. However, circumstances change and you can’t be perfect all of the time, so here are some tips for helping your plants receive what they need:

For young tropicals, some frost protection through the first winter is important.  A very easy way to protect your trees is to set four stakes around the tree; the poles should be taller than the tree. As much as I don’t like to use plastic, a 6 mil white plastic works best for this. Otherwise wrap in heavy burlap, blankets, etc. The thing about white plastic is that it lets in light so that you can set this up at the beginning of the cold season and leave it up until after the last frost. I open and close the top just on nights when it is going to be frosty.

Wrap the plastic around the poles, allowing some to be on the ground in a skirt which you can hold down with rocks, and some to extend above the top of the tree.  Staple the plastic to the wooden poles. Frost rolls across the ground like water, so you want to make sure that it can’t roll under your plastic. It also comes down like water so you want to protect the top leaves. You can have a plastic flap that you can secure – tie down if its windy – over the top. I used several layers of burlap on my mango and rose apple trees, and I’m using an old sheet on my papaya, as if that frosts at the top it will come back the next year, and I didn’t have poles tall enough to reach above the highest leaves. Burlap, particularly wet burlap, would be too heavy.

Be sure to uncover the tops of your plants in the morning so that they don’t cook. The plastic will act like a small greenhouse and help your plants keep cozy during cold days as well. This is a treat for a tomato that came up next to our mango and is enjoying the greenhouse effect.

So what to do about capturing cold? Again, frost rolls downhill. Capturing it with obstacles such as earthen walls, stacked sandbags, bushes, railroad ties, or anything that keeps it from passing by will help deliver the chill hours needed.  Be sure that the cold trap is created like a smile downhill of the plant; fishscale swales are in the same direction but placed above plants for water catchment.  You want the cold to be caught in a cup.

This short video I took last week on Christmas day showed a very light frost, and how dramatically different it was between a path that had no obstacles, and the side that had.

After I shut the camera off I realized that I should also have wished you a Happy Hanukkah, an early Happy Kwanzaa, a general Happy Holiday for others, and now I wish you a Happy New Years, as we are five hours before the end of 2016.

Thanks for reading, thanks for doing permaculture and helping to save the planet. We can make the change we want to see happen.

2016 Marketplace and Last Tours of the Year

Our Marketplace is extended to Sunday, Nov. 20th, 9 – 2!

img_0524At Finch Frolic we’ve come to celebrate the end of our season with a Marketplace. This year our Marketplace will happen one day only, this Sat. Nov. 19th from 8-3.  Finch Frolic is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA.  We’ll be selling our abundance. Here’s some of the goodies you’ll find:

Tiny Cocktail Mouse Melons (cucumbers… so cute!)

Amazing, milk-free Passionfruit Curd

Incredible tropical Guava Jam

Pickled Garlic

img_0508

Whiskey Cranberry Relishimg_0506

Nectarine Amaretto Jam

Tangy Plum Jam

Our very best dill Picklesimg_0517

Jelly Palm Jelly img_0500

Spicy Jalapeno Carrotsimg_0519

Hand-grated, homegrown organic Horseradish Sauceimg_0529

Guava Halves in Simple Syrup

Guava Paste squares – eat as is or put them in baked goods, or pair with slices of cheese. Ummm!img_0537

img_0544

Frozen Passionfruit Juice cubes

Our famous Pomegranate Gelato

Frozen Pomegranate Arils, all ready to sprinkle on your baked goods or mix in a salad or stuffing.

Clear, amazing Guava Jelly

Frozen Plum, Guava and Peach slices

Frozen strained cooked organic home-grown pumpkin, all ready for a pie or bread!

Our best-selling Cranberry Biscotti

Gingerbread Houses. Pair them with our Passionfruit Curd for a memorable dessert!

Lilikoi (Passionfruit) Poundcakes. Small amazing tropical bundles of yum.

Guava Sauce, like applesauce but guava. Very low sugar!

Fresh Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) roots. Cook them or plant them!

Layered Curry Mix – a sensual trip to the Middle East, either layered in cute little jars for a gift or in bags for use at home. Make a curry with these organic spices!

Lime Juice Cubes

Candied Orange Peels. From our organic oranges. A much better stocking stuffer than hard candy. Or top your baked goods with a twist.

Fresh, fragrant guavas, both white and pinkimg_0541

Fresh kiwanos, those thorny African fruit that sell for a fortune at the stores.

And more!

Plus, we’ll be selling some knick-knacks, and a few garage sale items . A punching bag anyone?

PLUS, we’ll have a selection of native plants lovingly grown locally.

And we’ll have amazing succulents from our neighbor Rosa of Roja’s Succulents. You’ll pass by her business on the way in, so please stop by on the way out and see her incredible inventory of plants, all organically hand-grown by Rosa. I never loved succulents until I saw her collection, and her very low prices!

Except for the gelato, we’re dairy (milk) free this year. We use organic eggs from cage-free hens, and otherwise use vegan butter that I make at home which is coconut-oil and rice milk based.

Our last two tours of the year (the garden closes from Thanksgiving until March 1.  We will still be available for consultations and appearances) will be this weekend, Nov. 19th and 20th, both at 10. [UPDATE: THE SATURDAY TOUR IS FULL. THERE IS STILL ROOM FOR THE SUNDAY TOUR]. The tours are our usual 2-hour concentrated Intro to Permaculture walks through the garden. The tours cost $15/adult and you will come away with so many ideas and so much information that you’ll spend the next week working in your garden! Please RSVP for the tours to dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.

Your continued support helps Miranda and I keep our consultation and tour prices low, and enables us to keep teaching and spreading the word on permaculture. So thank you!

Ghostly Spring Rolls

img_0469Vegetariat began as mostly a food blog. Now I talk more about growing food than cooking but if you go through the archives you’ll find a lot of recipes. This one I thought was so cute that I had to pass it on.
My daughter and I wanted something savory, vegan and spooky to bring to a Halloween potluck. We saw lots of Pintrest tags for apple slices with teeth, green pepper faces oozing spaghetti and all kinds of cheese or egg eyeballs.
Miranda had made some Thai spring rolls for my birthday last week, which are a big favorite of mine. I liked how you could see the veggies through the rice paper. Then I thought what if something spooky was peering through the rice paper wrapper? A ghostly figure. Then I thought of these wonderfully large King Oyster mushrooms we bought at 88Ranch Market and I knew what I wanted.img_0465
I sliced the mushrooms very thinly. img_0461To cut out the eyes and mouth at first I used a knife, then tried a hole punch, and finally used the end of a plastic straw which worked beautifully.img_0458 I simmered the mushrooms until tender in vegetable broth, sesame oil and Bragg’s Amino Acids. img_0464Then they were set on paper towels to dry and to cool. We also prepared the other ingredients: cilantro, Thai basil, strips of chive, soaked rice noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts, grated carrot and crumbled tofu cooked in sesame seed oil and lite Soy Sauce.
Spring rolls are not cooked. They are a bunch of flavorful and aromatic herbs and veggies wrapped in a clear rice paper wrapper. These wrappers come in hard, brittle sheets. You carefully dip them one at a time into hot water and they quickly become translucent and soft.img_0466 This is the tricky part, getting them on a surface to fill and fold without allowing it to stick onto itself. If one hangs up too much, dip it back into the water and you can gently pull creases out then.
We put a mushroom ghost 2/3rds of the way up, and the rest of the filling just below that. img_0467Don’t overfill, and keep a margin on either side for folding. Beware of stems that might poke holes into the wrapper. To fold, you fold in either side first. Then fold the bottom up until it covers 2/3s of the rest, then roll up. The filling should be neatly tucked away and the ghost peering out. You can arrange the filling behind the ghost so that there are different backgrounds, such as a lettuce forest, creepy bean sprout tendrils or a haze of red carrot.img_0486
Serve the rolls with a peanut dipping sauce. We brought these to a potluck Halloween party and they all disappeared in a not-so-spooky manner!img_0471

If you don’t have big mushrooms available, then you can also do this with carrots very thinly sliced and handled the same way.

Here’s a quick recipe for the peanut dipping sauce, but there are many variations out there so try others:

Peanut Dipping Sauce
Recipe type: Sauce
Cuisine: Thai
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: ½ cup
 
For use with Thai spring rolls.
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp water
  • ½ cup chunky peanut butter (you can use smooth, but I like the chunks for more flavor)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp vegetarian hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp lite soy sauce (or Bragg's Amino Acid)
  • 2 small garlic cloves (or 1 large), minced
  • 1 birds eye chilli, finely chopped (optional. We left them out)
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
Instructions
  1. Mix all ingredients until the consistancy is like honey; you want it to stick but not clump.
  2. Garnish with crushed peanuts and sprigs of herbs or a piece of lime.

 

Just wanted to share our spooky treats that also were very healthy and so very tasty!

Our Annual Marketplace, and Last Tours of 2015

IMG_5608Our fourth-annual Finch Frolic Marketplace will take place Nov. 21 and 22nd from  9 – 2.  We’ve been working like little permaculture elves, harvesting, preparing fruit and vegetables, canning, baking, and inventing new recipes for your table and for gifts.  We have a curry spice mixture that is amazing.  Our record white guava harvest has allowed us to create sweet guava paste and incredible guava syrup.  We’ve pickled our garlic cloves, as well as zucchino rampicante, and our Yucatan Pickled Onions have a wonderful orange and oregano base that is fabulous.  Of course there is Miranda’s small-batch Pomegranate Gelato, Whiskey-Baked Cranberry Relish, and a selection of curds (passionfruit, lemon-lime, and cranberry).  So much more, too.  We’ll also be selling plants from several sources, and some collectibles and knick-knacks from my home.  Please come support a small business early – a whole week before Small Business Saturday!  Your patronage allows us to continue teaching permaculture.

Join us for a tour!

Join us for a tour!

Our last two Open Tours will also be held that weekend, each at 10 am.  The tours last about two hours and we should be having terrific weather for you to enjoy learning basic permaculture as we stroll through the food forest.  Please RSVP for the tours to dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.  More about the tours can be found under the ‘tours’ page on this blog.

Finch Frolic Garden will be closing for the winter, from Thanksgiving through March 1.  However, Miranda and I will still be available for consultations, designs, lectures and workshops, and we will be adding posts to Vegetariat and Finch Frolic Facebook (you don’t need to be a member of Facebook to view our page!).

Have a very safe and very happy holiday season.  Care for your soil as you would your good friends and close family, with swales, sheet mulch and compost, and it will care for you for years.

Diane and Miranda

My Plea Against Gravel

gravel wastelandHere in Southern California, as in many other areas, we are finally legally recognizing the drought. There are rebates in place for those who take out their lawns, and here in Fallbrook there is a 36% water reduction goal.  Many people just don’t know what to do with all that lawn.  A very unfortunate continuing trend is to dump half a ton of colored gravel on it.  Please!  NO!  First of all, once down gravel is nearly impossible to get out again.  Gravel, like all rocks, is thermal mass.  Instead of having a large rock heating up and radiating out heat, with gravel there are tens of thousands of surfaces radiating out heat and reflecting light and heat back up.  It is the worst kind of hardscape.  All that reflected heat and light heats up your home, making you use your air conditioner more frequently which is a waste of energy, and also dries out the air around your home.  Desertification reflects light and heat to a point where moist air moving over a region dries up.  There is less rain, or no rain.  Most trees and plants trap humidity under their leaves.  Gravel reflects light and heat back up under those leaves and dries them out, sickening your  plants and trees.  Pollen travels farther on humid air; it can dry out quickly.  If you are relying on pollination for good fruit set between trees that are spaced far apart, then having some humidity will increase your chances of success.

An area of Wildomar, surrounded by hillsides of chaparral that hasn't been destroyed. These homes have mostly gravel yards and denuded, compacted backyards. Very little rain penetrates, and all the weeds that nature sends it to help repair this gash in the earth are promptly poisoned. This is death to us and our planet.

An area of Wildomar, surrounded by hillsides of chaparral that hasn’t been destroyed. These homes have mostly gravel yards and denuded, compacted backyards. Very little rain penetrates, and all the weeds that nature sends it to help repair this gash in the earth are promptly poisoned. This is death to us and our planet.

By laying gravel you are turning soil into rock-hard dirt, because microbial life cannot live closely under it.  That robs any plants you have stuck into the gravel of the food they need from the soil, which is opened up through microbial activity.  You are adding to the heat value of the hardscape around your house causing you to cook in the summer and use more air conditioning.  You have reduced habitat to zero.  You have added to global warming by reflecting more heat and light into the sky.  Although gravel is permeable, usually the ground below it bakes so hard that rain doesn’t percolate.  I’ve read sites that want to you increase the albedo effect by laying gravel.  In the short term albedo helps cool the atmosphere, but as a result of too much reflected light dries everything out.  Think of the dark coolness and dampness of forests… that are now bare ground.

What do you do with your lawn instead?  There are many choices that are so much better for the earth and your quality of life.  First step, cut swales on contour on any slopes for best rain harvesting.  Flat lawn? Easier still.  Turn your lawn into a beautifully landscaped lush native garden.  I’m not talking about a cactus here and there, but a creation with the awesome native plants we have in Southern California.  Some of them such as Fremontia can die with supplemental summer water!

A beautiful border and plantings of California natives. Very low water use here, and very high habitat!

A beautiful border and plantings of California natives. Very low water use here, and very high habitat!

There is a chocolate daisy that smells like chocolate.  Oh yes.  And how can you not want to plant something called Fairy Duster or Blue-Eyed Grass?  A native landscape planted on soil that has been contoured to best catch and hold water, and amended with buried wet wood (hugelkultur), will give much-needed food, water and breeding grounds to countless birds, butterflies, native insects and honeybees.

Or put in a pond.  Wait, a pond during a drought?  Yes!  Ninety-nine percent of California wetlands have been paved over, drained or are unusable.  Where are all the animals drinking?  Oh, wait, we are in the epicenter of extinction, mostly due to wetlands loss.  There are very few animals left that need to drink.  Those that are left have to take advantage of chlorinated water in bird baths and swimming pools. The microbially rich and diverse clean, natural water that fed and sustained life is just about gone.  So what can you do?  If you have a swimming pool, you can convert it either entirely to a pond, or into a natural swimming pool that is cleaned by plants.

A natural pool upgrades your pool to a lovely pond without the use of chemicals.

A natural pool upgrades your pool to a lovely pond without the use of chemicals.

Suddenly instead of having this expensive eyesore that you use only a couple of months a year and pour chemicals into year-round, you have a lovely habitat that you want to sit and watch, and even better, swim in safely without turning your hair green or peeling your skin.  You don’t need to clean the pool all the time, and you don’t need to put in chemicals.  If you are in the San Diego or Los Angeles area, call Dr.  Robert Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics for a consultation and conversion.  If you don’t have a pool, then build one that is cleaned by plants and fish. You don’t need a filtration or oxygenation system because the biology does it all.  Where do you get the water from to top off your pond?

Native Pacific Chorus Frogs enjoying our clean pond at Finch Frolic Garden.

Native Pacific Chorus Frogs enjoying our clean pond at Finch Frolic Garden.

Connect your pond to a lovely, planted stream that is connected to your laundry water or graywater system.  You are buying water every day, so why not compost your water through phytoremediation and have a pond full of great healthy chemical-free water that is wonderful to look at and is an oasis for thirsty animals and insects?

Or install a food forest.  With good soil building and rain catchment first, and planting in guilds with sheet mulch around trees and on pathways, you will be using a fraction of the water you pour on your lawn and yet harvest lots of food.  Too much food?  Share it with a food pantry!

Or start a veggie garden without digging any sod.

Create a lasagna garden right on top of the lawn and start growing immediately.

Create a lasagna garden right on top of the lawn and start growing immediately.

Layer cardboard, sticks, grass, food scraps, leaves, more grass, more food scraps, more leaves and top it with about 8 inches of good soil, then plant right in it!  That lovely standing compost heap will slowly turn into good soil while killing the grass beneath and growing crops for you immediately.

If ridding yourself of a lawn just breaks your heart, then substitute the high-water use grasses for a native grass mix that is comparable.  Look at S&S Seeds for prices or for seed choices.  Water a few times with Actively Aerated Compost Tea using any rainwater you may have caught in those 50-gallon containers and your grass roots will travel so deeply that they will find groundwater.  Check up on the work of soil microbiologist Dr. Elaine Ingham and see how easy AACT is to make and use.

There are so many alternatives to using gravel that aren’t expensive, that are an investment in your property and in reclaiming habitat while beautifying your home and saving money.  So please, just say, “NO,” to the gravel.  Tell a friend!!

Which one of these would you rather live in?  Which do you think is better for the earth and for the future generations?

Finch Frolic Garden, year 3.

Finch Frolic Garden, year 3.


gravel wasteland

Pathways Can Help Your Garden!

A finished section.

A finished section.

Footpaths and/or vehicle access paths are absolutely necessary for any yard.  Unfortunately, weeds love growing in them.  Worse, the pressure from footfalls, wheelbarrows and vehicles compress and compact the soil, pressing the soil grains together so tightly that oxygen – and therefore life – can’t exist often up to several inches or more deep.  Any life, that is, except for the grasses and other weeds that nature sends in to help repair the soil.  Bare ground will be greatly compacted by rainfall, which will then erode paths as it runs, unable to soak through that spaceless ground. Once wet bare pathways are often unwalkable until they dry out, and have to be resmoothed. In our hot, dry areas, bare earth or graveled pathways reflect heat and light back up.  That reflected heat and light dries out the underside of plant leaves, where species such as Live Oaks have over the millennium developed leaves that curl to expose less surface to the hot sun and to gather moisture underneath.  Reflected heat and light dries out the air as well, and any hope of slight humidity to help water plants through months of dry heat is gone.  If you have open-pollinated vegetables that rely on breeze for pollination, all that open pathway actually decreases your germination because pollen – such as from corn – will dry out in arid conditions.  Humidity that you can keep in your garden will keep pollen more viable longer.

A wealth of freshly chipped wood - two dump-trucks full!  The challenge: to spread it all in a week before our first tour.  Yikes!

A wealth of freshly chipped wood – two dump-trucks full! The challenge: to spread it all in a week before our first tour. Yikes!

What to do?  Covering pathways with gravel is a common solution.  I hate gravel.  It heats up and becomes a thermal mass in the summer, further cooking your soil and air.  It doesn’t suppress weeds and weed-whipping becomes an exercise in avoiding shrapnel.  You can never get it out of the ground once you apply it, and chunks of gravel don’t do soil much good for planting.  If you trip and fall on gravel it does terrible things to your knees – I had a piece lodged in my kneecap after a stumble some years ago (sorry for that cringe-worthy item).

A 1/2 inch of cardboard or newspaper  with mulch on top.

A 1/2 inch of cardboard or newspaper with mulch on top.

Covering the soil is better, but not best. Bark will help rain bounce and then percolate, is dark so it won’t reflect light and heat as gravel does, and it decomposes.  It is also expensive to buy, and because it decomposes you have to re-buy it every couple of years.  Decomposing bark may be adding elements to your soil that you don’t want depending upon the source.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

I have experienced all the options above. The best method of countering all these issues that I have found also repurposes and recycles. Sheet mulch.  Yep.  You’ve heard it from me before and it proves itself every year.  There is more to it, though.

I disturbed a couple of nesting mice in one of  the unused Kenya bee  hives.

I disturbed a couple of nesting mice in one of the unused Kenya bee hives.

First of all, please, please, please never use plastic.  You can read about white pollution and the layers of plastic merging with topsoil in China and cringe.  Plastic will not last.  It will always be around in pieces. You will be poisoning your soil.IMG_6460

At the most basic, you can cover your pathways with 1/2″ of cardboard and newspaper, and top it with wood chips.  I obtain my wood chips  from arborists who save paying a dump fee by dumping it in my yard.  If you’d rather have a more uniform look then purchase your bark.  Either way the cardboard and newspaper will make the chips last years longer.  More importantly the cardboard and newspaper form a protective, absorbent layer that protects the soil from compaction.  Have you looked under a log or sheet of abandoned plywood in awhile?  All the white tendrils of fungus, insects, worms, lizards and roots are thriving there along with billions of soil microbes all because they have that protective layer that keeps moisture in and compaction out.  That microclimate is what you are forming with cardboard and mulch pathways. Since microbes free up the nutrients in the soil from which plants feed, you are creating more food sources for your plants. Tree and plant roots don’t end at the dripline, they reach out towards whatever source of water and nutrition they can find.  If you are top-watering rather than deep-watering, then roots are abundant closer to the topsoil.  By sheet mulching pathways you are extending food sources for your plants and trees, which now can stretch underneath the paths, link together with other roots through fungal networks, and become stronger and healthier.  You also are creating habitat which is a food source for the entire food chain.  Cooler, humid areas are better for bees and insects that pollinate, and the predators that feed upon them such as lizards, toads, frogs and birds.  Just by sheet-mulching your pathways you are improving your environment as a whole.  How can you NOT want to do this?

Sheet mulching around trees  is much the same, except you add a little manure or compost tea if you have it.

Sheet mulching around trees is much the same, except you add a little manure or compost tea if you have it.

Sheet mulched pathways hold moisture and create some humidity which allows for better pollination and helps keep your plants from scorching in arid areas.  If you live in a wet area or very humid area, use thicker layers of cardboard and mulch, which will help absorb moisture from the air and deliver it to the ground.  Decomposition is quicker in wet areas, so using several inches of cardboard with mulch will last much longer and will again keep  down compaction.  Compaction in rainy areas is just as bad as in arid areas because of the erosion and flooding it causes.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

To catch rainwater and allow it to percolate into the soil rather than erode away topsoil, you dig rain catchment basins or swales.  Swales are ditches with level bottoms, and can be a foot  long (fishscale swales) or the length of your property. Swales should be positioned perpendicular to the flow of water.  You can create swales across pathways, fill them with mulch, top them with cardboard or old plywood, and mulch on top to match the rest of the pathway.  Water will be caught in the swales and won’t wash out paths on hillsides.

MIranda working on a large pathway near our large hugelbed.

MIranda working on a large pathway near our large hugelbed.

Going a step farther, you can ‘hugel swale’.  Hugelkultur  is layering woody material with dirt. This introduces organic material, oxygen and nutrient pathways into the soil and holds moisture into the dry season.  You can dig deeply in your pathways, layer old wood (sticks, branches, logs, whatever you have) with the dirt, up to soil level, then sheet mulch.  Your pathways are now waterharvesting alleys that you can walk on, and which will really feed your plants.  And you just repurposed old woody cuttings.

This mulch will greatly help the Asian pears  and cherries which struggle with the dry heat of the summer.  The ground will be kept moist and reduce evaporation, holding in humidity.  We'll be planting more heavily in  this area, too.

This mulch will greatly help the Asian pears and cherries which struggle with the dry heat of the summer. The ground will be kept moist and reduce evaporation, holding in humidity. We’ll be planting more heavily in this area, too.

 

In very dry areas plants and trees do better in sunken beds, especially those that require a long chill time.  Cold settles in holes.  Moisture runs downhill, therefore dew will accumulate at the bottom of holes.  You can either plant in holes and have your pathways higher, or if you have an established garden (such as I do) you can build up your pathways so that they become slightly higher than your trees and planting areas.  We are working on that at Finch Frolic Garden, here in drought-stricken San Diego county.

So before I launch into yet another long lecture, the idea for pathways is simple: sheet mulch with cardboard and wood chips.  If you live in a wet area, use several inches of both.  If you live in a dry area, use no more than 1/2 inch of cardboard (or else it will absorb moisture from the soil) topped by at least an inch of mulch (no limit there!).  If you want make super pathways, bury woody material before you sheet mulch.  If you live in a dry area, raise your pathways above your planting beds.  If you live in a wet area, lower your pathways so water can drain away from your plants (unless they love wet feet).  Never use plastic, and please rethink gravel.

Then sit back and enjoy your yard and all the food and nutrients and abundance you have set the stage for, all using recycled materials that will last for years.  Congratulations!