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27 November 2008

Thanksgiving Between The Raindrops

When the rain finally did come, it was a long time after I had gotten those seeds in the ground. It was a gentle and soft rain – perfect for dry soil because it can take some time for the soil, once it has thoroughly dried, to accept water again. After a time, we were deluged, but not for very long – most of the rain was the soft gentle kind. The hillsides that were just burned by wildfires did not collapse into mud slides which is further evidence that this was a gentle rain.

Still, gentle rain or not, any rain at all can play havoc with a picnic and today, Thanksgiving, was the Garden’s main ‘picnic’ of the year. The Learning Garden staff and volunteers invite the staff and clients of the Program for Torture Victims out to the Garden for a Thanksgiving feast and we have no indoor facilities to accommodate a large crowd so you see how interested I have been in the weather over the past 72 hours or so.

But I am a gardener. I am a betting man and an optimist; qualities that make for a miserable life in a casino – and sometimes out as well - but essential qualities for someone who plants seeds in the hope he'll eat something from them, at least it’s not the only food I plan on eating, but still, to plant seeds in September hoping to eat salad in November requires a certain degree of hopefulness. So it was that, after listening to the news, reading the weather reports on Weather Bug and at iGoogle, plus a liberal scanning of the skyline at 7 AM, I determined we were good to go for the day.

The Learning Garden had over 50 people on our patio to enjoy a fine feast for the day. We had the whole Thanksgiving experience from cranberry sauce to sweet potato pie and it was good. The people that show up at the Garden day in and day out are some of the best cooks I know and I don’ think there was a bad dish among the many we had out there. We had gravy, mashed potatoes, apple pie, pumpkin pie, salad (all the leaves came from the Garden) and we had turkey and stuffing and yams and pickled beets and garlic bread and chocolate and olives and a host of vegetarian main dishes as well. With our good ‘rain karma,’ the clouds parted away for the whole morning, leaving the celebration in brilliant sunlight for the whole four hours (basically from 10 to 2) and not a cloud darkened the sky for the entire event. As people were leaving and we were cleaning up, a rather ominous cloud overtook the skyline and someone said, “Almost on cue!” The cloud only passed over and that was as close as we got to rain today.

In getting ready, I turned to a young lady who was volunteering for the first time and asked her to pick some salad for the day. She looked confused, “You want me to pick up the salad?” she asked. Well, no, not really.

I gave her my trusty wire basket and we went out into the gardens and found lettuce plants and I instructed her to pick one leaf from every lettuce plant she found – many of the lettuce plants are being grown by high school students and it would not be kind to take their whole plant, but a leaf from each won’t even be missed. She was able to harvest from Black Seeded Simpson, Red Oakleaf, several different Romaines and too many others to list. It was a bushel of salad leaves. A more experienced volunteer picked leaves from the many beets in the Garden so we could add that to the lettuce. This was all washed, some nuts and other fun things got tossed in and two huge bowls of salad were put out for everyone to enjoy. There isn’t a way to have a fresher salad for fifty people unless you turn them out to graze.

My salad picker was so enthusiastic and so happy to have been picking leaves off lettuce plants. It was the first time she’d ever done anything like that (and she’s in her twenties, I’d guess). So besides being host to over 50 grateful people, the Garden fulfilled its role as The Learning Garden in yet another way.

That’s just a snapshot. So many other moments in the day were worth writing down, and I suppose I’ll take the time to do so in my journal. But there’s a hint of life at our Garden for all to enjoy.

No matter how circumstances find you today, I pray you had at least one thing you could be grateful for. By concentrating on what I love in my life, I believe I multiply it and by not dwelling on that in my life that bugs me, I believe I diminish that. It is my hope that you found much to cheer you on this wonderful fall day of Thanksgiving.


25 November 2008

Planting Before a Rain

Rain comes rarely in Southern California. We net something like twelve inches per year on average and almost all of that falls in the months of January, February and March. There is usually one small shower in July and October without any appreciable accumulation, and a shower or two in November and December that are a little more beneficial. Right this second, our gardens are really dry and we will be grateful, with or without Thanksgiving, for any and all rain showered upon us.

Rain is forecast for the next few days, and we hear from folks about a mile away that it’s heading towards us right now. Just in time, I’ve run wildly through the garden trying to take advantage of this by sowing seeds of carrots, beets, parsnips, spinach and lettuce. (I think the plural of lettuce is ‘letti’ despite the protestations of my spell check that insists lettuce has no plural. Obviously not composed by a gardener…)

Normally I plant small, short rows of these and I sow them every several weeks in an attempt to provide myself with some fresh produce consistently through the season. I am single – I don’t need a forty foot row of carrots or beets or of anything else – I don’t even have forty feet of garden from any direction anyway! I use a garden stake, about 1” square, that was sold with a vine wrapped on it. Originally about six feet long, I’ve cut this down to a two foot length. By turning it on edge, looking at it from one end, it’s a diamond shape, I have an edge I can press into the soft soil where I want to plant, as shown above. This creates a perfect two foot trough in which I can sow my seeds. For carrots, and carrots only, I do not cover the row with soil. Our soils in Southern California oftentimes crust over when they dry and that crust can be too hard for the little carrot seedlings to push through. Other seedlings aren’t as delicate and can break out of the ‘earth jail’ so they don’t get the treatment. Although the vermiculite does mark the row quite nicely.

But, with rain coming and a gathering supply of old seed, I have decided to let ‘er rip! We have carrots from last year and spinach and lettuce that’s older than I want to admit so we’re sowing them out thickly. The rain comes through, waters these seeds for us and, if we get good germination, they’ll be a bonus. I would like a large amount of beets and/or carrots at once just for pickling. I have a great recipe handed down from my Mother for pickled beets and I want very much to try a good recipe for those spicy pickled carrots one finds at Hispanic restaurants – if you know of a recipe like that, send it on over.

Just a note on germination. Seeds vary in the length of time they can be kept before the germination percentage drops off, from carrots which seem to last just about a year before they’re no better than dust, to tomatoes which can keep for about seven years without much loss of vigor. Seeds kept cool and dry will last longer than those kept under more difficult conditions and I'll explore that topic one of these days on down the line.

I see raindrops… is this it or just false advertising?


The Calendar of Events At The Learning Garden