Class This Saturday!

Yup, looks like a dog day to me!

September brings the heat of Dog Days and Drought - September's Garden... With summer's dog days all hot and dry, we'll explore our options of dealing with drought and growing food. It's time to get our winter crops planted for a wonderful winter harvest on into 2015. We have some transplants to work with and maybe take a few home and, as always, your questions answered. Sometime truthfully. 

 $20 at the gate, dress to get dirty (in the garden sense)! 

Some of winter's stars, left to right,
Fava bean, lettuces, and a cabbage 

See you in the garden!


UCLA Extension Course This Fall

Modern Backyard Food Production: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Save
Teaching plant propagation, that is an apple scion
in my mouth, I did not take up smoking.

An elective in UCLA Extension's Gardening and Horticulture Certificated Program, this is one of my favorite courses to teach.  We discuss the production, packaging, and transportation of food as large contributors to our global carbon emissions. We look at the current phenomena blossoming throughout the Los Angeles Basin, food gardens springing up to produce local healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables and contributing energy and financial savings in difficult economic times. 

With a throwback to the idea of 'Victory Gardens' in World War II, we use the history of growing food in the city in times of need as a template, and explore how homegrown food can reduce our food budgets while addressing these environmental concerns. Students are each given a small plot for growing food where they can experiment with new ideas and enjoy their harvest. 

Topics include, at minimum, fruit trees, vegetables, and berries that do well in our climate as well as often overlooked food-producing perennials and how to grow food in modern city lots where the "back 40" describes square feet and not acres.

One of my favorite courses to teach in the Gardening and Horticulture series, we meet on Sunday afternoons at The Learning Garden, starting October 5, through December 14. Students are allowed to return to the garden after the term is over to continue to harvest from their plants.  

Typically, because there are no sources of food or drink near us at the Learning Garden, I usually make some sort of snack from local sources and something in season to serve.  Coffee and hot tea are provided.  Students are asked to bring their own service ware to keep our class meetings waste free.

Hope you can join me.


Perfect Mesquite Cornbread

This last of the cornbread was consumed
right after the photo was shot.  Too good to leave behind!

It is not just the ingredients but the process that makes this such a good cornbread. Use another oil if you dare, but still heat the oil and the pan in the oven before adding to the dry ingredients. Use another pan if you dare, but the best results will be with cast iron. Take time to meticulously mix all your ingredients together if you absolutely must, but do not expect a fluffy, springy cornbread.

Lay your inner rebel aside and follow the damn recipe the way it's written.

¾ cup cornmeal
¾ cup flour (white or a combination of white and whole wheat with white predominating)
½ cup mesquite flour*
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 Tablespoons melted butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 scant Tablespoon sugar (you may use honey if you like)
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF, put the butter in your cast iron skillet and allow it to melt while the oven is heating and you are combining the dry ingredients. The hot skillet and melted butter are keys to the quality of the cornbread. Combine dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Mix wet ingredients into dry mixture until just combined, add the hot melted butter first, the milk second and the egg last. Quickly blend the ingredients but do not overmix! Pour the mixed ingredients into the hot skillet and place in the oven. From the time the butter is added to the time it goes in the oven must be as brief as you can make it. Bake 20 to 25 minutes - the top should be browning and a knife inserted in the middle of the cornbread should come out clean.

I did not make this up whole. I got help from reading about mesquite and morphed all I learned into my Grandfather's cornbread recipe. The method I learned from him and over 40 some odd years have proved that any improvement to it is not an improvement. Cornbread is comfort food for me. I could make it with my eyes closed except for the hot skillet part.

*The mesquite flour in this case is native North American mesquite flour (Prosopis velutina)  came from The Mesquitery. Thank you, Jeau Allen, for this wonderfully smooth flour to add to my family recipe to nourish my heart and soul!  


Some Salient Facts About GMOs: Addendum

It dawned on me this morning that I had missed one of the most important points that could have appeared in the first post on GMOs.  

Often we hear supporters of GMOs saying things like "What we are doing is no different than what mankind has been doing since the beginning of agriculture."  There is no difference between GMOs and simply hybridizing that anyone has done in the past." 

To say this is so ludicrous it does an injustice to the word.  When proponents of GMOs say this, they will eventually admit that previous generations did not have the technology to do this.  So how, in fact, did our ancestors "genetically engineer" plants?

They didn't.  

The technology used before genetic engineering is so totally different from genetic engineering that no one with a slice of understanding of the two technologies would ever suggest they are similar let alone the same.

If you had any doubts, look at the process.  In traditional breeding, normally there is a mother plant and a father plant.  In plants, there is also the phenomena where the mother and father are the same plant.  To clarify, pollen comes from the father plant parts and must pollinate the female plant parts - and some flowers have both male and female parts. Many of those having both male and female plant parts in their flowers will pollinate themselves - others may have both male and female parts but not be able to pollinate themselves.  It sometimes makes animal sexuality look dull.  

In the GMO process, the combining of DNA is done without a mother or a father.  Genes from species totally unrelated are inserted into the victim plant.  The very definition of 'species' is plants that can interbreed -  a corn's silk will accept pollen from any other corn, but will not accept pollen from related species - like wheat, rice or barley - they are all grasses and in that similar.  However, in nature you cannot get a corn silk to accept pollen from a beet.  In genetic engineering, genes from a fish can be inserted into a plant.  There is nothing in nature that would allow that to happen.  

Furthermore, the genetic information from the fish will be in every cell of that plant.  That doesn't happen in regular breeding.  Remember from your 8th grade biology class that each individual is born with two sets of genes - one from Mom, one from Dad.  And that is the way it works in nature - of each pair, one is dominant and one is recessive.  In GMO's, each plant is a clone of the original single cell that was engineered in a laboratory. This is not the way we've always done it!  And anyone who tries to tell you genetic engineering is "normal" or is "just like what we've always done" is either making money of GMOs or just doesn't understand what really is involved.  

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, natural about genetic engineering (GE), also called Genetic Modification (GM).  However you slice it, it's not a 'natural' process whichever way you look at it.

NB:  There is a process in traditional plant breeding where cloning is used.  However, it only happens inside a given genus - or in two very similar genuses. There are instances of hybridizing between oak species and apricots and plums will sexually cooperate plus a few others examples.  These are not the freaks of GMO work!  No fish has ever become a plant and no plant can, in nature, accept genes from species as different as those from a fish. The ones that cross species must be very similar to begin with and these are not all that common.  The resultant DNA, from this cross, is not usually reproducible, but a GMO plant will produce GMO plants in succeeding generations. 

I hope I have shed more light than dark! I have tried to explain simply and forthrightly.  If you need clarification, write a note and I'll answer your concern specifically.