Category Archives: Plants

Planting Justice Dominates Front Yard

Andrew Builds the Best Bamboo Structures

We started with a giant piece of grass and built this puppy in one day.  Go to http://www.plantingjustice.org to get your lawn done up!

Bridgets Front Yard - So Grassy

 

Sheet Mulch - We managed to scavenge 12 windsurfing shipping boxes from the Marina. Thanks Windsurfers!

 

9 Yards of compost Please

 

The Team + Accapulco Rocks

It's Hot in Out Here

 

ONE DAY!

 

Straw Mulch to hold moisture, decompose and provide habitat for spiders!

We came back 90 Days Later to Check up on Things!

 

Scarlet Runner Bean Teepee Forts

 

Big Boys

 

We dominated this lawn

 

More Projects To Come!

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Full Transformation

I’ll be uploading some of the gardens I helped design and implement with Planting Justice last Spring.  There are some really inspiring transformations.  This particular project was in Hercules, CA.  We built this annual garden, perennial food forest and grape arbor in three days!   Check it out!

 

Before we started

 

Plants!

 

We put in an asparagus patch, strawberry field, bean poles, tomatoes and over 20 fruit trees!

 

Mulching

We started by mulching paths and building a small retaining wall.

Annuals in the front

 

Finished First Section

 

Irrigation system and straw mulch

 

Gavin!

 

Setting Posts with Andrew

 

Kiwi and Grape Arbor

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Spring Parking Lot Garden!

It’s nearly summer.  Spring in the Bay Area has been a turbulent mix of quasi-tropical sun days and torrential down pour.  The rainy spring has been great for the Sierra snow pack, the young bare root trees planted this winter and the general environmental health of California.  The bees have finally started bringing in honey and I’m getting jealous at the size of some of my neighbors tomato plants.  I’ve been working hard in the courtyard and parking lot of my warehouse, to create a Spring/Summer garden.  Here is a short photo tour of what I’ve been up to!

Courtyard list of characters:  two beehives, tandom bike, scrap wood, bamboo, roses, redwood siding planters, dream catchers, compost bin, trash can…..

Our Courtyard

The left/north side of the courtyard gets the most southern exposure, so I decided to plant some tomatillo’s and Pepino’s.

Sunny Side of Courtyard

Pepino Dulce (Solanum muricatum) are native to South America and produce a delicious sweet melon.  Max at People’s Grocery raised these in the green houses.  Hopefully the courtyard in Oakland will be hot enough!

Pepino Dulce (Solanum muricatum)

The final fruit look delicious!

Pepino Dulce

In the corner of the courtyard we’ve go New Zealand Spinach in large Safeway container, some cucumbers along the fence and a wild strawbery from oregon in an old gaudy planter.  New Zealand Spinach is a perennial green that will spread if you let it.  Ideally I would have planted this in larger bed, but I’m determined to keep leafy greens in soil thats been tested for lead.

New Zealand Spinach

Spinach close up.

New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides)

hljkhljkh

Recently Planted Brassica (I think it's a Brocoli?? Damn)

The Bee Hives.  One of them swarmed last week and landed across the street on to the same pear tree branch that it swarmed to last year.  Weird bee intuition.

Da Bees

Outside we built a raised bed along the fence from redwood burls and stumps.  This was our main garden last year.

The Parking Lot

Some pretty Brassica Close ups

Lacinato Kale

More Kale (we eat a lot of it)

The Sea Kale below is a portuguese perennial collard that Max grew at People’s Grocery.

Sea Kale (Crambe maritima)

A goji berry in a big pot.  Might need more cool temps.  We will see.  Got this little bad boy along with some other great/rare perennials from Anders and the Merritt Landscape Hort Plant Sale!!

Goji Berry (Lycium Barbarum)

A pine box planter I found on the street.  A polyculture including tomatos, kale, lettuce, beets and carrots.

Pine Box Polyculture

Beauty Lechuga

Beauty Lettuce

Our fence soon to be covered with Scarlet Runner Beans

Nasturtium Barb Wire

Oca ready to be moved into a bigger pot.  This is a root crop from Peru that grows well in the Bay Area.

Oca (Oxalis tuberosa)

Ice Cream Bean Tree (Inga edulis) is a sub-tropics/tropical plant that might work in the Bay.  The large bean tubers have a vanilla flavored cotton candy fiber that you can eat!

Ice Cream Bean Tree (Inga edulis)

Parking Lot Nursery

Parking Lot Nursery

Roof Top Nursery

Roof Top Nursery

Thats all folks.

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Mulberry = Angel Food

Fruitless Mulberry

Mulberry!

I really wish our cities were littered with Mulberry trees.  Wait….  they are. Unfortunately most of the mulberry trees planted in Western urban areas do not bear any fruit.  Ornamental, but sterile, these fruitless trees not only take up important growing space, but cause serious bouts of berry craving.

As the super stars: pear, apple, plum, peach and apricot attract fruit growers across the U.S. with their juicy round fruit, mulberries are somewhat of a wallflower in the West.  Unfortunately, mulberries are not widely cultivated as a commercial crop because the berries are so fragile and hard to transport. I’ve only found a handful of fruiting mulberry trees in the Bay Area, compared to the hundreds and hundreds of lemon trees… too bad.

The mulberry situation improves the farther East you head.  The Red Mulberry tree (Morus rubra) is native to eastern North America, ranging from Vermont to Florida and as far west as South Dakota. Mulberries were an important food staple for Native American tribes, but today mulberry trees are far less prevalent.

Mulberry Fruit

Mulberry trees have been are incredibly important in Chinese culture.  The white mulberry (Morus alba) was cultivated 4000 years ago for silk worm production.  In Chinese medicine the fruit is used to treat greying hair.  The leaves are antibacterial and are used to treat eye infections and flu.  Tinctures from the bark are used to treat a number of common ailments, notably toothaches.

Mulberry!

Look at this berry!!

The largest mulberries come from Black Persian Mulberry trees (Morus nigra) which in California typically fruit in July. These berries can  be four inches long and when timed right taste great.  They do have an intense acidic/tart taste coupled with high levels of sugar.  Most people absolutely love them.

The Morus alba mulberry tree is allegedly as good as the Black Persian berry.  Look for “Oscars” and “Pakistan” varietals.

Mulberry trees are self-fertile and prefer well-drained soil.  They should be planted in a sunny spot where they have plenty of room to grow.  They will reach height 30 to 40 feet over the years.  It takes a while for the tree to get established and you probably won’t be eating mulberries for five or more years. Delayed gratification.  Everyone in your neighborhood will love you after 15 years when the tree reaches full production level.

More information about mulberry trees.  Information about which varieties test the best!  Burnt Ridge is a great nursery to order a Mulberry tree from or check out Spiral Gardens in the East Bay.

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My Favorite Tuber so far: Yacon – Smallanthus sonchifolius

Imagine biting into a watermelon, but instead of a juicy and watery mess, your teeth slid through a crisp, apple like texture.  This tuber is angel food.  Filled with inulin, a sweet indigestible sugar (few calories),  this tuber is the dieters dream.  It is also my dream and several of my friends dreams to have an army of Yacon spread across Oakland.  The plant does extremely well in the Bay Area.

Yacon is a perennial tuber in the Asterids family, closely related to sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes.  Native to the Andes, it is an important South American domesticated crop.  Yacon syrup is a grabbing attention as a health product for its immunity boost and digestion assistance

Yacon should be planted early in the Spring to allow ample time for crown roots to form before winter.  This is less of a concern in the Bay Area where our few frosts won’t threaten root structures.  Find a sunny spot with healthy soil.  Yacon can grow as tall as 2 meters and will produce small yellow flowers.  These plants are incredibly productive, yields of 2 kilos per plant have been documented.  You can store the edible roots for several months after harvest.

When you dig up the root system in Autumn, look for two different types of root structures.  The large potato looking tubers are the one’s you should harvest to eat. Smaller structures with eyelets and should be divided and planted again for the Spring.  Don’t let the roots dry out while you store them to plant in the Spring.

Yacon leaves and stems can be cooked as vegetables in a stir fry or salad.

Here is additional information on Yacon.  Here you can order root crowns if your friends or local nurseries don’t have any extra for you.

Look how excited these guys are about their Yacon Harvest:

Spec that Pather’s Sweatshirt!

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Picking Favorites – East Bay Nurseries

Spring Time!

Not all vegetable sections are created equal.  Some nurseries concentrate on culinary herbs while others focus on ancient Italian heirlooms.  After staring for several minutes at a laminated placard describing scarlet runner beans that failed to mention nitrogen fixation, ediblity or perennialization, I decided to develop  a “permaculture rubric” to evaluate our local nurseries.  In the next few weeks I will be piling on tweed sports coats, fake mustaches and flower print dresses – doing a little investigative work.  Which nurseries are selling what edibles?  Where do they buy their plants from?  How many perennial edibles do they carry?  What are their top sellers?

I hope that conducting some on the ground research will not only direct readers to nurseries that stock useful plants, but will also illuminate current trends in the retail vegetable market.  How much demand exists for what vegetables?  Is there an opportunity for nurseries to be educational and demonstration sites for unusual, but incredibly useful and important plants?  I would like to know how the retail market is positioning itself to attract the burgeoning wave of well-informed urban gardeners.

To begin this investigation.  I  would like to see what your favorite East Bay nurseries are.  Please vote below.  I understand that certain nurseries maintain specific niche markets.  Perhaps vote on the nursery you most regularly attend. Thanks for your  input.

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Nitrogen Fixation for Dummies

“Fava Beans are wonder plants, not only do they grow delicious fat meaty beans, they fix nitrogen, essentially fertilizing your garden for you!  MAKE SURE to plant a thick fava bean cover crop in your garden this winter  ”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard and uttered this phrase in the last couple of years.  I’ve practically forced fava beans and clover down friend’s throats, sneaking into gardens late at night to sow row after row during the winter months. The nitrogen-fixing missionary, saving depleted gardens from ruin. Last Sunday after listening to a fellow student talk about Vetch’s “nitrogen-fixing” abilities a slow, terrifying realization crept in:

I HAVE NO IDEA HOW A PLANT ACTUALLY “FIXES NITROGEN”

I felt like a doctor who flunked most of medical school, prescribing potent medications after reading glossy pharmaceutical adds in magazines.  In an effort to restore my integrity and investigate this astonishing process, I’ve compiled a detailed microbiological summary of nitrogen-fixation.

Highschool Flashback!  Let’s start with the Nitrogen Cycle:

The Nitrogen Cycle

78% of our atmosphere is composed of Nitrogen gas (N2).  Plant life cannot access gaseous nitrogen and to useful to living organisms it must first be “fixed” transformed form a gas into a solid.  This can happen in 3 and in more recent times 4 ways.

1.  LIGHTNING STRIKES – start  erecting lightning rods over your garden in the winter.  Bolts of energy fix a small percentage of earth’s solid nitrogen.

2.  Free floating Nitrogen-fix Nitrogen using a special enzyme.

3.  Nitrogen-fixing bacteria living in symbiotic relationships with most legumes and a few other scattered plant species fix nitrogen into Ammonia (NH4+), a usable form for plants and other nitrifying bacteria

Fritz Haber

4.  Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch completely altered our species course of development when they discovered how to fix nitrogen in the lab.  Many argue this was the most important and influential discovery of modern science and ammonia derived from the Haber-Bosch method, support a third of our world’s population.  Fritz was responsible for first demonstrating the process in 1909 which Bosch improved and standardized.  The Haber-Bosch method requires an immense amount of energy, but provides ALL of the ammonia and nitrogen rich fertilizers we so heavily depend on in modern agriculture.  Each year 100 million tons of fertilizer produced with the Bosch method are added to our increasingly anemic and disappearing topsoil. Haber went on to produce nitrate bombs, chlorine and  Zyklon B used in Germany’s extermination camps.  Evil Science.

Symbiotic Nitrogen-Fixation

All plants require nitrogen (N) as a fundamental building block of nucleic acids, proteins and other nitrogen based compounds.  Unlike carbon-dioxide, plants cannot simply breath in atmospheric Nitrogen, it must be extracted from the soil. MILLIONS and MILLIONS of dollars and barrels of oil are mashed together by a few large corporations to provide most of the fertilizer used by commercial farmers. Fertilizer is typically high in nitrogen, super charging the plants and creating this kind of obscenity:

Big Boy

Most of the best nitrogen fixers are in the Leguminoase (legume) family.  Only a handful of other non-leguminous species can fix nitrogen.  Spread throughout many different plant families, they are typically trees or herbaceous shrubs such as the alder tree.

Farmers have been rotating crops with legumes for thousands of years to add nitrogen into their soil.  During the 17th century rather than letting a field sit fallow a four crop rotation with clover was used in many parts of Europe.  Today it is common practice for organic and non-organic farmers to sow a nitrogen-fixing cover crop during the winter months.

It is important to give credit where credit it is due.  A pea plant cannot actually fix nitrogen for itself and its neighbors, but it does form a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar viciae, a bacteria that forms nodules on the Pea’s Roots.

Here is how it works:

Root Hair Infection

As the Pea Plant’s roots establish, they emit flavinoids that attract and encourage growth of a particular strain of rhizobium bacteria co-adapted to grow with the pea.  Rhizobiums free-floating in the soil cannot fix nitrogen, they must couple with a legume in a mutualistic exchange.  The flavinoids released by the Pea roots into the soil activate Nod genes in the bacteria which will cause effective strains to begin nodule formation.  To form this symbiotic relationship the bacteria must first “infect” the Pea’s root hairs.  Binding to individual hairs, the Rhizobiums secrete Nod factors which cause the root hair to curl.  This allows the bacteria penetrate the root hair and introduce an infection thread which infiltrates root cell tissue and disperses additional Rhizobia.  Clumps of Rhizobia undergo a morphological change and develop into Bacteriods.  Clumps of bacteriods form the white nodules found on a legume roots a few weeks after rhizobia infection.

Rhizobium Nodules

Rhizobia use nitrogenase, an incredible catalyst to overcome the immense activation energy required to split the N-N triple bond.

N2 + 6 H + energy → 2 NH3

Nitrogenase necessitates a great deal of chemical energy which it receives from the plant in form of proteins and carbohydrates.  Rhizobia in the bacteriods turn atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia NH4+, a form of nitrogen that plants can easily use.  The pea plant also provides Legahaemoglobins that bind to oxygen molecules providing oxygen for rhizobia respiration.  If you ever cut open one of the white nodules on your legumes roots, you may see a red tint to the nodules innards.  Like Hemoglobin, legahaemoglobin is red when exposed to oxygen.

Even when harvested Nitrogen-Fixing plants can enrich your soil.  I find the best way to use these plants is to “chop and drop” as your winter cover crop is just beginning to flower, chop all the favas and vetch down letting the plant decompose on top of your soil.   A lot of the nitrogen is stored in the plant body and will go to waste if you let the plant flower.  Unless of course you want to harvest some fava beans.  I will also interplant or lay a ground cover of nitrogen-fixing plants in my spring and summer gardening.  Use these plants as much as possible!


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