Kohlrabi Makes Surprise Habitat for Quail Nest

As I was trimming back the raised bed of brassicas at the Bounty plot three days ago, I discovered a nest of speckled eggs under a kohlrabi plant.  Amy, the farm manager, thought it was probably a quail’s nest and that was confirmed the next morning when I went to check on the nest.  The mother came flying out like a bat out of hell (or “like a Quail out of Kohlrabi” as I would say now).  The Italian Romanesco broccoli was well-done and needed to be harvested (its leaves had been molested by aphids already), but I didn’t want to destroy the cover for these nascent eggs.  I trimmed leaves off of other areas and laid them on top to make sure the nest had good cover.  It’s nice to know that my food comes from a place that’s fit to be a quail incubator.  This is yet another reason I like the permaculture approach to gardening, which respects other creatures that are also trying to live off the land.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 4:00 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Fending off Solicitors (and saving humanity) with Bees

Our flowering lamb’s ear got a bit unruly this summer, as it always does, and unless you are real appreciator or bees, you probably would not choose not to venture up the pathway towards our front door.  I’m fairly certain that anyone selling me things I don’t need would opt out of this risk, but I like to think that do-gooder activists would venture up the pathway anyways, with faith that their good karma will shield them from harm.

Pollinators are good for more than fending off unwanted solicitors, though.  Most people know that bees play an important role in pollinating  flowering plants, but you might not know that bees either focus on gathering nectar or on gathering pollen depending on demand.  Bees gather nectar primarily as an energy source, and pollen, primarily for protein  and other nutrients. Most bees are fuzzy and carry an electrostatic charge, which aids in the adherence of pollen.

Bee Collapse
In 2007, managed populations of European honey bees experienced substantial declines, which prompted investigations. In 2009 some reports from the US suggested that one third of the honey bee colonies did not survive the winter.  This is of great concern because it is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees, especially the domesticated European honey bee.  One root of the problem is believed to be “Colony Collapse Disorder.” Pesticides used to treat seeds are believed to be negatively impacting honey bee populations.

Whatever the root cause of the decline of bees, creating habitats for bees can help maintain their numbers.  Flowers such as borage (pictured below) can provide them with pollen and us with beautiful edible flowers to spice up any salad.  Choosing native plants will help create habitat for native bees and staging successive blooms throughout the year (by making sure that something in your garden is blooming at any given time) will ensure them a place to hang out year-round.  If you slack on trimming your flower borders, that might also mean less time managing unwanted solicitors.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 3:34 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Wattles for Garden Borders

I had an edible garden installation in late June at the Sonoma Marin Fair where I decided to experiment with a new type of border called a “wattle.”  It’s a long snake-like border made of straw bundled in plastic netting, and it was featured in Sunset Magazine a few months ago as a nice option to contain raised beds.  I found it very visually pleasing, easy to move around (especially compared with wood for raised beds!), and quite affordable at about $30 for 25 feet.  No screwing or hammering was necessary to use it and it gave my exhibit great curves.  Curving edges is a major strategy of permaculture, so a border that allows for curvature is very helpful in permaculture designs and elements that call for a raised area.  The one downfall is that you can’t really change the length of it very easily – you have to make it’s length work for whatever you’re doing.  Also, over time, the straw breaks down and just becomes part of the soil, which could be seen as an advantage or a disadvantage (the plastic netting is easy to just pick up then and reuse for some other purpose).

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 2:35 pm and is filed under Container Gardening, Keyhole Gardening, Raised Beds. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Drought-Tolerant Edible Gardening

At the demonstration garden at Petaluma Bounty, you can see a variety of irrigation techniques in action.  Some are more drought-tolerant than others.  Here is a quick tour through each of them:

Swaling and Mulching: I have started experimenting with swaling and mulching to sink more water on-site. I’ve dug small swales near some of my annual plants and mulched them with straw to prevent evaporation off the soil surface (pictured below). During heat waves, I can sink some water in the swales that should hydrate the soil and will offer some resilience to thirsty plants nearby while not drowning the roots. Leaving bare soil is the best way to waste lots of water. With annuals, you need to be careful about mulching with a carbon source because it can deplete the nitrogen from your soil, but the more you cover your bare soil, the better. Mulching not only prevents evapotranspiration, but also limits weeds, so will save you time on watering and weeding.


Drip irrigation: Drip irrigation is a real winner as far as water-conserving irrigation strategies.  I have emitters on all of the perennial plants at the demo garden and many of the annuals as well, including the zucchini plants pictured below.  The amount of water delivered to each plant varies from one gallon per hour to four gallons per hour.  On trees, it’s important to put two emitters on them – one on each side at least a foot out from the trunk so that the roots will spread below ground.


Soaker hoses: I’m also experimenting with soaker hoses.  They seem to sweat water out of the pores.  I’ve wrapped them around the base of many of my kohlrabi plants and snaked them back and forth where the squash, corn and beans are going to be planted (both pictured below).  This seems like a nice strategy for an area with many smaller plants that need water and it is more efficient than spray heads, which lose a lot of water to wind and evaporation.



Spray heads: This is really my last choice in irrigation and I plan to remove all spray heads by next Spring.  Spray heads and sprinklers are quite inefficient because the wind can carry much of the water away and it evaporates easily instead of making it deep into the soil where roots can drink.  I have them on my container garden (pictured below) and in the huge bed of greens as a temporary measure because the greens were planted before my irrigation strategy was clear.


This entry was posted on Monday, June 7th, 2010 at 4:58 pm and is filed under water conservation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Soup Kitchen High

There is nothing like walking into a soup kitchen to put life into perspective.  Entering “Petaluma Kitchen” this morning, I was met with big smiles and thank you’s by a cook named Jeronimo and a kind woman named Shannon.  What a way to start the day!  I handed Jeronimo a bunch of greens from the demo garden at the Bounty plot – kale, chard, arugula, pak choi, and mustard greens – and he gave me a hug.  (Greens at the plot and in bags, pictured below)


Petaluma Kitchen, COTS

I asked if greens were something they could use regularly and they told me that, “It all gets used.”  Every bit will be eaten, which is more than I can say for some of the produce that ends up rotting in my refrigerator.  It speaks to the need.  What if every American who could grow something for a soup kitchen DID?

One of the largest issues with the current food system is that subsidies are making products like high fructose corn syrup extremely cheap.  This means that packaged foods with lots of sugar and white starch content are the primary contents landing in many grocery baskets of the country’s poorest people.  These foods do not have the vitamin and mineral content that fresh produce (like garden greens) provide for decent health.

These products, in fact, are leading to a major obesity epidemic in this country, the likes of which has never been seen before.  If the food being offered at food banks and soup kitchens consisted largely of fresh produce, including garden greens, what a difference that could make for the health of the nation.  If you grew more greens for someone else, do you think you would eat them more?

So here is a challenge for anyone listening.  Grow something green and eat it.  And take a bunch to your local soup kitchen or shelter to share.  I’ll bet money you don’t regret it.

This entry was posted on Friday, June 4th, 2010 at 4:25 pm and is filed under Soup Kitchen, Sustainable Local Food Systems. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.