Thursday, December 17, 2009

Here We Are!

The Man Who Planted Trees (from Kelly Allen)

Hi lovely classmates. Take care of yourselves over the beautiful holiday season. Here is the link to the fabulous inspiring movie, "The man who planted trees." Enjoy-Kelly

Thank you so much,
Kelly Allen
Publish Post

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The "Health of The Earth Builder" Cover Crop

Above is a close-up photo of the cover crops Bonnie and Jenna brought into class in a glass jar this week.  As I listened to slide show presentations about their beautiful garden projects, and heard from other classmates about farming and gardening dreams - for home or farm or school or inn or neighborhood - I could see the way each person's imaginations has taken the threads of what we've learned this semester and woven those threads into a personal tapestry, a vision of cultivation. And I am in awe.

We all have day jobs. We all have obligations and limitations and reasons to be discouraged...Yet, somehow, we all have the same crazy notion that we can do better, we can go beyond "just managing" and simply "fitting in" to the current model of plant propagation and food production.  This is a class full of people who seem to have no doubt that we can thrive alongside, and in partnership with, the plant and animal kingdoms.  This is a group of individuals who are making the time and the sacrifices to gather knowledge and find a way to live more gracefully on the planet.

This is why I have come to think of this group as cover crop.  It is our job to go out and fortify the soil.  We will break ground, draw beneficials, and infuse nutrition.  We may or may not bear fruit, but our work will matter for all that follows.

Indian Valley Organic Farming Class, Fall 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Job Posting From John Malenic

Treasure Island Job Corps also provides academic training, including basic reading and math. Courses in independent living, employability skills, and social skills are offered in order to help students transition into the workplace.

One of our top goals at Treasure Island Job Corps is to ensure that every qualified student obtains his or her GED or high school diploma prior to leaving the center. Students who don't already have a high school diploma upon their arrival at Treasure Island can enroll in our GED program or through the SIATech Charter High School located on site.

Pay and Allowances:
Job Corps pays each student a living allowance twice a month while in the program. Our center houses 710 students in several dormitories. Students are provided three nutritious meals each day at no cost in one of the best cafeteria facilities in Job Corps. The wellness center is open daily for basic medical, dental, and optometrist services which are provided free to our students. The wellness center also provides 24-hour emergency medical services.

Graduate Benefits:
Job Corps graduates are qualified and prepared for today's professional workplace. Additional graduate benefits include:
    * $1200 transition allowance to assist with transportation and housing
    * Job placement assistance for up to six months
    * Career counseling
    * Relocation counseling services
The Treasure Island Job Corps Center Community Farm
TIJC was awarded funds by the Department of Labor Job Corps Center Green Projects Grant Program to construct a sustainable, organic farm on a three-quarter parcel within the center grounds. The farm will be constructed in 2010 and operate thereafter.
The farm will provide organic food for students, staff, and island residents; promote healthy life styles by making nutrient-rich organically-grown food available; enhance student learning by educating students about sustainable principles; encourage youth to learn about ecology, gardening, and composting; and serve as an open gathering space for community events.
The Community Urban Farm’s primary goal is to make organic produce readily available on Center for students, staff, and island residents. Most students enrolled in Job Corps come from low-income urban areas that are underserved by supermarkets, making eating healthy a difficult choice. The farm attempts to increase access to organic foods which are typically unavailable to low-income populations due to high cost, The Center will integrate organic produce into the daily menu of the cafeteria, serve organic dishes at the Center’s student-run restaurant, and provide the local community with access to a monthly farmers market.
The cultural shift associated with the implementation of the farm highlights the vast effect it will have on student health and the Center’s learning environment. The use of organic produce in the student-run restaurant will enhance culinary students’ knowledge while simultaneously providing local residents with the opportunity to taste the flavorful produce of a successful harvest. By incorporating the produce into the operation of the restaurant, it will allow culinary students to practice what gourmet restaurants are known for—using local organically-grown produce in their menus. Students will gain a greater understanding of new culinary trends and heirloom varieties of produce and, ultimately, become more employable in San Francisco ’s large high-end restaurant market.
Farming is becoming an increasingly important trade and exposing students to a multitude of farming techniques will strengthen their understanding of agricultural production. Our food system is currently becoming more localized due to the increase in the price of petro-chemicals. It is becoming increasingly unfeasible to transport crops large distances. As our oil supply continues to diminish food prices will continue to surge; localization is the key to driving costs down while simultaneously having fresh and nutrient-rich produce available for all.
It is critical to expose students to this reality and educate them of the importance of recycling. The farm is essentially a visual demonstration of a closed loop recycling system. The main input of the farm is food waste from the cafeteria, which will be turned into a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer by using a technique called vermicomposting. The compost is required for the farm to operate. Students will physically see their food scraps be used to feed the farm, which will connect them to the actual process of agricultural production.
The greatest benefit of farming is that is allows anyone with an interest to participate. The farm will develop student work ethic and give them the skill-set required to become urban farmers. It will teach students how to develop high yields in small areas. The hope is that students that participate will develop a skill-set that they can bring home to their low-income communities after they graduate. The farm’s purpose is to educate our community about urban agriculture, hopefully change the status quo and bring nutrient-rich produce into the underserved areas of our society.

Full time / Salary / Exempt / Compensation: DOE
Bachelor’s Degree and degree or certification in agricultural studies required. Five years minimum experience with agriculture operations and management. Teaching experience required. Previous experience with nutritional education programs, organic crop production, and Spanish language proficiency preferred.
1.  Supervise the construction phase of the new Treasure Island Community Farm and its subsequent educational agricultural programs.
2.  Responsible for budget tracking and providing supervision and expertise for farm projects, such as installation of garden beds, orchards, irrigation system, composting systems, etc.
3.  Considerable knowledge of the techniques and methods involved in planning, organizing and coordinating recruitment and training programs for volunteers and students.
4.  Responsible for daily maintenance of farm, equipment, and farm’s life-cycle (seedling propagation, crop planning, planting, amending, cultivating, pest management, crop rotation, pruning, animal husbandry, beekeeping, making compost, harvesting, etc.).
5.  Communicate and enforce farm and greenhouse procedures and maintenance schedules to program participants.
6. Develop a horticultural education program to teach Job Corps students about farm operations and involve vocational trades in farm’s daily operations.
7.  Provide initial student orientation, screening and training; develop and implement training programs.
8. Develop materials, manuals, and resource information for volunteers, staff and students.
9. Develop and handles volunteer/student work schedules and assignments.
10. Maintain records on volunteers and students time contributed to the farm as well as farm records on inputs and outputs.
11. Organize volunteer program to assist with farm’s operation and create marketing program to encourage community participation in the program.
12. Establish and maintain community linkages and serves as the primary contact and resource to outside organizations that want to participate in the farm’s operation.
13. Considerable knowledge of available resources within the local Bay Area community.
14. Develop appreciation and incentive programs for members of the volunteer staff.
15. Develop news media announcements and other recruitment information aids such as brochures, newsletters, and fliers and Participate in promotional and public relations activities for the Treasure Island Community Farm.
16.  Assist in scheduling, designing, planning, developing, staging and staffing special events.
17. Ability to plan and organize a variety of programs for groups of various sizes and establish and maintain effective working relationships with a wide variety of people.
18. Ability to communicate effectively, orally and in writing.
19. Manage the overall performance benchmarks of TIJC Community Farm.
20. Perform other duties as assigned.

Interested parties should e-mail a resume, cover letter and references to:
Willow Rosenthal, TIJC Farm Consultant;

Bonnie Nielson's Green Tomato Recipes

The Down vest/purple dharma gang
Maria, Kristi, Bonnie and Jenna.
(Thanks Lynn, for the photo)

  Thank you, Bonnie, for these delicious recipes.

8 medium sized green tomatoes, sliced
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon tapioca flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (feel free to add any other favorite spices)

Mix it all up and plop in a rectangle dish, add crumble topping of choice, and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes (you want to see the juices bubbling and thickening in the tomato part and the crumble browning on top before it's "done").

5 lbs. green tomatoes, chopped (about 12 cups)
6 large yellow onions, finely chopped
3-6 jalapenos (depending on your bravery), diced
4 red bell peppers, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup cilantro, finely diced
1 cup lime juice
1/2 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, then cook 30-45 minutes (until the salsa is at its desired thickness), stirring occasionally. Bring salsa back to a boil right before spooning into sterilized canning jars, then process and continue as you would with any other type of canning. Makes ~ 12 half pint jars.

Enjoy with good company! :D

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Farm Class Presentation Schedule

Thank you Kelly Warner !


DEC 2                                          

Alden and Lisa                            
Linda Johnson                     

Bonnie and Jenna
Kelley W 
Ladd and Laura
Melinda C

DEC 16 
Maria K
Lynn T

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lughnasadadh (from Linda Johnson)

Hi Kirsten,

At our last class gathering I read a blessing to the class before we went off to work in the garden. Wendy asked me to send you a copy of what I read to be posted on the blog.

The bread/food blessing is just part of a holiday or Sabbat ritual I performed a few years ago for the celebration of Lughnasadh (LOO-na-sa) the feast of Lugh who is the Celtic Sun God. The feast was said to be held in honor of his *foster mother who gave of her fertility and her life so that the land of Ireland would always provide the people.

Lughnasadh is celebrated on August 1st and is associated with the grain harvest. It is the Pagan version of Thanksgiving.

*Foster mother is an old term meaning nurse or milk mother. Her name I do not know for sure. Some mythologists think that it refers to Tara, a later (Roman influenced) name for the Celtic Earth Goddess earlier known as Anu.

The blessing is as follows:

"The apple is red with fire, the corn is golden with life, the oak is green with light. All cherish the bright and glorious sun. Blessed are they, blessed are the grounds from which they grow. Oh Great Divine grant us the wisdom and the power to help seed, grow and feed the earth and all it's creatures. So Blessed be."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wednesday 11/25 Harvest Celebration Workday

Wednesday 11/25 our class will have a Harvest Celebration Workday at Indian Valley Organic Farm. Please bring something "potlucky" to share!

Olive and Fruit Trees at Indian Valley Organic Farm

From Mary Haring...

On Wednesday we had a small group for the planting of our first olive tree at about 1 PM - My friend Cem Akin of the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation came out to the Farm to meet with Bethallyn and Henry...It was so fortuitous that it was also the day that the donated olive trees were delivered by McAvoy Ranch -

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lunacy - Experiencing the Pull of The Moon

Today was sheer lunacy...all about the moon.   Here is one more powerful element in the divinely choreographed dance of the Universe.  We small beings, hoping to grow food and flowers and medicinals, are part of that dance, and Wendy Johnson asked us to consider the full cycles of the moon, and the influence those stages may have on our work in cultivation.  She gave us an overview of the ancient Cross Holy Days and of the pagan harvest festivals.  Holy Days, in all religions, are rooted in a relationship with the moon and the sun and the harvest.  From Hallows Eve in October, to St.Brigid's Day in the spring, from the Celtic tradition of Lugh, or "bread basket," in August, to Christmas, at the Winter Equinox... these celebrations represent a history of farming within the rhythms of the seasons.

Wendy encouraged us to cultivate an awareness of the tides in all aspects of the environment.    Throughout time, sugarers, drawing maple syrup from their trees, have said "the sap flow is faster in the bright of the moon."  Alan Chadwick would tell Wendy, "The moon pushes and the sun pulls."  There is a reason the Farmer's Almanac has always included specifics about the behavior of those two great spheres in the sky.

"The Bright of the Moon" (such a beautiful, lyrical phrase) is the 14 days when the moon is "waxing," in a period of inclination.

"The Dark of the Moon" is the 14 days when the moon is "waning," in a period of declination.

Biodynamic Farming was developed by Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education.  This method involves an extensive awareness of the moon.  Here is a link to the National Sustainable Agriculture Association with more information about Biodynamic Farming, as well as a list of astronomical gardening calendars.

Biodynamic Farming and Compost Preparation

Planetary Influences

Lunar and astrological cycles play a key role in the timing of biodynamic practices, such as the making of Biodynamic preparations and when to plant and cultivate. Recognition of celestial influences on plant growth are part of the biodynamic awareness that subtle energy forces affect biological systems. A selection of resources are listed below. On examination of the variations in agricultural calendars that have sprung from the biodynamic experience, it is apparent that differing viewpoints exist on which lunar, planetary, and stellar influences should be followed.

Stella NaturaThe Kimberton Hills Biodynamic Agricultural Calendar, available through BDFGA for $11.95, is the biodynamic calendar edited by Sherry Wildfeur and the most prominently known calendar of this type in the United States. It contains informative articles interspersed with daily and monthly astrological details, and lists suggested times for planting root, leaf, flowering, and fruiting crops.

Working with the Stars: A Bio-Dynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar, available through JPI for $12.95, is the biodynamic calendar based on Maria Thun's research and is more prominently used in Europe. Of the three calendars mentioned here, Thun's calendar relies more heavily on planetary and stellar influences. It contains research briefs as well as daily and monthly astrological details, again with suggested planting times.

Astronomical Gardening Guide, available through Agri-Synthesis in Napa, California (11) for a self-addressed stamped envelope, is the biodynamic gardening guide compiled by Greg Willis of Agri-Synthesis. This calendar, which is a simple 2-sheet information leaflet, focuses on lunar phases.

Secondary Edible Parts of Vegetable Chart

also from Lynn...

Secondary Edible Parts of Vegatble Chart

Cauliflower Fractal

A gorgeous link from Lynn Tompkins...

Cauliflower Fractal

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Microbial Fuel Cell

We've all seen the thermometer in our compost piles, racing up to 140 degrees.  We know the energetic power of manure-enriched earth.  Now Lynn Tomkins has found a Harvard team working in a power-less area of Sub-Saharan Africa to rub batteries and LED lights with underground bacteria-fueled batteries.  A five gallon bucket, manure, mud and salt water...doesn't sound so different from some of our garden concoctions.  Very cool!

Microbial Fuel Cell

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Air Aware - beautiful piece from Orion Magazine Sept/Oct 2009

Wonderful kismet...A few blogs back I wrote about the effect of rain on our back field. Now, I've come across a truly beautiful piece of writing about the mysteries of air and weather.

The Air Aware by David Abram

This is worth reading. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Common Ground Events

Pam Scott forwarded this list from Common Ground in Palo Alto.  Some great classes coming up.

Here is the link to their website:  Common Ground

Nancy Garrison  Saturday, November 14, 2009
10:30 - 12:30   $30, To register call 650-493-6072 or

Learn how to successfully grow blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and mulberries for bountiful berry harvests May through late fall. Mulberries are less known but wonderful in that they are seedless and Thornless, with flavor like a combo of many different berries. You will learn the best varieties of each and specific planting instructions including soil amendments and trellising.
Nancy has been researching the best varieties for this area for many years and will share her vast knowledge so you will get abundant harvests.  Nancy offers a center tour of her favorite and must-have products after the class.

Alane Weber  Saturday, December 5, 2009
10:30 - 12:30   $30, To register call 650-493-6072 or

Super soil! The soil Foodweb consists of all the beneficial micro- and macroscopic soil critters that function harmoniously in our garden soil. They are responsible for nutrient cycling, soil production and immune system boosting. Understanding the riches in our soil will give you greater ability to surf with nature's wisdom and make better compost.
Alane is an advisor for Soil Foodweb, Inc. She runs the education program of RecycleWork's Master Composting Program for San MateoCounty. Her approach is animated with humor and suffused with the integrity of sustainable care for our lands.

Sherri Osaka  Saturday, December 12, 2009
10:30 - 12:30   $30, To register call 650-493-6072 or

Prepare for next summer’s dry season by collecting and storing rain water now. This class explores methods of rainwater harvesting and storage from roof materials, to tanks and their costs, to landworks, and finally to using pure, sweet rainwater in your garden. We'll discuss permitting, mosquitos, and calculating the amounts of rainwater against the cost of storage. We'll show how rainwater harvesting not only saves water, but energy and infrastructure as well, and how it can be a part of every garden.
Sherri is the owner of Sustainable Landscape Designs and is co-founder of the Sustainable Landscape Roundtable, an organization that encourages landscape professionals to adopt ecological practices, and a director of the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

Speaking of Irrigation...

We're moving water again.  Lynn Tomkins sent this link to a NYTimes piece on the most extensive California water plan since the 60's

California Water Overhaul Caps Use

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Importance of Making Your Bed

According to Steve Quirt's wife, he cannot make his bed at home. (Note to mothers: do not promote learned helplessness by making your sons' beds for them)

Fortunately, Steve makes his farm beds expertly. Here he is in action:

Steve's advice:

- Make your bed somewhere about three feet wide (Wendy Johnson promotes wide beds - at least 4 feet wide because, she says,they narrow over time.) Steve says the key is to make them a width that allows you to reach across as you plant.

- Leave only 12 inches of space between your rows. We're going for maximum fertility and productivity so you don't want too much space on the pathways

- add a few inches of lovely finished compost to the bed (organic matter!)

- "edge" the bed and fortify it, using a shovel to firm up the soil on the sides of the bed

- Use a rake and smooth out the top of the bed. The back of the rake is good for this as well. In Steve's opinion, it is better to make the top of the bed flat, or even slightly concave, than mounded.

- Now, carefully make your way across the bed "typewriter style" with a fork, lightly turning the compost into the top of the soil.

- You are reading to plant your starts. In this case, we were planting lettuce. Steve tucked them in approximately four inches, or a hands width apart. We're aiming to cover the entire surface of the bed. (And the good news with lettuce is that Baby Lettuce leaves are highly desirable, so you are using the produce as you thin)


The Beds of Indian Valley Organic Farm

Turning Buckwheat (cover crop) in

Adding a middle line to a bed

THANK YOU Pam Scott and Lynn Tomkins for the photos

More Asexual Activity in the Greenhouse

Wendy speaking about the wonder of propagating Lemon Balm

Lavender, just waiting

Lavender strikes go into Perlite

Sage, tucked in a ready to grow

Farmstand is Open! (Plus Green Tomato Recipes)


The Indian Valley Organic Farm Produce Stand has officially reopened .  Come by on Wednesdays at 1pm.  Located on the College of Marin Indian Valley Campus, just beyond the playing fields


Here are two Green Tomato Recipes. Fry or bake, take your pick.

Fried Green Tomatoes

18 1/4-inch-thick slices green tomatoes (about 6 tomatoes)
 1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
 3 large eggs, beaten to blend
 1 cup olive oil

Sprinkle all green tomato slices with salt and pepper. Place 1/2 cup flour in shallow bowl. Mix remaining 1/2 cup flour with cornmeal in another shallow bowl to blend. Working with 1 green tomato slice at a time, coat with flour, then egg, then flour-cornmeal mixture. Transfer to baking sheet. Line second baking sheet with paper towels. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry green tomatoes until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Using slotted spoon, transfer to prepared baking sheet; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Keep warm in oven.
adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit   August 2003

"Un"Fried Green Tomatoes (as in, baked)

1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt (don't skimp on the salt)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or the pepper!)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pimenton or sweet paprika (or cumin or maybe garam masala)

2 large green tomatoes, core removed in a V shape, sliced crosswise about 1/3 inch thick

Preheat oven to 400F. Place a baking sheet in the oven for 5 minutes to get it plenty hot. Spray it with cooking spray. Meanwhile, stir together the breading. Place the breading in a large shallow container, the buttermilk in another. Slice the tomatoes. Once the baking sheet has been preheated, work quickly. Dip each tomato slice into the buttermilk, then into the breading. Arrange on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the slices over. Bake another 10 minutes or until cooked clear through. Serve hot, they don't improve!
 Adapted from Cooking Light

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Two Simple Diagrams: Botany of A Flower

Today we discussed plant pollination and looked carefully at rudbekia, oats and squash blossom, trying to identify the various plant parts.  Below are very simple diagrams I use with Middle School students. I hope they are helpful.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Bowl That Keeps Feeding Event 11-15-2009

Studio4Art and What's Cooking are proud to present
Soup - The Bowl that Keeps Feeding - a benefit to fight childhood hunger in our community.

Studio4Art will work with children to throw and glaze soup bowls, and children from local schools will work with What's Cooking to prepare home-made soup.

At our event, guests get to select any bowl of their choice and we will fill it with soup and enjoy a meal together.  Guests get to bring their empty bowls home as a reminder of the hungry children in our community and that they personally did something to make a difference.  All proceeds of our event will go to Homeward Bound of Marin's Emergency Family Shelter.

Forr more information, please contact Michelle Stern, What's Cooking, 415-342-4353, or Kebby McInroy, Studio 4 Art, 415-596-5546,

Patty Hamilton: Master of Irrigation

 There are few out there who have undertaken a true study of the Art of  Irrigation.  Many gardeners call the creation of a watering system "irritation."   But most of us have personally experienced the sensation of thirst, and know that it is a yearning that will not be abated with anything but that essential combination of hydrogen and oxygen.  Water, and how it is delivered, is at the "root" of everything that happens in our gardens.  Last Wednesday Patty Hamilton from Harmony Farm Supply in Sebastapol, a Master of Irrigation, came to share the top six inches of her wisdom with us.

The class moved quickly, and we did so much math that at times I had to look around to make sure I hadn't been tossed back into college calculus ("Um, excuse me, could you please repeat that last part?"), but in the end we had a good overview of how to approach setting up an irrigation system.  Here I must go back to one of Wendy's favorite garden quotes:  "In general, everything is specific."  That means that we know we start with the basic irrigation building blocks (timer, filter, pressure regulator), then make very specific decisions based on the lay of our own land.

1.  Start with a "Bucket Test" - a five gallon bucket, see how long it takes to fill up so you get you gallon/minute rate.
2.  Filtration system - This decision is based on water quality...are you on city, pond or spring water? do you need a screen filter (basic, if on city water) or a disc filter (26 times more filtration than a screen...needed if you have a lot of particulates in water)
3.  Pressure regulator comes after the filter in your set-up...This is where you begin to make some calculations based on your water pressure and relates to the next step (#4). 
4. Drip, Spray or Combined system.  What type of plants are you watering?  For instance, you don't want a spray system when watering trees because you want to make sure the water gets most directly to the roots....What type of soil do you have?  This relates to the capillary force ( surface tension) and soil structure matters here.  If you have sandy soil, the capillary action is not as extensive and so your water tends to dive straight down...on the other hand, a nice loamy soil means that the water will spread out on its own underground in a nice large ballooning shape.  These, along with questions about the slope of your land,and the length of our rows, are questions we must address to design our systems.

The Harmony catalog has a lot of excellent information about Irrigation, and Harmony will test soil and water before you begin designing your system.

Finally, we moved on to a discussion of Irrigation Tape and an in-depth calculation of emitter spacing on the tape and when you might need "pressure compensating emmitters".  "T-Tape" is what waters the rows at Indian Valley.  It is a flexible, user-friendly option...BUT it requires farmer responsibility.  In Florida, farmers are leaving the tape in the fields and discing it into the soil.  There is no known recycling option for this tape at the moment.

Here's an idea...before the creators of T-Tape (and all the future wonder solutions) receive a patent for their fabulous new product, they must come with the "un-make" plan (otherwise known as "recycling")...and they may receive the patent for that as well.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Secret Language of Rain

Last week after the first rain, our "back forty" made its exquisite fall transformation.  My kids were the first to notice.  On their way down to the chicken coop to check for eggs they begin to call wildly... The grass has come up!

Great painters and newfangled printers have tried, but have not been able to come up with anything close to "new grass" green.  This is an elusive green found deep inside emeralds, an irretrievable green that glistens and radiates, a green that stays with your thoughts all day and reappears as you close your eyes to sleep at night.  The photos above are fine, but the Elysian glow has cannot be captured with a lens other than the naked and exhilarated eye.

We have also have a mixed-seed lawn on our property, one that we will give up one of these years, but for now it is used as religiously as a playing field in a county park - by our extended community of family, friends and neighborhood kids - so it remains.  The lawn browned over the summer and, on this same first rain morning, returned in full green regalia. My husband commented that even if he had watered, it would not have responded and come back the way it did until that storm. This is the mysterious moment when the air whispers to the earth to hold its breath for just a moment more, now the rain is coming.   Then, the great freeing of water onto the clenched soil, releasing in a pattern of drops made for the seeds and dormant life, a secret message to signal It is time.

Farm Stand is Open Weds, 1pm

The Indian Valley Organic Farm Produce Stand has officially reopened - Wednesdays at 1pm.  I'll post the exact hours soon.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pat's Painting of Indian Valley Organic Farm

 Lyn Tompkins sent along a photo of our classmate Pat's beautiful painting.  Thank you Lyn...and thank you Pat!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

40 Farmers Under 40

Here is a link sent to me by Lisa Chipkin  (Thanks Lisa) from the Mother Nature Network.  These are young farmers from across the nation.
40 Farmers Under 40: Readers Choice

Plant Propogation Notes from 10/14 and 10/21

Thank you Pam Scott for contributing class notes and photos for this blog:

Wendy holds up plant for root division

Class Notes:  10/14

Growing Plants Through Strikes
-    Taking a strike off of the mother plant – just pull off a piece of the original plant
-    Better than cutting because cell walls stay intact if you pull and let the plant divide
-    Remove all lower leaves – the stem cells can create leaves (which it already did) as well as roots (which it now will have the chance to do
-    Cut top leaves at an angle
-    Stick material into perlite at 45-degree angle
-    Water daily but don’t disturb (by checking for roots) for 6 weeks
-    This is a great way to keep the genetic material of the plant in tact
-    After awhile, though, the vigor of the plant will wear down and need to propagate through sex to remain strong and vital

Mix for Making Good Potting Soil
-    When you start plant from seed, it does not need rich soil; lean, well-drained, retentive soil
•    1/3 natural soil – so that the plant will be used to the culture of the native soil
•    1/3 sifted leaf mold – adds structure and retains water; can also use coco peat or peat moss; vermiculite also
•    1/3 sharp sand – for drainage; not salty Sandy Lawrence
-    No matter what, cut in some native soil from where it will ultimately live; if not, the plant will be in shock when it goes to its final home

Great idea for compost:  Create a ‘barrel’ with chicken wire; fill with oak leaves, in a year you’ll have good soil

Steve and Wendy sift leaf mold

Class Notes :  10/21

NYT ran an article on zero waste yesterday 
SF made it illegal to throw away food scraps 
(very exciting stuff!)

What is propagation?
-    How to grow. How to increase plant material. The many ways plant material can be spread and shared.
-    Sexual propagation – blending of genetic material; annual and bi-annual plants always spread this way; sometime perennials too
-    Asexual propagation – taking a strike or cutting and spreading the same genetic material

What does it mean to cultivate soil?
-    To turn the wheel of life. Culture is a wheel. To create, clean culture in the ground. To go down into the ground, into the depths to dig down into, to weed.

Great suppliers – call for catalogues
1.    Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
2.   Harmony Farm Supply

To Create Strikes
-    Months or weeks before, cut the lead off of the mother plant – encouraging it to send up other major stems to replace it
-    When the plant is in seed, it wants to spread by seed; so look to divide plants when they are flowering but before they’ve gone to seed
-    Now is a very good time to be doing this
-    A good strike (the bit that has been pulled off) should feel woody at the base
-    You want your strike to be no more than 8”, preferably less
-    Remove the lower leaves – roots will grow from these stem cells
-    Create a balanced strike – about ½ will go into the ground, the other ½ above the surface
-    Seeds push material equally above and below ground.  We need to create this same balance when we create plants from strikes.
-    Put at 45-degree angle into perlyte
-    Water daily, water deeply

Root Division
-    Easiest way to divide a plant is to pull it apart.  When not doing that to create a strike, can do by pulling small bits of the plant complete with roots
-    Look for healthy root mass in mother plant
-    Pull off woody base growth (or cut)
-    Cut off most on top – especially biggest bits (more than I would have thought)
-    If root exceedingly long, cut it too
-    Looking to create balance
-    Plant in lunch mix (see below)
-    Fall is the season to be separating plants by root division!
-    Oregano, tarrogon, sage – a lot of the herbs can be separated now

Looking to create a balance of roots and tops

Hardening Seedlings
-    When plants are grown from seeds, one thing to consider is that they cannot be planted outside until they’ve been ‘hardened’
-    This means getting them acclimated to the outdoor conditions – this is after having been raised early on in a green house
-    Harden plants by setting them outside for hours at a time until they spend a couple of nights outside; then they’re ready to be put into the ground
-    Not as important in our mild climates as other places

Wendy puts a strike in perlite

Speedling Flats – made of white Styrofoam; every pocket is cone-shaped; easier for mass planting
-    Planting soil should be peat-based – coco peat (or peat moss – try to avoid using); to help with water retention
-    Cannot use sand because Styrofoam doesn’t absorb water so drainage is not an issue
-    A little bit (not much) of native soil
-    Pinch of perlyte (white stuff that you use for strikes)
-    No compost – it is too rich

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Fungus Fair!

Need I say More? 

Saturday Dec. 1, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 2, 12–5 p.m.

at the Oakland Museum of California

(presented by the Mycological Society of San Francisco)

The "P" Word (discussing Population Control)

Last week, in the course of a conversation about the future of food, the "P" word came up...Population.

Here is a link to The Worldwatch Institute, a highly respected organization whose mission is:   
"Worldwatch Institute delivers the insights and ideas that empower decision makers to create an environmentally sustainable society that meets human needs. Worldwatch focuses on the 21st-century challenges of climate change, resource degradation, population growth, and poverty by developing and disseminating solid data and innovative strategies for achieving a sustainable society."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Seedy People

Flax seed, saved and winnowed on the Indian Valley Farm

Let's accept the facts... We are all seedy people.  Whether we like it or not, we come from seed.  Along with the rest of flora and fauna on our planet, we are a great blended genetic mystery, born from seed.  So... there's one big thing we have in common.  Maybe if we focus on that we can get along a little better.

Yes, of course we find differences amongst us living organisms of planet Earth.  Unbelievably complex many amazing adaptations we've been able to work out over the eons.  Thank goodness for these differences.  Diverse and together - that is the only way all us seed-born creatures have been able to stay here.  How about we honor each other, especially for our differences... all the while remembering that every one of us came from the same place.

On this tropical storm Wednesday, we made our way through the series of small standing water lakes that is Marin county after 5-6 inches of rain, to the College of Marin classroom to listen to Wendy Johnson who reminded us of our seedy start.   This led to a discussion of Sexual vs Asexual (or Vegetative) reproduction.  Wendy mentioned that her 7th grade students get very attentive when the word "Sexual" comes up at the beginning of class.  I tired it out on my Middle School students the next day, and sure it enough, works like a charm.  Only problem is that my daughter sat in the front row in one of the classes, and, needless to say,  she was horrified.  Her head actually fell onto the table with a loud thud.

We talked about Comfrey, known for both a capacity to easily reproduce by root division (stick a small piece of root in the ground) and its healing qualities for almost any ailment.  As I get to know plants better over the years, I've come to respect perennial hard-workers.  They seem to garner the most concentrated beneficial nutrients and essences for us humans.  Is it a coincidence that many ancient perennial crops, like fig, artichoke and olives, are top the lists of "Food We Should Eat?"

Speaking of turns out Vegetative Propagation came first in terms of human agriculture.   Figs were first.  This is a link to an article about the discovery of evidence, outside of Jericho that asexual fig trees were shared amongst communities.  This was 11,400 years ago, well before the use of written language, and also before the rise of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent. 

Wendy made a list of essential reading about seeds, botany and propagation. Here it is:

Botany For Gardners by Brian Capon

Botany In A Day - The Patterns Method of Plant Identification Thomas J. Elpel's Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families

Seed To Seed by Susan Ashworth

The Secrets of Plant Propagation

Plant Propagation

The Lives of A Cell

The Metamorphosis of A Plant by Goethe

Goethe, the famous German author of The Sorrows of Young Werther and Faust, was an amateur botanist. He took a six week "plant walk" in the Swiss Alps and his observations of a great pulsation that was the cycle of a plant.  The plant as "process."

Here are four stanzas from a poem of Goethe's that by the same name  The Metamorphosis of Plants (you'll find the full text at the link) that capture his sense of wonder in observation of  the mystery, the great blending of genetic material that is life.

Twofold as yet, hasten on, destined to blend into one.
Lovingly now the beauteous pairs are standing together,

Gather'd in countless array, there where the altar is raised.
Hymen hovereth o'er them, and scents delicious and mighty

Stream forth their fragrance so sweet, all things enliv'ning around.
Presently, parcell'd out, unnumber'd germs are seen swelling,

Sweetly conceald in the womb, where is made perfect the fruit.
Here doth Nature close the ring of her forces eternal;

Steve Quirt winnows flax seedat IVC Organic Farm

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Untangling A Knot

 County Line Harvest at the Dolcini Family Farm

If modern day food production is a giant knot, tying us down tight to a dysfunctional system, last Wednesday we met individuals who are tugging away to loosen and undo strands.  These farmers are hard-workers and daring activists who are leading the way to bring us good food, grown in a healthy way.   

David Retsky, County Line Harvest Farmer

Here is how Steve Quirt introduced David Retsky,  County Line Harvest farmer:  "He's a young guy who is doing everything right."  Retsky rents 33 acres of rich bottomland below a reservoir on the Dolcini family ranch.   The Dolcinis are a family with deep roots in Marin County and Retsky's work on their land has reinvigorated the property.  Kittty Dolcini has been growing "incredible" strawberries and opened a farm stand at the corner of Petaluma-Pt. Reyes Road and Hicks Valley Road.  Before touring County Line Harvest, we gathered round to listen as Kitty shared memories of a ranch childhood, a world where a kid might grab a cup and run-off to gather her own cool milk, half cream, fresh from the cow.

Kitty Dolcini shares stories, the joys and trials of ranch life

David Retsky and Steve Quirt talks about what it takes to successfully grow organic food

If you've got farming in your bloodstream and in your dreams, David Retsky recommends finding a piece of property to rent as there are a number of parcels for rent in the Northbay (California Farmlinks has listings).  He is not cavalier about the work that goes into turning a profit on a small farm, but has a clear-headed way of talking about things that makes it sound so do-able.  In his case, he fits together the puzzle pieces of Greenleaf Produce, five farmer's markets and a lot of direct marketing to restaurants and local grocery stores. He tells us of how he came to be farming this land, providing the Bay Area with exquisite produce - some American kitchen staples, some exotic specialties.  As he speaks, a story of adventure and lessons learned unfolds.  From a childhood in LA county to work on farms all over the world to borrowing money and searching for the perfect swath of land in a region that loves food,... Retsky has journeyed, made mistakes, and discovered something with each bend in the road.  It is no coincidence that he is "doing everything right."

Some of the best Arugula you'll taste

We had an opportunity to sample Retsky's greens and, as an Arugula connoiseur, I will attest that his harvest is about as tasty as it gets (This stuff bites back!)  His lettuce is tender, his kale smooth and buttery.  Again, the Order Form posted on Retsky's office wall reveals a narrative.  In this case, we're looking at hundereds of conversations with local chefs - what produce are they looking for?  What is delicious and difficult to come by? - and travel to Europe to find the seeds that will add layers of subtle and not-so-subtle tastes to our meals.  Gretsky points out the difference between the U.S. and Italy.  Americans are easily confused by the strong taste of Raddiccio, he says, while Italians pick it up along with a pack of smokes at the corner market.  

Retsky gives a lot of credit to his hands, farmers from Oaxaca

Although he makes organic farming look easy, the shift in Retsky's voice when he talks about the appearance of Purslane in his fields reveals the intensity of the constant dance with nature that is cultivation.  You can hear the wheels turning in his head even as he takes us on a tour of his crops.  Farming is a full-time mental and physical engagement with the natural world, a constant search for solutions and improvements.  Retsky is a modern day food production pioneer, forging a better future on an historic piece of land.


Contact Info for County Line Harvest:
David Retsky
PO Box 2742
Petaluma, CA 94953