It’s hot and dry.
It’s hot and dry, the hills are on fire, smoke has made the air orange and dense, and what we really need, what we need more than anything, is a drenching rainstorm.
My students, many of whom speak Spanish as a first language, call a cool, damp day “fresh.” In English, fresh and cool don’t mean the same thing, but in Spanish, they do. I wish today were fresh.
On Saturday morning, the weather was already starting to heat up. When I interviewed Mike Taylor, we had to escape to the shade of a eucalyptus to keep cool. Taylor is one of my favorite vendors at the market, and I felt lucky to be able to steal some of his time for an interview. At first, I had a bit of a struggle. Chatty and personable, he’s quite popular, and this trait, combined with the fact that his name had just been mentioned in LA Times’ Food pages, made it hard to get a few uninterrupted minutes to ask questions. But, generous with his time, he asked his equally affable son to cover the stand for a few minutes while we stepped away, under the shade of a tree. Leaning against his car, light-colored pet fur catching the light on his black guayabera,
Mike Taylor is unique among the vendors; instead of raising his produce on a large farm and driving 100 miles into the metropolitan area to sell us his goods, he drives maybe 15 miles or so, from
Raised by a family that grew their own food organically, Taylor began farming his own yard about ten years ago, turning the space into something that would give back to him and his family. He believes that everything he plants should have a purpose-- a scent, flavor, color, or nutrient. Therefore, grass plays only a small role in his yard: what there is of it is for walking on. The rest of the space is devoted to a huge variety of goodies, including multiple varieties of citrus, tomatoes, melons, corn, chard, arugula, garlic, and on and on. This mixed-up garden, full of diversity, directly reflects his own philosophy on the greater world, one of “giving back.” In order to keep the world from becoming more and more non-productive, more and more paved over or falsely greened with ChemLawns and Weed N Feed, he wants his land to benefit more than itself, just as he hopes to benefit the environment and the people that live around him.
Not everyone comprehends his goal to be an integral part of the environment and community. Occasionally,
When asked what problems he sees in the ways
This passion is the center of his success. I asked him for a useful garden tips, and he answered, “Passion . . . diligence. Don’t give up if things don’t grow for you at first.” According to Taylor, growing well demands gardeners recognize that lots of what happens depends not entirely on the gardener, but also on the whims of nature. He doesn’t chase nature away from his crops, but accepts it, even when it causes loss. He laughs and describes the parrots that sit in his fig tree, peeling the outer layer of the fruit off to get to “the good stuff.” Even when nature destroys his crop, he finds it fascinating.
Not all of Taylor’s advice is philosophical; he can be practical too:
- Know your soil. If your soil is healthy, you can grow anything. Healthy soil will feel “alive with loam” when you pick it up.
- Supplement your soil with compost and amend as necessary with organic LGM planting mix.
- Since water usage is going to continue to be a problem with this drought, maximize your efficiency. Use drip and soaker hoses rather than sprinklers or surface watering, and sink plastic gallon planting containers next to your larger plants. Water directly into the plastic pots, which will then serve as reservoirs, watering deeply without wasting any water.
- To grow blueberries in
Southern California, choose varieties such as “Sunshine Blue” that can handle the heat. Plant in nearly straight peat to provide the acid soil the plants need.
- Spend time with seed catalogs. They can be great sources of information.
- If you grow vegetables in pots, a great way to have a garden on a balcony, remember to water more frequently.
Everything I’ve sampled that
I haven’t seen Mike Taylor’s garden, but I can imagine it. I picture the deep shade under a healthy tomato plant, shade over soil “alive with loam” and bugs and happy worms. I hope that with time and experience, I can create as healthy and productive a garden. I hope that, like Mike Taylor, I can make the world a little more “fresh.”