Cooped up and shuttered in place in a time of doubt and insecurity means many of us are holding on to the edge of our sanity, searching for answers and escapes. Bill Mollison, renowned biologist and co-creator of permaculture, held the stance that “the solutions to complex problems can oftentimes be relatively simple.”
Ivy Joeva interviewed Loretta Allison, a holistic gardening consultant, about why she believes our backyards, porches, and even the narrowest of windowsills might just be the prescription we all need.
As we’re being forced via long lines and the disappearance of common products to pay more attention to our current and future food systems, many of us are casting a shy glance toward what it means to grow their own food. For urban dwellers, the modern food system has made the process of growing one’s own hard to fathom. While it may sound daunting, Allison reminds us that the labor and philosophy behind it are actually relatively simple and straightforward and that getting your hands dirty has mental health benefits. We’ve all probably heard the mom-slung hypothesis that “playing in the dirt boosts the immune system” and that nature brings peace, but taken a step further — can mini microbes in our soil act on our moods?
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I always joke that gardening’s like the mafia. Once you’re in, there’s no getting out.
// Loretta Allison
Ivy: I’m Ivy Joeva, and this is the Future of Food. How can you contribute to real change one garden, one neighborhood at a time here to put that power in your hands along with some dirt and seeds is my guest, Loretta Alison, Loretta cofounded fig earth nursery supply in Los Angeles and she runs monthly gardening workshops to support and teach people about how to grow their own food and medicine. If you’ve ever wondered about the value of growing your own food, here’s your chance to find out why and how from Loretta. Now my conversation with Loretta Alison. So you’re a leader in the urban gardening movement in LA. What sparked this as a passion for you?
Loretta: I think it really started when I was a kid, you know, so I always just enjoyed being out in the garden. My mom was a gardener. That was a huge part of what I did and also was my chore. It was my chore to go outside and water all the plants. It took an hour and I often did this in like the early morning, like in the summer, you know, it was my summer chore. So I developed an intimacy with plants that I probably would have gotten otherwise. You know, and then it kind of throughout the years it came and it went, you know, I went to college, I came back, I had a few little gardens along the way. I have a background in floral design. So originally that was one of the main, one of my main attractions is that I found nature so gorgeous and so beautiful. And then I had a background in media. So that was like, that was part of my job to focus on plant trends, wellness trends,uyou know, herbal herbal, medicinal trends. And uand that’s part of, that’s part of how it started.
Ivy: Yeah. It sounds like you kind of combined your passion for urban gardening with your experience in media cause you’re really a messenger for this movement in the world.
Loretta: That’s true. I’m very keen on communication and that’s probably one of my gifts and it’s also one of my joys. So when I did have my background in media and I was doing art direction and photo editing and I had to convey a message visually, it’s sort of transferred into something different when I became a parent. So when I became a parent and I had my son, my world kind of slowed down for a second and my worldview changed. And I think that happens with a lot of parents and I kind of stumbled into urban agriculture and enter the urban gardening movement. And I really started off selling plants when a fellow art director friend of mine started the Altadena farmer’s market and and it was kinda like this underground hipster, artisanal you know, market.
And he asked me if I wanted to grow plants and I was like, sure. Because at the time I was, I was hanging out with my kid. I was chopping up blueberries into quarters everyday at five o’clock in the morning and I wanted something more toothsome. I wanted to re reengage with the adult world. And I always had a passion for plants. You know, even when I was working in the office, I was like growing tomatoes and like passing them out to people and like taking orders and like knew all about heirloom tomatoes and I was the plant person, I was the plant mama, you know, so when I had a kid and when he asked me, part of my motivation was that so that I could pay for my child’s preschool. That was really part of the initial motivation. I was like, this is awesome.
I could do something that I love and I can take care of my kid in a way that I really want to and give them the education that I wanted to. So I think that being a parent is like a huge motivation really for how I started. And I think with gardening it’s like once you’re in, and I always joke like gardening’s like the mafia. Once you’re in, there’s no getting out. So has he, has he taken this passion on what he has? He’s 11 you know, so he’s definitely into like his video games and you know, that’s kind of a newer thing. But definitely in working with him and just being around it, you know, just being around the garden or being given little led garden chores, like go outside and like harvest these herbs. I know that it will have an impact, like every little, every little small drop counts, you know.
Ivy: And what do you see as that impact of the urban gardening movement? Like what’s the, what’s your vision of the kind of change in the world you’d like to see and how do you see urban gardening contributing to that change?
Loretta: Well, first of all, gardening is very meditative, right? So it’s like when you’re gardening, you’re slowing down, you know, it’s a form of meditation and you’re working with plant material and being in that state, it’s like you are changing your consciousness. So I think that the more you do it, you really develop kind of some different virtues. You know, you kind of develop more patients, maybe a little bit more compassion, maybe a little bit more loving kindness, some more tenderness, you know, ideally in an ideal world, you know, but I think that it really, it changes the way you think about things and certainly the way you think about food.
Because once you, when you’re gardening, you know that it’s like, okay, it takes like two months to grow cauliflower. I’m going to really appreciate this cauliflower, you know? Or it’s like, wow, it takes like a month to grow radish. I’m really going to appreciate this radish. Maybe I should think about respecting other people in their craft around me and really take taking that into account. Maybe I should think about my local farmer, you know, and knowing, knowing what hard work it is, you know, as opposed to going to the store and you can just get a bag of precut cauliflowers day and not really think about necessarily where. And I think that we’re so disconnected. We often don’t think this type of thing, but we also don’t think of other conscious living beings. You know, we don’t, we just don’t. I find, yeah, so speaking of conscious living beings, my understanding is that in certain kinds of agriculture, you really look at all the beings that went into making this food, not just the actual plant but the microbes and all kinds of different living organisms in the soil.
Ivy: So I want to talk to you a little bit about the different kinds of approaches to this. I know you have a background in something called horticulture and permaculture. So for our listeners who might not be familiar with those terms, what, what is that and how is that connected to this idea of regenerative agriculture?
Loretta: So horticulture really just means anything related to the cultivation, like any cultivation that’s taking place in a garden or a farm, it’s really simple. It’s just like anything you’re doing outside in a garden that’s simply horticulture. Permaculture is a little bit different. So permaculture, you can think of it as kind of holistic environmental design that works with natural patterns or patterns found in nature or mimics patterns found in nature. A lot of people also consider permaculture indigenous wisdom that’s been repackaged and sold back to us for a nice little price tag of like a couple thousand dollars for a permaculture certificate.
Loretta: But I also like to think of it as like just plain old common sense designing with plain old common sense, common sense that we’ve kind of lost common sense that we’d lost. Yeah, absolutely. And there’s certain principles that are part, there’s like 12 permaculture principles, some are recognizing patterns, recognizing patterns in nature. And by the way, all these principles really serve us in our larger and life in general as well too. So recognizing patterns is one. Observing, just observing and interacting without judging, just observing. You know what, when you’re out there in nature, in the world, you’re, you’re just observing, right? Paying attention to the feedback that you’re getting. Like the feedback loop, you know, like what can we just take something at face value without getting caught up in it and just kind of know that it’s just, it’s just some feedback and then we can make adjustments from there.
Loretta: But those are some of the basic ones, you know, and also, you know harvesting harvesting our resources around us, you know, it’s like harvesting without losing them, you know, so that we can create what’s called a closed loop. Right? So any inputs, any outputs become inputs and inputs become outputs and anything that goes into the system never leaves the system. It stays in the system.
Ivy: So minimizing waste, minimizing waste.
Ivy: And so when it comes to the, the second principle, I think you said observing.
Ivy: What would that look like in a, in a gardening sense? Just noticing like cause and effect of what you’re doing with the soil or …
Loretta: It could be cause and effect, but that’s, that’s, you know, for sure it could be any cause and effect. But say for example, I noticed that, you know, when I plant this particular plant, kind of more in a shady area, I noticed that the leaves become thinner and there’s more holes in it, right? So it’s like, Oh, okay. But when I plant that same plant in the sun, it, the leaves, the leaf cuticle is stronger. You know, maybe it’s, it’s more, it’s just healthier and it doesn’t have any pests on it. Right. So I would look at that plant and I’m like, Oh, okay. You know what, that plant, that plant wants to be there in the sun. This plant doesn’t want to be there in the shade. It’s just like basic observation, you know, it’s meditation, you know? That’s really what it is.
Ivy: Yeah. And it sounds like kind of developing a relationship with what you’re growing, where you’re receiving a communication.
Ivy: It’s done what it’s telling you.
Loretta: Absolutely. Yeah.
Ivy: Beautiful. What would you say is the difference between this approach and what we’re calling regenerative agriculture? Is, would you say permaculture is synonymous with regenerative agriculture? Is it part of the same movement?
Loretta: They’re kind of, they are similar, but regenerative agriculture is really leaving the land better than when you found it, you know, and really healing the land. You know, permaculture to me is more about like completing the loop within a system.
Ivy: I see.
Loretta: You know And permaculture doesn’t have to be agriculture, so,
Ivy: Oh, so it could be flowers and …
Loretta: But it’s like, it’s not agriculture in the sense where you’re growing crops to feed people. You know, it doesn’t always have to be like something can be part of a permaculture design. Like a building can be designed permaculturally, right. So it’s not necessarily about plants, gardening, agriculture.
Ivy: Okay. So it’s more of a philosophy.
Loretta: It’s a philosophy, but it’s like you can kind of think, you can think of it as like holistic environmental design. Yeah.
Ivy: And the, the principles can be applied to gardening.
Loretta: Exactly. Exactly.
Ivy: Okay. And then you also talk about biodynamics in your work with plants. So tell us about that. And is it the same thing as organic or what’s the difference?
Loretta: It’s not. Okay. So organic, so let’s like do definitions. So organic basically just means it’s like you’re given a list of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers that you can’t use. You know? And if you don’t use those things, you can get certified as organic. Right. Or you could get your land certified, anything like that. So that’s just very basic and simple. But we also think of it in the vernacular as you know, it’s become slang for just like clean. It’s just like grown cleanly, clean and safe. That’s kind of, I feel like what it means.
Ivy: Without a bunch of chemicals.
Loretta: Without a bunch of chemicals. Even though in organic agriculture you can use, you can use organic chemicals, you know, that break down more easily and more quickly than synthetic chemicals would be, you know, synthetics are chemicals. So biodynamics is a little bit different. It’s way more woo woo. Way more esoteric. Are you ready?
Ivy: I’m ready.
Loretta: Okay. so Biodynamics is, it’s both like a set of practices, but it’s also an ideology. And it was divined by Rudolph Steiner, like in the 1920s. So say for an say for example, you had snails really just like invading your garden, right? Which would tell you automatically that there was an imbalance in the system. So like in biodynamics, what biodynamic theory would tell you it would be, you know, take the snails and you would probably make like a slurry, right? You make a slurry. So you would maybe like ferment the snails, drown them, blend them all up. I asked you if you guys were ready.
Ivy: We are ready. We’re just — so a slurry of snails,.
Loretta: A slurry of snails. And you would spread that all over the garden, right? Or say you had like a hard to –
Ivy: To get rid of the snails.
Loretta: Yeah. To get rid of the snails.
Loretta: Cause they don’t want to be in a in a slurry of snails.
Ivy: Who wants to hang out like that?
Loretta: Nobody wants to hang out, you know? So there’s a lot of ashing so it’s like if there was like a, a hard shelled insect or something, say there were like the Grotta’s or something like that, you would burn them and ash them and spread the ashes. I’m giving you all the gruesome stuff,.
Ivy: But it’s really interesting.
Loretta: And this is where I usually lose people when I start. I lose people when I start talking about like signs, like signs of the moon. But there’s also biodynamic compost, which, which is super mainstream. You can find this on the market almost anywhere. That is cow dung, right? It’s cow poop that is treated with six like homeopathic doses of six herbs. Right. So wait for it. So the herbs are harvested when the moon is at a certain, you know, situation phase or whatever. And uso the herbs are harvested and then they’re stuffed into usually cow horns and then they’re buried when the moon is in another phase harvested when the moon is in another phase and then they’re added to the cow dung and composted and it creates incredible compost.
Ivy: And you know, the proof is kind of in the pudding with it. Cause this is not a fringe thing. This has been around since like the turn of the century.
Loretta: I mean, yeah, like 1920s. But it’s like, I mean I always look to what’s on the market and so there’s about like three or four, I think there was four in Los Angeles, there’s four producers of biodynamic compost. Yeah. So it’s, it’s pretty mainstream. It’s pretty — it’s expensive though. So it’s a little cost prohibitive, I would say for the average person who is starting out.
Ivy: And biodynamics is huge in Germany. I mean, I was just in Freiburg about a year ago and at the farmer’s market, every other stand was biodynamic. Rudolph Steiner was Austrian. And he was originally a philosopher that developed a pretty extensive philosophy of education.
Loretta: Oh, totally.
Ivy: So biodynamic food was just one part of a larger complete–
Loretta: Exactly, exactly. And it’s funny because when, when I was first starting out as well, and I wanted to, I was sending my son to a Waldorf preschool. That’s why I had to go to the farmer’s market and sell my plants. And that’s when I was learning about biodynamics and they both kind of dovetailed into this interest for me personally, it all kind of blossomed at once and that I just had no clue.
I had no clue that it’s like Waldorf was associated with Rudolf Steiner.
Loretta: Yeah. It all came together.
Ivy: And so as someone who really is in the garden, you know, you’re getting your hands dirty there. Do you see a difference when you apply these principles from biodynamics?
Loretta: I do. I definitely do. And I don’t do slurries. I don’t do ashing. You know, it’s like I’m a pretty typical Los Angeles resident.
Ivy: Modified biodionamics., You know, biodynamic light.
Loretta: Biodynamic – biodynamic medium.. But, but I for sure use biodynamic compost and when I’ve created biodynamic compost piles and I want to say really for your listeners that people can find the preps themselves and create their own modified version of biodynamic compost. Really by going to Josephine Porter, Josephine Porter’s website and getting the preps themselves and doing it at home. And I often recommend this to clients or people in workshops that they can do this are like the preps are like these tiny little envelopes that are filled with like little tiny doses and you mix them with water and you create, you create a mixture and then you put it on top of your compost.
Loretta: You, you basically, you saturate your compost with them and it creates the most incredible compost. And every time that I work with biodynamic compost or like, I think the first time I created a biodynamic compost pile, it was almost, it was a spiritual experience. Like, I could feel it. Like the vibes were intense, you know, in a really, really beautiful way, you know. And every time that I do do like a foliar feed with biodynamic compost, which is basically you take the compost and you would soak it overnight, stir, stir, stir, stir, stir, get in a lot of, you know, air to grow the microbes, strain it and spray it on my plants at night, the next day I walk out into the garden and my plants are like sparkling. Just really just high vibrational. Yeah. Interesting. Definitely more esoteric.
Ivy: Okay. So, so do you actually notice a difference in terms of like less pests or more growth.
Loretta: I do, cause anytime, but also it’s like any, you don’t have to do this, but anytime it’s like you were working on the health of the soil, you were working on the entire health of the garden. So, so really it’s a, it’s about the soil, you know.
Ivy: And so let’s talk about that when it comes to food, because do you think that having soil like this really nutrient rich high living organism content kind of soil makes a difference in the actual micronutrient contract content of foods?
Loretta: Oh, absolutely. Everything with gardening is about the soil. You know, I like to say that the soil is the soul of the garden and I always encourage people to throw their time, money, and energy into the soil. Like the soil is number one. You know, you take care of this soil, you grow the soil and the plants will grow. You never have to worry about it. So absolutely. And the more organic matter you add to the soil, the more beneficial microbes there are in the soil and the more beneficial microbes there will be in your plants are on the surface of the leaves, you know?
Ivy: Wow, that’s huge. Cause we’re really learning more just from a health perspective in terms of the importance of the microbiome.
Ivy: And so much of our food is completely devoid of these living organisms, even on an organic farm. Right?
Loretta: Yeah. I mean organic is a step above conventional agriculture, you know, but really growing at yourself as really always the best solution or really, you know, knowing your farmer, you know, knowing your farmer and knowing their practices. But the only way you can really be sure is really by growing it yourself.
Ivy: And so if you go to the farmer’s markets and you know a lot of the stands don’t say they’re organic. And my understanding is that a lot of times the smaller family farms can’t afford that organic certification. It’s a lengthy process. So be actually practicing farming with principles that sometimes could be even better than the minimum standards to certify as organic. So how do you know, like what questions could someone ask their local farmer at the farmer’s market to know what kind of food they’re getting?
Loretta: Right. So questions that you would want to ask. Like you would want to ask about what they do about pests. Like are they using chemicals? Like, I’d really try and dig in there as much as possible cause they’re probably gonna assume that you don’t know that much, but like are you using neem? Are you using a soapy spray? What are, what do you do about aphids? What do you do about scale? What do you do about fungal pathogens? Like what do you do about rust or what do you do about, you know, whatever verticillium wilt, you know, you can name out, you know, name some things. You can also ask them what are they doing to feed their soil? Are they using chemical fertilizers? How often do they add compost? Do they bring in more compost? Are they just composting, using compost from the farm? But I would try and get as nitty-gritty as possible.
Ivy: Okay. And what kind of answers are you looking for? Like would it be better if they’re bringing in compost or just using compost if–
Loretta: You want them to bring as much organic matter in as possible. So if they’re really paying attention to the soil, they are bringing in more organic matter than their farm can produce. Because most like sustainability is a little bit of a, of a myth. You know, it’s a little bit of like an oasis in the desert, like sustainability. It does. It’s not really truly functional. It’s like at least at the beginning of when you have a system or a farm or garden, you’re going to have to bring in outside inputs. So yeah. So as much as organic matter as possible,.
Ivy: What is the role of animals in agriculture this way? Like is it better? Would you say that like manure from a cow say is a superior fertilizer to just straight up vegetable compost?
Loretta: Yeah, actually I would. And that’s part of, that’s part of the system, you know, in both, in both permaculture and in biodynamics as well too, because animals definitely play a role. You know, their poop as they poop, you know, we all have microbes in our stomach as they digest, you know, we are treated to a range of different microbes, you know, so the microbes of a cow are going to be different than the microbes of a horse. They’re going to be different than the microbes of like a bunny. Microbes have worms, you know, they’re going to be different as well too. So yeah, no. So animals definitely play a part and they give us completely nitrogen rich fertilizer that can be, or poop that can be composted down and use to enrich the soil. So yeah, animals are huge.
Ivy: So when people are asking these questions about the kinds of pest control, what would be an answer that would be like a good answer where you’d be green-lit to, okay, this is a farm I want to support.
Loretta: Mm, you would, well you would ask them, wait, hold on a second. Let me think about that. Cause I’m like just trying to recall my conversations with with just like farmers that it’s like, that I used to talk with at the farmer’s market, you know, and —
Loretta: Well, maybe a better question is what do you do to control pests?
Loretta: That is a really good question. So I don’t do that much, quite frankly. I just kind of let it happen and and I take it as part of the feedback. So I know that if I’m having like a pest outbreak, you know, I know that that plant isn’t being given what it needs to fully like function. You just —
Ivy: Pests attack unhealthy plants.
Loretta: Exactly. So with the exception of say like, yeah, there’s always going to be aphids on kale, you know, and I’m just going to switch them and I’m going to rinse them off and that’s it and I’m going to move along my day, you know, so extra protein, extra protein. Yeah. But, but it’s more, I think, kind of like for, for other people it’s more for like the ick factor cause people are like, what is this? Like I just got a text like, and somebody was like, what is this? Can I eat it? They sent a picture of like a garden or like a, a plant in a lettuce in a garden that we had just put in and they’re like, what is this? And I’m like, it’s just an aphid. Like, you know, it’s just rinse it off, move, just eat it. It’s all good. It’s all food, you know? So yeah. Yeah.
Ivy: I remember we had a garden growing up, my, my siblings and I, and we would be, you know, just distraught to find like as soon as something would grow, like before it was even right. Sometimes it was just, you know, the squirrels got the apricots. So that’s–
Loretta: I mean mammals are definitely a larger part of like, of the LA, of what’s going on in Los Angeles right now. Like rats are really a problem. Squirrels and possums and raccoons, they’re kind of around, but I would say rats are probably like one of the larger problems going in happening in Los Angeles right now. So where do you see this movement headed? This urban gardening movement? How, how prolific has it been here in Los Angeles?
Loretta: Um I think that it’s just going to get bigger and bigger, you know? And as like wellness trends increase, you know, as more people are vegan as more people are more interested in their own self care and in their own health it’s only going to get larger and larger, you know, and it, you know, part of it too, it’s like back to the meditation thing, it’s like, it’s, it’s something that makes everybody so happy. Like gardening makes people happy. It feels good to go get your hands in the earth. You know, the soil is an antidepressant. When you put your hands on the soil, the microbes in the soil react with your skin and it has an antidepressant quality, you know, so we literally get to ground ourselves, you know, so I think it’s only going to get larger and larger and gardening is not, it’s not the same as it was like 20 years ago when it was more of like a grandma thing, you know?
Loretta: So I think it’s gone, it’s gotten a lot sexier. And I think that there’s a few more stylized nurseries that are a lot more curated and that are more mixed in with like the art and music scene. And I think that has a lot to do with it. And I think people are also more interested in habitat than they were before. So you see a lot more like native nurseries, native plant nurseries, and I think also the rise of social media. So I personally see that just from Instagram, like communities are able to connect more and people are able to connect more. And I know when I was first starting off, I just, we just all started following each other on Instagram. And then it’s like you would see somebody in event and then you would become friends and then all of a sudden you have like a little community, you know, so–
Ivy: Amazing. What would you say is the main demographic of your clients? For example, like the people that come to you with, for support starting their gardens at home? Is it, is it young people? Is it old people? Are they wealthy?
Loretta: I would say it’s probably people that are people that actually ask for installs are probably in their forties and fifties because they can afford it because it’s a little bit of a luxury to have somebody come to your house and set everything up for you or their people. I get a lot of like DIYers who are probably in their twenties and thirties or new homeowners in their twenties or thirties who ask me for consultations. And so I kind of go there and I’ll sort them out, you know. So that’s another demographic. But I would say that age range is typically people that are trying to do it on their own. You know, they’re typically trying to do it on their own for sure.
Ivy: And what would that look like? Like for, for someone who just wants to get started and doesn’t know how to start, what, what advice would you give them?
Loretta: I would say start small and scale up, you know, so maybe start, if you actually have like a plot of land, you know, add some organic matter to it. You know, you can get a couple bags of, you know, soil amendment, throw it in there and start really small and scale up. Start with what you love to eat. You know, first of all, find out if it’s in season, so know your seasons. Sometimes people will ask me like, I just want to grow cucumbers. And I’m like, that’s great, but it’s January. So it’s a little bit too cold for cucumbers. So know your seasons, you know, and know what to plant when and, and I love to start people off with just really simple Mediterranean herbs, drought tolerant herbs, you know, throw them in the ground.
Loretta (28:56): They’re always going to be pretty forgiving of whatever if you, you know, start to neglect them. And they’re always, usually they’re super medicinal. So, and can you plant those anytime of year here? Sure. Any perennial you can plant all year round and perennial means it’s, it grows all year long. It never dies. It never sets seed and dies. So it grows all year round. But usually it’s like with our LA climate, it’s going to go through like a period of dormancy. So it’s kind of not really going to be growing that much depending on the weather, you know, in December or January, you know, like when it’s, it’s coldest, you know, like the darkest month. So you shouldn’t get discouraged if it goes underground for a while. Yeah. I see people have a lot of high expectations or they think that because we can something at the supermarket year round that we can grow at year-round.
Loretta (29:45): Cause if the farmers are growing it then they could grow it too. But the farmers are just really meeting our demand for out of season produce. Right. Cause it’s being shipped from shipped or they’re, you know, they’re hooping and heating, you know, their house says or you know. Yeah. So yeah. And for someone who is a home gardener, how do they protect their space from, say, you know, the gardener next door who might be spraying Roundup or is that a concern to ha? Like, if, if for example, if I wanted to plant some herbs in my garden that’s right next to the lawn and I know that, you know, maybe a year ago the gardener there who owned the land had put chemicals in the soil. Could my food be absorbing that? Yeah. There, there’s always that possibility. And I would just say move it. I would just say move it and find another area.
Loretta (30:44): You could you could talk to the gardner, you could talk to, you know, you could talk to your neighbor, you know but I would just move it for your own safety. You could also try a raised bed, right. So a lot of people use raised beds when when they have tested their soil and they know that maybe there’s like some heavy metals or something in their soil, so they’re going to build up, you know, so the roots aren’t going to absorb anything cause they’re just not tapping into that soil. It’s definitely a concern. But I would say it’s not one of, it shouldn’t be just like the standard person’s main concern. I think that people should really just focus on just grow stuff. Just see what happens, make mistakes. Consider it grownup play. You know, a lot of people get so bogged down with like they have to do it right or they’re going to get graded or it’s like another, another thing to do perfectly or, or it’s another Instagram photo op, you know, so it’s like just get in there and just really consider it like grown up play, you know, and just have fun and don’t be afraid to make mistakes and know and consider failure.
Loretta (31:54): Just like one, one step closer, you know, and just enjoy it and spend time, you know, spend time with the plants. You know? Would you recommend for everyone across the board to test their soil before getting started to make sure that there’s no heavy metals or can you test for chemicals like Roundup? You can certainly send your soil to labs, you know, and have a tested or I always tell people not to plant close to the wall of a house because of like old lead paint. You know, you should know like the age of your home, you know, so newer homes are probably not going to have that, that problem. But again, it’s like it’s, it goes back to the soil. So really whatever issue there is with the soil by adding more organic matter that’s going to help remediate your soil.
Ivy (32:44): Even in the cases of heavy metals.
Loretta (32:45): If you have like any sort of doubt, I would say get it tested. But the answer is always organic matter.
Ivy (32:52): And organic matter just means living-
Loretta (32:55): It means like compost, you know, soil amendments. Uit could mean well composted manure, you know, so, yeah.
Ivy (33:04): Great. That’s super helpful. So if someone were to make a raised bed, what would be the ingredients that they want to have some dirt and some organic matter and then are they good to go?
Loretta (33:16): You could, I mean there’s places that you can order bulk soil to fill a raised bed or you can use bed soil, which is probably the safest in terms of like pathogens. And then you could add like your goodies on top of that, you know, so it’s like you could add your compost. If you wanted to add an extra boost of minerals, you could add something called azamite I love to add like, humic acid proud meal. Um those are some of my favorites. Neem, you know, neme is wonderful.
Ivy (33:52): It’s a plant, right.
Loretta (33:52): Neem is like a huge tree, like from India. And and that’s really wonderful as well too, to help build the soil and prevent pathogens in the future. But again, for remediation it’s like it’s all, yeah. For anything, anything that’s happening in, in, in the soil, it’s always about organic matter, you know, beautiful. And that can actually heal it and yeah.
Ivy (34:19): Very cool. So what are some of the barriers you see to this? Like, well, why isn’t everybody growing their own food? It sounds so simple. You just get some compost, throw it in there, plant it, plant the seed.
Loretta (34:32): Some people, they don’t know how, you know, so that’s where it’s really helpful to just like get some help, invest in some help. You know, go to a workshop, ask some people, ask people at a nursery what to do, you know, look online. And I think that for apartment dwellers or, or just when you don’t have, when you just have the window box or you just have like the kitchen, you know, window sill still, you know, people still want to buy plants, they still want to connect with nature. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s in our soul, you know, it’s part of our DNA to want to do that. I feel like, but it’s, it’s so pushed down, you know, it’s really so pushed down. But like I said, if you’re, if you live in an apartment, can always try getting a house plant. You know, you can always have like a pot of Bazell just on your window sill for just like a week and enjoy it, you know, and give it to somebody to compost, you know, something like that. Yeah.
Ivy: Beautiful. So once you do these installs with your clients, how do they then maintain it or you know, save for the, do it yourself person once they’ve created this garden, how intensive is it? Like, how time consuming, how often do you have to replenish the fertilizer, say.
Loretta: Well that’s another reason why it’s — getting back to your previous question, but it’s like why it can be prohibitive is that, you know, it can take a lot of time, you know, growing your food can take more time than we have in our busy Los Angeles lives. But for somebody who’s just put in a garden to replenish the soil, it’s like all you have to do is just like add some organic matter twice a year. So in Los Angeles we have like two main kind of planting seasons for like a standard veggie garden, right? So we have like October, November for cool season stuff, you know, like your Swiss chard, your lettuces, your root vegetables, your kales and your other brassicas and cauliflowers and your onions and radishes and stuff like that. And peas. Right?
Loretta: And then in March, then we have our warm season, right? So that’s when we have our tomatoes and our peppers and our squashes and our beans, things like that. Cucumbers. So those are two kind of main seasons. So whenever you’re planting, you just want to add a ton of organic matter, a ton of soil amendment as much as you can, you know. And other than that it’s, it’s pretty easy. Some people want more handholding, which is fine, you know, which is absolutely fine. And some people just naturally kind of want to do it on their own. And either way, it’s like a total journey. It’s always fun. It’s always fun.
Ivy: It actually sounds pretty easy when you say it like that. Twice a year. Some organic matter. I mean everybody can take a couple hours twice a year to put some organic matter in the soil.
Loretta: Yeah, it’s not that bad. It’s not that bad. And it depends on how much space you have. You know, if you have a larger area and you have fruit trees, you can always add, you know, three to four inches of bark mulch, you know, of just like wood chips and call an arborist and have them drop a load in your driveway and just, you know, spend the day shoveling it out or pay somebody to do it, you know? So, of course, I’m making it sound really easy. I’m like, you just ads, you might be out of work producing.
Ivy: So like maintenance wise, like watering is pretty straight forward. Is there any kind of food you need to put in this soil along with that or just your twice a year compost?
Loretta: I always like to add, you know, like the amendments that are the soil additives that I mentioned before, you know, so it’s like I love neem. I love crab meal azumite, humic acid, alfalfa meal, you know, so as many goodies as you can get into the soil, the better in that twice a year, twice a year, you know refreshing, you know. And and in terms of like irrigation like I said, it’s like I always recommend drip irrigation that’s going to save you a lot of headaches, you know, especially for people that go out of town. But somebody who just maybe has like a few pots, like on their, on their back porch or something like that.
And that’s how they want to start out with, you know, start off with I love to use oils and I always recommend Oyez. So oil is, are these big ceramic vessels, terracotta vessels. It’s an ancient form of irrigation using the ancient, you know, osmosis technique. And so you just fill it with, you bury them. They’re like big, you know, terracotta vases. Like I said, you bury them, fill them with water and the plants will just naturally drink as much.
Ivy: How cool is that?
Loretta : Yeah. So that’s really easy. Just like an easy tip for people. Okay. Make it painless.
Ivy: And then weeding and passes. Do you see that to be an issue or is that not as big a deal as some people might be afraid of? I think that people people think that they have this impression that it’s like if there’s a pest on their plant, then they’ve completely messed it up and their plant is unhealthy and that’s not entirely accurate.
Loretta: They’re just, you really want biodiversity. You know, you’re looking for a diversity of pests and beneficial insects. Right. So so pets, it’s like, you know what, you plant flowers, plant flowers, plant flowering herbs, you plant, you know, you plant things that are going to attract beneficial insects into your garden.
Ivy: Oh interesting. Okay. So by planting flowers alongside with food, it attracts beneficial insects that can maybe put into balance the, the ones that might attack the food.
Loretta: Exactly. So it’s like if you’re planting cilantro or you’re planting any herbs or anything in the daisy family, it’s going to attract lady bugs. Right? So the lady bugs are going to come in, they’re going to lay their eggs and their babies are going to go and they’re going to eat up all the aphids. So you kinda don’t have to worry about it.
That’s why it’s like when I said, when you asked what do you do about pests? And I’m like, I don’t really do anything.
Ivy: Like, well cause you don’t know what to plant with what?
Loretta: Cause it’s just, it’s going to get taken care of. Preventative planting. It’s preventative, you know? And it’s just keeping things in balance, you know.
Ivy: So what are some of your favorite medicinal herbs and foods?
Loretta: I love for just like the standard kind of like backyard, you know, grower. I love Tulsi. Tulsi is a medicinal basil, right? That’s revered in India and it’s an adaptogen. It’s like super anti stress. Really easy to grow. Sometimes it dies out in the winter and that’s fine too. I love stinging nettle. It’s a little bit harder to find it, but but I grow it and I love, I love it when people grow it.
It’s wonderful for the soil as well too. So back to the biodynamic herbs that I was talking about, it’s one of the, one of the herbs that is added to the compost. But it’s just.
Ivy: The same as nettles?
Loretta: Nettles. Yeah. Nettle stinging. That’ll, yeah. I always encourage people to have just like a little patch of nettle, you know, and uI love lemon balm. Uand these are perennials, right? So lemon balm was a perennial stinging nettle is a perennial. Lemon balm is just a wonderful soothing herb tea that is just super, super relaxing and is great and part shade or full sun. So a great in a pot, great in the ground. So it’s good for anybody, you know. UI love lemon verbena too, which is a really relaxing tea. Ubut it’s drought tolerant, so that’s great for people who maybe they’re going to beat up their plants a little bit and.
Ivy: You’re on vacation.
Loretta: Exactly. They need something that’s a little bit tougher, you know, and I love it. Gets huge and it smells so wonderful. So those are some of my favorites. And you know, there’s classics as well too, like camomile. So wonderful. Just to grow a little bit of camomile calendula, I love calendula. Some.
Ivy: Good for your skin, right?
Loretta: It’s great for you can cause it’s an edible flower and you can make a tea out a bit, you know? So I’m more on the practical side. Like I love, I love it when you can grow something that costs a lot of money at Lassens, you know, or whole foods. It’s like a box of calendula tea costs, like $7 or you can just grow it on your own and it’s really, really easy. So those are some of my favorites. But I also, I love the classics too.
You know, things like thyme, thyme is a really wonderful medicinal herb. Same thing with oregano, you know native herbs, you know things like white sage, you know, white sage is really easy to grow. Yarrow is really fantastic. Even our California poppy, like if you’re growing California poppies, that’s a really wonderful medicinal herb as well too.
Ivy: And that’s the, you would cook like with the seeds the poppy seeds.
Loretta: You. I mean, you could make a tea. The easiest way to consume it would to be make it, you know, to make a tea out of like the leaves and the flowers. Yeah. So most of the things that I’ve mentioned are tea herbs. So I think that’s really one of the easiest ways for most kind of like backyard growers and urban gardeners is to consume something and to have a relationship with the plant is through a tea, right. So they can go and just harvest and you don’t even have to dry it. You know, you maybe grab like three times the amount that you would in, you know, like maybe like a tablespoon or two tablespoons of fresh leaves or flowers and steep it, you know, so.
Ivy: That sounds so good.
Ivy: So your line, spade and seed, has some rare edible plants that we maybe haven’t even heard of. What are some of your favorites?
Loretta: I love things like, and this kind of this kind of blends into like another one of the questions, but I love GotU Kola GotU Kola is like one of my favorites and, and I’m pretty practical, so I really encourage people to grow things that that you pay a lot of money for at a–
Ivy: It’s an Ayurvedic herb, right?
Loretta: It is. It’s an Ayurvedic herb and it’s also used in traditional Chinese medicine. And it’s a, it’s a, it’s a Nootropic. It’s like a, it’s a brain herb. It’s also like a skin herb as well too. But I love it because it’s so easy to grow. It’s completely user friendly and I throw it into my smoothies like every day in the summer. So it’s really easy to grow. Yeah. That’s like probably one of my favorites. They all kind of overlap and blend, you know. Ubut I also love Moringa. Like do you know Moringa?
Ivy: It’s a, it’s a leaf. We’ve been hearing more about it cause it’s like a super food, right?
Loretta: It’s a super food. Yeah. It’s a super, it’s considered a super food. And again, it’s really a tree. It’s a tree or it can be like a large shrub that depends on how you grow it.
Ivy: From Africa, right?
Loretta: It’s like it’s native to India, but it’s, it’s grown and it’s used a lot in Africa. It’s used a lot in, in Indian cuisine, right in South India. And it’s also grown in Mexico as well too. And ubut it’s just, and it’s, it’s so nutritious. It’s good for everything. Anything you can think of and it’s high in protein and it’s really easy to grow and it’s drought tolerant once established. And you can keep it in a pot for a couple of years or you can throw it in the ground and in one year it will grow a lot. It’ll get really big. Yeah.
Ivy: Beautiful. Yeah, I’ve seen it almost like advertised as a multivitamins. So high in iron. I think.
Loretta: It’s for everything and it literally, it’s like good for everything and it’s just, it’s so nutrient dense. Yeah. So.
Ivy: Beautiful. Where is that? Is there anything that I didn’t get to that you’d like to share?
Loretta):vI could go on and on talking about plants.
Ivy: Please do.
Loretta (46:39): Some of my other favorite sort of unusual vegetables that I offer and that I love so much and I use all the time, especially in the summer when it’s like peak smoothie season. You know, I love Okinawa spinach, longevity, spinach. I love, I love French sorrel. French sorrel is always good to have around. Tree collards are really useful for people. There are perennial leafy greens, you know, so all throughout the winter they produce massive quantities of leafy greens.
Ivy (47:10): Is it the same thing as a colored green?
Loretta (47:11): It’s the perennial version of, of a collard green, right? So it just gives you such like a critical mass of, of leafy greens of vegetables, you know what else? Mm. Yeah, those are some of my favorites.
Ivy (47:29): And water spinach. Is that or okinawa spinach, is that different than regular spinach?
Loretta (47:34): It is. So spinach is just kind of a common name that is confusing for everybody, you know, so that is, it is definitely different than than just regular spinach that we know. So you can always look at like the common name versus like the scientific name. But like longevity, spinach and Okinawa spinach. They’re both perennials and so, and I always recommend them to people because they’re, they’re fantastic for people who just have like a patio to grow in part shade, part sun. It doesn’t even matter. They’re just like super, super easy to grow. But you also mentioned water spinach so water spinach or King Kong or on choi, which are all the same thing. That’s another one of my favorites as well too. Yeah, just like, and loves hot weather, you know and really good for your liver. Really good for detox. And just super high in nutrients. Yeah.
Ivy (48:27): I was just at a Thai restaurant for lunch that had water spinach with like today or like in Chile. I was like, I’m not sure what that is.
Loretta (48:38): Yeah, water, that’s water spinach. And it’s like you can grow at aquatic li. So it’s great for people with aquaponics systems or hydroponics systems or you can still grow it in the ground, but it’s drought friendly . No, he just likes hot weather. It loves hot weather. So we like that because when things get really hot a lot of our other crops just kind of coop out so we want something to eat. So that’s kind of one that fills that hunger gap along with another one of my favorites that I will have to give a shout out to, which is sweet potato leaves. So sweet potato leaves are super nutritious. They’re more nutritious than the actual like sweet potato tuber, you know, then the actual root that we eat, and they’re used a lot in Asian cuisine, so you can find them at the farmer’s markets when the weather is a lot warmer.
And they’re really easy to grow. You can just throw a sweet potato on the ground. It’s eventually gonna grow and you can eat the leaves. There’s certain varieties that are a little bit more tasty or have a kind of a better mouth feel, but that’s one of my favorites and it’s fantastic and hot weather.
Ivy (49:45): Wow. now When you say you can throw a sweet potato in the ground, do you mean you can actually take a sweet potato that you bought from the market and plant it like you would plan to see and it’s going to grow these leaves?
Loretta (49:55): For sure. Yeah. That’s like the easiest thing that somebody can do. If they wanted to get a little bit more fancy, they could do like what we did and second grade and do like the sweet potato in the jar of water and get the sweet potato slip and then plant the sweet potato, the stem of like the sweet potato leaves. They could do that as well too. Either way will work, you know, and sweet potatoes are one of those that you can tell. They’re one of my favorite things ever to grow, but they’re one of my favorites because and this goes back to permaculture, right? And they are so there’s so many uses for sweet potato and they do so many things right. So you can grow them as like an edible ground cover for your tomatoes and then you can harvest them at the same time when you take your tomatoes out. So like an October, November, when you’re clearing out everything, you can pull out a whole bunch of sweet potatoes.
Ivy (50:51): Yeah. So I’m, I’m trying to follow this. So when you say edible ground cover for tomatoes, you’re planting tomatoes and you have your sweet potatoes that you’ve planted alongside the tomatoes.
Loretta (51:02): Yeah, exactly. And so as the weather heats up and the tomatoes need a little bit of protection, right? So the sweet potatoes are gonna grow. The leaves of the sweet potatoes are going to spread out and grow and they’re going to protect the surface of the soil. But at the same time, you’re able to eat the leaves of the sweet potatoes all summer long. Put them in your smoothies, saute them, and then in October or November, then you’re going to clear it. When you clear out your tomatoes, you’re going to lift out your sweet potatoes. So it’s like more bang for your buck.
Ivy (51:37): And you get sweet potatoes,.
Loretta (51:37): You get sweet potatoes.
Ivy (51:39): Amazing. Yeah, the gift that keeps on giving. Beautiful. Well, thank you so much, Loretta. Such an enriching conversation.
Loretta (51:50): Thank you so much for, thank you so much for inviting me, so it was a lot of fun.
Ivy (51:57): Thanks for listening everyone. Visit us online at futurefood.fm. Subscribe on Apple podcasts or listen to us wherever you get your podcasts and put the power to save the planet on your plate and on your playlist. I’m Ivy Joeva.