Pasadena Learning Gardens

Resourcing communities to create a healthier more sustainable future

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The Trouble with Roundup

If you didn’t already have serious doubts about the safety of Roundup, check out this article – Roundup linked to diabetes, autism, obesity, heart disease, cancer and more – from the Mother Nature Network.  And to go directly to the source, check out the study abstract from the journal Entropy.

At some point, this toxic substance needs to be banned.  It’s the most popular herbicide in the world and its residue is found on the most common foods of the Western world, including sugar, corn, soy, sugar and wheat.   The industry asserts it is minimally toxic to humans, but this study finds otherwise. (Surprise surprise.)  Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, inhibits cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, which play a crucial detoxifying role in human biology, thus enhancing the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins.  The negative impacts work slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.  The consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

This also brings GMOs into the picture.  The most common GMOs in industrial agriculture, corn, soy, sugar and wheat, are all modified primarily to develop resistance to Roundup, thus allowing for mass spraying of Roundup to control weeds without killing the primary crop.

So, not only should we never use Roundup at home in our gardens but we should work even harder to avoid foods produced from GMO crops, which is a heck of a lot of stuff.  Best to buy locally-produced organic produce and non-GMO processed food.  And/or to grow it and make it yourself.


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Tomatoes – The King of the Garden

Tomatoes are the king of the garden – proof that you can produce food that is among the best in the world.  Here is a quick guide to growing great tomatoes in Southern California.

I have been growing my own tomatoes for more than 15 years and have figured out what works best for me.  I live in the San Fernando Valley but what I do is applicable to most of Southern California, which includes Sunset Zones 18 – 23.



More content coming soon.


Finding the right location is critical to growing great tomato plants and maximizing yield.  Tomatoes like the heat and as much sun as possible.  Ideally, tomatoes should be grown in full sun for 8 hours per day.  You can do it with less sun (as little as 5 or 6 hours per day, as I do) and still get good results, but 8+ hours is ideal.

I plant my tomatoes in both raised beds and large containers as I like to have lot of plants each year.  When planning out your garden, keep in mind crop rotation.  Particularly for tomatoes, annual rotation is important to improve yield and minimize the risk of soil-borne diseases.  Ideally you should have a 4-year rotation but in a small backyard garden that can be tough.  Even just having 2 locations and alternating each year can help, which is what I do.


Once you’ve determined that you have a good location, you need to figure out the optimal time to plant.  If you’re sowing from seed, you should start them indoors from January through March (starting approximately 8 weeks before last frost).  You can then transplant your seedlings into your garden from March through June.  If you have a coldframe or greenhouse, start even earlier, in December.

I typically buy plants at the local nursery (4″ containers) and put my first ones in the ground in March and then add more plants approximately every 3 weeks so that my harvest times are well staggered and my severe heat risk is lessened.  For the first plants in March, I typically put clear plastic on the ground for a couple of weeks prior to planting to warm the soil.  I then use Wallo’Water Plant Protectors to create a temporary greenhouse.

Plant Selection

Given our ideal climate in Southern California, there are virtually hundreds of tomato varieties to choose from.  Having experimented with dozens of different tomatoes over the years, I have concluded that I want to use varieties that are very easy to grow and that provide great yields.  Thus, I often pick hybrids like Early Girl, Better Boy, Big Beef, Yellow Pear and Momotaro.  This year I’m trying out Jetsetter, which got a lot of great press in 2012.


Tomatoes should be planted roughly 24″ to 36″ apart depending on the variety.  It’s important to give them space to allow better sun exposure and provide adequate air circulation, which lessens the chance of disease outbreaks.

When you’re ready to put the plants into the ground, dig a hole much deeper than the root ball so you can bury a few inches of the stem.  Roots will develop from that buried part of the stem creating a healthier and higher yielding plant.  After your plants are in the ground you should stake them or use tomato cages.


Tomato fruit is 95 percent water and they need a lot of water to develop.  Tomatoes should be watered every 5 – 7 days.  Watering should be deep, soaking the root ball.  As you start seeing fruit on your plants, you should water less frequently so that you don’t dilute the flavor.  If you’re growing in containers, you will need to water more often, even daily when it’s extremely hot.

With regard to fertilizer, make sure you’ve properly amended the soil before planting.  Once the plants are developing flowers you can fertilize once again.  And don’t forget to pinch off the suckers.  They steal away nutrients from the plant and don’t produce any fruit.


There are various pests, diseases and environmental disorders that can hurt your tomatoes.  I have been fairly lucky over the years, having few problems with the exception of the occasional cutworm or mold.  One of the best resources I’ve found for identifying and treating tomato problems is the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program.  Check it out at UCIPM Online.


For the best flavor let the fruit ripen fully on the vine.  They should be full size and have deep color and be slightly soft.  Hopefully you’ve planted multiple plants over several weeks so that you can get continuous fruit throughout the summer.

Eating and Processing

Tomatoes fresh off the vine are a real treat.  When eating tomatoes uncooked, pick them as close as possible to the time you’ll be eating them.  It’s best not to refrigerate as a cold tomato has less flavor.  Another flavor tip: the seeds and jelly have more flavor than the meat or skin.  So I never remove those when eating or making things like gazpacho.

More info on processing and preserving coming soon.

Additional Resources

Here are some of our favorite web resources for growing tomatoes.

Steve Goto, the Tomato King, is an expert nurseryman and lecturer based in southern California. He uses organic gardening practices to grow over a 900 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables.  Check out his site:

Tomatomania! is a must-have guide to hundreds of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes as well as a huge community of enthusiastic fellow tomato lovers and the world’s largest (and most fun) tomato seedling sale!

Organic Gardening has always been a great reference.  Here are their 10 Tips.

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What Should I Eat?

So what should I eat?

Recommending a specific diet is very challenging given how different we all are.  Instead of making a lot of specific recommendations, we think it’s best to follow some basic guidelines that are easy to remember and practice in real life.  Here are two basic models that should be considered.  We’re convinced the best options lie somewhere in the space between them.  Also note that we believe the best course for you is unique to you, your history and your environment.

1. Michael Pollan through three books has identified three top-level rules which we champion:

  1. Eat Food – real food, not processed, what grandma would recognize
  2. Mostly Plants – meat is a side dish, and nothing is better than lots of leafy dark greens
  3. Not too much – more was better for most of our history, but not any longer

Here is a more detailed version of Michael Pollan’s, narrowed down to 10 Rules You Should Follow.  For the most complete guide to Michael Pollan’s theory, check out his books Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual and  In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

2. Another excellent model was developed by Joel Fuhrman and is described in his book Eat to Live.  Fuhrman is a doctor who gets the hard cases, and when everyone starts using the term morbid to describe one’s obesity, it really is a matter of life or death.  He addresses the psychological/motivational issues around eating by opening each chapter with a compelling case study.   He looks at food based on nutrients and fiber per calorie, not per serving or by weight.  He believes that we should choose foods based on their nutrient density.  In a nutshell, he encourages us to eliminate grains, starchy vegetables, meat and dairy and to choose lots of veggies and some fruits.

We would also note: Although we would generally recommend eating organic, when price is an issue and conventionally grown food needs to be incorporated, there are certain foods that are more important to get organic than others from a health perspective.   Here is Dr. Weil’s  list of foods that you want organically grown. and there is a link to the healthy 15.  Also, we would encourage you to purchase organic eggs, meat, peanut butter, baby food, cereal, and milk (and we prefer raw).