Today is the summer solstice. The time of year where the tilt of the Earth’s axis is most inclined toward the sun. The sun is in it’s northern most position today.

The concept of the solstices was embedded in ancient Greek celestial navigation. As soon as they discovered that the Earth is spherical they devised the concept of the celestial sphere, an imaginary spherical surface rotating with the heavenly bodies (ouranioi) fixed in it (the modern one does not rotate, but the stars in it do). As long as no assumptions are made concerning the distances of those bodies from Earth or from each other, the sphere can be accepted as real and is in fact still in use.

As someone whose connected to the earth and therefore aware of the passing of seasons, the summer solstice is the time of year when the most work goes into the field. The term solstice can also be used in a wider sense, as the date (day) that such a passage happens. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In some languages they are considered to start or separate the seasons; in others they are considered to be center points (in English, in the Northern hemisphere, for example, the period around the June solstice is known as midsummer, and Midsummer’s Day is 24 June, about three days after the solstice itself). Shakespeare writes about this very day in his famous play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In many cultures, the solstice’s signify the midpoint of a season thus midsummer and midwinter. Since ancient times, June is the time for weddings, feasts, and revelry. For the gardeners out there, June is also the time to harvest strawberries, plant your tomatoes if you haven’t already done that, and tend to the weeds.

One of the most famous symbols in ancient history symbolizing the sun is the imagery of Tonatiuh. Tonatiuh was the sun god as is famously depicted in the center of the Aztec calendar. The Aztec considered him a leader of heaven, Tollan. The Aztecs were fascinated by the sun and carefully observed it. Tonatiuh was said to be the god of the fifth sun. Aztec people believed that each sun was a god with its own cosmic era. The Aztecs lived according to their solar calendar, a seasonal calendar, second in accuracy only to the Mayans’. The Aztec and the Mayan calendar were very similar. Where the Aztec’s differed most significantly from the Mayan’s was in their more primitive number system and in their less precise way of recording dates. Normally, they noted only the day on which an event occurred and the name of the current year. This is ambiguous, since the same day, as designated in the way mentioned above, can occur twice in a year. Moreover, years of the same name recur at 52-year intervals, and Spanish colonial annals often disagree as to the length of time between two events.

Other discrepancies in the records are only partially explained by the fact that different towns started their year with different months. The most widely accepted correlation of the calendar of Tenochtitlan with the Christian Julian calendar is based on the entrance of Cortes into that city on November 8, 1519, and on the surrender of Cuauhtemoc on August 13, 1521. According to this correlation, the first date was a day 8 Wind, the ninth day of the month Quecholli, in a year 1 Reed, the 13th year of a cycle.

The Aztec calendar kept two different aspects of time; tonalpohualli and xiuhpohualli. Each of these systems had a different purpose. The tonalpohualliwas the ‘counting of days.’ It originated by ancient peoples observing that the sun, crossed a certain zenith point near the Mayan city of Copan, every 260 days. So this first system is arranged in a 260-day cycle. These 260 days were then broken up into 20 periods, with each period containing 13 days, called trecenas. Each period was given the name of something that was then shown by a hieroglyphic sign, and each trecena was given a number 1-13. Each trecena is also thought to have a god or deity presiding over each of the trecena. They kept these counts in tonalamatls, screenfold books made from bark paper. The Aztecs used this as a religious calendar. Priests used the calendar to determine luck days for such activities as sowing crops, building houses, and going to war.

The xiuhpohualli was the ‘counting of the years.’ This calendar was kept on a 365-day solar count. This was also the agricultural and ceremonial calendar of the Aztec state. It was divided into 18 periods, with each period containing 20 days, called veintenas. This left five days that were not represented. These were called “nemontemi.” These were the five transition days between the old and the new year, and were considered days of nothing. This was a time of festivals. People came to the festivals with their best clothes on, and took part in singing and dancing. This is also when the priest would perform sacrifices, most of these sacrifices were human, but others were preformed on animals and fruit.

The solar year was the basis for the civil calendar by which the Mexicas (Aztecs) determined the myriad ceremonies and rituals linked to agricultural cycles. The calendar was made up of 18 months, each lasting 20 days. The months were divided into four five-day weeks. The year was rounded out to 365 days by the addition of the five-day nemontemi (empty days), an ominous period marked by the cessation of normal activities and general abstinence. The correlation of dates in the Gregorian calendar is uncertain, although most authors on the subject affix the beginning of the Aztec year to early February. A variety of sources were consulted in developing the following chart of some of the ritualistic activities associated with each month.

Many of the Aztecs’ religious ceremonies, including frequent human sacrifices, were performed at the Great Temple, located in the center of their capital city of Tenochtitlan.

Some helpful hints for the midsummer season:

Since the sun is at it’s northernmost point in the sky, make sure to protect your skin from UVA/UVB rays, use sunblock and cover up as much as possible. It’s time to dust off your favorite gardening hat and bring it with you while you pull weeds, water, and harvest those potatoes! Last week I harvested the last of the broccoli with some of my neighbors. The heads were full and beautiful! As the 4th of July is quickly approaching, pay attention to your potato plants. By now they should be turning yellow and dying. When you plants “die,” they are ready for harvest. My plants still need a few more weeks in the ground before the harvest.

May each of you find your northernmost point in your year and your season today and may you connect with your indigenous roots in the garden and in your life. Good tidings to you! And remember to face sunward every chance you get.


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Advancing Urban Agriculture in Los Angeles

As Just Hollywood prepares for our first community event, a community food assessment scavenger hunt of our corner stores, I thought this podcast would be great context for our mission.

Advancing Urban Agriculture in Los Angeles by ALOUD.

Also, Occidental College has a wonderful program directed toward Food Justice policy in L.A. that you can view here:


Stay tuned for more on justHollywood’s community food assessment!

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As I glance upon the transition I made from California to Maryland, to Jersey, and now back to California, the hardest of these adjustments came as the one I least expected. I thought moving home would be smooth and simple, something I was used to and I had missed. I remember laboring over the decision to move. I had a wonderful house to live in with a greenhouse and farm in my backyard. I had an incredible housemate and friend, I had all my junior farmers that worked in Eve’s Garden with me daily. I had two awesome cats, great neighbors, and weather that I loved. I had finally experienced all four seasons, and what a miraculous experience that was. I had a good job, I loved the kids I nannied and I still find myself talking about those two rascals quite often. Last year, when I was diagnosed with stage one cancer and shortly after, my father had a heart attack, it really had me reevaluate being such a long ways away from home. It wasn’t until October that I finally made the decision to leap. What a long leap that was, nearly 2,800 miles worth of leap. I thought it was going to be easy. I thought wrong.

It took me about three months to fully adjust to being in my new yet old surroundings. Everything and everyone had changed, including myself. It seemed to me that not only did things and people change physically, but biologically, emotionally, spiritually, everything I had once known and called home had evolved, as I did. Things were not the same. I was uncomfortable. I wrestled with making the right decision. I tried to go back. I did go back in my head. Transplanting was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

What does this have to do with community gardening? As I notice those around me in the garden, the people that have rented plots, I realize that many of these people, my neighbors, have transplanted from native lands. Whether it be Russia, Armenia, Mexico, El Salvador, Columbia, Guatemala, Austria, New Zealand, or Zimbabwe, my neighbors are in a foreign land. They come to the garden with hearts full of the weight of their immigrant life. Yet they come. We share, we smile, we commune over various foods and stories of farms in their native lands. Guermillo likes to speak of his family in Honduras and the tropical farming he did there. He has a banana tree in his plot. Stephan talks of the frost and indoor growing he and his family would do in Germany. Stephan and his wife Tatiyana have tomatoes and all sorts of herbs growing in their plot.

Last month I planted some vegetables from the Solanaceae family in little containers with a woman named Lucy. She’s a neighbor of mine in Hollywood whose loves to garden. This week, the peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes were large enough to transplant into the community garden. I wonder if it is as shocking for plants to move from the only place they’ve known to a different land of different soil. I suppose this is why we must “shock” the plants by overwatering before we transplant them. In general, I think transplanting is a difficult process, but like the tomatoes and peppers, Stephan, Guermillo, and I have managed to find a way, to find peace, and to thrive among our surroundings.

Someone once told me, home is where my toothbrush is. I am beginning to learn that home is where I make it. So if you haven’t already transplanted your seedlings, begin that this week. Never transplant or water in the heat of the day. Your plants will thank you later for it.

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Solanacea is pronounced sol-an-a-sea-a. It is an agricultural family of various flowering plants, much of what I plant in the summer months. This family includes species like jimson weed, paprika, chili peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, deadly nightshade, tobacco, and petunia plants. The solanaceae family is ethnobotanical which means it is extensively utilized by humans. It’s interesting to note that as much as we use this family of plants in our daily diets, it is often rich in alkaloids whose toxicity ranges from mildly irritating to fatal in small quantities. Most of what we eat, mainly tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and chili peppers are only mildly acidic. If you eat these in large quantities then you may find yourself overwhelmed with stomach and digestive problems. Nonetheless, these tend to be some of my favorite summer crops to grow in the garden.

There’s nothing like homegrown tomatoes! Just click on the link and see what John Denver has to say about homegrown tomatoes. “there’s only 2 things that money can’t buy, well that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” Heirloom tomatoes are my absolute favorite and make good salsas and guacamoles for dipping. Heirloom simply means the genetic code is saved with the seed and is passed from plant to plant like we would pass along an heirloom piece of jewelry. Heirloom vegetables have become an important part of our garden code because many of the plants today are GMO’d (genetically modified) to forget their biological codes. Why would companies do this? I recommend a little research on your own here but I’d pay a visit to this website: Organic Consumers Association. Heirloom tomatoes just taste better!

So get to planting and I’ll see you in the garden!

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Cinco de Mayo

Last year I celebrated Cinco de Mayo in the garden by roasting corn in our outdoor oven and planting corn in the community garden. It was a great experience. This year, I planted tomatoes and bell peppers with a woman named Lucy behind the fellowship hall on our church property. Lucy is a woman that loves gardening, she doesn’t work but she attends neighborhood counsel meetings, and is very particular about certain things. She seems at times distant but get her talking about dogs or gardens and you’ll be in for a long, methodical conversation.

Cinco de Mayo is often thought of by Americans as the independence day of Mexico. It is actually a holiday which commemorates the victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It is not a popular Mexican holiday and is mostly celebrated in the state of Puebla and in the United States.

One of my favorite staple Mexican food is salsa. So this year, while Lucy and I planted heirloom tomato seeds, we talked about different recipes for salsa. Here is one of the recipes we discussed:

Traditional Salsa

Ingredients: 2 lbs. of heirloom tomatoes; 1 medium red onion; 1 cup cilantro; 1 jalapeno; 1 tsp of salt to taste.

Finely chop the tomato after coring and set into a colander to drain. Mince the onion into small pieces. Chop the cilatro into very small pieces. If you want the salsa to have a kick, leave the seeds of the jalapeno, if not, remove and dice the jalapeno into fine pieces. Start by adding the tomatoes into a bowl, add salt and stir. Now use half the jalapeno, cilatro, and onion then test. Use the rest of the ingredients only to build the flavor and then let it sit. The tomatoes may produce more juice which you can drain off before you serve. Enjoy!

Thanks for celebrating with us. Stay tuned for info on our nonprofit organization, justHollywood. We are awaiting our Articles of Incorporation from the state.

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Arrival of the Artichokes

This week, the first few artichoke heads began to grow to an edible size. I enjoy artichokes. The plants are tall, the blossoms are beautiful and unique and unlike any other vegetable I’ve seen. We have huge artichoke plants along the fence line of our community garden and the plants are communal.

Artichokes are perennial thistles that originated in North Africa. They are known to grow wild there today. Wild artichoke!

If not cooked immediately, placing them in water lightly acidulated with vinegar or lemon juice prevents the brown discoloration which occurs from the chlorophyll oxidation. Did you know that artichokes can be used to make tea as well?

The Benefits:

The majority of the cynarin found in artichoke is located in the pulp of the leaves, though dried leaves and/or stems of artichoke also contain Cynara which are used to increase bile production. Cynarin, an active constituent in Cynara, causes an increased bile flow. This diuretic vegetable is of nutritional value because of its exhibiting aid to digestion, strengthening of the liver function, gall bladder function, and raising of HDL/LDL ratio. This reduces cholesterol levels, which diminishes the risk for arteriosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Aqueous extracts from artichoke leaves have also shown to reduce cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase and having a hypolipidemic influence, lowering blood cholesterol.

The artichoke, if you let it grow beyond harvest point, will produce a beautiful purple wild flower. I suggest allowing at least one to blossom. I promise the sacrifice of one artichoke is worth its beauty.

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Drive by Carroting

I had an incident on the 5 freeway this week that made me think twice about carrots. As I look back, it was funny, but at the time I was afraid for my life and my sister’s life. Sarah, 15, and I were driving home from from the garden on the 5 North toward Valencia, CA. I had reached the 14 Interchange and pulled up next to a big rig truck carrying two compartments that seemed like top loaders. I pulled up on the left side of the truck to pass and as I did, one of the compartments spontaneously opened and poured out thousands of large carrots. The carrots fell over my car, covering my windshield, and splattered all over the freeway. No other cars were nearby so mine was the only one affected by the immediate discharge of the carrots.

My first thought was, “Holy Carrots! My sister’s in the car!” My second thought was, “I’m a farmer and I’m gonna die by carrots.” My third thought was. “I gotta get off this freeway.” When we pulled off the highway we couldn’t stop laughing. But my car was covered in orange bits of carrot from top to bottom. Here’s a picture of my front passenger side wheel well. I got out of the car and took a few pictures. I had hoped an article would be published in the newspaper documenting the event but this will have to suffice. Fortunately, both my sister and I survived the carroting and lived to tell the hilarious tale. Maybe someone will write it up in the Onion. A scary story turned funny. Oh carrots, I still love you.

Watch out for big rigs, you never know the surprises they contain.

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