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Near Dodger Stadium, the Solano Canyon garden lab

November 3, 2010 |  8:19 am

Community gardens dispatch No. 6: Solano Canyon, Los Angeles

Community-Solano-Renner Al Renner, 70, is a familiar name in Southern California community garden circles, legendary for his success in working the system to get more funds and land available for gardens throughout the county. As executive director of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council, he was intimately involved with the effort to heal the trauma from the 2006 destruction of the South Central Farm. He has started three community gardens: one in Silver Lake, one in Echo Park and, most recently, one in  Solano Canyon.

The first two gardens were small and on private land, limiting their longevity. Solano Canyon, however, is nearly 5 acres in Elysian Park, just over the hill from Dodger Stadium, and it's thriving. There is a fruit-tree orchard, a permaculture cornfield, a solar-powered water catchment system and seven compost bins. What had been a barren hillside a stone's throw from a tunnel on the Pasadena Freeway is now home to Lavender Hill Farm, a teaching garden for at-risk youth established on the slope above the community garden.

Young farmers are growing beds of greens and herbs to be used in local restaurants, learning how to farm with an intended market in mind. They are also getting a lesson in how to water the Renner way.

It's an experiment, the retired aerospace engineer said, like the permaculture cornfield. Like many veteran gardeners, he simply wants to see what works and what doesn't.

Each 100-square-foot plot gets five minutes of water a day, and the kids are each given stopwatches and sent down a row of plants to water, 30 seconds per one-quarter of a plot. They circle the plots twice. No pressurized hoses or long-handled watering wands are allowed, to prevent dousing. Short-handled wands are acceptable, but the preferred method is old-school thumb control.

"Highly pressurized water will scatter your seeds," Renner said. "That's why you wind up with carrots growing among your tomatoes."

For now, think about planting fava beans, not only for their buttery taste but also because of the nitrogen they put back into the soil. Just don't plant them too densely; the inner plants won't get the sun and room they need to do well.

"Last year, we planted fava beans in double rows and they did well," he said, "and so did the lettuces alongside."

-- Jeff Spurrier

Look for Spurrier's posts on the people, plantings, problems and solutions at community gardens every Wednesday.

Photo: Al Renner. Credit: Ann Summa

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