A New Garden

Before I left for the wilds of Owens Valley, my roommates and I put in a new garden at our not so new house. The available planting area was much smaller than Hyperion, but better in every other way. South facing, good airflow, no crab grass, somewhat decent soil. Unlimited on-site bamboo: both a bane and a boon. We settled on a wide bed with a “keyhole” design next to the house, and a long, narrower bed stretching the length of the fence. The permaculture concept of a keyhole allows you to maximize planting area by reducing path space- all corners of a deep bed are easily accessed from the keyhole.
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Up North

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A place for tools

The tool set up at the old place was fairly dysfunctional. Tools would get strewn everywhere, plants would grow over them. All sorts of interesting hand tools were found when the garden was cleared during the move-out. The space is much smaller at the new house, and I determined to create an affordable home for the tools. Continue reading

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The Seedling Table

Since moving to our new house I’ve engaged myself in a number of projects that have taken significantly longer than they should have. Among them is The Seedling Table. Capitalized for importance and time spent. At the old house I just used an old desk for seedling growing. This was a fairly lame set-up, with the plywood top growing increasingly warped from pooling water.

And so, I set out to make a table with a wire mesh top that didn’t sag or behave weirdly, and this is what I came up with:
I repurposed old 2×4 wood we had around from deconstructed raised beds. I sanded all the pieces down individually with a newly purchased random orbital sander, which worked great. After I put the table together I patched up spots I thought would collect water with wood putty. Then I painted on three layers of marine varnish, sanding lightly in between each coat. Continue reading

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Kittens

Yep. Those are kittens. There is a very friendly stray that hangs around our new house. I was hoping she was someone’s pet and therefore neutered. But then just about a week ago I heard some little peeps from underneath a bouganvilla by our back porch and there were five tiny kittens. The mom is present and nursing them, but now we are faced with the task of dealing with these little cuties. Continue reading

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The wildflowers are here

There are wildflowers in Southern California. The shift in seasons has been so subtle this year that I almost forgot about these wonderful ephemeron. In Los Angeles we have an amazing resource called the Wild Flower Hotline put together by the Theodore Payne Foundation. From March through end of May you can call in and a recorded message will tell you where to find wildflowers blooming that week. There are also PDF reports with pictures and descriptions for download. I’m planning on chasing some flowers down this weekend. Another adorable resource are the folks at Anza Borrego State Park. You can send them a self addressed, stamped postcard and they will mail it back to you about a week before the wildflowers start blooming in the desert.

Below are a few pages from a National Geographic Magazine (April 1942) that I found a while back. The article is titled, “California Says It with Wild Flowers,” and actually discusses Theodore Payne himself in some detail. At the time Mr. Payne had “400 California wildings under cultivation, and the produce of his ten-acre nursery grace[d] the gardens of many an Angeleno.” The Theodore Payne Nursery is still going strong, and definitely worth a visit. I bought two beautiful snapdragons, great hummingbird attractors, there that thrived at Hyperion.

Enjoy the scans. Lots of pretty ladies reclining amongst the “wildings”. And one old guy with a camera, go figure.

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Volunteers

I was in South Dakota for the past week, out amidst corn fields. The weather was unseasonably warm and lacy green was beginning to spread over the ground, branches budding. We even got to snack on a few inch-high fresh asparagus which was cautiously poking up. I haven’t been around this sort of season transition in a few years. I was impressed by all the brown winter plants, long spindly structures with delicate seed heads. My favorite were the tall dried-up milkweed stalks, seed pods like little mouse canoes.

I’ve been more aware of “weeds” recently, these volunteer plants that pop up unbidden through sidewalk cracks, along roadsides and by building edges. I saw a lecture by Nance Klehm a few weeks back, put on by the Huntington Ranch. Nance is a well know forager, farmer and ecological systems designer based out of Chicago. Nance leads urban forages all over the country, showing participants the bounty of edible plants growing in our cities’ forgotten nooks and crannies. Her website, Spontaneous Vegetation, has more information.

The lecture helped me identify a number of plants I had been observing around my new house. There is a much higher diversity of weeds here than there was at Hyperion. More mysterious little flowers and feathery greens. There is one particular area, a large broken concrete basin that used to be a pond, that is just covered with a thick mat of plants. It’s a lady bug sized jungle. Below are a few of my favorite plants, along with identifying links thanks to this wonderful University of California website forwarded to me by a friend. Continue reading

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Worms! (Part 1)

After a SoilFoodweb course I took with Elaine Ingham back in the fall, I decided that worm composting was the best option for processing our household’s food waste. A comparatively easy way to make high quality compost, the worms do most of the work for you. Instead of having to carefully chart compost pile temperatures and regularly turn a steaming pile of organic matter, you just bury small pockets of food beneath moist bedding and let the worms take over. A friend and I both set up worm composting systems about a month ago, I’ll document our experiences in a future post. My primary source of information for setting up my worm composting system has beenWorms Eat My Garbage, by Mary Appelhof. Worm Woman is a wonderful web resource for books, bins and vermicomposting information that Mary created and her company still maintains. While I believe that worm composting is a great option for most urban dwellers, it is definitely a system that needs fine tuning to be fully functional. But let’s start at the beginning, today I want to talk aout how these little wrigglers take a rotten apple core and turn it into beautiful compost!Composting worms come to the surface to snatch food, which they pull into their mouths using a small, sensitive organ called the prostomium. The worms don’t have any teeth, and the food must be small and soft enough to get sucked right in. Certain foods may sit in your bin for a while until other creatures have gone to work on the material to make it suitable for worm ingestion. The food travels down into the gizzard, which contains small particles of grit. The muscular contractions of this organ grind the grit against the food material breaking it down into even smaller pieces. The gizzard also mixes the food with digestive secretions before passing the material onto the intestine for absorption. In the intestine, digestive enzyme secreting bacteria process the material further, breaking it down into soluble nutrients which are absorbed into the worm’s bloodstream. Undigested material passes out of the worm through the anus and voila you have yourself some worm castings! The casting are comprised of bits of broken down plant matter and most importantly, representatives of the beneficial bacteria, fungi and protozoa which reside in the worm’s gut. Very powerful little creatures. I’ll discuss my experience with the worms in the coming weeks, share what has worked what hasn’t. Even when the bins have gone wrong, I can say I’m totally delighted with the project. It’s been fascinating.

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