Lawn care vs. native plants

Errors corrected 1 Jan 08

Google Trends is a way to compare the incidence of key word phrases in search and in news media. In the graph below I compare the incidence of "lawn care" and "native plants" in all Google search (top graph) and in US news media (bottom graph - blank due to insufficient data).

"lawn care" shows cyclic peaks in the spring of each year. "native plants" peaks in the spring as well, but seems to lag "lawn care" by a month or so - is this because the lawn care industry has a well-oiled and proactive PR machine? Are native plant articles usually an afterthought of harried newspaper garden writers?

A similar graph for California alone isn't too interesting because of sparse data.

Of note in the "native plants" graph is the slight uptick for the proper (California) fall planting season, right before "lawn care" declines in advance of winter.


Urban lament

It's a bit upsetting to realize that the coyote howl you thought you heard in the distance is actually an approaching fire truck and that the sound of wind rustling the trees is really the fridge.

Freaking fridge

Before I left on my 1 week Christmas vacation, I had an emergency repair on my fridge to the tune of $329, which is a substantial fraction of the purchase price. (It seems like it was about $1000.) Imagine the pleasure upon my return from vacation, when the fridge is exhibiting the same failure symptoms as before. Sears says they have no appointments until the 2nd, the same day as my electrical upgrade starts. The bottom of the fridge and freezer stay cold, so I'm only slowly losing food to thaw. I'm BBQing some tri tip tonight (two of them) as a result. No idea where I'll keep the leftovers. This fridge is a Kenmore side-by-side, manufactured by Frigidaire for Sears. It's only 23 months after purchase.

Theodore Payne In His Own Words

subtitled, "A voice for California Native Plants" was one of my Christmas reads. I received the book from Juli because of my interest in native plants, but it's only tangentially about native plants. The book is written in three parts. The first part is a fairly detailed account of Payne's life as a ranch hand on the Modjeska Ranch, now known as Modjeska canyon and one of the sites of recent wildfire in Orange County. The second and third parts of parts of the book are anecdotes about the nursery trade. There's a lot of local place references, so for someone who knows the South Coast it sounds like familiar territory.

Here's some of the parts I found interesting:

One afternoon my wife and I went to Redondo Beach. We walked out onto the sand dunes where I usually collected seed of Bush Sunflower, White Snapdragon, and a few other things. I found the Beach Wallflower was ripe, so while I gathered some of the seed, my wife sat down and read a magazine.
Pretty soon a woman came along..."What's it good for, rheumatics?...Makes a good tea, eh?" she exclaimed and started furiously to grab all she could. If she saw a plant before I did, she would try to beat me to it. I was only interested in the seed spikes but she took the whole plant. After gathering all she could carry in her apron she left.
(Seed Collecting at Redondo Beach, p. 131)

From Goleta I went by train to Ellwood Station to visit the Ellwood Cooper ranch. Ellwood Cooper came to Santa Barbara in 1870 and bought this ranch. he became interested in growing eucalyptus and by 1875 had 50,000 trees growing....
I enjoyed meeting them very much. I visited this place on a number of occasions in later years and Fanny Cooper, one of the daughters, collected seed of various kinds of eucalyptus for me.
(p. 95)

During the Eucalyptus boom in Southern California which started in 1907 and continued for five years, there was a good demand for young eucalyptus trees in flats. Quite a number of small Eucalyptus Nurseries sprung up almost overnight. Many of these were operated by people who had regular jobs and who did this work in their spare time. A man would rent a vacant lot, have a water meter installed, purchase a quantity of flats and seed and raise perhaps 50,000 or 100,000 trees.
I supplied many of these dealers with the seed and helped dispose of their young plants....On one occasion I had a customer for a carload of young trees of the Red Gum (Eucalyptus rostrata) to be shipped to the San Joaquin Valley. I made arrangements to buy these trees from a man who raised them on Crocker Street. He was a stock broker by profession and had taken up eucalyptus raising as a side line.
(p. 132)

The Eucalyptus boom burst about 1912. There was now no demand for seed or trees. I had over 100 pounds of seed on hand. Nobody wanted it.
(p. 145)

There's no lesson here about the housing market, is there?

In April 1896 I entered the employ of the Germain Fruit Company, Seed and Plant Department....In those days Germain's handled pampas plumes which were then grown extensively here in Southern California. I represented the firm on this trip and sold over 40,000 of these dried plumes on London, Hamburg and Erfurt. (p. 191)

When I first came to California, what impressed me perhaps more then anything else was the wonderful native flora. But as the years went by it was with deep regret that I saw the wildflowers so rapidly disappearing from the landscape. I made up my mind that I would try to do something to awaken a greater interest in the native flora. Thus it was the a I began to specialize in the growing of wild flowers and native plants. I collected seed of a few kinds of wild flowers, grew then and offered the seed for sale.
Little or no success attended this first venture, it being generally conceded that it was foolish to waste time on "wild flowers." As a demonstration I secured the use of a vacant lot in Hollywood and sowed it with wild flower seeds. I went to Walter Raymond of the Raymond Hotel in Pasadena and asked him for the use of a piece of ground for sowing wild flower seeds. Mr Raymond readily consented and the following spring there was a splendid display. I also secured the use of two lots in Pasadena, one on Green Street and the other at the corner of Lake and Colorado, which I sowed with wild flower seeds. All these plots were greatly admired and I received complimentary letters from many people. This was really the beginning of wild flower planting.
My first wild flower catalog was a very modest little booklet published about 1906. (p.192-193)

Creeping up on To Do list strikeouts

I dropped some yard debris landscaping rocks off with my brother and sister in law this weekend, freeing me of the psychic burden of trying to use them in my landscape. They didn't fit in here, plus I have enough brick and concrete to do all the hardscaping chores that I envision. (Design guideline: Too many building elements makes it look bad.) Looked on as one of a chore cascade, this gets me incrementally closer to striking off some parts of my To Do list, which is again updated as of today.

Garage cleanup is going well which is a direct item on the To Do list and preparation for the coming Electical Nirvanna, provided it doesn't rain.


Places nearby where I could partner dance, if I wanted to and had the time and energy


Cowboy Country in Long Beach
Regency Ballroom in Lomita
Dancer Avenue in Lomita (was Stardance Studio)
Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo
Ballroom Craze in Long Beach
Joslyn Center in Manhattan Beach - Swing and Sway dance on the 2nd Friday of ea month general dancing w/special themes 8-11p
Joslyn Center in El Segundo - Saturdays 7-9:45p, mostly ballroom
South Bay Dance Club (formerly Hughes Social Dance Club) - Fridays, 1st & 3rd of ea month 630-930p
Alpine Village in Torrance
Mayflower Ballroom Wednesdays in Inglewood
Elks Club in Redondo Beach

Christmas vacation

Christmas holiday was in Santa Barbara with family. Meals were delicious - crown roast of pork and boeuf bourgogne for dinner on Christmas Eve and Day, respectively. A new recipe for persimmon pudding was enjoyed, though it was quite a bit lighter than the traditional one. I got some reading in, both for work and for pleasure, some computer upgrades (I Linux'ed an older laptop to use as a wireless terminal), a hike with my son. My brothers and sister were there and my son enjoyed time with them as well.

We saw some old and new family friends, and my son and I took pot shots with a pellet gun at tin cans one afternoon.

The winter freeze in early 2007 (end of the 2006-2007 winter) resulted in bumper crops of acorns across the state (see Masting) and I think that my brothers and I have planted well over 200 acorns from local trees on the Upper 40. We tried last year but with no success - those acorns were far fewer and were prepared according to directions at the California Oaks website, but many became moldy after only a couple months storage. This year we plucked them right from the trees, scraped a divot out in the ground, and covered them up. If all goes well, then we'll choose the ones we like in a year or two.

The woodpeckers had filled an acorn granary in the tall palm trees in the front yard so full that in winds up to 80 mph one night, the trees dropped the acorns like salt from a salt shaker - hundreds all over the ground. There were still plenty left on trees to refill the granary the next day.

The same high winds hit here in LA, but I don't think that they carried the same soot as the winds in Santa Barbara. I came out after two days of winds to find the soot in drifts up to 1/16th in. thick on my car. The soot was from the Zaca fire. Despite significant rain I guess it was still dry enough to kick up in a high wind.

LA Times on fire recovery of California native plants

While away on Christmas vacation with my son I read a promising article in the print edition of The LA Times about native plant recovery around a home lost to fire in 2003. It was a bit brief on the text, but that's to be expected during a time when many are on vacation. I've just now looked online and what I wasn't expecting was that the online version would be so much better, with far more pictures and more vibrant colors.

December 27, 2007

IF one were to look back at Southern California's top news stories of the year and wonder how a victim of wildfire could find solace in the loss of a home, Michael Bright has an answer.

In October 2003, as fire spread across Palmer and Evey canyons north of Claremont, the flames charred not only the manzanita-covered hillsides but also the house that Michael shared with wife Mary. Their life's possessions were lost.

But as the couple worried if they could recover from the blaze, the landscape surrounding the ruins of their home provided some inspiration. Just three months after the wildfire, signs of life began poking from the blackened ground.....

LA Times article on fire recovery of native plants.

LA Times photo essay on fire recovery of native plants.

The photo essay is linked from the article.


The LA Land Tree of the Week is Juglans californica var californica, also known as Southern California Black Walnut to you and me.

I've taken an interest in our native walnuts since going on the Payne Foundation garden tour and stopping to see a remnant walnut woodland in Encino where a road was once planned, but never put in. Walnut woodlands are far rarer than oak woodlands because they generally coincided with places people wanted to put homes. While there, we were encouraged to take several green walnuts with us, which I subsequently planted and which grew marvelously well without any special treatment. Several are now on the upper 40 slope at my parents' place as experiments and one is still in my back yard.

Aside: Dog latin plant names and plant nomenclature seem designed to trip one up. Here's one bit of trickiness that I think I've figured out. If you were to point to an arbitrary "Southern California Black Walnut" growing wild, then it would be "Juglans californica". However, if you were to purchase it from a nursery, you would get "Juglans californica var. californica" (frequently also "Juglans californica californica"), which is just a way of describing that the purchased variety was originally selected by the nursery trade from among a large number of wild Juglans californica plants, and may well be propagated from a cutting to ensure growth habits consistent with those known for the parent plant. (As a further aside, this makes it a clone of its siblings, which ought to be a consideration when thinking about biodiversity issues, though I would guess this is far from most gardeners' minds.)

I disagreed with some of the preferred habitat descriptions that were called out in the Tree of the Week, ("the SCBW prefers to grow on moist sites, northern slopes, and in streamside woodlands accompanied by oak or cottonwood") so I looked to some web resources at the Payne Foundation (my old favorite online plant reference guide) and Calflora (my new favorite online plant reference guide) . Consulting with both references, I found no preference for moist growing conditions. In fact Calfora states, "Wetlands: equally likely to occur in wetlands or non wetlands."

I was about to move on when I happened to look at some of the pictures of Juglans and noticed that the leaves were quite different from the plants that I have started so successfully in my back yard and on the upper 40. The leaves on my plants are pinnately lobed, but on Juglans they are invariably described and pictured as ovate to lanceolate (in other words singly pointed, not lobed). Is it possible that the juvenile growth habit of the leaves is different than the mature growth habit or did I just get a bunch of something other than Juglans but which resembled a walnut very much?

This is something I'll have to track down.

EDIT 30 Dec 2007: I asked my local nurseryman and the consensus is that the plant is Lavatera. I was told Lavatera maritima, but there's no Calflora listing under that species name. Comparing leaf shape and growth habit to the pictures I get Lavatera assurgentiflora (tree/bush/island/San Miguel island mallow), a California native flowering shrub to 15 feet tall. This is a nice plant with beautiful flowers that is happy to coexist with oak woodlands.


More rain 0.11"

0.11" of rain today and tonight. The storm seems to have passed and the forecast is for sunny skies for the next week.

Endangered species in my neighborhood

A recently released EIR for an underground aviation fuel pipeline to LAX calls out Coulter's goldfields among other California native plants as growing in a nearby sensitive area (the circular border of the sensitive area ends only blocks away from my house near the Lawndale / Hawthorne border). I suspect the naturally occurring goldfields are long gone, but if not then I have to suppose that seed that I have strewn about my yard willy nilly may dilute the local wild seed gene pool.

Above is a map of the sensitive areas. Despite its large size it has poor resolution even when viewed within the EIR from which I took it. The conspiracy theorist inside wonders if that's purposeful in order to obfuscate exact locations?

In addition to goldfields, also indicated in my area is San Bernardino aster (asters are in the parent family of sunflowers, I think). The next closest (and somewhat overlapping) sensitive species is California Orcutt grass ("An old report from the junction of Western Avenue and Rosecrans Avenue in Los Angeles around the old municipal airport is apparently an extirpated site." Orcutt grass is associated with vernal pools, now presumably paved over. ). Prostrate navarretia, another vernal pool plant in the flox family, is also located nearby.

According to this map, other endangered plant and animal species observed in the South Bay (LAX to PV, beach to Lomita) include Lyon's pentachaeta, Pacific pocket mouse, Mohave tui chub, coastal California gnatcatcher, tricolored blackbird, southern tarplant, Coast (San Diego) horned lizard, South Coast saltscale (Atriplex pacifica), Orcutt's pincushion (so rare or inconsequential that Calflora.org has no picture?), beach spectaclepod (Dithyrea maritima), spreading navarretia, coastal dunes milk vetch, Parrish's brittlescale, Brand's phacelia (not indexed in Calflora.org under that name).

If I could find some, wouldn't it be cool to propagate seed from some of the local plants?


Rain 1.0"

Exactly 1.00" of rainfall in my backyard from the storm ended today.

Grace reported 1.3" in a comment under the last rain update. She's about 3 miles away. I find it interesting that there can be a 30% difference in rainfall over such a short distance when the storm had a good 16 hours or so to distribute itself over our back yards.

Despite the inequities of local rainfall, I was out in it last night scattering small amounts of seed in the meadow and front yard: Goldfields and Lianthus. My lesson from last year is not to scatter too much seed, though I would guess that not a whole lot could grow through densely planted yarrow in the meadow area. Some remnant seed from last year has already sprouted at the edges of the meadow. Hopefully nature will have a better aesthetic sense than I did and I won't get a thicket effect again this year.

California native plant interest list II

01 May, 2008
03 April 2008
21 Mar 2008
10 Feb, 2008
05 Feb, 2008

This is a list of (mostly) California native plants that I'd like to know more about or that I know I'd like to try gardening with.

Venegasia carpesioides (Canyon Sunflower) - might be fun, 5-6' tall, bushy, sand to clay, part shade to sun, semi-dry to regular water. Las Pilitas will have this in the summer.

Dodecatheon clevelandii clevelandii "Shooting Star"- no widely acknowledged common name. I've seen some references to "Padres Shooting Star". Grows to 18", spring flowers, wide soil range, semi-dry soil. I've ordered seeds from the Payne Foundation 5 Feb 08 and planted them. No visible growth as of 21 Mar, or as of 1 May. I read somewhere that the seeds are hard to germinate, requiring cold stratification, so it's perhaps not surprising that I haven't seen any germination from this plant. "One of the most most stunning wildflowers" according to calflora.net (not to be confused with also excellent calflora.org)

Linum lewisii (Blue Flax) evergreen, blue summer flowers, arching branches to 18", sand to clay, sun to part sun, dry to regular water. I've ordered seeds from the Payne Foundation 5 Feb 08 and planted them. No visible growth as of 21 Mar. Some growth in the 4" pots that I seeded. 2" to 4" plants as of 1 May 08.

Thysanocarpus spp. (laciniatus, curvipes) - lacepod or spokepod. Annual flower 15" tall with distinctive wheel shaped seed pod.

Castilleja exserta (Owl's Clover) - annual

Claytonia perfoliata (Miner's lettuce aka wild Purslane) - for my vegetable garden or let it naturalize around the flower beds. One reference had clatonia perfoliata mexicana called out, but subsequent search of the web didn't turn that up. Payne Foundation has seed in their current seed list. I've ordered seeds from the Payne Foundation 5 Feb 08. Got more seed 15 Mar. Remains to be seen if I can naturalize it in my yard. 01 May: Failed. Peat pots, scattered seed, and 12" One Pot project all failed. Maybe it really needs earlier sowing.

Wyethia angustifolia (southern mule ears) - Sun to partial shade. Heavy soil preferred. Slow (even glacial) to initially establish and spread. Could go along fence in back. Hmm - fence comment and earlier was apparently when I thought this was a different plant. A little more sleuthing turns up awhole bunch of different Wyethia at Calflora.org I should use Calflora more often, it is a bit more sophisticated than the nursery info sites. When I first wrote this, I must have been thinking of...

...Wyethia ovata, which has a really distinctive broad and vertical leaf. It's also native to LA County. Feb '08 - I have asked local native plants people to see if traded seed can be found. Appears not to be available in any nursery.

Aster chilensis (Coast aster) - Native to SB County and parts north. Will stabilize hills. Use on Upper 40?

Madia elegans, Tarweed. Apparently has indescribably good scent, yellow flowers, 6-36" tall (Larner Seeds has it at 4' to 6' tall!) Stover Seed has it in their database. Not available at the Payne Foundation as I write this.

Digitalis (Foxglove) - not native, but interesting to me because of historic medicinal use. This is in my "edible" plants category.

Here's the list of plants that were formerly on the interest list.

Fraxinus dipetala (Flowering Ash, no widely accepted common name) shrubby tree. Native in Los Angeles County chaparral / transverse ranges, requires excellent drainage so not suitable for my garden.

Fraxinus velutina Torrey (velvet Ash, Arizona Ash) is also native to Ca and grows locally in the wild. Not interested in using it at this time.

Salix exigua? (Narrowleaf Willow as seen in the Madrona Marsh demonstration garden). Western states native if it's really exigua. Bamboo-like. Elegant screen. 10'. Don't really have a place for this in my yard, but I really like its growth habit.

Sidalcea malaeflora (Checkermallow) - This is on my list from some time ago when I missed out on the sole example at the fall Payne Foundation plant sale. Got some at TPF 15 Mar. Planted two in meadow.

Symphoricarpos mollis (Southern California Snowberry, Dwarf Snowberry, Creeping Snowberry) to 1' high, shade to coastal sun, tolerates clay. Purchased at TPF 15 March and installed in garden as experiment. Very nice delicate looking leaf and growth habit. Under pepper tree. Very elegant looking.

Betula occidentalis (sometimes identified as water birch, but no widely accepted common name) shrubby tree. Not wild in Los Angeles County, so of less interest.

Salvia apiana (White Sage) - Want to use in place of Morea off front porch. Purchased at ToL Nursery on 9 Feb and planted in front yard. Died. Lack of water during establishment period?


Electrical nirvana starts on Jan 2

I have a signed contract and a start date (weather allowing) for a panel upgrade: Jan 2. I'll need to clean and prep the interior garage corner and wall between now and then where all this will all take place.

$1800 buys me the new panel, an interior 150A subpanel, and two ground rods (one in the earth outside and one through the concrete floor of the garage, thereby avoiding the narrow side yard). I'll add a 120V exterior receptacle, a 120V 4-gang interior outlet in the garage, and an empty 240V receptacle and box (also in garage) for a couple hundred bucks more.

I am doing the stucco repair afterwards and consider this a good price.


More 15 minutes part II

The second of my home improvement posts has appeared over at the Times. The first post had a couple questions, which I answered. The second post has only one response (mine) at this time. That's par for the course with Kathy's blog - it hasn't seemed to generate the fevered interest of other LA Times blogs. Actually, I'm pretty flattered to have the two responses.

The original text I wrote is listed lower down the page here. I had to use blogger.com as a text editor while composing my post over Thanksgiving.

I think the Times did a good job of focusing my verbiage, short cutting my non-obvious humor and slightly pedantic style, and stitching in captions to the pictures that I provided. Bravo Times! Actually, I suspect Peter Viles (of their Real Estate Blog) did the editing, since I got a couple emails from him during Kathy's absence. There's a definite craft to journalism writing.


Decline of the West as seen through a martini glass

Consider this: “Five dry martinis symbolizing the decline of the West — up with twist.”

Rain 0.35"

0.35" last night. Cold winds (for California) blowing tonight.

Edit 12 Dec: There were a few more scattered showers that didn't leave enough to record. With the 0.35", the seasonal total is 2.14" in my back yard. 2.18" is the median rainfall over the past 60 years by the end of December. You might think, therefore, that we're on track to end up with a median or greater amount of rain this year but with weather it's still anyone's guess.


More of my 15 minutes

The LA Times is running an article I wrote in their home improvement blog, Pardon Our Dust. I and several others were asked by maestra Kathy Price to fill in during her absence. When the second part runs, I'll unveil the original here so that we can all check out the editing.

I'm not unhappy with the editing job, since I feel that they made a few improvements.

Grace noticed first and asked in another post if I had before pictures. She asks, "I saw your kitchen remodel in Pardon our dust. Will you show pix of your kitchen in its current state?"

Ans: I wasn't planning on it, but when I clear some stuff out in preparation for taking down the wall I'll be sure to snap a few before pictures.


Electrical nirvanna, one step closer

Gene from 1-Stop was by again today and we talked prices and schedule.

He'll give me a written quote in a day or two. I need to get him the authorization number from Edison (it has a three letter acronym that I can't remember now). We discussed how to address my concerns about the ground wires protruding out too much into the side walk. My idea was to drill through the garage floor and hide them with cabinetry. Gene thought he could drill through the sill plate and keep it really out of sight. Another alternative is to locate one just around the corner from the panel (outside) where I can protect it with some PVC pipe when I regrade and put in a new patio / work area.

We have a start date goal of Jan 2.

Update 11 Dec 07: I needed my "MSR" number from Edison in order to proceed with the permit application and I obtained it via a series of voice mail exchanges with Tom C last week. (705420) Today I called Gene to let him know I had it and set up a meeting on 13 Dec to go over the bid.

Bringing Nature Home

There's a post over on Garden Rant about a new book by Doug Tallamy, _Bringing Nature Home_, which urges you to plant 100% native gardens.

The book sounds interesting, but I'm linking mostly because of the follow up comments by Chuck of the whoreticulture blog, who has some very specific advice for California native growers.


Edison delivers, again

Tom Cross from Edison was back at my place today to re-re-spot my new electrical panel location. We talked on the phone and he indicated that he was viewing the area I'd marked with blue chalk. All is O.K. for a panel in that location, except that if it is to be a surface mount panel then I might not have enough clearance (36" is required - my measurements indicate about 39" from the wall) to the side yard fence.

I assured him that I intended to put in a flush mount panel. I think that most electricians don't bother with flush mount panels because it's so much easier to put in a surface mount. I've wanted flush mounted from the get go for aesthetic reasons.

This was the information that my electrical contractor, Gene from 1-Stop Electrical (310-676-4520) was waiting for to go ahead with a bid, so I've let him know that I had success.

To Do list updated.

Rain 0.88"

It looks like I was wrong about no rain until January. 0.84" today in my back yard.

update: another 0.04" last night, bringing the total for this storm to 0.88".


Unamplified speakers: The PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers seem to be highly rated and in my price range ($279) as are the Paradigm Atom Monitor v.5's ($249). Onix x-ls speakers have a good review or two and more favorable pricing ($200)

When looking for loud speakers for computer systems, it seems that you can find only amplified systems. Of these, the M-Audio Studiophile DX4 seems to be rated highly for audio source materials (not games) and comes in at an affordable price point. Samson Resolv 40a's are similar (repurposed monitors) but have higher power ratings.

Music to look into: Miles Davis and Gil Evans' Porgy and Bess


Last Child in the Woods

I've been reading _Last Child in the Woods_ by Richard Louv. He speculates upon a beneficial nature / mind link.

see http://www.thefuturesedge.com/

One of the central elements of Mr. Louv's thesis is that because nature is a highly enriched environment, it can have beneficial effects on peoples' (particularly childrens') mental states. He has a well-written argument that I won't repeat here.

My experience with my son at the Lair convinced me that Mr. Louv has a bead on some elements of truth. My son went to the Lair somewhat unhappy and came back much happier, a state that has persisted. His best activity there was unstructured play in the creek - exactly the sort of play that Mr. Louv states is most beneficial.

I am aware that you can draw an infinity of lines through one data point.


Perennial vegetables

Could be worth a try. Everyone's favorite, artichoke, is well known as are asparagus and rhubarb. I failed at growing rhubarb last year and the year before and the year before so maybe I'll have luck with some other vegetable.

Full articles here and here in the SF Chronicle. My attention to the article courtesy of whoreticulture.

My notes, condensed from the articles
  • Cardoon - eat the mid ribs
  • French sorrel - In mild climates, the lemony leaves are edible year-round
  • Jerusalem artichoke (a.k.a. sunchokes) - The tubers are crisp, nutty and sweet, and can be eaten raw, baked, boiled in soups or mashed along with potatoes.
  • Lovage - large celery-like perennial that grows up to 6 feet tall. Its flavor is very intense. The young leaves and stems lend themselves well to soups.
  • Mashua - An Andean root crop, mashua is a relative of the nasturtium. Mashua is a vigorously growing vine; give it a trellis to climb. The long, white, fingerlike tubers, which can be baked, roasted or put in a soup.
  • Nettle - Cooking will take away the sting, and the cooked tender leaves and shoots taste like spinach.
  • Oca - Andean root crop grown similar to potatoes. The tubers are harvested at the end of the growing season.
  • Pepino dulce - The pepino plant actually produces a fruit similar in taste to cantaloupe.
  • Tree collards - Produce a kale-like brassica leaf year-round in cooler climates. The leaves are good steamed, braised and in soups, stews and casseroles.
  • Yacón - An aster, and yet another Andean root crop, yacón produces small, football-like tubers that are mostly eaten raw, similar to a jicama.


Romero Canyon hike

I hiked up to the top of Romero Canyon today. I've tried twice before, but took a wrong turn the first time (still had a decent hike) and ran out of water the second time (forcing me to turn back). This is a steep hike with what I estimate was a 16 mile round trip - 5 miles up to the fire road (option to cross the fire road to Blue Canyon trail) plus 3 miles along the fire road before I decided it wasn't going to descend into the correct canyon, and then retrace steps. That's quite different than the guide book. Im sure that I could have cut that trip down had I known a bit more about the local trails. Zzzzz.

Draft of LA Times blog post

Edit 10 Dec 2007: I composed this while away on vacation and it was published in the LA Times blog, Pardon Our Dust, in early December. I kept it stored as a draft while awaiting the final version on the LA Times site, who had promised that their crack editors would work over my scribblings.


Sometimes, perhaps often, progress slows to a crawl when you are doing your own remodeling. This is particularly true if your family also has to live in the house while it is being remodeled. Advantages of living in your remodel are cost savings, ample time to consider your mistakes (hopefully while in a planning stage), and seeing how changes will affect how you live in real time. I struggle with slow progress on the remodeling front since it's a part time gig for me and my paying job has been fairly demanding in the past year.

My current home remodeling focus is my kitchen, the first step into home remodeling on the path of a renovation / remodel that includes everything from the property line in. My landscaping and hardscaping changes are well underway are proceeding in parallel with the house remodeling activities. I'm pretty happy with progress on that front (it's also a DIY effort).

In the summer of 2006 I was inspired to start actively planning a kitchen remodel on my mostly-original 1954 single family home of about 1100 square feet located in Hawthorne. The house had been a rental before I purchased it, and maintenance and upkeep had been quite basic as a result. On the plus side, I didn't have to worry about ripping out a 1970's avocado green kitchen. On the negative side, I have a very basic starting point: For example, range ventilation is currently through a hole in the ceiling!

The kitchen is a central point of focus for my family not only because I enjoy cooking a lot but also because we do most of our homework and other projects at the kitchen table, currently planted in the middle of the small and inefficient 1954 kitchen. With the tight space, it's a good thing that everyone is friendly when we have family over. Knowing I could gain the most from a kitchen remodel, I started there.

Kitchen Design Goals: Fit in the existing house footprint, use existing waste lines (they are in my slab, therefore difficult for me to move), improve efficiency, more counter space, more cupboard space, modern appointments (like a range hood and drawers on full extension slides, for instance), room for more than one cook to work at once (counter space plus an extra sink), ability to handle dinner for two to sixteen, better traffic flow, and better access the outdoors.

Starting with my kitchen design goals*, I used Ikea Kitchen Planner, a free design tool from Ikea.com, to sketch out many new designs for kitchen. One of the things that I'm glad I did was to include adjoining spaces in my design (Ikea Planner is not ideally set up to do that, but with my floor plan it wasn't too hard to add). This extra design effort allowed me to visualize several configurations that liberated nearby areas to varying degrees and led me to the conclusion that I needed a corridor style kitchen, completely open on one end to the living room and with doors at the opposite end to the back garden. At the time of my first design efforts, the interior end of the kitchen ended in a wall and short interior hallway while the exterior ended in a pair of double hung windows. A door on a third wall exited to the outside, with impressive views of the nearby garage.

My new design eliminates the interior (load bearing) wall and hallway and the replaces the double hung windows with French doors opening onto a patio and backyard garden. The exit on the third wall is eliminated too. With this floor plan, use of space is far more efficient than before: An interior hallway in this particular location made no sense, particularly when space is at such a premium. Removal of the interior wall completely allows natural traffic patterns to develop and takes away some constraints on where I put both kitchen and living room furniture - the dining room table can go partly in the kitchen and partly in the living room now, becoming an even more multi-use table. I can add leaves to the table when I have guests and expand it into the living room, ensuring everyone has enough elbow room. Changing the windows to French doors allowed me to take wall space from the location of the old side exit which was necessary for counters and cupboards.

[Insert kitchen plan pictures here - before and after]

* I'm engaging in the common amateur fiction of claiming that I started with my design goals. In actual fact, I started by playing with different floor plan configurations while keeping my constraints loosely in mind: DIY where possible, cost, staying within the existing floor plan, etc. The actual list of design goals grew out of that process, but wasn't even codified in writing until this blog post was written. There's nothing wrong with that - an organic process is a learning process and internalized design goals are design goals nonetheless. Professional designers will probably start with design goals because they charge by the hour and wandering through all possibilities is a costly endeavor. However, when you DIY, you have the luxury to believe that the time you spend on the project is free.

[End blog 1]

[Start blog 2]

In a chain of events that I've jokingly referred to as cascading home repairs, you start out with one task in mind and then discover that you have to do a second major task in order to complete your goal. However, in order to complete the 2nd major task, you discover that you have to do a third, and so forth. In that way, a simple kitchen remodel becomes a string of cascaded chores, each dependent upon the previous one. My home renovation friends all smile knowingly, since they know exactly what I'm talking about: That when you say "kitchen remodel" you actually mean the long chain of activites that will eventually lead to new cabinets and counters.

The list of significant cascaded home remodeling tasks that I have to complete before I can even begin on the kitchen part of the remodel is given below:

Replace double hung windows with French doors to allow access to kitchen - DONE
Upgrade electrical panel to allow for modern kitchen requirements
Route gas line to new range location
Re-wire kitchen from new panel, at least enough to preserve functionality during construction
Disable gas and electrical in interior load bearing wall
Demolish load bearing wall, replace with engineered beam (Glulam likely)

The French doors were the work of a weekend to install with the help of a buddy who had done the task before, but the planning for that one task, including getting materials on site took the better part of two weeks. I used salvaged doors from the Habitat for Humanity Store, so the cost was low - for four doors I paid something like $300. I'll use the other matched set of doors on a bedroom, but that's a story for another day. The end result of the window replacement was dramatically better light in the kitchen than the windows, plus gracious and convenient outdoor access, giving me hope that my planning would pay off.

About a year ago I had jumped the gun a bit and solicited bids from local electricians to upgrade my panel. The electrical panel currently has a grand total of four circuits, two 20A circuits and two 15A circuits, with no room for expansion.

[Insert picture of current electrical panel]

My life being what it is, I wasn't able to act on the bids right away. That turned out to be a stroke of good luck, since I had a change of heart about where I wanted to locate the new panel. My brother, veteran of his own remodel, advised that I should locate it on the side of the house so that if I ever wanted to extend the back of the house I wouldn't have to again relocate the panel. Additionally, he reminded me that it would be out of sight from the backyard, an aesthetic advantage when you're talking about a (large) 200A panel. I thought he was dead on and called Southern California Edison to approve the new meter location. My next call was to Gene from 1-Stop Electrical. He had given me a reasonable price before, so I invited him back over on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to give me an estimate for the new panel upgrade.

I had a short list of the things I wanted him to bid separately which I presented and we discussed when I met him at the property. What follows is the list that we agreed that he'd bid to, since through our discussion he was able to augment and improved my original list.

200 A electrical panel, mounted in the south wall of the garage.
150A sub panel for garage located next to main panel. Circuit breakers on inside!
Minimum two ground rods (my city requires only one). Maintain separation per NEC or better.
Deactivate old electrical panel so that I can remove it (this is pending my legwork to show that existing circuits can be accessed from the attic)
Upgrade to larger gauge pole-to-house wiring (Edison has agreed to do this at my request, not part of bid.)
Garage exterior outlet: 120V, 20A, single gang, in-wall mount. GFCI breaker. Mounted in east side of garage near south corner.
Garage interior outlet: 120V, 20A, four gang, GFCI. 48" mounting height on south wall.
Garage interior conduit and outlet for 220V connection. Installed but not wired, since I want this only for future expansion purposes. 48" mounting height on south wall.

I told him I'd handle the stucco work, having learned on the job around the French doors. The one gotcha in all this is that Gene states that the ground rods will be left exposed above ground about 10-12" and as close to the foundation as possible. Unfortunately, if placed in my narrow side yard I'm concerned that they will be a trip hazard and will constrict the passage too much - it's only slightly wider than 3' and my garbage cans barely make it through as it is. The slab foundation sticks out a few inches past the exterior wall. There may be a way around this if ask him to drill holes in the garage floor and he makes his ground attachments inside and against a wall. I can then hide the attach points with the cabinetry I plan to put there. I'll have to ask him if this is possible.

[End blog 2]


Drought busters

In a recent article entitled "After a dry spell, DWP's Drought Busters program is back," the LA Times profiles the DWP response to the looming water rationing.

Remember, you read it here first (by a day, but I did scoop the Daily News and LA Times).

...Last week, city leaders gathered at the DWP to announce the revival of the Drought Busters program, which last was used during the severe drought in the early 1990s.

The name is a bit of a misnomer. The Drought Busters -- six full-time DWP employees -- do not actually have the ability to change the weather. They do, however, get to drive around town in hybrid cars and tell people to stop wasting water.

Officials at the news conference -- including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- took pains to say that mandatory water restrictions still are not in effect. They also passed out a list of water uses prohibited by law in L.A., but noted that the law currently isn't being enforced.

For example, it is supposedly illegal to water your lawn this time of year from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. because it's wasteful due to evaporation. But no one, including the Drought Busters, is going to write you a ticket. Instead, the busters will politely insist that you stop....

...he first new restriction would be that customers could use only 90% of the water they normally use during a billing period. Residents who don't abide would get a warning for the first offense, a $50 surcharge for the second and $150 for the third. A fourth offense would allow the DWP to put a device on the pipes coming into the customer's house to restrict water flow....

Electrical bid process starting again

Gene from 1-Stop Electrical will be by tomorrow at 4:15 PM to give me a new bid. He was the low bidder last time I went through this process, almost a year ago to this day. Here's what I'll be asking him to bid to, with separate call outs for each item:

  1. 200 A electrical panel, mounted in the south wall of the garage. Location indicated in blue chalk is already spotted by Tom Cross, SCE.
  2. Minimum two ground rods. Maintain separation per NEC or better.
  3. Deactivate old electrical panel so that I can remove it. Need to discuss this before going forward. Wire as sub panel instead? Cost / benefit analysis needed.
  4. Upgrade to larger gauge pole-to-house wiring (Need to clarify: Edison responsibility? Who contacts Edison?)
  5. Garage exterior outlet: 120V, 20A, single gang, in-wall mount. GFCI breaker. Mounted in east side of garage near south corner.
  6. Garage interior outlet: 120V, 20A, four gang, GFCI. Mounted above counter height on south wall.
  7. Garage interior outlet: 240V, GFCI. Mounted above counter height on south wall.

60% of all statistics are crap

In last Thursday's Home and Garden section of the LA Times I found the following quote in an article entitled Breathing a Little Freer Indoors.

"Over 60% of the air you breathe in any closed space is off-gassing from surface materials," says Ellen Strickland, owner of Livingreen stores in Culver City and Santa Barbara that sell environmentally friendly home products. "It's an accumulative effect of everything that's on the walls, furniture, counter surfaces, your clothes, the curtains -- anything that's brought into that space."

While I agree that VOCs are undesirable, I find it impossible to believe the 60% figure quoted above. I think that the greenies do themselves a disservice when they bandy about patently false statistics.

Generally, scientists get concerned over known carcinogens at the ppb or low ppm level (parts per billion or parts per million). One ppb is 0.000000001 or 0.0000001%. One ppm is 0.000001 or 0.0001%. The 60% level quoted in the story is 600,000 ppm. You wouldn't be able to breath in air from which 60% of the oxygen had been displaced!

Let's do a little Google searching and some algebra to figure out a reasonable number for a bound on the potential percentage contamination of VOCs.

A high level of VOC contamination assumed in an EPA study that I found online was 0.27 mg/m^3. Let's assume this is typical. Air has a mass of 1.2 kg/m^3 at room temperature (surprisingly high, isn't it?). The mass ratio of 0.27e-3 / 1.2e3 is going to be in the fraction of a ppm. Allowing for the typical larger mass of an organic molecule from VOC (perhaps 100 AMU) compared to air (N2 = 28 AMU) we can scale the typical mass ratio to a molecular ratio and we get an even lower number, perhaps 50 ppb. 50 ppb is 0.000005%, if I've managed to move the decimal place appropriately. Scale this number up or down, depending upon your going-in assumptions. No matter what you do, you won't get even close to 1%, let alone 60%.

Given the innumeracy in society at large, is it surprising that number like 0.000005% gets turned into 60%? It ought to be. By the way, it took me not too long to dig up these numbers - the results were all on the first search page. Newspaper editorial staff would be advised to do likewise.

So, should you be concerned about 50 ppb volatile contamination? Absolutely! Particularly if it's chronic exposure to the wrong stuff. Should you believe 60% contamination figures tossed about by the LA Times or by proprietors of green living stores? Absolutely not.

The LA Times later redeems itself with the following:

Santa Cruz architect Hal Levin has spent nearly 30 years researching building ecology, a term he coined in 1979. He was interested in an environmentally friendly cork veneer widely used by green designers, so he had it tested.

The material was supposed to meet the European standard of 0.1 part per million of formaldehyde, which already was six times higher than standards for California state office buildings, he says. Test results showed that the emissions were five times higher than the European standard, or about 30 times California's.

But they never circle back to the 60% figure or compare it to 0.1 ppm.

As a sanity check, here's some Australian guidelines for common gaseous contamination (also found after a brief web search). Even the sum of all those PPMs would not get close to 60%.
carbon monoxide 9.0 ppm (parts per million) measured over an eight hour period
nitrogen dioxide 0.12 ppm averaged over a one hour period
0.03 ppm averaged over a one year period
ozone 0.10 ppm of ozone measured over a one hour period
0.08 ppm of ozone measured over a four hour period
sulfur dioxide 0.20 ppm averaged over a one hour period
0.08 ppm averaged over a 24 hour period
0.02 ppm averaged over a one year period


Your House, Your Garden

"Your house is the center of your garden" is the first sentence and central tenet of the garden design book that I just finished. _Your House, Your Garden_ by Gordon Hayward was well worth the 26 clams or so from Amazon. Despite its northeast US focus on plant materials, the book was well worth the time and money for the design insight alone. Hayward illustrates practical design guidelines and principles throughout the book with a series of wonderful photographs and watercolors and goes far beyond the usual aesthetic notions that other design books end with.

I put one of his design principles into action today when I demolished a low brick planter that was sited directly across from my kitchen doors and which has impeded foot traffic for years.


The Creative Homeowner edition of _Trellises and Arbors_ starts off chapter one with wonderful photographs of trellises and arbors, but the accompanying captions leave a lot to be desired. "Stand alone trellises provide a base for climbing plants such as clemantis" and "Choose plants that are best suited for the size and type of trellis that you install" and "Materials choices for arbors range from solid wood to metal to bent twigs (next to pictures of all three)" are next to useless. A picture would seem to be worth 10,000 words to Creative Homeowner publications since chestnuts like these lard the text in the first chapter. On the plus side, later chapters appear to offer practical (and well-photographed) instructions for building trellises, so at the used book price from Amazon I consider this a good deal.

Invasive plants to avoid

Invasive Plants That Should be Avoided Everywhere in Los Angeles County.

• Alianthus altissima Tree of heaven
• Eucalyptus globules Blue gum
• Ficus carica Edible fig
• Myoporum laetum Myoporum, lollypop tree
• Nicotiana glauca Tree tobacco
• Olea europaea Olive, except seedless varieties
• Robinia pseudoaccacia Black locust
• Schinus terebinthifolius Brazilian pepper
• Tamarix gallica French Tamarisk
• Tamarix ramossissima Saltcedar

Source: Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning as quoted by the Dominguez Channel Master Plan

I have a Brazilian pepper in my back yard, planted long before I arrived on the scene.

Dominguez Channel restoration?

Some time ago I read about the Marsh Street Park, a 5 acre park developed with an eye towards improving watershed management in the Los Angeles River watershed. The park cost about $1M, which was paid for with County of LA Prop A bond money (about 1/3) and the remainder paid by the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy via funds they received from the State of California.

I live in the Dominguez watershed. With all the attention given to the Los Angeles River in recent years, there's no reason we shouldn't make some improvements locally. It turns out that the LADPW has a fairly thorough master plan for the Dominguez watershed, though it has received virtually no publicity compared to its more famous neighbor.

There's a long list of reasons to reexamine our watersheds and remediate the damage done when they were paved over. The two main reasons are to offset environmental degradation and to increase recreational areas and open space. In Los Angeles City, the national guideline for park density (10 acres per 1000 people) is only 11% fulfilled and places like Griffith Park have to turn away patrons on peak days. The South Bay is similar. Therefore, any small improvement in the amount of public lands would be of significance both for people and for the environment.

As I see it, there are four opportunities for the City of Hawthorne in the Master Plan:

  1. Dominguez Channel present day headwaters are between Kornblum Ave and Doty Ave just north of 117th St, heading southeast down under the 105 Fwy and then turning east next to 120th. There is little adjacent area on its southeast leg, since houses back onto the Channel. However, once it turns east at Yukon Ave next to to 120th St, there appears to be some land on the north side that would be suitable for a naturalized park redevelopment. The land is triangular and next to the (elevated) freeway on the north side. It's max 200 ft wide (N-S) and about 2000 ft long (E-W). On this eastern leg of the Channel, it runs above ground next to 120th then heads underground and reappears heading south parallel to Crenshaw. (item 2)
  2. Dominguez Channel south of 120th St at Crenshaw (between Hawthorne Airport and Lowes shopping center), using the fenced and unused parking area adjacent to the Channel to the west. The paved area seems to be about 1500 feet long and 150 ft wide.
  3. 132nd street drain, a tributary to the main Channel. This is about a half mile stretch, but matters may be complicated because it looks like the drain may be on or may cross the Hawthorne / LA County border. One map has it mostly in Hawthorne.
  4. Holly Park, the small northwest corner of the LA County owned Chester Washington Golf Course. This is probably of no consequence, except that the original headwaters of the Dominguez Channel are on the golf course and are planned for daylighting, so there may be some improvements available for Holly Park.
Scanning through section 4 of the Dominguez Watershed Master Plan, I see that they have a 2-5 year plan to "Daylight Historic Streams to Restore Wetlands" (section This explicitly includes the original headwaters of the Dominguez Channel (in Chester Washington Golf Course just north of Imperial Highway) where it currently flows in an underground storm drain to join the open Channel a half mile or so south of 120th (in the city of Gardena, I think). "Storm drains traversing parks and vacant areas" are also mentioned as candidates, which might point the finger at the 132nd street drain. The time line of 2-5 year is perhaps a bit optimistic given the 2004 publication date of the Master Plan, but is also an indication of the priority that they would like to give this task (relatively high, it would seem).

Other activities called out in section four of the master plan that might fall allow for funding within the plan scope are:

" Investigate feasibility and restore concrete-lined tributary channels" Clearly the Hawthorne stretch between the airport and Lowes would qualify, but they also mention the 132nd St drain, also in Hawthorne.

" Create Additional Nature Centers"

"Increase brownfields redevelopment" Does that fenced parking lot by Lowes qualify as a brownfield? What about the industrial areas adjacent to the 132nd street drain?

" Create Watershed Enhanced Recreational/Bike Trail Along Dominguez Channel" There are already maintenance roads along the sides of some areas adjacent to Hawthorne City. Seems like an easy one to implement there. At the end they write, "While this action is written specifically for the Dominguez Channel, opportunities for other recreational trails should be examined for tributary channels that empty into the Dominguez Channel (e.g., 132nd, 135th, Del Amo, Torrance Lateral)," so the 132nd street drain again gets mention.

Possible grant sources are: Five-Star Restoration Challenge Grant Program, Proposition 13, Proposition 40, Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project Work Plan and Small Grants Programs, Proposition 13 CALFED Drinking Water Program, Proposition 40 monies administered through the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, the California Coastal Conservancy's Wetland Recovery project grant monies.

Arroyo Seco Convergence in LA Times



To Do list updated

I'm moving back into home improvement mode. A recent book find on garden design is proving useful: I'm reading it at night and it's giving me great insights. I also had the newest new electrical panel location spotted by Edison. I've updated the To Do list and I'll be moving onto the next tasks without fear of seasonal rains.


Last rainfall of the season?

We had a light rain followed by some fog on Sunday. I'm guessing a few hundredths of an inch all in all: There had been substantial evaporation by the time I got to my rain gauge. According to reports on NPR yesterday, that may be it for this rainy season because of La Nina conditions. Weather modelers reportedly give scant hope that La Nina will weaken before January, meaning that we'll have to rely upon late season rain or nothing at all. It's not completely outlandish to draw an inside straight with rain - remember the March Miracle of 1991 which ended five years of drought? But in my book it's better to be prudent.

While our total rainfall thus far this year exceeds last year's total, it's still quite low -- low enough to qualify as a second, back to back, severe drought year.

My urge to eradicate all grass starts to look smarter and smarter, since I predict the start of water rationing in Los Angeles by early 2008. The city of Long Beach has already started rationing. Green grass has high water needs, and I doubt that my remaining lawn would get any water at all in a rationing situation.

Ironically, the highest water wasters are better off in a drought situation than those of us that have conserved in previous years. This is because water allocations are based upon your previous history of usage (usually during winter months when non-wasters wouldn't use much outdoor water). Users with historically high water usage are assumed to have greater water needs, a not unreasonable going in position. However, this also favors the waster who has a lot more easy remedies to live within their new water allocation. (You mean I have to give up showering until the water runs cold and turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth?}

So far as I know, there is no easy way for the water utility to discriminate between need-based usage and waste-based usage. However, in previous years there has been an appeal process to increase water allocation, and this was successful in the one case where I heard of it being used.

Pancake triumph

Take two of the Dutch Baby pancake was a towering triumph.

The primary change was use of a blender instead of a food processor.


I saw Wicked last weekend, with elegant and tasty, yet not horribly expensive, dining beforehand at Vert, located at Hollywood and Highland. Vert (and other restaurants in H&H) offers a free shuttle to the Pantages theater and back which was wonderfully convenient.

The meal, show, and company were a fantastic way to spend the evening.

Four things about me - email chain

Warren sent me this by email.

...here's what you're supposed to do... Please do not spoil the fun. Hit forward, delete my answers and type in your answers. Then send this to a whole bunch of people you know INCLUDING the person who sent it to you. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known facts about those who know you.

I have a (somewhat) firm policy of not passing these sorts of things along by email, though I did break that policy once before. [In that case, of the 10 or 11 people I sent my own chain email to, one responded by email, one more by blog, and the other 8 or 9 not at all, despite some of them being directly related to me. So much for the blood is thicker than water theory.]

4 Things about me you may not have known:

1. Gardener
2. Computer store sales staff
3. Safety engineer
4. Scientist
1. Boulder
2. San Diego
3. Santa Barbara
4. Los Angeles
1. The weather gal on channel 7
2. Boston Legal
3. House
4. A recent DVD rental
1. Rothenberg
2. Stockholm
3. Avignon
4. San Diego
1. BBQ'd pizza
2. roast leg of lamb
3. asian pears
4. asparagus
1. My backyard, working on a project or BBQing
2. Wine tasting
3. Hiking in Santa Barbara
4. France
1. Mike
2. Maribeth
3. Rob
4. Juli
1. REI
2. Surfas
3. Amazon
4. The Payne Foundation


Pancake failure

1/4 C flour
1/4 C milk
1 egg

is the ratio of ingredients in the so-called "crowdstopper pancake" (aka Dutch baby, Germna pancake but really a Yorkshire pudding or popover) which is a favorite when I visit Santa Barbara. (Use a blender to beat the eggs for a while, then add milk while blending. Finally add flour, blending 30 more seconds.)

Placed in a cast iron skillet with a knob of melted butter at 425F oven for 20-25 minutes this recipe usually results in the most phenomenal pancake the world has ever seen. It fountains up the sides of the pan in a gravity-defying leap to the top of the oven before it gets crisp and brown at the edges. The center stays soft and moist. It's a delight to eat with powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon.

That's when other people make it.

When I made two the other night for dinner, they resembled cornbread in the way they rose and they had a cake-like / bready texture which wasn't offensive but didn't reach the peak of deliciousness that it ought to. The first was a four egg recipe and I thought that perhaps it was that my pan wasn't hot enough when I put the batter in, so I addressed that question with my second effort, making the 3 egg recipe the second time through. I ended up with the same result. I suspect that my substitution of a food processor for the prescribed blender is what did me in. Fortunately others have this problem too and I can learn from them.

The food processor did it in the kitchen, I believe. What I mean is that I suspect that the food processor blade cut the egg proteins and flour gluten so that the whole thing didn't have enough stickiness to scale the heights of the pan. On the other hand, perhaps I didn't run the food processor enough to cross-link the egg proteins and gluten sufficiently and whip in enough air to get it to rise. I guess there's a Goldilocks effect where the mechanical action of the blending is just right. Maybe a beater would work better.

My flour wasn't in question, since I used the ever-reliable King Arthur flour, which is a high-gluten four. A little salt in the recipe might have helped.

Here's the recipe straight from the source:

The recipe I use is from a very old Sunset Mag. (Jan. 1977)
It is very basic.
I am sure that you can find similar recipes online.
I have a James Beard recipe that has more ingredients. I have never
used it.

You can use a Paella pan, cast iron skillet, or any oven proof pan that
can with stand 425o. Probably best not to use teflon coated pans.

You can use a mixer, beater, etc. I have always used a blender. It has
always worked.

Pan Size Butter Eggs Milk and Flour

2-3 qts. 1/4 cup 3 3/4 cup each
3-4 qts. 1/3 cup 4 1 cup each
4-41/2 qts. 1/2 cup 5 1 1/4 cup each
4 1/2 - 5 qts. 1/2 cup 6 1 1/2 cups each

Put butter in pan. Place in over at 425o
Mix batter while butter melts.
Put eggs in blender.
Whirl for 1 minute.
With motor running at high, gradually add milk.
Then slowly add flour.
Mix for another 30 seconds.

Pour batter into hot pan with melted butter.
Return to oven.
Bake until puffy and well browned,
about 20-25 minutes.
Serve immediately.

I'm aware of the irony of bracketing a complaint about school nutritional guidelines with recipes for baked goodies. I'll add an amusing tag and pretend it was all planned.


Nutrition nuggets

Nutrition Nuggets is the name of the monthly "food and fitness for a healthy child" flier that comes home from junior's school with the monthly list of hot lunches. I let him buy a weekly hot lunch so he can be cool just like all the other kids with parents who don't care what their child eats. With only one hot lunch per week, I suppose we can address the dietary deficiencies of the typical hot lunch at home. It ought to be easy when the lunches typically consist of two starches, a sugar, and fat. All we have to do is eat five servings of fruits and vegetables at the evening meal. Oh, wait, make that four: Yes, ketchup is considered a vegetable when it comes to hot lunches.

Excerpts from this month's flier:

Drink Up!
What are the healthiest drinks for kids?

A. fat-free milk
B. water
C. fruit juice
D. diet soda
E. sports drinks

Answer: A and B

Get your child in the habit of reaching for milk or water when he's thirsty and he'll be a step ahead on the road to good health. Try these strategies.

Go for Flavor
Many youngsters don't like plain milk or water. To punch up the taste, stir chocolate or strawberry syrup into fat-free milk...

It then goes on to explain that anything other than 100% juice fills kids up (it's not also full of sugars?) and that soda has no nutritional value (why doesn't this also fill kids up?), contains lots of sugar and sodium, and often has caffeine. Note: diet soda is no better -- it still has caffeine and sodium, plus it contains artificial sweeteners.

Is there someone who thinks that chocolate or strawberry -flavored milk isn't also full of sugar and artificial flavors?

Who writes this crap?

Last month I think the flier was advocating the use of fat-free milk as an alternative addition to scrambled eggs. Does anyone use more than a tablespoon or two of milk in their eggs? Is this an effective way to reduce fat calories or add calcium or vitamin D? Wouldn't water be better? Why didn't they advocate that? Is it because water is essentially free and milk has a well financed lobby?

These fliers are offensive.

For the record, we drink a lot of water and far less milk than other families that I know. My son's friends often ask for juice or soda when thirsty. I usually offer cold water and a quart of 2% milk will often go bad on us before we've finished it.

Filed under amusing, but would be more appropriate under disgusting.


Remember the bread machine?

I pulled mine out the other day and made some bread. Maybe it's the season or maybe it's my son's eagerness for fresh baked but I did it again tonight. I'll probably also bake some more later.

This was the recipe tonight, adapted from one given to me by S. Simons.

1 1/2 C milk
1 t brown sugar
1 T oil (I used walnut oil)
1t salt
2 C King Arthur white flour
1 C King Arthur whole wheat flour
1 T cinnamon
1 pkg yeast
2/3 C raisins and/or walnuts (add at beeps)

Apply pumpkin butter while still warm and enjoy!

Oracular advice

At least one realtor seems to think that good landscaping trumps choices of either native or exotic.

"Answer: From Los Angeles Realtor David Kean:

In my experience, it does not matter either way. A well-landscaped yard is just that. Some buyers may prefer native grasses and some may prefer rose bushes and a lawn. I've never had a buyer say: "I don't want this house because I hate the plant choices...."

All the more reason to renew my focus on design.

Garden design

Much to my surprise, this weekend I found myself doing some very design-like things with my native plants: I moved some to locations that suited me better, demoed some plants that didn't fit, planned some future strategic transplants, and so forth. This follows on the heels of my visit to the Payne Foundation and my very directed (except for one) purchases.

It's interesting to notice my style change from the wholly-acquisitive, try this and see if it works, I'll take one of those too, types of gardeners to something else. I think part of this is normal growth - I've learned enough about natives to be able to start to leverage that knowledge in another area, design. Another part of is it is driven by practical garden issues such as the fact that now my plants are approaching their mature sizes and I can see that I screwed up when I first planted them: I now HAVE to apply some design.

I imagine this is a normal progression for other gardeners too. You can throw a salvia on the internet and hit a garden blog, but it's a bit harder to find a useful garden _design_ blog. Landscape architecture is harder yet. This is probably because these disciplines require their practitioners to cross the ineffable boundary from craft to art.

I'll plan to think on the guiding principles of design a bit, but mostly get by with intuition and trial and error.

UF Extension design guidelines
Gardening Gone Wild monthly design discussion


Palms away!

We volunteered to help the city plant palm trees along Rosecrans Blvd today - us and about 100 teens from high school service clubs. Palm trees are an improvement over nothing, and probably ideal from a city maintenance point of view. These have a look that makes me want to say Queen palm, but I'm not certain of that. Overhead power lines preclude taller, more majestic trees.

Planting of the boxed palms was through holes cut in the sidewalk and then dug into our heavy soil. Backfill was 1 sack of soil amendment and the rest sand (perhaps 1:10 to 1:20 organic:sand). I didn't feel that this was a very good mixture, but I have to assume that someone else has researched before investing in dozens of large boxed palms.

One web resource recommends a mixture of about 55:45 organic: inorganic split for _potting_ soil. Another web resource states that palms thrive in rich soil. A third calls for well drained soil - sandy peat (10-20% muck or peat). I do know they they do well in our regular garden soil - any number of neighbors have planted them, presumably without soil amendments.


There two shall I bee

This is a part two of my previous blog post. In that post I had wondered whether there was a preferred size for the nibbles taken from a Cercis occidentalis tree in my yard by some leafcutter bees. Consequently, my son and I went into the garden and measured the opening at the outside edge of leaf cuts on 17 different leaves of my tree. Our measurement of the opening at the outer edge of the leaf serves as a proxy for the total size of the piece cut from the leaf. The Cercis has many unmolested leaves, so I don't begrudge the bees their share.

Here's the distribution of measurements:

Factoring in the dim light and 4th grade skill factors, I think that each measurement we made had a plus or minus 1 mm accuracy.

As I surmised previously, there appears to be a distinct small, medium, and large size preferences centered at about 8, 14.5, and 20 mm, respectively. As the pieces get larger, the width of the distribution about the local mean decreases. What can explain this? Perhaps, if small pieces are used for larval food and the larger for structural parts of the nest then this makes sense: The holes I've drilled for nests are of a uniform diameter and might require specific sizes of cut leaf to line appropriately, whereas food can come in many tasty, bite-sized, pieces.

There are also a few giant pieces that seemed not to be the result of two adjacent, smaller, cuts. We made an effort not to record what appeared to be adjacent cuts that had merged into one, but the remaining few giant cuts didn't have any features that indicated they were the result of merged smaller cuts.


There too shall I bee

Here's two leaves off the Cercis occidentalis (Western redbud) tree in my back yard. I picked these leaves because they show evidence of nibbling. There's perhaps tens of similar leaves among many unmolested leaves. I suspect that the nibbling came from leafcutter bees that nest in my yard. Leafcutter bees use the segments to make nesting cells in pre-existing holes. In the wild they'll use reeds and the like. However, in my yard they use purpose-drilled holes that I've made in blocks of scrap wood and hung on my fence. I have holes of 1/8", 3/16", and 1/4" inch diameter and I've seen nests in all three. I ought to add 5/16" and 3/8" options. The smaller holes are used by a mason bee or wasp (they use mud to make protective larval cells). The 1/4" holes are favored by the leafcutter bees who use leaves in the same fashion.

There's three false starts to the nibbling process: Two on the right hand side leaf at about 1:30 and 7:00, and one on the LHS leaf at about 8:45. Additionally, the leaf segments appear to group in three sizes: small, medium, and large. I wonder if that's due to different species of bees, different uses for the leaves (cell walls vs. larval food production, perhaps), or some other reason. If I have time I'll make some measurements and report. The investigation is slightly muddied because the leaves were nibbled in early summer, so they may have grown or scarred back, thereby changing the size distribution (uniformly, one would hope).

The year prior to planting the Cercis, I noticed similar nibbles on my tomato plant leaves along with the nesting activity. This year I also grew tomatoes, but the preference was definitely for Cercis over tomatoes, despite the closer proximity of the tomatoes to the nest sites (far side of yard versus near side). Chalk one up for the native plants, again. Overall nesting activity seemed to be down last summer, perhaps due to low drought conditions.

By the way, solitary bees (which may or may not be native, but which are generally regarded as benign if not beneficial) are not aggressive. Since they have no hive or queen to defend, they don't often sting. They are also better pollinators than honey bees.


Garden photos

Funky bell pepper from Italy. Anyone know the name?

A picture of a buckwheat bloom, long past its prime. Meadow, truck in background.

Sycamore seeds in three stages. I'll plant some and see if I can get it to grow.

Early Season vs. Late Season California Rainfall

This blog posting edited 17:25, 16 Oct.

Grandma Ann wonders about correlation between rainfall at different times of a wet season in California. These are interesting questions that I ought to have been curious enough to answer already, but as usual I didn't see the forest (interesting questions) for the trees (rainfall data). I'm often in the position of seeing the forest at work, but not the trees, so this is a nice turnabout.

The following graphs are one a stab at an answer, knowing that there's more than one way to slice the data and therefore that my answer is likely incomplete.

Low-Low appears correlated more strongly than Low-High. I wouldn't put any money on a High-Low correlation, however.

Here's how early rainfall correlates with the remaining season of rainfall.

And here's the remaining ways one can conceive to divvy up the months

If there's correlation, it's to a low early season leading to a low subsequent rainfall and a low total. We humans just love correlation, even when it's not justified.



I mentioned back here, that I'd finished my garden trellis. Here's a photo. It's constructed of about $100 of redwood; smaller versions sold in the home centers for $200 on up. I may still add some cross members on the top.

I want to make a concrete garden bench to sit inside the trellis. And yes, the paint on the house needs work, particularly on this window sill. On each side of the trellis I've planted Roger's Red, a California native grape. The foliage will be stunning in fall, if this little plant is any indication.

Pasta with wilted arugula

I posted first about arugula some time ago. Since then, I've gotten to know it pretty well. I've had it on pizza (recommended), on pasta (mostly recommended, but not recommended if also with your standard tomato sauce). It's bitter (the degree depends on the age and farm practices - hydroponic arugula can be quite mild). It's smoky. It goes great with on pizza and with bacon or as a smallish amount of bitter flavor in salad. In this favorite pasta dish, I wilt it either over/in the hot pasta or in a pan with some crisped bacon. Broccoli was added as well in this variant. It's fine without it too.

Here's the very simple recipe sketch for the picture above:

Crisp up some smallish bacon pieces. Get them really crisp. Really. There's nothing worse than non-crispy bacon here. Reserve as much of the bacon fat as you feel comfortable with using in the pasta for extra flavor. Augment it with olive oil if you want.
Place arugula on top of hot, cooked, pasta. Allow it to wilt with the pot lid on. Maybe fold it in to the pasta to help it along and distribute it among the pieces of pasta so that it's not a compacted, matted, blob of arugula when it's done. (I speak from experience.) Remember, its best flavor experience is in counterpoint to the other ingredients, not as a giant spinach-like blob of cooked greens.
Place small pieces of left over steamed broccoli from the fridge in the hot bacon pan to warm.
Add olive oil, bacon grease, broccoli, and crisp bacon bits to the pasta.
Plate pasta and grate some fresh Parmesan on top.

Bloom Day; Blog Action Day

I normally don't participate in chain emails or calls to mass blog action. There is an exception to every rule, however.

The 15th is supposed to be "bloom day" among the garden bloggers. Today is also supposed to be a day of mass blog awareness/protest about the environment. I'm feeling curmudgeonly, so I'll kill two birds with one stone by posting pictures of one of my California native plants blooming in my garden.

This plant is about a year old, and it's in wonderful bloom after the recent rains. Unfortunately, I have forgotten what it is. I thought it was a salvia of some sort, but now I don't think so. It borders my meadow (you can see a few tendrils of yarrow at lower right) and exists quite nicely with the nearby wall of Italian Cypress. Out of frame at the top of the image is a nice native grass, the name of which I have also forgotten. One of the common names was something like "eyelash grass".

Water rationing "forever" ?

Long Beach seems to be in the vanguard of lawn destruction. New weekly publication The District Weekly, made it the cover story recently.

Choice quote from the end of the article:

According to Wattier, the problem goes beyond the current drought that last year gave Southern California its driest winter in recorded history.

“Back in 2003 we lost almost half our Colorado River supply because of drought and demands from Arizona and Nevada,” he recites. “Then there was that federal ruling reduced our supply from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by 30 percent because of the endangered smelt. Now comes news that storage in the three major reservoirs in Northern California has dropped from 90 percent of capacity in March to 42 percent today.”

Consequently, Southern California likely won’t be able to stockpile surplus water anymore, meaning that even a good rainy season this year probably won’t alleviate the crisis.

“That’s why we see this as a long-term change,” says Wattier. “It’s not something where, if we just tighten our belts and pray for rain, everything will be okay in the spring. It could be forever.”


More rain; The ants come marching in

A day ago this was to be a 50% chance of rain. Then only 12 hours ago it was downgraded to a probable light mist. We ended up with 0.49" overnight from a slow but steady rainfall, making the seasonal total about 1.75 inches in my backyard. This puts us well above the 3rd quartile for this time of the rainy season and well above this time of year compared to 2006-07 and 2005-06. In winter 2004-05, a big storm started on the 17th of October and dumped more than 2.5 inches by the time it was done. That year seems to be the wettest October in the last ~60 years. My data goes back to 1944.

An early wet season doesn't seem to be a predictor of an overall dry winter. I quickly counted 11 seasons when the Sept-Oct rainfall exceeded 1", and in all but one of those seasons total rainfall was significantly greater than the median.

The ants, recently banished from inside, have returned. They tend to seek higher ground when they get flooded out; my house is the locally highest ground. I don't have qualms about using any means to eradicate them but the best method that I've found once they are established inside is to use a boric acid / sugar water solution. I place it near their trails on a scrap of aluminum foil formed into a shallow dish. This tends to look like I'm feeding them as pets to the uninitiated. However, I long ago learned that they flat out ignore ant baits in fancy containers with more rapid acting and toxic poisons.

The last time I purchased boric acid, I had to ask the pharmacist for it. It was kept behind the counter, even though it is available without prescription. It comes in powdered form in a can large enough to poison a lifetime's supply of ants. 2% in whatever the ants want to eat is enough to do away with them in a week or so of feasting. Make sure there are no other sources of food for them to eat.

The information on how to make a 2% solution is readily available on the web. "To make a 2% solution, take the solution that you intend to use as bait (honey and water, sugar and water, dog food and water. or whatever). Add 2.5 grams(one level teaspoon) of boric acid powder to 125ml (4 fluid ounces) of your bait. Heat it on the stove until the boric acid dissolves. After it has cooled, pour some in a shallow gizmo like a jar lid and leave it where the ants will find it -and where your children and pets will not be able to get at it." Or purchase a commercial mixture.