Archimedes was right

"Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth." There was a little earth moving involved, but not exactly what Archimedes had in mind. Still, the cotoneaster is now demolished and in its place is a nice ceanothus ("Darkstar" I think - I have two but the crummy paper ID tags rotted away.) I'd like to kill the person who planted the cotoneaster right up against the concrete fence post footing (just like the former bottlebrush tree and every other poorly chosen plant in the yard). I think that they were following S. California garden principle #54: "Move everything to the edges so that you can have more lawn; your over sized and under disciplined dog will enjoy the extra room to crap." The newly planted ceanothus is about 3' away from the fence in approximately the same location.

This accomplishment was about 5H of digging, axing, picking, and levering, then filling and planting. Progress, no matter how incremental, was forward today. I'm going to update my most recent To Do list with a big strike, indicating that progress is being made.


Rainfall update

Until recently I hadn't heard people's voices raised in concern about our lack of rain this winter, but it's becoming apparent that our lack of rainfall is now gathering attention. Robert Smaus writes in this week's Home section of the LA Times that, "HISTORICALLY, February is our rainiest month so it is not a busy time for gardeners. If there is little or no rain, it will be a very dry year. Though everybody loves a sunny day, gardens cannot get by on irrigation alone. They need deep soaking rains that reach tree roots and flush harmful salts (found in irrigation water) from the soil." (THE MONTHLY GARDENER BY ROBERT SMAUS, January 25, 2007.) Implicit in his writing is the common knowledge that this January (which on average is only a hair less wet than February) has been darn dry, with many days of high winds and sun, which have had an additional drying effect on everyone's garden. For those of us trying to grow natives, we rely on Mother Nature to deliver water at this time, at appropriate temperatures, to further plant growth. Watering from a hose on a sunny winter day just isn't the same as a gentle overnight rainfall.

Weather Underground predicted a 20% chance of rain this coming Saturday, now up to 30% Saturday through Wed. From a look at the sky that seems about right. It's good just to see clouds for once.

Update: 0.08" in my backyard Saturday - Sunday AM. Also, Grace has written about rainfall on her blog with the conclusion that it's not normally distributed, an assumption that I made here and here. I'll need to revisit the historical data to figure out a better statistical description of the seasonal distribution.

I'm reminded of solar flares, which were first studied in detail in the 1960s. At that time and through the late 1980s / early 1990s they were thought to be normally distributed in intensity. That's always a good starting place for scientists, but there was the glaring exception to the normal distribution: anomalously large (AL) solar events were so huge that they were outside of the normal distribution (like our high rainfall years?). At least one widely accepted model for solar radiation formalized these weird statistics with a normal distribution of low intensity flares and a separate calculation for AL flares. Even today you'll still hear people who don't want to acknowledge that their space missions have a potential solar radiation vulnerability refer to "AL flares" in a disparaging tone, as if their probability was so remote that they can be removed from all consideration. This is an unfortunate consequence of the name, I think, since as scientists gathered more data it was shown by the 1990s that a better and all-inclusive solar flare distribution was log-normal. In this model, the former AL flares merge into a smooth probability distribution - no longer anomalous. This statistical description is still accepted today and has been confirmed by more recent data. I believe it has also been connected to recent physics-based solar activity models, an area that still has much to be discovered about it, but which suggests that there is an underlying rationale for the log-normal distribution rather it being a purely phenomenological description.


Museum of Science and IndustryCalifornia ScienCenter

Apparently I'm dating myself by referring to it as the MoS&I. We went there during my early January vacation. Heelies were brought and used appropriately outdoors after touring the whole place in regular shoes. The outdoor walkways are GREAT for Heelies (and the inside wasn't so bad either).

January vacation started with a late Christmas on December 30th. This was a bit of a rush for me since the house had been fumigated the 26th - 29th and I needed to clean, restock, etc. Fortunately Mom came through with a great beef paprika dish for dinner which meant that I didn't have to cook. I had held back several presents knowing that my son would be well indulged, but in the fog of my tiredness they made their way under the tree, adding to the excess (books, so I don't feel too bad about it).

Vacation time activities included glow in the dark miniature golfing (a flop with the under 10 year old person that it was targeted at, though he did enjoy the air hockey), farmer's market, hiking George F. Canyon Preserve (the preserve is mainly a canyon, but I think they decided that it would be too confusing to have it called the George F. Canyon Canyon), and the aforementioned California ScienCenter.

Recently it's all been about the Pinewood Derby. We built a minimalist router table to do some of the cutting and have what appears to be a decent looking race car. It has front running boards, a boat tail, and a shark fin at the back, all painted in Rustoleum "key lime". The name Green Lightning appears to have stuck. I think I'll get some accusations of it being my project, but we've worked on it together nearly the whole time. Pictures later.


Back on the home improvement path; updated task list

I've regained enthusiasm for home repairs, perhaps after a lull induced by cold weather and the post holiday rush at work. I've been unconsciously cogitating on the new electrical panel. In my last home improvement posting Edison had come and found two spots that would be acceptable for a new panel: one located adjacent to the existing panel and one located on another wall. There's a requirement that the ground be connected to the plumbing system through the cold water pipes, so the adjacent location is convenient from that standpoint since there's a spigot already there. But apparently my mind has been unconsciously working on a trade off study and I awoke the other day having chosen to locate the new panel in the less immediately convenient location.

Of course the rule of cascading home repair / bonus chores applies here as usual: The new location requires that I run a new cold water spigot to the nearby outside wall. Why not run hot and cold spigots to the outside? Why not do it in copper? Why not repipe in copper? And so I've decided. I gain: improved aesthetics by locating the panel out of immediate sight, ability to build trellis outside kitchen French doors without violating Edison access rules, and hot and cold water outside in my project area, cold water near the future location of my fridge (finally I'll have a working ice maker). I have one bid for the install at the new location already - from memory it's about $2200. That doesn't include the new piping. I think that's a tad high; we'll see what other bids come in.

Here's my To-Do list from December, revised and edited. It's longer than need be since I've kept old tasks on the list that have been completed in order to give myself a sense of accomplishment.

  • Install larger access door in attic. (Purchased 12 Mar, 2007) DONE 25 Mar 07.
  • Repipe house in copper, adding hose bibs as needed for grounding of water lines at new electrical panel location. Will need to review appropriate pipe sizing - could be undersized at present. Also - can I repipe only the easy stuff, saving the part about cutting into the walls for when I demo the kitchen? I'd use dielectric unions to couple the new copper to the old galvanized.
  • Call Edison to get my new meter "spotted" [approved as to location]. DONE. Edison was by on 5 January and marked their preferred locations.
  • Recontact electricians for estimates on service upgrades. Early estimate of $1900 from Gene at One Stop Electric for replacement of panel at orig location, but that doesn't include trenching the patio for a second ground rod attachment, $2400 over the phone estimate from Direct Electric Inc 310-978-8471 who advised me to get spotted first, at which point they would come by and give me a real estimate. Andrew at Reliable Electric 310-973-1922 / 310-415-8721 gave an estimate of $2400 for a new panel at the garage side of the house, with an additional $75 for a second ground rod. Express Electrical Service 310-643-8463 wanted $19.95 to come by for an estimate. I told them I'd think about it.) Service upgrades have to be proven or justified somehow in the approval process with a "green sheet". Remodeling a kitchen and a small garage workshop seemed to pass as appropriate justification to Edison.
  • Cut porch concrete for ground rod placement. It's starting to look like I should just demo the porch concrete altogether now, before the electrical upgrade.
  • Install lights in main attic.(DONE 12 Mar 2007)
  • Install lights in garage attic.(DONE 25 Mar 2007)
  • Install attic vent in area over my bedroom. (DONE 13 May 07)
  • Verify insulation pulled away from attic soffit vents. Examine possibility of putting in more soffit vents. Is there a better way to cool down the attic? Another vent or a fan in the gable end?
  • Reroute gas supply lines (to kitchen and garage) in preparation for taking my interior wall down.
  • Get cotoneaster out and plant ceanothus in its place. (DONE 28 Jan)
  • Get morea down to chez frere. I have realized that their absence will make the front a bit bare, so I first need something to replace them. (replacement ideas: San Clemente Island Bush Mallow (Malacothamnus clementinus), Giant Wild Rye (Leymus condensatus "Canyon Prince", not feeling too inspired here) (DONE, by fiat, 14 Feb)
  • Replace porch rail, preferably with something aesthetically pleasing and wide enough to easily hold a bottle of wine or some potted plants. (Lumber purchased 7 Feb.)75% done on 25 Mar 2007. DONE 5 April 2007
  • Get native plants in. (DONE 11 Feb)
  • Purchase two more 1 gal golden currants and one more western redbud.DONE 27 March. Payne Foundation didn't have WRB, but they did have some other goodies in addition to the Ribes aureum gracillium (golden currants).
  • Pick colors and paint some areas on the house in preparation for a whole house paint job. Use Color Preview 2000 from Benjamin Moore to digitally color my house.
  • Install attic vent in garage (cut stucco, frame, paper, wire, repair stucco). I've now painted the vent white. Need to cut a few framing members for inside the garage.
  • Complete electrical install and weather stripping at new French door. All parts at hand except outdoor light
  • Establish Coverdell account. DONE
  • Deck the Halls, etc. DONE
  • Cut concrete on porch for weep pit - the second of my flood mitigation attempts. Tools are on hand. Dig pit as deep as possible. Need stackable concrete block, 12" grate, and gravel. Neither Lowes nor Home Depot have the stackable block that I need. DONE. Off list since we have had no rain, the porch will get demoed eventually anyway, and the new gutters are highly effective at keeping water off.
Update: 25 January. I don't know if I can legally use PEX in my city. (Is there still a grounding requirement with PEX? Conduction would be through the water in that case.) If so, it might be the balm for my anticipated woes. It is not permitted in unincorporated LA County and cities that contract with LA County Public Works, "A third-party test lab analysis of the site water indicating that the water is corrosive and could create premature failure in metallic pipe is required for approval to re-pipe a single family home with PEX piping."

Update: 16 February and earlier - I've focused and retargeted the list a couple times. It's in rough priority order now.

In the mean time, sizing my plumbing lines the old fashioned way

Update: 12 Mar 2007. I've decided on copper and upon doing it myself, but first lights and access to the attic.

Update: 25 Mar 2007. Lights and access done!

Update: 27 March 2007. Picked up ribes aureum gracillium (golden currant), rosa calfornica (Cal rose), iris douglasiana, polypodium californica (California polypody fern), and epilobium canum latifolium (fuschia "route 66", I think). That fern was a mistake - it needs moist soil, contrary to what I thought I remembered. I think I'll plant it along the creek at my parent's place.

Update 05 April 2007. Finished up with porch rail enough to call it done. I'll revisit it when I paint.

Update 13 May 2007. Installed attic vent over my bedroom.


More permeable pavers

EDIT 22 Jan 2007

I previously got excited about a nearby manufacturer (under license, I assume) of permeable paving for my driveway. Rather than the integral cells in which one grows turf grass (and which make the pavers more readily subject to breakage), this manufacturer makes a square paver with tabs on each side to provide a variable-width joint: mate a one-tab side to a two -tab side for smaller gap filled with pea gravel; align one-one and two-two for a larger gap in which you can grow something.

In the interest of keeping all options open, here is a list of some other choices.

Netlon - presumably manufactured or distributed under license somewhere in the US.

Decomposed granite - Nature's original permeable paving. Needs yearly? maintenance. Could run afoul of zoning laws requiring a hard surface, but a quick check doesn't turn up a smoking gun.

Poured concrete - Provided that you pour in smallish sections with a gap in between, this is a viable option, though the form making and other preparation work could overwhelm someone doing it themselves.

Interlocking pavers, such as these. These things are typically tightly jointed, so this doesn't allow for vegetation between the pavers. Plus many neighbors have such a system already, making it a bit usual.

Invisible Structures Grasspave - similar to Netlon.

Turf pavers such as these and these and these are the usual go-to materials when talking about permeable paving. They look like they would make wearing high heels a hazard and riding bikes on them could also be problematic.


Front yard meadow details - California natives

I previously promised more details on my front yard meadow. By Spring, it will be growing California native wildflowers purchased as seed from The Theodore Payne Foundation instead of the sterile and water hungry lawn.

Wild Heliotrope (Phacelia Tanacetifolia)
Goldfields (Lasthenia Californica)
Botta's Clarkia (Clarkia bottae)
Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia Unguiculata)
Purple Needle Grass (Nasella Pulchra)
Red Fescue (Festuca rubra molate)
Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata capitata)
Yarrow (Achilea millefolium)

and added some seeds I'd collected myself:

California poppy (Eschozila of a couple varieties)
blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium douglasii or Olsynium - this nomenclature is confusing to me)
Foothill California Fuchsia (wild selection - most likely Epilobium canum latifolium)

All the seed packets were of the small variety (1/8 oz?) except for the Achillea Millefolium which I had bought in quantity back when I thought I'd be planting just yarrow - I used only a fraction of a packet for that so that the yarrow seed volume was about the same as each of the others.

Seeds were mixed together with sand (maybe 1:30 seed:sand ratio by volume) and broadcast with a hand held, hand cranked, fetilizer/spreader over bare earth which had been lightly scratched up with a garden rake. I flipped the rake over, ran its back over the soil to cover the seeds, and watered thoroughly with a light spray so as not to wash the seeds away. I then had to leave for a few days while my house was fumigated, and my front yard trampled, but I've watered most days since then. That leaves me where I am today - a bit nervous because I've not seen lots of evidence of the seeds sprouting yet.

Some transplanted specimens are doing well enough: A low spot in the meadow designed to capture rainwater received a Mexican rush (Juncus mexicanus) from another part of the yard where it wasn't doing so well. It's flourishing now. Two other places received transplants of Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis probably 'Warren Peak'), which didn't seem to do well in my yard - those were left over experiments to see what worked and what didn't. They'll have another chance to prove themselves after a proper winter in the ground. Finally, I put in two yarrow plants from elsewhere in the yard. They'd been doing fine, but seemed to need more water than I wanted to give them. On the other hand they'd been in the ground for less than a year and their root systems were doing well, so perhaps I needn't have moved them. With their healthy root growth, they probably would have needed less water in coming years.

Rainfall and wind

Last night had 0.09" of rain and a blustery wind that erradicated all signs that I'd ever cleaned up my yard from the previous high winds. I was hoping for more rain. Strangely, weather.com reports no rain at all for 90250. Weather Underground may be a bit more reliable - they allow personal weather station postings and had a 23 MPH wind advisory for Hawthorne last night - far more information than weather.com.

Edison delivers

Hard-nosed Vivian from Edison was out to spot my electrical meter and she warmed up immediately when we got to talking about my vegetable garden, which is featuring plenty of winter crops at the moment. We talked for quite a while, and I managed to convince her that Edison should upgrade the cables from the power line to my house to 2 AWG wires from the current 4 AWG (based upon my stated need for several 20A circuits in my garage workshop and plans for a kitchen update). Larger cables have a lower resistance which gives me a harder supply - the practical implications are faster motor start up, less voltage sag when running near peak loads, and less transient voltage drop when switching in a large appliance. Vivan left me with two meter location options, plenty of good advice about remaining compliant with Edison requirements, and a smile.

In true cascading home repair / bonus chore fashion, the bad part is that both meter locations will require moving the existing meter (one slightly and one dramatically). They also require cognizance of certain access and clearance issues when I'm installing a trellis cover over my patio, a task I've had on my mental list for a long time, but which I now have to think about with much more exactitude.


Electrical service upgrade; permeable pavement

Apparently Tom from Edison was struck ill on the 20th of December when he said he'd come and spot my new 200A service entrance. I'm asking for the new SE to be a replacement for the old one, but the rules for placement may have changed since 1952 when this house was built and due to the presence of my new doors next to the old box. Tom's absence took until to day to resolve because of the holidays. I'm now getting a visit on Friday from Vivian on Friday, the earliest that Edison could get me back in the queue. On the phone she doesn't sound like she messes around, even though I told her I wanted to educate myself by talking with her when she arrives. Educate means influence her decision, of course. She didn't see through that ploy at all. Nope, not at all.

I came across this blog and a little googling lead to Angelus Block Co in Rialto - almost next door. They manufacture and supply the SF Rima permeable paver, an 8.2" by 8.2" 80 mm thick , 16+ pound, square paver that allows for either turf or gravel between pavers. This could be useful for my driveway. This idea is a little bit of a change from the turf pavers that I had considered, or the poured in place concrete pavers that I've been daydreaming about recently. The turf pavers, with internal opening for grass to grow in, have a tendency to break. These pavers, with a gap at their edges, are much less prone to breakage. You can also walk on them with much less fear of catching your foot in one of the cells (or your heel if you have spiky ones). There is actually an interlocking concrete paver institute!

Water permeable paving is good for the environment of course, because it doesn't just funnel rain water and pollutants to the nearest storm drain, but what sorts of native plants will grow in the cracks between pavers or am I doomed to pea gravel? My brother will point out that I currently have a permeable pavement, but I don't think that 30 year old cracked asphalt really qualifies.

Madrona Marsh

New Year's meal included Dungeness crab. It's in season, and I recommend you go to you local asian store (Ranch 99 is mine) and buy some.

We volunteered at the Madrona Marsh today for about 2-1/2 hours pulling out dead native sunflowers that had seeded into the lowlands. I guess the planners are worried about the effect of decaying vegetation on what will soon again be wetlands. Apparently the birds had gathered all the seed they could and the rest had dispersed from the flowers to sprout again next year.

When I was there earlier in the year during the full bloom of the sunflowers, there were many birds taking advantage of the plants for cover and food. Today there were also a number of birders, perhaps due to a favorable Jan 3 article in the LA Times. I saw a few plants that I wasn't familar with including bladder pod, a type of buckwheat that I didn't know, Encelia (bush sunflower), and rattle weed (which was not unattractive despite it's name).

Ruth mentioned that we needed rain, and a look at my previous two blogs confirms that we have only about 1" total as of today. According to my previous analysis, that's about 1 sigma below average for the end of December. So while it is drier than normal there's no real cause for alarm quite yet since we have all of January to get to our season average of about 6" (plus or minus ~3") on Jan 31st.