Memorial Day weekend wrapup

Friday was the Raingutter Regatta - think balsawood sail boats, powered by huffing and puffing Cub Scouts, furiously racing a 12' length of rain gutter. We lost miserably. Even a scout that didn't show up had a faster boat. It turns out our sail was too wide and dragged on the edges of the gutter. Bad parent that I am, I had taken charge of the absent kid's boat and had some of the smaller Scouts race it. We were beaten handily each time. Chalk it up as learning experience.

Scouts then met at the National Cemetery in Westwood on Saturday at the painful hour of 7:30 AM in order to place flags on the graves of the veterans buried there. Our group was responsible for a couple hundred, but ended up doing a few more areas as well. Some of the history was interesting: We saw grave sites from the Spanish American war as well as non-citizen veterans from the world over: Mexico, Phillipines, Italy and Germany. With our renewed focus on Memorial Day as a nation, this was a fitting activity.

We visited the Wilson Park Farmers' Market later and got our first haul of delicious summer fruit. Cherries were even better than last week, if possible. Some early peaches were delicious, as were the plums.

Sunday we BBQ'd with family and GF Juli. My famous pork ribs were the featured entree, and guests brought delicious side dishes and fantastic desserts. Construction of the tee pee continued, and we got it all lashed up and draped (not so well) with a canvas drop cloth.

Monday was a visit to the Fiesta Hermosa where I purchased a pair of sculptures to watch over the back yard from Jeanne and Dana of paperandstone.com. They are similar in concept to this, but friendlier looking.


Weekend wrapup

This weekend included a trip to the dump (I had amazing support from Juli on that one), construction of a backyard tepee made from the remains of the bottle brush tree and the cotoneaster, the Wilson Park farmers' market, shopping at Costco (meat, a weed whacker, and a new DVD player), BBQ both Sat and Sunday (including a first of BBQ broccoli, which I probably won't try again with the same technique), toasted marshmallows with son on Sunday night after his return from his mother's.

The farmers' market had delicious fresh strawberries and a second week of cherries (also fantastic). John from Tenerelli Orchards is not yet at the farmers' market, so I know the peaches aren't ready. A quick taste of some early peaches from other growers proved me right.

Other activities: Harvested seed from front yard meadow, thought about how to extend natives into the area between sidewalk and curb, used the new new weed whacker to demo the front yard meadow, made pieces for 5 wooden tool boxes for cub scouts to build, helped Juli get her wisteria planted, watched a couple episodes of the first season of 6 Feet Under. I'm really enjoying catching up on the last decade of video and movies.



I've just read an interesting article about masting. Masting is the phenomenon of heavy seed production in some years, followed by a scarcity of seed production in other years. California oaks have this characteristic. Masting is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation whereby predators of the seed are starved for a few years, reducing populations which are then more easily satiated in years of plenty giving the "left over" seed better chance at sprouting.

The most interesting aspect of masting is that it is temporally correlated across large distances. Locally, an entire woodland community might be masting and the odds are good that similar species hundreds of miles away will be doing the same thing.

The article is marred by an error, previously made in this very blog (as a working assumption, I'll add), but subsequently corrected. The authors make great hay with the fact that the most obvious possible correlating factor, rainfall, is normally distributed, something that Grace and I have discussed previously and emphatically disproved, at least for southern California.

Ultimately the authors conclude that temperatures in April, which are likewise correlated over large distances, are likely to be responsible for masting.

Grow more oaks.

California native grasses on Praire Ave - Fin

Previously, in part trois, I had claimed influence with my fair city in regards to putting in native plants in a nearby landscaping project. Not so much.

A quick driveby on the day of plant installation showed tons of exotics and nary a native to be found. A quick email to my City contacts and the story gets muddled. I'd like to think there were a few red faces, but they were probably only slightly pink behind the ears, and only briefly at that. I heard a lot of second hand excuses from the landscape installer: wrong time of year, only flower once per year, couldn't get them in quantity, etc. Personally, I suspect that there was a sweetheart deal / kickback arrangement between the landscaper and his supplier. If the landscaper were forced to buy from a different supplier, then bye bye sweetheart deal.

Ultimately they did come back and install some Douglas iris and ceanothus - sort of sprinkled in between the roses, agapanthus, pittosporum, and bird of paradise. I'm not sure I give them a long life with the summer water, but regardless of plant selection the area looks better than before so I have a net gain in happiness.


"True" cost of home improvement hobby

As an estimate of the true cost of my home improvement hobby, I tallied the receipts that I have on hand from Home Depot, Lowes, and Habitat for Humanity (who supplied the French doors). The total is $2345.27. The earliest expenditure is 9/2006. The most recent is today. This doesn't reflect returns or lost receipts, of which I believe there is more than one. Nor does it include my time, the psychic reward, the increase/decrease in home value or the exterior plantings.

Weekends roundup - Ren Faire, attic vent, etc

Last weekend I attended the Ren Faire. Weather was beautiful in Pomona - breezy and 70F. I picked up some really nice ceramics from Jon Price. I've let my interest in ceramics languish for a while but these had such a nice glaze on them that I couldn't say no.

This weekend I managed to strike one more small item off my to do list by adding an attic vent over my room. This 1954 or '56 addition to the house had only a gable vent (no soffit vents), poor connection to the rest of the attic (through a small crawlway in what used to be the roof of the original house), and no insulation in the ceiling. I managed to fix two of three by expanding the crawlway and adding an attic vent. I'll leave the insulation task for later. I also think that I need a few more soffit vents to get best air flow and therefore best cooling in my attic, but I'm certainly going to be cooler this summer.

Home Depot says, "You should have 1 square foot of unblocked vent for every 300 cubic feet of free attic space. Distribute intake and outtake vents evenly throughout your attic. For adequate air circulation, vents must draw and release air through multiple sources." with ~1000 square feet and approximately 5' at the roof peak, I should have about 2500 cubic feet or 8 to 9 square feet of vent (intake and outlet combined but distributed evenly, I think). I doubt that I have half of that, so there's clearly more room for improvement.

I'm just about done with the easy home chores before I have to tackle replumbing. On the one hand, I'm biting off as much as I can easily chew in a weekend. On the other hand, I have to get started on the pipes some time since repiping is necessary for upgraded electrical.


Fire in Griffith Park - opportunity knocking

Monkeyflower over on California Native Plant PR is urging the City of LA to do the right thing and not hydroseed with non-natives in the burned out areas of Griffith Park. A review of the LA Times turns up an article on the Griffith Park Fire that seems to indicate an awareness of the issue.

Albert Torres, the park's chief ranger, said that among the questions the group will deal with is whether or not to re-seed burned areas or let vegetation come back naturally.

"The fire is part of the ecology of the area. There are an assortment of native plants that will not propagate unless there is a fire," Torres said.

I have to agree, but instead of merely blogging, I'll write a letter, or at least an email.

11 May P.M. update. I kept it short and sweet.

Hello -

I'm writing to express support for the idea of using the recent fire as a starting point for a native plant recovery program in Griffith Park. Native plants have a wealth of advantages over non-natives and have a particularly California aesthetic that is gaining currency with the public at large.


LA makes investment in its river

River plans are all the rage now. The LA City council just approved one for the LA River, so why not have one for poor little Dominguez Channel?

Check the Friends of the LA River web site.

See the actual plan http://www.lariverrmp.org/

My emphasis in italics.

City Council approves plan to revitalize the L.A. River
By Steve Hymon, Times Staff Writer
2:41 PM PDT, May 9, 2007

Embracing an ambitious and expensive vision, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved 12-0 a long-awaited blueprint for revitalizing the much-maligned Los Angeles River.

The plan -- which itself cost $3 million -- calls for spending as much as $2 billion over the next half century on more than 200 projects along the 31 miles of riverbed within Los Angeles' city limits.

It took five years to frame the details, but the roots of the proposed river restoration go back to a fledgling group of environmentalists who in the late 1980s began insisting that the river could be much more than a concrete-lined flood control channel.

"This is a great step," said Lewis MacAdams, founder of the activist group Friends of the Los Angeles River. "One of our first slogans was when the steelhead trout returns to the Los Angeles River, then our work is done, and to see an acknowledgment of steelhead in the plan -- well, I like that."

Echoing that thought was an ebullient councilman, Ed Reyes, who represents parts of northeast Los Angeles and is chairman of the council's river committee.

"This is now a real mandate that declares the river is a real river and we're going to give it life and support the way it supported us when Los Angeles was first started," Reyes said.

Among the proposed projects are dozens of new parks and pedestrian walkways and bridges. The plan also calls for some river-adjacent areas to be rezoned to allow for more housing to be built near the waterway and its parks.

At its most extreme, the plan proposes knocking down one of the concrete walls that contains the river to expand the channel and make it look more natural. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying that prospect.

"It's incredibly visionary and I think they've set the bar high," said Nancy Steele, executive director of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council. "The key is going to be implementation."

Steele said that both the city and region have a rich history of putting together plans for rivers and then never following through. She noted that the river plan doesn't include upstream tributaries.

Hitting on that point, Councilman Richard Alarcon voted for the plan but threatened to withhold support unless studies are conducted to include parks along tributaries in his district. "In the Valley" the river "goes through all the rich communities," Alarcon said.

Alarcon represents the northeast San Fernando Valley, which is bisected by the Tujunga Wash.

The council also committed to begin creating a three-tiered management structure to oversee the restoration plan's implementation.

A joint powers authority between the city and county would manage projects within the river channel, a nonprofit appointed by elected officials would manage and construct parks along the river, and a philanthropic organization would help raise private funds.

Other thorny issues remain: finding money for projects -- state and federal help will likely be required -- and improving water quality. The city is in the early stages of a federally ordered cleanup of several pollutants in the waterway, including trash, bacteria and heavy metals.


Plight of the bumblebee

From an LA Times article on the vanishing honey bee. They start off mentioning a poorly understood phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder that has afflicted commercial honey bees in recent years, then segue to other information. My front yard meadow attracts bees by the 100s and I was fortunate to provide homes for some Megachile last summer.

...DESPITE all the gardeners who appreciate bees' importance, the bugs have a long-running image problem with most folks. PR highlights have been few and far between Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Flight of the Bumblebee" and Bit-O-Honey. Bees are written off as sting-from-the-hip automatons, more menacing than ever thanks to the hype about Africanized bees. Although Africanized bees can be a hazard, a honeybee swarm definitely isn't.

"You can walk right into it," says Mace Vaughn, an entomologist for the Xerces Society, a nonprofit in Portland, Ore., formed to protect habitat for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. "They don't have anything to defend. Bees only sting when they feel they've got something to defend, like all their food and young in the hive. When they're at flowers or swarming, they're actually harmless."

Bees are blamed for breaking up picnics, barbecues and campsites when the perpetrators are actually wasps, which are carnivores. Bees are strictly vegan. "We lump them all into this pest category that we need to destroy or be afraid of," Vaughn says.

"People have this automatic association with killer bees," says Lisa Freeman, a Mar Vista publicist who got to know the real bee story when a hive took up residence on her front-porch patio. After the colony went to work in her yard, a huge avocado tree that had been barren for years started to sprout fruit, and her plum tree was "bursting."

Bees can make a vegetable patch yield so many zucchini, "you hardly know what to do with them," Mussen of UC Davis says. "If you put a net over some of those female zucchini flowers and don't let the bees in there, it'll be very short and crooked. None of them will grow right if they don't get pollinated well."

If you want a thriving garden or fruit tree, you need bees. You can hope scouts find your flowers, though the bees may not like some blooms, including roses. Or you can hope that someone in the neighborhood has a beehive. Or you can make your own yard more bee-friendly....


Weekend garden tour and other doings

I was on the Payne Foundation garden tour this weekend. I hauled along child and GF Juli. Child tolerated it, and even had a good time in some gardens, though he denied it later. Juli got enthusiastic about some of the gardens too, and didn't deny it.

There were highlights or lessons in nearly every garden. One of the things that I paid a lot of attention to were the water features. One in particular was quite nice, perhaps custom made, it was completely in tune with the yard from the standpoint of size, sound (many commercial fountains end up sounding like jets or urinals), functionality, and whimsy. It featured 1/8 copper tubing bent into a question mark-shaped stem that dripped water onto attached copper leaves, recirculating through a bed of gravel. The stem and leaf structures were manifolded to give different rates of flow at each petal. Humming birds are said to love that fountain, drinking from the falling stream. A saucy frog with an umbrella completed the scene. Juli took a few photos, one of which I've posted below - the frog's mouth is aimed up near the bottom of the shot. I might have to try my hand at making my own version of this fountain.

Goldfinches were an animal highlight in the garden of Wildscaping.com's hostess, who was also very gracious despite a bad cold. She had recommendations of a "thistle sock" as a bird feeder for the goldfinches, along with recommendations to buy two or more socks and wash them between uses to spread of a Goldfinch eye disease. She recommended the larger of two commonly available sizes to avoid filling it daily due to the voracious appetites of the goldfinches.

The plants were not everything they could have been due to our unusually low rainfall, but some of the plant highlights that I thought I could use in my own yard were a Carex (sedge) lawn (two kinds, one that spreads by seed and one by runners) and Aristida Purpurea (purple three awn grass, which looks far better in person than in most pictures and was used in several gardens. The previous link has one of the few good pictures that I've seen online).

There were design elements that I enjoyed absorbing too. Perhaps one lesson is to be more daring with little surprise garden paths and hidden areas. I'll try to keep this in mind as I redo my back yard and plan for fall planting in the front.

The weekend ended with a little birthday party for me. I'm now officially in my 5th decade of life. Guests were mostly well-behaved, and appreciated even when misbehaving.