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.




"The WGS SV-1 mission is the first installment of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system. WGS will be an important element of a new high-capacity satellite communications system that will provide enhanced communications capabilities to our troops in the field for the next decade and beyond. WGS will enable enhanced and more flexible execution of Command and Control, Communications Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR), battle management, and combat support information. WGS will also augment the existing service available on the UHF F/O satellites by providing additional information broadcast capabilities via Global Broadcast Series (GBS).

The WGS SV-1 mission marks the eleventh Atlas V launch and the first launch of an Atlas V 421 configuration (4 meter fairing, 2 solid rocket boosters, 1 Centaur upper stage engine)."


Purchases at the Payne Foundation

I used my short list of plants at the Payne Foundation members sale last weekend, managing to purchase only one plant that was not on my written list. The Payne Foundation has expanded their selection to include some nicely fired garden pots that seemed to sell at fair prices (though no additional members discount was offered on them). Juli bought two (shown below) for $15 each for her patio, which I thought a good price. I didn't buy any, though I considered it seriously.

Discussion with one of the helpers at the Payne Foundation confirms that the smart shoppers eschew the sale dates, but do go during regular hours a day or two before hand in order to get best selection at full price. I missed out on Sidalcea malviflora (checkerbloom) because they had one plant which sold before the official sale.

My purchases:
3x 1 gal hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea). These were oddly expensive. This salvia is supposed to grow easily in a wide variety of conditions, including dry shade (meaning that it ought to be easy to propagate) yet it was $10 ea. whereas most of the 1 gal plants were $8. Maybe the cost is driven by low growth rate. Payne Foundation online plant directory indicates well drained soil, but I'm sure it wouldn't be on my list if I didn't have another reference saying that it can take clay.
1x 1 gal yerba buena (Satureja douglasi)This one was on my interest list, but I don't have any idea where I will put it. Who wouldn't be curious to try to grow some "good herb"? Yerba Buena was the original name for San Francisco and supposedly the herb makes a nice, minty tea.
3x 1 gal carex praegracillus (sedge) for the meadow. These were each divided in four and planted the same day in what I hope is a random looking but uniform distribution across the meadow. It seems to be doing well after hand and sprinkler watering.
2x 1 gal seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus "Sea Breeze"). Also planted in the meadow the same day and seemingly doing well. I have one other planted last year at this time that is now 14" across located where it gets partial shade from a citrus tree and doing well. Summer flowers were profuse and fairly long lasting. All three plants are visible at the same time from some vantage points - that's a useful design element (repetition and use of repetition to draw the eye into the landscape) that I have mostly ignored until now.
1x 5 gal western redbud (cercis occidentalis) for my back yard. This isn't planted yet, but it's meant to somehow join the one that I planted last year in the back yard.
1x 1gal California bush sunflower (Encelia californica). This was my impulse purchase. I think I can put it in the front yard behind the meadow, but I 'm a bit concerned about proper soil and water. Near the citrus might be a good since it will allow a bit more regular water.

I feel that I'm moving out of the experimental, "let's try one of these and see how I like it / if it dies" phase and into a more design-driven phase. I've learned some valuable lessons about how a meadow can and can not work in place of a lawn, and the fact that I am now buying multiples of the same plant seems to indicate that at least in part I'm focusing more on design than in the past.

The list of California native plants that don't like me or my garden includes:
manzanita - One of two different species killed, one going strong but poorly sited from a design standpoint.
Idaho fescue - It didn't like either of the two places I tried it and eventually faded to nothing.
California polypody fern - Maybe I watered it to death, maybe it died back to a dormant state.
Fremontodendron (Flannel bush) - Not the usual watering problem; this one died of thirst. I had it in a pot and didn't water it enough.
Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens)- This ought to be impossible to kill, but I planted it poorly and then moved it at the wrong time. Several others are going strong.

I'm sure there's more that I've forgotten.


"California" pepper tree

Funny how information sometimes seems to converge from different places and answer your longstanding questions. The question was whether the California pepper tree was actually a native plant.

At El Dorado Park the other day I learned It's actually from Peru. It turns out that the first one only made it here to California in 1830. It's still alive at the Mission San Luis Rey.