2008-12-26

Composting illegal?

An LA Times article, "Red tape ensnares L.A. flower grower's composting efforts"


Silver Lake Farms owner is cited by city agency for composting waste not generated in her home. Officials say she will be OK if they receive no more complaints.

By Mary MacVean
December 26, 2008

Composting fruit and vegetable scraps has become a darling of the sustainability movement, and government officials sing its praises, but drop the wrong carrot tops or lettuce leaves on a backyard compost pile and you could be breaking state law.

"Overall, composting is great. We love it," said Andrew Hughan, spokesman for the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

However, to compost without a solid waste facility permit, you must meet certain requirements, including that the composting material must be generated onsite unless it is placed in a vessel that controls airborne emissions. That means a person who takes a neighbor's apple peels or wilted spinach and drops them on a compost pile, or into a homemade bin, could be cited.

It's pretty unlikely that will happen, Hughan said, explaining, "We have bigger fish to fry."

But it's not impossible.


Follow the link above for the complete story.

Native plant newsfeed added

I've added a California native plant newsfeed to my blog. It's located at the bottom of the right hand column.

Los Angeles area garden blogs via Blotanical

I've been a member of Blotanical since April. It's a garden blog networking site. The goal is to get garden bloggers talking to one another and to connect geographically similar garden bloggers. Perhaps my preferred browser (Firefox) was not fully supported because I've found the site hard to navigate. I'm not a computer neophyte, but I have limited time to puzzle out confusing and non-standard link trees. Consequently, I've spent little time there beyond an occasional visit to see if it (or I) have changed.

Today I found the true power of Blotanical when I went in search of the map applet that I knew had to be somewhere on the site - you know, the one that lets you put in a town or city and then see graphically where nearby bloggers are located. I found it, and with it I discovered almost a dozen blogs in and around Los Angeles that I was completely unaware of. Here's the link to the north America blog map. I don't know if you have to be logged in to make full use of it.

The Los Angeles local blogs that I found and plan to check back on are:
http://heirloomclub.blogspot.com/

http://www.bloomsandbees.com/ (looks like it's a cobweb, but the author may come back. There's a nice post on Brown Widow spiders too)

http://sbgardendesign.wordpress.com/ (design)

http://thegardenpages.blogspot.com/

http://onmygreenthumb.blogspot.com/ (infrequent posts)

http://rootsinthecity.wordpress.com/

http://chefinthegarden.blogspot.com/ (another cobweb, but might have some older material that's interesting)

The Southern California blogs that seem interesting are:

http://luxbotaniverse.blogspot.com/

http://gardensofpetersonville.blogspot.com/

http://earlysnowdrop.blogspot.com/

http://angelwithdirtyfingernails.blogspot.com/

http://growthis.blogspot.com/

2008-12-24

Rain 0.25"; ~3.89" total

We have a series of storms moving through. This noon time we had accumulated 0.25" from the previous night and day bringing our season total to ~3.89"

We're running comfortably above the median rainfall for this time in an average season*, but we still have January and February to come which are typically our wettest months.



*The median (half above and half below) cumulative rainfall from Sept through December 31 is around 2.0". The 3rd quartile on Dec 31 (3/4 below, 1/4 above) is about 5".

2008-12-23

Hot Ralston

I was promised some Ralston, and then it was taken away.

I can buy a package of 12 from Amazon for $34.25 or three boxes from the Vermont Country Store for $12.90.

Malted milk mix seems to have gone the same route.

2008-12-22

Fruit tree arbor

Now is the time to plant bare root fruit trees and the LA Times Home and Garden section has an interesting article on a Santa Rosa plum arbor used on a home entryway. It's made me think that a stick-built arbor planned for my kitchen door could be made with fruit trees instead. Potential problems with fruit trees include the fact that it would get only morning sun and my heavy clay soil.

UC Davis has information on the cultural requirements for fruit trees. Specifically, they recommend 6H of sunlight (early morning light is best) during the growing season and 3' of well draining soil or raised beds.

From the LA Times article by Emily Green:

...Marin-based UC Cooperative Extension horticulturist Steven Swain has some tips.

First, he suggests plotting out the tunnel's shape using wire, then constructing a temporary frame.

"The nicest arbors I've seen were grown by people who came up with a small wire enclosure that they could take down as the trees grew," he says. "Then they could tie the branches to the wire enclosure. That will allow you to train things. It also gives you a reference point about where you want to prune."

Laissez faire gardeners could forgo the frame by allowing the trees to retain a natural shape and by pruning to keep the path clear. Whatever form you choose, naturalistic or sculpted, Swain has more tips.

When planting the trees, take off as many lateral branches as you need.

"You can even prune the tree down to a whip," he says.

As new growth comes in, he recommends pruning for shape and gently tying new growth in the shape you desire. But do this in late summer, he says. Cuts on main branches made in winter will stimulate only wild growth. Done at the right time, it will keep arbor maintenance to a minimum. Once the trees are where you want them and branches are growing in roughly the right directions, you will be on your way to what Rochlin describes as a year-round show.


In an accompanying article they suggest the following selection criteria and varieties of tree:

Varieties: Consider peaches, plums, apricots, apples, almonds, even the relatively newfangled pluots and apriums. A common mistake that limits fruit yield in the Los Angeles area: planting varieties that need temperatures to drop below 45 degrees for at least 300 hours annually. For gardeners in the relatively mild, non-mountainous areas of Southern California, look for "low-chill" varieties.

Low-chill apples include 'Anna,' 'Beverly Hills,' 'Dorsett Golden,' 'Tropical Beauty' and 'Ein Shemer.' Low-chill plum varieties include 'Santa Rosa,' 'Burgundy' and 'Beauty.' For apricots, UC Cooperative Extension horticulturist Steven Swain recommends 'Gold Kist,' 'Katy,' 'Early Golden' and 'Newcastle.'

Most bare-root trees take three years to fruit. Anna apples fruit the first year.


Spacing: Davida Rochlin's plum arbor covers a 29-foot-long walkway. It contains three trees on each side, planted at identical 8-foot intervals. Each tree is 6 feet away from its twin on the opposite side of the path, roughly a foot and a half from the walkway.


The photo on the LA Times is dismayingly small and not clickable for a larger image.

Sychronicity brought Anne from A Plant Slut's Garden to my blog in the post just before this one, and her most recent Weekly Design Recipe blog post is about making a fruit garden wall. Both she and the LA Times link to Dave Wilson Nursery for more information.

2008-12-21

Weekend gardening punchlist

I planted two 1 gal pots of Checkermallow (Sidalcea malvaeflora) purchased from the Payne Foundation in my front yard meadow today. I also found and moved the two Sidalcea that I planted last year, so now I have a group of four positioned around the Wild Rose (Rosa californica) that I positioned ever so carefully to block the neighbor's kids from running through the yard. The rose is looking a bit stressed. According to the nice native plant pruning calendar that I found at Yerba Buena Nursery, this is the time it ought to be pruned ("Can be selectively pruned to thin or control, or coppiced") so perhaps I'll do that soon.

It probably doesn't matter too much that there are four Sildalcea - they are low to the ground and go summer deciduous. However, groups of three are a better design grouping, so I moved and replanted one surviving Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) and freshly planted two more from 1 gallon containers along a stepping stone path in the front. Actually, I moved the stepping stones and then adjusted the plants in a lather-rinse-repeat cycle until it all looked copacetic. Here's a shot before the final "rinse" when I moved the nearest stepping stone leftward. The Muhlenbergia is at the right of the far stepping stones. The rose is atop the berm nearer the sidwalk. Also in this view is a prostrate Ceanothus (foreground and left), Encelia (behind garden stake at 11:00. I have another near enough to qualify for repetition,), citrus (leaves at left), Nasella pulchra (10:00), Verbena lilacina (12:00)

Muhlenbergia has a strong structural form when the seed stalks grow - they are 3-4' tall arching soft spikes, but I've been unable to get mine to do that. If I can, they ought to look great against the Italian Cypress. However, I think that the one survivor was too close to the Italian Cypress and the root competition was too much because it never sent up the expected stalks. Or perhaps it needs another year to get established.

I also picked up some potting soil and seed starting flats from the local nursery. They have piles and piles of throw-away and recyclable pots so they just gave me some. It's good to have a friendly working relationship with a nursery. I commented at checkout that they didn't have a web site, but it turns out that the parent corporation does. I go to South Bay Gardens which is the retail side of Performance Nursery.


Sunday brought more replanting in the front yard. Putting to use my understanding that massed plants make more of a statement than individuals, I consolidated an Erigeron glaucus (Seaside Daisy) from the meadow to a place near another Erigeron. I probably also saved the transplanted E. from certain death later this year. The yarrow which forms the bulk of the meadow area is really aggressive.

I have a sometime habit of burying the plant stake (the plastic stake which has identifying information) along with the plant. So today I also solved the mystery of which E. glaucus are in my garden, when I dug them up. I have E. glaucus "Arthur Menzies " and "Cape Sebastian". I can't tell them apart, but at least they are side by side now.

The Bouteloua gracilis (blue Gramma grass) got divided and moved, and a prostrate salvia with nice blue flowers (name long forgotten) got moved. Hope they survive.

I also demo'd both large buckwheat plants. I think that if a buckwheat has been planted for a year or less you can dig it up and hope to transplant it. After a second year of growth, the roots are very difficult dig out and there's little hope of transplant. I'll put a smaller species in their place. I also doubled down on the existing Artemisia (California sage brush), adding one that I'd propogated earlier in the year to provide repetition. I have a third in reserve, but they seem like aggressive spreaders, so I don't think I want too many even though I have a big open spot right now.

I was moaning just a couple posts ago about how my miner's lettuce has never germinated. It turns out that last year's seed looks like it's growing. The plants are a bit young for me to tell definitively, but it sure looks like miner's lettuce. This year's seed is showing no signs of life yet.

2008-12-19

Arugula and bacon quiche


I took this to a potluck. My attempt was not as outstanding as the reviews on epicurious had led me to believe. I've had a year long love affair with arugula, particularly when matched with bacon, but this didn't quite do it for me. I will make it or a similar recipe again, but I'll want to moderate the bacon more carefully (I over indulged in my version). When combined with the Gruyere, there's was a bit too much grease for my taste. The addition of balsamic vinegar to the sauteed arugula was inspired, however, so I'll steal that little bit of cooking wisdom for later use.

Seeds, seeds, seeds

I've been so busy that I didn't get many native seeds planted before the recent rains. Two flats of miner's lettuce were already planted (not germinating so far, just like last year. Maybe it's me?).

However, I think that December is not too late to start my other native plants from seed. So the other night I must have planted a dozen or more 4" pots, quite a feat in the dark. However, I still have many more seeds to go which is leading to feeling of impending native plant crisis.


I'll need quite a few more 4" pots which I ought to get tomorrow. My local independent nursery, South Bay Gardens, knows me, so it's probably just a matter of asking them.

The Phaecelia tenacetifolia in the front reseeded well even after I harvested pounds of seed and it's sprouting. I have three artichokes planted amongst them and I have to keep pulling the Phaecelia to make room for the artichokes. I've seen a few Clarkia poking their heads above the soil too.

2008-12-18

Rain 0.40"; ~3.63" for the season

The rain that fell yesterday and last night gave us 0.40".

Our rainfall total is up to 3.63"

California's wettest months are January and February.

My neighbors in Redondo Beach and my friends in Pasadena typically have heavier rainfall than I. BadMom explained this once - it has to do with nearby hills. Even the hills up from the beach in Redondo are enough to shed more rain. Out here on the coastal prairie plains of Hawthorne it's flat.

2008-12-17

Friday meal

I made this chicken dish tonight, along with arugula wilted on top of bacon bits and onion. They don't really go together, but so what? Note the festive seasonal-themed bowl.


The chicken recipe came from Recipezarr.com but you can find it in several other places on the web. If I didn't need to log in on recipezaar to rate this recipe I'd give it 3.5 out of 5, and with a few tweaks I could have it up to a regular 4 in my kitchen.

The origins on recipezaar are said to be from a Japanese exchange student's mother, but balsamic vinegar doesn't seem to be a very authentic Japanese ingredient. I figured that with the balsamic vinegar I wouldn't need sugar and I was right: I used about half a teaspoon of sugar and I could have done without entirely. I also bowed to a recently rebellious stomach and didn't add a hot pepper. If I had, perhaps a little sugar would have tasted better, but I still think I could have done without any sugar. Finally, I added four or five cloves of garlic and didn't discard after cooking - they tasted delicious!

I'm not sure why the recipe doesn't have you brown the chicken beforehand. Plain, boiled, chicken skin doesn't have an appealing texture to me. I did a little browning, but I might do away with the skin if I make this again. Dark meat chicken can handle some extended cooking, so thighs or legs work fine in this recipe.


Ingredients

* 8 chicken drumsticks, skin on (the skin is important for flavour, and is so tasty to eat!)
* 1 cup water
* 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
* 1/3 cup soy sauce
* 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
* 1 garlic clove, peeled and bruised
* 1 small hot chili pepper, slit open, seeds removed

Directions

1. Place all the ingredients in a saucepan over a high heat.
2. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
3. Remove any scum that rises to the surface.
4. Increase the heat, turning the drumsticks frequently in the sauce, and cook until the liquid has reduced to a sticky glaze.
5. Arrange the chicken on a serving platter, remove the garlic clove and chili from the liquid, and spoon the glaze over.
NOTE It's a glaze rather than a sauce, so there's not a whole lot of it.

Ca native plant themed gifts

"If you're looking for a gift for a native plant aficionado, check out our New California Garden Webshop: http://www.cafepress.com/newcagarden Proceeds from this webshop will go to support Project SOUND and our native plant gardening programs."

-email from Connie Vadheim

2008-12-15

Door repair

I've been weatherizing my house frantically. The salvaged French doors needed some repair along their bottom edges. Here's the tools I used. The wooden piece is nailed in place and provides a guide for when I cut the door. Square is difficult with salvaged doors which have been shaved. I looked to the hinge side to be straight and measured down off the muntins / molding to get an even cut across the bottom. The framing square checks for sanity. Measure twice cut twice, I always say.

In the category of everything old is new again, this is my favorite "new" tool which I received at a garage sale for free. It's an old folding rule. I thought for years that you'd use this tool just like a tape measure, and ignored it as too old and clunky. Little did I know that you unleash the real power of this tool when you use it as a story pole. Simply extend the brass slide out to fit inside dimensions and take it over to your work to mark the correct size right on it. This is FAR more accurate than transferring measurements made with a tape.

Grubs in my compost

I've long found these large grubs in my compost. I figure they're part of the regular compost ecosystem and I throw them back in when I fork them out along with the compost. Does anyone know what they are? I have my suspicions and I'll Google a bit and post what I find later this week if I get around to it.



That's a quarter next to it for scale. He's playing possum on his side with his mouth end at the left.


Update 17 December: I believe that the grubs I found in my compost are Cotinus mutabilis aka Green Fruit Beetle, Green Fig Beetle, June Beetle . These are the striking and large metallic green beetles that hover through the garden in summer.

Spiced nuts

Updated in Dec 2009 after realizing that I had typos in both recipes.  I don't have the originals handy, but I made educated guesses on water in the 1st (I used 1/4 C last night and it worked out, but 1/3 is probably OK too) and sugar in the second.

In 1932 my grandmother got a recipe for spiced walnuts from her neighbor, Rose Jones. I got it from my grandmother in 1989. Here it is.

Spiced Walnuts from Rose Jones
1/4 C water
~2C walnuts
1-1/2 C sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
optional: sprinkle of nutmeg and/or clove

Cook water, sugar and salt to soft ball. Add vanilla and spices. I usually add more than the recipe calls for by a large amount. Stir in nuts until sugar is hard. Put out on wax paper and pick apart with a fork.

This weekend I was at the farmers' market with Juli where she picked up a recipe for spiced walnuts.

Spiced Walnuts (Torrance Farmers' Market)
4 C walnuts
6 T water
1-1/2 C sugar
1/2 T cinnamon
1/2 T salt
1 T vanilla

Combine all ingredients but nuts and cook 4 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add walnuts. Stir until covered. Spread on wax paper to cool.

So do people now like 50% less sugar on their walnuts now than in 1930? I think yes, based on how I've made Rose's recipe for years - with a very healthy extra amount of nuts. They probably would have made one batch of nuts last a really long time in 1932, but we typically won't do that today. Additionally, sugar was surely less common in the everyday diet back then, so perhaps no one felt guilt about eating it in quantity.

The nuts are good, either way. And tasty with both walnuts and pecans.

The pecans look like they have less sugary flavor on them.

Pinquitos with lamb

I started out making bbq pinquitos* beans, but along the way I got diverted. I added a leftover lamb bone and pan juices from a leg I roasted a while back, crushed tomatoes, thyme, chopped onion and mushrooms sauteed in bacon grease, bay and rosemary from the back yard, garlic, salt and pepper, plus water and wine. Poured hot over frozen peas it all reached the perfect temperature, flavor and texture combination for a rainy Monday evening. There's a great lamb essence in the broth, the barely cooked peas burst with fresh sweetness when you bite them, and the beans have a firm texture and mellow taste that rounds it all out.

Perhaps I'm practicing for this summer when I hope that I'll be pulling in great harvests of beans from my garden.




Next up: Christmas lima beans (no really, they are variegated red and white like Christmas wrapping paper).



*What are pinquitos?

I'm buying the occasional bag of dried beans these days from a guy at the farmer's market who drives them down along with fabulous artichokes from Lompoc. I generally don't buy the artichokes these days because they seem so expensive and I have three plants of my own on the way, but I do buy the beans! Pinquitos are most similar to pinto beans, but they are smaller with a slightly more mellow flavor. They are the hallmark bean in the bbq beans that are traditionally served with Santa Maria style bbq (a roast of tri-tip). You used to be able to buy a can from S&W in the supermarket, but I haven't seen those in years.

1.52" of rain

Rainfall started last night about 10 PM and fell through at least half the day today. We ended up with 1.52" of rain from this storm, bringing the seasonal total to ~3.23".

1.52" over the course of ~12 hours is a nice rainfall for us in southern California. More is falling as I write. Hurray for rain!

edit: the "More is falling comment" was a short lived observation. The storm only brought us a little more. It was hard to measure, so I've adjusted the above rainfall figures up 0.01", the lower limit of my measuring ability.

2008-12-08

Lebkuchen or honey cake

Lebkuchen* is a German honey cake which I make as part of a family Christmas tradition.

Normally, I'll make some right after Thanksgiving and let it sit in a closed tin while the flavors meld. In my opinion, lebkuchen usually tastes best after Christmas which suggests that I could start even earlier.

The recipes that I use have candied fruit in them, the same as in the infamous fruitcake that is passed from one family to the next each year but never eaten. So, to the uninitiated it starts with a strike against it. Three actually, if you count the name and the fact that there's no chocolate in it. For those reasons it seems to be an acquired taste. Fortunately I have acquired the taste for it, or at least the tradition of it. At its best, lebkuchen is soft, chewy, fragrant, and sweet, with a little citrus bite that is a nice counterpoint to the sweet.

When I was little I enjoyed lebkuchen cookies at Christmas time that were made by Grandma (Oma). Family lore has it that Opa made her try many recipes before he found a recipe that reminded him of the cookies he'd had a child in Germany. The recipe that they settled on is from The Jewish Cookbook (it's actual name, so I am told).

I remember that many years I picked little bits of eggshell from the cookies. When I asked Oma about it, she told me that the recipe was difficult. I had visions of exotic yolk separation techniques or maybe even something wilder, but it turns out that the recipe is actually quite simple. It's just that Oma’s dedication and love exceeded her skill sometimes.

Lebkuchen from The Jewish Cookbook

Beat 4 eggs until light, add 2 cups brown sugar and beat well. Sift together 2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Add 2 oz of finely cut citron, and 1/4 pound of chopped walnuts to the flour. Stir into the egg mixture, and blend well. Spread the dough 1 and 1/2 inches thick in greased pans. Bake in a moderate oven, 350 F, for about 30 minutes, or until done. Cool, spread with White Icing, and cut into bars. Lebkuchen and Honey Cakes should be stored a week before using.

I always use a lemon glaze (lemon juice with powdered sugar) in place of the white icing recommended above.

This recipe is a bit too subtle in flavor for my tastes, though according to Opa it was "just right". My notes from an earlier year say that when I adhered strictly to the recipe I found that I would have preferred a bit more spice flavor. That part about "until done" is a bit amusing too. It's often difficult to tell without close inspection whether lebkuchen is overcooked or not.

Because there's virtually no fat in the recipe, my normal calibration for doneness that is trained on cakes is not reliable for lebkuchen, as I've found to my chagrin in 2 out of 3 recent years. To me, lebkuchen appears slightly under done when it is actually ready to be removed from the oven. This year I overcooked it slightly (even though I was close to the suggested 30 minutes time in oven) and that contributed a poorer rendition of this recipe than I had anticipated. I would suggest 25 minutes in the oven at most. I've yet to try fixing an over cooked lebkuchen with a little kirshwasser, rose water, or other liquid.

A recipe more to my taste comes from the LA Times, who some years ago had a feature article on Lebkuchen in their food section.

Raisin Lebkuchen from the LA Times

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup blanched silvered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup chopped candied fruit peel
1/2 cup chopped citron
Lemon Glaze

Beat egg and sugar together until smooth and fluffy in large bowl. Add honey, lemon peel and juice. Beat well.
Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. Gradually add to egg-sugar mixture on low speed of electric mixer.
Stir in raisins, almonds, candied peel and citron. Spread batter in greased 15x10-inch baking pan.
Bake at 375F for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly, then brush with lemon glaze and cut into pieces.
Remove pieces when cool and store in sealed container for at least a week.


The LA Times recipe is very flexible and forgiving. I've used it with regular raisins and currants substituted for the golden raisins. I've eliminated the candied fruit peel, and I've used walnuts instead of almonds and both the recipes work well. The only crucial part of both recipes is not to overcook the lebkuchen. This point can't be emphasized enough - don't overcook the lebkuchen!

You'll be storing the cut pieces of lebkuchen in a sealed container for at least a week, preferably two or more, before the flavors start to meld, and it picks up a softer texture. In order make the pieces look best, you should apply the lemon glaze and then slice the pieces while the glaze is still liquid. Leave the glaze to solidify and then slice again along the same cuts and remove the pieces from the pan. Cutting the lebkuchen like this prevents big chunks of the white frosting from being pulled out by the knife.



Origin of the name

Lebkuchen has at least two interpretations of its name. In modern German it is literally "liver cake", perhaps a reference to its color (gray to brown from the honey or brown sugar which is perhaps reminiscent of cooked liver). But a historical perspective suggests that it really means “heart cake”. This quote, in Old High German, which I found on the web some time ago suggests that while today "leber" means liver, that "leb" once upon a time meant heart, perhaps a reference to the sustaining powers of the dish.

Interessant ist, wenn man die Parallele zum "Leb"kuchen zieht. "Leb" heißt "Herz". Der Lebkuchen ist also ein Kuchen in Herzform. Somit ist das "Lebkuchenherz" eigentlich eine Tautologie.

2008-12-03

Bamboo trellis

I cut some bamboo from my parent's house in order to make trellises for sugar snap peas (now) and maybe pole beans (later).

I wasn't sure how to trellis the sweet peas but a little Googling assured me that almost anything would do.

2008-12-02

Custom concrete pavers III

Maybe you're wondering how the concrete pavers that I wrote about earlier turned out. Here's what the bottom (now the top) looks like.



I didn't wait long enough for the caulking to dry and consequently it stuck at the edges of the leaves. Experience has shown that it's not too hard to remove.

I think I'll add some red to the color mix.

Gophers love Lavatera assurgentiflora

I planted three Lavatera assurgentiflora (Tree Mallow) on my parent's hillside earlier this year. This was a real plant trial. They were planted with a fairly wide separation: one ended up in the midst of freshly dug gopher hole tailings (hey, the soil is nice and loose), one ended up near some other native plants, and one ended up between two black acacia trees in a spot that's a bit too shady for it.

The gophers thought that I had just given them a tasty treat. The Lavatera near their holes and near the native plants were chomped: to certain death in one case and to nearly certain death in the other. The gophers even stood on hind legs to nibble the above-ground branch ends and to girdle the bark above ground. I've never seen that sort of feasting before.

The Lavatera come from one of the channel islands from seed gathered years ago.

Here's a picture of the first to go. It didn't get very large - that's about a 1.5" to 2" trunk at its maximum. The dirty part is all that is left of the roots - as you can see they have all been nibbled back and the trunk is deeply knawed. Even the lowest branch at the right has been nibbled on top.

The second Lavatera to go lasted long enough to produce some immature seed but it is completely girdled, so I don't think it will survive. I don't know if it will self-sow or not.

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner in Santa Barbara was fantastic:

Clockwise from 6:00. Two types of cranberries, sweet potato mousseline, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed spinach, two types of stuffing, wilted greens salad with pan roasted crabapple. Turkey and roasted Cipollini onion at center.

Later we went to see the tall ship Nina, a faithful recreation of Columbus' caravel of the same name made with hand tools and traditional boat building techniques. Columbus sailed with about 30 men aboard - all but the captain and one other slept and lived on deck which was often awash with water. The modern version doesn't have to carry cargo below decks, so that area is fitted with more modern conveniences and living quarters.


Life on board the Niña in 1492 was not for the light hearted. When the Niña left on any of her three voyages to the New World, her cargo hold was full of provisions, water, armaments. There were live animals ranging from horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. The four-legged animals were suspended in slings as the rolling motion of the vessel would have easily broken their legs.

Needless to say, there was little room below decks for the 27 or so crew to sleep or cook. Cooking was done in a fire box located on decks in the bow of the ship. Sleeping was on the deck and was always uncomfortable as the ship was so loaded with cargo, her decks were always awash. A lucky few could sleep on the poop deck or find a coil of rope to sleep on to keep them off the deck a foot or so.

2008-12-01

Braised red cabbage

I had been thinking of making braised red cabbage the way I'd tasted it in Thuringia, but I got side tracked by a recipe over on the Thinking Stomach and ended up making a variant of that recipe instead.

I served a leg of lamb roast, roasted potatoes, and braised chard along with it. The cabbage didn't really fit - it deserved a braised roast of venison or pork roast, but all the parts were good individually.

2008-11-30

Thanksgiving rainfall 0.93"

Before I left town on Wednesday the 26th, we'd had 0.85" of rain in my back yard. Upon my return, I measured 0.08" more. Ignoring evaporation, that makes 0.93" from the last storm.

We're running at the high end of the third quartile for rainfall in November which makes up for no significant rainfall in September. This puts the seasonal total to date, ~1.72 inches, above the median rainfall of 1.03" for this time of year.

Custom concrete pavers II

Here's something I did back on the 23rd.

In Forms for custom concrete pavers I showed how I make the forms for the pavers that I use in my yard. Here's a bit more detail on the moments before a pour.

I assembled the paver form the night before, and it took about 16 H for the silicone caulking to dry to a state where I thought it was OK to pour. I wasn't 100% right on that - it could have gone longer. I used white, because that's what I had on hand, but my preference is for black since it's easier to see against the white of the form. My goal was to make a water tight tub for the concrete to set up in and then add a few artistic touches that make this a truly custom job.

I've added plenty of leaves before, mostly from the Magnolia in my back yard. Normally I'll press a leaf down into carpenter's wood glue with a board and a brick. This time I used Western Redbud leaves which are more flexible than the Magnolia and also, because it's a native tree, more meaningful to me. I set them in a bed of the same silicone adhesive that I used on all corners, but didn't press them down other than with my fingers to bed them in. I don't know if this feature will turn out. We'll see.

I also added a hole in the paver to let me grow a small plant or maybe just to break it up visually. I could always just put polished rocks in it. The form for the hole was cut down from a large PVC coupling using a hacksaw, then slit up the side. The side slit is intended to let it compress and come out easily, but I filled the slit with caulking because I was out of packing tape. What I really needed was a wider side slit with tape over it. I anchored it into the pouring table with a piece of wood and two screws and gave it the same waterproofing treatment that the rest of the from received.

Here's the completed form with some tools of the trade. On the right side of the form, I've aligned the edge with the edge of the fluorescent light cover which will give me the surface texture. At left, the little triangular braces hang out over it a bit. The braces are Maple, a hardwood.

The Christmas box in the picture holds my drill bits. The bottom of the mold is fragile - I suggest drilling first before trying to insert screws.

The top of the form edges received a layer of clear packing tape, until I ran out. This prevents water intrusion which can really degrade the form. Cheng seems a bit anal about this, but that's why he makes beautiful pieces. My previous experience says that it's not critical, particularly for garden pavers. Still, the form will keep its life a bit longer if I use it.

I level out the form in both axes using some left over shims and spacers placed under the table.

I add color (this time I was a bit bolder than previous attempts and added about half of the colorant). I also add about a fist full of polypropylene fibers (at left below) to strengthen the concrete.


Below, the concrete, mixed and ready to shovel into the form. Those Atlas gloves are invaluable. I also use a NEMA-approved dust mask when pouring the concrete out of the sacks - the dust is mighty fine and quite alkaline. I use a special hoe with some holes in it made for mixing concrete, but I'm sure a plain old hoe would be fine.

The volume of concrete shown comes from two 60 pound sacks of Quickcrete 5000 and it fills the form nearly to the top. If I were pouring a countertop I might be a bit more anal about getting right up to the top of the form.

I have always found that the concrete takes nearly twice as much water as the bags say you need. I used about 1.8 gallons for this batch, and the bags say that 0.5 per bag is sufficient. They also say not to exceed twice the recommended amount, so I'm OK. Add some of that water to the empty mix container before you add the dry concrete so that the bottom gets wet. Mixing ~130 pounds of concrete with that hoe is a work out!

Browse inside

I'm back from my blog vacation a day early.

Did you know you can read many Harper Collins books online? For example, here's Neal Stepehenson's book, The Big U. I'm currently reading his latest, Anathem, and it's good, but I think that I liked Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle better.

Anathem widget

2008-11-26

Burn, baby, burn

Another violation of my self-imposed blog vacation to link to an LA Times article on chaparral. The story profiles Rick Halsey, a former high school science teacher, who is the founder of the California Chaparral Institute, a nonprofit environmental group. (What a nice switch of jobs. According to the article his wife makes the bulk of the money.)

The story frames a debate between Halsey and governmental forces about the merits of proscribed burns in the California back country. There's a lot of fear among San Diegans about fire, and one proposed solution is to burn the back country. Many people believe that fire is an essential renewing event in the California chaparral. This widespread opinion dates to a 1983 article in Science which is now believed not to be correct in some essential ways. Most importantly, the true role of fire is as a once per century event, rather than a once per 30 years event.

How often fire burned through Southern California before humans arrived is the subject of much scientific and public policy debate.

The only nonhuman source of fire is lightning.

But does lightning spark many brush fires in Malibu? And does lightning occur during blue-sky Santa Ana wind conditions?

The answers are no.

Fire prevention policy has centered on a much-disputed study published in 1983 in Science magazine, which suggested that modern fire suppression had caused too much fuel build-up. In the article, UC Riverside professor Richard Minnich concluded that, historically, fires were small and burned frequently -- leaving a patchwork mosaic of fuels of varying ages that prevented fires from scorching vast acreage. He believed chaparral less than 20 years old didn't have enough dead material to burn.

This encouraged land managers to conduct prescribed burns in the backcountry to get rid of the old, most volatile fuel.

But many scientists have since rejected the findings.

Hugh Safford, ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest region, said wind-driven fires roar through young chaparral and old chaparral alike. While older vegetation has more dead wood to intensify the flames, it matters only when the vegetation is adjacent to homes.

"Under Santa Ana wind conditions, it doesn't matter how old it is," he said. "Re-burns in 3-year-old chaparral are common, and some of these fires even burned through 1-year-old chaparral."

Jon Keeley, a fire ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, suspects the pre-human wildfires were huge -- but happened only once a century in any given area. The likely mechanism: Lightning during a monsoonal August storm started a fire in the high mountains that smoldered for months; the Santa Anas picked it up in October or November and drove it all the way to the coast.

Because native Americans didn't arrive in California until about 10,000 years ago, and evolution takes much more time than 10 millenniums to do anything worthwhile, this model is what the plants adapted to.

Strangely, the Times didn't provide a link to the Chaparral Institute.

2008-11-24

How near is the end?

The end of lawns as we know them.

I'm violating a self-imposed blog vacation to bring you a link from MSNBC about fake lawns sent to me by Margaret. They give lip service to native plant lawns, but it's mostly about astroturf (one woman spent $10k on hers! Amazing.) and clashes with city ordinances requiring green lawns.

Some cities are weighing whether to lift bans on artificial turf that date back to the days when phony grass looked like fluorescent plastic. A few communities are also encouraging the use of native plants once derided as shaggy weeds.

Advocates of natural alternatives are not sold on fake grass, saying it's a petroleum product that can heat up too much in the region's searing summer weather and can harbor germs.

"This is just like putting a carpet outside," said Betsey Landis with the California Native Plant Society in Los Angeles.

Some water districts are offering customers $1 rebates for each square foot of lawn they remove and 30 cents per square foot of fake grass they install.

I absolutely hate the idea of fake grass for home use. Keep it on the playing fields, I say.

It ends with the following paragraph:

How near is the end?

John Rossi, general manager at Western Municipal Water District, which services cities including Riverside, Corona and Temecula, agrees that the end is near for the traditional lawn.His district recently adopted the slogan "redefining green" — meaning planting water-efficient gardens, not necessarily green ones. Rossi said he tried to sell the concept of "brown is beautiful" with little success.When it comes to the disappearance of real lawns, Rossi said, "the only question is the time frame. When we talk about 8 million more people coming into California in the next 20 years and there's no new water supply, it's not a matter of if, but when."

One can only hope.

2008-11-20

Blog holiday

I'm going to take a blog holiday until December. Have a great Thanksgiving.

2008-11-16

This weekend in California native plants

Aside from the flats of Claytonia perfoliata planted by my son, no actual native plants were started this weekend. Instead, I had a good visit with my buddy Warren (the co-author who never posts). He has a cool opportunity ahead of him, and it's good to see him off to a good start.

One interesting observation is that the potted Cercis occidentalis has tender new growth, but hasn't even lost all its old leaves yet. The C. occidentalis in the ground has yet to lose any leaves and has no new growth yet. The potted Cercis is about one year new to the garden, whereas the one in ground has two years.

It often seems like the first year or two in the garden the plants need to settle in to the local rhythms. I often find things blooming or growing out of their traditional season. By the second year the plants are established and they seem to be more normal in their growth schedule.

Here's a non-native, Crocus sativus, the Saffron Crocus. These shoots are about 1 - 2 inches tall. Yes, they are the same ones that you can harvest for saffron spice, provided they bloom. I've had the bulbs for several years and while they don't die they don't bloom either. Maybe it needs some chill. Not a native, but on my list because they are somewhat off the beaten plant list and a food as well. It's early for this to be growing too compared to previous years, However, this is a new location that I hope it will like better.


Writing about this plant has stimulated me to read a bit more about it. Apparently an autumn bloom is right on target for it rather than the spring growth that I've seen previously. So maybe I'll get a bloom this year. These shoots are bundled together because I didn't separate the bulbs, or corms, when I transplanted. It's a Mediterranean plant, so well suited for southern California. I think that the plants came with a recommendation from Robert Smaus, the respected former LA Times garden writer which must have been reason for me to purchase it originally.
Wikipedia has a wealth of information on saffron.

Planting depth and corm spacing—along with climate—are both critical factors impacting plant yields. Thus, mother corms planted more deeply yield higher-quality saffron, although they produce fewer flower buds and daughter corms. With such knowledge, Italian growers have found that planting corms 15 centimetres (5.9 in) deep and in rows spaced 2–3 cm apart optimizes threads yields, whereas planting depths of 8–10 cm optimizes flower and corm production....Harvesting of flowers is by necessity a speedy affair: after their flowering at dawn, flowers quickly wilt as the day passes.
Juli made a dessert this weekend from the barefoot Contessa.

The cake part is pumpkin spiced, low flour, with powdered ginger. The filling is mostly mascarpone cheese and calls for candied ginger, but we didn't have any. Just mascarpone cheese alone isn't complex enough for this recipe, so we tried more powdered ginger (best) and almond liquor (so-so). A dark rum would have been a good idea too, but I'm out of that as well.

I suggested that Juli start a blog and cook her way through a recipe book. Maybe you'll see her online someday.

2008-11-15

Weekend winter garden

Finally! My son and I started our winter garden. We're not all the way done, but I feel good about our start. We had our choice of seeds. Here's some:



My son planted:
4' of shallots (I kept them a bit too long and had to thrown out a couple mushy ones)
12' of garlic (with more left - I wonder if I should plant it?)
4' of radishes (Easter Egg blend and French Breakfast)
4' or Arugula (or Rocket as Obama should have called it during his campaign. I'll stick with Arugula.)
8' of carrots (Nantes, Purple Haze, and Kuroda)
a trough full of mesclun

I helped and directed, but it was mostly him. He also planted two flats of Miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), my obligate native plant effort this weekend. Last year's Claytonia never once showed a single sprout. This year is going to be different. Claytonia is edible, as the name suggests, and was used by the 49ers to supplement their diet.

Back in the vegetable garden: I'm using raised beds this year because of the rather emphatic insistence of Juli. She even gave me a gardening book, _The Vegetable Gardener's Bible_ by Edward C. Smith, which extols the merits of raised garden beds. The book is subtitled "Discover Ed's High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions" I suppose it's always better to have an acronym that spells something than not. What if it had been W-O-R-K?

I'm using all four of Ed's letters, since my beds are wide (the W) this year and I practice mostly organic (yup, O) methods (I use light oil from time to time on certain plants). The R is for raised. The D is for deep soil, which Ed partially accomplishes with raised beds but also through "broad forking" a tool and technique for breaking up the sub soil (see Peaceful Valley's Biofork for a picture). Most gardeners just double dig and find that sufficient. Me too. I don't think that I can recommend the book 100%, since Ed writes with a northeast garden in mind - quite a bit different than a coastal California garden. He's from Vermont after all. Still, there's some good philosophy.

Actually, mounded rather than raised better describes my beds - I've piled soil and compost about 4" higher than the adjacent path, scraping the best soil off the path to build it higher. Each bed is about 2' wide and has a narrow path on either side. I've interplanted a clover cover crop this year - down the center of each bed and on the pathways. I haven't used a cover crop before, so this will be a learning experience for me. Until this year I sort of thought of them as cheating and/or unnecessary or maybe too much work, but I've decided that I was wrong. An interesting note which I've mentioned before is that California native Phaecelia tenacetifolia is sold by Peaceful Valley as a cover crop.

I took a little break from painting and door repair later in the day to make a redwood stand for my rain gauge. I broke the short plastic stake that held it upright in the ground earlier this year but I think that my redwood stand is much better looking, plus the stand keeps it conveniently at hand's reach and out of the way of errant hose water!

There's a lemon grass plant at left, chard at right, the rain gauge center, and the newly installed garden behind it all with plenty of room left to expand. I repositioned the two solar powered garden lights at the ends of the rows for better late evening harvesting.

2008-11-14

Fire in Santa Barbara / Montecito

I was there on my bike in 1977 for the Sycamore Fire (named for Sycamore Canyon). A new fire is burning over some of the same area.

I spoke with my parents, who still live in the area, several times last night as they were packing essentials in order to prepare for evacuation. At one point the mandatory evacuation area reached about 150' from their home, but by this AM it seemed clear that the fire had moved west of their home and they were OK for the time being.

The Santa Barbara Independent has responded with timely fire updates.

2008-11-10

Forms for custom concrete pavers


Because it was so windy Sunday, I stopped my exterior painting and prep and used my table saw to make parts of the paver forms that I'll soon need. I cast my own concrete pavers and I'll need more outside my new bedroom door - at least 4 and likely 6+. I've grown to really like the advantages of using stacked or ground-set pavers and bricks for garden hardscape - the ability to move and reset the pieces is a huge advantage over poured-in-place or mortared-in-place pieces is huge.

However, it's also fair amount of work to cast pavers using the methods that I'll tell you about. For one, the paver size I call for here is probably 120+ pounds when its done so you need to think about whether you can even heft that around your yard and the sweat you'll build up mixing that volume of concrete. Nonetheless, the payoff is something that's completely custom and potentially wildly different than your typical poured-in-place or purchased paver.

The sides of my paver forms are 2.5" x ~19" x ~32". I cut them from melamine-coated particle board. The 2' x 4' melamine sheet that I purchased from Home Depot gave me the pieces that you see here - enough to make three forms and have three long pieces left over for spares. An efficient use of material is to cut the six short pieces from the 2' side of the melamine board first, then the 9 longer ones from the long side of the remaining board. You'll eventually cut the boards to their final length, but the cut off portion is minimized using this method.



The exact size of the pavers I've already made was 19-3/4" x 32" which is very close to the Golden Ratio. The 32" dimension was set by the largest width I could accomodate in my side yard. I'll keep those dimensions with the new forms in order to emphasize continuity and repitition across the yard.

From past experience, I know that it's difficult enough to make two pavers at the same time, both from an available space standpoint and from a labor standpoint. All that concrete mixing and hauling is hard work! I have materials enough for three, so that third one will be an option if I can make it work.

When the forms are assembled, I place them on a textured piece of plastic like this. The plastic is on my "pouring table", a 5/8" piece of plywood with 1x4 stringers underneath to keep it flat under heavy load.

The textured plastic is from a fluorescent light and available at Home Depot for 5 or 6 bucks. I used a pebbled pattern, but grid patterns are also available. These form bottoms are actually pretty expensive since it's only reusable a couple times before it degrades too much.

The forms are then sealed along all the corners. I use a black silicone-modified latex (gotta check this) . Black has a nice contrast against the white melamine, so it's easy to see. Cheaper non-silicone caulking forms a much tighter bond to the paver and creates a problem when I disassemble the mold. Smooth the seal down with a wet fingertip and you have a nice chamfer on the edge of your paver.

Decorate the bottom of the form with things that you like. I've had good success with Magnolia leaves and garage ephemera. I weight the leaves down with bricks and glue them to the form bottom with carpenter's wood glue. They eventually come out of the concrete, leaving a pleasant impression behind. I've also used pieces from my old Alfa Romeo, bicycle parts, and coins. Flat, thin, pieces like coins that are to be embedded in the concrete are harder to work with- they can pop loose. One way to address this is to epoxy a wood screw on to the back of the object to give it some grip into the concrete.

Then it's all about mixing and pouring the concrete. More on that later....


The basis for my concrete knowledge comes from having done this before. But prior to that, I read Fu-Tung Cheng's marvelous book, Concrete Countertops. Eventually I will have a concrete countertop as well, but that's a story for another day.

If this information is useful, try the concrete paver tag link at the bottom.

Oak leaf moth

I've just moved this post up to the top of the list because I added the long-anticipated pictures of Oak Leak Moth poop.

One of the hazards that California Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) trees face is infestation by oak leaf moths. My father educated me about this around the end of September with the main example being some trees on my parent's property: An older tree seems to have come through with a greater fraction of leaves intact but some smaller trees have been almost completely denuded.

Below are pictures of moth larval poop and an eaten leaf. The poop was caught up on a spider web, which is why it clumped together.

Weekend update

I got started on the exterior house paint. I'm prepping the stucco with a wire brush and scraper. Where there's smaller cracks I'm using latex caulk which I decorate with sand to simulate the stucco texture. This hasn't provided a 100% camouflage, particularly if there was a previous attempt to patch the crack. This green (below) looks gray compared to actually standing there.

The doors and windows I'm scraping with a carbide edged tool, which is marvelously efficient at getting down to a well-adhered paint layer. It was $15 at Home Depot - a high price relative to the hardened steel scrapers, but it works so well that I think it was worth it. I try to contain the paint flakes on a tarp and throw them out with the trash. Those I miss, I get with the shop vac.

Saturday I've managed to prep and paint the stucco part of one wall, and prep the window that's in that wall. The windows will need some additional prep with sand paper, I think, to feather the edges of the paint. Sunday I tried to continue, but it was too windy and I couldn't paint or prep. The picture below with the cast faces has a green that seems closest to how the green actually appears in person - at least on my monitor. There's a splash of the Country Redwood paint on the wood in each photo because I was verifying that I still like the color. I think it's a bit on the red side both in person and in these photos so I'll try a second coat to improve it. The stucco has a second coat already and it made a big difference.

2008-11-06

The return of the American chestnut

I find that gardeners often make good/adventurous/caring cooks and to me, a particularly interesting story is one that mixes plants and food. "The return of the American chestnut" is one such story by Russ Parsons in today's LA Times Food Section.

The American chestnut in the title refers to "Colossal" a French/Japanese cross developed by a California nurseryman named Felix Gillet in the late 1800s.

At one time, the chestnut tree was one of the most numerous on the North American continent. It is estimated that they accounted for between a quarter and a third of all the trees that grew in the huge forest that once blanketed the area from northern Georgia to New England.

Then, just after the turn of the last century, the trees began to die. The culprit was a fungal spore that probably had hitchhiked on a Chinese chestnut specimen tree imported by the New York Botanical Garden.

The chestnut blight spread like a wind-driven wildfire. The carnage almost defies imagination. Within five years, it had killed most of the chestnuts in the New York area. By the 1950s, only a few isolated trees remained on the entire continent.

Between 3 billion and 4 billion trees had died. That was, as Susan Freinkel points out in her splendid new book "American Chestnut," "enough trees to fill 9 million acres. Enough trees to cover Yellowstone National Park 1,800 times over. Enough trees to give two to every person on the planet at that time."


Imagine the wildlife loss when, over the course of 50 years, 99.999+% of the American Chestnut forest died. The larger mammals that sustained themselves on the natural chestnut harvest would have decreased dramatically in number as they lost a consistent fall food source. The carnivores that fed on the mammals would have decreased in turn.

Wikipedia notes, "It is thought that panic logging during the early years of the blight may have unwittingly destroyed trees which had resistance to this disease and thus aggravated the calamity."

Certainly, it's easy to think of them as strictly an East Coast nostalgia food, part and parcel with frosty city sidewalks and Jack Frost nipping at whatever exposed body parts he can find. ¶ But in fact, these nuts have a long history in the Golden State, one that a handful of growers are struggling to keep alive. And if all you've ever had are stale imported supermarket chestnuts -- many of which are even moldy -- these California nuts can be a revelation, delicately sweet and slightly chewy.

I've tried chestnuts several times, but never enjoyed them so much that I needed to have more than a couple. My best experience was with some marrons glacee, but even then they weren't so much good as inoffensive. However, I have to say that if I found some at my local farmer's market I'd give them another try based on this article.

The American Chestnut Foundation is one of several organizations that has a breeding program to return a mostly American chestnut to the forests.

2008-11-04

Sweet potato Colcannon

Tonight's dinner was inspired by The Slow Cook's lunch.

I braised some chard and added it, Colcannon-like, to mashed sweet potatoes. The mashed potatoes had a small amount of cinnamon, allspice, brown sugar, and the juice of one orange. This was served as a side dish to some spicy Chipotle sausage. The combination of spicy and sweet was really good.

Physalis

Also known as Ground Cherries or Cape Gooseberry. See the Physalis peruviana picture at Wikipedia. I ate some of these fruit when I was in Germany last summer and I liked it. Prior to that trip I hadn't even heard of it, let alone tasted one. The proprietor of the restaurant where I had them knew them only as Physalis - no common or species name. He was surprised to learn the English common names.

Last night I ran across mention of them in the May 2008 issue of Organic Gardening which I picked up at the YMCA book exchange. They are seed-propagated and, like tomatillos, they have a papery husk. Stored in the husk in a container that allows transpiration they are supposed to be good for up to 3 months at 50 F. They get their common name of Ground Cherries because they drop to the ground before they ripen. Thereafter, storage at room temperature for a week or less will ripen them.

Because they are in the tomato / tomatillo family they have the same disease susceptibilities so if I were to plant some next year I'd have to not use my normal garden area.

Rain 0.71"

Last night's rainfall dropped 0.71" of rain on my house bringing the seasonal total to 0.776 inches.

Photographer Saxon Holt also celebrates the first rain.

2008-11-03

City of Pasadena OUTLINE FOR COMPREHENSIVE WATER CONSERVATION PLAN AND SUSTAINABLE WATER SUPPLY, dated Nov 3, 2008.

A quick read through of the Pasadena Water Conservation Plan recaps their recent experience with water conservation: dismal. Voluntary 10% cutbacks didn't work, their infrastructure repair and maintenance fund is short, and water supplies are more stressed than ever.

The Pasadena City Council, in what might well be a stroke of good governance, rejected proposed schedules of fees and penalties for water wasters last month and instead asked for a more comprehensive water plan. The link I've provided is the outline of that plan. There's some good stuff in there. And some bad stuff.

Rate adjustments are the top of the list.

The goal of a water conservation rate design is to reward efficient users and those who have invested in conservation fixtures and appliances and provide appropriate price signals and incentives for others to conserve water. In addition, the price impacts of procuring incremental water supplies are borne by those causing the demand rather than the entire community.

The point is made, however, that water revenues are insufficient to support ongoing operations, and the capital improvement fund will not fully support the infrastructure improvements contemplated under the Water System Master Plan, along with added debt service costs associated with additional long term borrowing.

There's a lot of evaluating and assessing that is planned around the rate hikes. I find it surprising that they don't seem to have a better feel for their anticipated costs and for the water demand curve.


There's proposed legislation:

"Staff is proposing that a Sustainable Water Use Ordinance be developed to replace the Water Shortage Procedures Ordinance that was adopted in 1988. ... The ordinance would be designed such that obvious water waste activities - allowing water to run off landscapes, irrigating when it rains, etc., would be restricted at all times."

Do any other native plant fanciers use impending rain or lighter than expected rain as a signal to water? In a California native landscape, I've found that a supplemental water during, after, or before light rain makes the plants grow better. I don't feel that I'm wasteful at all because my net use of water for landscape purposes is much, much lower than those people who are feeding and watering green lawns year round. Still, I'd be a criminal in Pasadena under the language of the proposed new ordinance.

They propose changes in how they handle building and construction:

Building design standards to ensure efficient use of water and facilitate reuse of water (e.g., reclaimed water) - a Water Conserving Fixtures and Fittings ordinance would include new regulations for new construction, remodels, tenant improvements, additions, and alterations;
Landscape ordinance;
Gray Water ordinance, modeled after standards to be adopted by the state of California in early 2009;
Certification Program for green plumbers and landscaping professionals;
Construction Standards to include the study of permeable paving; and
Standards to manage water usage for new development.


Here's an interesting idea:

Should new development be allocated any low-cost (e.g., Tier I) water?

2008-11-02

Rain 0.075 inches

While I was away in Santa Barbara about 0.4" fell. Back at home, the rain gauge only said 0.075".

This makes a total of 0.076" for this wet season. I booked 0.001 inches for a heavy mist that fell earlier in the year.

2008-10-30

Winter yard prep

I pruned back the Matilija Poppies (Romeyea) today, and with the 20% threat (yes, I said THREAT ;-) ) of rain I watered the natives in the front. I've decided that for California native gardens, the threat of rain is like a big sign telling me to water.

I've watered my Ribes deeply in the past month to stimulate growth and bring them out of their summer dormancy.

The Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) haven't dropped their leaves yet, but when they do I'll move the one in a pot into the ground.

I still need to prune the salvia in the front yard and revitalize the front yard meadow, starting with extending the sprinkler system. I don't water often, but when I do I want to get complete coverage.

I've cleaned the gutters twice - most recently after a high wind and today I raked up and composted the leaves in the side yard where both my property and my neighbor's drain to the street. Maybe I'll be able to keep more water on my property in the future. For now, it's important that I not flood myself out so I need to keep a clear, leaf-free, channel open.

I've also cracked a Syrah, my first this winter. Bigger reds are key for the winter gardener. This one's Andrew Murray Estate, Santa Ynez Valley, 2004. I paired it with a turkey pot pie (from Banquet, I'm not going to make things from scratch every night). I'm a bit disappointed that it's not more complex, but it did travel with me to Lair of the Bear and back. Even though it traveled in a cooler, there could be some impact. It's been so warm that I've been enjoying whites and roses. My good tasting memory of Rhone-type wine was an astounding Chateauneuf du Pape, so perhaps the Andrew Murray isn't being fairly compared.

Finally, I need to get about 1 more cubic yard of wood chips to spread about the garden.

Green Remodel in the Watershed

I stumbled upon Green Remodel in the Watershed blog the other day and have found it an interesting read so far. It is the journal of a couple who are doing an interior and exterior green remodel of a property on the outskirts of Sonoma, Ca.

I've found it early in the remodel, so I'm excited to follow along as projects start and complete. Maybe this couple has more tenacity than me and will actually finish their projects on schedule.

The blog is organized a little differently than the all-on-one page format used on blogger.com, so I'm clicking around a bit more than I expected.

An article of particular interest is one on rainwater runoff management. Comparison is made between pre-development and post development rainwater runoff using the Small Storm Hydrology WQV (Water Quality Volume) Method. This is new information for me, so I'm particularly interested in the linked downloadable calculation sheets that the author provides.

I've read that deep rooted native grasses allow more efficient intercalation of rain water into dense soils than traditional turf grasses and I suppose that this is a general effect. However, it doesn't appear at first glance that the WQV method takes type of vegetation into account. I'll have to keep this question in mind as I learn more.

2008-10-29

Back to water III

Well, it's happened. Remember when I discussed local water companies in Back to water? I reviewed the politics and economics of water conservation from the municipal and water company standpoint.

I then chased that thought with a discussion of the current drought in Back to water II. The bottom line on that is that nothing's changed. We're still in a locally moderate drought and the watersheds in northern California are in a severe drought.)


But, the response from my local water company has been swifter than I could have imagined!

Today I received a cheery letter asking for my "help to voluntarily reduce water usage." By 20% in year 2020! Since population density is increasing, this really means that per capita reduction will need to be greater than 20%. For me, greater than 20% savings seems a pretty unreachable goal, but perhaps there's highly egregious water wasters that can afford to cut back 30% so that I only have to cut back 5%. On the other hand, perhaps everyone else is saying that too.

The letter goes on. After a short paragraph extolling the merits of their efficiency rebate program (Nothing revolutionary like gray water or rain barrel rebates, instead, "Rebates for High Efficiency Washers, High Efficient Toilets and Urinals, Smart Irrigation Controllers and synthetic turf may be available.") they have a follow-on paragraph about how they have "taken proactive steps to change [their] rate structure to reward conservation" with their new tiered rate system. They then wrap up by telling us that "these efforts will allow us to achieve the necessary conservation of this most precious resource" and chase that aspirational remark with the threat of mandatory conservation measures should "voluntary" efforts fail.

I would bet this letter meets a legal requirement for notification. And I wonder how many people will actually read it?

They encourage us to find out more about tiered rates and rebates. Let's see what that's all about.

I called their 800 number at 7:40 PM and spoke to a pleasant person located in San Dimas, California, about their rebate program and new tiered rate structure.

The rebates are administered through the centralbasin.org web site. Hmmm - it looks like I can get a rebate on a new high efficiency toilet (regardless of my current toilet). Maybe my butt needs a style upgrade. There's washer and sprinkler upgrades too. Maybe I can get a retroactive rebate for my front loading washer!

The new rate schedules decrease the monthly fixed costs of a water meter and implement two consumption-based rates for single family residences only. The rate change occurs at 13 HCF (hundred cubic feet) per month for the area where I live. I use about that much, so I will expect a slight decrease in my water bill since I'll mostly receive my water at the lower Tier I rate. The break even point of consumption (new rates vs. old rates) seems to be designed around 18 HCF / month. The only time I used that much was when my neighbor watered my lawn while I was on vacation and I don't have the lawn anymore.

The tiers don't adjust for the size of your lot or for your historical usage patterns, so my earlier concerns about having already conserved to my limit and then being asked to conserve more were overwrought.

Businesses and apartments will also see a decrease in their monthly fixed costs but will have an increase in their charge per HCF. No tiers, however. Their break even point in my water region is at about 48 HCF / month. In hotter areas, businesses and apartments have a break even point of about 88 HCF.

The tiered rates are divided into two geographic areas, Region II and Region III. I'm in Region II, along with a bunch of other cities, mostly near the coast. Region III includes Seal Beach, but all the other cities in RIII appear to be inland and significantly warmer than RII. Here's a comparison of RII and RIII single family residence costs:

Region II (cooler coastal cities): Tier 1: 0-12 CCF $2.549; Tier 2: 13 CCF and up $2.93. Fixed costs: $14.35
Region III (warmer inland cities): Tier 1: 0-16 CCF $2.067; Tier 2: 17 CCF and up $2.378. Fixed costs: $12.25

What drives the price difference? Is it an acknowledgment that the lot sizes in the Inland Empire are typically larger and covered with a greater amount of grass needing a greater amount of water than coastal lots? Or is there a maintenance cost that's higher for the older infrastructure of RII?

Since I believe in the power of markets to shift consumption, I think this the new pricing schedule is a step in the right direction. It remains to be seen if it's enough.