Mystery art

I picked up a large piece of art while in Santa Barbara this weekend. I don't know if I'll come to love it, but the price was right. (Free!) It's a large piece, framed with good workmanship and a Delphine Gallery sticker on the back. It looks like it's made with torn paper and ink, with perhaps some light water damage or just age-related deterioration.

The artist's name is written in pencil, but it's such a scrawl that I have a hard time reading it. That looks like an "R".

I'd contact Delphine Gallery through their web site, but it's been taken over by domain squatters. Then again, maybe they just framed it, but don't represent the artist.

This is the Google cache:

Welcome to the Delphine Gallery.

We are located in Santa Barbara, California and proudly

represent California artists James Paul Brown, Susan Savage,

Rick Garcia, Malcolm Tuffnell, Wayne Hoffman, Augustus Higginson,

Victor Schiro, and many other established artists.

Please visit our Artist’s Page to view the image galleries

for each of these talented artists.

The gallery is in the Arlington Plaza in Santa Barbara at

1324 State Street. Inquiries regarding artwork for sale

may be made by contacting us at 805-962-6625 or by

e-mail, info@delphinegallery.com

We look forward to hearing from you!

On phones and demarcations

Some time ago I mentioned the bonus chore that I had to do: My diagnosis of failed DSL pointed the finger at my home's phone wiring, strung under the eaves some time between 1955 and ~1960 (whenever phones were retrofitted to my basic house built in 1954). I've proven to my satisfaction that the house wiring was at fault: new Cat 5e wiring strung across the kitchen, through the hall way, and into the project room worked very well for both DSL and phone, even eliminating a slight hum on the phone.

So I'm left with the chore of rewiring the house phone, and I've delayed it in the face of more urgent chores to get the house weather tight. I've also been scratching my head about how the phone-company owned lines are connected.

Pictured below is a pair of boxes that was making me scratch my head. They are fed from the phone line (large black line entering from top). The box at left usually has a plastic cover, but I've pulled it off to show that there's really nothing much inside except the two terminals that used to supply the old house phone and which now supply my new Cat 5e cable (gray sheathing). Faintly visible on the outside of the right hand box is "Bell Systems". A couple holes from old mounting points have yet to be filled - part of my final stucco repairs this coming weekend.

I wonder what's under that cover? A real piece of telephone history, apparently. Had I only looked at Wikipedia I would have identified this earlier. Both of these are demarcation points: the last piece of the phone company owned phone line, also known as minimum points of entry (MPOE).

But why do I have two demarcs? I just need one, right? Here's what I think:

The phone line comes into the smaller and newer demarc on the left where there's probably a lightning arrester underneath the four hex head bolts. The lightning arrester requires a connection to ground, and this is provided by the old demarc. See the wire heading into the gap between stucco wall and concrete patio? That's the ground wire.

If I want to move the demarc it still requires a ground connection which is problem for this house since it was originally wired without grounds at all. Any new ground connection should be bonded to the new electrical panel's ground, which is nice and solid. However, I've yet to wire anything new in the kitchen, which is the room nearest the demarc, just on the other side of the wall. Therefore there is no nearby ground. That will soon change.


Meadows in the NY Times

One of my plans this fall and winter is to redo my front yard meadow. A Sept 10th NY Times article on meadows titled "The Natural Look, With Much Effort" may have some lessons for those of us on the west coast, despite the featured meadow in the article being in Connecticut. Let's read along and find out.

...A perennial meadow in bloom, its colors constantly changing with the play of light and shadow, may be nature at its most alluring. Yet, as random and natural as a meadow looks, there is nothing haphazard about creating one. Planting a meadow, it turns out, is as rule-bound and time-consuming as planting any perennial border, according to Larry Weaner, a Pennsylvania landscape designer and one of the pioneers of meadow design in the United States.

...Nine years after he was hired and eight years after it was planted, this vast expanse of meadow is now fully mature, with plants and grasses more than five feet tall in some places. On a recent August morning, he conducted a tour of the meadow, offering a hands-on lesson in the science of creating a meadow.

“Weeds are the No. 1 enemy,” he explained, noting that before any planting gets under way, the ground must be cleared.

Check. That's a common problem whether east or west coast.

Since most grassland plants thrive in poor soil, one of the most important rules of meadow gardening is that no fertilizer, topsoil or compost should ever be added.

Check, but top mulching is often essential in California. Also, since I don't think I'll ever plant in an area that has not been previously planted, I'll have to factor into my plans the fact that soil fertility has already been altered. This might sway plant choices.

Mr. Weaner uses only plants and grasses that are adapted to a specific location and acclimated to its particular soil. For meadows smaller than three acres, he uses a ratio of 60 percent plants to 40 percent seeds, so he is able to control the way the colors are distributed.

60% plants is huge for my budget unless I grow them from seed or cuttings myself. I'm planning some of that this year.

For this meadow [40 acres], he used eight different seed mixes with approximately 25 plants or grasses in each, he said, including a “nursing” crop of annual oat or winter wheat grass added to the mix to keep seedlings from being choked by aggressive weeds.

So there must be at least 200 plant varieties altogether?

“Probably even more,” he said.

A fantastically huge number, at first blush. Are there even that many native meadow species in California? A quick search of CalFlora.org for Los Angeles County plants native to a coastal prairie habitat (where I live) turns up only tens of plants. A search including chaparral habitat goes up to about 400. They index 518 California native species in the combined coastal prairie and valley grassland habitats.

Planting can take place any time between March and early July, and is done with a tractor pulling a no-till drill feeder...Although no one would want to plant a conventional border as late as July, Mr. Weaner explained that, once again, the rules are different when it comes to meadows, because the hotter weather discourages weed growth.

Check and no Check. Generally, after weeds are abated for the final time you don't want to turn the soil over and expose more weed seeds, but the planting time is not true for California. Conventional wisdom is probably right in this case and it says plant just in advance of the wet season. Fall is the easiest time if we have a normal rain year.

During the first year, the ground is mowed three times during the summer to keep the weeds at bay and to stabilize growth. After that, it is mowed only once a year, at the end of winter.

I don't know how this compares to how one ought to do it in S. California. I "mowed" mine twice in the first year, but not for weed suppression. If I did have a mow once per year schedule, it would probably have to be in September or October at the end of California's slow growth period (equivalent to Connecticut's winter).

By the second year, the meadow still looks a little ungainly. Fast-growing perennials and bi-annuals like black-eyed Susan and coreopsis have started to flower, but “it’s certainly nothing to take your breath away,” he said. These flowers are short-lived, but they take up space that would otherwise be occupied by weeds and provide floral interest until slower-growing perennials like eryngium, joe-pye weed, blazing star (liatris) and purple coneflower make an appearance during the third year, when the meadow reaches its early maturity.

The tapestry of colors continues to develop in the fourth and fifth years, with perennials like oxeye daisies, baptisia and prairie phlox.

Wrong flowers for California, but perhaps that's the pace one ought to expect. The subject of the article started with meadows in 1982.

Eight years after it was planted, the meadow is a canvas of changing colors — yellow predominating in the summer, lavender in the fall. It requires almost no maintenance. Other than an annual mowing and a walk-through during the summer to spray herbicide or cut down the more noxious weeds like Canada thistle and mugwort, it requires virtually no upkeep.

Mr. Weaner said that most of the meadows he designs run between $3,000 and $10,000 an acre, depending on how much preparation the site requires, what kinds of species are included in the seed mix and how many live plants are used.

Ouch! Though if I didn't price my own time at $0, I wouldn't scoff so loudly.

Acquire at least a rudimentary understanding of the complicated processes that govern plant growth, he said. Beneath the meadow’s surface...are “intricate interactions working together to foster the plants in the meadow and suppress invasive weeds.”

Check. I've spent time on this, but could easily afford to take it to the next level.

The California Native Grasslands Association offers a pdf file on how to create a meadow.


Weekend wrapup

The vegetable garden seeds from Peaceful Valley came in last week. I'm thrilled about starting that project, but so far I've had the self-discipline to FINISH WHAT I START and the seeds are just sitting on the table while I do more urgent chores.*

This Saturday I supported Juli with a visit to her mother's house for her mother's 88th birthday. I played Wells Fargo wagon and delivered Juli's old TV and installed it. It was easier than a bathtub, but not as easy as a cross cut saw.

On the way back we toured Ikea to take a look at their wardrobe and storage units. I now realize that they aren't going to work for my room. The old plan was to rip out my existing closet and relocate it on the side of the room using Ikea components. Unfortunately, the room changes dimension in inconvenient ways if I do that, so the idea I'm kicking around now is to keep my closet where it is, but change the door (maybe trade it out for full width sliding doors) and redo the interior storage so that it's more usable.

I've updated my To Do list: Sunday I made forward progress by starting the stucco repairs around my bedroom French doors and in the area where I removed the old electrical box. Juli helped by cleaning the yard and providing moral support.

For the stucco work, I ended up putting a scratch coat on the largest area, but patching to completion about half of the smaller areas near my French door. I ran out of energy and stucco before I could complete all the way around the door, so the remaining half got a scratch coat. I'll do the final coat later this week, if I'm lucky. I don't do a color coat because I'll paint the stucco.

I posted Notes on how to Stucco almost 2 years ago. These projects really creep along at their own pace when you fit them into your "spare" time. I've since gained confidence in my stucco technique, and I'll share how I do it. I don't know that this is the right way, but it's my way.

Here I am applying the scratch coat. I've feathered the edges of the hole with a cold chisel and hammer, vacuumed out as much dust and loose debris as possible, and then coated the edges with a concrete glue. The hole spans a stud bay, and I've attached house paper under expanded metal mesh (EMM). I made a mistake in not overlapping adjacent panels of EMM in one area - In this case the edges of one kept popping up through the wet stucco and I worried that the small gap between the panels would promote crakcing. I ended up using some galvanized wire I had lying about to tie the two panels together to address the popping up issue.

I mixed the stucco up in a wheel barrow, and this patch took about 1/2 a bag.

My techinque for applying the stucco was to load up an old wooden float and then hold it against the EMM and mush the concrete into place. I dropped a lot on stucco on the ground doing this. Put down something that will allow you to recover the dropped stucco and reuse it - I had a piece of melamine-coated wood from my junk pile.

In tighter quarters such as in the narrow gap between door frame and stucco edge, I used a narrow putty knife to apply the stucco instead of a trowel and in narrower quarters yet I used my gloved fingers. The type of glove I'm wearing (rubber on the palm and fingers , cloth mesh elsewhere - Atlas brand) is nice for concrete work. Just don't plan on using your bare fingers for very long and dose them with vinegar when you're done.

An hour or so after I was done applying the stucco I used an awl to make the scratches in order to promote adhesion in the final layer. The blue tape covers an electrical make up box which connects my new electrical supply with some old house wiring.

*A previous president of my company was once meeting with me and excused himself to take a phone call saying, "There's nothing more important than our conversation, but this phone call is more urgent." I thought that was a true enough statement about many choices in life.



Check out this neat wine cellar from Spiralcellar. I've been thinking of doing something like this for years as a retrofit into my slab foundation. I don't think I'll be purchasing one of these, however. A magazine article gave the least expensive installation price as GBP 8,700 .


Loved by widows

The widows are here! First my mailbox, then my porch, then potted plants, and then virtually everywhere else you'd imagine (though, so far only outside). Just a few days after my buddy Stirling raised my awareness of Brown Widow spiders, I discover I'm overrun.

Here's a sample. Isn't she cute, hiding behind her egg sacks?

It's good to see wildlife in my back yard - and I see more and more as I add more native plants and as existing ones get larger. Still, I'd rather see some birds than this creature and her friends.

This is a Brown Widow, indicated by spiky egg sacks. Black widows have smooth egg sacks. The Brown Widow spider is a non-native species which is a bit ironic considering my California native garden plant selection. Depending upon who you believe, the bite of a Brown Widow is less toxic than that of a Black Widow.

Interesting widow fact: "An enduring myth, even believed by scientists and found in ecology textbooks, is that a behavioral trait of black widow spiders is for the female to consume the male during or after mating (Crawford 2003). Indeed, such behavior is the source of the common name of these spiders. While such behavior is observed under captive conditions, it is considered to be uncommon among black widow spiders in nature (Crawford 2003)." link

I have my father to thank for giving me a nifty camera, a Canon Powershot. It has a digital macro capability that I used for this shot. I was about 2 inches away from the widow. Unfortunately, I think I moved a bit too much for the anti-shake feature to compensate, so it's not perfectly in focus.

Patrick's photos

I've been enjoying the photography on
Patrick's livejournal page. He works down the street from me, but we've never met.


I resisted the Myspace lure for years, but have recently succumbed to Facebook. I don't know how long my interest will last, but it's encouraging that there's quite a few friends already there.


Plants for my native garden

Moving this up since I've given it some recent edits.

See also California native plant interest list II.

Just after the first good rain of the season is when thoughts turn to planting many of our native plants. November is when this usually happens, but if we don't have rain then applying water in an amount equal to our normal rainfall can help get the plants established - just be sure to pick cool times to water in order to prevent fungal growth, a death sentence for many of our native plants and one reason they don't often take summer water when mature.

This year I'd like to grow more native plants from seed. Fortunately, The Payne Foundation is putting seed on sale in October at its Fall Festival. Potted plant shoppers should arrive the week before the sale for best selection, but I'd be willing to bet that seed will be easy to find on the sale day.


Fall Festival is the first two Fridays and Saturdays in October. October 3 & 4, members receive a 15% discount on all one-gallon-and-up plants, and a 10% discount on seeds. October 10 & 11, members receive 15% off one-gallon-and-up plants, non- members receive 10% off, and everyone receives 10% off seeds.

Santa Susana tarplant, Tar Weed (Deinandra minthornii formerly Hemizonia minthornii) - needs dry conditions.
Showy Tarweed, Common Madia (madia elegans ssp densifolia) - maybe this is what I want? This is what I have in my previous list of plants, but now I'm not sure. That's the problem with using the common names to remember your plant wants and needs. :(
California Bush Sunflower (Encelia californica)
others from the aster family TBD such as
Hairy Golden Aster or Telegraph Weed (Heterotheca sessiliflora)
California beach aster (Lessingia filaginifolia) - Maybe for my brother's house?

Ornate Owl’s Clover (Castilleja exserta) - found naturally on the prairie in what used to be the area of my house.

Loco Weed, Angel’s trumpet, Devil’s weed (Datura wrightii)

Poppies, but I want the coastal form this time. Maybe I can get some from the Madrona folks.

Coastal Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa) were a hit in my One Pot At A Time project last year. I'll need to plant the seeds I harvested.

Whisker brush linanthus (Leptosiphon (new name) Linanthus (old name) ciliatus). This looks like a Dr. Seuss flower. Initially white flowers turning pink (after pollination?) I ought to have seeds from last year's One Pot project. I have called this a phlox earlier in the blog, but CalFlora doesn't support that common name. Yet another pitfall ni the common names.

Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) - If at first you don't succeed, try try again. I've wanted to grow this and let it naturalize in my yard for at least a year.

Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla)


Single leaf onion (Allium unifolium) This seemed to do well in the garden last year, but I only had 5 bulbs, and then the kids came and trampled them and then the raccoons came and dug up the area where the trampled plants were trying to go summer dormant. Hopefully the raccoons came in search of grubs, but maybe they were after the bulbs. Anyway, I should add more to the potential few that are left.

Blue Dicks, Wild Hyacinth (Dichelostemma capitatum capitatum). Takes widely varying soil conditions


Chaparral Bush Mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus) seems to be better situated to clay soils than the desert mallows.

Horse Mint (Agastache urticifolia) 'Summer Breeze' is the TPF-indexed one. Something that I can interplant with my Rosemary hedge around my vegetable garden. Gnaphalium planted last year hasn't been a real winner. Agastache looks like it will tolerate my vegetable garden conditions and it flowers in the summer. Not native to LA County, but is native to adjacent counties, according to CalFlora.

Milkweed (Asclepias ??) I ought to plant my milkweed out. I've had it in a pot for a couple years since I rescued it from the Cabrillo butterfly garden. Some milkweeds are aggressive growers and spreaders. This one might not even be a native - would it be so bad anyway? I don't have a record on this computer of what it might have been. It looks like chuck b's Asclepias curassavica, (look toward the bottom of his post) but I'm not sure of the species that I have. Incidentally, I get a lot of my garden inspiration from chuck b.

Narrow-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) Hmm. I already have a milkweed, but don't know the species.

Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora) The two plants that I bought look nearly dead, but perhaps they are just drought deciduous. Probably too much root competition and poor watering. So this would be a do-over.

Monkey Flower (Mimulus ??) Another Do-over. I killed off the Mimulus in my garden and the cuttings that I had grown from it. I suspect that the cuttings (still in pots, but doing well in the early summer) got too much water. I haven't run across a rule of thumb that tells me how to water potted California natives. On the one hand, the pots get REALLY dry with no water and the roots aren't able to scavenge like they would in the ground. On the other hand, some of these plants really like very little summer water. I've killed plants both by drowning and by dehydration.

Rose (Rosa californica) I need to find a home for this plant which has been living in a pot for about a year now. I may put it smack dab in my front yard to discourage small kids and animals.

Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri)- These have been a success story for me; So successful that I need to rein in the spread of the poppies in my yard by digging some of the far flung sprouts up and transplanting them. Transplating was a surprise success last year, with the one I tried lasting in a pot until now (and presumably for another month or two until I can transplant it). I think that I applied wood ash from my fire pit to the soil to give it a chemical signal that it should grow vigorously.

Purple needle grass (Nasella pulchra) I've been enjoying the vigor of these plants in my garden (natch since I live one block away from a street called Prairie), their color and form, and the way that they move in the breeze. I'll bet I could grow more from their seed and they would look good massed in the upwind side of my garden.

Common Rush (Juncus patens) It might look good in my side yard along the fence. The neighbor seems to water his turf grass enough that it won't need supplemental water.

Ceanothus "Ray Hartmann" - I liked the way this was espaliered at one of the houses on the Payne Foundation Garden Tour. I could do the same...somewhere.

Symphoricarpos mollis (Creeping Snowberry) - The one I have is doing very well and I ought to add another one or two.

Woolly Blue Curls (Trichostema lanatum) - Dry I can handle, but also wants well-drained soil with no summer water once established. Do I feel lucky?


Holly Leaded Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia ssp. ilicifolia & lyonii) Likes rocky clay soil so suits my yard, but grows from 10' to 40 ' tall. Maybe I'll have a need for a tree life this.

Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) - I transplanted last year's one gallon to a 5 gallon container, but it's not as happy as if it were in the ground. I need to get this planted near my bedroom French door.

Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) - For the Upper 40? Can get to 30 m (!) tall in ideal conditions according to Wikipedia. LasPilitas cites 25 m typical height (but they also give 25' which I have to believe is a typo).

Soil in National Geographic

Garden Rant pointed me to a great article on soil in National Geographic.

Garden Rant: "It turns out all that babying of the backyard dirt IS important. Do not miss Charles Mann's terrific piece in September's National Geographic about good soil, a natural resource that is disappearing all over the world at an alarming rate. The accompanying slide show is pretty great, too."

Try the soils quiz. I did so before reading the article and got 3 out of 10 correct on the quiz. "You may want to try again," it says.


Not so Fresh and Easy

I went to a new Fresh and Easy grocery store tonight because they had given me a $5 coupon when I visited last week, despite the fact that I didn't buy anything at that time. This is the only F&E store that I've been in.

For a store that is located across the parking lot from Trader Joes they haven't done a good job of competing. To start with , they are disturbingly sterile. The fluorescent lights make everything look unhealthy. They have scads of F&E brand items lining the shelves, all blandly packaged. I had a F&E store brand cinnamon bun and it sucked. Large numbers of hulking, redundant, cold display cases line the aisles, full of things that don't usually require refrigeration. They have a "greatest hits" produce aisle - full of convenience-packaged items but none of the more esoteric things you'd find at a Vons, like celery, for example.

A lot of their food is pre-prepared and sealed into the previously mentioned bland packaging. I purchased some chicken strips with a bright orange Indian seasoning, mostly because they were the most eye catching food in the display. They tasted far more bland than I expected.

F&E is British supermarket Tesco's expansion into the US. I had previously looked at investing in Tesco as a currency hedge and because their stock seemed to go steadily upwards. I have to say that British supermarket concepts don't seem to translate well to California. The store I visited is near US corporate headquarters, so you'd think that it would be fantastic with all those bosses close by.

One Pot At A Time payback

I took a good amount of Phacelia tenacetifolia, Clarkia, and Gilia seed from my front yard down to the Madrona Marsh the other day. Maybe a pound all in all. This was my payback from the One Pot At a Time seed that I received from Connie Vadheim, but it felt good to spread the harvest around.

I collected the seed heads when I cleaned up my front yard back in May and it had sat in large paper bags ever since. I first put my son to work threshing the dried seed heads in a colander that I placed inside a large pot. He enjoyed it until his arms got irritated by the chaff. Bad planning on my part - I had started him on the worst one (Phacelia) and it had been stored outside (spiders?). Had I started him on an easier seed he might have lasted. I finished in a short while. Don't underestimate the power of kitchen tools.

LA Times on lawn

The LA Times has a series of articles in last week's Home and Garden section on lawn alternatives. The main article,
Landscape rules on how much lawn is enough differ by city
, highlights the potential legal pitfalls when homeowners who change their lawns run afoul of out of date city laws. I've mentioned this possibility before on this blog.

...before yanking out the Marathon and replacing it with concrete or AstroTurf, it's best to check out the myriad landscaping rules, regulations and ordinances individual municipalities enforce. Just because Los Angeles homeowners can put, pour or plant nearly anything in their frontyards doesn't mean Long Beach residents can too.

Equally confounding is that some cities are promoting water conservation, while still requiring that yards be at least half grass. Officials are scrambling to catch up with a conservation movement that many of its residents already have embraced.

"It's hard, because changing the zoning ordinances is a long process," said Jesse Brown, assistant planner for Burbank. "It can take a year and needs City Council approval."

Add to that the different philosophies among city planning departments, and headaches are born.

The article summarizes S. Ca zoning laws for single family residences for seven local communities. The rules vary from vague (Riverside - "requiring that the space be maintained at a quality at least equal to that of the rest of the neighborhood") to specific (Santa Barbara - "Owners submit landscape plans to the city. Yards of single-family homes must be designed with no more than 20% of the landscaped area planted with grass or plants that are not drought-tolerant. Grass is not allowed on slopes with 20% or greater grades within landscaped areas.").

In Lawnbusters: turf alternatives the Times does something that it now seems to be doing more and more frequently, reprints stories from its archives. I guess their troubles have seriously impacted their ability to produce new materials. Still, it's a nice gathering of lawn-related stories all in one place. Typically pictures are linked from within each story, and sometimes those are the most inspirational.

Apparently idea of using yarrow as lawn still has currency:

From the article Ways to lighten up on watering, "Less lawn. Or simply try a smaller lawn. Skip grass and get a flat green carpet with yarrow, thyme or juniper." [emphasis added]


Vegetable garden seeds

I ordered the following from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. I feel a little bad about not using my local nursery, but they don't have garlic or shallots. After the 5% discount and a free package of seeds at PVFS the shipping costs added back in and made it about what I would have paid locally.

These are for planting now:

Garlic - California Early White Organic (Lb)
Shallots - Dutch Yellow Organic (Lb)
Renee's Garden Lettuce Baby Mesclun Cut and Come Again
PVFS Lettuce Rouge D'Hiver
Renee's Garden Pea Snap Super Sugar
PVFS Carrot Scarlet Nantes
PVFS Carrot Kuroda
Renee's Garden Broccoli Raab Super Rapini

I haven't grown shallots, garlic, or Broccoli Raab, so this will be a learnign experience. They didn't have kohlrabi, but I decided I was mainly interested because of my prior failure and because it's such an odd-ball looking vegetable.

My cover crop:
Red Clover - Doublecut - Rhizocoated (Pack)
It's 0.5 to 2 lbs per 1000 sq feet recommended coverage, so two packs at 0.02 for my ~100 square feet is about right.

These just sounded interesting. I think they are for next summer.
Renee's Garden Bean Pole Spanish Musica
PVFS Beans Jacob's Cattle

I got intrigued by the potatoes as well, but was dismayed to learn that, "The minimum potato order is 5 lbs of your choice combining at least 1 lb each of any variety."

One pound makes an 8' row and 10-15 pounds of eating potatoes, so that would have been beyond my capacity to plant, harvest, and eat!


Plants for my vegetable garden

Down in To Do list IV I've identified a re-focus on my garden. I also want to be a bit more ambitious with my winter vegetable garden than I was last year.

Cover crop

I think I'll try a "green manure" / nitrogen fixing cover crop to improve my vegetable garden soil fertility. ATTRA has a short article on how these plantings improve soils. Peaceful Valley seems to supply seeds (mostly clovers). They also sell Ca native Phacelia tanacetifolia (I already have seed aplenty) as a cover crop. Should you go look at their website note that their picture is not of P. tenacetifolia, but P. grandiflora. I emailed them; hopefully they'll fix the error.


The cauliflower I planted last winter wasn't a success, but I noted at the time that it is reputed to be the hardest to grow of the cruciferous vegetables. My other options seem to be best summarized by Robert Smaus in the LA Times: Vegetables that do best [between October and January] include beet, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrot, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, endive, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leek, head and leaf lettuce, mesclun mixes, onion, pea, radish, spinach, snow peas, Swiss chard and turnip. Grow them from seed or small plants, although broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower should be put in only as small plants so they can be planted a little deeper and stand up straighter.

I think I'll try lettuces, peas, kohlrabi, rapini, and carrots. My previous tries at carrots and kohlrabi both failed miserably, but perhaps that was because it was too late in the season. I already have chard - "Bright Lights", if memory serves.

I'll use some sort of raised bed garden - probably just mounded earth. We'll see how all this works out. I sense a timing conflict between the cover crop and the food crop, but perhaps I can plant through the cover.

Digital coloring my house

I had grand plans to use a program called Color Preview 2000 from Benjamin Moore to digitally color my house. I installed it, put in a couple digital pictures of my house, selected the various areas I would "paint". And......nothing. It wasn't helpful.

I felt that the whole exercise was so not useful, that I've given up. I'll go back to the old method of buying a small amount of paint and putting it on a wall (or a piece of cardboard) to see if it meets my needs.

Why didn't I like digital painting? For some reason the color palette seemed lacking. I wasn't sure the colors were correct as seen on my monitor, or if I'd like them on the house in person as opposed to online. The process to outline and define all the areas on the photo of my house that could be painted was tedious and imprecise.

To Do list IV

Last Updated:
09 Jan 2009 - Updated French door threshold status and added goal for bedroom closets. took credit for front yard efforts thus far.
29 Oct 2008 - updated painting and stucco work that has happened since I last looked at the list;
20 Sept 2008
20 November 2008 - Added earthquake preparedness item. Updated painting and doors.

This is the fourth numbered To Do list that I've started here on my blog. The third numbered To Do list is located back on January 13th, and as of now it has been given it's last meaningful update.

Fall is planting time for native and Mediterranean plants. Since the weather will soon shift to cooler days and longer nights of fall, it's time to reactivate my gardening projects. I'd like a larger winter vegetable garden as well. On the housing front, I need to move the projects that will give my house weather protection to the fore - the ones like sealing up the holes in the side of my bedroom, painting, and weather stripping my new doors.

Within the broader categories of garden and home improvement, the projects below are in rough priority order. But, the lure of new projects is so great that I want to move on to each before finishing the last. Therefore I try to maintain a completion status so that I keep my focus on the partly finished projects. This mostly takes the form of the bold faced "Finish what you start" mantra that's often repeated below. My sister has taken to chanting that at me when I rhapsodize about new projects.

House Improvements
  • Complete phone rewiring bonus chore. Finish what you start.
  • Repair stucco around new French door in my room. Scratch coat done 20 Sep. DONE
  • Sand, stain and varnish threshold for French door in bedroom. Threshold removed 20 Sep. DONE, BUT the threshold is cupped and won't sit flat, so I have another bonus chore to do. ALL DONE 4 Jan 2009
  • Remove old electrical panel, repair stucco damaged in the process. Remove old service entry. Repair of the stucco would be convenient at the same time as I'm doing other stucco work. 13 Sep. stucco scratch coat in place. DONE Still need to patch roof in area of old service entrance. Have metal shingle.
  • Complete electrical install at kitchen French door. All parts at hand. Really, it's embarrassing how long this has gone unfinished. Finish what you start.
  • Painting
    • Pick colors, prime, and paint some swatches on the house to evaluate the colors in preparation for a whole house paint job.DONE 10-18
    • Start with door and window trim color so that I can paint the French door frames. Started in Oct
    • Weatherize the French doors then paint
    • Prep and paint stucco. Started Oct 08
    • Skip the eaves, since that's a big prep job and not critical to weatherize now
  • Complete attic ladder install - needs foam, trim, and paint.
  • Improve my bedroom closet by widening the door, adding a light, and using a modular shelf system such as that from Elfa (at The Container Store).
  • Improve my son's bedroom closet by adding light
  • Secure large furniture in house in case of earthquake.
  • Put in more soffit vents. Attic was drawing like a boiler from existing few vents the other day.
  • Replace screen over existing gable vent where it's missing. Would be good to do this not on the hottest day of the year.
  • Garage improvements
    • Install attic vent in garage gable end. I've now painted the vent white. Need to cut a few framing members for inside the garage.
    • Install new rear wall / rear-facing door in garage.
    • Install new garage door
  • Reroute gas supply lines (to kitchen and garage) in preparation for taking my interior wall down.
  • Replace / repair computer room window.
  • Repipe house in copper. Water flow in shower is abysmal. Will need to review appropriate pipe sizing - could be undersized at present. Start by repiping only the easy stuff, saving the part about cutting into the walls for when I demo the kitchen. Use dielectric unions to couple the new copper to the old galvanized for now.
    • Don't forget new hot and cold hose spigots.
    • Install tankless water heater in attic. This could (should?) come first. Needs new power outlet in attic. Purchase in 2009 in order to get tax rebate.

Garden / Yard Improvements

  • Prune Brazilian Pepper tree - started 16 Mar 08 Finish what you start.
  • Rethink entire front yard garden for fall, 2008 - My native plants are too large and unfocused and the meadow is not living up to expectations. Partly DONE 31 Dec 2008 and earlier Dec by removing large buckwheat plus moderate changes in design. Still need better design or year-round compensating prettiness.
    • Put in at least one more sprinkler for meadow area. It may not get watered often, but I'd like it to have complete coverage.
    • Move the front yard native scheme onto the parking strip (between sidewalk and street) in a way that continues to allow car access from the curb side
      • Planning: Continue line of meadow border. DONE. Probably use festuca rubra and pavers in the center, low bushes, taller grasses, or other ground cover at the property line edge of parking strip.
  • Install patio area for bedroom French door entry.
    • Regrade back yard selectively so as not to have ponding near house. Dry creek?
    • Use custom pavers for hard surface so as to match side yard?
  • Install brick pavers in N. side yard. Shift grading to shunt drainage water away from house.
  • Demolish patio behind kitchen (demo'ed brick planter 17 Nov 2007)
    • Install new patio with California native grape arbor. (Or do I want a fruit tree arbor?)
    • Plan for electricity and music in the back yard.
    • Plan for hot water in the back yard. Outdoor shower? (see repipe)
  • Build concrete bench for front arbor area.
  • Get rid of dirt from the back yard.
  • Replace driveway
    • Even if I bid it out I still need to have a design that I'm happy with, so start there. Include in design: separate entry path, driveway adjacent planting, trellis over garage. Poured concrete or pavers or brick or some combination?