Rainfall summary

Here's the rainfall I've recorded to date for this season in my back yard.

Date Amount Total
4-Oct 0.00 0.001
2-Nov 0.08 0.076
4-Nov 0.71 0.786
27-Nov 0.93 1.716
15-Dec 1.52 3.236
18-Dec 0.40 3.636
24-Dec 0.25 3.886
25-Dec 0.09 3.976
23-Jan 0.20 4.176
24-Jan 0.15 4.326
6-Feb 0.70 5.026
7-Feb 0.40 5.426
9-Feb 0.23 5.656
15-Feb 0.24 5.896
16-Feb 1.20 7.096
17-Feb 0.74 7.836
18-Feb 0.08 7.916

And here's how it compares with the last few years of rainfall in my back yard.

I compare my rainfall figures against historic rainfall data for Los Angeles which I found at NOAA. I don't actually live in Los Angeles but I'm near enough that I've made the comparison with rainfall figures for several years now without thinking too much about it. However, I recently went looking for correlation between my rainfall and LA's official rainfall.

Here's the correlation of total rainfall for winter 2004-5 through winter 2008-09 (through January).

It's remarkably linear - more so than I expected. I do find it very odd that when I have no rain, that the correlation predicts LA will report about 2.3 inches. Perhaps they are sensitive to heavy fog and light rains that I can't really measure effectively. I've been wrong before, but it seems doubtful that over a wet season those could add up to as much as 2.3 inches.


Temporary blog slowdown

I've been feeling bad lately, plus my computer HDD died (including my complete but as-yet unsubmitted tax return) so I've slowed my blogging.

Last weekend I did tear out a bunch of grass in my parkway, so rest assured that the fun hasn't stopped, just slowed. Temporarily.

How to make a water catchment system

Water Conservation Event by Green Ambassadors
Save Money, Save Water, Save Energy, Save Your World

DATE: Thursday, March 5, 2009

TIME: 6PM and 7PM

LOCATION: Environmental Charter High School
16315 Grevillea Ave, Lawndale, CA 90260
Rooms 143, 146, and 148

You will learn, from Green Ambassadors, how to make a water catchment system and have an opportunity to purchase one from Hey Tanks LA. All monies raised will go to support the Green Ambassadors spreading this solution to local elementary schools.

Free water conservation technologies (from Golden State Water Company), games, and knowledge!
The Green Ambassadors
16315 Grevillea Ave
Lawndale, California 90260
saralaimon (at) yahoo com 310 214 3400

I have my doubts about whether rain water catchment in cisterns or barrels on the scale that you can do it at a suburban home is really useful. The amount of water that you can retain isn't all that much compared to the amount that's falling on your property - 50 to 100 gallons doesn't go that far which is what the majority of people can implement. Plus, you'll quickly use it up in the ~2 weeks after the rain storm, and then you're left with the ugly barrel all dry season long.

A far better solution (and one I am trying to implement) is to shunt the rain water to permeable ground so that the soil can retain water for you. You can store far more water for far longer this way than in a barrel.

Still, I'm aware that I might be wrong and I'm curious about what the seminar has to say so I'll try to go.



Geotagged photos

I've recently become interested in geotagging* photos.

*Geotagging means that you've associated a photo with it's latitude and longitude. Additional position information could include altitude, azimuth, and angle at which the photo was taken.

Free software I've found that will do the job is listed here:

Rain 0.74"; 7.84" season total

AM storms today brought another 0.74" to my back yard.

From memory, about 11" is the median rainfall in Los Angeles. We may yet get to median.


Rain 1.20"; 7.10" season total

We had 1.20 inches of rain in my backyard this AM. I was out along the Dominguez channel during and immediately afterwards. The amount of water flow was impressive. Pictures later.


Rain 0.24"; 5.90" season total

The end of last week brought me 0.24" more rain the backyard. The season total now stands about 5.90". More rain is one the way.

I plan to be out in the predicted rain on Monday, looking at Dominguez watershed issues. Could be fun. Could be miserable.


Yarrow destruction

First, try to get your helpers motivated. Sometimes they like to sleep all day!

This was my starting point. The parking strip to the left of the sidewalk is turf grass, but the right side of the sidewalk is Achillea millefolium (Yarrow). I've written earlier about how I overseeded my meadow. The result of too much A. millefolium was a carpet of yarrow, with each plant competing with its neighbors. This wasn't a bad thing. But I felt that I ought to strive for something a little better. Yarrow grew aggressively where I seeded it, but didn't make too much of an incursion past the flexible border that I installed on one side of the meadow.

During the year I used a string trimmer on it a couple times and generally wasn't too unhappy about it except that it was so dense that it didn't allow a good opportunity for other plants to grow. I had put in some topography in the meadow area and yarrow definitely preferred the lower and moister soil. The dryer soil on the tops of the hillocks was nearly bare in summer.

When it's watered, yarrow makes a nice, soft, carpet. This is an area of with poorer soil and I like the stunting effect it has on the yarrow growth. Last summer, however, this area was pretty stressed.

It has a fern-like texture that's quite nice. I think it's nicest when it's set off all by itself or by other plants. I don't water frequently, and yarrow doesn't completely die back. As I discovered when I found the perpetually leaky sprinkler head buried in this picture, it likes boggy soil as well.

I re-dug the yarrow meadow and ended up with what you see below. Not complete oblieration, but a definite minimization. I scattered wildflower seeds (hopefully not too many this time) in what I hope will be drifts later this spring.

The roots of the yarrow were densely packed in a mat up to 2 or 3 inches thick. Maybe thicker. Some of the yarrow I dug out like a piece of sod, and just flipped over in its hole. East coast gardeners always advertise that they do this when starting a garden, but it's never worked for me with turf. We'll see if it works with yarrow. The rest of it I knocked the dirt from and threw away. I hated to see compostable plant material go, but it's an aggressive grower and I didn't have faith that it wouldn't infest whatever compost pile I made from it.

Healthy dinner

I've been trying to eat more healthily. In addition to the coffee + danish that I am no longer eating, I'm trying to shift to even more fruits and vegetables. Here's a meal from earlier in the week, unartfully arranged, but illustrative. Those are artichoke ravioli, radishes from my garden with balsamic vinegar, arugula from my garden cooked with a little bit of bacon and garlic (that's a superb flavor combination and you ought to not feel guilty for adding a little pork fat to your overflowing double handful of arugula. I keep the bacon frozen and slice some off with my large knife for flavoring when needed.), and some Spanish style white beans (pre-prepared from Trader Joes).

EDIT: My mother emailed with a "where's the protein?". I have to admit that the only protein is in the beans plus a little in the ravioli stuffing from romano? cheese.

Native plants in my garden

I did a lot of planting and "un"planting last weekend after going to the Payne foundation. Notable among the plant stakes in this photo are two older ones that I found out among the yarrow meadow while I was re-digging it. Clearly I had no idea how overwhelmed I'd be with Achillea millefolium. I planted my five Heuchera "Wendy", a couple Encelia Californica were planted a while back, and I did find some Allium unifolium in 4" pots which I also planted out.

This is a well-behaved clumping yarrow (not Achillea). The yellow flowers cover it later in the year. This one bunch is anomalous at this time of year.

I'll post later on how I redug the Achillea this weekend.

The Ceanothus "Darkstar" has more and more flowers.

Garden trellis and radishes

Last weekend, I built a couple three sided trellises for my sugar snap peas out of bamboo that I collected from my parent's house. (Photo below)

In the foreground of the photo is my redwood rain gauge holder. It's very convenient not to have to stoop to pluck the rain gauge out of a hole in the ground. On the ground are 1x12 planks to walk on so as not to compact the soil.

I mulch with compost now. First I had wood chips on the whole garden as mulch, then only on the paths. Recently I I decided that wood chip mulch, no matter how lauded in the native plant community, has no place in a vegetable garden where you are constantly planting and digging. They are still fine for established native plant gardens.

The trellises are all held together with galvanized wire. I had some complicated over, under, and around style of wrapping the wires but it gets ugly when two cross members meet.

But then I realized that once around is probably just fine. These only have to last a year.

I grew radishes successfully in my raised beds.

My preference is for the round white ones because they have a mild taste. They've been pretty good sliced thinly with balsamic vinegar. I wasn't a radish fan before this, and I'm not one now, but I think they're OK.


Dominguez watershed group

There's something new and exciting afoot in my neighborhood. Back on 17 November, 2007, I wrote about an idea I had for greening the Dominguez Channel. During the process of thinking the idea through, I made contact with local watershed guru Jessica Hall, a former Hawthorne resident, who was receptive to the idea. I tried to plant the idea with local government, but I wasn't a strong enough champion, the timing was poor, and it languished.

Still the idea was out there like a seed that needed just the right conditions, and on 26 Jan of this year it started to grow roots: I received a message from Rosalie Preston, who was interested in seeing some park / bikepath / nature functionality restored to the flood control channels in her neighborhood near Harbor Gateway. Rosalie is much more dedicated than I - she had made contact with her local water management boards and personnel. A series of emails followed. I brought Jessica into the conversation. Jessica brought Viviana.

Today I had the privilege of meeting Jessica Hall, Viviana Franco, and Rosalie Preston and we talked for a couple hours about how to transplant the successes of other local watersheds to the Dominguez channel. I think that good things will come of this.

Look for more at the LA Creek Freak blog and at the Dominguez watershed blog Friends y Amigos of the Dominguez Watershed. The link is also over at the right as "Dominguez Watershed News".

We've only just begun.


Rain 0.23"; 5.66" season total

Sunday was cloudy, and a few miles there were cloudbursts, but no rain fell on my house. This made it a great day for gardening - more on that in another post.

By night time the clouds were back and in the morning 0.05" had fallen. Monday was intermittent sunshine and rain - heavy at times. At day's end we had a total of 0.23" including the 0.05" from the previous night.

Rain is forecast for Friday and Saturday.


Rain 0.40"; 5.43" season total

The next storm brought an additional 0.40" in my backyard. I was out in El Monte last night and it was coming down cats and dogs out there - far more to the eye than the 0.40" that I measured in my own rain gauge.


Rain 0.70"; 5.03" season total

We have two storm systems moving through. Today around noon the first had left 0.7" of rain in my back yard. 0.5" of that was in the space of an hour or less - that's a hard rainfall for Southern California.

We need this rain and more to overcome the drought that we're in.


Native plant shopping list

While browsing through this month's Sunset (print version) I came across a recommendation to divide and reduce yarrow by shovel, now, in order to prep for the coming year. I had planned to do that all on my own, but since I'm now armed with the moral authority of a reputable source's recommendation I feel better about it. I'll try that this weekend while scattering some seed and planting a few starts - maybe some Ornate Owl’s Clover (Castilleja exserta).

Here's some plants that I hope to get this weekend.

Need list

Heuchera (Coral Bells ) My test plant ("Opal") is doing well in the side yard where I've never before been able to grow anything successfully, so I thought I'd augment it with a couple more. There's also plenty of space under some of my backyard trees for a few, so I might need about 5. "Wendy", "Dainty Bells", and "Lillian's Pink" are smaller than "Opal" but take dry to semi-moist conditions, compared to Opal's semi-dry to semi-moist. Those might make better choices for my conditions.

Muhlenbergia rigens (Deer Grass) - I have three different plants and all were claimed at one point to be Muhlenbergia rigens. Will the real Muhley please stand up? I need one or two more along my stepping stone path and another three in the front for 5 total. Seeds might be a better option for me to keep costs down.

Symphoricarpos mollis (Creeping snowberry) - The plant I have is doing well and I'd like to add another one or two.

I'll look for the always elusive Venegasia carpesioides (Canyon Sunflower - the sunflower that requires only partial sun!) I missed last week's set of 4 1-gal plants at TPF.

Wish list

Dodecatheon clevelandii clevelandii - want more in my garden.

Arctostaphylos "La Panza" looks like it ought to be my choice of manzanitas based on this description from TPF, "New foliage is velvety grey, ages slowly to a smooth grey. Wonderful open, branching structure" and on the sun and soil needs. There are many more Arctys available than I have information on, so I'm already having buyer's remorse before even making a purchase! I'd hate to overlook an even better match.

Single leaf onion (Allium unifolium) - might be good in my redug meadow, provided it's not too late to plant.

Grasses - some seed might suit me. Maybe purple 3 awn or Ca. Brome grass (Bromus carinatus). I ought to plant out the Agrostis pallens (formerly diegoensis, aka thin grass) that I have.


LA Times on manzanita

Emily Green writes in the LA Times on manzanita (Arctostaphylos). I think some might look good up against my house in the back. I'd want something branching, upright, and open, but not too tall or too wide. A quick survey of those available through TPF filtering against height, growth habit, soil (mine can be heavy), and light (part sun) indicates that the following might work for me:
Arctostaphylos silvicola x stanfordiana bakeri "La Panza"
Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn'
Arctostaphylos manzanita "Dr. Hurd" (careful on the size here)
Arctostaphylos stanfordiana stanfordiana (not native to S. Ca)

Main story

...Bart O'Brien, director of special projects at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, likes everything about manzanita. Being a horticulturist, he calls it by its botanical name, Arctostaphylos, "Arcto" for short.

"The plants look great year round," he says. "Arctos have no down season at all. I like the flowers, the fruit, the foliage and the bark is great."

Ask plants-man Mike Evans from the Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano what he likes about manzanitas, and his mind turns instantly to their diversity, more than 200 types of species and cultivars....

"Arctostaphylos leaves tend to be held perpendicular to the noonday sun," he says. "It's a water-conservation and temperature-controlling device. If they're not getting direct sun, they're not transpiring and losing moisture through photosynthesis."

This means they hold the light differently. They shimmer. If there's a drawback to the lovely posture of the leaves, it's that it can make it hard to read when they need water.

"They don't wilt," says O'Brien. "They can't wilt. Only new growth can sometimes flag. During the summer months you have to be tuned into what the manzanita is telling you. If they're borderline, they'll go off color. If they don't get water then, a branch can die."...