Back from the Lair

Drove back with an over night in Santa Barbara and returned to Los Angeles today. It was a good vacation.

I'll post more later, including a possible update of the two (I remember emailing three) previous blogs. It looks like they were formatted poorly due poor translation between my Blackberry and Blogger. In tireless service (servitude?) to this blog, I composed them on my Blackberry and then waited to post by email until we returned to an area with wireless phone service.


Saturday at the Lair

Met Alessandro and his son Issa at Portola Redwoods and shared some good conversation. Traded email addresses for later.

Left around 1030, helped an Indian woman who was lost in the Santa Cruz mountains (thereby providing yet another opportunity to lecture my son how you have to be smarter than a computer, since she had lost GPS signal in the trees and canyons).

Arrived at the Lair around 330 and was greeted by the friendly Lair staff. Unpacked by 430 and my son was off to the creek. He and new friend Kevin love the creek, which is higher now than when we typically visit at summer's end. Camp is less dusty than 11th week too, but mosquitoes are more abundant. Dinner was at 6 and unexpectedly delicious. Skipping lunch helped with that. By 645 my son had fallen into the creek, which made a typical start to the week.


Camped last night at Portola Redwoods

My son and I had a great night of camping at Portola Redwoods last night.

Borrowing a page from numerous Scout trips, we cooked hobo meals - all in one aluminum foil wrapped dinners and baked apples right on the coals of our campfire. We're dining at the Big Basin Cafe in Saratoga right now before heading to Lair of the Golden Bear.


Ecological restoration

There's a nice article on ecological restoration in the Christian Science Monitor. I'll leave you with a teaser quote that caught my eye, but there's more to the article than just "kill your lawn".

Asphalt...is not the only surface that creates a boundary between people and the environment. “Mowed lawns surround most factories, schools, churches, and other buildings,” he says, “and they give nothing back to people or the environment.”

Even on a small scale, meadows and open wooded areas do much more than lawns to improve the quality of human life, he says. They are also cheaper to maintain, a concept that has special appeal in hard economic times.



Everything sure was blooming

Back on 3-21 everything was in fine bloom.

Juli's Impatiens.

Phacelia tanacetifolia

Front yard w/ poppies, Penstemon, etc

Cercis occidentalis had a better bloom this year than last. Each year it gets better.

Ceanothus 'Darkstar'

Blue Eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

Heuchera 'Wendy'



I complained this year and last that I couldn't grow Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). Well here it is. I was wrong. I got two plants after abusing a whole packet of seeds planted across two flats. I'd given up and these two guys showed up. I didn't even recognize it at first. This eventually went to a shaded part of the yard with it's buddy and did quite well. It rapidly lost the stressed look due to excess sun exposure.

Spring garden blooms

These photos were taken on 5-17.

Blue Eyed Grass with poppy, etc.

This puts the wooly in Wooly Blue Curls

Blue Globe Gilia in foreground. Yellow Yarrow in background.

Tritelia laxa in foreground. Poppies, Gilia, Yarrow in background.

This is particularly nice. It's a Bitter Orange seedling that I grew from a seed. I tried with about a half dozen seeds and two grew. For some reason, I figured it was impossible to or at least very difficult to grow citrus from seed. Not so for this one. Bitter orange is used to make marmalade and in Persian food culture (I got it from my brother's Persian in-laws). It is also used as a root stock for more mainstream citrus.

Chlorogalum pomeridianum (Soap Plant)

This was an "Oh, that sounds cool" sort of purchase, that I immediately regretted. However, I later found that I liked the plant quite a bit. The scent is pretty strong for such small and relatively sparse blooms. Unlike most plants, they are closed during the day and open only after dusk in order to attract a particular moth that provides pollination.

These photos were taken on 5-19. I moved it into the ground soon after and it seemed to take nicely to its new location. The bloom is now done.

Gophers eat that?

Midnight snacking on the drip line at my parent's house.

Starting seed

This method of starting seed was miserable for me. The small cells dried out too quickly and caused high mortality. The plants that did grow quickly outgrew the cells, but my schedule didn't allow me to repot them at the very best time.

I'll stick with 4" pots in the future, I think.

Shown with exposed roots are Nassella pulchra seedlings.

Aphid problem

I have a lot of aphids in my garden this year. I don't spray them except for a sharp jet of water, and I do see many more ladybugs and other predators as the years have gone by. But this crop of aphids was overwhelming. Here they are on a Nassella pulchra (Purple Needle Grass) seedling. I thought that the native plants and particularly the hardy grasses would be immune. I was wrong.


They ended up on my pole beans. Here's the bamboo trellis that I built with baby bean plants at lower left. Nearby bush beans seemed unaffected.

Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata) harvest

This is the second year I've harvested wildflower seeds. They start around May and in June. This photo was taken 5/17/09.

First photo is with seeds.

Second photo is without seeds - they dump right out like water from a series of small cups.

Third photo is the seeds from this one flower.

Ceanothus problem?

This Ceanothus had a lot of leaves turn brown on me this spring. I seem to recall it did it last year too. At first I thought it was gong to die, but then it dropped the brown leaves and regained its apparent health. None of my other Ceanothus plants do this, though of course they are different selections and may be better adapted to the garden.

I wonder if it got too much water both years, but then recovered. I added supplemental water in winter, but none after I noticed the brown leaves and probably none for some time before that. The soil is not particularly well drained in this area, so that may be a factor too.

My other thought is that this is normal. It had a nice healthy bloom again this year coming out of winter and maybe it overstretched its reserves to make such a nice bloom. This picture was taken 5/15/09.

Anyone care to clue me in?

Garden update

I've been very neglectful of the gardening aspect of this blog, particularly since we've just left behind the most active growing time of the year. This and the posts that follow is my attempt to catch up.

I'll start with a trio of shovels, a spade, and a pick that I find handy to use in the garden. The very smallest shovel I despaired of ever finding a use for, but it turns out that it's great for close work in the vegetable garden. There are two larger shovels, and the smaller of the two I've heard referred to as a "lady" shovel or some such. It's very useful for scooping wet concrete because the scoops aren't too heavy. It also has a bit more finesse when used in tight quarters such as when digging around established plants. The largest shovel is a bruiser - I always buy the most expensive large shovel hoping that I won't break it, but I always have. This time the blade gave way even though it was advertised as unbreakable. I guess they only meant the handle was unbreakable. In truth, the fiberglass handles took a lot of abuse and never gave way like a wood handle. My newest large shovel has a beefier looking blade and the same style fiberglass handle. The pick is good for grubbing out plants that have overstayed their welcome and the spade it for moving loose earth or scraping weeds from teh cracks in my driveway. I have a mattock too, for general digging, and several other tools but I didn't use them this day.


A walk in Santa Barbara

The journey's start on 2/15/2009. So a bit late. I was trying to use my GPS and geolocation software, but it didn't work too well. So I have some pictures, but that's it.

Looking down on the upper 40

Cool mail box.

I don't know what this ground cover is, but it's been there for years and I like it.

Infamous road.

Old Knapp estate.

After the Tea fire, before the Jesusita fire. This immediate area wasn't burned in either fire, but you can walk to burned areas from here.

Skater with Ganna Walska estate in background.

Cold Spring School.

Time to turn around and walk back.


Cannonical list of things to bring to the Lair

We're headed to Lair of the Golden Bear for week 2 this year, a change from the three previous years. This is my list of things to bring to Lair of the Golden Bear copied from the official source, Bad Mom's blog, and my previous blog entry on the topic and renormalized.

Edited 7/09/2009 & 5/27/2011 to add a few items.

Bedding and linens
A warm sleeping bag, pillows, and pillowcases
Electric blanket (This turns out to be a good idea as of 2010)
Heating pad (good to warm inside of sleeping bag)
A twin sized sheet and/or pad to cover the mattress under your sleeping bag. This prevents your sleeping bag from slipping off the mattress quite so easily.
Towels: beach towels, shower towels, and washcloths

Bring casual old clothing to stand up to the Lair's dusty environment. Be prepared for warm days and cool nights. There are washing machines at the Lair. Last year they were free as was the soap, but I'd hate to be surprised.
bathing suits (consider 2 pair for kids because this is the 24/7 uniform for certain ages and they get worn playing in the creek)
long pants - mostly for warmth in the evening
sweaters / fleece wear
jacket - it can rain, so a shell with a zip-in liner would be a good move here
hats: knit for cold nights and brimmed for day time sun protection
rain gear
sweatpants that can double as pajamas
long underwear (also for PJs)
Shoes - hiking boots or trail running shoes
In-camp shoes
flip flops
Aqua socks - for creek crawling. Better than an old pair of tennies.

Recreational and Activity items
reading materials, board games, playing cards
white t-shirts for tie-dye or t-shirt painting
fishing pole and tackle. 8-12 year olds have group fishing activities.
(die hard Lair campers will want to remember their softball mitts too)
swim goggles - chlorine in the pool is kept high
your own supply of bisqueware (they have only basic shapes).
your own garments for tie die.

For your cabin
Cabins have electrical outlets and a single switched light bulb.
Largish plastic bins for organization
alarm clock
ice chest (with a secure lid because squirrels and raccoons are hungry)
secure plastic tub for snacks
folding camp chairs
folding camp table
clamp on lights and extension cords
extension cords
Exterior lights of some sort - Distinctive lights help you find your way back to the cabin after dark. Some people had novelty Christmas lights, or even the standard twinkly sort.
plastic bags for trash
hammer and nails (bring the hammer at least so that you can drive in a nail that surfaced over the winter)
screw hooks (if you aren't satisfied with using a nail)

Miscellaneous vacation needs
flashlights: at least one for each family member
laundry soap (in case there's none provided)
quarters (for laundry if it's gone back to a paid system)
clothesline and clothespins
markers for identifying your stuff or marking schedules, etc.
backpacks for everyone (makes carrying towels, etc. a lot easier)
pocket knife
cheese knife (if the pocket knife won't do)
churchkey (redundant if the pocket knife has one)
wine glasses (plastic)
sparkling  wine stopper (provided you plan to have or save any)
moleskin for blisters (the first aid tent is liberal with giving this out, but you might as well be prepared)

Your usual plus:
A+D ointment. It's dry and this is great for chapped skin.
insect repellent
chapstick with sunscreen
band aids

Snacks - Just bring enough for the car and a famished kid emergency, though a cooler and juice or soft drinks are quite nice. Food is so plentiful at meal times in camp that it's really overkill to bring more. The water tastes delicious there, so I tend to enjoy a lot of that.

Adult libations - Wine to share at the lodge, after the kids have gone to bed or for cocktail hour get-togethers. Beer tastes better than usual at the Lair and it's handy to share.


CPUC correspondence

In regard to my previous blog post, Water rationing upon us.

California Public Utilities Commission
Water Utilities Division, Room 3106
505 Van Ness Avenue, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94102
Attention: Seaneen Wilson

Re: GSWC Advice Letter No 1329-W

11 June 2009

I'm writing in regard to Notice received from Golden State Water Company (GSWC) in regard to Advice Letter 1329-W - staged mandatory rationing plan.

While I am not opposed to a rationing plan in general, the proposed Plan has some deficits. The first and most glaring deficit is that no threshold of acceptable use has been set for any of the rationing stages. The impact of this oversight is that someone who has a history of conservation and low water use will be asked to make the same percentage cut as someone who has never conserved. This is intrinsically unfair to the conserving user, since water savings will be more difficult for the conserving user to achieve.

I suggest that each rationing stage have a threshold below which there is no requirement to save additional water. Since you have previously established 18 hcf as the revenue neutral usage point, I suggest that the Stage 1 minimum usage threshold be set at 18 hcf.

The second oversight in your letter is that no commitment been made to provide broadcast TV or computer video, or computer audio transcripts of the June 15th public meeting. Is it too much to ask that GSWC tape the meeting and put it on YouTube?

The third deficit of the Notice is that the contact requirements seem designed to prevent all but the most perseverant correspondent: While responses may be made either electronically or by US Postal Service to GSWC, the CPUC requires duplicate delivery of the response on the same date by USPS only! In our modern times, it seems ridiculous to levy this requirement on the public. Adding to the potential level of public confusion is a requirement to refer to GSWC Advice letter 1329-W in all correspondence, but placing this requirement in a section apart from the section where contact information is provided.

The fourth deficit is in the Special Conditions section of the Notice. Of several poorly specified rules, the most glaring is the absence of exceptions for low-flow drip-type irrigation systems. Typical drip systems run for much more than 15 minutes (item m) and might be a viable exception for item h as well.


cc (by email):
Golden State Water Company
630 East Foothill Blvd
San Dimas, CA 91773
Attention Ronald Moore
regulatoryaffairs at gswater dot com


Water rationing upon us

My smallish water supplier, Golden State Water Co, just sent a letter inviting comment on their proposed water rationing scheme. On its face, it appears to be an irrational rationing scheme since they propose across the board allocation cuts on all users based on historical (2004-2006) usage patterns, but without imposing a floor on the minimum allocation.

The impact is that someone who has been living within their water means will have to cut much harder than someone who has been wasteful in the past.

There's two billing tiers for my region

First 1,200 cu. ft., per 100 cu. ft $2.692
Over 1,300 cu. ft., per 100 cu. ft $3.096

There's usage-based fee assessments that get added to these base rates plus there's the fixed costs (such as the monthly fee to have a meter) that typically don't change. These start at $15.15 for the smallest meter and size to $~1700 for the largest.

Previously, I wrote about implementation of the tiered system and how it had to be revenue neutral for the water company. This led to understanding that they expected the typical household to use 18 hcf (hundred cubic feet) per month.

Maybe mandatory cuts ought to be scaled against this 18 hcf figure - those using less than 18 hcf don't have to cut as much. The more you use over 18 hcf the more you must cut. Don't like 18 hcf? Then pick a new target and incentivize people to drive average usage toward your favorite number.

Emily Green blog

Emily Green, a journalist that I eagerly read in the LA Times, has her own blog. It's called Chance of Rain. I only just became aware of it but it looks like it's only been a going concern since May, so I'm not too far behind the vanguard.

June rain 0.125"; 8.04" seasonal total

We had uncharacteristic June rain, with 0.075" and 0.050" on two days last week. This brings our seasonal total to just over 8" of rain, putting the Los Angeles area just above annual median rainfall this year.

This small amount of rain doesn't rally change the look of the graph that I posted here.

June rains are rare and historically speaking there's an even lesser chance of rain in July and August.


Why are palms such popular street plants?

...Although the greenery is much appreciated and long overdue, the City chose to plant, yet again, non indigenous palm trees. Why do smaller city’s continue to plant this tree! Not only does it reinforce the mythical history of Los Angeles but it provides such little tree and sidewalk shading and absorbs very little CO2. I was very, very disappointed. -email discussion

I've wondered this myself and I was able to puzzle out the following when the City put in palm trees along Rosecrans a couple years ago. I was pleased to see the upgrade (in fact I volunteered with the planting), but I didn't feel they were the best choice.

Cities like palms because:

1. The maintenance is low. Tree pruning is a huge city cost of ownership for standard mature trees - particularly if they are fast growing non-natives like ficus. Our native Washingtonia filifera fan palm (native to S. California desert areas) accumulates a fringe of dead fronds that is perceived as a haven for rats and a fire hazard even though it provides bird nesting habitat as well, so other palms that shed their fronds like the Canary Island palm are chosen over Washingtonia or Mexican fan palms. So street palms tend to be exotic, but other than the frond cleanup (a safe, ground level activity), they don't require pruning.

2. The root balls fit typical too-small sidewalk cutouts and if planted with poor soil their growth is slowed so that they are even less maintenance. The palms we put along Rosecrans were planted in sand amended with a very small amount of organic matter, yet they are doing fine.

3. Minimal leaf litter means minimal required upkeep.

4. The vertical growth habit doesn't obscure merchant signs.

5. The roots won't heave the sidewalk.

6. Difficult to climb with no horizontal limbs limits city liability

7. Difficult to vandalize, even when young. A sycamore across the street from me, two years in the ground, was recently vandalized. It will probably have to be replaced. What a waste.

8. Fits S. California iconography.

What are the cons of palm trees?

1. Limited habitat or food source for birds or insects. Probably less true of fan palms.

2. Limited shade doesn't dramatically affect urban heat islands compared to a tree with a more spreading growth habit.

3. Little CO2 recycling (I'll take this as an article of faith, based perhaps on the leaf area difference between a palm and a standard tree.)

The challenge is to find a tree that offers equivalent benefit but is a better fit for S. California. From the standpoint of City planners it's hard to beat the appeal of the palm for isolated urban plantings.

The LA Times has an article on the palms of LA (Palms in Twilight By Emily Green, Times Staff Writer July 8, 2004).

Like us, palm trees are imports, and seem to come from everywhere but here. Spanish Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries brought the first date palms to California in 1769. A fruit industry built on seedlings from Algeria, Egypt and Iraq followed in the Coachella Valley in the early 1900s.

The story of the earliest street palms is a fronded version of the Johnny Appleseed legend. Characters who passed through the Californian and Sonoran deserts began planting fan palms along orange groves and farm drives. At the beaches, Mexican palms fared better in the damp of coastal night fogs.
Soon there were palms and palms. Between 1910 and 1930, the hoi polloi of the Adams district, Santa Monica, Hancock Park and Beverly Hills increasingly upgraded from Mexican fan palms to make the mighty, diamond-trunked, thickly crowned Canary Island date palm the symbol of affluence. Later, modern postwar suburban subdivisions took to lacier, bright green king and queen palms.

Throughout the euphoria, nobody predicted the palmy irrepressibility of the city's 21st century skyline. In the wild, California and Mexican fan palms grow from 40 to 60 feet tall, says Don Hodel, horticulture advisor for the University of California system and author of "Exceptional Trees of Los Angeles" (California Arboretum Foundation). By contrast, their city cousins have spired to between 100 and 150 feet tall.

The varying height was often accidental. Early city planners used seedlings of Mexican and California fan palms interchangeably. They couldn't tell the difference. A century later, this has become clear. A planting scheme intended to bring order and symmetry to the heart of Los Angeles has achieved a bobbing lyricism instead — allĂ©es in which rows of runaway tall and skinny thin-stemmed Mexican palms suddenly give way to stockier, shorter California ones.
Early plantings of Los Angeles street trees were done with nursery seedlings. However, modern developers soon began to require more mature specimens. The single quality that kept the palm vogue alive decade after decade was the ease with which mature palms could be transplanted, giving newly minted developments instant landscaping. When date palms were chosen for Santa Anita Park and the Vegas strip, transplants were moved by the truckload out of old Coachella orchards.

Tadd Russikoff, vice president of the 55-year-old Calabasas-based tree movers Valley Crest, reckons his company moves thousands of palms a year. Distances vary — from the back to the front of a house or, once, a vast procession of Canary Island date palms sent north to San Francisco for the Embarcadero project.

Here's some alternative street tree ideas:

1. Orange or other citrus. Certainly historical in some areas. Leaf litter (evergreen).

2. Redbud. Native. Not too tall in stature. Leaf litter in fall (deciduous). El Segundo has planted some of these on their main street and they are beautiful.

3. Sycamore. Native. Tolerates a wide variety of conditions that other natives might balk at, such as being planted in a lawn. Leaf litter in fall (deciduous). Hawthorne has a number of these. I think they are perceived as a liability because of the ultimate height that they can get to. A fungal infection, anthracnose, is generally not a problem for these trees, but can cause premature loss of leaves in bad years.

4. Santa Cruz Island Ironwood