Rain 0.7"; season total 11.00"

After last week's series of storms, we have more rain for this time in the season, than in any rainy season in the prior 6 years. 

In the two watches department: On Facebook, my neighbors noted that they had about 8" of rain for the last series of storms versus my 7.14" (which I borrowed from SpaceX, only a mile or so up the road since my gauge overflowed while I was away).  I guess I'll have to just note that there's some uncertainty there, unless I can find a closer weather site to break the disagreement.  What's this have to do with two watches?  I've said for years that only the man with two watches doesn't know what time it is.


Rain 0.66"; season total 10.30"

In normal circumstances, this would be a significant rainfall, but given last week's performance by Mother Nature, it seems mundane.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Rain 7.14"; season total 9.64"

15 Dec, 2010 0.01" overnight
16 Dec, 2010 through Dec 24th, 2010, estimated over 7 inches! 

I was away from the house and my poor rain gauge maxes out at 5.5".  That max is somewhat below the upper lip and the gauge seems to have overflowed, so I'm estimating 7" or more in my back yard.  That's a phenomenal amount of rain for California.  I won't belabor that point, since it's already been all over the news.

Rainfall amounts at nearby SpaceX, just up the road, were:
15 Dec 0.01" (agrees with me, good)
16 Dec 0.02"
17 Dec 0.44"
18 Dec 1.15"
19 Dec 2.09"
20 Dec 1.28"
21 Dec 0.87"
22 Dec 1.27"
23 Dec 0.01"
24 Dec 0.00"

For a total of 7.14", in good enough agreement with my estimate.  On top of the 2.50" of rain that we'd had already (a normal year by recent standards) this makes 9.64" for the season.

Fortunately, the house had no obvious signs of water damage, so I'm counting myself lucky and prepared: I had my downspout diverters up and had confidence that my garden could absorb quite a bit of water.  Still, I would have liked to be here.


Rain ???, season total ???

It's been raining cats and dogs, possibly the most exciting storm this year, but I have no update until I return home. See my other blog for some cool pics in the mean time.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Let's play Global Warming

Found in a store today.

I used OCR on the back side of the package:

Global warming -— the steady
increase in Earth’s air and ocean temperatures since the mid-20th century - is one ofthe most discussed and studied topics in the scientific community today. This kit introduces you to Earth': climate and the issue of global warming with 23 hands-on experiments. Since Earth's formation, its
climate has been constantly changing. Periods ol warmer climate have alternated with ice ages. These changes happen over long periods of time. During the last few decades, a warming in the climate has been
observed everywhere on Earth. While some warming may be due to natural phenomena, scientists predominantly attribute global warming to human influence. This kit gives you the basic knowledge you need to understand the chmate, wlry it changes, and how our actions affect it.

First, learn about Earth's climate
system, weather, and atmosphere by conducting experiments with a model
Earth and atmosphere. Explore the hydrological cycle to learn about humidity, clouds, and precipitation. Model Earth’s heat reservoirs, thermals, global and local winds, and ocean currents.

Next, learn how human activity
influences the climate with experiments involving carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect. Measure the effects that increased levels of carbon
dioxide have on air temperature.
Finally, investigate the potential
consequences of global warming on humans, ecosystems, and the world's economies. Learn what we can do to protect the climate.


Rain 0.24"; season total 2.50"

0.24" of rain fell overnight for a season total of 2.50" so far.

Anticipating a dry winter and knowing that my natives will look best later with more water now, I was out watering some of them by hand this am, before the clouds had all burned off.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Worldwide cost of tap water

Water is too cheap!

A little further down in the blog when I conclude that rain barrels are only the leading edge of a water public relations campaign and that they only make sense if they are given away free, I made a casual comment that water is cheap. "Tap water costs next to nothing" is the exact quote from my most recent Rain barrel vs. soil rant. A comment from Diane of Food, Fun and Life in the Charente was that tap water was too expensive to see extensive outdoor use in France and the UK.

Wikipedia supports this, citing 6% of total residential water used outdoors (lawn watering and washing cars) in France. This is much lower than California (The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California estimates that, "in hot, dry areas, landscape irrigation can account for as much as 70 percent of the summer water use in single-family homes."  This is probably a histrionic upper limit for PR purposes, but it can still serve as a point of comparison: 6% is a factor of 10 less than 70% so the real numbers are probably not in alignment either.) But is it really a cost issue that keeps outdoor water use in France much lower than in southern California or is it a cultural and horticultural issue?


Rain 0.05"; season total 2.26"

0.05" fell while I was in Joshua Tree last night. While we endured blasts of frigid air the coast was enjoying a light sprinkle.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Rain 0.09"; season total 2.13"

Forecast was for 0.5" and thunderstorms. Not so much.

0.05" of rain on Nov 20
0.04" of rain on Nov 21

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Rain barrel vs. soil

You are a rain barrel stud, but you're beginning to feel a slight unease. Your sense of equanimity is a little disturbed because you've been reading this blog. You figured out that tap water costs next to nothing, so the $500 you spent on rain barrels is beginning to chafe in your tender areas - not only is there no benefit during the majority of the year when we have no rain in our Mediterranean climate, but the barrels aren't the most aesthetic or space-efficient addition to your yard. You want to do the right thing for the environment and a casual survey of your yard during the last rain storm suggested that next to the quantity of rain running off your driveway and out to the street, your rain barrels were looking a little...paltry.

Catalina Ironwood as street tree - before

I was able to take a still out of a video that Margaret sent showing the green concrete that beautified the Aviation median strip before the Catalina Ironwoods were put in.

This view is looking the opposite direction as the picture in my previous blog post.  Empty planter boxes surrounded by green-painted concrete were there for years.


Catalina Ironwood as street tree

Over in Margaret's neighborhood the county recently put in new street landscaping with Catalina Ironwoods, deer grass, and a few other natives. Margaret had emailed me in May of 2009!! about a neighborhood vote to use the native plants. Although i think it was planned for 2009, apparently it took until now to put the native plants in.

Here is an bit from the May 2009, email from Margaret which shows the influence of a neighborhood association.

" Several weeks ago I attended the Del Aire Neighborhood Association meeting.
...it was discussed what will happen to the median strip at Aviation. The olive trees will be relocated to another Los Angeles city and in its place Catalina Ironwood trees will be planted. The Neighborhood Assoc. was adamant that only Calif. natives be planted. In fact they turned away a shipment of some east coast trees. The renovation is being headed up by Anne Kershner. Should start in the fall."

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Soils primer

I was guilty, just like many of you.  I went through the gardening motions of tilling, composting, cover cropping, and mulching without a good understanding of their real impact. I despise unthinking orthodoxy even if I believe it's correct, and I ought to have applied that philosophy closer to home.  For all my belief in the value of soil improvement I could have been speaking cavemanese when it came to a real sophisticated rationale behind my belief: "Compost gud.  Mulch gud.  Make gud soil."  It took me a while, but I've finally made sense of a number of soils issues that were flitting about the corners of my mind.

It turns out that there's a useful level of understanding for gardeners a step or two above the cavemanese or dummy level.  While there's plenty of web information on the necessity of mulching and composting those articles are are often little better than my cavemanese since they don't provide a scientific or evidence-based rationale.  I'll try to leave that sort of writing for the garden mulch sycophants, color-by-number recipe followers, and garden hangers-on and instead give you a little bit of an empirical soil science rationale behind the seven pillars of garden soil maintenance.


Southern California vegetable garden

Robert Smaus, the well-regarded but now retired LA Times gardening columnist, advised in early October, 2006 (http://www.latimes.com/features/la-hm-smaus5oct05,0,6059164.story) the following winter crops.

Winter vegetables

Many vegetables only grow, or grow best, during the cool fall, winter and early spring months. These include beet, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrot, cauliflower, celery, endive, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leek, head and leaf lettuce, mesclun mixes, onion, pea, radish, spinach, snow peas, Swiss chard and turnip. Most are easy from seed but cabbage, broccoli and other cole crops
[Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower] are best transplanted into the garden so they can be planted deep enough to cover and support the bends typically found in young stems.

I think that arugula ought to do well too, given the leafy greens that are on the list.

I'm also about a month behind his suggested planting schedule, but maybe my proximity to the coast will help keep temperatures up for germination.


Rain 0.11"; season total 2.04"

I was surprised by overnight rainfall totaling 0.11" this A.M.

A co-worker who lives in the inland areas stated that it fell hard at his house, but it was gentle at mine.


Magical rain barrels versus the world

I've previously talked about the kind of collection efficiencies that rain barrel users can expect.  They are typically dismal unless you have a very large barrel or the right kind of rainfall pattern.  Collection efficiency depends on the rainfall pattern since one large storm would overwhelm most storage systems, thereby wasting the majority of the rainfall whereas a large number of small storms might never once overflow a typical barrel system. In the latter case efficiency would be 100%.

Based on typical southern California rainfall patterns I estimate a typical rain barrel collection efficiency at 10-20%. This is based on my previous analysis after throwing out the highest and lowest rainfall years and applying a factor of two reduction in efficiency, since the numbers I calculated were best case, and nobody is that diligent. Susan Carpenter of the LA Times spent $500 on two rain barrels and received a third for free.  If the roof area she captured rain from was 1500 sq ft, then her cost per square foot would be $0.33 for 10-20% efficiency. She was happy to pay it, and I guess that speaks to the psychological impact of having a seemingly large amount of water deposited, as if by magic, in your barrel.

But is 100% efficiency achievable and cost effective? Yes, just about.


Madrona Marsh demonstration garden

The native plant demonstration garden around the Madrona Marsh visitor center is open whether or not the Marsh is open. While visiting, I met a Torrance city employee and another couple members of the public who were enjoying the gardens.

One reason I had for going was that I had previously identified a small grove of Salix exigua (Narrow-leafed Willow) as particularly pleasing. They had reminded me of bamboo glades in both form and height and I thought them quite elegant. The grove is now closer to a thicket - I think some thinning would be required to maintain the bamboo look over the years but perhaps the look is also dependent upon the growth cycle. I still think it's a pleasing shrub, below at a distance.

Other plants had their autumn finery on:


'Rogers Red' grape identified in the sign as Vitus californica. However we now know that is not true. DNA analysis tells us that 'Rogers Red' is a first generation cross between Alicante Bouschet, a less widely known Vitus vinafera grape used traditionally as a vin de tincture in winemaking and our native Vitus Still looks great!

Catalina silver lace looked luminous.

This plant struck my fancy because of the jaunty dried stalks, though I don't know its name.

Finally, Ceanothus 'Dark Star' - the same that recently died in my yard - shows that branch dieback is more typical than one might suspect.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Magical rain barrel psychology

In earlier posts I first exposed the cult of the rain barrel as a marginally efficient sop to green guilt but then had an Ah Ha moment in the second post when I related the prevailing theory of how unengaged people will become engaged people through the magic of rain barrels.

The magical rain barrel theory says that Flo and Joe Sixpack will suddenly throw off years of disengagement and disregard for the environment after receiving a free rain barrel from the City of LA(1) After work Joe will park his 4WD full sized truck in the lot-length driveway of their 50's era SFR, amble over to the rain barrel, and switch on the irrigation for his organic free-range tomatoes. He'll share the tomatoes down at the local VFW Hall and, over cold Budweiser, tell the story of the enabling technology of the rain barrel. In doing so he will spread the true gospel. It'll be viral!


This theory only works on people that are already on the cusp of wanting to do something green. Among LA's west side population I'll take a guess that fraction is at most 5% of households. So if you want to make inroads in 5% of households, go ahead and give out free rain barrels. Heck, I'll take one, though even on my somewhat capacious lot I don't know where I would conveniently keep it. On second thought, cancel my rain barrel. Just send me a crew of workers for a weekend to redo the drainage in my yard to more effectively infiltrate water on site.

What sorts of efficiencies push people's buttons and get them excited and engaged? Hardnosed reporter Susan Carpenter, the Realist/Idealist of LA Times was so thrilled with her $500 investment in 3 rain barrels that she put it at number three on her top list of green innovations. She lived with them for the past two to three years and based on my guess that her roof was larger than 600 square feet, she was probably getting rainwater collection efficiencies no better than I cite in my first blog post - 20% to 47% (her roof is larger but her total barrel size is larger too so these numbers are educated guesses for sake of discussion). But because no one is as efficient as the hypothetical water stud in that post, let's assume Susan had an actual 10% to 24% efficiency out of her rain barrels. She says that it lasted her a month into summer.

And she got excited! So here's a person with green tendencies, presumably somewhat skeptical (she is a Realist, after all) getting excited over an outlay of $500 that netted one less month of watering their fruit trees in summer.

I guess magic does happen.

1. "The City of Los Angeles, Department of Public Works, Bureau of Sanitation, Watershed Protection Division (Stormwater Program) rolled out the City’s first free Rainwater Harvesting pilot program in July 2009.
Residents that sign up for the program will be eligible for complimentary installations of (1) rain barrels (2) downspout disconnections, or (3) custom-made planter boxes for businesses. The captured rainwater will then be either routed to pervious surfaces or used for on-site irrigation."


OFG Hands On Workshop event wrapup

Last Saturday I went to the Hands on Workshop (HOW) that I had heard about through my Ocean Friendly Gardens class participation (see Ocean friendly garden landscaping class wrapup) The workshop covered implementing a site evaluation using a worksheet to calculate current water use, runoff, and a water budget for conversion of a Torrance single family residence to an Ocean Friendly Garden that uses rain water. My goal was to check and cement the knowledge that I gained since I started to install my own native plant garden.  I know  that I made a lot of decisions based on less data than I could have had and when I build the next garden I want to have a bit more basis for my decisions.  I was also interested assessing in the community interest OFGs.

The next step at this residence will be to incorporate the ideas into the Garden Assistance Program Workday (GAP) on Friday, November 26, 10am-4pm. This household is participating in the Garden Assistance Program whereby successful applicants get assistance to have their gardens reworked into ocean friendly gardens. I believe they are paying for plant materials and garden supplies, but the labor and design advice are provided at no cost. The homeowners were very gracious and welcoming (particularly considering that we were tracking mud all over their yard) and provided a light lunch with some delicious homemade berry and guava preserves.

The cost of the HOW, attended by perhaps 40 or more people, was free to the attendees though in the past charges have been up to $25 per person. This underwriting was provided by the City of Torrance since this is the first well-publicized garden conversion in the City of Torrance, who also plan similar garden conversions at several public sites around the city in an effort to reduce water use and provide demonstration gardens.

A (the?) top Torrance water manager was there and stated that Torrance will be moving to more recharge and use of local aquifers and to a four tier water rate system where the top rate will be more than twice the lowest rate, making gardens like this one a possibly significant contributor to the local water economy. It's interesting that no one ever mentions rationing at these meetings without first and more prominently mentioning tiered rates. I figure that aggressive tiered rates is the standard public answer to "what about rationing" types of questions. I hope that it is sufficient because no one is actually talking about real water rationing in California, such as would result immediately from significant infrastructure failure in northern California, or gradually due to continued severe drought. I've not heard of emergency water tiering, whereas emergency water rationing has a more familiar ring. At the class, West Basin Water District representative Carol Kwan related how rationing worked when she lived in Hong Kong: Water was turned on for 4 hours every three days! During the time water was on they filled every pot in the house with water to last through the next three days!

The workshop was useful, the instructors friendly and approachable, and the participants seemed engaged. I'm judging the community interest high based on the number of participants.  I also felt particularly rewarded to get the straight skinny in regards to clarifying my mystification at the cult of the rain barrel. I did a little practical garden work, digging a hole to assess soil compaction (over 30 minutes to drain means it's compacted), learned that you only need to remediate soil to the depth of your largest plant (about 12" for 1 gal plants (soil flora and fauna will do the rest), and assessed drainage, learned to identify fungal hyphae and did some figgerin' on  soil type and exposure for use in evapotraspiration calculations.

Walking in LA

I came across Where the Sidewalk Starts blog today and found it an interesting read.  I have to confess that I was searching for the straight skinny on how I (as a motorist) need to yield to pedestrians.  I found that information in a post titled "A Confession A primer on the finer details of crosswalk law."


Rain barrels redux or Why I can now live in the same world as rain barrels

In a previous post I calculated some optimum efficicencies for rain barrels in sizes of 55 gallons and 110 gallons  in support of my feeling that I don't really care for rain barrels.  After I had calculated their efficiencies I still wasn't convinced they were a good idea.  Today I had the opportunity to ask a garden professional about rain storage and rain barrels when I attended an Ocean Friendly Gardens Hands On Workshop.  More on the HOW later, since I know you are all so interested in this garden professional's opinion on rain barrels.

She said, "Rain barrels are the gateway drug to an ocean friendly garden", as near as I can recall.  Just as I already knew, just as I already calculated, and just as the workshop today taught, soil is the preferred method of water catchment.  But for those who live in blissful ignorance of their impact on downstream flow, rainbarrels raise awareness in an effective way.  The rain barrel owners get engaged and that engagement leads to even more effective changes on their properties.  Oh, and if you have a vegetable garden or some area that needs a bit more water like fruit trees then by all means use a rain barrel if it meets your space and aesthetic requirements, They do after all provide soft water for free (ignoring the initial costs).  But don't look to even a couple 55 gallon barrels as your primary line of defense in a water wise garden.

That was the gist of the insight that I received today, which was well worth the price of admission (several hours of my time plus I learned a few other things).  Ahhh...Finally, a rational thought on rain barrels.  Given all the hype, I was losing hope that it was out there, but was.

Rain 0.30"; season total 1.93"

We had a nice early morning rainfall that left us with 0.30" of rain.  My downspout diverters, which I have been using for years in lieu of a rain barrel to cache water in my garden, worked flawlessly.


Why I don't think rain barrels are a good idea

You are a rainwater stud or studette! You are such a rainwater stud that you operate your rain barrel in a way that any time there's a day of rainfall you have an empty barrel ready to capture your roof runoff. You feel proud because this is a highly efficient way to manage your rain water. In fact, it's nearly the most efficient way to use your rain barrel.  You're so good that even if we have several consecutive days of rain you manage to have an empty rain barrel at the start of each day. I don't know how you do it, but this is what makes you the rainwater stud. At the end of the wet season, how many gallons of runoff have you saved?

I'll try to answer this question and others as I dig into rain barrels in an effort to convince myself that they are a good idea.

There's good instructions on the web for sizing and building rainwater catchment systems. The more comprehensive ones have disclaimers such as, "However, rainwater harvesting for landscape irrigation may only be practical in locations where rainwater can be collected in sufficient quantities during the time that it is needed," which I pulled from the linked web page (from Texas).

Susan Carpenter, the Realist Idealist of the LA Times ranks her three rain barrels third on a list of good eco-innovations - right behind gray water and solar photovoltaic panels and ahead of earthworks (passive garden design to capture rainwater), the Australian waterwall (a narrow rectangular rain barrel that looks like a wall), edible landscapes, and composting toilets. See Composting toilets, backyard chickens and waterwalls: Susan Carpenter's eco-living experiment

She spent $500 ($300 for two rain barrels (a third was free from the city) and $200 for installation and parts) and writes of the rain barrel experiment,

I was a rain barrel skeptic before I joined L.A.'s rainwater harvesting pilot program last fall.... Though rainwater holds such enormous potential for supplementing Southern California's dwindling reserves of imported water, rain barrels seem like such thimbles. During a normal L.A. winter, my 1,500-square-foot roof generates 13,500 gallons of water — a tidal wave compared to what a little barrel can handle.

Which is my concern exactly, but I don't think that under most circumstances that it's best mitigated by her next observations:

Having lived with rain barrels for a year, I've learned that their small size makes them manageable and affordable. The water they catch isn't stored only for summer use. It can be drained in between rains to water nearby plants. An added perk: reducing storm-water runoff to the ocean.

...The 175 gallons they hold were a lot more useful than I'd expected for feeding my exceptionally thirsty fruit plants. The water they held lasted about a month into the summer.

Under certain circumstances (for instance, your roof drains to unavoidable hardscape and then directly off property) I can see a benefit of rain barrels, but for the vast majority of suburban homes I can't see the ecological benefit over garden infiltration.  There will almost NEVER be a cost savings if Ms. Carpenter's costs are typical: $500 for three unsightly barrels?

Let's try to put some numbers to my misgivings.

Let's assume that you, the rainwater stud, have 600 square feet of roof (half of a modest sized suburban home's roof area) and a 55 gallon rain barrel. Then it would take about 0.15" of rainfall to fill the barrel (using a conversion of 231 cu. in. per gallon). That means that after 0.15" of rainfall any additional rain is not captured!

Looking over the last six years of rainfall information in my own LA-area backyard (One of my not so private obsessions is rainfall statistics.  I'm using my daily records of rainfall to make the tables below.  You can do the same thing with a modicum of effort, an Excel spreadsheet, and the daily rainfall tallies for your area.  Note to Steve Libby: Naturally I predicted the statistical utility of this data years ago when I started recording rainfall :-)

I'm also assuming I made no mistakes with the analysis, something that has not always proven to be the case, but the numbers seem to be what I expected and time is growing short so with an arrogant tip of my nose I'll take the "meets my expectation" observation as confirmation that they are indeed correct. Most of LA and a wide area of coastal southern California should be similar to what I present below. In fact, the inclusion of our driest year (06-07) and our wettest year (04-05) probably bounds the calculation for most of southern California: you should have results no worse and no better than predicted in those years.

Finally, with caveats and rambling prose out of the way, I can make the assessment of the impact that a rain barrel would have had on the rainwater stud's runoff, had he or she sited it in my backyard in any of the preceding six years:

There are two cases below. They use identical rainfall patterns (that of my back yard for the given years) and identical roof area (600 square feet). They differ in the size of the rain barrel. [Note that the number of down spouts doesn't matter.  I assume ALL the rain from a 600 sq ft roof goes into the barrel or barrels.  I'm writing this parenthetical note in response to a comment I received elsewhere suggesting that I add downspouts.]  The upper table gives values for a 55 gallon rain barrel and the lower gives values for a 110 gallon rain barrel. In our recent wettest year, 2004-05, a 55 gallon rain barrel would only have been 11% efficient at capturing rainfall but would have been 65% efficient in our driest year (2006-07). For the case of the 110 gallon rain barrel the numbers are 19% and 99%, respectively. Average efficiencies are 0.47 for 110 gallon rain barrels and 0.29 for 55 gallon rain barrels.

55 gallon rain barrel, 600 sq ft of roof

110 gallon rain barrel, 600 sq. ft of roof

I have to admit that the efficiencies are surprisingly high, particularly with larger capacity barrels.  However, our assumptions tell us that our rainwater stud isn't always using the water when it's most needed in the garden, which is between storms.  Instead, over consecutive storm days that exceed capacity the barrel has to be drained to get the kind of efficiencies that you see here: you actually would have to water with your barrel while it was raining in many cases.  Consider also, that 600 sq ft of roof is only half of a small 50's era SFR roof.  For larger homes the runoff will increase in proportion to the roof area driving efficiencies down for the two cases set forth above.  I'll leave this post as it is now, with a high likelihood of a return visit to this topic later when I can stand to think about this again.

More locally-relevant information about rain barrels is contained in a fairly thorough document that does not address rain barrel efficiency at www.larainwaterharvesting.org.


Dawn harvest

Looks like enough for paella?

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Rain 0.28"; Season total 1.63"

0.08" on 23 Oct
0.20" on 25 Oct - nice overnight rain with beautiful blue skies on the morning of the 25!

A total of 0.28" in a couple days is the nice sort of rainfall that makes gardens grow.

We're in between rainfall totals from the previous 6 years at the same date: three were greater and three were less.  If direct comparison to historical LA averages are to be trusted, we're well above both mean and median rainfall for the end of October, so we're running a little wet early in the season.  Forecasters are predicting a dryer than normal winter, however, so it might be best to make hay while the sun shinesflowers while the rain falls.

Corn maize

I visited the corn maze at Pierce College this weekend with Juli, Houston, and Chris. The maze makes Pierce College more money per acre than any other crop that they raise, according to them.

They give you a map of the maze before you start and you're supposed to use a distinctive hole punch at each of several waypoints to track your progress. The maps they give out are on postcards, but in case you need extra help there's always the signs.

I've done one maze elsewhere without the benefit of a map and it's very hard once you are inside,

Ariel photographs of previous years can be found online. The designs change from year to year and from the air it's clear that the mazes very accurately replicate their design. This year's maze, map pictured above, is complete with large letters spelling out "save the farm". Unfortunately, by this time in the season there were many unauthorized shortcuts through the maze so next time we'll try to go earlier in the season. That was really the only disappointment - being in a large maze is fun. We even got to see some huitlacoche:

Huitlacoche is supposed to be a great delicacy, but I thought it looked rather ghoulishly in keeping with the season.

Pierce College gets spooky after 7 pm. Here's the entrance to the corn field of horror or somesuch.

You have to pass beneath the gargoyle to encounter masked, chainsaw wielding psychos. Corny, or not?

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Saffron crocus!!

Crocus sativus.

These took three years to produce. I've had the narrow leaves show in previous years, but never the blooms. I tasted a stigma straight from one flower and it was good!

I don't know what was different about this year as opposed to previous, perhaps the mild summer didn't dry them as much - they are said to produce better with supplemental water.

Wikipedia has some advice: "Timing is the key: generous spring rains and drier summers are optimal. Rain immediately preceding flowering boosts saffron yields; rainy or cold weather during flowering spurs disease and low yields. "


"Harvests are by necessity a speedy affair: after blossoming at dawn, flowers quickly wilt as the day passes. All plants bloom within a window of one or two weeks."

Looks like I missed the first harvest except for that one stigma.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Ooze on, L.A. River, ooze on

I picked up Keith & Rusty McNeil's California Songbook last summer while in Columbia.

The songs all relate in some way to California history and I like that they give a brief bit of historical context along with each song.

One of the selling points was this song at the back called L.A. River. Keith and Rusty write that the original author is anonymous, but that the song was taught to them in the 1960s by Clabe Hangan.

Lyrics to L.A. River:

There’s a river, a windin’ river, flowin’ through our town.
And it’s not so very mighty, but it sure does get around,
How I long to sit and cool my feet on its sterile banks of gray concrete,
Ooze on, L.A. River, ooze on.
Well it’s not so very mighty, and it’s not so deep and wide,
But its current has a longing to stay at low, low tide,
And I thank the Lord that it’s not blood red, but a peaceful, cool, green
algae instead, Ooze on, L.A. River, ooze on.

Now when the thunder sounds like fury and the rain begins to fall,
I dream that the mighty crashing is that river’s fearless roar,
But the sound I hear is not a dream, it’s a motorcycle goin` upstream,
Ooze on, L.A. River, ooze on.
Well it hasn’t any whitecaps, and it hasn’t any iish,
To see it splash and ripple, it would be my fondest wish,
But it floats its load of sad debris from the mighty sewer to the mighty sea,
Ooze on, L.A. River, ooze on.
Ooze on, L.A. River, ooze on.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


So that means the drought's over, right?

No.  Don't confuse weather with climate.

Rain 0.31"; season total 1.35"

A series of rainy days gave me the following precipitation in my back yard:

0.01" 16-17 Oct. We had gray skies and mist.  I saw drops in the rain gauge, but by the time I came back to read it, the waters had evaporated so I'm booking only 0.01".  It seems clear that rain is on the way.

0.25" 20 Oct. Rain all day Tuesday and continuing into Wednesday.

0.05" of rain on Wednesday

This is a grand total of 0.31" of rain for this storm.   No more storms are predicted in the five day forecast.

Ocean friendly garden landscaping class wrapup

A hands on workshop (HOW) will be held at a residence in Torrance to implement some of the techniques described in this class on Sat Oct 30th from 11 to 2.  Contact mcgilvraydoug at yawho (correct misspellings / format to email)  for the address and to register.  This household is participating in the Garden Assistance Program whereby successful applicants get assistance to have their gardens reworked into ocean friendly gardens.  The same residence will renovate their garden on November 26, 10-4, another chance to get some hands on experience. 

My motivation for attending the Ocean Friendly Garden Landscaping Class (OFG.org) last night was partly to take the temperature of the local sentiment for California friendly gardening and partly to update and refresh my own knowledge.  I will have the opportunity to install a new garden in the near future and I'd like to do it right from the start instead of learning on the job as have in my current garden.  (Gardens are forgiving of many mistakes, but fundamental ones about drainage, irrigation, and hardscape are harder to overcome.)  I came away with a few new tidbits of information, better clarity, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for ocean friendly gardens. The class teachers came from West Basin Water District, The Surf Rider Foundation, and the Green Gardens Group (G3).  I heard Paul Herzog of the Surfrider Foundation not too long ago at a CNPS meeting where he gave an abbreviated presentation.  Last night he spoke only briefly which let me get a fresh spin on the information from Pamela of G3, an engaging speaker.

Between 25 and 30 people attended the 3 hour ocean friendly gardens workshop that was held last night in Lomita.  Nearly all seemed alert and engaged, so it seemed there were few reluctant spouses or skeptics.  It looked like they had reservations for more, but rain may have kept people at home.  Still, I consider the turnout significant in number - my intuition tells me that there's still interest in transforming sterile lawn into habitat.  The south bay is a small enough world that I knew one attendee from work - he said he was looking into changes that made sense for his home.  I would guess that level of interest is the target audience for this presentation and I think it worked effectively on that level.

A couple questions that came from the audience indicated a general interest in water issues:

How come we don't have rationing? (Carol Kwan of West Basin attempted an answer that ended with, "Well, some areas like Manhattan Beach have tiered water rates" (apparently Lomita doesn't have tiered rates or people were unfamiliar with the concept) but didn't address any real political or process blocks to rationing or more / more aggressive tiers.  I held back from my cynical comment that rationing is typically based on history of past use and that everyone in the room ought to be using plenty of water to make sure they don't get rationed too much in the future.  Paul had noted earlier that water rates are expected to rise overall, motivating people to change all on their own, so perhaps that's the best answer, though it wasn't directed at this question.)

How much water evaporates from the aqueducts that convey water to southern California? (No answer was given.)

They supplied a CD with class presentations and supplemental material as a free take away from the session, which was a good idea (the PDFs they supply have only low resolution images in a format suitable for notes, not for reuse in a briefing). This picture of our watershed comes from their packet and it's my favorite image of the evening.  If you can't  visualize the watershed from this picture then you must be blind.

 My second favorite picture is this one:

It's meant to give you a metric for assessing the water usage of overhead sprinklers: each sprinkler head is similar to a shower in terms of its water use per unit time.  However I like it because I wouldn't mind showering outside (in the back yard, of course) in good weather.  No one mentioned outdoor showers as a good way to irrigate with gray water.  In fact, gray water didn't get any mention in the class - I wonder if Surfrider  is opposed to use of gray water or if that concept is too scary for the target audience of this class.

West Basin Water District provides support for a number of water use reduction activities and they seem to be pretty forward thinking in this regard.  They now have demonstration gardens in El Segundo and Carson(?) where they walk the walk.  Rebate programs continue with a new combined rebate program that allocates up to $235 per household for smart irrigation controllers.  bewaterwise.com was a constant referral for this type of information.

Some interesting tidbits from the class:

The widely quoted figure of 20% of electricity used in California is used for moving water was clarified - apparently it's used for moving and cleaning water.  I'm not sure how to verify this figure, but I'd like to.

143 gallons per person per day was the typical water use in LA (County) cited for a four person residence.   This includes outdoor water, which comprises a larger fraction of our total water use than use of our indoor water use.  This is in part due to our successful indoor conservation policies.  Nonetheless, something like 60% of all potable water used is used outdoors.

Soil testing - Why have I never done this?  Even though I'm a huge fan a data and I've been a successful gardener without it, think what a little more knowledge would do for me.  The simple mayonnaise jar test mixes soil with water to separate out the soil constituents and then maps the ratio of silt:sand:clay onto a ternary phase diagram to define soil type:
(image from http://bestlawn.info/the-news/70-soil-management.html)

The class didn't call this a ternary phase diagram, but of course I know one when I see it, so perhaps that common point of reference makes me more interested in this test.  Pamela recommended the use of distilled water for the test, but web references I checked don't require anything other than clean water.  She made a vague reference to "reactions" as the motivation for using DI water, but I can't think of reaction that could be of concern if just using tap water - buffering action by dissolved minerals shouldn't affect much of anything in the soils assessment.  If this procedure is also used to test soil pH, then of course DI water matters.

Another interesting aspect of the class was the focus on rain barrels and rain chains.  I've never been a fan of rain barrels, since they seem to have so little payback.  Pamela suggested that sequestering the first flush rainfall was most important in terms of providing environmental benefit and in that respect rain barrels could have a net positive impact, particularly in areas where rainfall can't be kept on property by other means.  Rain chains I've used before for their architectural benefit.  Pamela's focus was at times on water velocity - and the net positive impact of rain chains and barrels in that regard.  I don't think that rationale passes the sniff test for me.  She may have been meant to say rain flux or something else like that.  I'll have to explore this issue a little more later on.

All in all, this was a useful class, probably right on target for those not yet singing along with the choir.


Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Infested Ceanothus

I have a generally healthy Ceanothus (California Lilac) along the back fence (species forgotten, but I think it's a popular garden selection, now 12' tall and doing a fine job of hiding the neighbor). I've given the garden a lot of neglect in the recent months but found some time to do general cleaning and tidying the other day. I noticed that there were many ants crawling into the Ceanothus and further investigation showed that one of the branches was covered in scale! The Argentinian ants will farm this parasite, much as they farm aphids.

I've had scale problems before, but usually with exotic plants, not natives. However, here was undeniable proof that the natives aren't completely resistant to garden pests. A bit closer look at the shrub in question showed that only this one branch was affected. Why?

Apparently this one branch had grown onto the top of the fence where it rubbed in the wind and chafed the bark, partially girdling this branch. The Ceanothus then couldn't maintain normal defenses against scale and other infestations (pictures for the courageous below). I cut the branch off, chopped it up, threw it in the green waste bin, and considered my horticultural detective work done for the day.

They suck:

 The scale:

The damage that lead to the infestation:

Ocean friendly gardens workshop - in my 'hood

I find it surprising, in the nicest way, that the non-beach, unhip communities are being offered this information. I think I will go and check it out.

FREE Ocean Friendly Garden Workshop

Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - 6:00 - 9:00 pm

Did most of the recent rain water run off your landscaping and into the street instead of being retained by the soil to sustain your plants? We have a solution for that!

Come to a FREE Ocean Friendly Garden workshop presented by the West Basin Municipal Water District, South Bay Environmental Services Center, Surfrider Foundation, and (G3) The Green Gardens Group.
You will learn:

* How to identify what type of soil you have
* What is the best, most optimum soil
* What amendments you can add to get the best results from your soil
* How to turn your landscape into a sponge to capture and hold rain water
* What NOT to add to your garden
* much, much more!

Location: Lomita City Hall, 24300 Narbonne Ave., Lomita, CA 90717

The workshop starts at 6:00 pm, but please try to come early to sign-in.

Refreshments and snacks will be provided.

This event is FREE, and space is limited, so click to register today!

SBESC is funded by California utility customers and administered by Southern California Gas Company and Southern California Edison, in collaboration with South Bay Cities Council of Governments (SBCCOG), under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission through a contract awarded to SBCCOG. This program may be modified or terminated without prior notice and is provided to qualified customers on a first-come, first served basis until program funds are no longer available. California customers who choose to participate in this program are not obligated to purchase any additional services offered by the contractor. © South Bay Environmental Services Center. The trademarks used herein are the property of their respective owners. Some materials used under license with all rights reserved by the Licensor. Additional funding provided by West Basin Municipal Water District, the City of Torrance, the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the County of Los Angeles for Energy Upgrade California(TM).


Ceanothus 'Darkstar' autopsy

I dug it up yesterday. Actually I intended to dig it up yesterday but all I had to do was pull aggressively.

One of my Ceanothus shrubs had at times concerned me with its health. After winter's rains and some time before summer it would lose a large number of leaves. See http://bammorgan.blogspot.com/2009/06/ceanothus-problem.html It did this for two years - long enough to make me think that it was a normal seasonal adaptation. And then it expired late this summer.

So yesterday I prepared to dig it out, but when I pulled hard it became clear that I wouldn't have much work to do: One large root extended away from the shrub and ran 1 to 2" below the surface for several feet. Another, smaller root, extended in the opposite direction. A few more tertiary roots extended similarly and some hairy roots extended into original potting soil from the 1 gallon plant.

Here's the lower trunk and root system.

A little bit wider field of view with an area where I'm doing some brickwork at the top of the photo.

There's no smoking gun that I can see here for this particular with plant failure. The post winter leaf loss points to marginal drainage. The poorly developed root system led to dehydration in summer. I didn't see any evidence in the remains of the original root ball to tell me that it was damaged as it came from the nursery, but I can't exclude that possibility. Maybe I positioned the roots too far to the side when planting.

On the other hand, perhaps this Ceanothus 'Darkstar' has parents that grow in an area where the soils are shallow and my heavy soil exacerbated the tendency to grow shallowly. The parents are C. impressus x papillosus according to the Payne Foundation web site, neither of which seems likely to prefer shallow roots.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


rain 1.01"; season total 1.04"

Nice!  I had 0.33" this am.  The rest came down all day today but we're looking at warm weather this weekend.

The timing of this wet weather isn't so unusual. In previous years we had the start of wet weather on the following dates:

2009 12 Oct
2008 4 Oct
2007 21 Sept
2006 13 Oct (the least October rainfall in my records with 0.009" and no more rain until November)
2005 16 Oct
2004 17 Oct


Rain 0.01"; season total 0.03"

I'm being generous when I log 0.01".  Even though a quick walk through the parking lot at work got me soaked today, the rain barely registered at my home.  It's raining as I write, however, so perhaps more to come tomorrow.


Rain 0.02"; season total 0.02"

The first measurable precipitation hit today leaving only a scant amount behind.  It's hard to believe that a day that was misty all day long only left 0.02", but that's what my rain gauge says.

I'm not planning to plant any native plants based on this rainfall.  Our rainfall pattern is typically dry until later in the season, so natives planted now would require supplemental water.


Percolation theoretic understanding of landscape ecology

Sometimes I have good ideas.  Less often those ideas are new.  Given my interest in native plants as habitat, about 6 months ago I thought I would try to model wildlife migration on a grid (which would stand in for typical suburban lots) using percolation theory.  However, a quick Google search turns up lots of prior work.  So this is only a potentially good idea that isn't even novel.

The first article that I read was confusing on more than one level.  Give the first page a read (or not) below.  My guess is that you'll quickly get bogged down and skip past it.

Neutral Models: Useful Tools for Understanding Landscape Patterns
8.1 Introduction
A neutral model is a minimum set of rules required to generate pattern in the absence of a particular process (or set of processes) being studied. The results of the neutral model provide a means of testing the effect of the measured process on patterns that are actually observed (Caswell l976). If observed patterns do not differ from the neutral model, then the measured process has not significantly affected the observed pattern. Conversely, when results differ from model predictions in a way that is consistent with a particular process, then strong evidence for the importance of this process has been obtained. Several authors have argued that formulation of a proper neutral model is necessary for hypothesis testing, because data often exhibit nonrandom patterns in the absence of the causal mechanisms of interest (Quinn and Dunham 1983). This approach has been discussed extensively in the field of community ecology (e.g., Conner and Simberloff 1984, 1986; Haefner 1988) as well as other areas of biology (Nitecki and Hoffman 1987).

Neutral models are useful in landscape ecology, a field of ecology that emphasizes the complex relationships between landscape pattern and ecological process (Turner 1989, Gardner and O'tieill1991). Processes, such as disturbance, can produce landscape patterns by changing the abundance and location of habitat patches (Baker 1992). Likewise, patterns have important effects on ecological processes. For example, habitat fragmentation affects metapopulation dynamics (Holt et al. 1995), gene flow (Ballal et a1.1994), and dispersal (Santos and Telleria 1994). The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate the usefulness of neutral models to landscape ecology by discussing how neutral models (1) assist the investigator in understanding patterns in spatial data and (2) are useful for generating maps for quantifying the effect of landscape pattern on ecological processes.

8.2 A Simple Neutral Model
Neutral models help landscape ecologists understand relationships between measures of spatial pattern and landcover abundance. A simple neutral model designed to explore the effect of changes in the abundance of a habitat on the spatial pattern of landcover (Gardner et al. 1987) was derived from the principles of percolation theory (Stauffer and Aharony 1992).

Was I right?

Even after reading this article several times, I don't have a good plain English understanding of what they are trying to say.  This isn't helped by the fact that I seem to have stumbled upon a small tempest in a teapot regarding the use of a neutral model versus a null model.  In population ecology and related fields, a null model seems to be a migration model fit with constraints measured from data whereas the neutral model attempts a statistically based description that can be scaled to data.  I'm probably wrong, but that's what I'm going with right now.


No new sources

The graphic above was pulled from the Little Hoover Commission (LHC) executive summary and shows that California has less than about 1 MAF water growth COMBINED available from new sources (surface storage, forest management, desalination, cloud seeding, rain dances and prayers) assuming we meet the low estimate in each category. Meeting  the high estimate of increased surface storage has the greatest impact of that bunch, but probably requires significant new infrastructure (dams) which don't seem to have political traction right now and even then could only account for an additional 1M increase. 

On the other hand, of the four top potential water sources, NONE exploit new water.  ALL are savings estimates based on conservation (though they call it efficiency in the case of ag).

Increased agricultural efficiency is the lowest of the top four in terms of savings and seems either hit or miss, with an order of magnitude difference between low and high estimates.  That order of magnitude uncertainty is not something that encourages putting great faith in ag savings.  

Groundwater storage is the next lowest potential payback of the top four.  I believe that they are referring to natural infiltration rather than pumping excess water underground in times of excess.  Interestingly, there's a current groundswell of support among gardeners, city planners, and environmentalists for better groundwater infiltration to prevent storm run off and one can find many examples of urban rain gardens designed to capture, use, and infiltrate rain water rather than sending it to the storm sewer system.  This seems a feasible method to capture more water, since it is already gaining traction, requires no central planning other than infiltration standards, is distributed, can be incrementally implemented, and has other beneficial effects such as improving coastal water quality.  A successful PR campaign might make even more headway here.

The two greatest potential areas of saving, recycled water (so called "toilet to tap" programs) and urban efficiency (low flow toilets, shorter showers, less garden watering, etc) are also both conservation measures. I'm not sure I need to say much about them other than to point at the graph to show how much more potential is there than in any other measure.

The important point here is that we have about 1 MAC more water that is feasible from new sources or better management of existing sources and more than 3.5 MAF available from conservation measures, assuming we meet the minimum in each category.  So excuse the hyperbolic headline trumpeting "no" new sources, it's just that conservation trumps new sources in the two most critical categories of cost and impact.

See On the pulic record blog for more insighful commentary on this topic.

As a point of reference, I think that California's industry and population uses about 9 million acre feet (MAF) of water a year, a number I extrapolated from elsewhere on the web but which could be wrong since I'm was a bit careless. I'm not sure if this includes ag.  In any case, this number is a convenient reference, since 1 MAF is about 10% of 9 MAF and the graphic breaks things down in bite sized 0.5 MAF increments.


Interesting article

This is from the automatically-generated Google results in the sidebar of my blog.  Often, the factual, new or interesting native plant content is thin, since it's just a keyword-driven search result.  However, this article http://media-newswire.com/release_1125304.html about Tidestrom's lupin has a good lay description of some detailed modeling.  If you have a scientific bent, then you ought to give it a read.


Seen on a hike at Scout Camp

I almost hit my head on this pair of nearly perfect Leopard Lily (Lilium pardalinum) growing high out of a moist bank near the trail.

Deep Creek swimming hole. Sweet!!!

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Water reflections

Back in the day, a typical way of powering equipment was to have a central engine that drove a belt. The belt was then attached as needed to different pieces of equipment. In the 1850s era town of Columbia I saw this drive mechanism, which appears to be an of the sort I've just described, no doubt used in some sort of gold mining operation.

The interesting thing about the engine is that it's powered by water.

The resource that was formerly used as fuel for the gold rush is now considered part of the wealth of California.

Despite an increase in our water savvy, we still like our lawn. Here's a photo of the entry into Laetitia Winery, with the irrigated lawn bright green against the unirrigated background. To their credit, Laetitia has incorporated native plants in their (long and irrigated) driveway border planting, but I have come to expect a little more from our wineries in terms of water usage.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Hike in San Luis Obispo's coastal hills

Just over the hills from Avila Beach is the trailhead of a hike I've done once before.

There's plenty of Mimulus. Some fading to brown:

And some still fresh:

And Poison Oak, already turning red in places:

The lupine has reached and passed it's peak. This is one of the few flowers left:

Lupine seed pods go suddenly from a normal pod shape as they ripen to a helix-like shape that explosively releases and scatters seed. This is known as explosive dehiscence. Poppies do it too.

Lupine seed ripening:

Lupine seed ripened and scattered:

The plant community is coastal woodland on the inland side of the hill with manzanita growing in exposed areas where it can get sun and California Live Oak elsewhere.

There's a flowering plant that I couldn't identify:

Here's the leaves of my mystery plant:

And there's hummingbird sage:

And there's a great view from the top

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone


Ubiquitous tiny yellow meadow flower

Perhaps it's too small to be found in most popular references. This is all over the Sierra right now.

Hypericum doesn't seem right.

I wonder what it is.

- Posted at great expense from my iPhone