Sunday, February 28, 2010

Eating healthfully…

Breakfast always has been my favorite meal. Just do not get my day off to a good start without a substantial one, however modest.

Over the years, my breakfast has been influenced by many culinary phases. In the 70’s, a yoga teacher shared her “seed breakfast” recipe. Recall it was a blend of flax, chia and sesame seeds (tablespoon of each), ground in a blender with one whole (not peeled) orange. It was topped with a tablespoon of sunflower seeds. Tried that for a few years. My father even bought me a special jar to keep my “birdseed” in. Eventually, commute time got in the way, and I drifted back to boxed cereal. Now that I have my own homegrown oranges, I have been thinking to try the seed breakfast, again. Meanwhile…

Above is a photo of my now typical breakfast -- what I like to euphemistically call “breakfast pilaf”, or in summer, “breakfast sundae.” Suppose it is truly more of a thick, fruited porridge, but pilaf and sundae sound more delectable, don’t they? The base consists of steel cut oats, bulgur wheat, wheat bran and flax meal, seasoned with cinnamon and ginger. I cook a large batch of this on the stovetop, and keep it in containers in the refrigerator, reheating a day’s portion. Then, berries and applesauce are mixed in. It is topped with raisins, nuts, and plain yogurt. (I know, latter is an acquired taste.) In summer, a generous layer of sliced fresh fruit, usually peaches, lies beneath the yogurt. It is a great start to my morning, along with two cups of organic black coffee. No sugar added!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gaining knowledge in the classroom and in the “field” (Part 3)…

Saturday, February 13, I attended a class on "How to Grow Your Own Fruit" with Jon Freeman-Wood (a grower and contractor in Somis, CA.) He was very enthusiastic and encouraging. He rapidly fielded dozens of questions from a large audience. Class was sponsored by Nopalito Nursery in Ventura, and located at the Calvary Chapel next door. Afterward, most of the attendees visited the nursery, which recently stocked fruit trees, in addition to their native and drought tolerant plants. Everything Nopalito sells appears to be very good quality, and they are doing a great job keeping plants looking fresh and healthy. Among others, they are sourcing plants from Native Sons Wholesale and Mountain States Wholesale, and fruit trees from Dave Wilson Nursery via Jon Freeman-Wood.

My fruit tree “field work” and lessons learned:
➢ Keeping citrus canopy as dense as possible to shade limbs and trunk from hot summer sun. Pure luck to have planted most along the (north-facing) south wall, and top of gradual slope over 25 years ago.
➢ Prune trees any time to remove weak, dead, and crossing limbs. Citrus are sensitive, and not as long-lived when pruned severely. Hey, lucky, lazy me!
➢ Don’t plant citrus in strong, full sun exposure – “arms and legs” like some shade (Poor lime and lemons! What was I thinking?!)

Recently, lightly pruned Navel Orange…

Apple tree going bye-bye (way outgrew its space)…

Removal of apple made way for relocation of lemons and lime…

They’re suffering quite a bit, but I hope they survive.

What is left of apple tree will make for some tasty barbecuing next year!

Trying to look on the bright side, but I will miss my homegrown/homemade applesauce. Next year, I may add new, extremely dwarf, low-chill apple and cherry trees along the back of the house. Other thoughts include constructing arbors to support native (or nearly native) grape vines, and balancing desire for “productive” garden vs. drought-tolerant and habitat garden. Or, maybe with careful spacing, I can have it all! Anyone want to weigh in?

Looking forward to attend more classes up at Nopalito Nursery. Check out their website for events listing.

Gaining knowledge in the classroom and in the “field” (Part 2)…

Saturday, I attended an all-day event sponsored by the California Native Plant Society -- "Promoting Sustainability from Nature." It was a day packed with information and inspiration from an impressive group of professionals from the fields of horticulture, landscape, and ecology. It was very well attended and included wonderfully healthy vegan food, a native plant sale and book sale and signings. I was so happy to be there!

Below are a few of my recent book purchases (from event and elsewhere):

Brief conversation with Barbara Eisenstein, one of the event presenters, turned to the wisdom of productive home gardening – what I call seriously local food! This led her to tell me about the vast amount of land turned to tomato growing in Baja California for the U.S. market. She saw this first-hand, on a recent trip there, and wondered how or from where they get all the water needed to grow tomatoes! By the way, in Barbara’s presentation she provided lots of great tips and photos for how to remove resource-intensive lawn and how to plant a native garden. Truly a knowledgeable professional, she has such an engaging way of presenting her topic and making it accessible. Especially enjoyed that she included the challenges and conflicts inherent in lawn removal. Really had to chuckle when she shared that each time her husband goes out of town the lawn shrinks in size!

Some plants for sale at Nopalito Nursery, who also sponsored Saturday’s event…

Agave celsii 'Nova' (shown above -- origin -- Mexico)

Dudleya brittonii (Britton's Dudleya shown above -- Baja native)

Dudleya pulverulenta (Chalk Liveforever shown above -- Coastal native)

Ceanothus maritimus 'Valley Violet' (shown above -- cultivar of native)

Yucca whipplei (Our Lord's Candle shown above -- So Cal native)

Echeveria 'Silver Spoons' (shown above -- California-friendly succulent; non-native)

Echeveria 'Afterglow' (shown above -- California-friendly succulent; non-native)

Artemisia pycnocephala 'David's Choice' (Sandhill Sage or Coastal Sagewort -- cultivar and more cold hardy than native)

Check out the website for Nopalito Nursery, especially for upcoming events and classes.

Theodore Payne Foundation has been the venue for lots of great classes and inspiration for designing with California native plants, since I joined last summer. Check out their website for class/events schedule.

I’ll attend a TPF class, March 13, with Barbara Eisenstein on Gardening with Native Bunch Grasses. She promises we’ll get out in the garden for at least part of the class. (Yea!) Also, looking forward to the TPF native garden tour. Somehow, I have missed this tour in the past. Not going to miss it this time! Blocked out April 10-11, 2010 on calendar several months ago.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gaining knowledge in the classroom and in the “field” (Part 1)…

During the past week, I attended two classes in the City of Santa Monica’s Sustainable Landscape for Professionals Program, taught by Russell Ackerman, Water Resources Specialist. Tuesday’s topic was “Lawn Alternatives.” It was more about alternative types of lawns (e.g., UC Verde™ Buffalo Grass) than about alternatives to lawns (e.g., a native garden or an edibles garden.) Still, it was very useful information. In designing gardens, I must listen to clients’ wishes, and be ready to present lots of options.

Below is a photo I took of a new UC Verde™ lawn in Santa Monica featured on a Lawn Alternatives Tour. We met the homeowner and passionate member of the (commercially sponsored) GrassRoots Program, Tom Engelman, who designed, installed, and mows the lawn himself. He experimented with turf colorant by Becker Underwood (Ref: here) and one called Kameelyan Bermuda by D. Ervasti (Ref: here), and only mowed one side of the lawn. Of course, it would not have browned that early, but Tom admitted to being a bit heavy-handed with fertilizer, which left a few burned areas he then treated with colorant. It is irrigated using a subsurface grid of Netafim Techline CV™ dripperline, available through local irrigation supply houses. (Ref: here) To keep stolons from invading nearby beds, Tom surrounded the lawn with a swath of river rock between concentric rings of synthetic bender board. The lawn was planted in spring 2009 and photographed in September 2009. I must admit my bare toes were quite happy walking around on this fine-textured lawn. And, I suffered no ill effects, owing to it being a virtually pollen-free, sterile, female hybrid. Allergy index scale rating is “1” (lowest) on OPALS. (Ref: Allergy-Free Gardening, Thomas Leo Ogren, 2000, Ten Speed Press.)

Tuesday’s class featured a presentation by Tom Hawkins, President of Florasource, Ltd. plant brokerage, which markets UC Verde™ Buffalo Grass (variant of Buchloe dactyloides.) While the species is not native, and has performed poorly here, this particular variant was developed specifically for our milder, coastal and inland lower elevation climate zones by University of California, Davis, and introduced in 2004. (Above 2,000 foot elevation the variant ‘Prestige®’ is recommended. And, in colder climates, ‘Legacy®.’ Both were developed by University of Nebraska.) Supposedly, once established, the lawn uses less than 40% of the amount of water used by a Bermuda lawn, and compares even more favorably to tall fescue lawns, such as Marathon. So far, it presents naturally disease and pest resistant in the landscape. Recommended mowing height is 2 to 3 inches. Tom indicated 3/4 to 1 inch height is tolerated, but appearance suffers. Of course, it can be left un-mown for a meadow look, and it will attain a height of approximately 6 to 8 inches. It thrives in hot sun, but does not perform well in shade. Minimum half-day sun is recommended.

It has a softer, finer texture and color than more typical turf grasses. Believe it is better suited in a drought-tolerant landscape than as a foil for rich green, hardy shrubs of a traditional landscape. It goes semi-dormant in California, becoming “straw green.”

Downsides discussed: Being sterile, UC Verde™ does not seed, and given its structure, sod is not practical. It is established via plugs, a rather labor-intensive process. Having less volume and weight, however, plugs maybe more economical in terms of transportation/resource cost. While it will stand up to casual play, it doesn’t tolerate heavy trampling such as on a sports field. Tom said it is as susceptible to salt damage as a conventional lawn, so pet urine can be problematic. However, if left un-mown, the spots do not show as much. It is a running grass, which stolonizes, spreading above ground. This helps it knit together over damage spots. However, it does not spread rhizomatically and it has no seedheads. It is, therefore, not expected to be widely invasive. While it appears to aggressively resist weed infestation, it can be overtaken by Bermuda. Tom was quite candid about this, suggesting if one has a well-established Bermuda lawn, which is less thirsty than tall fescue, it might be more sustainable to leave it in place than to resort to heavy use of chemical means to eradicate the Bermuda. Without fully eradicating Bermuda, planting UC Verde™ may be a wasted effort.

A warm-season grass, UC Verde™ is best established during extended heat – mid-April through summer. To establish, especially in hot, inland areas, Tom suggested placing the crown of plugs slightly below grade and applying a generous layer of fine organic mulch (e.g., seed topper.) Soil around plugs needs to be kept moist. If too dry, runners will arch in the air and will not take root. Also, tips will turn brown. (Spray) irrigation recommended is 3 to 5 minutes daily to establish. Tom recommends using Zeba cornstarch-based polymer (according to product directions) for water retention in areas with 2-day per week watering restriction. (Ref: here) In Los Angeles, for example, with drip irrigation this may be unnecessary under current phase of Water Conservation Ordinance as drip is exempt from the day of week restriction. Once the plugs have spread into the native soil (3 to 4 weeks), the plugs should be “mowed” to encourage faster, denser spread. Once established, one may choose to leave it un-mown. However, Tom recommends mowing once per year in November, just as it goes semi-dormant. The period of semi-dormacy is generally early November through mid-February. Although he does not recommend, Tom has seen it successfully planted as late as November. Plugs lay dormant under over-seeded topper. When this is done, Tom’s recommended species for over-seeding is the native annual Vulpia microstachys. This information may be moot in view of our water situation. Over-seeding would likely require winter irrigation, a waste of water, in my opinion.

Additional note regarding irrigation: If you have a Weather Based Irrigation Controller, you may need to use an override feature to properly irrigate this plant material. It is not yet listed on WUCOLS (Water Use Classification of Landscape Species), but this should be rectified with the next edition of WUCOLS.

During class, I asked Tom Hawkins about establishing and maintaining UC Verde™ organically. He said, “yes.” However, I believe it would take longer to establish, requiring a longer period of intensive irrigation, and more diligence in the weed control department.

Recommendation: Generally, I do not favor turf-type monoculture. However, if intent on having a lawn, UC Verde™ is worth considering, subject to confirmation of economic and other benefits/concerns in your real world setting. If a designer, when specifying, consider including the words “NO KNOWN EQUAL” to avoid contractor substituting inferior/wrong variant or the species.

Tom showed a photo of plugs being installed directly through killed “cool season” (fescue-type) lawn left in place as a cover. This certainly saves having sod hauled away. It would not be effective with a rhizomatic lawn like Bermuda, or even a more shallowly rooted running grass like St. Augustine.

More information about UC Verde™ may be found on the following sites:

While I am lawn-less and loving it, I guess if you have to have a lawn...

Thursday’s class was half in Spanish (which I understand little of), but fortunately, there was a companion slide presentation and quite a bit of discussion in English. The topic was “Sustainable Garden Maintenance.” It focused on maintaining a native and drought tolerant garden, emphasizing the need to move away from reliance on fuel consuming power tools. There was some lively discussion from a diverse audience of gardeners, landscape maintenance crew, contractors and even a couple of designers. Key take-aways:
• Pajote! = Mulch!
• Don’t turn soil! = No voltiar la tierra
• Pull weeds = Sacar la raiz [root(s)] manual [or, manualidad? = manually]

All of the Santa Monica classes emphasize water and other resource conservation in the landscape. To achieve this we should include plants naturally from similar “Mediterranean type” climate zones (see relatively small dark areas on map below.) And, we should minimize or eliminate use of plants from other parts of the world with moist summer weather (e.g. tropical, temperate and colder zones.)

Above slides used by permission of City of Santa Monica, Office of Sustainability and the Environment.