Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Crimes against nature

Tell me why??? Who did this to this Pittosporum?? The trees on this block are city trees, so WTF happened here?

It's bad enough that the poor thing's root crown is covered with 2 feet of soil. I walk past this horror every day on the way to work. It's just sad.

I think it's because this is a small alley-type street and neither the cops nor FUF every come patrolling, which explains why people can routinely park their cars in front of the fire hydrant without a ticket.

Another brilliant idea of my landlord's... put your gorgeous staghorn fern outside and hang it on a south facing wall so it gets unfiltered sun exposure from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm. Great idea!


Now for something completely different...

Do you know who this man is?

This is none other than a very grown up Harry Potter- Daniel Radcliffe. Wow!

I absolutely love the film Equus, and it really opened my eyes, seeing it at about age 16... not that I was all that innocent, but the film was extremely shocking, in it's depiction of masochism, inflicted cruelty, of a desperately injured psyche and the script's blatant questioning of society's desire to force every square peg into a round hole. I can't overstate how important this film was in opening my mind to question our view of what indeed is "normal" and why we need to cling to that concept so dearly.
The show with Daniel Radcliffe opens in London on Feb. 27. Oh- to be able to whisk off to London for a theater weekend! I'm sure the tickets will be hard to get. Le sigh...

Now this is kinda synchonistic in an erie way...
Orcas appear... sailor disappears...not really anything that makes sense- these orcas only eat salmon... it just serves to remind us again how dangerous the ocean is right off our city coast.

Start preserving our water now... no rain and no snow means no water for the dry season, and although they say not to worry yet, we can't help but be reminded of the drought years not so long ago... Meanwhile my landlord is out back watering the plants for the 3rd time this week... geez.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Trimming Vines

We have been taking vineyard pruning classes at Santa Rosa Jr. College for the past 2 weekends. SRJC has a fabulous facility, Shone Farm where you can take Horticulture, Viticulture, Agriculture, Equine science, Sheep care and other animal and ag centered classes.

So on the past 2 Friday afternoons, we have rushed north to take in lectures in a freezing classroom, stay at the local Flamingo Hotel, and be back at the farm at 9:00 for actual pruning.

The Flamingo, known locally as the Flaming O, is a dinosaur form the 50's, but updated in a non-cheesey way. The rooms were a great price, very very clean, quiet and there is a nice outdoor jacuzzi open to 11:00 pm. All in all, a very good deal.

The classes are great. It seems everyone in Sonoma County is growing grapes in their vast backyards, and wants to make their living selling grapes. It's kind of crazy, that people just plant a bunch of clones and expect boat-loads of high quality grapes, without knowing a damn thing about what they are doing. But everyone's there to learn. The time we spent in the field made the class well worth the time and trouble. Once in the vineyard, everything makes sense and the teacher is able to impart her indepth knowledge of the vine.

Last weekend we practiced "spur pruning" at the college farm, then went to the Kendall-Jackson demonstration vineyard , which also contains a culinary plant garden area. I'd like to check it out in the late spring, once everything starts growing again. After we worked hard pruning their vines, the gentle people in the tasting room treated us to a free tasting. Their Sauvinon Blanc was my favorite.

This is an example of spur pruning:

The "arms" or cordons were trained out on the fruiting wire a few years ago. Each winter, the fruiting canes are cut back, almost to the cordon, leaving 2 buds per spur, which will push into this years fruit bearing sprouts.

The next weekend we went out to a large vineyard to practice cane pruning. Whereas spur pruning is rather cut-and-dry, cane pruning requires a lot of creativity and decision making. Your cuts not only determine which canes will bear fruit this year, but how the vine will be shaped next year, and you want to think of preserving buds for the next year as well as this.

Here we have turned onto the property. we have a lot of driving to go...

First we pass a block of Sauvignon blanc. This used to be a stand of redwood trees. It's beautiful and all, but I can't help but be concerned about the habitat loss and environmental impact of clear cutting this land for yet more grape vines. This is the big issue that the wine industry needs to face up to. I feel like they hide behind the romantic cloak of "man's relationship with the land" with all of the terroir sentiment added on to it. But what it boils down to is tearing up land, planting agriculture, robbing native flora and fauna and introducing various pesticides to the environment.

Never-the-less, it's beautiful here on a cold misty morning and I love being so far away from signs of civilization.

Here we have "bilateral cordon spur trained split canopy" vines. It looks like they have saved a cane on each spur, probably for frost protection. It's been below 32 degrees for many nights now.

Our instructor on the left helps out a fellow student. In the foreground is my newly pruned and trained vine. Even on cane pruned vines, you always leave what's called "renewal spurs." This is to guarantee bud potential for the following year.
On this vine I left no spurs. This is the revolution going on in viticulture right now. Developed here in Sonoma county, it's sending shivers down the spines of vineyard managers worldwide. It will take a few years to see if this new pruning method pans out successfully.

I brought these Sauvignon blanc and Merlot canes home. They root like willows, and it will be fun to watch the buds push and perhaps we'll get to see the leaves.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Environmental Horticulture

I wanted to show you where I spend a great deal of my time these days- the Environment Horticulture Department. I'm taking 4 classes this semester- 3 at night and 1 on Saturday. We'll start with these greenhouses behind the classroom building. The EH department has been around for a long, long time. It's very currently very underfunded, and the instructors regularly buy school supplies out of their own funds. But most of the instructors were also students at one time, and seem to really love their job, and feel like it's part of their opportunity to give back to the community. The EH department is geared to the vocational opportunities that are present in San Francisco, namely urban garden and landscape design, construction and maintenence, plant propagation and nursery management. Every class is geared to educate you about the specific and unique conditions that we deal with here in the Bay Area, such as our diverse micro-climates, rainy/dry seasons, the fact that we have no real winter, and the bizarre soil conditions in our back yards.

Here are 2 photos of our larger Lathe House, where plants grow in filtered sunlight. The plants that are propagated in the greenhouses and mature here in the lathe houses are used around the campus, in class projects or are sold at the annual plant bazaar to fund the program.

This is the organic veggie garden. It's not really veggie growing season right now, except for the perenial herbs, the purple chinese mustard and this gorgeous bed of Rainbow chard. Yum yum!

Now onto my Landscape Construction class, where I spend Saturdays, all day, learning to mix concrete, build forms, pour concrete, and lots of other fun, back-breaking work! But really, I LOVE this class! I've learned all kinds of things like how to drive a Bobcat, use a big reciprocating saw, and jackhammer too!

Here we have a view of our department raised beds, where we grow cut flowers for our floristry department to uses. In the foreground are pile of building materials for our construction classes.

This is the formal garden. Construction classes of the past have poured and stamped the concrete walkways, and last semester our class began laying in drip irrigation and sealing the backs of the retaining walls. This semester we will stucco the walls, finish the brick work, and build 2 gates.

These are a set of winding concrete steps we built. There were old railroad ties here that had to be demolitioned. We built the retaining walls, a floating form and pour a zillion loads of concrete to fill the steps. Towards the end, we were going to run out of cement (did I mention underfunded?) so we started pilfering chunks of old concrete we had demo'ed and throwing them in the form, just to take up space, so our precious remaining concrete would fill the form and we could be finished with the job! It was hilarious and amazing that we made it work, and we felt a great sense of accomplishment when it was done...

Last but definately not least, here are the flagstone steps
we excavated, poured, made the bannisters
and laid the flagstone. I did a great deal of the
flagstone work myself,
and I'm especially proud of how it turned out.
I think they are gorgeous!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Darwin's other theory: Earthworms!

I'm developing a great interest in soil science, mostly due to our Soils class this semester, but I find it immensly interesting... my true nerdiness is revealed!

From the Netherlands Institute of Ecology:

"We all know Charles Darwin as the founder of the theory of evolution. Less known is that 125 years ago, he was the first to show the importance of burrowing earthworms.

He himself thought of this as a nice, but not very important subject. Researchers of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) now provide proof of the contrary. Burrowing organisms are not only real “ecosystem engineers”, but the digging has also played a crucial role in the evolution of the modern animal forms. In the December issue of the scientific magazine TREE they put it this way: ‘Darwin would have been amazed!’

In his last book ‘of small importance’, The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms, with observations on their habits from 1881, Charles Darwin describes the role of earthworms in soil formation and erosion, and their impact on the landscape. For a large part, the book is based on experiments in Darwin’s own garden, carried out with the help of family members. Biogeologist Filip Meysman of NIOO: ‘Darwin’s book taught the wide audience the importance of soil organisms. Beforehand, earthworms & friends were mostly looked upon as pests that should be exterminated. Nowadays, we call the influence of burrowing animals and rooting plants on the soil “bioturbation”. What we now know of the impact of bioturbation on biodiversity and evolution, would have probably amazed Darwin enormously.’ Together with his colleagues Jack Middelburg and Carlo Heip, Meysman shows why.

Not only Darwin’s garden, but almost the complete earth surface is being reworked – including the ocean-floor. Meysman: ‘Burrowing soil animals show the important ecological principle of ecosystem engineers. Just like beavers, moles, sea urchins, and lugworms, earthworms strongly shape their environment. Their digging determines how the environment looks like and which other organisms can live there.’

For the current biodiversity research these burrowing creatures are very important: if a ecosystem engineer would be lost, by climate change for example, the whole ecosystem is affected. The engineer effect does not stop at the surface. The soil or sediment stores plant seeds and “resting stages” of algae and small planktonic animals. By uncovering it or reversely, digging it into the soil, bioturbation partly determines the vegetation aboveground and plays a role in the bloom of harmful algae.

The burrowing biota proves to have an unforeseen link to Darwin’s most well-known work: On the Origin of Species, the start of the theory of evolution. The evolutionary importance of burrowing surfaces approximately 540 million years ago, during the Cambrian explosion. In that era many new animal forms came to life within a short period of time, including all the modern forms. The first multicellular animals were actually nothing more than “softies”, filtering algae from the water or browsing the microbial mats on the ocean-floor. But soon afterwards, they discovered that it is also possible to eat each other. The first predators evolved, starting off an escalating “arms race”. The prey began to shield itselve with skeletons and by hiding in the sediment. Consequently, the predators developed weapons of offence and pursued their prey into the sea-floor. Meysman concludes: ‘On that moment, the ocean-floor changed drastically: it was a true burrowing revolution. The stable microbial mats from the Precambrium were replaced by the reworked sea-floor we still see. The organisms of the ocean had to adapt to this new world. Bioturbation was the driving factor of this rapid evolution, and this is where Darwin’s two books meet.’

The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) studies the ecology of land, freshwater and brackish and seawater. The Centre for Estuarine and Marine Ecology in Yerseke studies life in the sea and in estuaries. The NIOO employs about 250 people and is the largest research institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science (KNAW)."

Here's where you can read the report... for free!!!
Bioturbation: a fresh look at Darwin's last idea

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On my back yard

This is my first post to my new blog... please bear with me while I get established...
First an introduction to my personal city gardening situation...

When I moved into my current apartment, the back yard was a jungle of nasturtium and oxalis. My landlord wanted nothing to do with it at all, and gave me free rein to garden to my hearts content. My boyfriend and I rented a tiller and tried our best to chop up the hard packed clay (intermixed with shards of pottery, old dishes, leaded glass, various rusted metal springs, keys and other unidentifiable fragments of days gone by) I began to plant as my budget would allow and the garden began to look like someone actually cared, for the first time in years. I enjoyed being back there, chatting with the neighbors, working as my cats sunned themselves in the open space.

Then things began to change. My landlord got a new boyfriend, a high-falutin' landscape designer from LA. He began bringing plants from his jobs, removing the things I had planted and began implementing a more upscale design to the yard. Which is great, don't get me wrong, but suddenly my landlord was fucking obsessed. He began to spend every waking minute in the back yard, usually starting at 7:30 on Saturdays and Sundays. I have the basement apartment, and the garden is right outside my windows, so I didn't much appreciate the rude awakenings I began to get as he worked the garden and yelled up at his boyfriend on the second floor...

Now the back yard is a friggin' jungle of evergreen sub-tropical plants, not one inch of open space. I mean, 3 Fatsia Japonica's fer chrissake. He couldn't wait for the plants to grow and fill in, so he has packed the space to the max and now has to cull out the tremendous overgrowth caused by his excessive daily overwatering. Even now, in the winter, he's out there watering every day. But hey, it's his property and he can do as he pleases, of course. It's just that I no longer have any privicy and I hate that he's outside my windows every minute of every day.

I still have a tiny corner, just underneath my bedroom window. My aesthetic is more the cottage, country garden with a mixture of bright annuals, lillies, perenials, flowering vines and some edibles in pots. I like deciduous. I like color. I love quirky little secret nooks and crannies. I know it drives him crazy because there is space between my plants, and they don't need watering every day. Ha!

So goes it in the daily trials of sharing space in the city. I know I'm lucky to have a landlord who allows me to have a space of my own to cultivate. So I should be gratefull.

My latest project is that I'm going to bonsai a young Phoenix canariensis I got at Target. Go ahead and laugh...
But it's so cute! I'm looking for a pot and a book...

So welcome to my world... pictures and more interesting conversations to come. Comments are encouraged and will be read with enthusiasm.