Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Winter in So-Cal (January Bloomday)

While so many are under ice and snow, Southern California basks in the relative warmth of a Mediterranean climate.  Many transplants from the northeast often complain about the lack of seasonality in our weather, but as a native, I know better.  Our winter is very different from the traditional American ideal; it takes more observation to see the subtlety.

Our winters vacillate between being cool and dry or cool and wet, depending on the development of La Nina or El Nino.  La Nina makes the ocean waters off the coast colder and causes Southern Cali to have a dry winter. El Nino is the opposite, causing warmer coastal waters and giving us ample to a deluge of rain. This year has been unique, despite La Nina conditions, we are over the average amount of rainfall for this time of the season thanks to the pulse of arctic storms blasting their way south.  Average rainfall is also a misnomer; for most times we either surpass or have very little rainfall. The “average” is merely the adding the sum of the extremes and dividing by a given number, practically signifying nothing.  For instance, I belong to the generation of California kids who grew up during a seven year drought. When it finally began raining again in earnest, we looked up in to the sky and asked, “What the hell is this?”

With rain, comes greenery, and winter is our green time of year. Our normally dust-colored valleys and hillsides grow lush and the native wildflowers receive the water they need to for their spring rebirth. Rain also provides for opportunists, the weeds. I finally have the upper hand in this battle, using both the spray and pull methods. Here's hoping I can keep them under control.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In the Desert Garden

Many gardens have their dormant periods during the winter, not so the occupants of the Desert Garden. On the east side of Balboa Park, follow the foot bridge from the Natural History Museum across Park Avenue and you will find a garden in winter just beginning to hit its blooming stride.

The morning of our visit was cold with a crisp azure sky. The cacti towered in the distance, indifferent to the temperature, comfortable in their own space and time. Cacti and succulent plants seldom have the soft angles of annual flowers or trees. Their harsh angles demand a sense of awe, their sharpness cutting into the scenery around them in their attempt at survival. But the desert does bloom again, thanks in part to the rain and winter sunshine. The first of the blooms were concentrated in the orange fire of ten feet tall aloe vera blooms and the sharp, blood-red crown of thorns.

Originally built for the 1935 Pan American Exposition, the garden fell into disrepair until 1976. Bulldozers moved 12,000 cubic yards of earth to create the current landscape designed to accommodate bands of variable height succulent plants around curving and gently sloping pathways. Cuttings from local nurseries have grown into the large specimens see today.

All descriptions aside, I feel it is best for me to let the images do the talking. Enjoy -


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Down Season

Hey everyone, Just a quick hi-and-hello in the off-season for CUA. I wanted to point out a great resource for all of you urban ag minded folks: Salt Spring Seeds.

Not only can you buy your heritage and heirloom organic seeds via this Canadian company, their website also offers plenty of articles and instructions related to gardening. It may still be pretty dismal outside, but I know that I'm not the only one dreaming of warmer days ahead.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Going Green(er) in the Victory Garden

Up to this point, my garden has been a monoculture. A monoculture focuses on one crop or one type of crop; in my case vegetables. (Think ‘Banana Republic’ – and I don’t mean the store!) Consequently, the garden is difficult to care for; it takes hours of toil per week, sometimes upwards of six hours a week when (at times) I’d rather be spending six hours a month. It is a lot to keep up with especially with other goals, responsibilities, and vacations. A monoculture is also notoriously susceptible to plant diseases and blights as well as parasitic bugs and mildews. I have been researching the idea of permaculture, setting up a more sustainable ecosystem in one’s own backyard. With that in mind, I will be working toward augmenting my garden with beneficial perennials that will feed birds and bugs, provide shade where needed, increase the health of the soil, and most importantly help build my garden into a more complete ecosystem that can hopefully survive a couple days longer than normal without my care. I will rely heavily on the beautiful book, Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. It provides a wealth of advice to help me make my journey from monoculture to permaculture a reality.
Yard waste has also become a problem. Hubby and I are very good at working in the yard for hours at a time, but we must stop when we run out of room to throw out yard waste. A viable composting system will alleviate this and will help return fertility back to the soil. I have begun tossing green kitchen waste in my composter (aka the green machine) and with the help of a leaf shredder/ mulcher I would like to continue the process. Mulching vegetable beds and the fruit tree mini-orchard will also keep a damper on those pernicious weeds. That will surely cut down monotonous work in the garden and save time for the more important work of planting, watering, and tending.

So, to sum up, here is my two-fold goal for going green(er) in the garden:
  1. Plant four beds with the idea of permaculture in mind, expanding on multiple purposes of plants while encouraging a healthy mini ecosystem.
  2. Reduce yard wasted to almost nil – all plants should be composted minus diseased specimens, over-large branches, or palm fronds.