Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Favorite quote of the day

"Stephanie₁ has a duck egg, and I have a pod₂ design " --Trilby, about 6pm

1.  Stephanie.  nine-year-old soccer superstar next door
2. pod.  adult version of a fort

Monday, March 30, 2009

Our newest arrival

We have a new addition... today 5 indian runner ducks arrived, and stepped out of a pet carrier into their new home in the southeast corner of the backyard.  Besides being facinating and humorous, they are good layers (a greenish-colored egg a day/ per hen), and love to eat snails and slugs, which we have in abundance. They will certainly be an entertaining addition here.  There is one drake, (male duck) who is distinguished by his voice, a curled up tail, and a green bill, and 4 hens.  Let me know if you have good duck names to suggest!

The ducks came to us rather quickly because I happened to be biking by the eco house in Berkeley just a couple of weeks ago and the duck keeper was moving, and looking for a new home for his ducks.  So, finding plenty of material to harvest from our very yard, I built a pen, which is hopefully critter-proof.   It is built from old chain link fence that was unnecessary (double layers of fence along several walls), old chicken wire I happened to find just hanging on that back fence, and the door is built from a dead tree on the property, and scrap wood (again, from those boarded up windows... all that wood sure is coming in handy). It continues to amaze me just how much material we are able to put to use that was already here.  The beautiful guadua bamboo you see is part of a recent find- someone's old burning man project in the bay area that needed to go immediately, and we were the lucky recipients.

Other exciting non-duck happenings include: a productive greywater planning session with a greywater guerilla,  Sasha breaking ground on her pod and getting ready for starting the earth bag foundation this week, bamboo bike trailer building, prep for foundation work on the  granny unit that should begin this week, and a great party, thanks to all you amazing people that were here!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Radishes: instant gratification!

I've grown radishes so many times, all the way back to when I was just a kid  squatting in my mom's garden and plunking seeds into holes, yet they will never cease to amaze me.    I gathered my first handful of radishes from our garden here today, and was filled with the same sense of excitement and awe I felt the very first time I ever harvested something.  I had to run around with the bouquet of brilliantly colored roots, a wild grin on my face, showing everyone the bounty.  They really are a gardener's instant gratification, easy and quick to grow,  beautiful to harvest, and deliciously crunchy and simple to eat right away sprinkled with salt.  

The soil here is heavy clay, great for our building projects, not so great for gardens,
so there are various ways we have been experimenting with building our soil and creating garden beds.  Today with the help of some volunteers, including our first traveling visitors(all the way from England and Ireland!), and our 9-year old neighbor (probably our biggest fan), we dug a couple of swales and built up two new garden beds in the back yard, using a method from  Toby Hemenway's book Gaia's Garden.   After using picks and shovels to break up the clay, we built up the following layers, wetting them thoroughly in the process:  
1) nitrogen, in the form of grass clippings a volunteer kindly clipped from the most lush place in our yard where the grass grows tall; 2) a layer of cardboard to suppress any grass seeds/weeds from growing through; 3) another layer of nitrogen, this time in the form of local horse manure; 4) flakes of straw laid out to be about 3-4 inches thick though double that would have been great had we had more straw; and lastly 5) a few inches of finished compost, that if deep

enough, makes it possible to go 
right ahead with planting while all the layers underneath decompose slowly overtime as roots and microorganisms make their way through.  We are wondering how root crops like beets and
 carrots will like this method. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Full Moon Over Wildcat

A little before sunset tonight, the four of us set out for the hills.  One of the highest peaks in Wildcat Canyon is just about an hour away from our front door if you are going at a pretty fast clip. 

Within the park we walked up the slope, sidestepping grazing cows, and glancing over our shoulders at town below us as we walked higher.  Cresting the ridge you can see San Francisco across the water, and the big landmarks; Golden Gate Bridge,  Alcatraz, Angel Island, and on this side of the bay you see scattered bits of Richmond, El Cerrito, and even Berkeley (well the Berkeley Pier).  To the left the ridge grows higher, and rising and falling like a roller coaster, the Bay Area Ridge Trail creeps along towards Berkeley in the form of a brown ribbon on the vivid green late winter hills.

We walked to a bump on the ridge with a 360 degree view, and settled in to watch the evening show.  Spring peepers sang down below us in the marshy areas (although apparently Californians don't call them so) and we could hear the eerie cat like calls of a peacock far off, though no coyotes, which puzzles me.  Has anyone actually heard coyotes in urban areas? The sun sank in striations of color behind Mt Tam, and behind us, the golden orb of full moon changed from a glimmer on the ridge, to a misshapen blob, to a glowing orb that sat for a moment balanced on the crest of the hill before launching into the darkening sky as if pushed by little people standing on the next ridge over.  

Just another night in El Sobrante...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Gin and Rainwater

On the north side of our parcel (see photo to the right) there is about a ten foot span between the property line and edge of the house, which is full of juniper bushes. (I should say was full of juniper, until Trilby courageously tore them out with a few cuts and scratches to show for it).

Next year we plan on wrapping the north side of the house in straw bales to insulate the house, but figured that we can also use the shaded and underutilized north side to store our rainwater catchment cisterns.

Next Tuesday four, 550 gallon cisterns will arrive at our doorstep, and we'll replace the juniper bushes with 2,200 gallons of roof-caught rainwater - enough to provide us with about a third of our food-growing water for the summer (assuming we get more rain...).

Check it out! Ain't she a beauty? The cisterns are only about 4 feet high so we’re going to build storage cabinets on top of them, interspersed with some work tables as well. Always looking for ways to stack functions and efficiently use the space for as many purposes as possible...cabinets, workbenches, a dancefloor perhaps...

P.S. Hope you’re coming to our equinox party; we’re making a batch of homemade gin with the juniper berries we pulled out.

Villa Sobrante: What's in a Name?

We find ourselves making a home in El Sobrante, a fairly nondescript portion of unincorporated West Contra Costa County with a rich history - a mere 10 minutes from Berkeley (the big city!), a stone's throw from thousands of acres of open space in Wildcat Canyon, and just inches away from the wild turkeys and domesticated chickens that freely roam our street.

The name of the area, El Sobrante, comes from the Spanish verb sobrar. In common Spanish, sobrar translates as "to be left over." Local legend goes that El Sobrante was named “leftovers” because it’s the randomly outlined area nestled between Richmond, San Pablo and Pinole.

But the literal translation of sobrar means "to be more than enough." Thus, the literal translation of the noun el sobrante means “that which is more than enough” – or, simply said, abundance. Which is exactly what we intend to cultivate here. Quite fitting.

And our picturesque courtyard feels so very Mediterranean, protectively enclosing citrus trees and an endangered Guadalupe palm, that’s where the vision of the Mediterranean villa emerged. The word villa also connotes a retreat, or a family house surrounded by farmland. So that sort of works...

Hence, Villa Sobrante – the place of abundance!