Sunday, April 24, 2011

2011 Backyard Garden Review

A couple years ago, in 2009, in the midst of the world economic crash, we started our raised garden bed. We learned a thing or two in the process, and we are very grateful. One source of personal satisfaction is to operate in the active mode of a producer rather the ordinary consumer of food. A large farm could be nice, but a small urban backyard (like ours) could work for a family too.

Our annual agricultural operating budget (in $) might look like this...

Water = $3 per month (or $36 per year)
Potting and Garden Soil = $20
Seeds and Seedlings = $20
Misc. Supplies and Fertilizers = $20

Our annual costs are roughly around $100. The previous year, we also invested some effort into an automated drip-irrigation system that cost around $200 with an electronic timer, anti-siphon valve, fittings, tubing, and some PVC pipe. It took me some labor and time to get set up, but it enabled us to take a vacation during a summer heat wave.

In return, we've received a lot of good organic food, including some agricultural education, physical exercise, and mental opportunities for peace and meditation. As a child development and education tool, our garden results in Hikaru (now 5 years old) willing to eat many fruits and vegetables, and understanding where our food comes from. So how do we really place a value on this, including our health? Of course, we can't place an economic value on the priceless.

Anyway, the 2011 growing season is finally here, and we're getting ready again. Here's a few updates for this year. As always, we plan to have our cherry tomatoes. I fashioned a modified tomato cage out of some tree branches, so we hope this works out. Last year, our over-productive tomato vines went crazily of control. I've also planted some basil and marigolds as companion plants for the tomato.

Like the previous year, while the weather is cooler, we've planted some leafy greens -- in this case, bok choy and romaine lettuce.

The lettuce and bok choy are grown from seeds. Sometimes they get eaten prematurely by unknown entities (birds, insects, slugs, whatever), but this year we've been quite lucky so far. I try to pick out slugs that I see by hand.

One new garden addition is Japanese cucumber. I've used some green vinyl-coated steel fencing to act as a trellis. In the past, we've grown larger cucumbers, but these are smaller (similar to Persian cucumbers). We'll see how these grow, and we love cucumbers in our salad.

I've also used some long tree branches to create a pyramid trellis for our peas and beans. I zig-zagged some string between the branches. As an experiment, we'll see how this setup works out too. Our peas are currently reaching for the sky. Never realized that they would grow so tall!

For our herbs and perennials, most of them remain healthy and well. The spearmint plant seems to enjoy its place inside the pot. I snip off some leaves for my daily mint tea, and it keeps growing back. Last year, the lower leaves yellowed and dropped off, but maybe it was getting too much sun or not enough water (mint seems to like lots of water).

However, our garlic chives had to be moved to a different location. The garlic chives grew extremely well, but it had a case of black-colored aphids. Few insects seem to touch the chives, but these aphids seem to exclusively like the chives. I may need to play "hide and seek" with the insects.

Our small peach tree is growing well. I performed some major pruning on this tree, and cut back some branches by about a third. My reasoning was that overly long branches could break, and won't be able to support as much weight (fruit) compared to the shorter ones. We may not have many peaches this year, but hopefully better for the overall future.

Finally, have you ever just planted some seeds in the soil, and see how well they'll grow? We received some tangerines and a pomelo during Chinese New Year. We we stuck some of the seeds inside some potting soil, and they've finally appeared as seedlings (after two months)!

Anyway, it's so cliche', but it often takes time for the seeds of a new generation to be realized into a tree. Patience is one important lesson we've learned from our garden -- especially, for a modern lifestyle that moves so quickly.


Posion Oak

We took a family hike at Eaton Canyon. Five-year-old Hikaru was preoccupied with mostly two items on his mind -- poison oak and rattlesnakes! He points out where the poison oak is located, and we carefully make sure not to touch it.

I haven't taken a close look at poison oak lately, but it's actually quite a beautiful plant. Almost makes me tempted to take it home. Just kidding.

As for the rattlesnakes, we looked and looked, but we didn't see one -- except one small guy behind the glass in the nature center.

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Anthropic Metamorphism

April 24, 2011

if we could give words to the impossible
it rises from scorching fires of annihilation
inside a heartbeat transforming new

clutching only a mere fragment
we return with dreams that ignite the soul
and once comfortable worlds are no more

endurance is the soldier's duty for peace
where conventions fall to verdant lanes
discovering what truth our unity will grasp

© 2011 by WEb


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Composting Isn't a Waste

Compost makes me think about life's basics. Compost is decomposed (waste) plant matter. It's in the dirt under our feet. We wouldn't be alive, of course, if the soil couldn't sustain us -- to grow the food we eat.

Common sense may say that if one takes stuff out of the soil (for growing food), then one should put something back in. If nutrients in the soil (food plants need) are depleted, then we will not have healthy plants. And that means the food we (humans) eat may not have all the nutrients we need either.

So going back to compost... it is what we put back into our soil. It's overly simplistic, but if the compost also consists mostly of plants we took out of the soil, then the compost should have mostly what the plants need to grow, right? At least that's how I make sense of it.

In our home, the vegetable and fruit scraps all go into our compost bin -- banana and apple peels, broccoli stems, including egg shells (calcium). The plants and leaves that I cleared from our yard and garden, also get chopped up, and go into the compost.

Stuff like coffee grounds and tea bags can go in to the compost as well. Did you know that Starbucks (the coffee company) has used coffee grounds that you can take away (for free)?

In our urban environment, we have a compost bin that looks like the one below. We purchased it from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. It's made of plastic, and about 2 feet x 2 feet in size, and has a sliding door at the bottom to remove the composted material. One could probably just make a compost pile, but a container helps to keep rodents and other creatures out.

For people living in apartments, one can also create compost with a "worm bin".

I was curious, so I stuck my hand inside the compost pile to dig around. Yes, there's biological decay going on. There's earthworms too, and the compost is actually quite "warm" inside. How warm is it (you might ask)?

Using a digital multimeter I found out the temperature. I inserted the probe in the center of the compost bin (about one foot inside) for a mass of compost that's about two cubic feet (2' x 2' x 2'). The measured temperature was 30.5 degrees C (87 degrees F). That's warm considering the outdoor temperature was only 57 degrees F at the time.

For me, this shows me that there activity with billions of microbes working away on the compost. There's more going on than we realize. Here's one link to the Science of Composting.

Eventually, this compost ends up back in our garden, and the plants seem to appreciate it by the way they grow.


Friday, April 08, 2011

Sunrise in the Desert

There could be a certain symbolism to watching a sunrise in the desert. It's the beginning of "something"; it's the spring; it's the dawn of a new age. Whatever. Or it could be just the reality of everyday nature on Earth that we have lost touch with.

We took our annual camping pilgrimage to Joshua Tree National Park. In the coolness of the morning, I woke up early to make a run from the tent to the toilet, and ended up watching the beauty of the stars -- with progression of "sunrise".

The arms of the Joshua trees embrace the starlight and crescent moonlight. Eventually the stars fade with the brightening sky glow.

The Earth's shadow recedes in the twilight. Twilight is a special time when it's neither day nor night.

As the rotation of the planet brings the sun into view, the distant mountains and rocks light up in orange. Orange turns to yellow, and the darkness vanishes.

And as the sunbeams fall from over the mountains, suddenly there's a "flash", and it is "daytime" already. For some reason I was caught unaware. I was left blinking my eyes in the full intensity of the sunlight and unprepared. Life catches you by surprise.

Here is our family photo where we look like we just woke up (which is true).

On our camping trip, Hikaru enjoyed sleeping in the tent, and he's getting quite good at climbing up the rocks. He's also an expert at scaring (us) parents, so we need to keep a watchful eye on him as he takes off.

For the record, here is the view of our campsite looking below from the top of the rock.

And this is another photo of our temporary home. It was windy when we arrived, so we located our tent close to a rock, and needed to tie it down with a few extra ropes.

Besides the sunrise, it is springtime. In the lower desert of Joshua Tree National Park, the flowers are starting to bloom. This is the desert dandelion.

Yes, there is gold to be found here!

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