Friday, August 28, 2015

Growing a garden in the midst of a drought...



I strive for all low water plants - some cactus , succulents, and perennials suitable to this climate... 
"If it can't live here with the water I provide - I allow it to die..."  Natural Selection... I also attempt to use natural "desert spacing " that avoids crowding plants together - but allows space between plants...

One of the secrets is using bricks to define where the water goes - I observed this method first in Spain... I put out the word that I was looking for free bricks and found many people eager to get rid of surplus bricks...  Basil is an exception to the low water rule - I 'baby' my basil and it gets extra water...
The other method is to use ½ inch rigid black plastic pipe attached directly to a water source... I can supply drip to these strawberries and they do well

A surprise this morning! - 8" cactus bloom - lasts for one night and morning only - so ephemeral - and so beautiful...We get incredible cactus blossoms in yellow, pink, white... all sizes and clusters

I have two tomato beds like this with a south facing wall behind them and a cement patio surface around them - moisture is available under the cement - and they are wonderfully productive all summer - until November... These are about 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide - they get occasional water...   This is my "Fresno" microclimate

Cactus varieties abound - they aren't petunias and roses but they have their own unique beauty

Next big crop coming up - Chinese Dates - Called Jujubes or Zizyphus,,, Sweet Reddish brown fruit with one seed in the center.  Yum!  ...going to be a big crop!

Potted cactus in the Patio area

One of my 2 wonderful fig trees - one  with light green fruit , the other purple figs... the nice thing about figs is how slowly they ripen - a few each day - never too many to handle

Lemon tree - we pick them as we use them all year long .  We also have apple trees, apricot, big purple plums,  and 2 kinds of Persimmons

A tall cactus - 5 ft. (S. American) - One advantage to low water gardening is that weeds dont grow - My major jobs are winter pruning and spring 'cleanup' - And the answer to getting it done is to work in small time intervals rather than big 'knock out' work sessions

Valencia Orange tree - fruit sweet and good for most of the year ( look closely for orange fruit hidden in foliage )  the sweetest and best oranges are those that are allowed to stay on the tree through a second season!

Peruvian guavas ripening - they are deep red/purple when ripe in October/November - I also have a Pineapple Guava

Wild Pacific ferns can deal with long dry summers

My sheep bell collection - each from a different country - a strong wind will make beautiful music

Avacado ripening

One variety of Aloe

Ripening Fuji persimmons

Home to many birds, reptiles, and insects ( ~95% of garden insects are beneficial ) - One of the first things I did when I laid out the garden was to build a convenient system of casual pathways to explore and enjoy the garden...

I pretty much water on demand - when I see signs of stress I give a general hand watering - and this depends on how many hot days we get...But watering is rare...

This garden has evolved in stages from lawn to perennial  natives (but they often grew too large or 'leggy' and were difficult to control with pruning).  Then I did research for alternatives that were suitable for this environment - and slowly I have collected plants that seem to like living here.  

 Two beautiful succulents - 

My raised bed Is where I grow many kitchen vegetables - kale, chard, beets, carrots, radishes,,, but we were gone all summer so I allowed it to dry up - it also has  a drip watering system

In the back you see my compost system which is a disaster without adequate water to "make' the compost... I am waiting for ( I hope ) winter rain

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Krásné Čechy!

Since returning from our trip I find many Americans are lacking accurate information about the modern Czech Republic.  I am frequently asked about the government today, about the economy, and lives of average people.  Many still think of the Czech Republic as the poor step-child of Europe still recovering from the Second World War and the Communist period.  Some even ask if it is still a totalitarian government.  Here goes...

1.  Many tourists come to Prague and visit the standard tourist site - there is much more to see...

Prague - the right bank included castle hill and the early part of the city

Not to sell Prague short - it is one of the most unique cities in Europe - with ancient narrow streets that draw you to explore, and modern department stores... The Arts scene offers the best of traditional art and music and avant garde "pushing the limits" expression.  It has public art, squares, parks, historical sites...   But the Czech Republic has more surprises...

Vltava as it flows through Prague

2.  The lands of the Czech Republic have a varied landscape - There are mountains, vast grain fields, industrial areas, big cities and small towns...  We saw little evidence of environmental pollution, litter... ( although this was a problem in the past when industries burned vast amounts of coal that produced serious acid rain. )  There is a great interest in alternative sources of energy.

Hills and Krkonose Mts - N. Bohemia

Vlatava River (the Moldau) that Smetana wrote about)

Bohemian village

2.  The Czech Republic is a constitutional republic, in which the President is the head of state. They have a two house system; Both houses together make Parliament of the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic has a multi-party system, with 2-3 strong parties.  Elections are held every 4 years.

Parliament - Castle Hill - Prague

3.  The Czech Republic has one of the most developed industrialized economic system of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The country has quickly become the most stable and prosperous of the post-Communist states of Europe.

Finance center in Prague

4.  Stores and shops now have products of the same sort that you might find elsewhere in Europe - catering to special Czech preferences

Village grocery store - 'cold cuts' and cheeses

4.  People take time to prepare homemade food and traditional recipes.  The food is amazing...

Open faced sandwiches come in a myriad of types

I fell in love with the myriad of small open faced sandwiches -they can be served at a party or for a meal

Cakes and cookies of many types - some with fruit, nuts, poppy seed, bakers cheese,or chocolate...

3.  Scan this: "Worlds fact sheet" with statistics on life in the Czech Republic.

View north from Kuks historical museum - all buildings of historical significance

4.  There is a great deal of pride in the culture and history of the Czechs - The Slavs of the Czech region are an ancient people with many layers of history and culture influencing who they are today.  They have no sufficient borders to protect CZ from the north, south, east, or west...So history has not always been kind to the Czech people.  While today the country is modern and standard of living is high, there is still an appreciation of older cultural ways and tradition, and a long memory of 'problems' with neighbors...

Castle of the 17th and 18th century

Ruins of castle from the 14th century

5.  No, the people do not wear folkloric clothing from the 1880's - Styles and very similar to clothing all through the west...

Children - N. Bohemia

Adults gathered in Village meeting

School children

6.  No the people do not listen primarily to polka music or "um par" bands... Musically interests range from Western Rock and Easy listening music to a greater appreciation of the classics than generally found in San Francisco. There are many wonderful modern Czech groups with a wide range of styles.

Open air music concert

7.  Yes - the Czech people do enjoy beer -  Czechs top the national ratings with an average of 148.6 liters per person!  The US by comparison drinks 77.1 liters per person.  There is a Zero tolerance for driving after drinking alcohol - any alcohol in the blood - lose your license.

It is perfectly legal to own a gun in the Czech Republic - but there are only 16.3 guns per 100 people ( in the US there are 88.8 guns per 100 people)... I feel safe walking the streets.  You are 8X more likely to be killed by a Czech car accident than by a criminal.

8. Typical of the CZ national social policy, female employees are entitled to 28 weeks paid maternity leave beginning six to eight weeks prior to birth, during which time they can collect assistance.  Fathers may take over the leave, by written agreement, seven weeks after childbirth.  For the duration of the maternity leave, you should receive about 70 percent of your salary. 

Kozel beer

8.  The Czech Republic is about real people, working together, playing and relaxing together...

Relaxing with friends (processing cherries)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

High Country Lessons learned"...

When I was a young teen visits from my Uncle John and Aunt Mae were special!- Often we were included in mountain camping vacations, and sometimes day trips.  Uncle John would take off with me on one of his wandering excursions through nature.  
John Zlatnik - my uncle
He taught me many things and inspired in me a love of nature and a comfort in visiting the wild places of the earth.  Today when I go into the high mountains I still remember what he taught me.  I still hear his voice...  The instruction was always in the normal course of travel - never 'preachy' or dogmatic...
North peak - 20 lake basin - Hoover Wilderness - 11,500 ft.
In our recent trip to the high country above Yosemite, I carried paper and pen in my pocket and write down some of the "wilderness learning" from Uncle John... Ideas are listed as they occurred to me...

1.  When building a campfire keep it  small.  A large fire is impractical because you can’t get close enough to warm yourself - plus it becomes necessary to gather more wood.

Tuolumne campground
2.  When collecting firewood for cooking and campfire choose smaller branches - they are easier to collect and more practical than sawing or chopping big logs.  This was the Native American way.

3.  When hiking a rocky streambed or trail made up of large rocks always  step from high point to high point - it is safer and saves energy...but it takes concentration so that you don't trip.

High country Yosemite - Alpine terrain 
4.  The most satisfying walks are not along trails - but finding your own way as you travel going across-country - you must stay alert to not lose your way- and you will see more interesting things.

5. The best walks are not about reaching a destination but being alert during the journey - being open to discover what you find along the way.   - Dont be in a  hurry...

Knots where a branch leaves the main trunk
6.  As you return to camp, keep your eyes open for well rotted logs  - They need to be rotted enough that you can kick free the knots that are full of resins.  They burn easily, very hot flame, and make little smoke.  (Avoid wet knots - they smoke!).

7.  When you find something interesting (a flower, a rock, a bird, an animal) stop and take time to enjoy it... to photograph and marvel at it.

Indian paintbrush

8. The best trail food is a handful of raisins and a handful of shelled peanuts.  Carry in your pocket - this can keep you going all day.

One of the granite domes - Tuolumne Meadows - Stand upright 

9.  It is usually more practical to tank up on water before and after a hike rather than having to carry it.  Hiking alomg an especially hot dry trail is an exception.

Conness Glacier and Morraine ( on a very dry year ) - the grey below the ice is glacial  moraine 

10.  To avoid getting lost - train yourself to occasionally look behind you as you hike - pay attention to where you are - build a sense of the lay of the land so that you can loop back to camp without having to retrace your steps.  Keep aware where you are - keep reference points in mind - (hills, water ways, large rocks).

11.  Learn the names of common flowers, birds, mammals, and rock types... Every time you see one that you recognize it is like meeting an old friend.

Helen Lake

12.  Don't be afraid of bears, rattlesnakes, scorpions, etc ... but respect them. They are part of nature but you have to know how to deal with them with confidence.  They are each beautiful in its own way... They will almost never confront you (unless you get between them and their young). Don't kill them - they are much more interesting alive than dead.

13.  Walking with a walking stick is a waste of energy.  Sticks are heavy and usually more burden than help.

Home sweet mountain home
14.  If you find something that looks eatable - try it - Most all harmful things have a bad taste... If it tastes bad - spit it out.  Don't mess with mushrooms if you don't know them...  (I have my doubts about eating wild fruits- but I saw him follow this rule many times)

15. When camping there is seldom a need for a tent (unless there is a good chance of rain).  Just find thick dry pine needles or put down an old blanket, then your sleeping bag.  Be aware that you will often get cold from underneath - so you may need the under blanket on  cold nights... If rain is imminent build a draining canal around your tent.  Choose a camp site to minimize rain water draining into your tent.

Alpine Rock Garden  Flower
16.  In a tent you can't see the stars.  You can use the stars to approximate the passage of time.  It takes 24 hours for a constellation to appear to make one complete circle - so if a star constellation moves one fourth of a circle - it means 6 hours have passed... star movement across ⅛ of the sky = 3 hours.

17.  Sometimes, as you hike,  you have to scramble up or across steep rocks with your hands and feet.  For security, always have three points of contact at any time.

To left of Conness Glacier
18.  When you plan a trip - car camping or back packing - always travel as lightly as possible - you don't need the luxuries of hone - take the basics needed for food energy and basic comfort...nothing extra.

19.  Uncle John talked to animals and birds, he talked to every human we passed - Talking to humans along the way is a good way to learn useful and interesting things.
Evening campfire - The heat energy released is the very energy of the sun trapped in Photosynthesis and stored  in the  cellulose of the wood

20.  Evening campfires are a time to tell stories about past adventures, and to make plans for the current one.

21.  If you find something you can’t identify take a photo and look it up - keep guidebooks at home.
The steep trail to Conness lake passes to the right of this waterfall
22.  When crossing a sloping slab or rock keep your body upright and vertical - not perpendicular to the rock - this will give you the greatest security.

23.  The best of all firewood is dry dead sagebrush. It burns hot, little smoke, and smells great... Downside is that it burns fast.
A pregnant doe
24.  When firewood is damp, start the fire using paper, a small piece of parafine wax, add small twigs to catch the flame, then slowly add bigger and bigger wood - arrange wood teepee style to both dry the wood and allow it to catch on fire...

25.  The greatest  danger  most lively to be encountered  in the high mountains is extreme cold - always go prepared with sufficient clothes and for a surprise storm. Summer hail is not rare in summer storms above 9000 ft.

Uncle John as a young man