Friday, December 10, 2010

Book review: Teaming with Microbes

I read Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis and published by Timber Press. The first part of the book is a fascinating overview of the biology of the various goodies living in a typical teaspoon of soil. It then goes on to investigate various ways in which this understanding applies to gardening.

I hadn't heard of the distinction between bacterially dominated soils (typical of annual gardens and grasslands) and fungal dominated soils (typical of perennial plantings and forests). I am also very interested to try the techniques for measuring soil life as a way to baseline and measure progress of the development of the soil food web. The section on composting enhanced my appreciation of the biological aspects of compost as a product for inoculating soil. I am also interested in trying AACT (actively aerated compost tea).

I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in the magic stuff that is soil.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Sustainable" vs. "Restorative"

There is an interesting point in a TED talk I just watched:
of thinking about the difference between striving for restorative rather than merely sustainable. Still thinking through the implications....

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I am wrapping up my first term of the Landscape Technology program at PCC Rock Creek Campus.

For the Deciduous Trees class we needed to put together a journal for the 101 plants covered in the course. I made a few different attempts at the format. I keep thinking that some sort of database would work better. I want something extensible and easy to update. I think I am getting a handle on all the names, and even the latin spellings are coming along with no small effort.

I have enjoyed the camaraderie of the students in the Landscape Construction class. It was fun being able to work on projects in small groups.

While I would have liked to spend more time exploring with the microscopic, the Basic Horticulture was a nice introduction to botany. I did my final paper on peach leaf curl which was a good exercise in considering the tradeoffs involved in growing peaches in this environment.

I still have a round of finals this week, but the bulk of the work is now behind me, which is a relief.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


A well written post on killing things we eat:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Garden bed

With the Fall rains looming I got my act together last week to double dig a new garden bed. First I started with some compost.
Lots of compost.
Gathered up some tools.
Took a look at the spot I was going to put the new bed.
Cutting sod and breaking ground.
First step of double digging is to dig one trench and make a pile with that dirt.
The area of the bed we are working on gets covered with compost and a little bit of glacial rock dust (to work in some extra mineral goodness).
From then on, we move the the dirt and compost from the next row into the the working trench we have going.
The bottom gets forked to loosen it up even further and work in a little more organic material.
I used a long board to give me a place to stand without compacting the bed.
All this digging fluffs up the soil quite a bit.
Buffy seemed to find the compost bags very interesting.
I picked up two different cover seed mixes from Naomi's.
I scratched some rows into the area behind the garage for the gardenway mix. I'm hoping this will work as chicken fodder in the spring after it gets the winter to work as a cover crop.
Excuse me for a moment. Time for a snack.
I laid a path in the middle of the garden bed that I thought might be nice with some cocoa husks as mulch.
In retrospect, I probably should have put down some cardboard first to keep the weeds down.
The chickens seemed to think the husks were pretty cool.
We picked up some kale that I tucked in at the last minute.

Update about a week later. Here is the bed with all the new little sprouts. Hopefully freezing weather will hold off long enough for these to get established.

Landscape Construction -- Interlocking pavers

The interlocking paver project in Landscape Construction was a great team effort.

We started with a design that we developed collaboratively starting with the idea of using a diagonal element and maintaining symmetry. From this we puzzled out several design challenges to maintain balance, not have it get too busy, not have to many cases were seems lined up in a way that was unappealing, etc. Where we needed a half-paver we just placed one on end in the design to mark the spot. When we had something we all liked, we took some photos to record the design for later.

The first step (since the sod was kindly already removed for us) was to determine our excavation depth and start digging. The depth calculation was a little tricky since we wanted
excavation depth = 4" bed + 7/8 " sand + 2 3/8" paver - 1/8" settling - 1" proud
The last term reflecting the fact that (especially in Oregon) we want the finish grade of the path to end up an inch above the surrounding grade. This keeps things high and dry.

We next put in the geotextile fabric to keep our gravel bed from mingling with the subsoil. Ew.

A little thought went into how much fabric we needed to make sure we had enough to keep the gravel in the sides of the excavation.

The gravel went in in three lifts. We used the plate compactor and some hand tamping after each lift. The third lift was required because of the settling that occurred through compaction.

We laid out a 3-4-5 right triangle to give us a good right angle for staking two sides of the edge restraint in place. After this, we laid down 7/8" screed rails to level our bedding sand with the screed board (which was just another piece of edge restraint).

Once we had a sand bed we liked we reassembled our paver design, with the half-pavers cut on the paver saw with a diamond blade.

Transferring the pavers onto the sand beg was very satisfying. We worked from one corner towards the opposite. A few taps of attitude adjustment from the rubber mallet were needed to keep the pavers in line.

We swept in joint sand and used the plate compactor to settle it in.

Looked good in the end.

High fives were had by all.

Landscape Construction -- Concrete paver

Our landscape construction project for poured concrete was to make a 2' x 2' paver.

As an experiment we placed some leaves from a red maple (Acer rubrum) in the bottom on a small bed of sand. The form was made from screwed together lengths of 2x4 that we cut with a circular saw.

Some care was needed when putting in the first bit of concrete not to mess up the arrangement of the leaves. Once we carefully got the leaves tacked down, we were able to pour more aggressively from the wheel barrow.

After floating the poured concrete we applied a broom finish and cleaned up the edges.
For our project, it was a little too wet when we did the first pass of the finish so the team
decided to see if we could clean it up with a second pass. This made the surface a little rougher, but left us with a better result overall.

After removing the form and flipping it over we could see the leaves. It will be interesting to see what it looks like after the leaves weather away.

Landscape Construction -- Gravel path

Today our landscape construction class at PCC set out to continue a gravel path that was started by the Tuesday night class.

The excavation was already done for us and the geotextile fabric was in place. While folks gathered up gravel and poured the first lift, I brought over the plate compactor on the compact utility loader.

After the lift was roughly level Juan Carlos used the plate compactor to jiggle everything into place. Pavers were used to edge the path with a lot of attention paid to keeping everything straight.

After the edges were well positioned we filled the soil outside the path to support the edges while the next lift of gravel was poured in and raked to a rough level.

This lift was hand tamped and cleaned up with the addition of a little more gravel as needed.

In the end, it looked pretty good.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tools, wonderful tools

The talks at my organic gardening class today were fantastic.
The first one was on pests of all ilks. Now I'm even more interested in learning about aphids and other garden critters.

The second talk was from the founder of Red Pig Tools which was awesome. He searches out old tools and when he finds something that works that can't be purchased he makes it himself in his forge. I learned that I have been double digging all wrong -- way too much work the way I do it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Article about one person's experience with "green living"

An interesting article from Southern California reflecting on various efforts to live more sustainably:
After two years of eco-living, what works and what doesn't

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Soils and amendments

I attended interesting classes today on soil and organic inputs to the garden.

The soil class included a chance to do a "shake test" of our soil structure.
I need to wait 24 hours for most of the clay to settle out before I will have the results
but it looks like our soil is a pretty nice loam -- yeah!

Soil ecology is fascinating to me. I hope to dig deeper into it, so to speak, in the weeks ahead.

The second session was taught by Naomi of Naomi's Organic Farm Supply.
It was an engaging looks at the various sources available for N-P-K and trace minerals.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Organic Gardening Certificate Program

This Saturday I started the fall session of the Organic Gardening Certificate Program in SE Portland. There are about 50 students. The morning was the big picture about organic gardening and a high level introduction to permaculture.

The afternoon session was at the Learning Gardens Laboratory, two blocks away. Weston, the main instructor, gave us a tour of the gardens which included:
  • master gardener demonstration garden plots where they grow food for a local food bank
  • teaching gardens for elementary school students
  • OSU extension gardens where they were experimenting with gardening in straw bales
  • neighboring community garden
  • Portland Metro demonstration garden for reducing toxic runoff and water-wise gardening
  • a new community garden because the old one had a multi-year waiting list
  • big green houses that are in need of a major renovation
  • a garden for 18-21 year old special ed students to learn gardening skills growing and selling cut flowers
We then broke into three groups and each went through three exercises
  • introductions
  • making a little gadget for visualizing the sun angle at different times of year
  • using triangulation to go from a landscape to a paper plan or from plan to land
The triangulation exercise really clicked for me. I've been trying to settle on a process for developing my base map and overlay maps for the garden plan.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Just watched Fuel (which is on Instant Download in
Netflix). Overall, I though it was a compelling treatment of the problems and possibilities surrounding transportation fuel in the U.S. and as they relate to the rest of the world. I liked that it covered the unintended consequences of diverting food crops into the fuel supply. The film finished strongly with an upbeat, yet not sappy, exhortation to get out there and do those things that are within your power.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ebelskiver lunch

First course:
peach with
lemon curd
with powder douce spice blend

Second course:
cheese and
country pepper bacon
with Dukes Powder II spice blend

Third course:
chocolate, cream, and hazlenut meal filling
with salsa fina in the mix
dusted with powdered sugar and shaved chocolate

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Masonry Lesson

I was glad to get a chance to learn a little bit of masonry skills in the course of the job to clean up our brick work...