If you have seasonal allergies to oak pollen, I would suggest you avoid central California, my yard or stay inside. I know this happens every spring but the coating of pollen seems extra thick this year.
Just a mere week or so ago we had rain and freezing temperatures. Then the temperature shot up to the 80’s the last few days and in the photos below you can see what coats my backyard bricks, tables and chairs. What’s even scarier is I cleaned the yard yesterday and wiped the tables down.
My pet hens are very happy to gobble up the pollen which is highly nutritious and will help color their yolks an even deeper orange.
In 2017 I discovered the Prisma App for iPhonography. People love the images I’ve created and so do I. I decided my year of photos in review this year would be 12 images edited with the Prisma App. Enjoy.
Looking at the world through a lens gives me a chance to pause and to truly appreciate what I’m seeing.
Photographing a plant, a bug, a rock, a child, a water droplet, a pet, a pattern or a landscape causes me to stop and to really begin to look and see.
I slow down. I breath deeper. I feel more. I notice more. I feel more alive. Colors start to appear more vibrant and rich. Sounds become clearer and more melodious. Scents become more perceptible. I start to notice associations and repeating patterns in nature. I notice how most of life can and does live in harmony. I find myself relaxing. My compassion and patience for other fellow humans increases.
And, now my photos and observations can have a greater purpose and impact. Through technology my images and limited knowledge can be shared. My photos can have so much more meaning when I share them with databases such as iNaturalist, Calflora and CalPhoto.
With the recent emergence of the field of big data, scientists can make better use of contributions from citizen scientists, citizen naturalists or wannabe botanists like myself. We will now be better able to monitor biodiversity and the changes which are occurring on this delicate blue sphere we call earth.
By sharing my images on iNaturalist I give a purpose to my pictures. They are shared with the scientific community and others of like mind. iNaturalist has encouraged me to look and see the small stuff on the trails.
iPhonography and iNaturalist have helped me become a better observer of nature. I have been richly rewarded with what I have seen. May it be the learning of a new species or the sighting of an old friend again.
Check out my local biodiversity project that I have created on iNat: Project: Sycamore Valley Regional Open Space Preserve I have started documenting the species on a few acres of open space preserve near my home. I couldn’t find good data on the area so I decided to create my own data. Maybe, someday, this information will prove useful to the surrounding community or maybe even to scientists as they monitor the movement of species caused by climate change. Or, maybe I will be able to document the natural recovery of this region from the historical aspects of cattle grazing or the impact of modern day humans on this now preserved space.
With advancing age, I continue to grow in amazement of the natural world around me.
So, instead of taking another selfie, think about using your camera next time to collect data about the world around you. You too can be a citizen scientist.
On a recent Friday afternoon we found ourselves on the other side of the bay to run some errands. We scheduled in an hour or so to spend on a hike in the local hills of the Santa Clara county mid peninsula region.
We chose to explore the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve and Deer Hollow Farm in an area very near Los Altos on the northwest end of Santa Clara valley and part of Silicon Valley. The preserve is near “Googleville” and north of “Appletown”. The write up about the open space sounded intriguing in that we could walk a trail through riparian, meadow and coast live oak woodland and visit Deer Hollow Farm. Deer Hollow Farm is a recently restored (1993) working farm from the 1850’s.
We walked through a woodland consisting predominately of Coast Live oak, buckeye, California bay and poison oak. A few of the bay tree buds were starting to bloom. The understory consisted of a lush bright green covering of native grasses mixed with numerous common annual and perennial wildflower seedlings. Plenty of buttercups, miner’s lettuce and California Manroot were already in bloom. New growth of bedstraw, coast iris and native bulbs could be seen mixed in under the tree’s.
Critter’s filled the air with their tweets, chirps, hoots and chatter. We were treated to the call of a Great Horned Owl in the distance, the loud squawk of a scrub jay in the trees, several Pacific Chorus frogs near the creek and the chatter of a few too many squirrels. We watched a cottontail bunny near a big log and numerous ground squirrels. We spotted a large wood rats nest of branches not far from the trail.
It is so nice that these park lands have been set aside for all to enjoy and to provide habitat for the native species that have lost so much land to development.
Once again we realize how fortunate we are to live in the San Francisco bay area and in California. A state that has taken land preservation seriously, and has created a fair amount of parkland and protected wildlife habitat.
The following are a few photos taken during our short time in this open space.
How did I removed 3,000 square feet of lawn, replace it with California native plants, expand my brick patio, add a fire pit area, convert a play structure to a grape arbor and add gravel paths and a creek bed all for FREE?
I had been thinking about removing my backyard lawn in 2013. California had now gone through a 3rd consecutive year of low rainfall. Water rationing was being discussed, again! This was the third time since we’ve lived on this lot that California has had a “severe” drought and the water provider has either requested customers, “voluntarily”, drastically cut back on their water consumption (which translates as “let your lawn die”) or they’d implemented water rationing and increase rates. (Which would happen in 2015).
Before this most recent multi-year drought, I had been thinking of converting the yard into a food forest. Now that my children are adults and out of the home, why were we keeping a lawn and play structure? A lawn that had become mostly Bermuda grass. I could make better use of my small plot of land by growing more food on it.
As I age I won’t want a garden that is as labor intensive as a lawn. Currently, I don’t have a gardener. I’m the gardener for this quarter acre lot. I hated the weekly work of mowing, edging, weeding and watering. I disliked the need to be spending money on fertilizer and water. Essentially throwing money away to keep something looking nice because that’s what is expected. Having a big lawn that we didn’t have children playing on anymore just seemed stupid.
I still want a garden that I could enjoy when I would no longer be able to get up into the hills and hike to my favorite meadows, streams, chaparral and woodlands. Slowly the idea began to evolved that I should reduce my lawn, increase the hardscape for entertaining and put in plants that would still be of value yet require less maintenance. I could make my backyard my own campsite. My goal would be to provide a place for natives bees.
I wanted to use drought tolerant native California plants. I would include several sitting areas for enjoying the garden. I wanted a slightly bigger patio and an area for a fire pit. I wanted to include some paths for garden access and interest. I wanted to use up a collection of eclectic bricks that we’d collected over the years. I wanted to reuse and recycle as much material as possible.
I had already started by mowing the lawn super short in the fall of 2013 (Ok, wrong time of year, but I didn’t want to wait until spring of 2014 to get started).
I watered it well, then covered it in plastic to solarize the soil. I was hoping we’d still have enough warm days to start the process. I wanted to do this step because I suspected there may be lots of weed seeds in the soil and this is a chemical free way of killing some of those seeds before germination without using pre-emergents which can be harmful to the natural soil biota.
By 2014 our water district offered a rebate based on square footage of lawn removed. We were now in the 4th year of this “great drought”. The time was right. Get rid of the entire lawn. I was going to do this! Though I wasn’t sure I’d apply for the rebate.
Armed with a tape measure, some graph paper and a can of spray paint, I started planning out my lawn-less garden.
I would need to start on the hardscape first. In the spring of 2014 I hired a friend of a friend who did stone and mason work. He was willing to work with my ideas and use the material that I had on hand. We expanded the brick patio by just 3 feet and incorporated a 13 foot circular area for our old fire pit.
Incredibly, with a creative design, we could move and use existing patio bricks and my collection of old bricks and not have to buy any new bricks for the expanded patio. I would buy bricks for the fir pit area. That brickwork hardscape was completed late spring 2014.
By summer of 2014 I had researched sheet mulching and attended a seminar on the topic. More and more people were starting to think along the same lines of how to reduce long term water needs. It was mentioned at this seminar that the local water utility still had funding for lawn removal projects but would run out of funds by the end of the year.
I decided to apply for the rebate program early fall of 2014. My site would be evaluated before and after work was done. Uh, oh! I had already started my work of removing the lawn and had completed the hardscape. My proposal and graph paper plans were accepted and approved. Now for my first inspection. Turned out they were so overwhelmed with people applying for the rebates that they wouldn’t be able to get out for several weeks to verify that my lawn existed. I was going to go forward with this project regardless. I communicated to them that I was sheet mulching in September and had already completed the brick work. I had to get started so that I could get my native plants in by winter. They didn’t have the staffing to get out to my site and ended up relying on satellite images and Google Street View from the previous spring to verify that I did indeed have 3,000 square feet of lawn at that time. I qualified for funding.
In September of 2014, I did sheet mulch the front and back lawns. I had saved and collected as much free cardboard as I could. Clearly, it was going to take way more cardboard then I could acquire. In the seminar a supplier was mentioned for purchasing huge rolls of cardboard. I drove to Richmond with my van and filled it with these giant rolls of cardboard.
I contacted local tree services and found several that would deliver shredded mulch for free. It was fall and they were busy pruning customers trees in the area. It saves them time and gas to dump a load of fresh mulch locally in someones driveway.
By the first of October both the front and back lawns had been completely covered by sheet mulching. I had already purchased my first set of plants from the UC Botanical Garden fall plant sale and I desperately wanted to get them in.
In the meantime, I put a sign in the front to explain to my neighbors that a “Bee Garden” would be coming soon. My husband had some different ideas.
By the end of the year, I had gotten my first foundation plants in. I started with tiny plants, most came in 1”-2” diameter tubes, some in 4” pots and a few in 1 gallon size pots.
Nothing larger then 1 gallon size was purchased. This kept the cost down. Small plants take to transplanting better then larger ones.
I did most of the labor myself. I had hired the mason for the brick work and had some helpers to work with me to lay the cardboard and move the mulch.
I had done it.The lawn was gone! Now it was time to wait for spring. My rebate came in around early 2015. It more then covered all my receipts and labor for the project. Which could only mean one thing, come fall of 2015, I could buy more plants.
Spring 2016 is now around the corner. Most of the plants have had a year to establish their root systems. Most, though not all of the plants, survived another dry year. I hand watered the natives about twice a month to carry them through the hot, dry summer of 2015. We’ve had to date, an almost normal winter rainfall. A welcomed relief after 5 dry years. But, we’ve now had a VERY dry February. The drought is far from over. We’ll need several normal rainfall years or above normal rainfalls to recover from this drought if we do recover at all. This maybe the new normal for California. Regardless, I think I made the right decision to remove 3,000 square feet of lawn.
I’m excited to see how the garden does this spring. I was amazed and please by how much these itty bitty natives plants did grow in that first spring. I even began to see an unexpected diversity of critters of all kinds visiting the garden. But, this will be the year I think my garden will really bloom.
In this northern California urban garden there is a flurry of activity.
Winter is not a time of rest for this native plant gardener. It is a time to get into the garden daily to witness the changes which come quickly at this time of year. The variety of flora blooming and the fauna visiting are changing daily. (Note: We don’t really have winter in most of California, we have a transition period to and from summer)
The floral, honey and spice scent of the paper white narcissus compete with the memory
evoking chaparral smells of the native California sage. The sage oils are being released by the heat of the winter sun and permeate the fresh winter air mixing with the narcissus fragrance.
The baby lizard’s activity increases as the day warms.
I see them darting under the rocks on my porch. I’m glad to see that they have survived the winter and have decided to stay in my garden. They must be growing. On the front brick walkway I find the dry skin that one lizard must have wiggled free from and left behind.
The bustle for this February day is unreal.
There are so many different species of song birds. I don’t know all the species but recognize a few as sparrows, house finches, goldfinches, hummers and robins. My chickens chase the sparrows out of their free range area of the yard. I chuckle as I watch them. They also chase the squirrel’s, but the sparrow chasing is new.
I’ll be watching to see what blooms next. I can tell that the California lilacs, sages and poppies are forming flower buds. Buds are swelling on my many small tree’s indicating that the light apple green of new leaves isn’t far away.
Other plants blooming today are my
Hellebores, vinca, apple tree, daffodilis, rosemary
and an unnamed bulb bloom. Okay, so I still have several plant species that are not native California species. If they can survive not being watered, I guess they get to stay. I make one exception though and that is my few rose bushes. They’re not native and they are water hogs but they have been in my garden for decades now and I don’t yet have the heart to take them out.
if you live in California, I hope you are noticing all the flowering trees that have started to bloom. I call these popcorn trees, they look like they pop into bloom almost overnight. Hope you’ve enjoyed today’s photos. Soon I’ll blog about some resources for purchasing native plants and how to sheet mulch your lawn. Stay tuned.
Estuaries, marshes, wetlands, sloughs, ponds, lakes, oceans, lagoons – the list of words to label bodies of water is immense.
I am drawn to water. Be it a tiny creek or a vast view of the Pacific ocean. I know that my survival depends on access to clean water. I am water. I consume it and the food I eat depends on it.
When visiting the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge, I was keenly aware of how close I was to Silicon Valley. I could see the Levi Stadium to the south and the old Moffet Field hanger to the west. Yet, at the same time I was in the middle of a wildlife oasis. At first glance one might not see much. But after spending a few minutes observing, the place comes alive.
I’m not a birder, so I was here just to enjoy the sound of birds, the view of water and maybe to notice nature going about its routine. Several long legged, long beaked birds wadding in shallow muddy water seemed happy to be pecking into the mud. Some duck like birds farther out where diving under the water, disappearing for what seemed like a very long time, only to pop up a few yards away from where they dove. On a sandy island several sea gulls gathered.
From what I understand, these salt marshes are one of the most productive habitats on earth, rich with food for these year round and migratory birds. The mud is rich with worms, plankton, microorganism (copepods), shrimps and clams. The more open water is rich with small fish.
As usual, what I often do, is I look down. Besides mud flats, gravel paths and calm waters I found myself drawn to one of the first salt marsh plants I ever learned about. I find this plant to be charming in it’s own way. Of course, I’m a little bit odd. The plant is commonly called pickleweed (Salicornia pacifica).
Why am I charmed by this plant? Maybe it is because it can survive in what appears to be harsh conditions. Here the salinity is high and the plant can often be submerged by salt water for short periods of time, yet survive. It’s hardy. It’s overlooked by most people. And it has silly little chains of pickle like segments forming it’s stems. Maybe I like Salicornia because I know it is a plant like cattails, another species that performs bioremediation. It grows at the edge of the high tide line.
An estuary can be a very calming place. On this day, there weren’t many people, the winter sun when it peeked out from the clouds was warm and there was a gentle breeze.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about this little plant that plays an important role in our environment. When you get a chance, visit a salt marsh or estuary and appreciate how rich it is in often unnoticed biodiversity.
FUN FACTS: When the roots of the pickleweed plant take up salt water, the plant’s cells
“There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Misty rain drops swirl every direction in the slight breeze appearing to make wind visible to the eye. The droplets make the quietest of pitter patter’s on my umbrella.
When was the last time you took a walk in the rain? Pull out “appropriate” clothing and head outside. It’s time to wake up your senses.
With my eyes, I spy a red breasted American Robin perched on a fence nearby. It’s mid January in this central California locale and the American Robins are delighting in the plethora of earthworms flushed to the surface by this now “normal” amount of winter rainfall. I always delight in my first sighting of an American Robin (Turdus migratorius). It means spring is just around the corner.
Winter is barely a concept here. Winter is more of a short transitional state from fall to spring: A brief cleansing of the environment.
In the middle of the creek still stands the dried cattail seed heads from fall. This native plant used to be an abundant food source. Today it provides habitat and food for wildlife and acts as a natural filter of toxins washed into the local waterways. The sound of cars reflecting off the hillside a block away remind me that most drivers are unaware of this environmental service that plants provide for free. We really must take care of our waterways. They take care of us.
Further along my attention is pulled toward the sound of babbling water. The sound is soothing, music to my ears. Two branches of a local creek merge into one, picking up speed as the water heads to the center of the valley. Over the sound of the creek I hear the chatter of a squirrel. I become aware of the twittering of songbirds in the trees. Click link to hear and see the creeks: Green Valley and E Green Valley Creek’s merge
I pass by several other biped trail walkers. Those that are in groups appear to be deep in conversation. Those walking solo often have earbuds in and appear to be traveling in a parallel universe to the natural world around them.
They are so close to nature, yet so far. They might very well be unaware of the benefits they are receiving; the breathing in of the fresh air and the glimpses of the lush green miner’s lettuce (Claytonia parviflora) and bedstraw (Galium sp.) that line the path are soothing their souls.
Further down the path I watch two robins that flutter and dart about in what appears to be some kind of dance. Then I spy the worm they are fighting over.
My path comes to an end. I turn back onto a sidewalk that leads past a larger parcel of land in this community. I smell the damp manure from the horse pasture. A goose honks from beyond. I’m so fortunate to live within blocks of a tiny urban farm. Several chickens and a couple more geese scratch and peck at the mud in their enclosure. Hmm… I don’t see the turkey’s anymore. I can only guess as to why they disappeared over the winter holidays.
What’s stopping you from taking a walk in the rain? Let me know what you noticed that surprised you on your rain walk.
Today the skies are a cloudy matte grey, short bursts of wind blow through the naked valley
oak tree branches as the squirrels busy themselves, running to and fro frantically digging here and there. My garden is filled with an ever increasing number of pockmarks as three resident squirrels try to reclaim long lost acorns, buried away last fall. In the process several young plants are uprooted. I reset in the soil a California Current (Ribes sanguineum) that had been carelessly dug and tossed to the side. Roots still attached, I have hope it will survive. The fate of a newly planted White Sage (Salvia apiana) did not have such a positive ending. I suspect a squirrel broke it off at ground level. I don’t know what it did with the root ball. Such is the life of a garden.
The squirrels munch their acorns like ears of corn, chewing rapidly from side to side and spinning the nut in their tiny front paws. As soon as it finishes one nut, it’s back to poking its head under the mulch, seeking another nut and leaving another pockmark in my garden.
Mushrooms continue to burst from the wet mulch in multitudes. They seem to be thriving this year with what rain we have received. I might appreciate the squirrels if they ate up those mushrooms.
Season to date we have received almost 8 inches of rain in this urban garden. Still way better then the past 5 years, yet lags behind our annual average to date which should be closer to 10 inches by now.
I note rose branches stripped of the last of their leaves. Fresh deer droppings confirm there have been rose bush eating visitors in the night.
Several Dark-eyed Juncos (Oregon) scratch in the mulch near my grape arbor.
Several other species of song birds flit quickly through the garden. No season is quiet and still in this California urban garden.
As the evening’s rain system approaches, the skies are void of the usual sightings of American black crows, red tailed hawks and turkey vultures. I don’t miss the incessant “cawing” of the crows. I find these birds to be rather annoying. Though, I should appreciate them more as they are rather intelligent for a bird.