A Child’s World Map

by Estifanos (age 6), of California, U.S.A.

When I think about the world, I draw about it. In this picture, which I made out of my imagination, I drew about the climates and the ecosystems, and the weather in each place. Examples: wetlands, jungles, rain forests, deserts, grasslands, mountains, ice caps, cities, polar regions, and the sea.

Organic Mini-Farm

Once our California native ecosystem restoration was well in hand, we began implementing the second part of our plan, which was to build and optimize production in an organic mini-farm and orchard, interplanted among the various areas of our thriving, native garden.

The first area we wanted to plant was to contain some vegetable beds.  It was located in full sun, but dessicated by icy winds from the West, all summer long, which posed serious difficulties pertaining to water use and conservation. Also, the native “soils” of our yard are composed of serpentine rock and magnesium-laden adobe clay — great for building missions, but not so good for planting and growing anything other than native plants. The soil test results came back scary:

  • Low organic matter;
  • Very low Nitrogen;
  • Very low Phosphorus;
  • Low Potassium;
  • Excessively high Magnesium (needed corrective action to leach it out);
  • Low Calcium;
  • Low Sulfur; and
  • Very low in all other “trace elements” except for WAY too much Iron.

Also, our “drainage” was non-existent. Dig a 12″ hole and fill it with water.  Two days later, the water is still there.  Rain water simply ran off the hill without sinking in at all. In order to grow food here, we needed to get really creative. So, I hit the books.

My research on annual and perennial vegetable gardening yielded a concept called hugelkultur, which attempts to recreate the spongy, fertile forest floor of Europe, by piling partially decayed logs, sticks, and compostable materials, and then covering them with soil. But we also had the problem of solid clay which has zero drainage, and allows all rain water to race downhill to the sea, without seeping in. That means that plain hugelkultur mounds would drain out the bottom, and fail.

Research into vegetable gardening techniques used in the mountains of South America led me to the idea of terracing. And I was inspired to attempt to combine the two concepts, by digging 2-3 foot deep, clay bathtubs in the hillside, in a terraced fashion, and then build hugelkulur “mounds” within those terraced bathtubs, to retain the water and encourage vibrant soil life. We then built raised beds atop those hugel-tubs, and filled them with heavily composted and amended soil of the kind that vegetables like to grow in.  Our process looked like this:

And the end result was this:

The crop plants are very happy in these beds, and since we worked so incredibly hard for every square inch of bed space, we grow vegetables according to bio-intensive gardening principles.  This, in turn, made the local critters really happy.  So, we built a set of hinged cages to protect our food crops, and also to support row-cover material to make mini-greenhouses for the cooler weather.

So, now, we can plant out a first crop in February, for June harvest, and then a second crop is planted in June, for October/November harvest.  And the bio-intensive gardening technique really seems to be paying off:

Seasons in California – First Flowers

by Estifanos (5), of California, U.S.A.

I live with my mom and dad, in the mountains near the coast of California. Where we live, the beginning of February is the time when we see the first flowers blooming in our yard. It is the beginning of our spring.

At this time of year, the weather is sort of cool. Sometimes it’s cold enough to make breath clouds. But there is never snow or ice. There is a lot of wind and rain and mud. Sometimes, but rarely, there is lightening and hail. We get a lot of sunny-rainy days. We call that rainbow weather. This week, I saw a triple rainbow! I was very lucky to see that. Only two of them came out in the photograph my dad took:

In our garden, the blueberry bushes are starting to make fruit:

The lemons are ready for harvest:

The arctostaphylos and ceanothus bushes are in full bloom:

And mom says the native pollinators are silly with joy for the nectar and pollen.

So is the pregnant hummingbird who is about to lay her eggs!


by Estifanos (5), of California, U.S.A.

I am curious about learning Portuguese, because I wanted to go see the animals that live in Brazil, and they speak Portuguese in Brazil.  I asked my pen-pal, Atilio, how to speak Portuguese, and these are the audio files he sent me to learn from:

“Hello, how are you?” and “Goodbye, see you later.”


How to count from one to ten:


And this is me, practicing my Portuguese:


I knew that they speak Portuguese in Portugal, but I didn’t know that they also speak Portuguese in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe in Africa, and even East Timor and Macau in Asia!

Animals of Brazil

by Estifanos (5), of California, U.S.A.

If I were going to Brazil, I would like to see the animals there, especially the howler monkey, the jaguar, the three-toed sloth, and the anaconda.  I asked my pen-pal, Atilio (a grown-up who lives in Brazil), about these animals.  This is what he told me about them:

All of these animals live near where he lives, in Bahia, Brazil.

The howler monkey can be very loud. Atilio said, “A group of them can make quite a ruckus, and be heard at a distance.”  Its name in Portuguese is “Bugio.” Here is a picture of one:

Howler Monkey photo by Dario Sanches from SÃO PAULO, BRASIL
Howler Monkey (photo by Dario Sanches of Brazil)

The jaguar is called “onça pintada” because of her spotted fur.  The English name, jaguar, is actually a word from a native tribe in Brazil.  In their language, jaguar means beast. Brazilian myths say that the jaguar brings the gift of fire to people.  She is supposed to be  intelligent and cunning.  She lives in the rain forests of Brazil, near rivers, and is a very good swimmer.

Jaguar (photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Digital Library System)
Jaguar (photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Digital Library System)

The three toed sloth is called “Bicho-preguiça,” which means lazy animal.

Three Toed Sloth (photo by Christian Mehlführer of Germany)
Three Toed Sloth (photo by Christian Mehlführer of Austria)

The Portuguese name for the Anaconda is, “Sucuri,” which means the fast biter.  It can reach nine meters in length, which is almost half the length of my house!

Anaconda (photo by Zachi Evenor of Israel)