Lesson from a Redwood Grandmother


Earlier this week, I drove through a wall of fog to visit the coast redwoods of Muir Woods. They were sparkling in the full glory of their pale-green new growth for the year. And one of them beckoned me to touch her, and learn the reason why she lived so long: though the bulk of her body was strong and tall and tough and protective, her new growth was not merely pliable (as in other evergreens I have met), but the softest, most delicate plant tissue I have ever encountered — far softer than a human infant’s skin. It was like touching warm water. Fluid, gentle, inviting.

It is an odd combination of qualities of character that I think humans would do well to cultivate, too.

Estifanos’ World-Game

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

I have an idea for a new game:

Each person takes a turn, and has to name, from memory:

  1. The name of a country;
  2. A food that people eat there;
  3. An animal that lives there;
  4. A food that that animal eats;
  5. Something that eats that animal;
  6. The climate/biome that they live in;
  7. The name of a city there;
  8. The name of a sport or game that is played there.

If a person cannot think of a complete set, they can ask for help, or try again, try again.

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!