Drawing Practice and GTUFY News

This month there has been a harvest of herbs, radishes, carrots and lettuce. With the temperatures hovering around 60 °F, they seem to do okay, but the cucumber seeds have had a heck of a time getting going and I don’t know what is going to happen with the tomatoes and basil I just put in the ground. Hoping for warmer weather is what is happening. 🙂

Ranch Vegetable Bed 4X10Thankfully, I’ve been invited to use a nice raised garden bed in a warmer climate inland with less marine layer and fewer trees shading the vegetable garden. The garden is about an hour and 15 minute drive away, but I have family nearby who I will visit while gardening once a week during the summer. Above is the plan I’ve mapped out for the next few months in this generous garden plot. It is based on using a legume rotation after garlic was harvested here. All the plants were chosen as good companions to the bush beans. Since I am not yet an expert on companions, I used this site to choose them.

While waiting for the warm weather and to increase productivity while watching TV I’ve begun some drawing practice.

Drawings Book Bessette and Chapman clipped smallerI’ve been doing design work, but have to hone some artist skills in order to be a good designer. While the results of installing and accurately building what I draw, not the drawings themselves, are the most important in my work, keeping up my ability to effectively describe my ideas with drawings is also required. The drawings are used as a tool, but are more effective the more beautiful they are. Since I have gained most of my skills in drafting and computer design, freehand drawing is one of my weaker skills. Ideas can pop up at any time leaving me unprepared with meticulous layouts. Freehand drawing skills are invaluable when I need to convey ideas on the spot as needed.

Dogwood Drawing clipped web sizedUsing this beautiful and incredibly prolific book of plant drawings to work on plant shape and form, I copied one of the drawings of a dogwood.

Tracing paper and grid really helped to get the proportions and outlines right, but I didn’t worry too much about the details and the shadings. It doesn’t take much time at all to copy a drawing, and it helps so much to increase your skills and your eye for the image.

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon: Plants and Flowers.


Seattle in Spring

We recently took a family trip to Seattle, WA USA. We had four and a half days to explore but there is so much to do in Seattle and nearby that the planning was daunting. In order to make it more interesting I left us without a rental car. Instead, I signed up for Zipcar to visit outlying areas. For the city, we relied on our feet and some public transportation. Here’s how it went.

Day One

Seattle Space NeedleFrom SeaTac Airport we took the Sound Transit Link light rail train to downtown Seattle. We had to roll our luggage about five blocks from the station to our hotel once we arrived.

Checked in and we were able to explore the area, have dinner and see the Chihuly Gardens nearby. Our hotel was near the Space Needle and all the accompanying sights.

Day Two

Next day we went out for a long walk to the Washington Park Arboretum adjacent to Lake Washington. It was about three miles one way. We had lunch at an amazing vegan restaurant called Cafe Flora. The Chai Tea!

Found us a local bus to take back to our hotel. We went to the Goodwill on Capitol Hill on the way and went shopping. Seattle knows how to do thrift stores, it was the largest, most organized thrift store I’ve ever been to.

Found a sushi place Umi Sake House. We had some time to kill before dinner so we walked to the waterfront and watched the sunset and rode the Ferris Wheel before dinner.

Seattle Sunset

Day Three

Washington State FerryI reserved a Mini Cooper Countryman Zipcar for the day to go to the Olympic Peninsula. We were pleased to find the car parked where promised and ready to go. So we took the car Ferry to Bainbridge Island.

Once on the other side we drove to the Olympic Peninsula Visitors Center. The excellent administrator there helped us identify two short hikes near the Port Ludlow area and a park at the beach resort to have a snack and a nap (for those interested in the Zipcar, we were able to do all this without going over our 180 designated miles, and it cost us $87 to rent the car from 8:50am – 6:30pm including taxes and gas).

Olypic Hike PondWe went back to Seattle the same way, and by the time we landed we were hungry for mexican. Since we often like to repeat a good thing, we went to Mama’s Mexican Kitchen which we had enjoyed on a previous visit.

Day Four

We planned to tour the city and visit Seattle University. The idea was to do some sight seeing in the morning and go the University in the afternoon – instead, we all slept in and went to Pikes Place Market for lunch — even better. Well, not all of us, our ambitious one of the family got up early for a walking tour of the city. I think the single best information he received from the tour was the recommendation for the Owl and Thistle Pub where we went to happy hour later.

Day Five

San Juan Islands from Mt ErieReserved a Zipcar again to visit the San Juan Islands. We had a little extra time before the ferry left so we went up to the top of a nearby mountain to view the Islands.

I do recommend the Friday Harbor Whale Museum. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it is a worthwhile visit.

Day Six

We took the Seattle Yellow Cab to the airport at 4AM. Our cab driver was excellent. Whew!

San Juan Islands View

Cucumber Plan

Well, not all cucumbers, I’ve stayed with my companion planting idea and added more lettuce, radishes, and soon as I may, I will buy some sunflower seeds to put on the left edge and encourage more growth. Also, I didn’t draw it in, but on the top and right edge I installed a lattice structure for the cucumbers to climb. I read that the cucumber vines can get up to 32 feet, so I hope my 3′ circle with some lattice will be enough. The picture is of the 3X5 foot planting bed with lattice and old screen to prevent debris from dropping in on the young seedlings once they sprout.

Companion plants are from the online Farmers Almanac.

And here is my plan:

April 2015 cucumber bed

Update 4/29/2015: I did plant the seeds for the Cucumber Garden and the lettuce and radish seeds that I bought this year are sprouting nicely! Word of warning though, the cucumber plant seeds from 2011 have not and I think it has been over a week, so may just have to toss those old seeds, :/ .

Also, take some time to check back on the spring veggies post to see the progress. It is just over a month and I’ve already harvested all the radishes, lots of lettuce and several handfuls of snap peas. I attribute a lot of my success to the floating row cover — fewer bugs, although it could be the onions and marigolds keeping them away too. The deer keep chomping on the snap peas. Do you see the steam coming out of my head!

Late Winter Update from the Giant Tiny Urban Farm Yard

Snap Pea Seedlings 1It’s time for an update. Plans have been made and executed and harvests have come in and new information has been incorporated. All is in motion with the Giant Tiny Urban Farm Yard. Whew, there is no rest for even the smallest of garden plots. Let’s document this moment’s events.

I did do a Spring Edibles plan. It was done in Autocad and very much more regimented and measured than any garden can be. Definitely don’t expect your garden to follow this plan exactly, but it is a pretty good guide. So far, the amazingly fertile seeds from Johnny’s Seeds have all sprouted and I am hopeful for a spring and summer harvest.

Intensive Edibles 1

Update on the Spring Edibles plan, latest pictures!

intensive spring mature intensive spring carrot and lettuce

Remember the plan from last Fall, where I hoped to get some Kale, Beets and Spinach before it got too cold in Winter?Kale, Beets and Spinach Bed

The bad news is the Spinach didn’t do too well and none of these plants matured enough to harvest before winter started. But there is a lot of good news. The plants survived the winter and are very mature now. The Kale and the Beets are great! I am already sick of eating Kale since I am able to harvest quite a lot every week and I am keeping the beets in the ground until I’m ready to make soup, or maybe pickles.

Beet Greens 1 Closeup Kale 1

And since I’ve got my camera out, here are the flowers.

Rosemary Blooms 1 Camelia Bloom 1 Osteospermum Blooms Purple Jasmine Blooms 1

Less Stuff, Cheap Living

a.k.a. a short review of some books and web sites that I like

UntitledOverwhelmed with ideas, I decided to dump the data here. I have a side interest, or lets call it an obsession, with the minutiae of the economics of living. I attribute it to my frugal upbringing and my admiration for people who don’t seem to need so much stuff. I’VE gone to the other side. The other side being the side where the person with the Least stuff wins!

First, I found this book called the Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson who worked hard over the course of two years to pare down her household to produce no garbage, ever. If you have a vague feeling that your lifestyle is wasteful she can tell you why and some ways to fix it. Her story is that when she lived in a bedroom community out in the suburbs she found it un-fulfilling and shockingly wasteful. So much so that she moved closer to town, and began systematically eliminating paper and plastic packaging among other things from her life.

Next, I ran across Jacob Lund Fiskar’s website and book. In a fog of caffeinated haze I read his book and embraced his ideas. If you feel like all the work you are doing to make the big bucks at the desk job just pays for you to waste resources and fills up time that you would rather be doing other things, read ERE for a while. Early Retirement Extreme is achieving financial independence by being very, very, very cheap. In this way you can reduce your expenses so you don’t need as much everyday money and you can relatively quickly become financially independent.

And then, while enjoying my early retirement fantasies I ran across the Mr Money Mustache web site. He, also, proposes to be very, very cheap and to love it. Mr. Money Mustache has developed connections around the country and community who like to live very cheaply without using so many resources. His web site is fun and entertaining, whereas ERE is more serious and philosophical.

Next, as if fate was trying to tell me something, I ran across an old book by Helen and Scott Nearing. They changed from modern city living of the time to living off the proceeds only of what they had on their land and what money and trades they could make off the maple syrup from their trees. They worked hard, but insisted on leisure time too. Working on the farm no more than four hours a day, leaving the rest of the day for socializing, reading and household tasks.

After saturating myself in thoughts of subsistence living and thinking carefully about every dime I spent while learning how to build things for myself, I ran across another old-fashioned way of saving money.

It is about Kathy Spencer who is able to live on less money with ingenuity by clipping coupons watching sales and buying in bulk. She also cultivates a garden and donates a lot products from the good deals that she can find to local charities, schools and friends in need. How great is that!

I’m taking different aspects of all these great ideas and incorporating them into my life. I hope you enjoy trying these out. Let me know what else there is. I love reading about these and other inspiring people with new (or old unread) ideas!

(disclaimer: please take my summaries of these esteemed individual’s ideas with a grain of salt. In trying to be brief I may have misrepresented their ideas and you may find them incomplete. If you have an interest in them at all click the links and read for yourself)

Hot Chocolate Diet

Mug with finished mocha web sizedFrom a die hard hot chocolate lover, how about a hot chocolate diet? Using the 1980’s trickery of focusing on a single food item, then adding some modern Pollanesque nutrition rules, here is the recipe for awesome hot bittersweet chocolate and some daily eating rules. This Could work.

Recipe for Bittersweet Hot Chocolate

(on this diet don’t use pre-made chocolate mixes, they are not good enough)

  • 1 cup of prepared drip coffee
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 3 heaping teaspoons (tablespoons) pure unsweetened chocolate powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon (also tablespoon) of dark brown sugar

Make a cup of coffee or espresso.

Heat the cup of milk, I use nonfat cows milk, but soy, almond, or low fat work too for 1 minute 35 seconds in the microwave in a glass measuring cup until steaming but not boiling.

In a large mug, place three heaping teaspoons of Ghirardelli Chocolate Unsweetened Cocoa (Ghirardelli is best, but Nestle, Hershey’s or a bulk brand will do) and a heaping teaspoon of dark brown sugar, more or less depending on how sweet you like it.

chocolate powder web sizedbrown sugar web sized

Mix the sugar and chocolate powder together, and then mix hot milk in a little at a time, keeping it creamy and smooth. Finish mixing in all the milk and pour the coffee on top.

Mug with mixed syrup web sized

The Best Part About this Diet

When you are hungry, tired, or bored and there is no meal in sight, make a hot chocolate. While you are making the hot chocolate, drink a glass of water. I know that is annoying, but it’s part of the diet. Do it. Then drink the hot chocolate if you want, or just keep it by you on your desk to keep you company. Drink hot chocolate to replace all sweets and goodies that you would normally eat.

If you are into Rules, here are some Other Hot Chocolate Diet Rules

Have three or less hot chocolates each day if you can, but if you must, have more, as long as you stay away from the Mars bar and the after dinner Ice Cream.wine with magnolia web sized

Don’t have too many meals. Just make sure to have one really nice meal a day that fills you up – this could really work if you make it a nice long nutritious meal. Then, have two more small meals. Make the meals good and you won’t need snacks.

Do have an alcoholic drink with dinner, this diet is something for the long term.

Eat vegetables

Don’t eat refined flour, white sugar or hydrogenated oils


Plants for a Garden With No Summer Water

Closeup of Rosemary Flower

Closeup of Rosemary Flower

I am an optimist and have high hopes for a No Summer Water garden. Dry looking plants that die off or look terrible during the summer dormant period. Bah, I say, it doesn’t have to be that way! Well, you can’t have a lawn though. Right now it is January, and the summer dry dormancy is many months off, so I’m doing a few things to prepare for another dry summer.

Summer Camelia

Using the book, Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region (2004) Paperback by EBMUD I prepared a list of plants by going through every plant in the book and listing only the ones with the No Summer Water symbol by it’s name. No plant reference book can possibly be complete. So, I cross referenced the No Summer Water plants with both the 2001 Western Garden Book and the WUCOLS website there were discrepancies. This is not meant as a criticism of the book, only encouragement that the plant may have adaptabilities or limitations beyond what the first reference book might say.

Before reading data though, know that there is no better knowledge than what you have learned while gardening in your own back yard. Here’s mine:

Ivy Hillside

There are bad plants that require No Summer Water. Namely Ivy (Hedera Helix), Vinca (Vinca major), Pittosporum (Pittosporum tenuifolium). All of these are invasive and have clogged the creeks and filled the land fills with needless tons of clippings. While they are pretty happy here, they are also taking over. Don’t plant them.

There are good plants that require No Summer Water. Juniper (Juniperus all species), used best as a backdrop, they grow slowly and require very little clipping and don’t spread into the wild areas, good plant! Camelia (Camellia many species) does need water at first, but once established they can be ignored year after year without any water, good plant! Campanula (many species) will die off during the summer every year, but comes back with fresh purple flowers each spring, good plant! Daffodil (Narcissus all species) will naturalize in our area and come back every year with fresh yellow sunshine in the spring, good plant! Rosemary, awesome. Leptospermum, excellent. Manzanita, super great! Jasmine. Penstemon. There are more, but you get the idea.

jasmine web sized

Jasmine Vine

Penstemon Flower

Here’s the data, or you can download the pdf, any errors in this list are all mine

Motivating Influences on Growing Food

cabbage vertical edge web sized

Local Shop: Pollinate Farm and Garden, Oakland, CA

Great Talk: The Ethics of Eating (and Growing) Food with Dr. Sapna E Thottathil

Her Book: India’s Organic Farming Revolution: What It Means for Our Global Food System

Author/Researcher: Dr. Sapna E. Thottathil

Post: Connecting to the Earth through Growing and Cooking Food

Blogger: The Salty Gardener

Today I want to give a shout out to some hard working people contributing good vibes on Cooking, Eating and Growing your own food.

First, the owners of Pollinate Farm and Garden, who, in true Oakland fashion are rekindling the backyard gardens and farms in Oakland. Not only does their amazing shop include everything you need to tend a progressive organic garden in your own backyard, but they have feed for goats, chickens and other animals, beekeeping paraphernalia, bare root trees, and an assortment of chicks in the Spring for you to buy and raise in your backyard chicken house. They have everything. Take a look if you are in their area. One thing that makes Pollinate unique is that they host a series of talks. I was able to attend one this week.

The talk that I was privileged to attend was lead by a researcher who has recently written a book about her travels in Kerala, India. She tells a complicated story about the history and continuing struggle of the farmers in this region who grow single crops across many acres using chemical pesticides and fertilizers, much like we do here in US and all over the world. Some of these farmers are changing to organic methods and have found a tremendous amount of improvement in their lives as a result. I was grateful to Dr. Sapna E. Thottathil for reminding me of how complicated these food issues really are and for delivering good, solid information on how food is produced. Needless to say, it was a very interesting talk.

I know there are many people talking about gardening and eating and how excellent it is to have both a garden and to cook at home more often. One inspirational person who posted recently is The Salty Gardener.

And to wrap things up, I will share some photos of my harvested Kale and Beet greens from my winter garden. Can’t wait for my Excellent Daughter to make some more Garlicky Kale Pesto with these fresh greens. Yay.

kale and beet greens in a bowl web sized kale and beet greens web sizedkale pesto web sized

Laundry-Watered Garden

close up clothespin white web sizedThere is often talk of drought where I am. Even though our utility company has been great about keeping us hydrated without our having to do much of anything, they ask that we cut back when there is less rain during a particular year. So sometimes, I put a bucket in the shower to catch the water that runs down the drain while I wait for the shower to heat up or take all the glasses of stale drinking water that we leave around and fill the dog’s bowl or water the indoor plants. I also bought a few of the 60 gallon water catchment barrels designed to fit under the down spout to catch the runoff from the roof. Do these efforts help in the overall scheme of things? Hopefully.

Our family might be doing something right. According to EBMUD(East Bay Municipal Utility District) people use, on average, 50 gallons of water per person per day in our area. That doesn’t include irrigation of the yard. Our family is using 32.75 gallons per person per day. I don’t know why we use less or if it is even a low amount. It seems like a lot of water to use every day. Where does it all go?

clothes into sky no plane web sizedThe latest scheme I want to adopt is to pipe the gray water from my house to water my outdoor plants. In this way I can enjoy choosing from a broader selection of plants that like to be in water and add to the drought tolerant plant pallet that I usually work with. The way I figure it, I may have too much water for some planting beds if I install this laundry gray water system. Wow, too much water. I imagine that it would be easy to use once it is set up and I have great hopes for at least one excellent lush, green planting bed. There is a local group that has been promoting gray water from laundry systems for years called Grey Water Action. They have a tutorial on how to install it in your home.

It is installed with a valve which you turn depending on whether you want the waste water from a load of laundry to go into the planting bed or the sewer as usual. When you send the water to the planting bed you need to use biodegradable soap. The best one is called Oasis and can be purchased at Whole Foods and other stores.

It is normal for me to do things backwards. So first, I tried the biodegradable soap. It cleans pretty well I think. I can’t tell the difference. And, I designed the garden that I will install once the laundry water starts flooding the planting bed. Most of the plants need some shade and moderate water. It is designed to fit around a tree, but you can put the garden anywhere there is partial shade. It covers approximately 50 square feet. It is a decorative under story garden, please use these plans if you are so inclined!

Understory Half Circle Garden with labels

Understory Garden Picture of Plant List

Understory Circle Garden with labels

Giant Tiny Urban Farm Yard Winter Journal

rosemary blooms web sizedInspired by recent posts on Ploughshares Nursery web site, I am reminded that because I am in such a mild weather zone I can still plant cold seasoned crops. Also, extremely tempted to buy some bare root trees. Have admonished myself that I really don’t have the time to harvest and take care of what I have, let alone add more —  especially since I learned that my bottom line can be severely compromised by whimsical purchases. Resisted the impulse to buy and will keep working on growing things from seeds. Whew.

The following is the the winter installment from the Giant Tiny Urban Farm Yard. Seeds planted in the fall have given results!


Chilly for us. Today it is about 55° F going down about 10 degrees during the night. It’s not freezing so I haven’t bothered with covering any plants.

Food and Herbs

winter greenhouse - web sizedStarted some salad greens in my “greenhouse” which I uncovered this fall. There was ivy crawling all over the garage, which, when I removed I noticed that underneath the ivy it was hung with some translucent material which might let in enough light to grow something while protecting it from the worst of the wind and cold. In fact, I thought that might have been the original intent. So am trying to grow salad greens in there.

Have clipped some potato starts from the slips that sprouted. I didn’t use any root hormone to get them going, just compost in pots with clippings stuck in and plenty of water. No sign of roots yet, but am hopeful.

The newly turned earth where I planted the cover crop of peas and oats is looking a little sparse. There really were not many seeds in that packet.

scraggly sage web sizeHerbs, especially sage, look terrible. Maybe they don’t like the cold, wet weather.


Our rainy weather moment has passed, so I’ve actually watered this weekend. As always in dry California, we hope for more rain.


Kale looks good and I will harvest as soon as I use up what’s in the fridge. I’ve covered the ground under the kale, beets and spinach with compost to keep them warm and fertilized.

winter vegis web sized

Winter flowers

As always there are some freaky plants that think it is time to bloom. The impatiens is probably happy to get more water from the rain, but the Magnolia rarely blooms this early. Don’t get me wrong, I love that everyone is blooming, it just seems like they are so confused about the time of year.

magnolia web sized red azalea web sized impatiens blooms web sized pinapple sage web sized