Sunday April 6, 2014
Volvos Return To Davis
On the way home from a meeting at Mishka’s Cafe in town today, we stumbled across the annual Volvo meetup at Central Park, always on a Sunday in the spring. This seems to be the largest Volvo meetup on the West Coast; why they have settled on Davis as their location is not clear. But I’m always happy to see these cars return — I grew up with Volvos in my family and have quite a soft spot for the older ones. Here are photos of the 1800 sports car and the 122S station wagon, both of which we had, the station wagon arriving in 1966.
Thursday March 27, 2014
Pollinators in the Garden
Last week we attended a workshop put on by the California Center for Urban Horticulture on Gardening for Pollinators. A full morning of talks followed by a trip to the Honey Bee Haven, followed by a trip to the Arboretum Plant Sale (for the record, we bought a manzanita, three Spanish lavenders, a giant buckwheat and an ericameria). All but the lavenders should grow into large shrubs that qualify as four feet, and the lavenders should end up filling that slot.
I’ve written a blog post for the ANR Green Blog that provides more background, but here are the big take-homes for me from the workshop…
- Planning for succession blooming (in the Central Valley, that means late winter through fall)
- Putting plants in clumps at least 4 feet long if possible (honeybees, especially, like to specialize)
- Putting in plants that provide both nectar and pollen (nectar is fuel for adult bees, pollen is protein for the young)
- Using native plants where possible; they’re drought tolerant and have what our native bees need
- Avoiding most-toxic pesticides and herbicides
- Providing a clean source of water (a slow-dripping tap on a sloped surface is ideal; bees like to drink from very shallow sources)
- Providing cavity nest holes in wood for carpenter and other bees
- Leaving some areas of gardens unmulched for ground-nesting bees
Saturday March 15, 2014
Our rain gauge stands at 6.21 inches for the water year (in California, precipitation is measured from October 1 through September 30, since it is a Mediterranean climate), which is about at 38% of what we’d expect to this date. And there is not much more of a rainy season left. Some say we’re on pace for the driest year since 1580 and discussion has begun on whether we’re entering a megadrought.
The paleoclimatic history of California is a fascinating story which I am just starting to read up on. (I’ve just started geographer Lynn Ingram’s recent book, The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us about Tomorrow) In the past several millenia, the Pacific Southwest has seen droughts lasting decades to upwards of a couple centuries. One of the more dramatic pieces of evidence comes from geomorpologist Scott Stine’s work at Mono Lake. In 1941 Los Angeles started diverting water from its tributary streams, causing the water level in the lake to fall some 50 feet, which exposed a lot of lakebed. When hiking across the lakebed at one point, Stine found dozens of tree stumps. Jeffrey pines do not grow in the middle of lakes, and the conclusion follows that the lake level was much lower in the past due to prolonged drought. Radiocarbon dating on the tree stumps showed that these trees came from two periods of drought, one lasting about 140 years ending about AD 1100, and the other lasting at least a century ending about AD 1350.
It is interesting how megadroughts illustrate an aspect of climate change that is independent of anthropogenic global warming (there was not much in the way of greenhouse gas emissions in the 13th century) that is nevertheless quite worrisome. Megadroughts have occurred recently enough so that they are clearly part of the general pattern of climatic variability in California at this point in geological history. Unlike a millenium ago, the past century-and-a-half has been fairly benevolent in terms of California’s climate. How would we cope now with a 140-year long drought?
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Orcas Island, Again
I just returned from a spinning retreat on Orcas Island. I’ve been before two years ago; it’s a week of full-immersion spinning, fiber preparation, dyeing, and enjoying bald eagles fly over your cabin. This year I traveled with a friend from our new spinning guild in Davis by car, which was a luxury because I could take a lot more than I had before.
This week was supposed to be Sheep, Then and Now, but since we started off spinning camel it was obviously going to be a journey through whatever is getting Judith Mackenzie excited then and now, which is probably just as useful if not more so. I love fiber people — they are so generous with their knowledge and share everything they know. Judith lost everything in her studio to a fire about 18 months ago, including numerous wheels and looms and priceless bison fiber, but she’s a tough cookie and manages, somehow, to look on the bright side of this.
We learned to spin yak. We learned to make bouclé and hazed yarns. We learned how to spin a fat merino-silk single and stabilize it, then we hand-painted it. We were visited on the final morning by a diminutive Shetland sheep called Marvin. (He really is small, much smaller than normal Shetlands.)
On the way there and back we stayed with some lovely people, the first of whom had a replica Lord of The Rings shawl made with Gotland wool. Road trips with a fiber bent are new to me and I’m revved up and excited to share what I learned with friends. Oh, and I want a loom. I’m not buying yarn this year — I have so much already and I’m spinning more — but I have such a craving for a loom. Too bad we can’t fit one into this little house…
Sunday January 19, 2014
The New OpenStreetMapper
I didn’t expect I’d launch into 2014 with a whole new hobby. Towards the end of winter break, I bought an 7” Android tablet, the Google Nexus 7. I was not entirely sure what I would do with it, but since it has a GPS chip, it didn’t take long for me to start exploring mapping applications for it. This led inevitably to OpenStreetMap.
OpenStreetMap is a project that has been around almost 10 years; essentially it is the equivalent of WIkipedia for worldwide street mapping. In other words, it is a massive crowdsourcing project to build a quite detailed map database for the world that’s freely available as open data. (There’s an excellent recent blog post entitled simply Why the world needs OpenStreetMap.) I’ve known about the project for a long time (in fact its founder once gave a talk about it to our lab group), but had never signed up to contribute data. Buying the tablet closed a loop for me, since I could now go on walks, pull out my tablet, and check a recent copy of the map to see if there were unmapped details I should record.
What does one map? Anything and everything. Looking at the map, I quickly found that neither the California Raptor Center nor the network of trails on the other side of the creek from our house were in there, so I set about mapping them. And now these features are in OpenStreetMap! The figure show the trails I’ve added; they’re the tracks marked in dashed red lines just north of the creek.
It’s amazing amounts of fun. It helps that I’m a map geek already, but walking, exploring, and maps, what could be better?
Sunday January 12, 2014
Numenius and I attended a workshop yesterday put on by the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity and the California Native Plant Society (Sacramento Chapter). Pam Kirkbride taught the workshop, which was a morning of lecture and practice keying (at which I have very little experience; Numenius has much more) followed by a field trip to just over the Napa County line, where lichens are far more diverse and numerous since it’s just inside the fog belt.
I had learned a little about lichens in connection with natural dyes at my spinning retreat with Judith Mackenzie in 2012. I learned a whole lot more yesterday — the various forms of lichens, their unique symbiotic biology (they are a relationship between fungi and algae), their sensitivity to pollution and other environmental stressors… and their great beauty. This was my first time using a dissecting workshop and now I want one.
I came home with some Ramalina (Spanish moss) I found on the oak woodland floor. I’d like to try it out on some white yarn I have. Lichen dyes don’t need a mordant because of their acidic chemistry. I’ll update when I have something to show!
Saturday November 16, 2013
From Field to Flour
Two years ago we started getting involved with Farm 2.6, a new educational community farm a few miles west of Davis. I had the odd idea then of putting in a small wheatfield, with the idea of baking some bread from wheat I had grown myself. Today I ground my first batch of flour from the wheat!
There is a reason why grains do not figure in most home gardening efforts, despite being an important diet staple. It is an awful lot of work to produce grains in any sort of quantity at all. (For those who are nevertheless still interested, one good text is Gene Logsdon’s Small-Scale Grain Raising). The timeline of our efforts was as follows. In late winter of 2012 we sowed the field in red clover as a cover crop and to put nitrogen into the soil. It then lay fallow until late January of this year, when we planted the field in a hard red spring wheat. It didn’t end up as a very densely planted field, and there were many, many weeds in it, but wheat we got, and several of us harvested it by hand in early July. The wheat then sat in the barn until last week when at a work party it was threshed and winnowed. The threshing was done by dancing on the heads of the wheat placed in a pillowcase; the winnowing was done with the aid of a small fan. The resulting wheat berries are at left.
We have a small hand-cranked grain mill at home and I set to grinding today. This too is hard work, and in about an hour-and-a-half I grinded about 3 cups of flour. I ended up borrowing one of our pieces of cat furniture to clamp the mill to; the cats were curious what use I was making of it. Below is some of the flour. Next up comes baking a loaf of bread!
Monday October 21, 2013
A County Flu Drill
On Saturday I volunteered at the Yolo County Flu Clinic. This is a service provided by the Health Department and flu immunization is free to all residents. I was alerted to the volunteer opportunity through Yolo ARES, Amateur Radio Emergency Service, but in the event they requested my translation skills rather than radio (no radios were needed in this exercise, which doubles as an emergency drill).
The day was pretty slow. This might be explained by the fact that it was a perfect day: no wind, warm but not hot. A perfect day for a century bike ride, in fact, which coincidentally it was – Foxy Fall Century didn’t have me as SAG 10 this year. During the long, slow morning, I got to talking to a Cambodian volunteer. When we discovered we had French in common an interesting conversation ensued where she explained to me how she had worked in Cambodia in some field of public health. Her switching between French and English was entirely natural, fluid, and I don’t think she knew she was doing it. (I’m sure there were also a few Khmer words thrown in there I didn’t catch.) Anyway, I was strongly reminded of the hybrid English-Spanish patois of the Gibraltarians, which they call Llanito and which also contains words of Arabic and even Maltese origin.
Cambodia to Esparto: what a change of scene for this woman. Different health problems—no obesity in Cambodia – but not so different, either: diabetes is a growing emergency among the Cambodian poor, just as it is in upper Yolo County.
My time with OCD epidemiologists at the Wildlife Health Center showed in my horror at seeing a volunteer who was registering patients shake hands with each of them. No hand sanitizer at the ready, either… In an epidemic, that would have been stamped on pretty quickly.
Monday October 14, 2013
Signals From The Southland
No television at our house, so we follow playoff baseball on the radio, a plan that works well except for Sundays and Monday evenings, when all the ESPN Sports radio stations regrettably have NFL football on them. Last night I missed hearing the incredible comeback by the Boston Red Sox, though I was aware of what was going on from the computer. This evening was the Dodgers game, and thanks to the magic of skywave, I had an option. One of the stations in the Dodger network, AM 1560 KNZR, comes in pretty well from Bakersfield in the evenings, the signal refracting off the ionosphere.
This lead to a moment of complete nostalgia. Hearing on a staticky and fading distant AM radio station the voice of Vin Scully, now talking about Drysdale and Koufax losing the first two games away at Minnesota. (He was referring to the 1965 World Series; I’m sure he was there.)
As it once was, as it still is. Baseball and radio, what a great combination.
Monday October 7, 2013
The past few weeks have been devoted to getting ready for Lambtown, a small festival celebrating sheep held annually in Dixon, California. It used to be held in July, when it was hot. It was hot this weekend too, but just in the mid-80s. Not too hot, but lots of flies…
The featured breed this year was Shetland. The Davis Spinners Guild planned a display about Shetland sheep. We bought two fleeces at the Spinning at the Winery event in June in Livermore, one dual-coated white, one black. We divided up the raw fleece among members then we all washed, prepared and spun the various fibers we had. Some of us even went ahead and knit or crocheted what we’d spun.
I have never entered my work in a fair competitively but I was worried there wouldn’t be any entries for the Shetland category we’d worked hard to have recognized, so I spun and knit a lace shawlette with the darker (much softer) Shetland and made a handspun tam, stranded with the different colors in the purchased Shetland roving. I also entered two skeins of Shetland yarn I’d spun.
! Pushing me way out of my comfort zone was the spinning contest, where we had to spin blindfolded, then with gloves, then in pairs (one person treadles, the other person drafts). The yarn design (use at least four different fibers, make sure you ply your yarn) was very challenging but surprisingly fun (although not for one of the participants, who practically had a nervous breakdown in the middle of it all). The last event was to take three colors of roving, spin them so that when plied each color repeat is no longer than 18”, make sure there are at least three full repeats.
With the linen spinning class I took on Saturday morning (red badge of courage, impaled myself on a linen hackle, below right) and my other volunteer duties, I didn’t get to see much else of Lambtown. But I understand it was very successful. I came home with half a huge Romney fleece, some silk alpaca, some yarn, some more bobbins, and some blue ribbons.
This week is Spinzilla, where we’re supposed to spin as much as we can. I won’t be spinning competitively. I’m working all week and have stuff on almost every night. But I’m working on it. Two pounds of Jacob roving not prepared by me. Diego Cat comes running the second I sit at the wheel and settles in.