Saturday, August 27, 2011

a nice, big step backward

A big - very big - neighborhood improvement launched last Wednesday with the breaching of a levee and opening of nearly 500 acres to tidal inundation. The new wetlands replicate old wetlands that were eliminated 100+ years ago to make room for agriculture. Just a couple of miles from Kingbird, the new private preserve replaces a vineyard at the confluence of the Cosumnes and Mokelumme Rivers. Above, the excavator removes the last thin wall of soil holding back water from the Cosumnes River, creating a permanent breach in the levee that will allow the entry and exit of tidally driven flows. The event was timed to coincide with one of the lowest tides of the year, making the process a bit less mucky than it could have been.

The agent for this transformation is Westerveldt Ecological Services, a private mitigation banking and biological consulting firm that is a subsidiary to the Westerveldt Company, a 140-year old private timber and paper company with a strong record of natural resource stewardship. Westerveldt has developed the project as a mitigation bank and has regulatory approval to sell credits from the project that will mitigate for losses of ecological values elsewhere.

During my years at the adjoining Cosumnes River Preserve, we considered acquisition and restoration of this property to be of the highest property, but we could never reach a mutually satisfactory purchase agreement with the landowner. About five years ago, we folded our cards and encouraged Westerveldt to step in. That they have succeeded in bringing this project to fruition is a reflection of their professionalism and intense commitment. It's a big additional increment of conservation for the lower Cosumnes basin, with particular benefit for fish, waterfowl, and flood control.

Kudos and congratulations to the Westerveldt team!
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Our rattlesnake pole beans (previously featured here) have given us a solid eight weeks of production, yielding 400+ pounds of green beans for the two local food banks, ourselves, and friends. We've just thrown in the towel, however, and will let the plants do what nature drives them to do, i.e. procreate. The older the plant, and the more we interrupt seed production by harvesting the immature seed pods, the harder the plant pushes to make seed, increasingly producing smaller and tougher pods that begin to form seed almost immediately.

Fortunately it's a win-win for us, because rattlesnake produces a great dry cooking bean, like a pinto bean. It's also an heirloom variety, not a hybrid, so we can reserve a sufficient amount for next year's planting.

And all those dry beans that need to be shelled? It's no small job, but fortunately we have just the resource for that job. Have you read this far, mom?

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Sunday, August 21, 2011


Alcea, commonly known as hollyhock, is a genus of some 60 or so flowering plants, most native to south and central Asia, within the family malvacea. Alcea rosea is the common hollyhock, which has been selected for a range of vibrant colors - and, as above, pure white. The plant is drought-tolerant and has a deep tap-root.

On occasion, we've collected hollyhock seed from various places and distributed it in our garden. They germinate untended and produce vigorous biennial plants. We let them grow where they choose, within limits. A sequence of very long interval photographs would show them moving across the garden landscape like stick-figures year after year.

The colors are completely unpredictable. This year we have white, pink, and red. We've had a black (actually a very dark purple) but it has not made a recent appearance. The flowers are frequently visited by hummingbirds and butterflies.

The plant is edible. The flower buds are good gently sauteed and the petals can be used in salads. Although we've not tried it, the leaves are reportedly used in Egyptian cuisine.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

a nascent fall garden

We greatly enjoyed a 10-day visit from Marijke recently. Born in the Netherlands, she attends the University of York, England, where she is studying environmental science. It took us a few days, unfortunately, to discover that she's a fantastic cook. From that point onward, life was really good!

Marijke escaped the clutches of Kingbird Farm to work for a couple of days on the Cosumnes River Preserve, where she labored alongside the four seasonal technicians, building fence, counting plants, and logging data.

Here she's making soil blocks for seeds of everything that goes into the fall garden: lettuce, spinach, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, kale and onions.
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