Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ashtanga Gardening

I felt so awesome from yoga last week that I did it again today! What is it they say, three weeks to make it a habit? We'll see...I'll be like this in no time, for sure.
I'm gonna stick that in my head and think of it next time I'm tempted to stop for chinese fast food after yoga.

A few days ago, some awesome doula friends and I got together at Olympic Spa to soak and enjoy each others' company for a while. I was trying to explain to my friend that though I love my martial arts and have no plans to give them up, I have to be careful what I'm doing with my body in the long term too. Old style martial arts are about warriors fighting for their survival in the short term, not about being in good shape in your old age, because you probably weren't going to live that long anyway. I think the yoga is going to help a lot with balancing that out. The pinched feeling in my sacrum is going away already, and that's worth a lot.

All right, enough ninja yoga talk. Gardening!

The front of the house used to look like this:
Though the poinsettias were pretty in December, it was a nasty snarl of things with thorns, things that dripped awful sticky sap when you tried to prune them, aggressive vines, and more things with thorns. Plus, we wanted to stucco the cinderblock wall and repair some damage to the house.
Plants removed. That's my Ford Explorer, for scale.
Our space, cleared. The husband hadn't realized that those trees were on our property, or that we had a gate there...that's how bad the bramble was.
And finally, some cute new plants to fill in the space. My focus is on mediterranean plants, herbs, edibles, low maintenence, and low water use. All of this centers around a bareroot pomegranate that looks like a bundle of sticks right now, but someday will bring us glorious fruit. Someday...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


A while ago I decided that I needed to start taking better care of myself...like the song says, I'm way to young to feel this damn old. I'm not as bendy as I used to be, and my actual body isn't quite matching up to my superhero self image (where I'm mean and lean, fight evil, and can leap over tall buildings downtown). I'm not doing badly at all by general American standards, but I have to do better than that if I'm going to be like one of my heroes when I grow up:
(this poster is a favorite of mine...the man version is also very inspirational!)

Anyway, to further that goal, I went to my first yoga class in a decade on Tuesday morning. I had been wanting to do it for a while, but we're on a very frugal budget right now (to replenish savings after putting a down payment on our hippie fiefdom) and yoga classes are very spendy. However, just before Christmas I scored a ridiculous Groupon deal for 20 yoga classes at a posh Hollywood yoga studio for (drumroll please) $20. $1 per class!

Golden Bridge is a crazy 3 story yoga shop with a super-culty following (Cindy Crawford did prenatal yoga here, I hear) and the building was full of white-turbaned students in flowing dress. They have valet parking. I rolled in on my motorcycle all dressed in black and leathers. The yoga was good, though, and I got to talk to the teacher after class about balancing out the effects of martial arts on my body. Then I went home and slapped a bunch of stucco on the wall next to the house, then went and did martial arts with hands that felt like limp fish from toting around all that wet cement.

But you know, I woke up this morning at six feeling pretty damn good. Muscles I haven't used in a long time felt pleasingly used, and the pinched feeling I've been having in my lower back and sacrum had let go a bit...just like the teacher promised it would! I went for a two mile walk, came back, and slapped some more stucco on the wall.

Now I can slack off in peace feeling like I really deserve it. Any good movies to recommend for my netflix list?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter Eggs

A couple of months ago, we were down to about an egg a day from our chicken flock. To be fair to them, some weren't yet laying, but still...that was a lot of feed for no payoff.

I started an experiment with lighting the coop, but because of the chicken illness brought home by a stray hen, I stopped doing it for a while. After health was restored, I decided to restart the light regimen.
The dozen hens that remain (all-time high of 17, minus 4 lost to illness, minus one rooster) seem to be enjoying their extended twilight. Our backyard is so shady that they were going to bed at 4pm. Conventional wisdom says to add the lighting at the beginning of the day rather than the end, but I think in this town, people would rather hear chickens clucking late than early. That's Hollywood for you.
Two days worth of eggs with the lighting regimen: The five Easter Eggers are going strong; Henrietta is in her second laying year, but the other four are 1st year layers. The brown eggs are from the two remaining Bettys. After that, we have two game hens, and three other hens that aren't laying yet (one barred rock, one delaware, and one light brahma).
The biggest green egg yet, weighing in at a hefty 66g! Mostly they are right around 50g (medium in American commercial egg sizing). The game hens are just starting to lay creamy pink eggs, and I'm hoping for more from the other hens soon.

Overall, I'd say that adding the winter lighting has been a huge success. I have two lamps (brooder clamp lamp style), one in the coop and one shining into the run. They are set on a timer from 4pm to 8pm, so that the chickens are long asleep before neighbors might complain, plus they are generally very quiet then. It is only in the morning when they are laying that they get a little noisy...except for a couple of days ago when a mockingbird was hanging out in the tree making fun of their clucking. That got them really upset, but it was pretty funny to me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I can't find the camera, so imagine this...

A brush pile the size of my car, torn off its roots and off to the dump

Poinsettias fighting back with noxious milky sap from every cut

Old thorny rose canes lurking in the grass to snag the unwary

A bareroot pomegranate twig, so hopeful yet so pathetic

Ornamental purple kale and cabbage

Mediterranean herbs: rosemary, lavendar, native sage, and yellow daisies

Peace in the henhouse once more

Glorious chicken soup with rice (Sipping once, sipping twice, sipping chicken soup with rice!)

A tired but happy gardener with three cozy cats at her feet

Monday, January 16, 2012


Today was slated to be rooster abatement day. I got up, drank some coffee, listened to Morning Edition on NPR, and did the deed.

Honestly, if he had been a nicer rooster I would have tried to find him a home. He was a beautiful Rhode Island Red (named Clementine back when he was a girl), with big glossy black tail feathers with an oil-slick sheen...but he was a jerk! All the ladies hated him and were hiding from him in the coop all the time. His idea of romance was to hold them down and bite their heads, especially his favorite Betty, who has spent most of the last week huddling on the roost instead of free-ranging. I don't think he had even figured out what he was supposed to do once he had them pinned yet. Last night he bit me when I picked him up to check him out. I'm thinking crockpot chicken stew.

Tomorrow: landscaping photos! Pretty flowers! Trees!

Friday, January 13, 2012


Last year I decided that I was going to learn to make beer, so my lovely supportive husband, who doesn't even drink much of the stuff, bought me a bottle capper for my birthday. It has been sitting around for a few months, but I'm finally getting all the stuff together for my first batch.

Yesterday I was in the vicinity of Eagle Rock Home Brewing Supply, so I picked up a new primary fermenter (a glorified food-grade plastic bucket) and all the ingredients to make a batch of Amber Ale. They have a pretty nice system there; they sell "kits", which means one of the employees measures out all your ingredients and puts them in a shopping bag with your recipe. This one will be a partial grain brew, with three kinds of hops! Fancy. I hear chickens really like the spent grain.

I can't start the batch until I have bottles, though. I could buy new ones, but I hear they come free with beer...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Today's tasks: reglaze four windows, and clear out enough space in the poinsettia bramble to plant a pomegranate tree. Should be easy, right?

Reglazing windows isn't that bad. These are the old style wood windows with multiple panes. I had the glass cut at Orchard Supply on New Year's day, and I have all the little metal points and putty before. I've only done this once before (for a window we broke shortly after moving in here) but this is the kind of job where you and a professional can get the same result...the professional would just get it done a whole lot faster.

Clearing out space for the pomegranate tree should be fun. The poinsettia and blue plumbago have grown into an amazing snarl that fully encompasses several rosebushes, datura, a sago palm, a monkey puzzle tree, and I think there's an Italian Cypress back there too. They are all set in front of a lovely bare cinder-block wall. The plan is to cut everything back hard, paint the wall, then plant one pomegranate and one other small-variety fruit tree. The palm tree is going to be annihilated. The poinsettias will be kept, just not at there current 20' x 30' driveway-eating size. Datura...not sure. They're pretty, but I'd rather be growing food than poison.

We razed a lot of bramble last night, and it was fascinating to see all the creatures we displaced coming out in layers...first the crickets, then the cockroaches, then the spiders, and last of all, one giant alligator lizard who was living in the heart of the bush, feasting on all the above. We cheered him on as he slipped over the wall into the neighbor's shrubs to his new life.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Old Year and the New

We moved into our current home in December 2010, so 2011 was our first real, whole year here. The house is a sprawling, rambling fixer - every room has problems that need to be taken care of, the whole thing needs painting inside and out, and out of 4.5 bathrooms (really - I never imagined myself having such a ridiculous excess) the only one that has a working shower is as far as possible from my bedroom. I thought I would get a lot more done on the house last year, but I'm always overly optimistic about how fast projects will go (I also haven't really, truly internalized that this house is 4 times the size of our last project house that we fixed up in one year. 4 years is a much more reasonable).

That being said, here's the goal list for this year!

1. Garden
I was a bit disappointed with the backyard when we moved in. It is really, really shady, and small, so there isn't much veggie gardening going on back there. On the plus side, the chickens love the shade, and so will the rabbits, and all that shade is generated by a massive avocado tree that rains avocados on us faster than we can eat them. My hair is getting shiny. We have the fattest, most glossy squirrels I've ever seen. And avocados are expensive, and usually imported from places that use freaky pesticides, so having organic ones falling from the sky is awesome. I also finally built a chicken coop that I'm really happy with, and that holds the right number of birds to keep us in eggs.

Things I want to improve: I need to bust up some concrete on the sunny side of the house, where our driveway is, so I can plant some real tomatoes instead of stunted little things in pots. I want to add hutches for rabbits to the backyard. I want to rip out the ugly, funky plantings in the front yard and replace them with functional and low maintenance things like rosemary and lavendar.

2. Master Bathroom

I'd really like to be able to take a shower in there. The whole bathroom is slated for a redo further down the road to make it sexy, but for now I'll settle for not having it rain downstairs if you turn the taps on. Unclogging the sink would probably be good too.

3. Exterior
This is a big job we started at last year, but still have tons of work left. Previous owners of the house had several coats of spray stucco applied, without prepping the surfaces properly. It is peeling off in big sheets and looks horrible, and all the pretty detailing on the house is lost under the blobby stucco. We are slowly trying to restore it to glory, so that we won't be the ugly house on the street forever.

4. Drive less
I'm doing pretty well on this one. One of the reasons we picked this place was the walkable neighborhood and subway access, and I've been using both a lot. Today on my walk back from a lunch date, I found a huge bag of day-old bread on the sidewalk in front of a shop, so the chickens got free forage too! They seem to be healthy and free of disease now, though after I've dealt with the rooster problem I'll be down to a dozen hens again.

I keep thinking about buying one of those folding shopping carts (all the little old ladies and hobos around here have them) to make grocery shopping on foot easier, but I haven't found one that feels sturdy and is tall enough that I'm not hunching down for the handle.

I'm sure there will be lots of other projects along the way, but those are things on my mind for the moment. Good luck on all your projects, and have a fruitful new year. Watch out for falling avocados, they really hurt.