Thursday, April 10, 2014

Garden Plans

I bought American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America on May 31, 2012. It contains garden plan drawings as well as photos from the gardens in different seasons. I was making sketches of my garden before I got the book, but I was inspired to keep doing it after I read Mrs. Obama's text.

Winter 2012

Spring 2012

Our back patio is brick with a thin strip of soil that has a star jasmine, a bougainvillea, and a lion's tail bush. Since the soil seemed nutrient-poor, and to prevent our dogs from digging, I put the containers on top of the strip of dirt. I also purchased a net for vines to climb, particularly squash and pumpkins. It gets hot in the late summer, so I wired a drip system across the top of it which really helped. I harvested the last of the squash in December just before the first (and only) frost.

backyard, May 2012

Fall 2012

Summer 2012

Winter 2013

Spring 2013

We live on a 1/16th acre lot. Our front yard is xeroscaped with a stoop and two permanent trees. You would think we are not able to grow very much, but the rock is a perfect surface to populate with containers. Some people think gardening is a lot of work. It is important to water the plants, but with a minimum of effort, you can have edible food right outside your door. We also get seeds from the Farmer's Market. The produce that we buy is already adapted to growing in our area. I save the seeds and replant them, keeping only plants that are fairly compact and fairly drought-tolerant.

front yard, March 2013

Summer 2013

Fall 2013

Winter 2014

Spring 2014

Some of the small containers (pictured below) were purchased at Cactus & Succulent Society of America’s annual plant sale at the Huntington Botanical Gardens on July 1, 2012. Others were cloned from a yard in Riverside, CA. And still others have been with me since college (1999 in Kearney, NE). I have been growing plants in plastic 2L soda bottles, paper soda and coffee cups (9-48 oz), and milk or detergent containers as a way of upcycling.

stoop, March 2014

When I met my husband, I thought the greatest idea in the world was to start a seed company. The stock reseeds itself and grows from one generation to the next. It's the free way to harness the sun's energy and make food and medicine right in your own yard. When I don't know what to eat (like last night) I went outside and cut leaves from the swiss chard, cooked them, and ate up.

Container gardening has gained attention as a way for city-dwellers to raise their own food. I know we couldn't live off the food we grow here, but it certainly makes meals easier when you just need a pinch of basil, chive, bell pepper, cherry tomato, or a few leaves of crisp lettuce to put on your sandwich. The seeds I have collected so far are catalogued here. I label the plants in my garden with popsicle sticks with the date planted so my neighbors can see what is growing and how long it takes to raise a plant to fruition. I also add QR codes that direct viewers to more information about each plant.

Super Sweet 100 and composter (at right)

We have a large composter in the backyard that we have been using to enrich the soil there. It was my dream to plant a "three sisters" mound but I worry that our dogs would dig it up. Maybe this summer the time is right to give it a try. I've got Silver Queen corn already sprouting as well as Kabocha and Delicata squash. There's Clemson okra sprouting, and Danvers carrots have germinated. So far the Romano beans have not emerged. The Easter Egg radish and Bonnie spinach are also seedlings now. I also have a LOT of Super Sweet 100 seedlings that are the offspring of the largest cherry tomato plant I have ever seen (above).

I hope this post encourages you to start growing something. Please contact if you are interested in free seeds or Super Sweet 100 cherry tomato starts.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Fun & Fitness

New Year's Race Half and 5k Los Angeles
Jan 4, 2014 Los Angeles, CA *Night Race begins @ 7pm

Coastal 5k/10k - Pepperdine University
Jan 25, 2014, Playa Del Rey, CA

Beach Party 5k/10k/15k/half marathon
Jan 26, 2014 Santa Monica, CA

The Awesome 5k/10k/15k/half marathon
Feb 1, 2014 Santa Monica, CA

El Monte 5k Foot Pursuit
Feb 8, 2014 El Monte, CA

Cupid's Back 5k Valentine's Day
February 9, 2014 Pacific Palisades, CA

Bishop Alemany 5k Run/Walk
Feb 15, 2014 Mission Hills, CA

Valentine's Day 5k/10k/15k/half marathon
Feb 15, 2014 Van Nuys, CA

Rose Bowl Half Marathon
Feb 23, 2014 Pasadena, CA

The Fantastic 5k/10k/15k/half marathon
Feb 22, 2014 Santa Monica, CA

UCLA IronBruin Triathlon 2014
Mar 2, 2014 Los Angeles, CA

Spring Pier 2 Pier Run/Walk (5k)
Mar 8, 2014 Hermosa Beach, CA

Parker Mesa Overlook 10k Trail Run
Mar 8, 2013 Topanga, CA

LASAA Mug Run #10
Mar 8, 2014 Pasadena, CA

Pasadena Triathlon (5k run/15k bike/150m swim) or Duathlon (5k run/15k bike/5k run) or 5k run
Mar 15, 2014 Pasadena, CA

Natasha Watley 5k/10k
Mar 15, 2014 Van Nuys, CA
$30 *Advantage members eligible for up to $10 discount

The Rocket Launch 5k/10k/15k/half marathon/marathon
Mar 22, 2014 Van Nuys, CA

Every Child Matters 5k
Mar 23, 2014 Studio City, CA

Bad Prom Los Angeles 5k
Mar 28, 2014 Los Angeles, CA
$42-47 *Eligible for Advantage Member discount

Hollywood Half Marathon & 5k/10k
Apr 5, 2014 Hollywood, CA
$40-105 *Member discount applies to this activity

Lookout Peak 8-mile Trail Run
Apr 5, 2014 Tarzana, CA

Corporate Challenge 5k
Apr 9, 2014 Pasadena, CA

Victory for Victims 5k/10k
Apr 13, 2014 Encino, CA

Run Mt. SAC Road Race (5k)
Apr 19, 2014 Walnut, CA

Girls on the Run SoleMates 5k/10k/marathon
Apr 30, 2014 Los Angeles, CA

Cinco de Mayo Fun Run
May 3, 2014 Bell Gardens, CA

Volkswagen City of Angels Fun Ride
May 4, 2014 Los Angeles, CA

Run the Verdugos 4th Annual Trail Run & Hike
May 4, 2014 Glendale, CA

Mother's Day 5k/10k/15k/half marathon/marathon
May 11, 2014 Van Nuys, CA

Jewel City Fun & Fitness Ride
May 18, 2014 Glendale, CA

Father's Day 5k/10k/15k/half marathon/marathon
Jun 15, 2014 Van Nuys, CA

Saturday, September 7, 2013

SoCal Events

Pasadena | September 28, 2013
7:30am, 8:00am, 9:00am -10k
9:30am, 10:00am, 10:30am, 11:00am, 11:30am, 12:00pm, 12:30pm, 1:00pm - 5k

Los Angeles | September 29, 2013
6:50 am - swim, bike, run (olympic or sprint distance)

Long Beach | October 13, 2013
6:00am - Bike Tour (20 mi)
6:00am - Marathon waves begin
7:30am - Half Marathon waves begin
8:30am - 5k

Riverside | November 10, 2013  COMPLETED!
7:00am - half-marathon
7:30am - 5k
8:30am - 10k

Los Angeles | November 16, 2013
8:00am - 5k/10k

Glendale | December 8, 2013
8:30am - 5k
11:00am - 1k Tot-Trot

San Dimas | December 14-15, 2013
9:00am - 5k Saturday
6:00am - half-marathon Sunday

Monday, July 15, 2013

vertical agriculture, seed saving, and upcycling

Unfortunately, the results of the Palmolive experiment were compromised by an infection of powdery mildew.  I removed plants that showed early symptoms, but in no time the infection spread to the entire population .  I thought perhaps it had come from the environment in my office, but simultaneously the infection started rearing its ugly head within my educational garden at home.  I'm concerned that this mildew will spread to other species at home, but it hasn't done so yet.

The home garden is actually thriving.  The front (educational) garden is host to Mesculn greens (arugula, endive, kale and lettuce), tomatoes, basil, sage, dill, oregano, radish (white icicle), carrots (Danvers #126), lettuce (Romaine), strawberry (ornamental), rosemary (Tuscan blue), and peppers.  The rear (edible) garden is surviving the summer heat much better than last year under the mist system.  Chard, chives, onions, pumpkin, and squash are light-harvesting.  I haven't tied the fruits with pantyhose yet, I saw a video on YouTube that said it was optional and only necessary if you want extra large fruits (~15 lbs).

I've been harvesting seeds from parsley, spinach, and radish (easter egg blend).  Not all the plants in the yard are first generation, but I'm looking forward to replanting the seeds I've harvested.  I started tomato seeds from fruits I purchased at the store when I cut the fruit open and found a few seeds already germinating.  I put the sprouting seeds on a paper towel and kept it moist morning and night until the seedlings were about 3" tall.  I put them in containers yesterday, hopefully they will survive (at least some of them) to maturity.

In terms of vertical agriculture and upcycling:  The carrots are growing in recycled and reused 2L soda bottles.  The oregano, radish, and sage were started in recycled paper coffee cups. I've made a new scaffold out of a baby-gate that we used to use to keep our dog out of the kitchen.  I have been saving plastic containers from milk and laundry detergent (plastic bottles with handles) since we've moved into our house (~2 years).  I rinsed them out and cut the bottoms out, tieing them to the baby-gate using polyester rope (originally I wanted zip ties but these rope segments might be better since they're 100% reversible).

My idea was to have the excess water from the uppermost row drip onto the plants in the second highest row and so on, so far I only have 2 rows and they don't seem to be draining properly at the moment because they're attached near the bottom of the container rather than the top.  I may yet drill holes in the containers and zip-tie them so that they're more secure and conserve water.  The irony is that my neighbor waters his concrete and I try to conserve water at any given moment, even planting drought-tolerant plants for the purpose of having to water less.  My neighbor scolds me when I don't drench the garden and has even offered to do the watering for me.  How's that for inspiring the neighborhood?

Dear husband is worried about eating out of containers that used to contain chemicals.  I'm not sure it's dangerous, but just in case I plan to use these containers only for seed-generation and promise not to serve any of the produce generated at dinner.  What's growing in your yard (or on your urban farm)?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Effect of Palmolive® Pure + Clear Dishwashing Liquid on Plant Growth

Welcome to my office, the Doctor is IN!
I taped containers of Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris) 'Bright Lights' to my office windows using packing tape.  They were started in small peat containers and transplanted as seedlings to these plastic buckets.  They are 20 weeks old today.

I prepared a High Dose of detergent using 50 mL of Palmolive® Pure + Clear Dishwashing Liquid dissolved into tap water in the amber bottle pictured here.  After agitation until no changes in refractive index were observed (when the solution appeared homogenous), 60 mL of the High Dose solution was transferred to a 3.78 L jug of tap water.  This was considered the Low Dose solution.  The control plants were watered with 100 mL of tap water from the same source as the Low and High Dose solutions.  Each plant was watered with the same volume of liquid at approximately 10 am this morning.

We hope to determine whether the detergent will be harmful or beneficial for the plants' growth.  We also hope to get a rough estimate of whether 'more is better' since many fertilizer treatments are beneficial at low dose while harming the living organism when applied in excess.  The experiment is projected to last 4 weeks.  I hope the blinds will serve as graph paper, in which case the plants are starting out at -13.5 blinds high.

The significance of this project is to determine whether it is safe for edible plants to be treated with grey-water from the 'farmhouse.'  Detergents are known for their insecticidal properties, and also as being a source of phosphate.  We hypothesize that the Low Dose will be beneficial for plant growth, while the High Dose will hinder plant growth and may even be lethal.  

The detergent treatment doses were prepared such that the Low Dose is a similar concentration as would be employed while washing dishes.  The experiment is controlled by using tap water, which does not include any nutrient solution.  Future studies may also include a chemically-fertilized group AND a group watered with grey-water from the dishes.  This work has relevance as more systems are being designed to reclaim water resources and incorporate vertical agriculture in urban spaces.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Coconut water

I'm just as guilty as the next person at grabbing onto fads, but coconut water has a hold on me now and I am curious to know more about it as an agricultural product and dietary supplement.

Figure 1: Relative composition of ionic constituents of coconut water, intracellular fluids, and sea water
Some time ago, I did a bit of research into salts.  I was wondering if it were better to take a bath in Epsom salts or sea salt.  I learned that not all salts cross the skin barrier equally, and neither sea salt nor Epsom salts (MgSO4) are a particularly good source of potassium (Figure 1).  Hence my interest in coconut water.  No need for ions to cross the skin's barrier if they are to be ingested.  Coconut water has also been used as an IV fluid for re-hydration (in remote regions) and a growth-promoting component in tissue culture medium.

What concerns me is the large fraction of calcium needed in a human body.  Without a source of calcium, how is our body to operate?  A ballet teacher recommended a water-soluble calcium magnesium supplement which I have tried.  I have tried every horrible calcium supplement in an effort to preempt osteoporosis before age 25, but this remedy seems to complement recovery via coconut water.  I dissolve one teaspoon of liquid calcium-magnesium (chalky white and vanilla flavored) in a glass of orange or cherry juice.  I tried it in other drinks and it was kind of yucky.  But in black currant juice, it's spectacular.

Figure 2: Comparison of sodium and potassium balance in sports drinks vs. coconut water

I worry about giving the body so much supplementation that bad things start to happen.  What if you start causing an imbalance?  Precipitation occurs.  I guess that's why ratios are so important.  I've been using a recipe for some long-distance events that utilizes sea salt, I call it Astronaut Juice.  But definitely coconut water adds a dose of needed potassium (Figure 2) if that is particularly lacking.  I would say though that the calcium-magnesium supplement also should be added to more holistically reflect the needs of the human body, which requires a large percentage of calcium.  I guess the question is: which of these ions are lost in sweat and which are involved in the formation of kidney stones?  Which are a danger in excess?  Are any of these involved in feelings of health and well-being?

I'm also concerned about the transportation costs and packaging associated with coconut water.  I can understand using it as a recovery (or survival) drink if it is abundant in your country (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines), but the continental USA as far as I know is devoid of coconut trees.  The great thing about the Astronaut Juice is that you can make it at home, in your reusable container, eliminating the energy needed for harvest, storage, preservation, packaging, and transportation.  You could substitute honey for the sugar, and you could consider adding MCTs (coconut oil) to simulate the drink yourself.  I haven't tried this, but it's definitely an idea for the future.

Figure 3: Comparison of sugar composition of coconut water vs. sports drinks
Not discussed in this article heretofore are micronurients such as manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), and B vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxamine (B6), biotin (B7), and folate (B9).  Coconut water provides these in amounts equivalent to 0.1-1.0 ppm.  This is why they're called micronutrients, as cofactors in enzymatic reactions they are necessary but only in low abundance.  This is in contrast with macronutrients such as sugars, which are present in quantitites between 60-25,000 ppm.  Also it is important to address the sugars (Figure 3) which you can see are comparable to sports drinks used in research (see Davis, et al.) at least.  This data is not taken from any commercially available brand(s), so I can't say which brand of coconut water or which brand of sports drink this data accurately reflects, it's more of an average of what is out on the market (or studied in the lab).  

Works Cited:
Yong, J. W. H.; Ge, L.; and Tan, S. N. Molecules 2009, 14, 5144-5164.
Davis, J. M.; Lamb, D. R.; Pate, R. R.; Slentz, C. A.; Burgess, W. A.; Bartoli, W. P. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1988, 48, 1023-1030.
Bogdanov, S.; Jurendic, T.; Sieber, R.; Gallmann, P. J. Am. Coll. Nutr. 2008, 27, 677-689.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


This past week, we found a new karaoke spot!  We got to sing the night away with a group of Filipinos at Noypitz in Glendale.  There were a variety of songs, including some in their native language, old crooner tunes, and modern stuff by Gaga and Justin Timberlake.  A crowd favorite was Whitney Houston.

It brought to my mind the idea that singing is a part of the human condition, singing in groups is an activity that human beings have been doing since the dawn of civilization.  There's something deeply connecting about call-and-response in song.  Some of the songs I love the most are working songs.

One other singer that night admitted to us after closing that she used to be terrified of singing in public and her husband encouraged her to overcome her fear.  She lit up that stage like a 20 year old, despite being 71.  She said "we've just extended our lifespan" by doing something so fun and freeing: singing!

There's a person at my school who made a face like he had just smelled poo when I admitted to loving karaoke.  It's not rocket science, I heard a recording of myself, and true to form I did not sound like a professional singer.  But that's the beauty of amateur performance, it's raw and uncoached.

What I love is the ability to express what I'm feeling using songs.  If real life were a musical, and we were all dancing under bright lights, I am glad to be a part of the ensemble.  In a directorial role, I would be sure that anyone who wanted to make a joyful noise gets a turn at the mic.  Sing it loud, sing it proud!

Thanks to Noypitz and the Big Fish for giving me a voice in our community.  I know not all of my notes sound exactly like Diana Ross or Al Green, but I love singing it with feeling and jazzing it up with a bit of dancing.  With the Pointer Sisters singing backup, I said "Jump (For My Love)" and I meant it.