This past Friday work-study students, volunteers, and staff worked on clearing the middle portion of the tributary of Cerrito Creek that runs through the southern part of the garden. In order to get ready for the rain and to inspect the structures built in the 1970s, debris, blackberries, Algerian ivy and poison oak had to be removed first.
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Last year's beloved work-study student from Landscape Architecture Dept., Deedee Min told us she was inspired by our concern about water use and efforts to limit it's use. We included her video made in Prof. Chip Sullivan's drawing class LAEP Studio 103.
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Water is very important in our lives but it is often overlooked. For example, double checking if the faucet is completely tightened and turning off the water while you brush your teeth or soaping the dishes will lessen the unnecessary water consumption. Just by being more aware of the water and its journey--as portrayed in the video, which shows awareness of how rain water can be reused for irrigation--the amount of water we save as a community will increase dramatically.
On April 24th, artists Peter Suchecki and Rusty Lamer continued their series of ephemeral garden projects. They began the day by gathering golden & timber bamboo and wetland mud from the Australian Hollow. They fashioned a basket catapult launcher made of the bamboo and ties made with pliable bark from newly cut acacia trees.The catapult became the drawing tool that delivered mud and bamboo marks onto the empty canvas of the aging parking structure. The performative drawing puzzled and delighted garden visitors. Laughs and chuckles fueled the artists to work the long 7 hour day.
Video shot by Lauri Twitchell:
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This semester three Albany High School Students have been interning in the garden. They are diligently working on our three pile compost system. It is a fairly new system started by volunteers about a year ago. At first we thought that we might not have enough nitrogen (greens) to create the chemical process that breaks down the plant material. But we have recovered many wheelbarrows of amendment that we have been adding to new plantings and old soil to boost the nutrient content and to build our soil structure. Below Alex, Remy and Miguel describe the composting process and what is happening in the timelapse video.
-- Lauri Twitchell, Blake Garden manager
First we acquire green plant material which will become the nitrogen in our compost pile. For this we went and cut some end of the season asters and coreopsis . With our wheelbarrow full we headed over to our compost pile. The compost pile is comprised of a few major parts; oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and H2O. The green plant material (and kitchen waste) provides nitrogen, the brown plant material provides carbon, oxygen is provided as you turn the pile, and water is added as the pile is constructed. Make sure that this pile is not compacted as that will hinder oxygen from reaching the inner reaches of the pile. Once you have all of this in place, it will begin to heat up in the center until it reaches a temperature of about 125-160 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes it to decompose much faster because it is breaking down the chemical bonds. The pile works best at a 6' x6' x6'. To accomplish this we take the existing pile, remove the outer layer, spreading it out in donut shape. Then we take the rich inner material, which should have a composition of moist soil. Taking this we put it aside into another pile which we will deal with later. Then, taking our new nitrogen providing plants & old vegetable and fruit peels, we place it into the center of the pile. While wetting it , you layer the carbon and nitrogen materials, building it up to a 6'x6'x6' again. The optimum ratio should be 30:1 carbon to nitrogen. Then just make sure that it stays un-compacted, and that it stays moderately damp, similar to a wet sponge. Then repeat this process every week, and you will have wonderful rich soil to plant with.
-- Alexander Barrington Stepans
After the compost has been decomposing for a while, we move it to a second pile. In the second pile, we take the compost and put it on a sifter, which is positioned on a wheelbarrow, in order to separate the decomposed materials from the plant materials that are not fully broken down. The broken down compost then gets moved to a third pile, while all the other twigs and breaking down plants are returned to the first pile. During the sifting, we encounter many fascinating things, like millipedes, mice, centipedes, earth worms, ants, roly polies and sow bugs, which work as decomposers. Decomposers break down dead material, so they are very necessary in the compost.
-- Remy Alexander
Nutrient rich soil is the final product of this composting process. Once sifted from the second compost pile the soil is placed in its own pile; the third pile. From there it will be put into wheelbarrows and carted to areas of need in the garden. The soil is used as fertilizer and a light mulch layer for new and old plants. The soil can also be used to bring nutrients back into old soil that has had its nutrients absorbed by the plant life or compacted by the weight of the gardens visitors.
-- Miguel I. Mejia
In the Fall of 2008 an old 200 gallon cistern was hooked up to the roof drain on the garden headhouse. Timber bamboo was harvested and split from a grove on the 10.5 acre property. An aqueduct/drip irrigation system was constructed to carry rainwater from the cistern into the garden’s greenhouse. This system captured and saved a significant amount of water during the 2008-2009 rainy season.
In 1962 Blake Garden, located in Kensington California, was bequested to the UC Berkeley Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning Department. Since then this landscape laboratory is used by faculty, students, staff, and volunteers for design/build projects that address issues of public landscape design, plant use and water conservation.
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Blake Garden has been keeping rainfall records since 1965. In the short video posted below garden manager Lauri Twitchell measures and records rainfall using the simple rain gauge installed at the garden. [media id=2 width=320 height=240] California is currently in a state of drought. Although the rainfall recorded at Blake Garden recent years hovers near the Bay Area Yearly average of 26 inches, it is important to note that other regions in California (such as the Sierras) are falling far short of the necessary averages. Another point to keep in mind is that from 1965-2009 the Bay Area population has doubled from 3.6 million to 7.3 million. This population growth has been accompanied by tremendous residential and industrial development that has added further demands on water usage and consumption. At Blake Garden efforts are being made to conserve water and reduce consumption. These efforts include: rainwater collection, greywater reuse, mulching and composting, cistern collection from on-site seeps and creeks, native drought-tolerant plantings, lawn reduction and irrigation redesign. BLAKE RAINFALL CHARTS & PDS INDEX LINKS: Blake Garden Rainfall Chart 1965-2009 pdf file Bay Area Population Census Long Term Palmer Drought Severity Index for July 2009
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