Students from the embARC summer program, a program for high school students who are interested in college for architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning were here last week with their families for graduation and an exhibition of bird nest boxes they have designed and built on campus during the program. Some will be installed at Blake to support our birdlife.
We have been collecting rainwater from the roof into a small cistern. After 1/3 of an inch of rain, the water over flows down a bamboo aquaduct into the greenhouse to water the few remaining plants. Not watering tropical plants in the green house has been one of the strategies for saving water during the drought. The water collected is also used in the nursery out behind the greenhouse. We have done many things to conserve water: installing low flow toilets and metered faucets in our bathrooms; capturing grey water from the kitchen sink and using it to water beds in front of the greenhouse; installing new low flow irrigation systems through out the garden; building the soil and its water holding capicity by mulching and composting most garden beds; reducing the size of our large event lawn; capturing water flowing from a underground spring and using it in areas where we have no irrigation; reducing overgrowth and weeding out the undergrowth; and replacing thirsty plants with drought tolerant plants and native California plants. Many of our pools are low and grassy areas are brown as we wait for fall rain. According to East Bay Municipal Utlities District current report we are now using 45% of the water allocated to us.
Many thanks to local photographer Geoffrey Agrons who visited the garden recently and photographed the aqueduct in action. Three of these photographs or "melancholigraphs" from his "California Drought Series" are featured in this post. Over the years Geoffery has also photographed the LEAP student's intervention projects at Blake. You can enjoy the photographs here.
Recently we have been pruning trees and taking down the dead trees. A leaning Black acacia was taken down near the creek. We are processing the downed log to make lumber for tables and will be giving some to local artisans to make bowls. A volunteer and a workstudy student decided to try using an old method, and used a bucksaw to cut the log in half.
Kids for the Bay, a summer camp for area kids came to the garden for a tour and then worked in the Create with Nature Zone with artist Zach Pine. Later a San Rafael wildlife group came and gave a talk and demonstration with live birds & snakes and along with other educational materials.
Each summer the [In]land summer program from U.C. Berkeley's College of Environmental Design comes to the garden for their first assignement entitled "Revealing the Landscape". Students tour the garden looking for a site that impresses them in some way and respond with a temporary installation/intervention. These are the entries for this year.
The next part of the project will involve installing a pool at the top of the catchment area to slow incoming water and direct it south along the swale along the road and west downhill into the flower bed. Both areas are lined with drainrock and then larger tumbled round rock will be laid in on top. For the catchment pool we had to pull out one of the cotoneaster shrubs, remove the stump and then back fill with soil and drainrock.
As we were working on the rain garden/french drain project we got more material donated to us from a project at the College of Environmental Design project: Trex, a recycled plastic edging board and some drainage rock to replace the rotted existing edging. As we took the opportunity to reuse the recycled materials, we made the swale wider and deeper to hold more runoff rainwater and we are also regrading the road with the road base cut from the edge of the road.
Structures that were built out of donated timber bamboo from the garden and recycled fabric hold Coast live oak trees that will be planted by College of Environmental Design students taught by Professors Walter Hood and Ron Rael in locations around Oakland.
On St. Patrick's Day one of our bee hives swarmed and exited the hives around mid-day. At first they gathered in an acacia tree overhanging the hives. After staying there for a while, they moved again flying over the greenhouse and out of Blake Garden. Later in the day they were seen again by a neighbor below the garden. We called our beekeeper Chris Bauer, and he came early on the 18th to inspect the hive that the bees left. He took some closeup shots and made some interesting observations and discoveries. Chris explains:
Bees start swarming at this time of year as a way to expand their numbers. Roughly half the bees from an established colony, including the current queen, will vacate the hive in a swarm and take up temporary residence nearby. That's what you see in the video above as the bees settle in an acacia tree. When scout bees from the swarm locate a suitable hive location, the swarm takes off again to set up permanent residence somewhere much more protected. The other half of the original colony stays where they are with a new queen and continues on exactly as they had been before. When the process is complete the original one colony has become two.
One of the reasons the hive in the video swarmed is that they had expanded extremely rapidly and filled out all the space in their hive. Every inch of the boxes were stuffed with bees, wax, and honey. I added an empty box to the ones they already had to give them more room to build comb in and fill out.
The other close up pictures show how bees use the cells of comb for different purposes. The white cells to the left are capped over and contain honey. Adjacent to the honey are cells that hold pollen. Pollen is used as a protein source and combined with honey to feed young bees which is why next to the pollen cells are cells containing young bees. The young bees in these pictures are in a larval stage and look like little curled up grubs. When the young bee larvae reach a certain point of maturity they are sealed into cells to complete their growth into adult bees. The darker sealed cells on the right of these pictures hold rows and rows of bees that will emerge by chewing off the wax caps of their own cells and start contributing right away to the life of the hive.
The ‘Create with Nature Zone” was created several years ago in collaboration with area artist Zach Pine. People, big or little, can come into the zone and build sculpture out of materials we provide from the garden. Wednesday we found this little boy and his family building this large structure. He explained that he was putting keys in around the base to make the structure more sound. Good idea. It is very sturdy.