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Category Archives: Sustainability

Albany High School Students at Blake

Posted on by Surprise Highway
Filed under: Education, Sustainability
This week was the start of Albany High School Environmental Design, Science, Engineering and Technology (EDSET) Student internship program. Eight students will work in the garden each Wednesday and learn about  sustainable practice techniques that we use here in the garden. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400" caption="EDSET students harvesting compost with Lauri Twitchell & Nathan Hodges"][/caption] This week we started with the soil and harvested compost from our productive pile that we feed with green waste (nitrogen), brown waste (carbon), water, and oxygen supplied by turning. After harvesting six wheelbarrows we spread it around shrubs, made soil for potting up plants, and next week will will learn how to make compost tea. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400" caption="Six wheelbarrows of compost, and a re-built pile in background"][/caption]

Lookout retaining wall and steps

Posted on by Surprise Highway
Filed under: Design, Build, Sustainability

Last week work was finished on the retaining wall and steps for the lookout. A small hand-hewed redwood step (custom contoured to fit between 2 rocks) was put in place by Nathan and Peter S. The redwood is from a tree that fell on the Blake property last year. Many thanks to all of the other volunteers, interns, and workstudy students who have helped with this project. In the coming months, we will be continuing to plant native grasses and succulents around the lookout area, and also build a hand-hewed bench from some of acacia that was removed from the area around the lookout last winter. 



Blackberry Perma-Culture Project (1 year later)

Posted on by Surprise Highway
Filed under: Education, Sustainability

One year later we have delicious blackberries. The new blackberry beds were designed and planted last year by visiting Austrian graduate student Elizabeth Esterer-Vogel, along with help from visiting student volunteers Hulya & Marta, from Turkey and Italy.  We have replaced the Himalayan blackberries (equally delicious but extremely invasive berry plants) with much more manageable (at least we hope that is the case) species of berries. View the post from March 2009: http://laep.ced.berkeley.edu/blakegarden/?p=271



Redwood Removal

Posted on by Surprise Highway
Filed under: Sustainability, Community

During the week of May 10th we noticed a 30 foot redwood stump sprout seemed to be angling more over the drive into the garden. We investigated and found a crack at the base of the trunk. Because of its potentially dangerous location we had to remove it. With the assistance of UC arborists, Bill and Carlos and Blake garden volunteers, Peter and Miguel, we removed the tree, chipped up the small branches for mulch, stripped the bark and reserved 4 larger piece of redwood for future use in the garden.



Hand Hewing at Blake Garden

Posted on by Surprise Highway
Filed under: Design, Build, Sustainability

We are working on using downed trees from the garden. A redwood from the creek side area came down a year ago and has been drying on the creek bank since. We have also been taking down invasive Acacia baileyana trees on the lookout area. We are all learning how to hand hew the logs with broad axes and a carpenter's adze from garden volunteer Peter Suchecki. After hewing we will use the logs for benches, retaining walls and creek restoration supports.



Lawn Project at Kroeber Hall

Posted on by Surprise Highway
Filed under: Water, Sustainability, Community

Theron Klos, Operations Manager from UC Berkeley campus asked Blake Garden for assistance in replacing a thirsty lawn on campus near Kroeber Hall. Since we had experience with that kind of project here at the garden (see Lawn Project posting) we were happy to help. First we met with Theron for a mini charrette, a design workshop, to brainstorm about a new design for that area.  Attending were Blake staff, Landscape Architecture grad & undergrad students and UC campus grounds staff. After coming up with a design scheme, the real work began. Removal of the turf at the edges was done by UC campus grounds staff first.  The existing inefficient irrigation was then disassembled. The Blake crew,  made up of staff, volunteers, and work study students from the College of Environmental Design, came next.   Along with UC grounds staff we rolled out layers of cardboard over the grass to deprive it of sun and eventually  die out.  Next on top came a 1"  layer of compost, then 3" layer of mulch.  The new drip irrigation is ready to be installed and  finally  we will plant drought tolerant, mostly native, habitat friendly plants. A new path has been made and will be surfaced with permeable pavement- decomposed granite. It will be stable enough to hold up to  heavy foot traffic but will allow water to drain through capturing the water into the planting beds instead of running off and into the already taxed drainage system.



Compost Tea

Posted on by Surprise Highway
Filed under: Education, Sustainability

The Albany High School interns have been learning how to make compost out of debris from  the garden. Not only do we use the compost as a soil amendment and component of potting soil, we have started making compost tea, a nutrient rich liquid fertilizer. It is made from compost & rainwater collected from the headhouse roof after the last storm. Our mixture is 5 gallons of rainwater to 5 cups of compost. A tablespoon of organic molasses was also added as a sugar to promote good bacteria growth. A aerator sits at the bottom of the bucket to add oxygen for the mixture. The tea is "brewed" for a couple of days keeping the bubbler running as to prevent anaerobic bacteria to grow. The anaerobic bacteria is the cause of the "stinky smell" in compost. As long as there is oxygen added by continually turning the compost pile, or by using an aerator when making compost tea, there should be no foul smells. 



Compost at Blake Garden

Posted on by Surprise Highway
Filed under: Education, Sustainability, Video
[media id=4 width=480 height=360] 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

Rainfall at Blake Garden

Posted on by Surprise Highway
Filed under: Water, Sustainability, Video

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



Blackberry Perma-Culture Project

Posted on by Surprise Highway

Elisabeth Esterer-Vogel, a second year  Landscape Architecture graduate student in the UC Berkeley Landscape Architecture Department is working on a special LA 299 project.  She is investigating methods of perma-culture & education in public gardens. She has recently been working on reclaiming an area of the cottage garden that had been overtaken by invasive Himalayan blackberries and replaced them with  three species of cultivated, edible blackberries. The cultivars are Navajo, Ollalie berry, and Boysenberry. She first had to eradicate the invasive blackberries, double dig the clay soil area and amend the soil with compost that we are making on the site.