Saturday, December 31, 2011

Scavenger's Garden

My front yard is a pretty steep hill and it mostly taken up with jade plant. I share the stairs with my neighbor and have always viewed the space to the right of the stairs as hers but I guess it's still within my property line so I decided to claim responsibility for it.

Like the area to the left of the stairs it is already filled with mature plants. There are two big clumps of Agave attenuata, a large stand of yucca and the ubiquitous jade. There is also one narrow sliver of workable dirt right above the retaining wall. It's usually covered in grass and gopher mounds and the dirt was starting to overflow the wall.

I decided I could kill three birds with one garden. I could get rid of all the ugly grass, stabilize the loose dirt on the steep incline, and most importantly, plant things that I would be happy to see as I climb the stairs. 

I started by digging out the top 6-10" of dirt to get rid of the weeds and bring the level down a little.  This step actually took three weeks because I got rid of the dirt by filling up my trash and yard waste containers. I was afraid they would be too heavy for the truck to lift but they were always empty when I got home on trash day.

I managed to clear the space from the A. attenuatas to the stairs which still feels like my yard. I talked to my neighbor about extending it to the right into her yard and she's all for it. She'll support anything that reduces the amount of yard work she has to pay someone to do.

The next step was to select the plants. I've been collecting and hoarding plants for so long that I had a variety of things to choose from. I didn't want to buy anything, so I limited myself to plants that I had rescued, borrowed, scavenged or traded.

I had three nice cuttings of Aloe arborescens and a few pieces of a compact senecio. 

A few pieces of Aloe nobilis

Some of my Agave potatorum pups from the plant that just bloomed.

This is a little rescue that I haven't identified yet. I'll check my Irish book to see if I can find it.

One of the Agave desmettiana that John gave me.

Oscularia deltoides from the garden of a friend's mom who moved to an assisted living center.

Everything is small now but several of the plants have the potential to get big. The arborescens can form a giant clump that will have beautiful orange flowers when it blooms. The Aloe nobilis can also form big clumps even if they aren't as high as the arborescens.

Nevertheless, I felt like the garden looked a little sparse. I went back though my collection and pulled out a few more plants that I thought could work. I still have a lot of A desmettiana. These grow fast and send out lots of offsets so I felt I could rely on this to fill in some space.

I'm also aware that I'm really heavy on the spiky rosettes. I guess that's what happens when your fixated on agaves. I decided to include this little euphorbia (I think) that my friend Bob gave me when I moved into my house. He got it when Metro was reclaiming the railroad tracks to build the Expo light rail line. A lot of the fallow tracks had plants like this growing on them. Bob's studio was a block away from tracks and he collected a lot of plants that would have been doomed otherwise. This one has been in a tiny pot for a few years so I expect it to take off once it gets established in the ground. It will make me happy to think of Bob when I see it.

Here in the second half of the garden you can see some of the additional plants. You can barely see the senecio cuttings and my little potatorums. I'm hoping that the senecio will eventually trail down the hill and over the wall and offer a blue counterpoint to all of the green going on. I tried to keep the spiky, pointy things higher on the hill so they won't be a hazard to people walking by.

I'm still thinking about some softer things that can go at the bottom. I'd love some rosemary to flow over the wall along with the Oscularia. I also need more low ground covers to discourage weeds and to offer more texture. I'm a little out of my element with that kind of stuff though so I may take a while to identify the right plants.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Shaw's Agave

The agaves that Sean gave me have been sitting in the back of the truck for months now. Alex and I tried to move them but they were just too heavy for the two of us.

I even tried cutting off a bunch of the lower leaves to make them light enough to move but it wasn't enough. I finally had to enlist the help of my burly friend Bill and the three of us managed to get them out of the truck and up the stairs. 

They'll probably end up sitting in the front yard for months but at least I can use my truck again. 

I am eager to get them in the ground though. They are already sending out new roots so they seem eager as well. They need to go a fair distance up the hill so I might have to schedule a little agave moving party and invite a bunch of people. Who wouldn't want an invitation to a party like that? Maybe I could pay them in agave pups. I have a bunch all potted up a ready to go.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wish List

I thought I would start a list of plants (and other things) I would like, just as a record of various research.

Agave franzosinii

I love how big and ghostly it is. I would need to clear a place for it to grow since I don't currently have a 20' wide area that is open. It's so beautiful that I would want to be able to see it though. I was thinking that I could plant a young one above the house amidst the jade grove and just remove more jade as the franz got bigger.

There are some big agaves that have twisted leaves like a franz near my friend Bill. Maybe I could ask the homeowner if I can trade them something for an offset.

Agave mapisaga var. lisa

As much as I love the franzosinnii, it's really only a consolation prize for this plant which is described as the largest agave. There is a famous one at the Huntington, which in my memory is 40' across, but in reality is probably only half that. Which is still huge.

I don't have space for such a giant and there aren't any available anywhere. The Huntington's newsletter says that there may be some at the LA Zoo but it's all just rumors. I should start working my contacts at the zoo. Who knows, in 20 years an offset may come available...

Agave desmetiana "Joe Hoaks"

This is the photo I took at the Inter-City Show last Summer. The tag at the show called it "Joe Hoal" but San Marcos Growers identifies it as "Joe Hoaks" so that's what I'm going with.

Its minty green and soft variegation seems very sophisticated to me, and since it's a desmetiana it probably offsets a lot which means there should be a lot of them out there. I think I just have to be patient until one crosses my path.

Agave bracteosa 'Mediopicta Alba'

I love all mediopicta albas, but this bracteosa really makes the most of the clean contrast between the colors and the narrow curly leaves. Maybe it could be paired with a variegated marginita to really make your eyes cross.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

High Winds

It got a little windy here last night. A few things blew over but there wasn't too much damage. My pineapple pot broke.

I know it looks like a window blew out of the house but this was window I found on the street that's been leaning against the house for a while. I was thinking I could take it apart and put one in each gable end of the attic. One of the panes broke but that's easy to fix.

This is only slightly messier than the yard usually looks. All that wood is usually gathered into one heaping pile and there aren't normally 20' long palm fronds everywhere.

I also usually keep the trash cans in an upright position, and behind the house rather than in front.

I as a little concerned what happened up the hill. The sopote tree had lost about half it's leaves and a lot of fruit.

I was afraid the tall beehive might have been blown over but it was OK. Those boxes sitting to the right are some spare that have been there for a while. That green corrugated roof panel is one that I hadn't attached yet. It blew about 30 feet.

A couple trunks of the ratty weed-trees also blew over. No great loss. I'll have to cut these up and do something with them.

The power also went out for a while in the middle of the night so the chicks lost their heat source. They've gotten big enough though that they generate enough heat to stay warm if they huddle together. I did put them in a smaller box to retain more of the heat. They were fine in the morning and the power was back on so I put them back in the brooder.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Turkey Dinner

So yesterday we at the first turkey. It was the large Royal Palm tom that was fighting last week. We chose him because he was the biggest.

Here's two videos showing what we did. The first one is everything pre-cooking and shows a dead turkey but no killing. The second video shows how we cooked it.

The turkey tasted good and fed 15 of us. The differences between it and a commercial turkey were that the breast was much smaller and the dark meat was much darker. I'm not sure if I would raise turkeys again to eat but it's been an interesting process.

Turkey Fight

Alex and I were cleaning out the chicken coop to make it ready to move the 3 pullets up from the chicken tractor. We were digging out 3 years worth of litter from the inside when we heard a commotion from the turkey coop.

The toms were fighting.

I had never seen them fight before and was a little taken aback at their hostility towards each other. It was like a switch had been flipped and they were no longer friends. I figure that the hens are finally old enough to be worth fighting for.

Although the blue slate tom has been the most assertive, the royal palm tom has at least 5 pounds on him and was easily able to overpower the blue slate.

They didn't show any sign of stopping so we finally moved the royal palm in the the newly finished chicken run just to get them away from each other.


The eggs that I was incubating never hatched. I'm not sure what happened to them. As I wrote last time, several of them seemed to be developing but it's hard to know what you're going to end up with.

I resorted to a much more dependable, and expensive solution. I got a box of chicks from a hatchery. These travel through the USPS and it looks like they made a stop at LAX, poor things.

They all survived the trip though. There are 20 Black Australorps and 5 Polish that I got for Alex.

As I moved each one from the box into the brooder I dipped their beaks in the water to let them know what it was. Some things you have to teach them, but they learn fast.

Once one gets the hang of it the rest copy it.

I started out with one box, but after a week they were starting to crowed it a little.

I added another box that doubled their space and gave them room to run around.

This is what they looked like a week ago.

And this is them now.

They grow so fast they'll need a bigger space soon. I'm going to move the pullets up to the coop and then the chicks can go in the tractor. I just need to move one of the heat lamps out there to keep them warm. I figure I'll give them another week inside and then they'll be a month old and will have a lot of their feathers. They will only need the heat source now and then to warm up in between running around and scratching in the dirt.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Agave Potatorum Bloom

My little agave's bloom spike finally has flowers on it. I was waiting to see what color they were to make a determination what species it is. The blooms look light green to me as opposed to bright yellow, so I think it's potatorum.


The eggs that I put in the incubator a while back went into lock down this morning. That means that I took them out of the egg turner and I won't open the incubator again until the chicks hatch.

The turner has a little electric motor and a gear that turns the eggs back and forth so the chicks don't get stuck in the same place. With out the turner I would have to turn them by hand twice a day. A mother hen would also shift the eggs periodically throughout the day.

Out of the 20 eggs that I put in the incubator there are only 9 still in there. These two won't be going back in. I think they were cracked during shipping. The cracks allow bacteria to enter and turn the eggs rotten.

Rotten egg comes bubbling out of the crack. This egg was stuck to the turner. It smells about as bad as you would expect.

This egg had just a pin hole with egg coming out but it was enough to turn the egg.

The other thing you do at lock down is add water to increase the humidity inside the incubator. This will keep the chicks from drying out as they hatch. If it's too dry their fluff could stick to the eggs and they won't be able to hatch. I also add a wet sponge which helps add humidity. You can see the condensation forming on the window. It disappeared after a few minutes.

I added a little computer fan to the inside. The fan helps to even out the temperature inside the incubator so every part is the same. When it gets closer to the time for the hatch I'll turn the fan off. It could also dry a chick out.

I'm not sure how many chicks to expect. There is definitely something developing in 7 or 8 of them but you never know what you're going to end up with. As long as I get a decent cockerel out of this batch I'll be able to breed more next summer with the three pullets that I got from Dare 2 Dream Farm.