Monday, November 21, 2016

Planting Stone with Art City

Ramon checking out the rocks

Stone is often an overlooked resource in Permaculture.  It's hard to compete with butterfly sanctuaries,  or bio-dynamic wine, but, if you slow down for a moment, you'll see the subtle beauty and value of rock.  Stone adds strength and longevity to a rich and powerful garden aesthetic.  We had the opportunity to put this resource in the limelight in our latest project.  We called on the help and experience of Art City's master stone-workers to create a drought tolerant landscape that put stones front and center.

We started with laying out a sand-set flagstone pathway.  The permeable surface adds a clean earthy look and is functional for foot traffic, golf carts, and wheel barrows.  Along the edges of the pathway we build passive irrigation, directing any rainwater run-off to planting areas.

Kevin installs the smooth stones

Ramon and Kevin are both rock monsters.  They've carved jellyfish out of translucent Calcite, and dragon guitars out of Onyx.  Working together they created a pattern in the flagstone pathway that is stunning.  With the help of Jason making the cuts and Weston leveling and setting stone, the pathway became a focal point of the area.

Paul and Laurie unload the peak stones

Paul, founder and operator of Art City, chose three feature stones for the main planting area in the front entrance.  They became the canvas for a stone garden that featured local boulder stones placed in contours tan Decomposed Granite and California Gold crushed rock.  Sparse natives, succulents and grasses framed the garden that reflected the mountains on the horizon.

It's like 8 tons of Tetris

We strive to compliment nature

We also created a dry river using small and medium sized river rock. and a zen garden around a small water feature.

Getting ready to plant around the water feature

Not only is stone a striking and lasting way to add beauty to a landscape.  It is also a life giver and protector.  Stones wick water from the air and direct it to the earth around and underneath where they rest.  Take the time to notice how life revolves around stone, and you'll be amazed at how simple and obvious it is.

Jason makes it all happen

Thanks to the folks at Art City for collaborating with us.  From Art City's own garden at their headquarters on Dubbers Street, to the backyards and landscapes of California, They're helping make stone the rockstar of permaculture design.

We're ready for the next one!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Vermiculture In The Workplace

Before the term vermiculture was coined, before we had written language, and before we started drinking coffee, worms were hard at work breaking down organic materials and returning nutrients to the soil. We love building soil, and we love good coffee.  So when we met Chris Shepherd of Cafe Altura at a worm composting workshop, we were happy to continue the connection by bringing a worm bin to his workplace.  Chris and his team are enthusiastic about keeping a worm farm going on-site, and we are stoked to help them out. 

Ventura Cooperative's soil restoration efforts rely on vermiculture to build soil diversity and nutrient rich materials to feed plants in the gardens we take care of. Sometimes it can be frustrating to keep a worm colony alive and well, so we provide consultation visits with each worm farm we deliver, to make sure everyone benefits in the transition, including the worms. 

Setting up a worm bin is easy, it's the maintenance that takes a bit more finesse.  What you need is a box, moist newspaper strips, some compost and worms to start.  We provide all these items and a worm colony already established in the farm.  We knew Chris would have ample coffee grinds, which is a great addition to the scraps and other items worms like.  We set up the worm farm right next to the Cafe Altura staff kitchen area, to make it easy and accessible for everyone to use.

After about a month, we came back to Cafe Altura to check on the farm and answer any questions. We took the farm outside and harvested the castings together.  It was in perfect condition.

By having a hands on visit, we were able to share valuable information with Chris' team.  We considered what worms need to live. Moisture, air, food, darkness, and warm (but not hot) temperatures. Bedding, made of newspaper strips or leaves, will hold moisture and contain air spaces essential to a thriving worm habitat.  Everyone was able to see this knowledge at work in the vermiculture environment which helped a lot.  And they were able to take super rich castings back home to their gardens.

We're excited!  Chris and his team at Cafe Altura are located by the Surf Brewery and a few other businesses that are interested in starting their own vermiculture habitats.  They are early adopters and eager to create a more sustainable culture in this area.  Let's help them out! We traded some of our service costs for their organic coffee.  Come on over and have a cup, it's really good!

Special thanks to Madison Choate and the Resource Conservation Partners for connecting us all!

Relevant Links:
Cafe Altura
Resource Conservation Partners

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Helping Hands Permaculture Field Trip

On July 12th Ventura Cooperative hosted a permaculture workshop at Art City Gardens for eighty children attending Camp Helping Hands.  The event started a week-long gardening program for these young people to experience hands on learning and development around the principles of earth care, people care, and fair share.  We were delighted to begin the journey with them and honored to be asked to facilitate the visit.

We called on a few of the best permaculture specialists in Ventura to create learning zones in this dynamic space.  Lynne Okun creates heartspace gardens that provide an environment for healing and regenerating human connection.  She led the groups in collaborative juggling, a game where everyone participates and reliess on each other to pay attention.  Eric Werbalowski, founder of Ventura Organic Landscapes, shared his deep knowledge of ecology by hulling, sprouting and planting heirloom lima beans that each participant took home with them.  Rob Barnett, board member of VCCOOL, connected the garden to the community.  Imagine a walkable, bike friendly, with edible gardens downtown.  A place where tree swings and cooperatives thrive.  Kyra Rude and Ron Whitehurst of Rincon Vitova, better known locally as "The Bug Farm" showed the captive audience how insects create balance in the garden.  They used a bug vaccuum and went on safari looking under rocks for signs of life.

We've all been working to build and maintain the Art City Gardens so that the space could provide a canvas for knowledge and skill-sharing in the community.  Having Camp Helping Hands join us for an afternoon here was a high point for us.  It makes what we do worth it on so many levels.  Not only are we opening up space for sustainable ecology, we are passing the knowledge on to the next generation.  Thanks to everyone who made this possible, especially Audra and Amanda for all the behind the scenes organizing. Keep growing!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Chowchilla No-Till Vegetable Garden February 2016

Chowchilla Backyard Garden Project

Feb 2016 

In the heart of the Central Valley, with the Sierra Nevada's off in the distance and Fresno just to the south, the town of Chowchilla rests quietly in orchards and fields.  The discerning eye can find poetry in the long rows of almond trees, the dirt alleyways, the slough, and for the rent signs in the shop windows along the main street.  Like an old and dusty hardbound, there is a story here as rich as the soil.  You have to look...hiding in the fog are Giant Sloths and Saber Tooth Cats.  Cowboys and Indians.  Dustbowl migrations.  Schoolchildren held for ransom and high speed rail systems. They all have chapters here in a land that once supported large ecosystems of native species.  Now its' mostly destroyed and caged by human design.  It smells like cow.

Why Chowchilla?  Because we have family here.  Sisters, Grandmas, cousins, nieces, nephews in a tree that is too broad to mention.  And yet another soul has joined us.  A baby boy, a new brother and son, was born this week.  A new chapter begins.

While here I took time to turn prepare a plot in the backyard for the family garden. Measured 23 feet by 11 feet, the space was overgrown with grasses, mallow and other greens that flourished with the recent rains. After knocking "the weeds" down I seeded the area with Rincon Vitova Habitat Seed Mix.  Then I carted sand up from the slough bed for a snake-like pathway that winds it's way through the garden plot.  To do that I used an old trash bin that some hooligans has pushed into the riverbed. 

After the pathway was installed, I had a six-pack of purple kale left over from last winters gardening, and planted those along the walk.  The nights leave light frost on the lawn in the morning, but I think the kale will fair well in the cold.  I put cut grass around them as insulation.

This is the first effort in what I hope will be a yielding veggie garden for the family table.  I will not be here day to day to work it, so the challenge will be to make it grow.  Using permaculture principles will help.  Ventura Coop is gardening in Chowchilla now.  We'll keep you posted.



Sunday, January 10, 2016

Porter Ranch Gas Leak Fact Counter

Could this happen in Ventura?  

"California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Wednesday for a methane leak that has emerged from a mountain for months, making nearby residents sick.
The natural gas leak started with an eruption at a storage well underneath a mountain in Southern California's Aliso Canyon on Oct. 23, 2015, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Since then, about 80,000 metric tons of methane have leaked into the air, which, in addition to polluting the air with a greenhouse gas, has caused health problems for people in Porter Ranch.
"Methane – the main component of natural gas – is a powerful short-term climate forcer, with over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released," said the EDF. "Methane is estimated to be leaking out of the Aliso Canyon site at a rate of about 62 million standard cubic feet, per day. The daily leakage has the same 20-year climate impact as driving 7 million cars a day."

The counter no longer is available.  To find out more go here:

Monday, January 4, 2016

Weather Stormwatch Ventura 2016

Here in Ventura we're getting ready for the first El Nino storm this season! Hope you are too. The forecast is calling for heavy rains and wind, high surf on the beach, and snow in the mountains.  If you need any help preparing, or with sandbags, flooding, fallen tree limbs, etc. let us know. Call Ventura Cooperative at 805-765-1892.  

For day by day details on the expected weather local to Ventura follow this link: