Another Gardener Joins the Fray, Plus a Short Tour of Desert Fortress Gardens

May 18, 2013: Something has been eating my new garden for a while now. It couldn’t be rabbits. I’ve already done rabbit-proofing. That leaves lizards, squirrels, birds, and insects. Neither Reanna or I had ever seen any of those in there, which makes me think nocturnal, but rabbits are the nocturnals on the list, and it’s not rabbits.


Tomato, top leaves & part of a fruit eaten

Pepper plant, topped off

Pepper plant, topped off

Nub of cantaloup stem

Nub of cantaloup stem

This barren ground used to have cilantro growing in it.

This barren ground used to have cilantro growing in it.

I spent some time today, sitting quietly, watching for the perpetrator. Nothing came by except a hummingbird. I had a nice time. As I sat I remembered the story of the homesteading Keys family, up in what would become the Joshua Tree National Park, staking out their garden with shotguns every day. They grew all of their own food except for sugar and flour. I can drive a few minutes and buy groceries, but they had to go to Beaumont for supplies, two days away. Still, the basic principle is the same. People have been doing this as long as people have been growing food.

My stakeout spot, in the old pigeon pen

My stakeout spot, in the old pigeon pen

My view of the garden for the day

My view of the garden for the day

Maya came by later and said it was probably birds. She’s been gardening around here for years, with great success, so she’s probably right. Reanna had already bought some bird netting–technology that could have saved the Keys a lot of time and bullets.

May 19, 2013: We put up the bird netting:

I pounded a pole into the ground and mounted an old hub on the top.

I pounded a pole into the ground and mounted an old hub on the top.

Attaching rope and bird netting to the hub and the fence

Attached rope and bird netting to the hub and the fence

Reanna in completed garden fortress

Reanna in completed garden fortress (the plywood and corrugated metal are wind-breaks against our crazy south-west winds.

I didn’t particularly want a fortress garden. So many desert gardeners end up with them. I like it, though–I guess it’s my fortress, and that makes the difference.

Aaron & Ronda's fortress garden

Aaron & Ronda’s fortress garden: lumber, rebar, mesh, bird netting, and shade cloth

Karen’s fortress garden: lumber, wire mesh, corrugated fiberglass

Tee & Eric's garden fortress

Tee & Eric’s garden fortress: lumber with 1/4″ wire mesh on 5 sides, apricot tree inside.

May 24, 2013: Reanna caught a rabbit in the garden today. Way back in the rabbit-proofing stage, I’d missed a spot under the ephedra that grows through the fence under the hose bib. Hopefully that does it, because the garden is still getting eaten!

New rabbit proofing, by Reanna

New chicken-wire rabbit proofing, by Reanna

May 27, 2013: The garden continues to be eaten. Today we caught a lizard in there. We didn’t see it eating anything, so no smoking gun. I’ve only ever seen lizards eating bugs around here. If it’s gotten a taste for pepper plant leaves, we’re in trouble. It crawls through chicken wire no problem. Covering the whole garden in wire mesh would be a big job.

May 28, 2013: Reanna caught another rabbit in the garden and found another crack in the fortress, behind the compost bin, which she shored up. Does that let the lizard off the hook?

June 1, 2013: Found another lizard in the garden and stayed still enough that it kept going about its business for a couple minutes. It drank water out of our drip system but I didn’t see it eat anything. Something is still at it, though. The peppers are disappearing, and it’s started eating marigolds, too. This could take a while.

Marigold, stem eaten. The leaf lying partly on the blossom is a partly munched pepper leaf. Oh, the carnage!

Marigold, stem eaten. The leaf lying partly on the blossom is a partly munched pepper leaf. Oh, the carnage!

[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, June 2, 2013.]


Prickly Pears from Elise & Wolf

Reanna and I picked up a truckload of prickly pear pads of several kinds from our friends, Elise and Wolf. They are not a kind of prickly pear that is native to this part of the desert, but they grow well here. They said to plant them with the bottom pad about half underground and to water them for the first month. After that, they shouldn’t need water. And we can look forward to them growing quickly and producing yellow and salmon flowers, plus edible fruits. The rounder ones grow up a couple feet but stay close to the ground. The longer ones (like just to the right of Reanna) grow taller, six feet or so.

Reanna Planting Prickly Pear
(This post was originally published as “Planting Prickly Pear From Elise & Wolf” on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape.)

Some Thoughts on Sealing the Outside of my Trailer

(Reblogged from Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, from February 2, 2012.)

Reanna and I have just about finished re-sealing our 1962 Kenskill travel trailer. Everything that was screwed into the corrugated aluminum that covers the outside of the trailer had to be resealed: access hatches, tail lights, door, windows. It turns out that this is hard work and takes a long time. We did not anticipate this, mostly because the instructions for the process are very simple: 1) unscrew the window or vent or whatever, 2) remove the old putty tape, 3) apply new putty tape, and 4) screw the part back in. No problem!

Reanna vs. Butyl Putty

These instructions leave several questions unanswered, foremost of which is how much of the old putty tape needs to come off for the new putty tape to seal well? Old butyl putty is sometimes impossible to completely remove with a putty knife, short of scraping all of the paint off the aluminum. No one mentions solvents in removing this stuff, but that is the only way I can imagine getting it all. Even the non-butyl putty, which gets crumbly and easy to scrape off in its old age, hides in the tiny crevices created by staples and folds in the aluminum and takes almost forever to remove completely.

Another question is how important is it to leave the paint on the aluminum intact. I found that I could speed up the process of chipping and scraping the five or six layers of rubbery and/or rock hard sealants on the roof vents using my putty knife at a sharp angle and hitting it with a hammer. Uncovering a vent could take two hours to uncover, pre-hammer technique, and now takes only just over an hour. Unfortunately, it is an unsubtle technique which inevitably gauges the paint and the aluminum underneath. Is this a problem? Even if we are going to cover everything in sealant?

Also, is there any advantage to using non-butyl putty tape? Our extremely reticent local RV repair guy would say only that he used butyl for roofs and non-butyl for walls and that butyl was stickier. People who talk about it online mostly seemed to use butyl. We found the butyl to be much easier to work with and stopped buying the non-butyl after a couple of rolls. Half of the wall-mounted stuff like windows are sealed with butyl now. Will that be a problem?

I’d like to share the several techniques I invented during this job, but I have no idea what the results will be during the next rain, much less in a couple of years. There are only three things that I know I wish I had known beforehand:

1) Don’t go to the putty knife too quickly when removing the remnants of non-butyl putty. You can get a lot of it off by rubbing hard with a wet rag for a while. It is not easy to do for hours, but quicker than going after each speck of putty with the corner of a blade.

2) You will probably have to throw away almost all of the screws you pull out, so you will spend a lot of money on new ones. And while you are correct in your initial assessment that the trailer is put together almost entirely of #8×3/4″ and #10×1″ screws, you will need a large assortment of other sizes because of water damage. I now have 3/4″ screws in #8, #10, #12, and #14, 1″ screws in #10, #12, and #14, and 1 1/2″ screws in #10 and #12. And several of those kinds of screws meant another trip to the hardware store to get them.

3) Sealing up the trailer will take a lot longer than a week if you have anything else you like to do with your life. More like three weeks. (Actually, I’m not sure I would have been better off knowing that one…)

And finally, here is the only video we found, after considerable searching, of someone actually applying putty tape. (Thanks, Canned Ham Trailers!)

On Transportation

(Reblogged from Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, from December 23, 2011.)

I’ve been visiting Vancouver for a few weeks and most days we end up commuting at least once from the west side of the city to the east side and back, mostly by car, sometimes by bus. (I’ve done it by bike, too, but not on this trip.)

It’s about six or seven miles each way and takes about 30 minutes. Google maps says 20 minutes by car, and I’ve heard rumors of 15-minute trips, but I’ve yet to experience one less than 30. Yesterday, our commute was 10 miles and it took 50 minutes (extra Christmas shopping traffic, I’m told). That’s five miles per hour in the middle of the day. It was worse on the way home, at 3:30 rush hour.

I found myself quite impatient with this situation. Five miles an hour does not seem a reasonable speed to travel. I think of Los Angeles as congested, but in non-rush-hour traffic I expect to be able to get to another city in 20 minutes–from the train station in Los Angeles to my brother’s house in Glendale, for example.

The thing is, I’d be on the I-5 most of that trip. There are freeways all over the place in LA. This is strikingly not the case in Vancouver. We are on surface streets wherever we go, hitting stoplight after stoplight, very often with no left-turn lanes so traffic piles up behind each turner. Suddenly I miss all of those ugly, loud LA freeways.

Reanna and her family argue that the fact that it sucks to drive in Vancouver is an accomplishment. The more it sucks to drive, the better, because more people will use public transportation or bicycle. We fought to keep freeways out of here, they say. I was reminded of how upset my grandfather gets when he talks about the freeways in LA. The house he built was one of the houses they demolished to put in a freeway (it might have even been the I-5 that went through his house). Freeways went through the middle of neighborhoods, loud and ugly, splitting them in two. It’s very hard to imagine that happening in Vancouver, if only because the real estate is too expensive.

I am pro-public transportation, so when I’m not stuck in Vancouver traffic I think it’s a shame that LA was designed for cars. Maybe it is the relative ease of car-travel that has kept LA’s public transportation from moving to the next level — though LA, at least according to this article, is quite low in miles of freeway per person compared to other major US cities.

This situation does not strike me as a straightforward win for Vancouver, though. People still drive a lot, and in cars constantly in their least efficient mode, stopping and starting all the time. The busses use the same congested, no-left-turn-lanes roads as the cars, so they lose efficiency and speed along with them. Maybe the answer is to have the government quadruple gas prices or insurance prices to make driving a rich-person-only thing, and leave the roads for public transit. I’d much rather see public transportation that wins because of how great it is, rather than because of how crappy driving has become, but I guess I would take what I could get. Not that I could get quadrupling the price of anything related to driving even here in the most progressive part of Canada. That might be less popular than putting in freeways.

In thinking about all this, I wanted to be able to compare the transportation systems in different cities and found it quite difficult to do. We need a single-number transportation index that takes into account the average speed of travel, average energy-expenditure per mile, and how far people travel on average to live their lives in their area. People-miles per gallon-minutes, maybe, or maybe people-kilometers per joule-minute. Any economics or urban planning students out there looking for a project?

Guest Post: We are moving to the desert!

My father took the train down from Vancouver to visit me last week. We spent a few days in Portland and a few days here in Eugene, including a spectacular trip to Honeyman State Park on the last balmy day in September.

We walked across the dunes to the ocean and back, talked a lot and swam in a perfect, sandy-bottomed blue lake. What an amazing day. I can’t believe I’ve been living so close to the dunes all summer and hadn’t been! Thanks for visiting, Papa.

At the end of this month, Nathen and I will be packing up, renting a trailer and moving down to Joshua Tree to live near our new nephew and the Lesters. Here’s some of the things I’m excited about:

• Making our first home together and figuring out what our lives are going to be like
• Fixing up a 70s Kenskill travel trailer to live in
• Spending lots of time with the baby
• Being a mere two hours drive from the textile stores in the LA garment district (!!!)
• Finding a place to have our wedding and starting to plan
• Outdoor movie nights with the projector
• Rock climbing in the park
• Fresh goats milk
• Sunshine

[First published October 8, 2011, by Reanna on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape]