Cob Mixing

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Make A Seat

On Saturday September 6th 2014 an enthusiastic group of natural building students from DVC began the crafting of a cob bench at CACG.
Marking the site where the sand and clay were to be delivered

Digging a foundation down to the sandstone substrate
The group was led by seasoned and dedicated Permaculture teacher Bethallyn Black.
Bethallyn demonstrating mixing rice straw into the 1 part clay 1 1/2 parts sand mix
The sourcing of materials was mindfully executed to keep the carbon footprint as small as possible.
The sand came from a quarry on Mt. Diablo. The clay was surplus material from a landscaping project in Martinez. The broken concrete base material came from a local tear out. The straw  ... we're not too sure about, probably a little north of Sacramento.
Unloading broken concrete to use as base material

Mixing of the sand and clay with water takes place in a tarp
The mix is formed into balls

Moving finished balls to bench

"smushing" balls together

Two local chickens, who had nothing to do with the cobbing project at CACG, admiring a stone bench

Empty wine bottles added for artistic effect

A cobbing crowd

Above the bottle layer

Foot washing

David very happy to witness this long held dream for the garden taking shape

There is still a back to add to this bench but the cob needs to dry before we can elevate any more. A group of students will return at 9am on Friday September 12th to continue the project. All are welcome to watch or take part in the construction.

There is more to follow as the first ever cob bench at CACG takes shape.




Monday, September 1, 2014

When In Drought

Mulch Is Our Friend !

My 20 plus years as a professional gardener have highlighted the value of mulch in its many forms. I’m an advocate of mulching all planted areas with biodegradable material.

This serves multiple functions such as:

 Conserving moisture.

Seed saving in progress. Protection from birds feasting on selected heads

Mulched areas allow faster absorption of water into the soil and holds the moisture in the soil for a longer period. An example is to be found in the Center Avenue Community Garden. A self sown cover crop of Lemon Queen Sunflowers thrived through late July on land mulched with tree chips. These path areas received no water since the last of the meager winter rains of 2014. Adjacent fallow raised beds with no mulch cover or irrigation did not grow anything viable. Mulch slows evaporation from the soil surface. Most people could save 30% on their residential water usage with drip irrigation and a good layer of organic mulch.

Disease control

It prevents splashing of mud and certain plant disease organisms onto leaves and flowers.


Weed control

A layer of mulch smothers small weeds and prevents weed seed germination. Weeds that do grow through a layer of mulch are much easier to pull.


Erosion control

When in doubt cover it with mulch and decorate with people
Mulch breaks the force of a heavy rain event which can cause erosion, compaction and crusting.


Soil temperature moderation

Insulation from extreme variances of temperature. Sun, wind and freezing conditions have less impact on the delicate roots at the soil surface.



The homogenizing effect can be dramatic and offers a clean, tidy and contrasting appearance.


Soil structure

The humus resulting from the decay of mulch over time helps build a healthy soil structure allowing air and water movement. Decaying organic mulch on soil keeps both plants and beneficial soil life species flourishing so they can help each other.



In decay an organic mulch provides a wide range of plant nutrients not offered in hydrocarbon based purchased fertilizer. This slow release organic feast feeds bacteria and fungi, earthworms and other beneficial soil life. These useful actors process and make available plant nutrients that the plant roots cannot directly absorb.
"Mulch is our friend"

As a way of reducing our water usage at CACG we are currently only watering the lower row of raised beds, the fruit trees planted in 2013 and the perimeter planting.

Our current water bill for 2 months is $68.

Crop Swap

Held every 4th Wednesday of the month. 6:30 pm at 333 Center Ave. Pacheco Ca.
Some images from the August 27th 2014 Crop Swap.
You never know what might show up!

The monthly Crop Swap has become quite a social event. Some choose to stay and chat until sunset.
Colin's new gardening equipment
May we all enjoy a Labor Day of rest and celebration as we reflect, with appreciation, on the fall rains to come.
May your mulch stay moist!
925 286 7225

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Some day a real rain's going to come ... "

... And we'll take all the rain off the street".
That's because we captured it in on contour swales!
 While we are in this record drought period with no sign of rain in sight here is some inspiration for action we can take now to prepare for when we do get a blessing from the skies. And to be fair we did get a thunderstorm early this morning so we are already using these simple and effective earthworks to capture valuable, free rainwater before it get to the drain or the street.
POV Excavator cab

On Contour Swales are a way to slow, spread and sink rainwater in order to store it in the ground.
Geoff Lawton eloquently describes the concept in this short video.

Here are some that I built in Oakland last week working along side my friend Christopher Schein. He is a master of Permaculture Design and long time teacher.
Please check out his book The Vegetable Gardener's Guide to Permaculture and his Permaculture Class at Merritt College.
The Eucalyptus logs to the right are forming a raised bed for vegetables.
 The berm on the Left will be planted with fruit trees
A swale in the making.
We used some water to find the level.
You can also see a transit in the upper left corner.
We also use an "A" frame.
There are various ways of getting the swales level or "On Contour". It is possible to use a water level, laser, transit or a home made A frame
The berm on this swale will be planted with native plants.
 Here are a couple more from a different site in Oakland. Taking care not to disturb the bee hives.
Adding mulch to the swale basin.

  Lafayette in May 2014

Las Trampas Ridge in Lafayette. Mid December 2013.

Often we need to work around existing trees.
Being mindful of their roots we attempt to sink water into their drip line.

Edge of swimming pool
Last year saw a very dry December. Typically it would not be possible to do this kind of excavation in the winter months without making a huge mess, especially around a pool.
I would love to get some "Now" photos to compare the before and after shots. 
Enjoy the fruits of the season,


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Full Tax Moon

The full moon in April is known as the Egg Moon in England. Native Americans also called it the Pink Moon. It has also been known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, Fish Moon, Seed Moon and Waking Moon.

Today is the last day to file 2013 taxes and it’s a full moon so I’m seeing it as the Tax Moon this year.

The concept of taxes includes sharing our individual bounty for the good of All.

The Center Avenue Community garden is all about sharing.


Would you be willing to share some of your tax refund to support the Center Avenue Community Garden project that offers so many benefits to our community? Or even pay a little extra to support a useful public creation where you can see the beauty of what your funding creates year round in partnership with Mother Nature?

                                   We want CACG to THRIVE

The Short Version


We need some funds to pay for our water at CACG.

We sub meter water from the Church.

From January to mid April we have paid out $77 for water.

For this same period we have received $40 in donations with a zero balance brought forward from last year.

We are reducing our 2014 planting area to save water usage until we receive enough donations to cover a full crop this season.

Please be assured that we are very careful with our water usage; even to the faucets.

Last year we spent $827 on water. This year we expect to pay less, perhaps $500 – 600.

If you can help to sponsor our water use at CACG, please contact me at 925-286-7225 (text OK) or email

Any amount is welcome.

Please help fund this project and make the statement “Yes I want this beautiful garden to thrive.”

The THRIVE hive at MPC

One of the magnificent CACG supporters in the photo above has advised me 'not to over think it' and yet I feel I need to explain a little more. So ....

The slightly longer version, but still readable I hope


What Should We Plant Now ?

At the Center Avenue Community Garden I am frequently asked “What should we plant now ?” It’s a reasonable question and technically now in mid-April there are a whole range of summer crops that are in season for planting. I find it more difficult to answer the “What to plant” question this year due to the lack of funds for the many, sometimes not so obvious, expenses.


Firstly, as of January 2014 Governor Jerry Brown declared a statewide emergency and made the drought in California official. This was confirmation of what we already knew but drew our attention to the need to conserve water. If rationing, or a penalty system, were to be applied then as a community we would want to bear our responsibility to reduce water consumption. The Contra Costa Water District has asked its customers to reduce consumption by 15% in 2014.


We sub meter water used by the garden from the First Baptist Church of Pacheco. The church owns the land that CACG occupies. We would wish to be respectful stewards, both in actuality and perception, regarding the public observation of water conservation on our host’s land.


The question of what to plant also meshes with the question “How much can we afford to water?” It would seem prudent not to plant more than we can irrigate when necessary. From May 2013 to January 2014 we reimbursed the Church $827 for water used.  At this point, we have no funds for water or any other project this year. To maintain a full and vibrant garden we will need more financial help than is expected, or possible from a handful of ardent families that have been paying bills for the garden as we have known it in previous years.


Finally the question of “How much planting can we tend to?” With just a handful of loyal garden supporters actively participating in the management of the garden on a regular basis, it is possible that we could waste resources by overplanting. The raised beds require the most attention. Last year their full potential was not realized through lack of hands weeding, thinning, transplanting and monitoring the water delivery.


I would also mention that it is disheartening to those who stretch themselves to contribute financially and gift their time to witness whole corn stalks and other valuable plants being removed to feed the goats. It can seem as though the community in general does not see the value of locally produced food. And yet many come through and harvest from the garden which demonstrates an awareness of its existence. I personally believe that locally produced food is very much the norm of the future and we are just on the tip of a large scale revolution in food production that reintroduces small scale farming practices.


At CACG every week someone makes a point of thanking us for creating the garden, tells us how beautiful it is and what a difference it has made in their lives.

 I hear “You are doing a great job” and I wish it could be “WE are doing a great job” Myself and others have heard statements such as “Why can’t the Church pay for this” and “Can’t you get anyone to help you?”  We so want this to be a community project.  We are 4 years into this evolution of the garden and would love to have our local community take ownership and responsibility for this amazing opportunity.


CACG will continue in some form regardless of the level of community support. Your financial assistance will allow it to evolve faster, providing a meeting place for sustainable lifestyle classes, children’s education of where their food comes from, local DVC permaculture lab classes, natural building projects, picnics, yoga classes, etc.


CACG has proven itself to be a great demonstration and inspiration with regard to practically applying Permaculture principles in Martinez. In the next post I would like to share in more detail some of the actual, and many potential, benefits of having such a wonderful piece of land being shared in the community.

OK that's enough!
Come and join us at CACG between 10am and 2pm on Saturdays.

We have our monthly Crop Swap at the garden on Wednesday April 23rd, 6:15 pm. Details in the right side column.

We also have our Movie Night on April 25th. Please see the "More Than Honey" segment in the right side column.

Enjoy the glorious full moon that defies labels.


925 286 7225

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cardboard and Chips Please

On April 5th a group of DVC students led by Permaculture teacher Bethallyn Black visited CACG to undertake a sheet mulching project. Here are some images from this glorious day in the spring sunshine.
Opening boxes, cleaning off tape.

You can find out more about Sheet Mulching at the Sustainable Contra Costa website. Go to Action Guides and click on Food and Garden

Some Sheet Mulching Images here will give an overview of the principal we are applying.

We also enjoyed the company of Little Bit and her week old chicks in the Chicken Tractor.
It's a dark image but the best I have to share with you. The shadow from the overhead netting makes it a challenge to get good photos even when inside the contraption. Hope you can see the chicks.
Little Bit and her 7 chicks

I find it difficult to get good chicken photos at any time because they move so quickly. Generally, as a species, they express little interest in modeling or photography and are not willing posers for the camera. My admiration and respect goes to those who have captured magnificent chicken images. For example in catalogues.
At 4 days old
Finally a suggestion endorsed by the Martinez Permaculture Center ...

Have a Magical April Day,