Intentional Community

Dear readers:

As some of you might know we also keep a general content blog about the Los Angeles Eco-Village.  At this point some of the authors of that blog and the one you are reading now would like to stop maintaining this site and merge the content of both blogs.

The expected effect would be to have a single blog with more varied content.  If you are a follower of the garden blog and would like to keep on receiving garden only updates you would check the garden category only or even get the garden RSS feed only.  We wouldn’t delete this blog but we would add a last post explaining the situation.

We recognize there are many types of blog readers and we are a bit undecided about this merger.  Some people prefer single subject blogs and some will read general content blogs.   We don’t want to loose any readers so your input is important to us.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments. Would the merger affect your reading habits? If you use RSS would the single garden category satisfy your needs? Questions? Say hi and tell us what you think.   Thanks!

I wanted to share this photo to show how the Bimini Terrace used to look before the bulb-out went in during the Spring of 2008.

This is the Bimini Terrace new terraced garden made with urbanite in 2006, before the bulb-out went in during the spring of 2008

This is the Bimini Terrace new terraced garden made with urbanite in 2006, before the bulb-out went in during the spring of 2008. Notice the street painting in the forefront which was part of the City Repair Project completed in 2005. The street paintings were covered up during the City's street construction program in 2008, so it was all newly asphalted. But-t-t-t, we hope to have another intersection repair project with all you great artists out there soon.

Yuki and Federico gazing languidly at each other while testing out the new table at the bulbout

Yuki and Federico gazing languidly at each other while testing out the new table at the bulbout

Regular LAEV garden blog readers (both of you) may be getting bored with the saga of the bulbout… but there are still many chapters to come. Today’s chapter is on our new table for four. If you want bulbous background, see prior entries on what a bulbout is and how one materialized on our block and the arrival of the stumps.

Today, we had a great group bike ride (organized by Aurisha Smolarski) to a going-away lunch for Thiago Winterstein… ay… who we’re all going to miss. About a dozen of us rode up to Square One on Fountain Avenue near Vermont. Good food and a good discussion about insulation, music, information overload, blogging, writing, power tools, young tools, and the meanings of life… but I digress. On the ride back, Federico was asking me about how it was to use the chainsaw to saw a chair out of (or perhaps into?) the stump. I was telling him that it’s a pretty blunt, loud instrument. It was rather difficult to get cuts that were straight and/or parallel… but I did manage to get one chair cut (see the middle of the above photo or the left of the photo below for two not-particularly-descriptive photos.)  The chair is sit-in-able, but I still want to use a sander to round its sharper corners.

When we arrived back at eco-village, Federico, Yuki and I lamented that the stumps in the bulbout looked pretty much like they were, well, just unloaded there… which is pretty much the case. Yuki, who is significantly shorter than I, also mentioned that most of the stumps were too tall for her to sit on comfortably. I sort of knew this – though most of them fit me fine, we deliberately got them a bit big, knowing that we can trim, but we can’t add length.

We discussed the possibility of getting out the chainsaw, but, decided instead on an easier and more collaborative task – to arrange the stumps in a more orderly way – in hopes of encouraging more use. We got shovels and a level, and got to work. Most of the stumps aren’t quite even – which is to say that the cut on the top isn’t quite parallel to the cut on the bottom – so, when their bottoms are placed on a level surface, their tops aren’t level. To remedy this, and to take a little excess height away, we dug into the mulch and soil, creating holes that we plugged with the stumps. We placed four seating stumps around a larger central table stump.

It didn’t take too long, but it made the space a bit more inviting and more inhabitable. I really like this approach – small (easy-to-finish – this took the three of us about an hour) interventions that improve the space… while leaving plenty more to do when the energy and initiative strike us. I like these sorts of tasks better than embarking on far-reaching master-plans that take lots of time to complete.  I think that this is an especially apt way to work in the garden – multiple small achievable tasks tend to add up nicely into a beautiful and productive garden; big heroic plans for the garden tend to languish unfinished.

More bulbout chapters soon…

Another view of the table for four

Another view of the table for four

Los Angeles Eco-Village worked with the city of Los Angeles to create a “shared street” project on Bimini Place.  The intent was to make our neighborhood greener and a more pedestrian friendly.  Through this project (which I am not going to go into too much detail on here) we were able to take away some parking and dedicate that former car-space to space for people and vegetation.

It would be an understatement to say that there were differences in what the city had proposed and what eco-village residents wanted to see in our street.  Also, there were (and still are) definitely differences in what different eco-villagers want to see.  The city plans were pretty institutional, so for the bulbout directly in front of the buildings that LAEV owns, we suggested that the city plant a couple trees and leave the rest to us.  Even the trees were contentious, with eco-villagers wanting fruiting trees and the city skeptical about this.  We did get these macadamia nut trees, and a pretty much bare bulbout (which the city used a big machine to compact the soil on, then added a thin layer of mulch.)

Below is what it looked like when the project had its grand opening in March 2008.  The project includes the permeable pavement sidewalks on the left side of the photo, which I am not going to focus on here.

Bare Bulbout in front of Bimini Apartments - Spring 2008

Bare Bulbout in front of Bimini Apartments - Spring 2008 (photo: Lois Arkin)

Before I go any further: what is a bulbout??  Bulbouts (sometimes spelled as “bulb-out,” or “bulb out”, or called a sidewalk extension) are traffic calming devices – but what’s traffic calming??  One example of a traffic calming device that people are familiar with is a speed bump.  It serves to slow down neighborhood traffic, making streets safer and calmer and more comfortable for walking, bicycling, talking, breathing, living, chilling, and all the good things you can use a street for when it’s not entirely dedicated to cars.  Bulbouts flare the curb out into the street, so, from above, it looks kind of like a bulb.  They’re mostly located near intersections where pedestrians will cross the street.  They have a few effects.  By extending the sidewalk into the street, they narrow the distance a pedestrian needs to cross – making walking easier and safer.  By narrowing the street, they give drivers a psychological cue to slow down.  When a street is wide, drivers get the cue to speed up because there are no obstacles, like on a freeway.  When a street is narrower, drivers slow down because they feel like they’re in a more intimate setting, like in a room.

Well, we added lots more mulch to our bulbout, kept our trees watered, and grew some morning glories up the signs there… but we didn’t too much and it remained pretty much empty… until the past weekend.  We held a couple of informal meetings to plan out what the space will look like.  Here’s a shot from the session we had in the street, where we used rope, seating, and cones to block out various configurations:

Bulbout Planning Party in November 2008

Bulbout Planning Party in November 2008 (photo: Kathy Hill)

We haven’t actually planned it all out, but we agreed to start with a path and some beds built out of urbanite (broken concrete) at each end.  The bed walls will serve as benches – a lot like las trincheras, which I blogged about earlier.  I really like the look of broken concrete – it’s nearly indestructible, it diverts and reuses materials from the urban waste stream, and I like the way it break up garden space.  Overall we want the space to be a kind of “outdoor living room” where folks can hang out in the street.

Last Saturday, we had a work party to begin work on the bulbout.  The first project was to set a brick path that will allow people to walk from the gate at 117 Bimini into the intersection.  We used used bricks that we’ve had around, most of which had been collected from damage in the neighborhood during the 1994 earthquake.  The work was much like playing tetris – fitting various complete and partial bricks into the slightly irregular space.  Thanks to Ann Finkelstein, her mom, Melba Thorn, and Wilma Raabe (a student from Germany who was visiting for a tour and jumped right in to help) for getting the path done.

November 2008 Work Party to set Brick Path

November 2008 Work Party to set Brick Path (photo: Lois Arkin)

There’s still a lot to be done on the bulbout… to be continued.

Not only are there a couple ways to spell guyaba (“guyaba” and “guayaba” are both prevalent out there in the world wide web, with apparently no real distinguishing characteristics,) but today I learned a new way of eating guyaba.

This morning was the first real hard rain of the year.  Though the storm didn’t last long, there was a good intense downpour around 10am.  After the sun popped back out, while the light was vibrant and the landscape still wet, I went out to harvest some lettuce for a salad I was making for a lunch meeting that Dore, Irma and I were having with our environmentalist city public works commissioner Paula Daniels.

Green Guyaba (from Parque Nacional Galapagos website)

Green Guyaba (from Parque Nacional Galapagos website)

As I was clipping lettuce leaves, a car pulled up.  “Hello” shouted a woman’s voice.  I wasn’t sure that she was talking to me, but I looked up and she asked me if I was the owner of this tree, pointing at the guayaba.  The woman stepped out of the car.  The car was still running with her apparent husband impatiently looking on from the driver’s seat. She was a woman of color (a Bengladeshi, I later learned), dressed in handsome turquoise blue and wearing a small nose-piercing.   She asked if she could buy some fruit.  I told her that it was ok for her to take a couple.  I grabbed a couple that were ripe – nearly all yellow.  She said, no, she wanted green ones.  Not solid dark green, but kind of middle green with just a hint of yellow.  She picked a couple which seemed to me would be way too firm to eat.  She handed me one and said “take a bite.”  I did and it tasted great.  It’s about the consistency of a firm apple.  Nearly all the flavor seems to be in the skin.  The flavor is a bit like a sweet lime taste… but that’s just an association – the fruit has its very own taste.  She asked for my phone number so she could call me to get more fruit in the future; she said she had come by before and hadn’t wanted to take any fruit without asking.  I gave her my name and number on a card.  She got back in the car and was off.  I finished off the green guyaba and harvested lettuce, radish, carrot and basil for the salad.

After lunch, I saw three very young Latino kids in my garden under the tree.  I asked them in Spanish to be careful about stepping on my plants.  They seemed sort of nervous.  Then I realized that I hadn’t noticed that their mother was climbing up in the guyaba tree.  It’s not that big a tree, maybe 15-20 feet tall.  She came down.  In Spanish, I told her that I’d already picked the yellow fruit this morning and that she was breaking the tree.  She said that her kids really wanted the fruit.  Ironically she is a street vendor that sells junk food to families and kids coming out of the White House Place Primary Center school across the street.  She pointed out to me a good-sized mostly-yellow fruit up in the tree.

I was able to stand on one of the broken concrete walls of the planting beds and reach up into the tree and bend a branch slightly down to pick the fruit.  I handed it to the woman.  I would’ve let it ripen for another day, but she immediately broke it up into three pieces and gave them to her children.  They happily ate it.  Then she walked off to peddle her highly-processed food-like substances (mostly clear bags of these crunchy wagon-wheel shaped savory things – a little like chicharones – can anyone tell me what they’re actually called?) to the families waiting for school to get out.  At the same time I had grabbed the yellow fruit for her, I’d spotted a good-sized yellow-green fruit and harvested it for myself.  I walked back up to my apartment, gobbling down the tasty green fruit.

Another tale of the guyaba: A couple weeks ago, just after my last guyaba blog entry, I was gardening and a young woman asked if she could pick leaves from the guyaba.  She explained that she was pregnant and stated that she had allergies, pointing to her legs.  She couldn’t take allergy medicine due to her pregnancy (which wasn’t visually apparent), so she needed these leaves, apparently to rub on her skin.  Her English was fine, but just a little bit broken, and when she described her allergy and need for the leaves, my neighbor Aurisha and I must have given her skeptical looks – neither of us having known that the tree has any medicinal purposes.  The woman responded “I’m filipina” as if that was the justification that explained everything.  We welcomed her to take what she needed.  I helped her to harvest leaves, directing her to take ones from branches that are encroaching over the ramp path down to the sidewalk (that get in my way when I bike down the ramp.)  She was really grateful.

All in a couple days in the life of the Los Angeles Eco-Village guyaba tree.

Beehive Collective Illustration in Progress

Beehive Collective Illustration in Progress

Well, it’s not entirely eco-village garden related… but there’s an event coming up this Friday, and we can’t get it listed on the main LA Eco-Village website, so I figured I’d post it here…  It’s about “Dismantling Monoculture” – so that’s garden related, no?

I’ve seen folks from the Beehive Collective do presentations before – and they’re excellent.  I have their posters hanging on my walls.  Their politics are grassroots, inclusive and uncompromising… and their artwork is intricate and beautiful.  Here are the event details:

Friday October 17th 7:30pm
Los Angeles Eco-Village, 117 Bimini Place, LA 90004
The Beehive Collective: Dismantling Monoculture
Join the Beehive Collective for a picture storytelling performance that covers their new graphic “Mesoamerica Resiste!” This graphic takes a critical look at Project Mesoamerica (formerly “Plan Puebla Panama”)- a development plan designed to facilitate the exploitation of resources by corporate interests in Central America.

Additional information at
Directions to Eco-Village:

Sliding Scale $3-$7 No One Turned Away

What a transformation we made!

14 people, 2 shifts, 2 meals eaten, 40 human-hours in total, A large patch of invasive weeds “relocated”, 2 paths built, A giant pile of mulch spread throughout the gardens, A large pot with lavender added to the chicken forest, A baby oak given a new home, Worm casings and compost placed in new growing areas, Approximately 40 new plants put in the ground, A new seating spot, 8 pina coladas consumed.

Much passive voice used.

“You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth . . .

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music . . .

But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born, and in keeping yourself with labor you are in truth loving life, and to love life through labor is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret. . .

And what is it to work with love? . . .

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit. It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit, and to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching. . .

Work is love made visible.”

–Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet, [courtesy of Lois]

Our seedling nursery!

This is the first post in the LA Eco-Village Garden blog.

Appropriately, it begins with a photograph of our seedling nursery!

The gardens are in bloom, the vines and trees are heavy with fruit, and the gardeners are busy planting and harvesting! May this blog be the place to keep each other updated on our projects!