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EVENTS IN THE COMMUNITY. E AL
Getting your garden’s soil to optimum health returns dividends By Dave Boyce |
Almanac Staff Writer
t’s not every day that we take a few moments to feel grateful for the atmosphere or the Gulf Stream or the soil’s web of microbes and minerals that make plant life possible. The invisible parts of the natural world are so easy to take for granted. These phenomena are highly complex and vital to our survival, and each has a balance that we’re probably better off not disturbing, and yet we are. The atmosphere is accumulating greenhouse gases,
the polar ice is melting and taking with it the temperature differentials that drive ocean currents, and industrial fertilizers are depleting soil vitality and the excess is running into rivers and streams and creating dead zones in the oceans — 146 of them according to a 2003 United Nations study. As individuals, we may lament these imbalances and our scant options for doing anything significant about them, but that outlook would be misplaced when it comes to the soil. We have essentially sovereign power over the part of it that surrounds our homes and supports our gardens and landscaping. These realms measured in square feet, what do we really know about them? What pleases the billions of tiny subjects that live there? How do their needs and expectations differ from our preferences and assumptions? Do we even care? There are arguments for doing so. Caring for the planet has to begin somewhere and home is probably as good a place as
any. A healthy and active back yard ecosystem will draw legions of small creatures who will stay and rebalance your little piece of California. You might even find a renewed and deeper appreciation of the larger natural world. With the Portola Valley Garden Club recently celebrating its first anniversary, The Almanac talked with a few of its members about their soil and its relationship to gardening. But before hearing from them, a look at the importance of healthy soil and how to create it. Talented microbes
To begin to restore a neglected plot of land, infusing it with compost tea then adding a mulch ground cover is a good start. Compost tea is made by filling a mesh sock with compost and soaking it for 24 hours to 36 hours in a mixture of water, sugar and kelp, says Terry Lyngso of Lyngso See page 19
February 10, 2010 N The Almanac N 17
Photos by Michele Le/The Almanac
Brad Peyton, president of the Portola Valley Garden Club and a home gardener for 30 years, prepares a home in his garden for a new rhubarb plant.
TOWN OF PORTOLA VALLEY Volunteer to Make a Difference The Town of Portola Valley Seeks Dedicated Volunteers for the following Town Committees:
NOTICE OF PUBLIC MEETING AND NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING CITY OF MENLO PARK PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 22, 2010
Community Events Committee Meets as announced; appointed for a one-year term. This Committee organizes the annual Blues & Barbeque Open Space Fundraising Event, the Town Picnic and the Volunteer Appreciation Holiday Party.
NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that the Planning Commission of the City of Menlo Park, California, is scheduled to review the following items:
Conservation Committee Meets fourth Tuesday of each month, 8:00 p.m.; appointed for a one-year term. Conserve environmental (water, air, lack of noise) and aesthetic amenities of Portola Valley as outlined by the General Plan, the Open Space Plan and the Conservation Element. Propose program and projects to enhance aesthetic and environmental qualities of Portola Valley.
Use Permit/Neil Swartzberg and Loreli Cadapan/277A Willow Road: Request for a use permit to construct first- and secondstory additions to an existing single-story, single-family, nonconforming residence that would exceed 50 percent of the replacement value of the existing structure in a 12-month period and would add more than 50 percent of the existing square footage on a substandard lot with regard to lot width and area in the R-1-U (Single-Family Urban) zoning district. The proposed remodeling and expansion are considered to be equivalent to a new structure. Continued from the meeting of February 8, 2010.
Cultural Arts Committee Meets as announced; appointed for a one-year term. Increase cultural awareness among residents of Portola Valley by sponsoring and supporting local cultural activities in the areas of art, music, science and nature, history, horticulture, drama, literature, photography and dance. Emergency Preparedness Committee Meets third Thursday of each month, 8:00 a.m.; appointed for a one-year term This Committee works with Town Staff to ensure that neighborhoods and Town government are ready to respond to possible emergencies such as earthquakes, wildﬁres and ﬂooding. Other duties include maintaining emergency supplies and equipment, planning response to emergencies and educating Town residents. Parks and Recreation Committee Meets third Monday of each month, 7:30 p.m.; appointed for a one-year term. This Committee meets to develop, promote and maintain quality recreational and community enrichment programs, recreational facilities and park areas in the Town of Portola Valley. Trafﬁc Committee Meets ﬁrst Thursday of each month, 8:15 a.m.; appointed for a one-year term. This Committee meets to assist the Town in advising ways and means for safer conditions regarding motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians and road conditions and to encourage proper trafﬁc enforcement. Trails and Paths Committee Meets second Tuesday of each month; appointed for a one-year term. This Committee meets to provide a system of trails and paths that provide passageways for people, whether on foot, horseback or bicycle. It is their objective that these trails be safe, pleasant and provide access to all parts of town.
Applications are available at Town Hall and through the Town’s website at www.portolavalley.net. Please return completed applications to: Town Clerk Sharon Hanlon Town of Portola Valley 765 Portola Road, Portola Valley, CA 94028 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: (650) 851-1700 ext. 210 18 N The Almanac N February 10, 2010
PUBLIC HEARING ITEMS
Use Permit/John Matthews/900 Cambridge Avenue: Request for a use permit for interior modifications and first and second floor additions that would exceed 50 percent of the value of an existing non-conforming two-story residence located on a standard size lot in the R-1-U (Single-Family Urban) zoning district. The proposed project would also include three feet of excavation within the required 12-foot corner side yard for an expansion of a non-habitable basement. Use Permit/Sunset Publishing/80-85 Willow Road: Request for a use permit extension to allow Sunset Publishing to conduct an open house (commonly known as Sunset Celebration Weekend) for one weekend in either late May or early June on an annual basis, subject to an annual review by the Planning Division following the event. The open house would involve closing Willow Road from Middlefield Road to Paulson Circle, starting at 7:00 p.m. on the Friday before the event until 10:00 p.m. on Sunday after the close of the event. Activities would include, but are not limited to, a cooking stage, gardening demonstrations, wine seminars, activities booths, food and craft vendors, and live amplified music. The event hours would generally be between 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday of the event weekend. Event set-up typically occurs during the week before the event between 8 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. with break-down of the event between the same hours until the Wednesday after the event. The proposed event would exceed the daytime noise limits established under Section 8.06.030 of the Menlo Park Municipal Code. The proposed request is for a period of five years. NOTICE IS HEREBY FURTHER GIVEN that said Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on public hearing items in the Council Chambers of the City of Menlo Park, located at 701 Laurel Street, Menlo Park, on Monday, February 22, 2010, 7:00 p.m. or as near as possible thereafter, at which time and place interested persons may appear and be heard thereon. If you challenge this item in court, you may be limited to raising only those issues you or someone else raised at the public hearing described in this notice, or in written correspondence delivered to the City of Menlo Park at, or prior to, the public hearing. The project file may be viewed by the public on weekdays between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Friday, with alternate Fridays closed, at the Department of Community Development, 701 Laurel Street, Menlo Park. Please call the Planning Division if there are any questions and/or for complete agenda information (650) 330-6702.
Looking for the perfect place to call home? Consult the Almanac for all your real estate needs!
Si usted necesita más información sobre este proyecto, por favor llame al 650-330-6702, y pregunte por un asistente que hable español. DATED: February 4, 2010 PUBLISHED: February 10, 2010
Deanna Chow, Senior Planner Menlo Park Planning Commission
Visit our Web site for Planning Commission public hearing, agenda, and staff report information: www.menlopark.org
continued from page 17
Photo by Michele Le/The Almanac
Photo by Danna Breen
Garden Materials in Redwood City. You mix the tea into the soil. After a while, the soil will start to acquire character. You won’t see them, but countless bacteria and fungi will grow there, Ms. Lyngso says. Another more visible sign is the presence of ground-dwelling insects and worms, lots of them. “We’re so bug-phobic and most bugs are not a problem,” she says. “It’s a good sign when you start noticing all these other creatures coming in. When you walk into a garden and there’s nothing going on, you’ve got to wonder if there’s anything going on in the soil.” Healthy soil also has a looseness about it that allows air and water to penetrate, Ms. Lyngso says. It’s the result of the activity of all these little creatures. They create soil aggregates
A mustard plant, top, in its purple glory, grows amid flowers, fava beans and never-to-be-raked leaves in the Portola Valley garden of Danna Breen, the community liaison of the town’s garden club. Chard, above, one of Brad Peyton’s winter crops, sits amid detritus that may look chaotic but is home-sweet-home to billions of microbes that keep his soil healthy.
— little bits and pieces of minerals and other material that adhere to each other and create spaces. Indeed, a reliable check of a soil’s status is to pour water on it. If it dissipates rapidly, that’s a good indicator, she says. Aerating the soil is not the microbes’ only skill. Within reason, they will also recycle anything based on the element carbon, Ms. Lyngso says. That’s a fairly broad portfolio: carbon is the building block of all plant and animal life on the planet. “Everything is food to it,” she says. Even toxic compounds. Petro-
leum, for example, is fairly toxic. As a blend of hydrogen and carbon, it is eligible for microbial recycling, as biologist and fungus expert Paul Stamets demonstrated after the 2007 oil spill in San Francisco Bay. A tanker collided with the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7, 2007, and spilled 58,000 gallons of fuel oil. Knowing that human hair attracts oil, Mr. Stamets deployed mats of hair into the oil, then impregnated the mats with essence of oyster mushroom, Ms. Lyngso says. The result: the fungus cleaned out the oil by breaking it down, feeding on it and growing into mushrooms that were themselves recyclable, according to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. “The soil is our number one recycling system and it really does work,” Ms. Lyngso says. Don’t be evil
Soil is also delicate and vulnerable, and good intentions are no substitute for understanding. Fertilizer, for example, should be organic and never overused, she says. The intensified nutrients can act like drugs and create dependencies in the soil and vegetation. While healthy soil can strengthen a plant’s immune system, pesticides and herbicides may sometimes be necessary, but remember that chemicals can kill valuable microbes. Don’t overdo it. “People think more is better,” she says. Other “enemies of living soil” include compaction from too much traffic; leaving the soil exposed to the sun, wind and rain; and disturbing it repeatedly, whether by shovel or mechanical tiller, Ms. Lyngso says. “Every time you turn it over, you’re breaking up the homes” of microbial life, she says. Darrell Bruggink, executive editor of the “No-Till Farmer” newsletter, based in Brookfield, Wisconsin, writes about farming practices that avoid overly disturbing the surface of the soil, whether after the harvest or before planting. He agrees on the sanctity of the soil’s surface. People who regularly till the soil “are beating it up. They’re breaking down the soil aggregates,” he says in a phone interview. “In reality, (the soil) is losing its ability to sustain itself.” Fallen leaves are a natural mulch and should be left in place to cover and protect soil, Ms. Lyngso says. Leaf blowers are a no-no. In addition to scattering the microbes, the blowing can help to harden the soil’s surface, a particular aggravation on the Peninsula with its ubiquitous clay, she says. Bringing it home
Garden aesthetics are also less important to Portola Valley resident Danna Breen, who describes
her ground cover as “a wonderful organic blanket” and adds that she is “almost comfortable” with its look. Ms. Breen, the community liaison for the garden club, does not segregate flowers and vegetables and never uses a rake, much less a leaf blower, she says. “I have blueberries in with my roses,” she says. It’s been a year and a half, she says, since she began using organic fertilizer, composting and planting in layers, known as sheet mulching. Cardboard or a thick layer of newspapers goes down first, topped by a layer of mulch, with holes through it all for the seeds. “I’m seeing really remarkable results,” she says. Asked if pests raid her garden, she replies: “It depends on what you look at as a pest.” She’s learned to live peaceably with gophers, for example. “If you reframe it for yourself, they’re actually aerating the soil.” In the Portola Valley Ranch subdivision, regulations forbid home vegetable gardens, so residents have a community garden where individuals lay claim to one or more of the 101 raised beds there. A waiting list for beds is not uncommon. Ranch resident Diana Fischer, who has taken classes at Le Cordon Bleu School, says she gardens year round. Her boxes include salad greens, French beans, currants and four types of berries. “To make jam the day you harvest the fruit, it tastes great,” she says. “I’m a foodie who likes to play in the dirt, I guess.” To avoid exhausting the soil, Ranch resident Lynn Davis says she tries to rotate her tomatoes between her boxes. The Ranch’s community garden receives free compost every year from Portola Pastures, an equestrian facility nearby, Ms. Davis says. The shovels and other tools down there are for everyone to use. In the spring, everyone gathers to weed. In the fall, they collect the last of the produce, and in November there’s a pot-luck dinner, Ms. Davis says. Brad Peyton, president of the Portola Valley Garden Club, has been gardening for 30 years. He’s been at it long enough that he doesn’t follow trends like adding rock dust to the soil in the belief that it improves the taste of tomatoes. Nor is he a fan of no-till gardening. “I want to break up the soil and make sure the roots go in,” he says. “I find this works for me.” Asked why he gardens, he replies that it’s great to grow things and eat them. “I would rather plant a vegetable than a flower,” he says. “It’s pretty and I can eat it. I’d much rather plant something I could get some food from.” His place on Brookside Drive is well shaded by redwood trees and his crops probably reflects that reality. He plants greens and root crops, he says, but no corn and no garlic, both of which need lots of heat. “It’s hard growing food,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons I do it.” A
February 10, 2010 N The Almanac N 19
TOWN OF WOODSIDE 2955 Woodside Road Woodside, CA 94062 INVITES APPLICATIONS FOR ARCHITECTURAL AND SITE REVIEW BOARD The Architectural and Site Review Board (ASRB) reviews and makes recommendations to the Director of Planning and Building on residential, site design and commercial applications. Meetings are held on the ﬁrst and third Monday of each month, 4:30 p.m. Appointment is for a term expiring in February 2013. Interested residents may request information and applications from the Town Clerk’s Ofﬁce, Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM-12 noon and 1-5:00 PM, Woodside Town Hall, 2955 Woodside Road, by telephone at (650) 851-6790, or through the Town’s web site at www.woodsidetown.org. Deadline for applications is Friday, February 12, 2010, 5:00 p.m.
TOWN OF PORTOLA VALLEY NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING PARTICIPATION IN CALIFORNIA FIRST PROGRAM NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that the Town Council of the Town of Portola Valley will hold a Public Hearing on the proposed participation in the CaliforniaFIRST Program of the California Statewide Communities Development Authority on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 7:30 p.m., Historic Schoolhouse, Town Center, 765 Portola Road, Portola Valley. The Town’s participation in the CaliforniaFIRST Program will enable property owners to finance renewable energy, energy efficiency and water efficiency improvements on their property through the levy of contractual assessments pursuant to Chapter 29 of Division 7 of the Streets & Highways Code (“Chapter 29”) and the issuance of improvement bonds under the Improvement Bond Act of 1915 (Streets and Highways Code Sections 8500 and following) upon the security of the unpaid contractual assessments. Chapter 29 provides that assessments may be levied under its provisions only with the free and willing consent of the owner of each lot or parcel on which an assessment is levied at the time the assessment is levied. Public Hearings provide the general public and interested parties an opportunity to provide testimony on these items. If you challenge a proposed action(s) in court, you may be limited to raising only those issues you or someone else raised at a Public Hearing(s) described above, or in written correspondence delivered to the Town Council at, or prior to, the Public Hearing(s). The Town Council will consider all evidence, written and oral pertaining to the proposed program. All interested persons are invited to appear before the Town Council to be heard at the time and place mentioned above. If you wish to provide written correspondence prior to the Public Hearing, please submit to the attention of Brandi de Garmeaux, Sustainability Coordinator, 765 Portola Road, Portola Valley, CA 94028. Information pertaining to the proposal may be viewed at Town Hall Building & Planning Department, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. Dated: January 28, 2010 Leslie A. Lambert Planning Manager 20 N The Almanac N February 10, 2010
A R T S / C O M M U N I T Y
West Bay Opera stages ‘Der Freischutz’ By Renee Batti Almanac News Editor
he German Romantic opera “Der Freischutz,” by Carl Maria von Weber, will be staged by West Bay Opera from Feb. 19 through Feb. 28 at Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. The three-act opera features winning arias and choruses, as well as lively folk dances. It tells the story of Max, a young hunter who must triumph at a shooting contest to win the hand of the woman Photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang he loves, Agathe. But life and love are never simple: The Ben Bongers as Max practices his marksmanship skills in West Bay plot is complicated by another Opera’s production of “Der Freischutz,” opening Feb. 19. character’s pact with the devil, which threatens the lovers’ David Hodgson as Ottokar. Moscovich says he did his own prospects, to say the least. Mr. Moscovich says the sing- translation for this producThis production of “Der ers are all “very exciting vocal- tion, collaborating with dicFreischutz” — West Bay’s first ly, very committed musically tion coach Lea Frey. was in 1990 — is directed by and dramatically.” Performances are 8 p.m. Yuval Sharon. Calling the score “loaded Friday, Feb. 19; 2 p.m. Sunday, The conductor is West Bay with dramatic opportunity, Feb. 21; 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. General Director Jose Luis brilliant, strong and nuanced,” 27; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. Moscovich, who says in an he says, “I am very much look- There is also a free preview of e-mail: “I love and revere this ing forward to conducting the music at 8 p.m. Thursday, piece, and I have assembled a it, and hope to make at least Feb. 11, at the Palo Alto Arts cast that I believe will do jus- some audience members into Center, 1313 Newell Road in tice to it.” ‘Freischutz’ fans by the time Palo Alto. Tenor Ben Bongers sings the the curtain goes down.” For ticket information, call role of Max; soprano Paula The opera is considered the the West Bay box office at 424Goodman Wilder is Agathe; first major German Romantic 9999, or e-mail BoxOffice@ and bass-baritone Peter Gra- opera, and a precursor to the WBOpera.org. More informaham is Kaspar, a gamekeeper operas of Richard Wagner. tion can be found at wbopera. who pledges his soul to the It is being sung in German, org. devil. with English supertitles. FindThe Lucie Stern Theatre is at Also singing key parts are ing most available translations 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Greg Stapp as the hermit and of the opera inadequate, Mr. Alto. A
Daffodil days opens Filoli’s season Filoli is hosting “Daffodil Daydreams” from Friday, Feb. 26, through Sunday, Feb. 28, to mark the official opening of its 2010 season. Filoli has tens of thousands of daffodils on display in many different landscapes throughout the estate, located at 86 Canada Road in Woodside. Two large meadows of daffodils contain approximately 600,000 bulbs, says Filoli spokesperson Christina Syrett. Visitors can also enjoy other early spring flowering in the gardens, demonstrations, activities for children, garden walks, and the “Patterns and Abstractions of Nature” art exhibit. Talks will be given by Bob Spotts, president of the Northern California Daffodil Society; Lucy Tolmach, Filoli’s director of horticulture; and Lee McCaffree, a botanical art instructor. Hours for the event are 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26 and 27, and 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. Artists are invited to photograph