Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Moisture 2
Week 5

Thursday, 18th December 2003.
I asked a neighbor to help me bring the water tank to and onto the roof of my car. With two carriers it's still very heavy!

Friday, 19th December 2003.
Finished packing everything we need for this weekend. This time Laura is coming with me. We leave around 10 AM. I-405, I-5, Hwy 14. Overcast sky. We stop at the intersection between the 58 and the 395. People look puzzled at the tank on the car. We fill her up and lunch at the local restaurant. Arrive at the site before 1 PM. With the overcast sky the air is quite cold. Deena & Claude are there already working in the gardens. Deena cut her left index finger two weekends ago and she cannot do hard work (like digging) this time, but she has plenty to do with the plants.
I trace the dimensions of the tank on the ground between the gabion and Garden #2 and start digging. It's gonna have to be a BIG hole! I also connect Garden #1 to the gabion and prepare the bottom of it (at about 2 1/2 feet below ground level). Claude & Deena are preparing gardens #6 & 7 to be planted, they also water again Garden # 5 that had been seeded last weekend.
Laura takes it easy, covered up to her nose and reading peacefully.
Loud bomb blasts rock us and scare the dogs, at least ten times until sunset.
Claude & Deena leave around 4:30 PM.
Laura & I soon hock inside the car, it's too cold to be enjoyable out. We play cards, have dinner (a vegetable soup that I had prepared at home) and at eight we are in bed, each reading his/her own book. By nine we are both sound asleep.

Saturday, 20th December 2003.
We wake up around 6, overcast skies.
Claude & Deena arrive around 7. Claude attacks the digging for the tank. Adam announces himself soaring with his 4WD truck on the last stretch of the dirt road. He sounds almost like one of those military airplanes that circle, low above our heads, curious to see what we are doing. Adam is a very welcomed help in digging our hole. We are feeling like we are digging a grave. Claude keeps asking me if it's deep enough and I keep telling him apologetically: not yet!
Deena continues her tedious activity of separating and planting the seedlings adding DriWater in chunks to each group.
She plants seedlings: Layia Platyglossa ‘Tidy Tips’ and
Phacelia Campanularia ‘desert bluebell’ in the center of Garden #6.
Other grasses are to be added later.
In Garden #5, Desert Marigold (Baileya Multiradiata) and Cream Cups (Platystemon Californicus) were planted on 11/29 so this time, the garden is just heavily watered. Garden #5 will receive no DriWater or directed water from the system under construction. In Garden #7
Lasthenia Glabrata ‘Gold Fields’ (also annuals) is planted in the form of seedlings.

I finish digging Garden #1, flatten it's bottom. I lay plastic foil (6 mil.) and throw bags of gravel on it. Doing that, I make a wrong movement and hurt the middle finger of my left hand. It soon looks like a radish.
Ryan gets there around 11. Claude had set a series of signs on the road but Ryan, a former student of Claude's, got lost and came from an unexpected direction. He gets quickly put to work on the trench that will connect the tank to the garden.
We have to finish the hole before 4 PM because Ryan and Adam will have to leave and we will need them to lower the tank into its place. Along the walls of the hole there are many burrows holes, one spits out droppings.
To get a break from digging we go to my car and load the tank on Adam's truck. He drives it to the wash and we carry it close to its future resting place. Laura videotapes the action.
At about 3 the hole is deep enough (about 4 feet). I hop in, check the measurements and level the ground. While cleaning the corners a mouse hops out of a hole, surprised to be in this new environment. Funny mouse! It's head is as big as it's body. We carry the tank to the hole and lower it in it. I connect the tank to the pipe coming from the gabion, glue them together but a slight movement of the tank disconnected it. We have to replug them again. We will leave it until tomorrow to be sure the glue is dry. Adam leaves, then Ryan too. We order our tools and decide to go have dinner in Barstow (Bun Boy). Sunset is a treat, it looks as if the sky is on fire! Back on the site the sky is clear, full of stars. We go to bed early, my finger bothers me and I need a long time to fall asleep.

Sunday, 21st December 2003.
Gorgeous morning! No clouds in the sky, quite a bit warmer than yesterday. I start by checking the level of the tank. It's almost perfect, very little adjustments are necessary. I secure the tube for the visiting trap with screws and cover half of it with dirt, leaving the end toward the garden uncovered.
Together with Claude I prepare the trenches for the fences of gardens # 6 & 7. This time there's not that much digging, half a foot deep, but we are nevertheless quite broken from the digging of the previous days. So much digging! We really didn't think our project would take so much time and physical effort to be completed, and we are not there yet!
Deena tells about the funny and almost dramatic story of her seedlings stored in the fridge of their Motel room in Barstow that the maid threw in the trash and how they had to recuperate them from the dumpster. It reminded me of Umberto Eco's story "Travel with a salmon".
At noon we are through with the rabbit-proof fences and Deena has planted all she wanted to.

Deena and Claude leave soon after.
Laura and I have some lunch. We measure the elements of the site, distances and orientations for the map I want to make for the website. Here is the first draft:

At 4PM we have packed everything in the car and leave.

With the car's.odometer we measure the distances all the way to Mojave.

Wednesday, 24 and Thursday, 25th 2003.
We did not even think about Moisture. Instead we enjoyed our families and the heavy downpour just outside. First SoCal rain on Christmas in 20 years. Perhaps a sign?

For future visitors, to avoid getting lost like Ryan, follow the instructions below:
Coming from Mojave on 58.
From Boron to the 58/395 intersection: 6.6 miles.
Keep going on highway 58 till the road goes from single to double lanes: 7.9 miles.
Turn left (North) at the Harper Lake sign, 5.5 miles later.
Drive till the SouthEast corner of the solar plant on Harper Lake Road: 7 miles.
Turn left (West) on dirt road and drive 2.1. miles along the southern fence of the plant.
Turn right (North, 90° curve) on dirt road (which makes a few curves on the fist mile).
4.2 miles after take a left (West) and drive 0.4 miles. The site is to the left of the road.

(And some more details from Claude and Deena…)

Plantings scheduled for the coming weeks of early January 2004:

Atriplex hymenelytra ‘desert holly’
Atriplex Lentiformis ‘quail bush’
Atriplex Canescens ‘fourwing salt bush’
Sporobolus Alkilidgrass
Cercidium Floridum ‘blue palo verde’

Atriplex Canescens ‘fourwing salt bush’
Palo Verde
Calliandra Californica

Baccharis Sarothroides ‘desert broom’
Baileya Multiradiata ‘desert marigold’

Atriplex Canescens ‘fourwing salt bush’
Atriplex Polycarpa
Prosopis Pubescens
Boutloua Gracilis

Prosopis Pubescens
Atriplex Lentiformis ‘quail bush’
Sporobolus Alkilidgrass

List of plants to be used for MOISTURE:

Annuals (from seeds)
Lasthenia Glabrata ‘Gold Fields’
Layia Platyglossa ‘Tidy Tips’
Phacelia Campanularia ‘desert bluebell’

Grasses (one gallon containers)
Amount Name
6 Boutloua Gracilis
10 Sporobolus Alkilidgrass
8 Achnathferum

Perennials (from seeds)
Penstemon Barbatus
Baileya Multiradiata ‘desert marigold’

Small Shrubs (one gallon containers)
Amount Name
3 Atriplex hymenelytra ‘desert holly’
4 Calliandra Californica

Shrubs (one gallon containers
Amount Name
11 Atriplex Canescens ‘fourwing salt bush’
12 Atriplex Lentiformis ‘quail bush’
4 Atriplex Polycarpa
9 Baccharis Sarothroides ‘desert broom’
6 Ephedra species (Mormon Tea)

Shrubs (five gallon containers)
Amount Name
6 Larrea Tridentata ‘creosote’ (5 gallon containers)

Trees (one gallon containers)
Amount Name
3 Cercidium Floridum ‘blue palo verde’
3 Parkinsonia Aculeata
7 Prosopis Pubescens
2 Acacia Greggii

Existing Large Shrubs to feed:
Amount Name
30 Atriplex Polycarpa, Atriplex Canescen, and other verieties of Atriplex
25 Baccharis Sarothroides and various unidentified shrubs

Saturday, December 13, 2003

I finaly managed to start the tank.
I've got 1/2 inch marine plywood for it. The 3/4 inch was too expensive (around $360) and also too heavy. I've got scared not to be able to carry it on my roof. Because it's thinner I'm making it with great care. Waterproof glue and long screws every 6 inches.
I think that I will need two more days to complete it.

Laura is there to give you an idea of the size of the beast.
The plate on the bottom is the lid with it's reinforcement to bear the weight of the dirt and the hole for the visiting trap.
Then comes the bottom and to the left, the sides.


Friday, December 12, 2003

The story of the water tank (not yet ended).

The first idea was to capture some water from the wash when it flows ( probably just a few times in the beginning of the year), store it in a tank and distribute it parsimoniously to one or more of the gardens.
We built the gabion in the wash, behind it we installed a french drain that collects the water and directs it to two "Gardens". To Polaris, or Garden #1, directly, and to Garden #2 through a silt trap, a tank and a battery operated watering timer.
The main problem is that the location of Garden #2 is about 2 feet higher than the french drain (being out of the wash bed) and we want to use gravity alone to water it. Because of that we need a very flat tank that will be underground. We found one on the market of about 1 foot high, but it was too expensive and being manufactured in Puerto Rico, it would take too long to get to us.
Then I thought of making it out of marine grade plywood and lining it with fiberglass. I asked for estimates and it also seemed too expensive and too long to coat it.
As our experiment is not expected to continue for more than two years, I think that I can safely line the tank with a good, heavy plastic foil.
The water will arrive on the upper part of one side (16" high) and leave on the lower part of the opposite side. The tank itself will have a visiting trap, an air intake and a gauge.
The gauge idea is not very clear yet. We are planning to make it like the oil gauge of a car, but water doesn't show as well on a stick... Any Ideas?

Here is the scheme I've thought about for the watering of "Garden #2":

These are the features of the underground, 300 gallons tank:

Thursday, December 11, 2003

The DriWater Samples just arrived. Here they are. Time to test them out.


Wednesday, December 10, 2003

trying to get some images up here - maybe this'll work

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

December 9, 2003
The idea now is to make a 300 gallons plywood water tank that will be lined with plexiglass. Its dimensions will be 48"x96"x16". I'm waiting for the estimate to get started. If I'll have to wait longer I will not manage to have it ready for next weekend.
Kahty was out last sunday, 12/7 to bring out her gravel and collect rocks. We had already been out on 11/16 to decide on the specific sites where she dug her shelters and I buried some of the spheres. The sites are roughly a mile apart each. A tall blue pole identifies the site and the matching blue balls are buried in the wash awaiting rains that will send them traveling downstream.

Monday, December 08, 2003


Week Four (Dec 6th, 2003) found Mark, Deena and myself working the growth areas.
Last week we ended the day with only one prepared. After Saturday, we had completed another four. Deena picked up some gypsum the day before and we still had a small amount onsite from last week.
Lambchop and Zoe stayed home though I’m sure they wanted to come along.

The drive out was uneventful, and the working conditions were wonderful. We couldn’t have had better weather. Clear sky with the sun partially hidden most of the day. The first surprise of the day came in the form of a good-sized lizard who crawled out to greet us. He crept away while we weren’t looking.

Bernard was not out this weekend, but we still got in a good seven hours of back-breaking work. Lots of digging. We would have liked to do Sunday too, but it wasn’t in the cards for us.

A knife accident almost cut the day short (no pun intended). Deena, being the trooper, kept at her duties…even while keeping one hand in the air. She would later go to the emergency room in Fontana, being too late for stitches.

To sum up the day: lots of digging, a small lizard visits, and a little bit of blood from Deena’s finger hits the soil. We couldn’t have done it without Mr. Tsang. Hats of to him and to Deena for hanging in.

On another matter: DriWater has agreed to supply all the product we need for the plant material not being feed by the collected rainwater. Kent Corley from DriWater is excited about the project and hopes to get us some mainstream press. Sounds good to me.

Our next concern is the Cistern. We’ve yet to find a readymade suitable for our needs, but Bernard has a friend who is willing to make us one. More about that later.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Saturday 15 November
Half an hour after departing, on I-10, my exhaust lets go. It becomes very loud. I make ear plugs with a Kleenex.
At the DRS I don’t see Claude & Deena, I don’t stop. On the dirt road huge muddy puddles. I almost get stuck in one. There’s no way I can cross the lakebed, too muddy. I turn around and drive by the solar energy plant. Can’t find the site, nobody’s there. WWS wind in little gusts. 10AM. Little later I finally find the site and take a walk around, it’s cold. I try to set the tarp as a wind brake but the wind id too strong. 11 AM, still alone.
I think I’ve found the wash that Deena & Claude have chosen for the installation. With a clear pipe full of water I measure the incline of the wash. Over 220" it drops 1.1/2" which is less than 1%! It’s almost flat. The water (when there is any) must run relatively slowly.
Finally Deena, Claude & Mark (the photographer) arrive. It must be noon. We decide the place where we want to catch the water on the wash. With twine and stakes I trace the outline of the gabian with a 90° angle pointing upstream. Both sides are about 16’ long.
Then we leave with the cars and go hunting for stones along the dirt road. After one trip we stop for lunch. 2:30. I’m so hungry!
We dig the trench for the gabion, around 1’ deep.
Claude carries the stones from the road to the site with the wheelbarrow. Another stone trip, me in one direction, Deena & Mark in the other. We help Claude to unload them. 4:50. The night is falling, they leave, I stay. I organize myself in the back of the Volvo. The wind seems to have stopped. In the flashlight I see a kangaroo rat starting its day.
7:10 the wind picks up again.

Sunday 16 November
It has gently rained most of the night. Badly slept. I get up before 6:00. Clear sky, Big Bear shines in the South, snow covered. It looks like a chunk of pink quartz. Claude & Co. arrive around 8:00 with a load of rocks. It’s warmer than yesterday, no wind. I’m soon bare torso.
Deena had warned us yesterday that it was the breeding season for tarantulas. Claude suddenly spots one; we all go to see it. It’s dark beige/brown and doesn’t seem scared by our presence. While they bring the rocks I lay the chicken wire in the trench and start laying the rocks in it. We stop working at 2:30, everybody is exhausted.

With wire I tie the exhaust in order not to loose it on the way back.
Beautiful light on the way back. Slow and dense traffic on I-15. Before getting to Cajon Pass I see the air above LA, dirty, dirty…
4 hours to drive back! I’m dead!

Saturday 22 November
I leave Venice at 5:50. This time I take the 405 then the 14 through Lancaster till Mojave. I drive fast and get to the site at 8:00 before the others.
It’s cold and this time the wind blows from the North, Santa Ana wind. They get there a little later. I spend the day building up the Gabion. Deena sorts the rocks in sizes and saves the quartz for the surface. Claude, Mark and later Adam go to glean rocks with buckets. They found a big chunk of marble that we set on the apex of the gabion. Around 3 the gabion has all the rocks it needs. It’s a nice mixture of granite and quartz.

We start pulling the chicken wire around it and at 4:30 Adam leaves to camp toward the setting sun, the others go to Barstow and I stay here. It’s cold and the wind has stopped. In the car I read parts of a book about permaculture that Claude lent to me.

Sunday 23 November
I wake up at 3:00 totally frozen; it’s freezing inside the car. I get dressed and go back in the sleeping bag. Get up at 5:00. Start the car to warm up. Beautiful sun rise. The desert is quiet and handsome. I work at sewing the chicken wire until the others get there at 7:00. I want to finish the gabion and the French drain today and we want to leave at noon. Deena stays with me while the others go get gravel with Adam’s truck (2 trips).
The "girls" arrive at 10:30, muffled up. After a few words they disappear upstream to install their blue balls.
I dig the trench for the French drain on the inside of the gabion with a slight declivity toward the extremities. We fill the pipe with gravel.
Jim (the real-estate agent that helped us find this piece of land) comes for a visit with his wife. I don’t know how long they’ve been living in Hinkley but they said that they have seen a coyote only once. Is it such a desolate land that there are almost no animals? We have seen a few jackrabbits with their long, black tipped ears…
No wind today, pleasant temperature.
We wanted to finish at noon and we did. We managed to install the French drain, cover it with gravel and a last layer of dirt.
On the way back I stop in Mojave for a burger, I can barely move. I’m back home at three. There’s no question that his itinerary beats the other one!

Monday 24 November
Email to Paul Measeles of the Water Forum. He’s given us very good advises for our installation. I ask him advice for the rest of it. I’m nervous because I don’t fully grasp the laws of hydrology and I would not like the installation not to function.
On the web Laura finds a tank that could suit our purpose. 300 gallons and 1’ high but no contact except for an email address.

Tuesday 25 November
Shopping at Home Depot for the installation. 100 feet of 4" pipes with all the connections. I also get a watering timer that runs on a battery.
Laura finds a company in Puerto Rico that sells the tank.

Thursday 26 November
I call the company in Puerto Rico. They manufacture that tank; it costs about $600 plus shipping. I’m not sure that we can afford it.
In the afternoon I prepare the silt trap and I make a box to protect the watering timer.

Friday 28 November
I had set the alarm clock at 5 to beat Thanksgiving traffic. A little later Laura gets up and makes me notice that it’s 4:20! This alarm clock doesn’t work anymore! Oh well this way I have plenty of time to get ready. I leave at 5:30. It’s pitch dark. 405, 5, 14. Around Santa Clara le wind is blowing strong, the car dances on the road. Around Palmdale the sun rises through the clouds. Lockhart Road is empty (as usual). It’s overcast and it seems that they are some local rains. Today the mirrors of the solar plant are silver; there is almost no patch of blue sky. A hum fills the air, I wonder where it comes from, it’s usually so quiet here. After a while I realize that it must come from the 58 which is about 14 miles to the South.
I bring the tools and the pipes to the site. It’s quite cold. I trace two of the gardens (the closest ones to the gabion) with a radius of 5’. I start to install the connection for the pipes.
This site is like a watchtower, you can easily see at a radius of 10 miles. Toward the South West at about 3 miles some people came to camp at the foot of a rocky hill. They often use that place to shoot. Today I can hear their voices. What I thought was the Big Bear is in fact the Cucamonga Peak in the Los Angeles Forest.
A bird lands on a salt bush about 10’ away. I whistle, it doesn’t answer. There are not that many birds around here. Sometimes I’ve seen small prey birds. Last weekend we saw migratory birds in a V formation flying toward the South, were they ducks?
10:30, the temperature is rising. I start digging the trench for the pipes. At the end of my lunch break Deena & Claude arrive. Claude helps me with the trench while Deena studies the positioning of the "gardens". We stop around 4. Deena & Claude set their tent up.
Beautiful show all around at sunset. We all dine on Thanksgiving leftovers. They tell me that they will not be able to stay longer than tomorrow night. I’m a little disapointed.Toward the South the clouds reflect the lights of Lancaster and Victorville, deep orange. Around 6 it’s getting too cold to stay outside. They retreat in their tent, me in my car.

Saturday 29 November
This time I laid two layers of corrugated cardboard under my thin foam mattress. I woke up around midnight, drenched in sweat. That cardboard really helps! I get up at 6. Temperature below freezing. Claude & Deena froze also in their tent.
Together with Deena we locate the centers of the seven "gardens".
Mark and his little brother Michael (19) get there at 10. Great we’re going to have more help! There is still so much to do! With them I dig the pond, which is located downstream from the gabion about 150 feet away. We line the bottom with plastic and cover it with a layer of sand.
I level and glue two pipes that will connect the French drain to the "Garden" #2. Deena seals the silt trap to the end of it and to another one. With Michael we dig the trench for the pipe for the "Garden" #1. I connect two pipes in it; there is less than 10’ missing. I’ll get it next time.

During this time Deena, Claude and Mark dig the "Garden" #5, turn the dirt around mixing it with gypsum to neutralize the salinity of the soil.
On the Internet Laura had found a site explaining how to set a fence around a garden to protect against rabbits. You have to dig a trench, 6"deep and 6" wide. You have to fold the bottom 6" of the chicken wire and lay it flat at the bottom of the trench. Deena sows seeds of "Desert Marigold" and waters them with 2 gallons of water. With Claude we finish installing the fence. This garden, except for the gypsum, will be left on its own. It’s ready!

Mark and Michael leave at 3 and we stop at 4. We are making progress. Marvelous sunset.
Moisture 2 is now underway.

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