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News

LA Council race adds 3 new faces to city politics

LA Council race adds 3 new faces to city politics


The Town Crier chronicled the first election of Los Altos City Council incumbent Jarrett Fishpaw in 2010 and documented the Los Altos candidacy of Jean Mordo, who volunteered as a longtime public servant in Los Altos Hills before moving to the flat...

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Schools

St. Simon launches web-based learning management system

St. Simon launches web-based learning management system


Courtesy of St. Simon Parish School
St. Simon fifth-grader Matthew Cummins uses a laptop in class last week. The school’s cloud-based Schoology system boosts organization and collaboration.

Families at St. Simon Parish School in Los Altos laun...

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Community

Los Altos to celebrate 100 years of library use with 'Centennial Faire'

Los Altos to celebrate 100 years of library use with 'Centennial Faire'


Town Crier File Photo
The Los Altos main library is among the more popular branches in the county library district system, set to celebrate 100 years.

In 1914, Babe Ruth made his debut with the Boston Red Sox, wages hit $5 per day, the first ste...

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Sports

Eagles eye another stellar season

Eagles eye another stellar season


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos High outside hitter Carmen Annevelink, right, goes for the kill Thursday against Palo Alto, as teammates Sarah Tritschler, left, and Lulu Kishton prepare to play defense. The Eagles won the match in straight ga...

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Comment

Torok, Walter, Dave for MVLA board: Editorial

There’s really nothing major you can criticize about the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District. It offers a diverse array of effective programs for all types of students. Its instructors, with few exceptions, are outstanding.

Howe...

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Special Sections

'Funabout' Fiat

'Funabout' Fiat


Photos courtesy of Fiat
The 2014 Fiat 500e uses 29 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles, which the engineers claim is the equivalent of 116 mpg of gas use. It has a sticker price of $33,095.

If you believe in climate change, would love to see alternat...

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Business

App developer eyes First Friday as testing ground

App developer eyes First Friday as testing ground


Ted Fagenson

An East Bay app developer is testing his newest creation in downtown Los Altos.

Ted Fagenson, co-founder of Skrownge (pronounced “scrounge”), told the Town Crier that he’s beta testing his mobile gaming app this week ...

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Books

From story to bookstore: Local journey highlights Halloween

From story to bookstore: Local journey highlights Halloween


Courtesy of Dee Ellmann
Jenny Hurwick self-published her picture book last month after decades of storytelling.

During her years working as a teacher and a Los Altos mom, Jenny Hurwick loved to tell stories. One tale she crafted for her son just se...

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People

VINCENT (TIM) MURPHY JR.

VINCENT (TIM) MURPHY JR.

July 27, 1953 – August 12, 2014

Native Los Altan died Medford, OR. Graduated Bellarmine Prep. Married Josephine Domino, 1950. Licensed Auto Mechanic, Private Pilot, skilled Computer Scientist. Tim “could fix anything”. Afflicted with cancer 2001. ...

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Travel

Taking a Turkey trek: Winging it during the World Cup

Taking a Turkey trek: Winging it during the World Cup


Rich Robertson/Special to the Town Crier
The sun sets over the Aegean Sea in Bodrum, Turkey, left.

Tours that whisk you from Istanbul to Bodrum in 11 days are as plentiful as souvenir hawkers in Turkey, but traveling from the Blue Mosque to Topkapi ...

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Stepping Out

'Gypsy' on its way out

'Gypsy' on its way out


Chris Berger/Special to the Town Crier
Alison Koch of Los Altos plays Dainty June in “Gypsy.”

This is the final weekend to catch the Sunnyvale Community Players production of “Gypsy” at the Sunnyvale Theatre. The musical is slated to close Sund...

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Spiritual Life

Ugandan pastor visits U.S. to raise support for children's ministry

Ugandan pastor visits U.S. to raise support for children's ministry


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Herman Lukwago educates children in Uganda.

Imagine life if your father had 25 children and you were raised in poverty in rural Uganda.

Now imagine that you and your siblings were orphaned at an early age and you ass...

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Magazine

Local events add color to autumn calendar

Local events add color to autumn calendar


Van Houtte/town crier Visitors make their way through the Children’s Alley.

As Los Altos’ signature Chinese Pistache trees exchange their summer green for vibrant hues of yellow, orange and red in the fall, an abundance of local events also ad...

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Planting seeds: Common Ground manager offers tips for local gardeners


Photos Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Patricia Becker, above, is manager of the Common Ground Garden Supply and Education Center, bottom right, which sells everything gardeners would need to start and maintain their outdoor havens, such as plants and edibles, below left, and seeds, below right.

The Town Crier recently conducted an email interview with Patricia Becker, manager of Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center in Palo Alto. The 42-year-old nonprofit organization’s mission is to provide education and resources to support the local community in growing gardens sustainably through the cultivation of edible and native plants.

For more information, visit commongroundinpaloalto.org.

Q: What is Common Ground?

Becker: Our full name is Common Ground Garden Supply and Education Center. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit serving the San Francisco Bay Area. We offer classes and events in sustainable gardening and lifestyles. We sell seeds and plants, organic composts, tools, natural disease and pest control products, books, magazines, cards and local gift items.

Q: How many people does Common Ground serve annually?

Becker: We had over 400 participants in one day for our Annual Edible Landscaping Tour in July 2013. An estimate is close to 100,000.

Q: What sort of products can someone expect to find at Common Ground?

Becker: Everything for your gardening needs, organic and sustainable from A to Z. And if we don’t have it, you probably don’t need it!

Q: What are the five most important tools for gardening?

Becker: High-quality pruners, a digging fork, a spade, a hand trowel and gloves. No. 6 would be comfortable, tough shoes.

Q: What is the best time of year to start planting a garden?

Becker: California has two optimal planting seasons – in all honesty, gardens can be planted here in the Bay Area at any time of year. Except December. We sell a “Common Ground Planting Guide” for this area that lists what to start in flats or directly in each month. It is a best-seller and highly recommended.

Q: Which plants grow best with maximum sunlight, and which do best with more shade?

Becker: Most edible plants prefer six to eight hours of sun per day. Certainly, plants will grow with less light, but the amount of flowers and fruit one receives usually correlates with how much sunlight is provided.

Q: Which plants flourish in local yards?

Becker: Plants that have come from Mediterranean climates will do very well. But overall, most plants find our climate quite amenable.

Q: What are some foolproof plants for the novice gardener?

Becker: Culinary and medicinal herbs, Nasturtium edible flowers, Calendula edible flowers, mints, lavenders, salvias. Most edible plants and California native plants are relatively easy to grow.

Q: What should you consider before replanting or redesigning your garden?

Becker: How much time will you truly spend in your garden? Who is going to care for it, and is that person up to the task? If the garden includes edible goodies, which fruits and veggies will the family actually eat?

Consider taking a Common Ground class that can help answer your questions.

Q: Gov. Jerry Brown recently declared a drought emergency in California. What are some ways gardeners can conserve this year?

Becker: Water at night. Mulch, mulch and more mulch. Rosalind Creasy, author of the wonderful book “Edible Landscaping,” suggests that we consider taking out our lawns and replacing them with food gardens. She points out, “Lawns require 1 inch of water per week; at that rate, using irrigation only, a 25-by-40-foot (1,000-square-foot) lawn can suck up about 625 gallons of water weekly, or approximately 10,000 gallons of water each summer.”

Q: What are your favorite ways to maximize a smaller garden space?

Becker: Growing plants like peas on a vertical support is fun, wise and attractive. Also, in our arid climate, it’s possible to grow plants closer together than might be suggested by a book or seed packet.

Q: What is the best way to fertilize the garden? Is it different for flowers than for edible plants?

Becker: If an organic fertilizer is used, then there should not be any difference in application between edible or ornamental plants. Different plants do require different foods, so it’s best to know those differences before they’re fed. The best way to fertilize is up to each individual gardener, but most opt for either broadcasting handfuls of fertilizer or spraying it with a hose-end sprayer.

Q: What are some bee-friendly plants? What are the benefits to having bees in the garden?

Becker: A beehive near your garden is said to improve yields of fruit and vegetables upwards of 35 percent. Most flowering plants will be visited by bees. Lavenders are particularly reliable attractors.

Q: What is the most challenging part of gardening, and how do you overcome the challenges?

Becker: The best garden is the garden that is paid attention to. Finding time to tend the garden is typically the greatest challenge. Otherwise, gardening is a pastime that can be enjoyed by essentially anyone.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who insists they have a “black” thumb?

Becker: You are what you say you are. Pay attention to your garden and your thumb will green up in no time.

Q: What are some great potted plants/edibles that work well in smaller garden spaces?

Becker: Citrus is a good potted fruit tree. Blueberries do well in pots. Lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, just about every type of edible plant can be grown in a container. We sell a popular book, the best book for growing edibles in container, “Container Gardening” by Rose Marie Nichols.

Q: What are some good guidelines when it comes to watering? Every day? Twice a week? Does it depend on what is growing or the season?

Becker: Typically, one waters less in the winter when the days are cooler and shorter (maybe twice a week max), and then in the summer, perhaps three, sometimes four times per week.

Q: Where can local residents find answers to their gardening questions?

Becker: By taking classes at Common Ground, where you learn and meet gardening friends. Our classes really educate the students.

Q: What are some upcoming Common Ground events that might be useful to local gardeners, expert or novice?

Becker: We have a superb Edible Garden Series beginning Saturday and running into late spring, which covers most aspects of organic gardening, all the way from design to harvest. We’re also offering a class Feb. 15 that will give gardeners ideas and strategies for how to get more from their garden in less time, taught by a Common Ground staff member.


Common Ground Garden Shop readies for Spring - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

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