Category Archives: Landscape

Posts relating to the ongoing development of the Kater Landscape.

Actively Aerated Compost Tea



One teaspoon of soil has 1 billion bacteria, 1 million fungi, and 10,000 amoebas, protozoa, and nematodes. These critters are vital to maintaining a healthy soil. Commercial fertilizers are salt based, and poison the soil. Once the soil dies, you need to constantly feed your plants to keep them alive. The plants become dependent on the added fertilizer.


A more sustainable solution is to feed the soil, not the plants. If you have healthy soil, the plants will get all the nutrients they need from the soil. There are many teas that will help you feed your soil. This post features a super brew called actively aerated compost tea.  It is very simple and inexpensive to make and it works wonders.  There are many recipes for it. This one is adapted from an article by Diane Kennedy on and a class in Soil Alchemy that she conducted in July of 2013.

You will need a 5-gallon bucket, a paint strainer or cheesecloth or an old sock, a fish tank aerator or air bubbler, and some organic unsulphered molasses.


Fill the bucket with either rainwater or tap water. If the water contains chlorine, let it sit at least a day or aerate the water for 1 to 3 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate.


Take the paint strainer and fill it with samples of good soil from around your property.  If you don’t have any good soil, then add the best you have and then take good soil from areas as close to your property as possible.  If you will be using the tea on bushes and trees, then be sure to take soil from under the same.  Woody plants  like highly fungal soil.  If you will be using the tea for annuals and veggies, then go heavy on fine, well-composted soil that is bacteria-rich.  Do the best you can; you can’t go wrong unless you take soil that has been sprayed with chemicals, use treated wood chips, or anaerobic soil (you’ll smell it if you do).


Place a stick or pvc tube across the top of the bucket, and tie the top of the cloth to it with twine so the the soil is suspended in the water.


Place the aerator or bubbler in the bucket, making sure the air intake hose is clear, and plug it in. An aerator with two outlets provides a better distribution of oxygen


Add about a tablespoon of molasses.  It is important that the molasses is unsulphered and organic for the same reasons that the water shouldn’t have chlorine in it or the soil any chemicals: those things will hurt the microbes that you will be growing.  For growth of other microbes, add about a teaspoon of any or all of the following: organic cornmeal, organic wheat flour, liquid kelp, and if you have it tucked away in your shed, bonemeal and bloodmeal (otherwise don’t buy it specially!).


Allow the aerator to do its thing for about 13 hours.   The micororganisms in the compost will feed on the molasses and oxygen, reproducing until at about 13 hours their numbers will peak and begin dying off a little.  The tea should be used within a couple of hours.


What this tea is doing when applied, is establishing or boosting the fungus, bacteria, amoebas, nematodes, and other soil inhabitants in your dirt, all of which are native to your particular area.  If you have decent soil already, then you can use this tea 1:10 parts dechlorinated water.  If you have rotten dirt, use it straight along with a topping of compost.  Compost, whether it be cooked composed compost, straight leaf matter, shredded wood, logs, damp cardboard or natural fabrics, all provide shelter and hold moisture in so that your microbes have habitat.  Compost, of course, is the best source of food, moisture and shelter for them.


Apply the tea with a watering can, or a sprayer that has a large opening for the nozzle if you are using the tea as a foliar spray.  A squeeze-trigger bottle used for misting has too narrow an opening and will kill a lot of the little guys you have just grown.


Using the tea as a foliar spray will treat disease, fungus and nutrient deficiencies, and help protect plants against insect attack.  Instead of spraying sulfur or Bordeaux solution on your trees as is preached by modern gardening books, use compost tea on the leaves and around the drip line. When applied to leaves, the plant’s exudates hold the beneficial microorganisms to the stomata or breathing holes protecting them from disease and many harmful insects. You can’t overdose with compost tea.


All the additives that are recommended to ‘improve’ your soil are bandages not solutions.  Think of the billions of soft-bodied creatures living in your soil, waiting for organic matter to eat.  Then think of the lime, the rock dusts, the gypsum, the sulfur, the NPK concentrated chemical fertilizers (even derived from organic sources), poured onto these creatures.  It burns them, suffocates them and kills them.  Your plants show some positive results to begin with because they’ve just received a dose of nutrients, both from what you applied and from the dead bodies of all those murdered microbes.  However the problem still is there.  The only long-term solution to locked-up nutrients in the soil, hard pan, heavy clay, sand, compaction, burned, or poisoned soil, is good microbe-filled compost.  Remember that microbes turn soil into a neutral pH, and allow more collection of neutral pH rainwater.  Nutrients in the soil all become available at a neutral pH; there is no such thing as an iron-deficient soil.  The nutrients are just locked away from the roots because of the lack of microbes and the pH.

Bramble Yard Journal

My backyard transformation seems to have a life of its own. It grows in fits and spurts. I seem to be drawn from one project to another, inspired by things Donna and I have seen in our travels, or just a new inspiration suggested by the shape of the terrain, or the flow of water, or an improvement on a previous creation. I’ve long since learned not to be overly planful or controlling of the process. It’s much more energizing to just go with the flow and watch the yard grow organically.

There is no way to chronicle the evolution of the yard in a linear fashion. A more useful approach is a pictorial journal organized by meaningful groupings such as sections of the yard or significant features such as the deck and the water system. With this in mind, I created a Web Journal (using iPhoto on my iPad). I update it periodically and publish it to iCloud. You can view it at any time to see the latest changes. Click on this link, or copy it into your browser:;CAEQARoQYcG3XcSyaTPPSzN8aQt5vw;59C171A9-2F00-4BEE-92F6-D96AA7B38720

I’ve included a few sample pictures in the slideshow below. Enjoy!






Hammock and Hanging Chair




Donna has been talking about a hammock for years. Finally, a location suggested itself – underneath the olive tree. the olive tree would supply one sturdy anchor, and I could erect a pole about 13′ away to anchor the other end of the hammock. Using that area would require clearing out all the junk stored there, as well as leveling the steep slope. So, I set about removing all the bags of rocks, compost, and plant pots. Then got to work on installing rock cages as retaining walls to provide support for a level area under the hammock. Once the cages were in place, I dug out the rocks, brought in some fill dirt, and leveled the area. I decided to run drip lines into the area and plant dymondia and irish moss as ground covers.

Erecting the pole turned out to be a bit of a challenge. I started with a previously used pole that had a big ball of concrete at the bottom. It seemed like the concrete would make a nice heavy anchor. I dug a large hole, set the pole, and added a bunch of concrete on top. After letting it set for 24 hours, I was eager to try it out. So, I hung the hammock, and set on it. Imagine my surprise when the pole tilted about 30 degrees, the hammock sagged, and my rear end nearly touched the ground. Not quite what I had in mind. So, I got out my sledge hammer and removed all the concrete from the pole. Then I burried at stack of planter pots in the large hole as space holders and packed the dirt around it. I used a tamper every few inches to make sure the dirt was firmly packed around the planter pots. When the dirt was in place, I removed the planter pots to reveal a narrow deep hole. The rest was easy. I inserted the pole and poured in concrete. When the concrete was set, the pole was firmly anchored. Success! That pole is not going anywhere.

We paid a couple of visits to swings ‘n things in Seaport Village and selected a rope hammock with spreader bars. We also decided to get a hanging chair to hang upslope on the other side of the olive tree.

The hammock and chair are great additions to our yard – colorful, great conversation pieces, and extremely comfortable.




We returned from a trip to the bay area with a “volunteer” wisteria plant from our friends Rich and Jamie. Then, we won a couple of kiwi vines from a raffle during a seminar on fruit trees at Brother Steve’s school. So, we needed to build or obtain a structure to support these vines. Then, I chanced upon an small archway at an estate sale. It would make a nice entryway to a pergola. Looking around the yard, Donna and I decided to locate the vines and support structure on the East side of the house, following our curvy pathway.

Although many pergolas are made with wood, I decided to go with metal. It doesn’t rot like wood, and proper paint and sealing would minimize the chances of rust. I had quite a few 2′ by 8′ very sturdy art grids that would make a perfect platform for hanging vines. To support them, I went with 10′ galvanized EMT metal poles sunk 2′ into concrete. I also used some pvc connectors and large pvc pipe for lateral support.

Since the pathway curves, I overlapped the grids at slight angles so that the 30′ long pergola followed the pathway in a polygonal fashion. The resulting structure is strong and sexy. Now, it is just a matter of encouraging the growth of the vines up the poles and keeping them trimmed as they fill in on top of the grids.

Creating Yard Signs

I’ve been looking around as I visit various gardens, somewhat envious of their plant ID signs. Question is, how do you create signs that will do your garden proud, not break the bank, and last a good long time. There is always the cheap plastic signs from the 99¢ store, but the writing fades pretty rapidly in the weather, even with a “permanent” marker.

Looking around for possible posts, I found both pvc pipe and EMT metal pipe left over from other projects as well as some unlabeled brown paint that was left over from the previous owner. Those items fit my budget perfectly – free. The pvc is easy to cut on a diagonal, but rigid only in short lengths; whereas the EMT is very sturdy in longer lengths. I decided to join the two together to make custom sign heights. Using a hand file, I could form the pvc pipe to fit snugly inside the 3/4″ EMT pipe, and using a rasp drill bit, I could core out the pvc to fit snugly over the 1/2″ EMT pipe.

Now for the sign part. My Sister-in-law, Lora, has been printing images on metal for my art business for quite some time, and her prices are very reasonable. She uses a dye sublimation process, so the image is chemically fused to the metal. It is not guaranteed to hold up forever in the direct sunlight, but I bought some Krylon UV protecting spray to give the signs the best chance for survival in the wild. I figured it is definitely worth a shot.

So, I sent her the images. She printed and cut the signs, and they were back in my shop within days.

In case you are interested in trying this, contact: Their base prices are $1.75 for 3.5″ x 2″, $4.75 for 10″ x 2.5″, and $12.50 for 8″ x 10″ You can contact Smart Charms at (623) 536-6960 discuss pricing or custom sizes.

While the signs were in production, I cut the pvc to 6″ lengths, cut a diagonal on one end, then fashioned the other end to fit either the large or small EMT pipes. I cut the EMT pipes to different lengths. Then I painted all the pipes.

Once the cut signs arrived, I glued the diagonal cut end of the 6″ pvc pipes to the signs and let them dry over night. to install, I pounded the EMT pipe into the soil until it was secure, then installed the pvc/sign into it. One last touch up of the paint. The final step was to spray each sign with Krylon UV resistant clear spray. The results are in the slide show below.




Installing Gabion Cages

So the excavation under the deck began.


I tossed the dirt down the slope, but carefully harvested the rocks in buckets and sand bags. These rocks would be used to fill the gabion cages to make the retaining walls.


Once there was room, I installed the first cage. I filled it with rocks, then used two or three 3/8″ or 1/2″ rebar to anchor the cages into the soil. As I stacked the cages on top of each other, the rebar was inserted in the rocks to provide stability between the cages. Notice the rebar sticking up out of the cages. For cages placed side by side, I ran rebar horizontally between them as well.FirstCagesUnderDeck1-5-2011 I also tied the cages together with the galvanized wire.

Extending The Irrigation System

The builder had installed an irrigation system to water the front lawn, shrubbery around the house, front tree, and the myoporum on the eastern slope.  It was centered on the front (Southern) and eastern side of the house. It was primarily a sprinkler system with some drip lines. The system was controlled by a timer in the garage, with eight stations, some of which were unused.

My goals in extending the system were to

  1. Convert the sprinklers to drip lines to conserver water.
  2. Extend the system to include the North and West sides of the yard. This included the deck and the extensive slope below the deck.

The valves were located in a covered box just East of the house. I determined to extend the water line and the electric wires from there to the newly created area under the deck. There, I could place additional valves to control irrigation in the areas I planned to develop. I devised a manifold with four valves.



I installed it underneath the deck, anchored to the rebar extending from the gabion cages.


First Yard Project

The first thing I tackled in the yard was excavating under the deck. Looking back, it may not have been a logical choice, but it is what called to me at the time. I had the idea of clearing out the slope to make a workroom and storage room under the deck. Yes, a man cave, if you will.

This is what it looked like before excavation.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAMostly, a lot of dirt. So, I need to figure out a way to build retaining walls to hold up the remaining dirt, and most importantly, hold up the several pylons that support the deck. I attended a class at RCP on building a retaining wall.





Their plan involved some very expensive interlocking retaining wall block, with 6″ of gravel just inside the retaining wall through which water could drain, as well as a ditch with a drain pipe to direct that water elsewhere. Yikes! a lot of work and a lot of money. So, I decided to look for another solution. Then, a friend mentioned how cities and industry use gabion boxes filled with rocks as retaining walls. Here is an example.



This seemed like a viable possibility, since my property is an old river bed, and there are plenty of rocks available in the soil. All I had to do was dig them out and put them in gabion cages.

So, where do you obtain the gabions? I checked online for sources, but it seemed like they were only for large industrial uses, with minimum order size 5,000 units or more. Not a good solution for someone looking to do things on a minimal budget. I check at Home Depot for a material that I could use to make my own cages. I found this.WeldedWireRoll

Rolls of welded wire, 14 gauge, with openings 2″ x 4″. Stronger than chicken wire. I figured out how to fold it to make my own cages, and used 16 guage galvanized wire to provide cross support and tie cages together. More on making cages in another post. Here is my first model of gabion cage one foot deep, one foot tall, and about three feet wide.



I used weed retardant material to line the first cages, but  after a while, I decided that wasn’t necessary if you used large enough rocks.

One huge advantage of building retaining walls out of rocks and wire is that water can flow right through the cages and down the slope. The water doesn’t build up on the inside as with traditional retaining wall blocks. So, you don’t need to provide the 6″ layer of gravel or the drain pipe at the bottom.


Introduction to Landscaping Posts


We got lucky in 2010. Found a house in a well-established rural La Mesa neighborhood. The house was only 5 years old and in pristine condition. Very spacious. The yard was just the opposite. It was one-quarter of an acre, but mostly unusable because of a very steep slope, full of weeds. Nothing pristine about it.

I saw that as an opportunity to transform the landscape into something usable and enjoyable. That was the beginning of my fascination with the landscape. Some would call it an addiction. I’ll share the evolution of the yard in this blog, and you can decide if it is an addiction or a healthy hobby.