Last week I was fortunate to attend the 2014 International Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) in Long Beach, California. The theme of this year’s meeting is ‘Grand Challenges, Great Solutions’. Most of the days are spent listening to 15 minute presentations or viewing research-based posters on a variety of topics ranging from adaptive nutrient management to zinc and everything in between.

Hollywood sign from Griffiths Park Observatory

Hollywood sign from Griffiths Park Observatory

One of the best parts of these conferences is being able to go on field trips to a variety of destinations depending on where the conference is held. Last Sunday was the Urban Soils, Agriculture and Brownfields of the Los Angeles Basin tour. The day-long tour started out at the Griffith Park Observatory at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains. Most readers will recognize the iconic Hollywood sign in the distance but the true high point of this stop was examining some of the granitic saprolite (rotting bedrock) that was the parent materials of the soils in the southeastern part of the park. The soils were very light in color and sandy and vegetation on them was somewhat sparse especially on slopes. Trees damaged by forest fires a few years prior to our visit were also pointed out.

Granitic soils at Griffith Park

Granitic soils at Griffith Park

Next stop was the Taylor Yard Brownsfield and reclamation project. Taylor Yard is a 247 acre former railroad site that has about 2 miles of frontage on the Los Angeles River. This is very special as it is the largest undeveloped piece of land along this river. A group of citizens, spearheaded by Melanie Winters, for the River Project and has been advocating and fighting for the creation of an urban park for passive and active recreation uses as well as ecosystem recreation and stormwater detention. While the purchase of a final 44 acre parcel is still in the works, this area now supplies city residents with ball fields and nature trails.

Melanie Winters of the River Project

Melanie Winters of the River Project

At Echo Park, we got to see an Anthraltic Xerorthent. Soil scientists classify soil by their defined properties in a manner similar to how botanists classify plants or zoologists, animals. What this basically tells us is that it is a young, well-drained soil developed in human transported material without a lot of subsoil development yet. Some of the neighbors joined our group to hear our NRCS guide describe the soil to us.

Randy Riddle of the NRCS showing us an anthraltic xerorthent

Randy Riddle of the NRCS showing us an anthraltic xerorthent

La Brea Tar pits was really quite fascinating and I wish we could have spent more time there. It is really hard to fathom that we are able to view bones from creatures that existed up to 40,000 years ago.

The bones of many animals are glued together in this tar. Scientists carefully separate them out bit by bit.

The bones of many animals are glued together in this tar. Scientists carefully separate them out bit by bit.

Animals were attracted to the thin layer of water on top of the sticky tar. Once they went over to take a drink, they were trapped in the tar and either died of hunger or thirst or became dinner for carnivores who in turn also became trapped,  and died.

The tar pits are covered by a shallow layer of water that attracts animals even to this day.

The tar pits are covered by a shallow layer of water that attracts animals even to this day.

Last stop was Ocean View Farms, the largest community garden in Los Angeles County. It was established in 1977 and sits on a hillside overlooking Santa Monica Bay. There are over 500 plots and they have quite a long waiting list. The gardens varied considerably in their contents – from vegetables and herbs to roses and other ornamentals. Fruit trees are also planted and the harvest is shared.

Their composting system was most impressive. Garden trimmings and debris get put in a large pile, except for a couple of noxious weeds which get sorted into a trash container. Then, on Saturdays, dedicated volunteers come and put the trimmings through a shredder and into a large pallet bin. The trimmings are layered with horse manure from a neighboring stable. The compost is turned by hand and when it ends up in the finished bin, it is first come, first serve for the gardeners.

Composting system at Ocean View Farms

Composting system at Ocean View Farms

Long Beach is really beautiful and the days were warm and sunny. I couldn’t wait to get back to the East Coast, however. There are just way too many overly pruned plants out  there! Plants are not meant to be square!

One of the many square plants

One of the many square plants

Soils rule!

Dawn P.