Healdsburg, Modern Grange, Watershed

If This Creek Could Talk

They say a man never steps into the same river twice. But what if he steps into what used to be a creek, then became a slough, and then became a creek again? Perhaps then, he's stepped into a story.

Foss Creek, the Russian River tributary that we quite literally overlook here at SHED, is a waterway that has been through a few such changes in identity. Like all natural resources, it has had an evolving relationship with the region’s human population. Since the time of early settlers, Foss has transitioned from utilitarian waterway to beloved neighborhood creek – a storied past that we’ll learn about in our free community talk and creek walk tonight in the Grange from 5-7:30pm.

In Healdsburg’s early days, people knew the creek to be wide, full, and as one pioneer enthused, a great place to raise ducks. In Healdsburg Tribune editions from the 1880s, a time at which fishing reports were regularly served along with local news, it was noted that the creek teamed with trout after a heavy rainstorm. After one such rain, a local resident was lauded for catching 50 trout one day, 60 the next. 

But as Healdsburg’s population grew in the late 1800s, the creek was used for more industrial purposes. A tannery and gristmill were built alongside its banks, and its waters were used to carry away production waste. Residents also used the creek for household waste in the days before indoor plumbing was common.  

Near the turn of the last century, the creek was known as Norton Slough, and served as a dividing line between the more and less desirable parts of town. The illicit area on the Western edge of Healdsburg had its dance halls, brothels, saloons, and other houses of ill repute a mere footbridge away from the tidier lives of "decent" citizenry.


After a century or more of misuse, the creek became overgrown with wild brush and liable to flood. It occasionally did and could cause serious damage — something many current residents will remember. But now, thanks to Russian Riverkeeper’s Foss Creek Community Restoration Project, much of the invasive non-native plants have been removed, which has reduced flooding impact and improved wildlife habitat along the creek. Today, depending on season and rainfall, the former slough is home to crayfish, sculpin, and even the occasional otter

At tonight’s community creek walk, Don McEnhill, executive director of Russian Riverkeeper, and Jack Sorocco, longtime Healdsburg resident and raconteur, will reveal the history of Foss Creek through colorful stories and historic photographs, then lead us in a guided walk down a portion of the creek to point out ecological and historical features of note. Families are welcome. Bring your walking shoes, your camera, and get ready to take a trip up the creek and back in time. 

Many thanks to the Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society for the use of their archive and images. 

Farming, Watershed

Bare Roots? Water with Care

Master landscaper Robert Kourik is experiencing some doubt. He's slated to give a bare root tree planting workshop at SHED on Feb. 15, but is this the year to establish new bare roots? With California experiencing a record drought, the constant water that saplings need to get established gives even this veteran some pause.

"It's pretty difficult to justify unless you're using gray water or catching water from your shower before it gets hot," he says. "It's a tight situation." 

But not all is lost with the bare root season. Drip irrigation done right can squeeze the smallest amount from your taps and keep your trees in trim until water regulations lift or the skies open. "Drip irrigation doesn't use that much water," Kourik says thoughtfully. "But it's still water."

And eventually, it's still food. Planting your own trees for your own kitchen allows you control in how it's tended, something you don't always have knowledge of when purchasing from large commercial growers. 

Kourik estimates that two minutes of drip irrigation a day might be all it takes to keep your bare root trees alive — particularly if you place the irrigation properly. A common beginner's mistake is to concentrate the drip around the tree's trunk. In fact, spacing the irrigation components out from the trunk make for a hardier tree, because it forces the roots to spread out to seek their sustenance. 

"You can cut your usage back by 70 percent if you put the water at the right place, not near the trunk, and use a lot of mulch," Kourik says. "Putting water near the trunk results in root bondage, and you run the risk of killing the thing all together."

The author of 11 books, including the newly revamped Drip Irrigation for Every Landscape and All Climates, Kourik wrote the defining guide to edible landscaping back in the '70s. And of course, when Californians discuss the '70s, we must discuss 1976, the year of the last massive drought.

Back then, Kourik was one of the first landscapers to try gray water irrigation for his clients, admitting that the system he jerryrigged wouldn't be appropriate today. "It used too many water systems," he says.

And, he cautions, gray water should be handled with care. Kourik suggests not using it to water edibles that might be splashed or otherwise soaked by the stuff. Tomatoes, which hang from a vine, are a good choice. 

If you are going to plant bare root trees this spring, Kourik advises building a small moat around the trees in tandem with the drip line. That way, if you hand-water them, the water will spread out from the trunk just as your drip line intends. 

Kourik had to change his profession during the 1976 drought. Year-round traditional landscapers suffered too severely. As we anxiously wait for the skies to pour, what can we learn during this drought?

Robert Kourik is slated to give a bare root tree planting workshop on Saturday, Feb. 15, at 11am. $25. Check for details and pray for rain.

Artisan Producers, Farming, Watershed

Brine and Sweet and Raw

We are so lucky to welcome aquaculturist and restaurateur Luc Chamberland to SHED on Sunday, Jan. 12. A former abalone farmer who worked at the famed Manka’s in Inverness before leaving to manage Hog Island’s oyster bar at the SF Ferry Building and opening Pat Kuleto’s Nick’s Cove restaurant on Tomales Bay, Luc is the owner of the Saltwater Oyster Depot, opened in 2012 as a crowd-funded eatery. Yes, he’s been a busy man.

But this busy man is taking time from his busy schedule to spend a few hours with our community to discuss the role the oyster plays in ensuring the health of Tomales Bay, among other watersheds, as well as educating us on the finer points of oyster production and, hooray!, its heady consumption.



Rain Garden

Our creekside deck will provide a bird’s eye view of SHED’s rain garden alongside Foss Creek.

Rainfall on SHED’s roof and terrace will make its way to the creek, and we want to ensure the stormwater is clean before it enters this restored waterway. Our big plans for SHED include a small ecological footprint.

Aquatic environments are sensitive, and stormwater runoff is a major polluter. Foss Creek runs the entire west side of SHED, and we are protecting it by capturing storm runoff in a rain garden. Natural and attractive, a rain garden purifies, provides habitat, and protects from flooding and erosion.

Don McEnhill of Russian Riverkeeper helped design the rain garden and select the plants. To create the garden, we dug a trench 4 feet deep x 6 feet wide x 110 feet long on the west side of SHED. We installed a bed of rock and gravel plus 2 feet of organic compost, adding rice hulls to prevent compaction. Drainage pipes deliver rainwater runoff to the soil at the top of the trench. Native plants, such as Basket Sedge and Purple Needlegrass, will absorb the stormwater’s pollutants. Bacteria and fungi in the compost will also absorb contaminants, and can even breakdown petroleum-based contaminants like gasoline, diesel, and oil. Native ferns, iris and fuchsia will take up nutrients that, otherwise, would enter the creek and stimulate growth of aquatic plants and algae. When clean and wholesome, the water will exit the rain garden and enter Foss Creek; some will recharge groundwater.

A rain garden is the perfect habitat for Douglas Iris

Don McEnhill of Russian Riverkeeper spreading compost

Oliver Lipton lends a hand

Foodshed, Toolshed, Watershed

We call ourselves SHED

For fifteen years we have been on a journey to create a lively venue inspired by good farming, good cooking and good eating – a comfortable place where people gather to eat, shop and learn.  We chose a site on North Street in downtown Healdsburg.  Next week our dream will reach a milestone when our building’s recycled steel structure begins to arrive on site, to be assembled over the coming months. We call ourselves SHED. When SHED opens this autumn, it will house a café, coffee bar, wine bar, larder, pantry, event gallery and kitchen/garden store.

SHED is our name because

  • We are tied to our foodshed, the flow of fresh food from local farms to our tables.  Our café will support farmers by featuring regional, seasonal food with a special emphasis on Sonoma County.  We will also source products from talented, local food artisans.
  • We are active conservators of our watershed:  Dry Creek, Crane Creek and Foss Creek, all waterways that feed the Russian River and provide habitat for steelhead trout and coho salmon.  A restored section of Foss Creek runs along the west side of SHED, protected by the water garden that filters rain falling from our roof.
  • We envision our market as an abundant toolshed offering beautiful, enduring tools for the kitchen, garden and farm.
  • Symbolically, a shed is an enclosure that shelters ideas, sustenance and community.  Our SHED will be a dynamic center where locals and visitors gather to learn and share:  food crafts and traditions, gardening and farming, sustainable living.

We invite you to follow us on SHED’s blog while we build out our dream.  We will set new standards and share old traditions as a café, meeting place, learning center and food/kitchen/garden store.

Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton