Happy Summer Solstice!

I love Summer Solstice!  Maybe it is because of the wonderful celebration on this day in Santa Barbara each year, when there is a fun and colorful parade down State Street and a raucous party in the part at the end of the parade line.  I rarely missed it when I lived there.

This is also a time when my gardening chores are at their peak and the results of my months of toil and labor are starting to show.  The flower garden is beginning to bloom and most of the summer veggies are now either in the ground, or still in starter pots and waiting to go in soon.

We have a few bumper crops this  season…grapes, blackberries…blueberries, honeyberries, aronia berries,  just to name a few.  I also really went overboard on the tomato plants this year.  I must have over 70 plants started!  I have a lot of great, hard-to-find varieties such as  Pink Furry Boar, Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye, Pineapple Pig and Black Cherry.  (All bred by  Brad Gates, of Wild Boar Farms, in the nearby, Napa Valley.)  My husband started his own veggie garden this year, so I gave him a lot of my tomato starts, since he has more garden real estate than I do.  We had to order more tomato cages, (actually, sheets of concrete wire that  we roll up into cages,) to accommodate all of the plants.  Needless to say, there are going to be some serious harvesting chores this fall!

Now that summer garden plan is wrapping up and I’m looking ahead to fall plantings.  We’ve ordered a few plants for fall that have just arrived: landscape roses, (Heirloom Roses,) olives, sea berries, blueberries, autumn olive, goumi and gooseberries, (from One Green World, in Oregon.)  I’ll keep them in their pots until we get past the hot weather and the rains start again, then they’ll get planted in our edible display garden, next to the already established, heirloom roses (David Austin Roses,) pomegranates, and Cornelian Cherries (again, One Green World.)

I know…you want to see pix for all of my posts.  I’m way behind in getting those to you.  I promise to have them up in the next few days.

~ C

Demonstration Garden, Planning is in the Works

A Demonstration Garden For our Boonville Cottage

I’m planning the demonstration garden for the Boonville cottage as the rain comes pouring down.  I’m stuck inside once again, so why not do something constructive?  It’s been a long, wet winter this year, offering up very few days to get out there and work in the dirt…errr…I mean mud.  We are expecting a few days of sunshine, starting this weekend, so I’m getting prepared.  I’ve got the shovels sharpened and the rototiller primed and ready to go.  Now, I’m drawing up a garden plot, even though the actual cottage isn’t built yet.  No problem, I can work around that.  The time to start the garden is now.

Demonstration Garden Will Educate

Grow Your Own Food
Demonstration garden
Demonstration garden will offer lots of fresh vegetables for our guests.

So, the big question is: What do I want my demonstration garden to demonstrate?  What are the messages that I want to get across?  Well, first off, I want my cottage guests to know that you can plant a garden to feed a family on a small, town-size lot.  We already have a row of twenty, old, apple trees along one fence line and a pear and walnut tree in the back of the property.  We could add a couple more fruit trees, such as a plum, or apricot.  As for other fruits, were planning a mini-vineyard in the front and I hope to put in some thornless blackberries and raspberries somewhere; perhaps along the fence with our neighbor, so that he can enjoy the berries too.  Of course, there will be large, permanent, veggie plots.

Edible Gardens Can Be Beautiful

I also want them to know that a self sufficient, food garden can be beautiful.  Along with flowers and climbing roses, edible landscaping is a must.  Honeyberries, strawberries and aronia berries should go around the house.

strawberries growing in the landscape
Strawberries – part of the edible landscape

Elderberries will work well for a tall, informal hedge that will block off the neighboring fairgrounds along the back line of the property.  Artichokes make nice landscape plants near the house.  I feel strongly that there should be a spattering of medicinal herbs around the lot, either as landscape, or in the veggie plots.

herbs in teh garden
Herbs, both culinary and medicinal, are a nice edition to the garden landscape
Demonstrate Gardening Techniques

Besides the plants themselves, I do want to demonstrate a few of the various gardening techniques.  Organic gardening is a must, but there could be much more than that.  Perhaps one plot could show off Veganic gardening.  Permaculture practices will definitely be part of the landscape.  We could also compare a no-till plot to a double digging plot, or new varieties of veggies compared to ancient ones.  There is a spot in the front of the shed that is always damp and shady, so that would be a good place to show off ferns and other acid-loving plants.

ferns in shade
Fill in the shady spot with ferns and other acid loving plants.

Creating the Garden Plot

So, how on earth are we going to fit demonstration garden in?  It’s not as complicated as you might think.  It’s amazing  how much food one can grow on a tiny, city lot.  (OK…so Boonville isn’t exactly a “city,” but you get my drift.)  Our guests need to enjoy the garden and be right there in the middle of it.  So, I’m thinking of designing it in a semi-circle of veggie plots, radiating out from the house and patio.  There will to be an open area for horseshoe pits and BBQ, and a hammock hidden amongst the plots.  We have to have a table and seating, so that our guests and can relax and enjoy it all.  There also needs to be a sense of privacy…a secret garden hidden from view, so hedges and fences must be considered.

As for the existing shed, it desperately needs a makeover and we’ve already started on that.  We’ve been priming the new exterior walls that will be going up on the backside of the building.  The old ones are just too rotten to try to paint over.  The final color of the shed will be a salmony, “barn red,” with cream trim.  The yellow, Lady Banks roses will climb up the sunnier sides of the building.  This building sits near the front of the property, so it will be a nice, welcoming feature as our guests drive in.

My biggest worry is how I’m going to actually DO all of this.  I’ll definitely need some help.  Volunteers would be wonderful, but I can’t really expect that, since this is a for-profit venture.  I’m sure there are some young people in town that would be willing to work with me on the weekends for pay.  My kids may pitch in once in awhile, but they have jobs and need some days off.  Of course, my hubby is always there to lend a hand…thanks, Hon.

Why a Demonstration Garden?

You’re probably asking WHY I’m doing this.  First, for educational purposes.  The people that I expect will be staying at our cottage will probably be from the city.  I hope that they come away from their stay with us with some courage to try building an edible garden on their own properties.  Therefore, I plan to offer lots of books to read while they are there, as well as a notebook explaining the details of our own garden.  Our guests will also have the joy of eating fresh, wholesome food that is grown right out the back door.

I also wish to produce enough excess produce in the demonstration garden for our neighborhood food bank.  It always surprises me how many people just don’t have enough to eat, even in our little community, where everything appears to be so bountiful.  I could go out and buy canned and prepared foods for donating, but those just don’t hold a candle, nutritionally, to fresh fruits and vegetables.

So, let it rain.  While the storm is howling outside, I’m warm and safe inside, with my plans and promises.  Ahh…armchair gardening is so much fun!  Now, I just hope that I can follow through, roll up my sleeves and do what I say.  Wish me luck.  (Pix are coming soon.)

Garden on!

~ C

 

New Gardens For The New Year 2017

New gardens planned for 2017.  Already?  Yee gads, I’m still recuperating from Christmas!  Time certainly does not wait!

More Garden Chores In January

As each growing season ends I always think to myself that next year, I’ll cut back on the gardening.  I’m just getting to old to do all of this.  But, as January rolls around and the garden catalogs start to pile up on my coffee table, I begin to feel a renewed energy and optimism.  So, instead of cutting back on my gardening chores, I end up expanding them.  Last year I put in a beautiful, cutting garden and lawns around the house.  This year, I’ve already added a mini, grape vineyard to our food garden, expanded our blackberry patch, as well as enlarged our fruit orchard by adding 15 new trees.  I also plan to put in a demo garden to spruce up our commercial property in town, as well as planting a dozen “Lady Banks” roses.  Over ambitious?  Maybe.  Talk to me about that in August.  Right now, (…sigh…) I just can’t help myself.  New gardens are so inspiring!

Keeping Up With the Compost

The biggest obstacle that I have to growing so much stuff isn’t the initial plantings, nor the tending of the gardens.  It’s generating enough organic compost to keep the plants going through the summer to fall. Right now, I’m creating wheelbarrows full, but in reality, I need truckloads.

I could go out and buy a couple of dump trucks full of compost from our local garden supply, but that’s expensive, especially since they would charge me a pretty penny to haul it up here.  Besides, I don’t know what goes into it.  I definitely want it comprised of organic materials and I certainly don’t want any seeds from invasive species up here.  I have a tough enough time with the wild radishes and bindweed that showed up in the hay we brought in a few years ago.  Call me a control freak, but I need to make my compost myself and be fully aware of just exactly what is going into it.  I should go out and gather leaves this morning, but geesh, it’s cold out there.

Now is also the time to get started

The new, early spring plants like peas, lettuce, greens, broccoli, cauliflower, for the veggie garden have to be started now.  Early flowers for the cutting garden need to go on that list too.  My dear husband made me a seed starting tray out of redwood.  It’s just beautiful!  (Thanks hon, I need about 25 more of these please.) I would absolutely love a greenhouse, but alas, I won’t be getting one this year.  Starting the seeds on the porch is my best option right now.  I may break down and make a temporary hoop house.  They’re ugly as sin, but I’m getting desperate and I just may have the materials for that lying around.  I need the space and warmth for my early starts.

Cleaning Out 2016 Plants

Of course, besides starting new plants, I still need to clean out the old ones.  With all of the rain and cold snaps we’ve had I haven’t been able to get out to the veggie garden, which is still a tangled mess of dead vines and weeds.  There are some perennials in there like the asparagus and artichokes that need cutting back and dividing.  The grape arbor could use a hard pruning, as well as the orchard trees and berries.  This is also the year we plan to put a deer proof fence around the orchard…lots of work, lots of money.

Demonstration Garden Planned in Boonville

Also, as I mentioned earlier, besides my new gardens at home, I’m also planning on putting in a demonstration garden and climbing roses at our bare property in Boonville.

New gardens and updates for shed in Boonville are coming soon
Front of the shed that faces the street. It’s in dire need of an update and new gardens.

It’s about a 1/6 of an acre with about 20 old apple trees and a medium-sized shed structure on it.  The property is a real eyesore right now, so I’m getting ready to clean up the land, paint the shed and plant a pretty garden.  The shed will be “barn red” and covered in yellow, “Lady Banks,” climbing roses.

Lady Banks Climbing Rose, perfect for fence and shed.
The fence and shed will be awash in yellow, “Lady Banks,” roses.

The “Gawd awful,” ugly chain link fence will also get the rose treatment.  The dirt there is OK.  It’s valley bottom land so the soil is not so terrible, but it still needs amending.  (Shewwwwt….Now I need even MORE compost.)  The land is totally flat, so it will be a good place to plant the different kinds of corn we’ve ordered, being careful not to cross pollinate them, of course.  Other summer crops will go in such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, sweet potatoes and herbs.  It’s starting to sound like I’ve got an native American theme going on, so maybe I’ll stick with that and just go for the summer crops.  Eventually, I’d like the Boonville garden to produce tons of food year round that can be donated to the local food banks.

So, as you can see, I’ve got my dirty hands full all year.  I have a ton of ambition right now.  We’ll see how far I get with my plans for the new gardens.  I’ll be sure to post updates.

Keep on growin’

~ C

 

 

 

Compost Building Starts Now…Here’s My Plan

I never seem have enough compost to last throughout the growing season. Consequently, the plants in my jam packed, intensely grown, vegetable garden begin to show signs of suffering around the end of July, forcing me to go out the, “big box store,” to buy commercially prepared, organic, soil amendment. I hate that. With all of the natural resources that I have on this ranch, you would think that I would be able to make mountains of steaming compost. The fact of the matter is that I’m not as young as I used to be and trying to physically keep up with the task is getting a just a little harder each year. That’s why it is so important that I get my compost making game plan in order as soon as possible and start now.

Compost - Leaves and chicken litter
Compost – Leaves and chicken litter

This season I’m starting early with my dry leaf collecting. Leaves are a wonderful addition to the compost pile. In the past, I would wait for a day that my husband could help me and we would be able to use the truck. We would go across the road, into the “wilds” and gather a couple of truckloads of leaves and then bring them back to the compost area, near the garden gate. I’m still planning on doing that this year, except I also hope to get out there on my walks to collect leaves, putting them in trash bags for easy carrying back to the garden. This will add a little extra effort to my strolls, but I just consider it part of my physical fitness program. I figure that I throughout the winter months, I can possibly get an extra couple of truckloads worth on my walks alone, plus, I can do it alone, which only adds to my self-sufficiency.

The best ingredient in my compost recipe is the used chicken litter that comes from our chicken coop. I’m definitely going to continue with that. We use wheat straw for our hens, which on its own, doesn’t really contribute many nutrients to the compost, but the manure in the straw really gets the pile going and kickstarts the breakdown of all the other materials.. The problem with the used litter is that it contains uneaten scratch seeds that sprout and overtake my garden just when I am trying to get the young plants to get a good foothold. This could definitely be overcome by keeping the pile good and hot and also by getting an early start on compost making and allowing the seads to break down completely before using the finished product. Another problem with using the chicken litter is that when we run out of our own, natural, organic straw, I have to resort to using straw from the feed store, which isn’t organic.

Good compost doesn’t need just dried, brown material. It also could use lots of green matter which adds nitrogen to the compost and help to speed up the break down of all the other stuff in the pile. For that, I normally use my end-of season plants that are dug up from the garden, such as tomato plants.  I also use grass and weed clippings. (For more ideas on composting materials visit this Mother Earth News article on compost.)  I plan to start early this year, tackling that task of the annual, roadside trimming of the natural, tall grasses that grow here, before I let it grow into harvestable straw. In past years, we have cut later in the spring, when the grass is already several feet tall and use the harvested grass for straw in our chicken coop. Normallly, I like to use a scythe as my cutting tool of choice, but I may have to resort to using the gas-powered, weed eater occasionally, to make the job go a little easier and get more mowings in. We’ll see what my bones and muscles have to say about it.

I’m also considering either buying, or renting a good chipper/shredder. Renting is probably the more economical choice. Besides, I really don’t have a good storage place for a shredder right now. With a rental, I guess that I can build a huge mountain of both green and brown compost materials in one weekend with a big machine helping me. We have a boundless amount of freash leaves and grasses, as well as some coarser materials, such as sunflower stalks, branches, vines, etc., that have yet to break down from last season.

Adding kitchen scraps is also a small contribution to the composting effort. It doesn’t account for much, but it is better than it used to be, since we bought a larger composting pail for the house, making it easier to collect all scraps that aren’t used for other food projects. Our cider-making pomace is our biggest contribution.

With all of this being said, compost still takes time. The breakdown process tends to slow down in the colder, winter months, when it’s too rainy to get out there and turn it frequently. So, this season, I’m going for the plastic, sheet covers. They will help to hold the heat in and the excess moisture out, allowing for easier turning. While black plastic works best to keep things warm and toasty, I have a lot of clear plastic left over from other projects, so that’s probably what I’m going with. The less plastic I have to buy, the better. I also plan to add some high nitrogen to the piles to keep the composting process going full bore. My choice as of right now would be organic, bat guano, although, I’ll need to do some further investigation. I will defintely stear away from any commercially prepared fish, cattle, or chicken products. I also have learned not to take any freebee horse manure that is in great supply in our area, as you never know what kinds of fly sprays, antibiotics, stray seeds, etc. were used. Same goes for the CalTrans roadside trimmings. It always pays to know where your materials originate.

So, where will I put all of this compost anyway? Good question. I have room for a couple of big piles near the garden, but I’ll still need to find more space. Besides making huge mountains of compost, I also plan to add raw materials right in the garden, by building a thick blanket of mulch over the beds. Hopefully this will help to keep the weeds down in the spring. It is also a nice, easy way to get the compost immediately and directly into the soil, without having to worry about falling behind in my composting chores. Of course, that means that I had better get started preparing and cleaning up the garden now. :::sigh::: It looks like I have my winter’s chores and my springtime bounty ahead of me.

Garden on…

~ C

Bring On The Organic Garden Catalogs! Which Are the Favorites For 2017?

garden catalogs
Garden catalogs piling up on my coffee table.

Here come the organic garden catalogs!  They pile up in my mailbox, then they are brought home and heaved on to my kitchen table, eventually, one by one, they are transferred to my coffee table for a thorough look-see.  I’ve been gardening all my life, so obviously,  I’m on everyone’s mailing list…I get a LOT of garden catalogs.   Not to complain; I love getting them!  This is one time when I don’t mind the paper used and energy consumed to make these visual reference materials.  I settle down next to a warming fire and I read through each catalog, studying every product description, while trying to discern what makes each seed offered different from the next.  I have to admit that after awhile, they all start to sound the same.

“A champion…” “flavor rich…” “easy to grow…” “out performs all others…”

Still, I find small clues that help me to choose just the right seeds for me.  I earmark pages and scribble down notes all over the pages.  The seeds that promise to grow in my planting zone move to the top of the list and I absolutely refuse to buy anything but organic, non-GMOs.  I will occasionally buy hybrid seeds, but always prefer the non-hybrid/heirlooms.  Oh…and I can’t resist some of the novelty seeds too, like Cinderella pumpkins, or mini, white eggplants.  They’re just too much fun to pass up.

I usually have a featured plant for each season.  I pick a focus plant and will try several, different varieties to see how they do.  Some years I’ll grow ten different kinds of tomatoes, other years it’s all about unusual herbs.  This year I’m going all in for corn.  I have resisted planting corn in the past, because it takes up so much space and let’s face it, corn is cheap.  However, with the whole GMO issue now on our garden steps, I feel that organic, non-GMO corn should be in the forefront of my garden plan.  In reality, I do have the space; I just have to prepare the soil and put up a fence to keep out the wildlife.  It’s a major task, but a worthy one, so I’ll move ahead this year and get it done.

I have thought about growing other grain crops such as quinoa, millet, wheat, etc. Those catalogs…they entice me.  However, my biggest worry is that those crop seeds will scatter to the, “wild side,” and disrupt the fragile ecosystem of our area.  Anyone that travels the roads of the California coastal areas and sees the persistent fennel and blackberry plants choking the sides of the highways, knows how an innocent planting can get away from the confines of the home garden and take off on its own, creating a major eco-nuisance.  Corn, on the other hand, should be a little easier to control, compared to some of the other, smaller seeds, that could be easily carried afar by the winds and birds.  My fingers are crossed.

So, my task now is to find the organic garden catalogs with the best corn seeds.  We use corn for so many things, so I’ll need different types of corn: sweet corn for eating, popcorn, (the hubby’s gotta have that,) milling corn for polenta, flour and tortillas and last, but not least, feed corn for my chickens.  I’ve started my quest and have already found several catalogs that offer non-GMO, organically grown, corn seed.  (So THERE, Monsanto!)  I’ll be posting a list of my personally approved, organic garden catalogs and seed companies on another page for reference.  The list is constantly being updated, so please check on it from time to time.

Before I go, I just want to stress on how important it is to grow your own food and more importantly, the significant impact that our small, seed companies have to the organic gardener.  Without these passionate, entrepreneurial spirits, we would be stuck with just a handful of seed choices from only a couple of mega corporations that frankly, do not have our best interests in mind.  Their offerings would most likely be non-organic, or Non-GMO options.  So, I hope that you will join me in supporting these smaller seed companies and organic garden catalogs by giving their seeds a try.  A pack of seeds is a cheap investment in continuing seed diversity and assuring personal food choices. It’s the least one can do.

Keep growing…

~ C

 

Fall…A new beginning in Northern California…

People often say that spring is the beginning of the growing season and a new year, but here, in the Mendocino Range of Northern California, I most certainly believe it to be Fall.  The heat of the summer is finally over, the tall grasses turn brittle and grey, the sunflowers have all dropped their seeds from their towering stalks and the skies open up…the rains start to fall…ahhh….let the, “serious weather,” begin.

Grape Leaf in Autumn
Grape Leaf in Autumn

With the rain comes new life.  I always look forward to the first day that I see the new sprigs of grass emerging and anxiously await the uprising of the local, wild mushrooms.  It is a time when forgotten greens and herbs spring forth.   We light the wood burning stove for the first time and curl up with a bowl of steaming risotto and a glass of local wine and nestle in with the critters to plan the new growing year.  I love Fall, for it is surely a most special time of year.

During this season, there is still plenty of harvesting to do.  This morning, I found one, lone, overlooked cluster of grapes on our vines, glistening from the morning precipitation and begging not to be forgotten.  The tomato vines are laden with fruit and the unpicked apples are now falling to the ground, waiting to be pressed into cider.  Melons are sweetening up, artichokes continue to produce and the black, kale plants have reached waist-height and are loaded with nutritious leaves.  (Much to our chickens delight.) Alas, the pumpkins are on the late side this year, with only a slim possibility of maturing by Halloween.  Ya can’t win them all.

young-pumpkin
Young Pumpkin In November

With autumn also comes some retrospective views.  What worked, what didn’t and why?  Would I plant those Furry Boar, or Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye tomatoes again?  (Most definitely…they’re awesome!)  Do I really need so many sunflowers in the veggie garden next year?  (Nope…they take up too much room and rob nutrients from other crops…however, they ARE beautiful and joyous.)  I MUST make more compost!!!  It’s never too early to start.

Turning to the future, I’m making my preparations.  Today, I ordered more fruit trees and grape vines to plant from my favorite, online, tree and shrub nursery, One Green World, in Oregon.  Tomorrow, I plan to go through some of my coveted seed catalogs to pick out my, “must have,” seeds, even though I still have boxes of unused seeds from the last, few, previous , not to mention my DIY saved seeds.  The women in the family are all planning a trip down to Richmond, to visit Annie’s Annuals & Perennials Nursery.  I’ve even picked out a greenhouse kit to put up this year…a lifelong dream of mine.  The Mantis rototiller needs a tune-up and the hand tools need sharpening and oiling.  And yes, I’ve already started collecting leaves and chicken straw for those compost piles…it’s a never ending task and it’s a new beginning.

So…garden on.  I’ll leave this post short, as I want to just get this blog underway.

~ C