February 27, 2006

Weeks like this certainly illustrate changing weather! Some days past we had frost issues, which gave way to weather on Saturday so warm that I had to change into the tan Carhartts and sandals to keep on working (tan Carhartts are for 70F+, black Carhartts for cooler weather–in case anyone wondered). We knew the forecast predicted rain on Sunday; we thought at 3 pm or later. By noon the rain began, somewhat truncating all the things we’d hoped to do. The good news is that at our home, no matter what was planned, there’s always something else that needs doing that will fit into the change. For example, this is the time of year that tedious, close-up tasks yield the spectacular flowers that will come in 4-8 weeks. Two favorite flowers that we encourage are clarkia and heirloom sweet peas. We don’t grow them so much as herd them. They self seed, so that new growth comes up haphazardly. Both are very forgiving when transplanted under certain conditions. (And, "overcast with rain" would be those certain conditions.) I have special sharp hand tools, they let me easily excise unwanted grasses, stir up the soil, and then I slice under the little sprout (or substantial plant) which then moves into its new hole. I love work like this, it is the classroom of soil and botany. For instance, the sweet pea seed looks like a round ball, a little smaller than a pencil eraser. When many kinds of flower or vegetable seeds germinate, what will become the roots of the plant extend down into the soil, and then the two halves of the seed become the seed leaves (cotyledon leaves), the precursors to the first set of true leaves. But to my fascination, sweet peas don’t seem to do this. When the plant is dug up, the original "ball" is still to be seen as the junction of the roots and plant stem, even after there is significant tissue development. I have no idea what it adds up to on the grand scheme of things, but seeing the structural differences and understanding the unique properties of each plant doesn’t happen unless you plunk down on the ground and start scratching around. There is as much going on in any square foot of garden soil as on the entire property–you just have to look. And working in the rain isn’t something to necessarily avoid. The air smells rich and clean, and the only sound is the wind and patter of the raindrops–all the birds and usual daytime sounds fall silent. The soil changes texture in my hands as it moistens. It’s all good under my foul weather gear, purchased for keeping dry during long stretches outside. We also began setting up our seed-starting area indoors (there goes the dining table again!). I had hoped to have a greenhouse for this year, hopefully that will still happen in the months ahead. In the meantime, it’s time to get going on the tomatoes, etc. for planting in 4-6 weeks. I’ve already decided to roll the dice and plant early this year….remembering all the while that gambling requires illogical optimism.

February 21, 2006

This three day weekend contained bewildering amounts of activity. We planned to have special friends visit for the almond bloom, and woke early Saturday morning to get started on some good farm cooking. Still, our last shipment of trees was waiting for planting, so we went outside to prepare the trees and start a few other chores. Next thing I know, we were descended upon by an entire work crew, courtesy of our nearby farmer friend, to cut down sick, old trees. They sawed, they stacked, they felled. In five minutes entire hundred year old trees were gone. Tidy piles formed here and there. It was like watching a symbiotic unit go to work. Then as the day went on, the large backhoe came. An absolute heavy equipment artist sat at the controls, working the big shovel as though it were an extension of the human hand, dredging rotten roots and stumps from the ground as though it were child’s play. By the end of the day, everything looked completely clean and a monumental pile of debris stood ready for disposal. We still can’t believe what happened. Every problem we had out there is simply GONE. We have clean, tidy orchard space and now we can plant even more fruit and nut trees next year.