May 17, 2006

As of this weekend, it was official. Four of our chestnuts were dead as a stone, and at least that many more were struggling to push out their leaves. The rains in the spring took a heavy toll on these trees that won’t tolerate “wet feet.” Admittedly, if we knew four years ago what we know now, we would have planted them soooo differently. And, this is the stuff that I shake my head at when it comes to the world of gardening. It’s not like I haven’t read a gardening book (for every finger and toe that I have) on how to select, plant, prune. I clearly remember the little diagrams of how to measure where and how in the planting hole to place the tree, how the hole is to be dug, filled, watered in, you name it. The problem is, that information obviously wasn’t quite right for where we are. Or, was not applicable to all circumstances. I find as I go along that a great deal of what I’ve read in horticultural books wasn’t………….quite right. It’s almost like someone should write a book called “Misinformation for Gardeners–Here’s the Stuff You Really Need to Consider Ignoring.” Back to the tree-planting issue, we’ve had Drew over here for months talking about the need to plant trees with their crowns up high above the soil level. It felt pretty odd, but this year I dug holes and made what looked like small Mount Shastas of dirt, and somehow got the little tree jammed in there. When I was done it looked like…well, pretty funny, and it was hard to keep the chickens from scratching the mounds to ruins. But now several weeks have gone by. What seemed like overly large mounds have imperceptibly sunken away. The trees don’t look like toothpicks sticking out of a cupcake anymore. And had we known to do this in the first place, the chestnuts might not have drowned. Well, we’ll do better next time. Seven new ones are on the way!

May 12, 2006

The weather has steadily been in the mid 80s for some days now. We have been scrambling to create an adequate way to water our gardens and orchard, as well as create new pens for the turkeys. Because of the impending installation of the almond orchard, our watering system is disorganized. There is no point really in fixing the existing setup, because the "new improved" version is coming soon. Yet, I can verify that driving around with a tractor bucketful of water to pour on newly planted trees is something I’d really rather not be doing. Our water from the county will be metered and filtered from here on out, I can’t wait. When I think of all the unspeakably gross things I’ve done trying to unclog drip emitters that are silted shut……..yeccccch. In case anyone wonders, I’m talking about sucking on slimy irrigation parts to try to free blockages. What’s worse, success or failure? Success equals spitting and making faces for 5 minutes…. We have been given a really large amount of needed supplies in the form of compost, irrigation sundries, and help in general. I’ve been shovelling a lot of compost, trying to improve garden beds. I am almost ready to plant flower seeds. The front yard looks great, really colorful. Sweet peas, clarkia, roses, snapdragons, wildflowers….everything is just perking along. We continue to learn about the larger side of farming. I have begun to learn to use Drew’s loader backhoe, and in my short session really enjoyed the complexity of the controls. I am trying to dig out roots from removed trees. Our field in back has been worked on with an implement called a tri-plane, not the kind that flies in the air. Basically this is a large scraping device which planes down the earth; low spots are filled and high spots are shaved down. For the first time ever I can actually walk the length of the field and enjoy it–it’s that smooth and nice. A side benefit is that we have a wildlife census. I have been tracking the prints of a fox, some canid larger than a fox, and assorted smaller animals. The fox has been coming quite close to the house lately, at 2 am yesterday I was outside on account of it barking. Barking doesn’t really describe the sound, which lies between a bark and a scream, but I don’t know what else to call it. Some of the chestnut trees are barely alive, and many of them are suffering setbacks. The heavy extended rains were possibly too much for them. Of course, the affected ones are the oldest trees which are just coming into production….. The market garden is doing very well, with tomatoes, eggplants and peppers and basil growing. I think I am still 4-6 weeks from actual tomatoes making an appearance, we’ll see. As of tonight about 40% of the tomatoes are flowering. If I’ve learned one thing about growing heirlooms, it’s that all bets are off until they are in your bacon and tomato sandwich. We have 21 turkey poults, I think, from the first hatch. I will be taking something like more than a dozen Royal Palm poults from a friend in Zamora. We have been generously given a large supply of wheat, which will allow us to "stretch" the premium commercial feed I am planning to start purchasing. We use about 200 pounds of feed a week right now, and this will rocket up as the poults grow. Going to the feed store 2 and 3 times a week is getting old; it’s time to think about bulk purchases. The weekend jobs will be irrigating, controlling weeds around orchard trees, applying a special liquid fertilizer I was given, planting flower seeds, placing compost in many places, cordoning off parts of the orchard so the solar installers don’t run over my fruiting shrubs, pinching the grapevines, thinning fruit (unfortunatly, not much to do there), placing more soaker hose, laying out irrigation for the large garden, and who knows what else. I asked a young man I work with at the univeristy what he planned to do this weekend. "Oh, just hang out." Wow, being able to say that has faded from memory!