June 29, 2005

All kinds of things are going well lately. We have been to two Farmer’s Markets in Woodland thus far, and have sold out our blackberries and boysenberries both times. The total profits are modest (like, under $100), but it’s been more fun than I thought. The people are very pleasant, an amateur folk group plays music, and it lasts only 3 hours.

We spent 5 days on vacation in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. These are the groves of old-growth redwoods, the very tall specimens. We are very fortunate, California is home to the largest, the oldest, and the tallest tree specimens in the world. We took some long hikes in the vicinity of the Rockefeller grove, paid for by the famous John D. The dense canopy of the forest blots out the sun and absorbs sound. The silence permeates, punctuated only by wind, birdsong, or the tremendous creaking of a moving tree. The trees generate oppressive humidity as they transpire hundreds of gallons of water each, per day. Lattices of vining poison oak climb the massive trunks, lending an elegant appearance. Ferns and oxalis cover the forest floor with verdure. I looked at the smallest trees and realized that they were already older than the likely span of my entire life. Everyone should spend a day visiting these titans. I feel grateful to all the people who took the effort to make sure some of the forest is preserved for all posterity. We also learned of a man named Kellogg who could vocalize as a songbird does (remarkable!) and much concerning the anatomy and mating habits of the banana slug. Regarding the latter, you just don’t want to know.

Having returned from a trip, it’s back to work in the yard. I reread one of my favorite garden books and had a "perspective check". It’s called "The Sensual Garden" by Montagu Don. The author says many things, but one observation really struck me. He mentioned how for so many, gardening isn’t nearly what it should be because of the constant feeling of needing to exert control. We get in bad moods, feel like personal failures, feel overwhelmed, etc when we fail to have gardens that look like they should be at the summer palace of the Empress of Austria. Consequently, what should be a joy and an feast for the senses becomes a constant state of siege mentality. It’s easy to get caught up in this thinking when you have a lot of land to manage, and invest so much of your time and self in everything that occurs. But, it feels so much better to set all that aside and just have a good time emoticon

That said, the insects are backing off (maybe I drowned enough of them in my pot of soapy water)–the plants are winning and starting to establish themselves. Out of all my tomato starts, only 2 didn’t survive. I easily have over 45 plants! I just learned about a special event at the August 6th Farmer’s Market, apparently UC master gardeners are coming to do a taste-test of heirloom tomatoes. I guess I’d better talk to the plants, because that’s 5 weeks to go from flowers to fruit! ….the eggplants flourish, the chard is less bug-eaten, and the mixed squashes are starting to set fruit. Many have been re-seeded. Pumpkins, gourds, beans and melons either are or will be sown by the weekend. Ken feels unconfident about my heirloom peppers (hmpf) and bought some standards at the nursery. I found a cardoon there (funky Italian thing)! I have to build a wire basket before I plant it, I refuse to let the gophers get this one.

We came home from work Monday and found ourselves visited by a new peahen, and then we saw a rare thing–an adult white peacock had come too. If Galahad is magnificent, this bird was jaw-on-floor stunning. Seeing a snow-white male in display was an immense treat. Basically, nothing got done because we just kept staring at the bird. He left at sunset, and hasn’t returned. White peafowl are valuable, I guess he lives somewhere nearby.

Lastly, someone local wants to purchase all of our turkey poults. We’ll see how that goes!

June 17, 2005

Sometimes, reminders that "you get what you pay for" come from unexpected directions. I have been on a hunt for weeding tools lately, having been confronted by burgeoning amounts of witchgrass. Which I prefer to think of as b****grass, but I digress. Witchgrass is a crabgrass-looking, fast growing weed that has an amazingly tenacious root system. It quickly sends up seeds on a distinctive frond, which then dries up and blows everywhere. I lack a good botanical vocabulary, so look up a picture of it online and then you’ll see the little monster to which I’m referring (heck, you probably hate it too but don’t know that’s what it’s called!). Anyway, I was on the verge of purchasing another $8 tool of dubious appearance when Ken pointed out something else. It was a Japanese-type hand weeder with a triangular blade and razor sharp forged steel. I immediately thought it looked capable of doing damage, so for $16 I bought it. I came home, and voila! began slicing away. Suddenly an impossible task seemed quite manageable. Which got me to thinking….in the old days, there was no Roundup, or power tools, or any of that stuff. But there were files and steel, and I was getting a glimpse of what a well-made, sharpened tool can do. For people that tend acres by hand, having the real deal in hand tools is the way to go. I will be taking a second look at those expensive hand tools in the catalog, since one or two of those is worth a dozen of the others. I found something online called a diamond hoe, which looks really appealing. Payday’s in two weeks!

The new Narragansett eggs came two nights ago. We likely will try an experiment. Tomorrow we are going to remove half of the eggs from the incubator and slip them under the hen, and leave the other half where they are. AFTER candling them, that is, since last time a certain number were infertile. I have nothing to lose, and it might work a great deal better.

The unseasonable rain is not helping my attempts toward tomorrow’s farmer’s market. I hoped to have the apricots from our tree, and now they just won’t be ripe in time. Maybe they can be held over until the next weekend…..we’ll see. Either way, they taste too good to waste. I probably could eat the whole tree’s worth myself. Hmmm. Tonight I’ll go home and start picking everything I can find to sell, and we’ll see what happens. I guess we have to start somewhere!

June 14, 2005

As could be guessed from the lack of writing, we have been busy off the scale recently. We had a high school graduation and we volunteered many hours for the grad night event as well. This weekend will be our first attempt at attending a farmer’s market. And moreover, we have begun negotiations with a nearby farmer that we hope will result in leasing part of our land for growing commercial hybrid sunflower seeds.

 The sunflowers are a perfect illustration of the oddly good things that occur with country living. A week ago Monday, a pleasant man pulled into my driveway in his truck. This being unusual, he explained that he wanted to ask me about my sunflowers. Most men don’t want to talk about flowers. To make a long story short, he grows sunflowers nearby for Pioneer Hi-Bred, and my floral collection presented a possible pollen contamination problem for his crop. At first I felt pretty conflicted, since I really, really like my sunflowers and the idea of having to rip them out for someone else’s benefit (and lose all the $$ from flower sales) really wasn’t sitting too well. But we were able to talk to Pioneer technicians and ask a lot of questions, and all the things I was worried about are non-issues. So far everything has been very amicable. We are interested in cooperating with our neighbors. If it happens that we are able to lease our land, the connections and equipment exist to bring the rear portion of our property into production–something that has weighed on our minds in recent months. I have already been provided with generous amounts of seed for beautiful sunflower cultivars. It have felt a little strange about the idea of involving our farm with any commercial agricultural venture, since philosophically I oppose many conventional practices. But I have been impressed by the flexibility of the people with whom I have spoken; they are willing to grow organically, they are willing to refrain from applying any kind of chemical to which we object, they insist on field rotation and cover cropping on alternate years. I didn’t expect any of that from Big Agriculture. Anyway, hopefully this will result in a beneficial arrangement for everyone involved, and allow us to learn new things and meet new people. It would be great to have the means to fix the mess the previous owner left. He did a shoddy job of having the old almond orchard removed, with the result that all sorts of rootstock and "junk trees" are growing unwanted on the back acreage.

In other news, we have two surviving Narragansett chicks. The one that had odd coloration died at 2 days old. The were lung abnormalities, maybe a pneumonia-ish problem….the necropsy report is still pending. I hope the new dozen eggs will arrive this week.

We have begun selling berries, and have our first apricots. The Babcock peaches will be ready in about 2 more weeks. The outer orchard is a royal mess, and the gophers have eaten the roots of my Ashmead’s Kernel apple, which is dying. I’m not too happy about that last one at all, since that is my favorite tree on the property and was covered with fruit. The cats have been killing one rodent a day for weeks on end, with no end in sight. We find decapitated "presents" everywhere, and the bathroom has been nicknamed "the kill floor". ‘Nuff said.

We’re still doing battle for the beans and okra and eggplant. I have been handpicking pounds of slugs and earwigs. Good thing I mostly have extra seed….today I bought a new Whackitty, a forged steel hand tool that just looks like it can slice any weed to pieces. We’ll see….

The sweet peas are about gone, and each night I am harvesting pod after pod. Lotsa seed for next year, but I’ll miss them.

It’s hot, I got a new garden hat from the thrift store and I really like it, the poults won’t shut up, our oldest cat is senile, the shop got cleaned, the brick patio is completely finished, the broom corn is over a foot tall, the butterfly bushes have lots of butterflies, the potatoes look good….

Signing off for now!

June 6, 2005

Turkeys and eggs, eggs and turkeys. Chirps, honks and trills. I have heard it said that parents of very young children learn to "monitor" the child’s well-being by sound. Mothers know when the noise isn’t right, and investigate. A neurotic poultry owner works the same way, except at five times the complexity. Because I fuss incessantly about birds (even though I often wish I didn’t) my day starts at about 4:45am. I wouldn’t seem awake to the onlooker, but it’s the time of day that my brain wakes up, listening. Nine six-week-old turkeys have a range of calls that mean everything from "the sun is in the sky" to "I’m about to get eaten". Adult turkeys have another set of sounds in lower tones. They have different issues, like "I don’t want to fly out of the tree" and "where’s breakfast" and "here I am, look at me." Then there are the chickens, hens and roosters, chatting away. Lastly are the peas, with honks and screams and the rattle of the tail fan outside the window. Lastly, Xerxes crows away in the next room. I don’t hear Xerxes anymore, just like I stopped hearing the train when I lived near the tracks. Sifting through this symphony of avian sounds gives a wealth of information on the State of the Yard. Too many noises of agitation get me out of bed to look outside and check on them, whereas relative quiet punctuated by intermittent gobbles lends to drowsy sleep.

The new Narragansetts are doing very well, all THREE OF THEM emoticon. The hatching rate from these eggs was abysmal. I called the hatchery to express my unhappiness, and they made a fair offer. I purchased another dozen eggs, and they reduced the price 50%. It’s a hard call–paying $50 for three live chicks doesn’t seem fair, but the hatchery has a point of view as well. Once the eggs are shipped, they have no control over the Post Office, the skill of their customer, or a number of other factors. They should (and do) have very limited liability for egg sales. All this is because I didn’t want to pay $96 for a dozen live chicks….ah, the irony.  A hopeful scenario is that we get at least another 3 live birds (and preferably many more) out of the next batch. We don’t want to find out in the fall that after all this work, we have all toms or all hens. My opinion has not yet formed about purchasing from commercial hatcheries. I still have issues, but it may be the only affordable way to acquire relatively rare birds.

At the moment, we are having a hard time with the vegetables. The potatoes love this unseasonably cool weather. The okra, beans, tomatoes and everything else do not. Insect populations are high, and so is my aggravation level. Whole swaths of flower seeds were eaten the moment they sprouted, which leaves us having to re-seed a lot of stuff. The sweet peas, after a stunning display, are dying back fast (to my disappointment). More to do, more to do….