March 27, 2006

Ignorance is bliss. When I was ignorant of how awful it was to plant a fruit tree on top of the rotting roots of a removed almond tree, it took about 20 minutes to plant said fruit tree. Dig the hole nice and big, pull out any obvious old roots, add compost, putter about where the new roots would lay, fill in a bit, putter some more, fill in more, and eventually tamp the loose soil with my feet. An enjoyable little job in the early spring sunshine. But now I’ve been enlightened, and have learned all about how those almond roots are the Source of Much Evil. So with a sigh, I knew I had to dig those old roots out before I could plant my impulse cherry and plum purchases. No problem, there ought to be what, 5 roots down there? Wrong, wrong, wrong. The work was hard, and for the illionth time I almost broke that poor fiberglass shovel in half, but the “root extraction” proved to be a great education. I found knots. And insect colonies. And oozy-yellow reddish slimy patches. I never knew how much was happening, three feet under. The roots in question seemed to occupy a  4’x4’x3′  area, so a very great amount of digging had to happen. Some of the roots had so much soil on top that we had to use the tractor bucket for extra digging power. After four hours, the little trees were happily tucked away; and for the future, I am so very happy to have a friend with a backhoe, because I don’t plan on ever doing that by hand again! 

March 19, 2006

I won’t claim that this weekend was the most productive, but it had its moments. Saturday blew with another of those north winds that is less than fun to work in (but better than rain anyday). I worked on the berries, a little. I weeded, a little. We executed squirrels, worked on equipment, did this and that. By midday I was feeling hopelessly unfocused, so I climbed into one of our big trees, lay back on a huge limb, and looked up at the new green leaves while the wind howled. That was nice. Then I dug up some nutsedge, troddled off into a grassy area, thought “why not?”, and decided to lay down on the grass. It doesn’t seem so windy, down on the grass. The sun feels warm. I saw some loose dirt and picked up a handful, it felt cool but not cold. Very crumbly. You could pick up a thousand handfuls of dirt and never have quite the same feeling twice, I’m learning that the soil composition varies more than I thought from location to location. For some reason all this brought up a memory about farmers testing the soil for planting by dropping their trousers and assessing the soil warmth the good old fashioned way….cheek power. I’m feeling rather done with winter, and I want to move on to other things. Like planting seeds and more berries. But it’s going to rain tomorrow, and the area for this summer’s garden lies empty, not even vaguely ready for planting. I’m impatient and I’ll just have to get over myself.

March 17, 2006

Tonight’s topic is….stuff that annoys me.
Our farmer friend (let’s just call him Drew, as that is his name) loaned me the UC Davis Weed Bible. For two nights now I’ve been ogling the glossy color photos, alternately glad that I now know the name of this-or-that, or wondering how many of these things actually plague me, because it seems like rather a lot of them are yanked, flamed, smothered, sprayed, hoed or otherwise killed on an ongoing basis. Then I thought, “why wonder?”. So here’s the list, ready? Dovefoot geranium, common vetch, perennial ryegrass, black nightshade, common catsear, roughseed buttercup, spiny sowthistle, vinegarweed, buckhorn plantain, mustard, three kinds of filaree, common mullein (which I’ve been encouraging as a “pretty flower”, just great), cattail, wild radish, field bindweed, yellownutsedge, bermudagrass, johnsongrass, California burclover, prostrate pigweed, turykey mullein, dock, common chickweed, witchgrass, feather fingergrass, hare barley, littleseed canary grass, large crabgrass, yellow starthistle, prostrate spurge, common purslane, common lambsquarters, russian thistle, malow, panicle willowweed, henbit, horseweed, pineappleweed, desert rockpurslane, prostrate knotweed, shepherd’s purse, fiddleneck, sowthistle, groundsel, and prickly lettuce. I left out several grasses that I couldn’t be sure of, and a few others like California poppy and yarrow that I grow deliberately and don’t care what others think of them. I stopped counting after forty, but I can now at least quantify why I often seem to be losing the weed battle around here. In spite of my resources, I’m outnumbered. However, I can now curse each one by its proper name. That makes me happy!

March 13, 2006

This lovely weekend was highlighted by visits with special friends. A longtime best friend brought his third-grade daughter along, which always means watching a child have a few great experiences. She may seem a typical young girl on the outside, who loves her pink clothes and Barbie. But I see in her a little seed of a future nature lover, and who knows, maybe someone who will want her own life in the country someday. But back to the pink…little “girly girls” are everywhere in this world and I tend to think of them as not liking dirty hands. But this gal loves to get down to working outside! I had a big, messy and not entirely fun chore this weekend, shovelling tractor-bucketsful of compost onto the asparagus bed, and then anchoring it with some truly rotten hay. In addition to mastering the art of assisted tractor driving, she dove right into that tractor bucket to fix any compost problems. She took out every stick and broke up every clod with her bare hands, and discovered the assorted compost worms and grubs that live in such places. Things that were not earthworms she delivered dutifully to the nearest hungry chicken. Later on she helped process the fresh eggs, and we had philosophical conversations about the nuances of medium versus large versus jumbo eggs. Not all children take to rural activities, but when one does, it’s a joy to see their minds wrap around How Things Are Done. And, to expereince their creativity. We spent some time reviewing gourd varieties when she discovered our last season’s gourds drying next to the sofa. In minutes she had assembled a gourd family out of spinning gourds, with names for each one. Let’s say it hasn’t occurred to me to play with gourds in that way, ever, and it’s fun to see someone who does.

March 7, 2006

Last night after days of much rain, a cloudy foggy blanket settled in. A large halo ringed the half moon, and the humidity seemed to dampen most sounds. Hundreds of frogs and other night critters sang their chorus in the nearby stand of trees. A noisy silence, if you will. Looking out on the garden in the pale moonlight, I am reminded that the same landscape I work in mostly by day has another aspect which I rarely visit. Sometimes I’ve gone out very late at night to check on our poultry and make sure they are safe. I stop and pet Ishmael, one of our toms, who always perches with his head regally pointed at the night sky. He sees all the changes of the day and the seasons. Who knows, maybe the turkey knows much more of our world than we do….