I know I’ve written very little the last few months. Part of it is that I’m sleeping again, so no more 2am-4am writing times. The other part is this farm vision is taking effect before my eyes and it’s just so much work.
Today my husband and son-in law and the rest of us got part of the new fence up. This will increase the garden to about four acres. I’m trying to fill part of that with fruit trees, part of it with ornamental gardens, some rows of berries, then more vegetable space. I’m looking at it from an irrigation point of view. How I can run the systems and how much landscape can we reasonably water. Marketing what we produce seems to be relatively easy, so I’m trying to focus on what we like to eat and how to grow the most diversity of product to eat with year round. Also to try to grow mostly what will do well here.
These last few days have been like a farm camp here. Dennis riding three kids all piled around him on the four-wheeler. Dragging small sapling fir trees up to hatchet off the branches and hand peel the bark with a draw knife. They are all making a teepee, an authentic large sized one . Tonight our instant hot water heater washed six of our dusty bodies in a row, then did dinner dishes as well. I finally succumbed having typed the first part of this with dirt all over me and my clothes.
I feel it’s very important to include our whole family in farm and house chores. So visiting grandchildren harvested strawberries, weeded paths and then collected flower seed on their own inspiration to grow their own flower gardens at home. Helping with running errands picking food and preparing lunch out of the garden seems to make the food taste even better.Today doing a taste test of six different types of beets.Then gobbling them up in a salad .
Our freezer is full of Sherry’s cow and an extra lamb, plus lot’s of tan oak bark smoked salmon. We feel stocked for the winter. But the summer garden is going full force harvesting french filet beans, so far eating more of them in the garden than we have cooked, lettuces, spinach, beets, mizuna, peas, cauliflower, kale, potatoes, garlic, onions, leeks, broccoli, mixed greens: cucumbers, tomatoes and squash are just starting here on the coast in August. Winter vegetables are starting to go in, more potatoes, garlic, brassicas, peas, spinach, lettuces planted in the next months for winter harvest.
Since my family is coming here for Thanksgiving, I’ve been planting acorn squash, pumpkins, etc. specifically with that holiday in mind. It’s inspiring me to finish many undone projects around the ranch, hopefully many will get done. Three turkeys were ordered from http://mendoorganicscsa.com/2011/07/01/thanksgiving-christmas-turkeys/. To reserve for the holiday. My brother made the comment today, his birthday, when I called; ” You know Katie, we could always just go buy something from the store, if we need it ” . Yeah cranberry bogs just don’t grow around here, but we could dig a pond and try ? OK Ok .
There was a gypsy evening of storytelling and music, at a self sufficiency event I wanted to attend . I thought about a story I might tell. I didn’t end up going to the event as I did last year, since we are already living the self sufficient life ! We are so busy doing that and I didn’t want to be away a weekend when I could be working instead on one of our many projects here.
Now in my family, we are all storytellers, and we all elaborate our stories adding more stories to the original. Let’s see if I can write it as I would tell it:
People ask me why I moved into a monastery at the age of 24. It all started with a motorcycle, a Norton Commando, to be exact. I had this boyfriend at that time. he was blond I’m blond, he was a triathlete, I was riding my bike 28 miles to college each day plus swimming four + times a week at his encouragement. We got along really well. Anyway his mom gave me a piece of Christmas china for a present. A few months later , I had a vision of my life unfolding with him; the Volvo wagon, some acceptable suburban lifestyle, walking a baby in a jog stroller. I broke up with him the next day, I could not see myself living this life.
The next day I was selling my Karman Ghia and this unique looking guy in retro shades, a used army jacket and work boots drove up on ” The Motorcycle”. He was like taking a different road . He and his friends were involved with the patrons of the monastery, some of them worked as cooks or gardeners at their estate. Most were meditating. This was 1979 and I realized I had found what I’d been looking for.
To be able to work at this estate, they taught regular meditation classes, I had to either become a cook or a gardener. I decided to try my hand at gardening. I started with a small patch outside our tiny cottage ” The Guy” and I were sharing. I could just afford a few six packs of flowers, I tried delphiniums and foxgloves. These grew to the overwhelming height of ten to twelve feet tall, a rose blew in and grew and started blooming, other bulbs just came up. It seemed the earth was trying to tell me something, maybe I was good at this ? Then I turned the corner and started gardening in the next long bed, then the huge front bed, double digging it all with manure after my bakery job was done each day. Flowers started blooming abundantly everywhere. I started trading them for gelato credit at a local shop. Other stores joined in purchasing flowers.
One day the woman I admired so much at the estate garden, told me the story of the two sisters;
There were two sisters, each wanted to grow a flower garden for the fair flower show at the end of the summer. Both sisters turned their front yards into huge flower gardens. One sister would give her flowers away to whoever was coming by for a visit. The other sister wouldn’t cut any of hers trying to keep them for the fair. Well when the time for the fair came around, the sister who had given away all the flower bouquets still had lot’s of flowers, while the sister who wouldn’t cut hers had all her garden go to seed and had no more flowers. Cutting flowers helps them to grow more flowers.
Last night eating a particularly wonderful fish chowder, fish caught by my daughter’s boyfriend, potatoes gently dug from under the plants, fresh purple onions, green garlic, parsnips (some of many currently), chopped parsley and fresh thyme. Then accompanied by one of our brick oven baked naturally leavened breads ( we baked 80 loaves yesterday), and followed by a slightly tart rhubarb pie ( none of those sissy strawberries). I think how rich my life is .
Then my husband pushed around some burn piles ( yes, it’s still raining and wet in California in June !) with his backhoe for our neighbors, and came home with some fresh salmon ! Yeah !
The abundance is arguably coupled with a lot of hard work, but I feel so proud when I look at those peas climbing up the trellis and the rows of growing veggies. But yes, my love of good food also motivates me. Thanks to all the good cooks I know who have inspired me.
As the garden here slightly matures and the very small plants I’ve put in as permanent or perennial shrubs and trees mature and fill out, it feels easier like some momentum has been gained. My roses, started from cuttings are beginning to cascade on the fence. The artichokes started from seed are producing quantities. The asparagus started from seed was harvested for the first time this year ( three years before the first harvest) . The rhubarb is getting to be a big plot, helped out by lot’s of compost and did you know rhubarb love LOT”S of water ? Some of the fruit trees have quite a few fruits on them and are starting to look like trees !
Sharing this with others, getting invited to come see my 90 yr. old neighbor’s boyfriends garden who sends us over glorious cauliflower, while we drop off bread.
Feeling a sense of community and tradition. As my great and wise girlfriend who grew up on a dairy farm told me , “school was never the most important thing”. It was the family, the farm, being a part of that, having an identity in what a farm really means to a community. Farming is a passive revolution. Bringing back rural America and collaboration instead of isolation as our material world has fostered. Interdependency , compassion, neighborliness, sharing, all these things are why I farm.
As the garden matures and perennials divide and spread, it becomes harder to just rototill through a bed. I find myself forking more and more of the beds this year. I think only three out of twenty, forty foot rows were rototilled by my husband this year. The rest had compost moved by wheelbarrow, spread thickly, then forked in each long row.
Planting is the anti-climatic easy ending to lot’s of work. The first few years of our garden here, the soil was so bad, since we started with forest soil, that we had very few weeds. Now as the soil improves, the weeds , really grass( since we have animals, have to remember it’s fodder), have been giving me and my hands a run for my money( any?) . So first was lot’s of weeding, then compost, then forking, then planting, irrigation, and fertilizer.
There are beds of onions, tomatoes, garlic, leeks, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, peas, fava beans, one of some small olive trees( 26), one of newly grafted fruit trees(34), rhubarb, asparagus, raspberries, boysenberries, strawberries, another of garlic(didn’t have enough last year), red potatoes, russet potatoes, yukon gold potatoes, lettuce, basil, zucchini, spaghetti squash, banana squash, french beans, lemon cucumbers, mescalin mix. Then there’s a few just full of flowers bachelor buttons, sweet william, roses, nigella(love in a mist).
Down by the house I plant more cutting flowers caliopsis, cosmos, sunflowers, foxgloves, alstromeria, bearded iris, and more flowering shrubs that we will be able to cut for the flower industry some day.
I need to try to keep everything healthy and sequentially plant more, lettuce, beans, cauliflower maybe another row of potatoes and one more type of squash( crookneck) and sunflowers. Since were on the coast it doesn’t get hot enough for summer plants, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are a struggle. Then I need to keeping up with weeding and harvesting then processing.
I look around and when I see everything blooming and growing well, I know more needs to go in, to keep the bloom going, the harvest going.
One of the things I’ve learned along the way, was to look back periodically at what we’ve accomplished . This helps when facing overwhelming tasks, a list of chores and new projects that never quits. Developing bare land is like that, just never ending. So many things you take for granted when land has been developed.
My husband and I are trying to go slower this year, having gotten really burned out the last five years building this place. But as I walked up to put the chickens to bed and feed the horses, the full moon, huge, was just coming up over the trees. I always think of full moons as endings of cycles, so I thought about what we had done so far this year. At first I thought not much, but then things started to occur to me.
1. We moved twenty two, large, three year old fruit trees to start a new, larger orchard. Added six other fruit trees purchased from the rare fruit growers exchange. Learned to graft ( hopefully!) and have thirty six newly grafted trees planted in one of my vegetable beds. This is a very cheap way to get new trees and unusual trees not commercially available.
2. Have gotten some great support and positive feedback from friends and new people coming by and baking bread with us.Even helping building websites, thanks Dave! and some new beautiful photos, thanks Freda ! Also found I could trade bread for gelato! and for goat meat. Eggs are good for credit towards all kinds of trades. The abundance of farm life is hard to put into words. Always working with something ” homemade”.
3. Have six forty foot beds ready for spring vegetable planting. Plus we have 15 other beds already planted with potatoes( two 40′ beds), kale, onions( two 40′ beds), Artichokes, rhubarb, asparagus( starting to harvest this year, I started from seed ) , strawberries( 60′), swiss chard, parsnips, mixed beets, large double bed of mixed greens(spinach, mizuna, older chard,lettuce,parsley,radiccio) . I have five more beds to get ready and a lot of compost to move. Wait let’s not get into the what needs to be done list.
4. Cleaned up huge storage mess corner and sorted out supplies. Made lot’s of burn piles for sticks and stumps and some dead trees we took out. Managed to have fun and cook out at a few of them.
5. Re-did a 50′ perennial border near house for flower sales. Planted bearded iris, peruvian scilla, bachelor buttons, columbine. Either from saved seed or from friends divisions.
6. Planted 60′ hillside with more floral industry shrubs and herbs. All from cuttings , divisions or from friends.
Now that isn’t really that much, but I also lost my job and have been working hard to reestablish myself as a local landscape gardener, after thirteen years at the same location. I was hoping to farm full time but not enough of our infrastructure is in yet and this costs!
It’s interesting to me to look introspectively inside at what issues are holding you back from accomplishing your goals. Insecurity, lack of confidence, fear??? How do you come to terms with these? How do you move forward? Are you happy? Can you be? There are tools for this, many different paths for people to choose. Therapy, yoga, meditation, physical exercise, helping others are some. Others just disappear from life preferring to just get it over with. I really believe that life is every day and how you live it. It’s not the goal , it’s the path to it that matters.
I remember in my early twenties, when I first started to help out with the Buddhist centers, seeing one of the “older women” up in a large fruit tree. I realized I wanted to be like that when I got “old”. Still able to climb a fruit tree, not be of an elderly mind that doesn’t allow that kind of uninhibited action. Now I’m here, fifty still climbing fruit trees. Happy my life has taken the twists and turns it has. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve left a beautiful garden in my wake. My personal expression to the world. Sometimes even inspiring others to garden as well.
When you look out on a really beautiful day and your heart soars, swells, and tears of joy come to your eyes, be thankful for all the things that helped this to come about. Count your blessings regularly . Bless others with your own personal happiness. Be positive and optimistic . Do what you love and love the ones around you.
Take responsibility for yourself and work hard. According to the Buddhist path we are incredibly fortunate to be born in this human body in circumstances where we have what we need, food, shelter , and free time. Do good things with this life. Be honest and truly passionate , participate with life.
One of my favorite things about plants is the unbelievable abundance in nature. If you know, or if you look closely you see babies everywhere. Seedling maples, sarcocca, digitalis, perennials that can be divided. Flowers that have reseeded in the garden. Pumpkins in your compost and other volunteers. Overgrown iris, huechera’s, sage’s, dianthus, daylilies, agapanthus that just need dividing. Then there’s the whole range of plants that can be easily propagated. Hydrangea, old roses(I don’t recommend cuttings from grafted roses, so much mosaic disease), viburnums, buddleia, willow, lavatera . Other plants can be readily propagated as hard or soft wood cuttings. The best time is October and November here in Northern California, by now in December you can still transplant and divide plants. But cuttings will just languish in cold soils and not start to root until it starts to become warmer and the days longer, that happens here about Valentines day.
What I also love about that is later you remember where and when you took those cuttings. The coral bells from my grandmother’s garden, I’ve had in all my gardens. The roses growing all over the place started from cuttings. I have the rose Le Marque growing right now propagated from Mark Lappe’s yard about fifteen year’s ago. It is a huge rambler growing about 20 feet up his deck. My friend Sherry and I started it for our wholesale rose business, later I planted one in the garden I built at Odiyan. Now I’ve taken a cutting from that rose last year and it’s growing here in my yard. I always remember the rose it came from in Mark’s yard. Next I can offer it to his children for their yards.It’s the memories that makes gardens so special. Also now at a gift giving time a very inexpensive gift.
One of the best books I’ve ever found on propagation is by the Royal Horticultural Society. I have an older version of this but have referred to it for twenty years. Very worthy book for your gardening library.
Greg Lowry at Vintage Gardens, the worlds best rose nursery, recommended taking cuttings from blooming wood. That otherwise the subsequent plants would have less blooming vigor. I usually take a 12″-16″ piece cut from bud to bud. Newer wood seems to more readily root. The idea is to keep these plants alive until they root. They might loose leaves, especially if they are deciduous. I usually try to root soft wood cuttings outside in good garden soil. Right now I have an area in my vegetable beds. Lately I haven’t used rooting hormone, preferring not to use chemicals. My success rate is not as good, but I’m just rooting for myself now, I can always plant more.
One time I visited my neighbor who was a well know plant woman in our area. Building a large ornamental garden at a time when people were still traveling up here in boats. She was 92 at the time and asked me for cutting of a dwarf hydrangea I had. These are very slow growing. I loved that enthusiasm and optimistic approach. I later worked in this garden after her death and the hydrangea is there. Growing slowly.
I have big goals for our garden here. I want to produce veggies for ourselves and some of our local community and work to inspire others to garden.I’m still learning about growing vegetables. I love that about gardening that you can do it for so long and keep finding these huge areas of new information .There is just so much to know. I walked around with another veggie gardener on our last baking day and we talked with such enthusiasm about pests, seeding, veg.varieties.It’s different than the fine gardening I’ve been doing at work and in other gardens. I think it’s a really important background for farming to have the horticultural experience I’ve had, but farming and vegetable growing is slightly different.
For many many years, I had good intentions of growing vegetables, but after the first crop, the flowers would blow in and I felt I needed them more than the veggies. They soothed and satisfied me deep down in a way I now feel about vegetables. I don’t know why this finally changed. Maybe now because I have enough room to really grow vegetables and flowers. But really it’s surprising to me that I keep wanting to weed out the flowers. Not that I don’t still have a lot of flowers as well. I sold some to a local florist this year. I’m planting shrubs here with the intention that they would be good to market as floral greenery. It’s just that my priority has changed to something that goes into mine and another’s stomach . I think many of you gardeners would have similar experiences. It’s rather embarrassing , I felt strange not wanting to grow the vegetables. Here’s my old house pretty flowery no vegetables in sight.
We decided to change our gardens at work to all organic a few years ago. The garden was looking good but it just didn’t sing. We wanted the gardens to be beautiful. radiant, shining with energy. This does not happen using chemical fertilizers.I had tried early on using Organics and had a variety of problems with animals. The time I fertilized the small heathers and the turkeys flocked in fluffing and dust bathing while they ate all the fertilizer.Covering the heathers with soil or rooting them out.The crows who quickly got wind of it after the turkeys attracted their attention actually pull the plant out of the ground to eat what might be further down.The pigs after that, the pigs are another story. Anyway I went back to fertilizer that didn’t attract so much attention. I still used Green sand or cottonseed meal on the lawns. These have no animal products in them to attract the wildlife.
Years later we decided to get a dog at work. We started with Tashi a Great Pyrenees dog. After about a year I noticed the animals were staying away because of the dog. Another year and three more Pyrenees the garden is well protected from invaders, yet those crows..
So we started to use really good mulch on all the rhody’s , Happy Frog Soil conditioner www.foxfarmfertilizer.com/products_soils2. worked really well for us.Making sure it’s pulled back from the crown of the plant. Then we used organic chicken manure as an amendment for our soils and the lawns in the fall .The first year we were happy with this. Plus some organic all purpose fertilizers. Then we got slightly out of balance . The chicken manure didn’t seem to work right. Is it really organic we began to ask ? Are the chickens being fed organic feed ? Are we handling all these antibiotics and GMO corn residue in this manure. Probably. Organic does not mean organic in this case. Labeling laws that prevent us as consumers from really understanding what we’re buying.Labeling as advertising, pinpointing certain economic groups interests. We are now relying instead on compost we make ourselves. But at home I rely on our own animals composted manures , I know what they are being fed.