Garden Work- January in Northern California

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I always want to shout out to everyone- This is the time ! These are the moments to create everything you want in your garden for spring, right NOW ! What you do right now determines how your garden will do and look all year.

It is time to plant, and transplant new shrubs and bare root trees and roses. It’s also when balled and burlap conifers get shipped from Oregon and Washington. They are available right now in your nurseries. Think hard about how you want your garden to look this year. Are there plants you want to add ? Divide ? Is the winter form and structure pleasing in your garden ? Do you want more evergreens ? Are you happy with the shapes and heights of your plants ? Do you need help pruning ?

It’s time to cut back, prune, fruit trees, roses, all deciduous shrubs and trees. I’m planting and dividing perennials for spring and summer color and bloom. In our Northern California climate, growth usually begins in early February, seeds can be ordered for planting then. Mulching all the beds with a thick layer of compost ( amending the soil should be done at least once a year). I often put chips all over the perennial beds and this thick mulch, now too. Or if I have spring annuals in place mulch those beds too. Fruit trees benefit from a thick layer of compost, then chips just make sure the base is not covered. The compost helps decompose any fungus trapped in leaves on the ground. I also start putting out an organic all purpose fertilizer now. I like the California Organics 7-10-7 . I only need to apply it once a year because of all the compost I also add.
You might want to put in irrigation under the chips, so you don’t have to see the unsightly lines, that has to be done now too. If you’re really on top of it you can check irrigation, but I usually wait till March for that.

On our homestead, we do a lot of cleaning up with fires now. Areas where we fell trees for firewood, or trees just fell, can be handled easily this way.

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Class K Mendocino County

Navigating class K , or Rural Residential permits is a bit complicated, yet well worth it. A very well written law, Class K allows you to build using recycled, upcycled building materials and alternative methods of construction http://www.co.mendocino.ca.us/planning/pdf/Class_K_Ordinance.pdf . Including milling your own wood and not needing to have it graded. Possibly being able to avoid having to do the energy calculations, if you are heating only with renewable energy, solar or wood heat. Modify you plans as you build, with written notification . Live in the structure as its being built. Most structures can be drawn by the owner, and don’t need to be engineered. Only one inspection at the end if you want, or you can still get multiple inspections. It’s a law based on safety as the criteria, safety for the occupants. So handrails, fire and co2 detectors, legal GFI protected electrical circuits in the kitchen and bathroom still need to be to code. A lot of the building code goes back to 1976, so has more leeway than the current National Building code.
You have to live in an unincorporated area of Mendocino county. It’s meant to be for an owner builder’s primary residence, so it can not be built to sell, or to rent for the first few years anyway. Class K can also be used for additional structures on the property as well, within zoning restrictions.

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This building we are building using logs . Cut and peeled on our property here. We were also able to use recycled windows making our building cost substantially lower.

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Climbing trees

When I was twenty I visited a garden and saw an older woman up in a large tree pruning. I vowed at that point to climb trees in my forties. Now that I’m mid- fifties, climbing bigger trees doesn’t feel so comfortable any more. I can’t believe I’m admitting this. Today pruning this twenty foot fig tree I’ve pruned for the last five years, getting up in the higher branches just didn’t seem like a good idea. I did most of it anyway.
I think it’s the first time in my thirty five years of gardening that I wondered why I never considered a desk job… That’s saying a lot isn’t it ? Maybe I just need to learn how to give over some tasks… But I can tell you gardeners, if you love it as an occupation now, you’ll love it even more as the years go on. Gardening has so much diversity and constant learning experiences . If you want to be challenged, it will do it.

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Stone Soup -cooking from the garden, whatever the season

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I’m afraid I’m quite boring in my use of spices, although most of the spices I use come straight from the garden. My husband and kids don’t like spicy food much or strange herbs, even curries. So my standby is a good base of fresh veggies, whatever is currently growing, plus an onion usually parsley or celery. Lately I love the herb sage especially with Chicken, Rabbit or pork. Thyme, oregano, rosemary, chives usually always fresh from the garden or ones I dried from the garden. I’m not exotic in my spice choices but it makes good home cooked food.
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Today I’m making a soup, we’ve had a week of lot’s of sickness going around, finished with me, the nursemaid getting the flu. Soup sounds really good to all of us.

My soup base today-varies with season
1 lg. onion diced
green garlic from the garden 5-6 sliced well into the green
carrots a large bunch from the garden-diced
1 lg. parsnip scrubbed- diced
parsley, stems and all-when it’s fresh the stems are delicious-1 large bunch minced
1 bunch of fresh thyme chopped
dried sage a lg. pinch
salt and pepper to taste

I always saute veggies first in my trusty cast iron skillet before adding to the soup pot
saute in 3/4 cube of butter (yes, this is a lot, you can use less, but adds lot’s of flavor)
First I add in the onions while I’m prepping the other veggies, then the garlic and the carrots, parsnip, thyme -after a saute and the onions are translucent add to soup pot

Add water- today I’m making chicken soup with either potatoes or barley or if I felt better some home made noodles. So I’ll add the organic, washed chicken- without innards- plus whatever else I’m putting in the soup
Bring to a slight boil, turn down to a simmer cook one hour, never let it boil! Take out the chicken, let it cool and take the meat off the bones. Add it back into soup- adjust seasonings. I’m going to add a large bunch of swiss chard at this point, Reheat to serving temp.

Summer canning
Summer canning

You could have also made cauliflower soup this way- pureeing the base with the potatoes. Or crispy bacon, clams and cream for clam chowder.
Or add in beef stock or wine( instead of water) and chunks of browned, floured meat for a stew. Or tomatoes sauce(instead of water), cooked white beans and sausage .

I love to cook food from our garden. You have to be creative to use what’s in season and make substitutions for recipes. But have fun with imagining what you can make. Then try to figure out how to make it from ingredients at hand. Don’t forget the bread with the soup !
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Kids on the Farm

I love what farm life offers kids. Time to remember just how to have fun with everything. Make your own toys. Learning all kinds of body skills and capabilities in the midst of a working family.

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Fun on the farm

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Life on the farm sometimes feels like that movie “Babe”, you know where all the animals are such crazy characters ? The animals here are like that. Our horses are some of the funniest.

We already had the horses when we moved here, so we tried hard to provide them with a good sized fenced paddock and two barn stalls for rainy, cold weather. But because farming and homesteading is so much work, we don’t give the horses enough time and enough exercise. So our solution to this is to let them out of their pen and to basically run free around our upper, unfenced area most mornings. They graze on what grass we have and generally run around and have fun. Well, if we go back down to the house, our smart horse Buttercup, comes down to the house to see what we’re doing. She likes to stay around where people are. Sometimes she comes down on her own, just because the grass is better down there, Belle always follows her. My un-fenced ornamental plants and trees get grazed when they are down there. So I was working away on the long bed I was transplanting plants into, and it seemed very quiet and I hadn’t seen the horses for awhile. I hopped on the scooter and drove down to the house, sure enough there they were down in my garden beds. I started trying to round them up with my scooter racing around the beds and smart Buttercup evading every move. Then I hear Dennis coming into the driveway driving the Peterbilt towing the trailer with the excavator on it. He sees my dilemma and heads right at the horses with the truck, then he honks the airhorn and they jump, I’m on the other side on the scooter trying to push them along. Dennis just keeps coming rounding up the horses with the huge truck and trailer. They ran so fast back up to the barn with the truck horn still scaring them. They ran all the way up to the barn and waited for me to close the gate…

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Happy Life in the Country

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New Years Day working in the garden. So much garden work to do at this time of the year. I’m pruning deciduous trees and shrubs, fruit trees, roses, hydrangeas, fushias. Cutting back perennials. Transplanting or planting out new plants. I have an area where I make cuttings and they have now grown there for a year and need to be moved to their real homes. I’m transplanting climbing roses, pruned first, where we removed a fence, to another fence they need that support. I have large olive trees that I have grown in one of my fertile garden rows since they were rooted cuttings, three years now. They will transplant out to line the road to the garden.

Summer Garden Roseman Creek Ranch
Summer Garden Roseman Creek Ranch

I came in from working to eat my breakfast; a piece of seeded sourdough bread, two of our chicken eggs over easy, saute’d swiss chard. Such an abundant life. The fruits of our labor showing up everywhere.
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Fruit trees we grew and grafted to root stock, some from seed (indian peach, apricot and pineapple guava), veggies grown from seed in our well composted beds. Baby flowers coming up in the beds from reseeding. Plants I made from cuttings; roses, hydrangea, buddleia, viburnum growing large. Artichokes from seed, asparagus from seed, rhubarb from divisions. Gardens don’t have to be costly, using the natural abundance of nature to our advantage if you know how. Homemade naturally leavened bread from our brick oven, fired with our wood. Our warm cozy house thanks to the serious efforts of my husband and a chainsaw.
Oven bread baking
The life we envisioned six years ago when we bought this property is so much more than we could have imagined. Self sufficiency just an idea then now a lived experience. I want to tell you it’s quite possible. It takes diligence and hard work. Knowledge of traditional tasks and garden experience.