Winter and the chickens


Our chickens have been living in too much mud, although they have a large, well strawed, clean chicken coop to consider.We have a bobcat that loves it’s weekly/bi-weekly organic chicken dinner, finally showing up in the middle of the day staring my husband down, has prevented the chickens more freedom. The only way we will let them out is if we are right there the whole time they are out.Luckily here in Calif. we still have all kinds of greens in the garden and I can feed them buckets of kale, chard, arugula and spinach daily My husband can just tell them firmly “get in the coop” and they all run back in. If I try that they just keep eating, they don’t even look up. Needless to say I end up there for long days when I let them out. Chickens automatically will go back into their familiar home when the sun goes down.

We started out with twenty five Buff Orpingtons. Beautiful, gentle as their reputation, large sized chickens. They are now three years old, and the egg production slowed way down after about two plus years.We don’t have the nerves developed yet to get the remaining few, about seven, to the stew pot. Need to work on that. We should have bought the next chickens earlier, a year and a half would be a good schedule. Our young Black Orpington’s are now really laying and we are starting to get almost a dozen a day. We were marketing some eggs and had a good trade system for some as well before the laying slowed down. Because we waited to renew our flock, we now have to develop new clients.The cost of the organic feed needs to be off set with some financial gain. It’s very expensive to feed all these critters, our monthly costs are a constant balance.
Baking with those eggs has spoiled me for good. Never have I tasted cakes, lemon curd, pancakes so good. During Christmas I baked a yeasted Challah bread. It called for a certain weight of eggs to the recipe. I ended up with nine loaves of 30oz. Challah and used 27 eggs. It came out so good! Baked in the brick oven.
One of my favorite authors and his weekly blog.

http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/acquiring-knowledge-by-accident/

Motorcyles and stress relief


Okay , I get to admit I ride a motorcycle. I have since I was about twelve. Being raised with my brothers and Dad from age 13 on, I was exposed to many machines. I learned to drive towing a boat. My brother who I lived with the most, is brilliant as far as fun ideas go. He made sure I could change a tire and my own oil, fix a broken fan belt, drive without brakes, without a clutch, four wheel, etc. He didn’t want me growing up like no “Girl” . It was a great preparation to farming and being able to drive large equipment and not to be intimidated by situations especially in male dominated areas.

Anyway in trying to save money so we can live on a farming income, we are trying to get monthlies (monthly bills) as low as we can. This means no more paid storage for our bikes.So yesterday it cleared for a bit and my husband drove me up, leaving my two kids ( 15 and 4) two horses and thirty chickens all OUT and in the garden till I got back. FREEDOM, SWEET FREEDOM. Spoken from one whose been a Mom for way too long as my oldest is 22, then 15, then 4. Anyway I can’t say enough about the freedom you feel and that, cares blowin away feeling you get on a bike. I find over the years it’s been especially helpful when I had bad PMS and now with menopause and constant hot flashes… anyway you get what I’m saying.

So I start up my LOVELY BMW 1976 R90/6 and she throbs into action. This baby really gets going at about 85-90mph. Oh the roads were wet and my ever protective husband was following me, not for long- buuurrrrrmmm-buuuurruuummm-boorrooom!!.It felt like a vacation away and all stress dropped away by the time I got back. Ate more Christmas candy and worked away pruning our fifty fruit trees and transplanting rhubarb.
This is our beautiful coastline. My pick up with a load of plants.

Farming with Kids

Having my first child in a monastery where there were no other kids.We worked seven days a week and long hours each day. I started working again right after she was born . It never occurred to me to do differently, I loved it there, I didn’t want to live another life. When she was a few months old during the winter, my project was to design and build a large greenhouse 88’x25′.It had a propagation area, bottom heat, misting foggers, power and lights.With my daughter sleeping outside in the car near me, I helped to build this then spent the first year propagating over 10,000 plants with her right next to me .Over the years and each baby born I just integrate them into what I’m doing. My second daughter we built a house her first year.

I think most mothers fear daycare. Well I was terrified of it. It’s important to be with your children especially the first four years , best if it’s both parents. Also I think it’s important for each person, a mother included, to contribute what they are meant to do in this life. I don’t think children’s needs should override this. Their needs are the most important priority, but there can be other priorities. I used to think my daughter would be damaged from this, but instead she felt well loved and included. I think our culture lately has focused all a mother’s attention on child rearing only, forgetting to develop other talents .But recently I saw an old farming picture, the young child, maybe three, was up on the horses back while the dad plowed the field.The child was happy and well taken care of yet in the middle of it all, feeling needed, yet not interfering with the work needing to be done.

The other day I was splitting wood and I stuck my head in the house and yelled for my daughters to help me. They came right out the younger managing the four wheeler we used to move the wood. The other older one hopped on the back. While I still split wood, they quickly and efficiently moved the wood to the porch. The littlest one coming out to stack.Hard work done quickly. They were confident in their abilities.Capable, I was so proud.

I think farming is the best of both worlds in this way. Kids can be a part of it all. Not that it’s not challenging and sometimes can seem unsafe. But the helpfulness it fosters, the work ethics learned, the creativity and problem solving ability the children learn. I think it gives the children invaluable tools to later cope and excel in life.

Striking a balance between work and play . Overwhelming tasks, financial worries and a small helper that wants to just be a part and learn to master their bodies. How to we learn to be kind, gentle, yet skillfully, creatively, direct our young charges. I still want to learn to play more, push less. Life is all about learning.

Becoming a real Farmer

I have this confusion about what the difference is between a gardener and a farmer? I’m not sure that people in Europe would say a gardener is not a farmer. I’ve maintained 4,000 fruit trees as a “gardener” not a farmer. Now that I’m choosing to primarily grow vegetables the job title has changed . Why is this ? I can still grow flowers and be called a farmer, it doesn’t even have to be more than half vegetable production, but you are no longer a gardener.Farmers market right ? I remind people that Alan Chadwick was trained and worked many years in the UK as a “fine gardener”. I’d like to add my vote towards getting more respect added to the word gardener. The new gardening/farming movement.Bring the victory “garden”(not farm), sustainability back to everyone’s yard.

We paced out and marked corners for the additional garden space yesterday.Our gardens here seem to be in constant battle with all types of animals. Rabbits such as the like of Peter and his cousin Benjamin. Deer, fox, raccoon, skunk, plus a variety of birds that are very happy here because of the organic chicken scratch on the ground. We fence these garden areas but still it’s constant defense. So our new area needs some hefty protection and the plan is to continue with more fencing around a large portion of the property, when we can afford to do this.

This new garden space, hopefully soon it will have a better name, will connect our two large vegetable gardens together in a ell shape. We’ll need to move about 18 fruit trees to make a tractor accessible garden space. We’ll move the trees to the outer edges of the fence line where we’ll have a deep 20′ border of flowers and perennials and fruit trees. My roses can go there, the ramblers and the shrub roses with vegetable beds in the middle. It’s harder here in California to have a tractor garden , none of the garden beds are dug up at the same time. It’s a constantly rotating cycle without hard frosts or snow to periodically kill it all down. The season here never really ends. So no rototilling a large swath that get’s planted from April till October. It’s year round for us here, baby.

It seems in every garden I’ve planted that I’ve put in plants, shrubs, and trees, that often later get moved. I never regret this, on the contrary later when I expand my gardens I usually have some larger plants that help make the new areas look like they’ve been established for a longer time. I get shrubs and trees I like and sometimes they don’t work where I’ve put them. But at least they’ve been growing in the meantime. It’s easier than you think to move these although you are talking to a woman with a backhoe . The fruit trees we need to move are about four years old now and still transplantable, especially with equipment.I like to do this in the winter months when they are dormant or late summer when they are going into dormancy.Evergreen shrubs I usually move after the rains start.

We will end up with about two acres of gardens in this one location with more around the house. I’ve been planting many shrubs and trees for the floral industry. I’ve found that the greenery and foliage is just as important as the flowers.Curly willow, Abelia, Weigelia, spirea, viburnums, osmanthus, English laurel, luma apiculata, proteas, hydrangeas, lilac, roses,Crabapples. Not to mention herbs, rosemary spilling down hillsides, oregano, sages.So many possibilities.Often I take cuttings of these plants to make it affordable, or small divisions. Other times I find a good deal on a small plant at a nursery. Or it’s a plant I purchased for a landscape job that just doesn’t fit or work. Sometimes friends are getting rid of a shrub or a tree, maybe it seeded in their yard. Recently during a wonderful Thanksgiving moment my Father in law, an old (sorry Pop’s) prune farmer, showed me how to bud fruit trees. This makes even more things possible, rogue seedlings, or old root stock can turn into a special tree. I’ve tried learning this from books, but so much better to get a real in-person lesson. Isn’t this why we need more jobs apprenticing ? Hands on learning.

So I think that will be about as much vegetable production as we will be doing for a while.This should be enough to do a moderately sized CSA operation with flower production as well as, eggs and bread.Small perennial plants might also supplement our income although probably not veggie starts till we get a greenhouse going. I’ve been really happy to sell veggies to local restaurants . We will be selling bread in this year to come, although to legally sell it we have to make it in a commercial kitchen. There is one in our community center we can rent space in. So my new year plan is to grow and sell lot’s of good food. We will be making more CSA announcements on this site as to how you can buy a share of veggies. Locals if you want to discuss trades or labor for veggies contact us.Classes are also on the calendar for next year, to be announced.

Plant Propagation


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.

Vegetable Growing

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.

Organics in the garden

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.

Gardens growing up, the ten year old garden

In our part of rural California , gardening can be quite a recent endeavor .Many people here are living out their dreams and have built their own house and planted a few fruit trees. Then they might get more passionate about the garden and start buying random plants at many nurseries. Or maybe they’ve hired a landscape architect or designer and installed their garden using professionals. As the garden develops these plants really look good the first few years, but then ? Even the architects routinely over plant to make the garden look good the first 2-7 years. It’s quite easy to move these plants that no longer fit when they are young. In California November,December is the time for doing this.

I was thinking as I weeded , pruned , tore out, moved plants yesterday, that the garden is like a person. Developing into different stages of growth. Baby, toddler, adolescent , young adult , grown up, and old age. It seems to me in each of these developmental stages there is a key point of distinct change. These points in the gardens growth are very significant times they are times to reassess what is happening in the garden.

I find in the many gardens I’ve built that initially , to make it look good you over plant. Plus you probably plant many perennials to fill in spaces until the shrubs grow to the young adult size.In about seven to ten years you’ll see the shrubs and trees becoming grown ups. The perennials become a superfluous plant that no longer quite works in some situations they also might have lived out their life span. Or maybe it’s grown in and established itself to be pleasing to the eye. The other thing that becomes issue now is what I’ve decided to call shrub protocol. What shape are you going to try to keep that shrub ? What shape does it want to be? Is it the right plant for the location you’ve chosen? Do you know how to prune it ? If you’re not happy with it make sure you’ve answered the question about pruning it. Most shrubs and trees need some care and shaping each year especially as they get older . Taking out dead wood is important and cutting it in a way you get the results you desire ,so it will stay a size you’ll be happy with.Once you establish the protocol it will be easier to keep the shrub or tree to that first cut in the future. Not every plant needs to grow into it’s full size. Lot’s of plants can be shaped to fit where and how you desire.

You might decide it’s too much work to keep pruning something , especially trees .Trying to keep them smaller and creating a difficult situation to get up and prune them later. But most shrubs can be easily restrained with knowledge of how to cut and shape them.

It’s very nice to see each plant distinctly and not have it merge into the other plants around it. Especially if it’s nearer to a house or building. As you get further away in the landscape shrubs can blend into natural settings . These outskirt areas can be good places to move shrubs that have overgrown their spaces.

I really like this next phase of the garden when it becomes a young adult and you start to see the gardens potential. Have fun playing and moving plants when it’s cooler and wet.I don’t recommend moving them over and over . But don’t be intimidated about moving plants in this age range either. Keep as much soil around the roots as you can. Move it quickly. Water it in. Care about it and give it good attention through the next year to make sure it establishes itself well.

In this photo we’ve moved five large shrubs out of this bed. Plants and trees here still need pruning but the balance is better without the extra shrubs.

California Gardening 2


Today, hoeing and pruning in the garden. Cutting back roses, fuschias, wisteria and I started in on the apples although they are still leafed out.I prune now so I can dormant spray a few times and also because the spring growth starts so early here. In all gardens there is a time to cut plants back clean them up for future growth . Everything you do in the garden now will be what you see in early spring. Planting bulbs is still possible as well as garlic and onions( sets or seedlings).But for me mostly it’s about clean up, weeding and pruning. When you prune roses and other shrubs really think about the height you want to see the plant grow to next season . Look at it’s typical length of growth from the last year then cut accordingly. Do know, about what your pruning. If you don’t know it’s name(in Latin ) and it’s growth habit and what kind of wood , old or new it blooms on, don’t prune it ! Shrub roses do get pruned differently than regular hybrid tea roses.My shrub roses, here Sally Holmes a well loved hybrid musk I grew from a cutting, wants to be 5’x5′.So do I let it or not? My choice.

Fertilizing is important now before the temperature really drops and the micro organisms move slower making it difficult for nutrients to be made available to the plants. I know if I don’t get lawn fertilizer on right now the lawns will yellow up this winter and be difficult to re-green come spring. I like to use cottonseed meal or green sand. Keeping plants healthy and happy is always easier than dealing with problems later. Just like in people, prevention is always the best. Load a healthy dose of aged manure or compost on plants , shrubs and planting beds. Fertilize shrubs with a all purpose organic fertilizer. I use Calif. Organics 7-5-7.

While gardening is very therapeutic and gives you time to process thoughts and to watch your mind. Like cooking you should never garden with anger or impatience. The energy you give the plants will either help or hinder them. Most plants need lot’s of care and nourishing and will later show their appreciation.

When I used to work in the greenhouse at the monastery the head lama used to tell me to “Nurse” the plants. You know like in a nursery or like a mother.

Is this not the best wheelbarrow ever?