Why do I farm?

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.

Whew, I’ve got most of my garden in


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.

Farming a New Way


I don’t believe in the row method of planting a crop. Maybe because I’m just not that linear, but I’m convinced at least here in California, that it’s more efficient to grow the biointensive method.Planting areas of plants fairly close together, planted in compost rich soil. Plus inserting in areas of perennials, artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries and other berries. Flowers also insert themselves in my vegetable beds, I can’t control them, plus they’ve ended up being a fairly marketable product.

Areas reseed with multiple plants that I spread out and allow to grow where they and I deem fit. There are areas of “greens”, a potato bed, an artichoke area, under which potato’s keep coming back and sweet william bloom . A asparagus bed teeming with foxgloves and poppies. Tomatoes with crookneck squash on the end of that bed. Garlic with clary sage on the edges. Chard with nigella, roses and thyme plants. A long row of french beans.

In my other garden area I’ve tried to follow the row method. I have thirteen fairly well organized forty foot rows . Although the flowers are starting to find their way into the beds. Black eyed susans bloom all over the garden. Herbs are starting to edge some of the rows.I can just see the spots for roses on the ends of the beds.

I guess I’m hopelessly chaotic . But I can help to create this for others.

Farming 2011

Front yard May 2011
As this year shapes up for us, we are finding ourselves working hard to finish infrastructure development and to do it with a cash flow problem. TRADE has become our middle name, maybe our surname . We are trading for carpentry help to install our outdoor kitchen. So we can stop making dough and loafing in our tiny cabin kitchen, then hauling up to sixty loaves up to the oven to bake. Just the paraphernalia to produce the bread is overwhelming to store . Soon , soon we shall have a outdoor space !! Dance, sing, oh joy.
The other big infrastructure project is more fencing. Combining the two veggie gardens together by fencing the middle area. This means making new soil in the new area so lot’s of compost. We are happily mucking out stalls and the chicken coop. This new area will be home to more orchard trees planted close together and kept short, mostly espaliered . The 36 fruit trees I started by grafting rootstock to scion wood are doing well, thirty four took , two I will have to redo the graft on later. The fifty fruit trees already in, are growing, mostly mulched, mostly weeded, getting bigger . Our vegetable rows will be longer . The new fence area will provide a place for a Livestock guardian dog so our chickens can free range in that area without getting picked off by bobcats.

Last week I tried baking the bread in a commercial kitchen, we had such big hopes of this large mixer that was going to make the batching so much easier and the commercial dishwasher to help clean up afterward. We did get a great group of women and I felt all my hopes of bringing together community around food was beginning to work. Anyway the kitchen had this tiny mixer that was broken and no dishwasher that we could find ! Still it was fun to mix the doughs.

Our food expenditures and monthly expenses have been growing much smaller due to our severely reduced income. I think we are getting closer to what we can really live on. Maybe we can finally afford to farm. Since we rarely buy any groceries but milk and dairy products, and we are not growing that much fruit yet, fruit has become this mouth watering fantasy item. Tonight my daughter was talking about how delicious our salad would be with a apple in it. The strawberries are almost ripe and we all are checking them daily. Seeing the baby fruit forming on the trees means more to me this year than it ever has before, it’s what we will be living on for the next year.

My hope was that we would be farming and selling our produce this year, also bread and eggs; is to only be on a small scale again like last year. Until the infrastructure is in and paid for and my new jobs gardening for others becomes more reliable, we won’t be able to live on such a small income as we would make from small scale food production. But we are getting there and I can see the other side of the mountain. We are well on our way to building a small farming business. Hopefully we will be able to dawdle around and prune and harvest the fruit trees until we are quite old.

What have we done so far this year?

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!

Step by step, enjoy what we’ve done along the way!.

Spring Fever


Here in California where it’s green on all the mountains, daffodils are blooming and so are early shrubs; Daphne, sarcocca, fruiting trees, forget-me-not’s. It’s starting to be time to project what the summer garden will look like. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve planned, how many seeds you’ve ordered. The next step is real life and the best laid plans don’t always work out. Garden areas might not be rich enough for the plants you’ve planned there. A new favorite might over-ride your decisions. Maybe too wet. Maybe a perennial you’ve forgotten about is filling up your spaces.

My discussions with myself this year go something like this;

1. How much can we really handle?
2. Are we going to try to grow veggies in another warmer location this year as well as here?
3. Since I lost my job, am I going to focus on more landscaping work instead of the farm ?
4. We are still building infrastructure, should we focus on that? Plus earning the money to fund that ?
5. Sell at Farmer’s Market this year ? Or just sell CSA vegetables ?
6. Commercially market bread?

We have some momentum and I want so badly to inspire everyone to grow vegetables and to just garden! . I’m not sure what route to take to share . I’ve talked to our high school principal and found out we could have a field trip come here. The kids can pick food out of the garden, to put on pizza’s we could bake in the wood fired oven. Plus a garden tour. This is good, I could extend the invitation to the elementary schools as well. I’d like to teach classes or just garden with a group. The horticulture program at the school was so very modest and could be so much more, a local CSA, animal husbandry, food for their kitchens.

How do the kids get inspired to see horticulture and agriculture as a real livelihood ?

How do we make gardening more user friendly ??

Any suggestions ?

Happy Valentines Day, Are You Doing What You Love ?

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.