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.

Inspiration Farms

Well I went with more friends to the second lesson on biodynamic orchard practices and pruning. This day started at The Apple Farm http://www.philoapplefarm.com/ with Tim Bates telling us about the most beautiful compost and how the innoculents work. Luke Frey http://www.freywine.com/ demonstrating the method of integrating them on a specific grid all around and on top of the compost pile. Then on to compost tea and the machine and technique to make this. He no longer uses any other spray on his trees. I saw the trees last summer and the orchard glowed with life. Biodynamic practices are everything I believe a garden should be. Live water, live soil, healthy compost as fertilizers. Plants and fruit that impart their live-ness to the ones that eat them. Wholeness practiced.

The Apple farm has made a success of itself by direct marketing it’s apples as cider and juice. Also by teaching cooking classes, from vegetables grown by Tim and Susan Bates’ daughter Sophia. Plus some small cabins to lodge cooking class participants. This is farm is so beautiful and such a great environment.

Then we went to Filigreen Farm and my mouth dropped and never has gone back into shape yet. Chris and Stephanie Tebbutt have built orchards and gardens with such intelligence and sophistication. Yet also with the mindset to exemplify how to make orcharding practices be a viable business.They have espallied their fruit trees on a 7 footx 13 foot pattern. Rows and rows with neatly mowed grass or cover crop between. All grown biodynamically as well. High production yields in smaller acreage. Diverse products spanning a long harvest season starting with Blueberries and ending with apples.Olives producing the most delectible oil

They also built in respect for the land in every form and detail. From removing their large grandfathered in, creek pumping, easement. Thereby protecting waters downstream.At a great expense to themselves they built a huge reservoir that now provides their carefully balanced and efficiently used irrigation water. Flow forms were integrated into the landscape to energize the water and the environment. A beautiful shape in the middle of their garden was not planted but represented the mother, heart, earth energy.

All of us were profoundly moved by this garden. I can’t thank the Tebbutt’s enough for creating this marvel in the world. Plus allowing us to come and be inspired by it.

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/

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.