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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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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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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Rural farming

Rural farming

The economies of farming kept eluding me till I realize again and again that it’s not about financial returns, making lots of money, or what seems a fair wage for my hours. Instead it’s about quality of life, and a community alive . A community that lives for each other, with each other, not pitted in competition against each other. If one. Fails we all fail, shall be our motto. Maybe one might end up with more holdings than another, but not at the expense of the others. Money and wage does not define the life, instead ones respect and value within society . Are you well loved? 
Here in Italy, everything happens around the small town center. People visit and watch, young and old have a place. They support each other because they realize their inter-relatedness. The importance of all, encouraged by the diversity, not despairing in it. My grandmother used to say the world or god was like a large sun, all the rays different but all important to the whole. 
  Here they build their houses , very small apartments, close together, approx. five feet between, stories high. Keeping privacy with their shutters, but close to everything. The gardens are terraced up extreme,y steep hills in this coastal Chinque Terra  region. The wine grapes bent over trellis that shade the greens growing underneath. Olive trees planted on these steep slopes that have been producing the local oil for generations. A self sufficient area with fish, local vegetables, wine, oil and fruit. The meaning of life is satisfaction in great food, a lively community to share glories and tragedy, beautiful days in a beautiful place close to earth and god .

Food For A Community

Summer Garden Roseman Creek Ranch

Today, reading and thinking about rural cultures that still have an agricultural base. Where local food is produced by small farms and you can buy and eat seasonal vegetables, fruit and even meat and local dairy products . Where a farmer or rancher can sell a quarter of a cow that was killed there on the farm, in it’s own pasture. Where a small farmer could make money on a dairy cow, selling milk, cream, buttermilk and cheese. Why can’t our food policy , many policies, be based on size ? That someone with eight cows to milk doesn’t have to conform to the same standards as a dairy with 35 plus cows ? Why can’t we make policies to help sustain a rural culture, businesses that are economically viable in a rural area ? See it as a way to enrich our community, make it solid. Try to support it even if it’s not as cheap as it’s tax subsidized big box store.

Today,inspired by a book about Italy I’m reading, and realizing the wood fired oven had stayed hotter than usual after baking bread yesterday, since it was fired mid week. I made a beautiful pie out of summer’s fruit frozen in the freezer. The huckleberries and boysenberries made a wonderful tart-sweet combination.Then I put a pot of cannelli beans pre-cooked in bay leaves, rosemary and parsley, covered with tomatoes canned from last summer ( we put up 60 quarts ), wine, local sausage, and seasonings. Now finishing off and stirring in chard and kale out of the garden. I have this big pot of bean stew, a beautiful huge loaf of my sourdough bread and a great pie. Why can’t I put a sign out at the bottom of the road for Katie’s Trattoria ??? That’s what you can do in Italy or France. Rural areas like this should encourage such industry.

Let’s cook together !

Apple Scab- winter work on orchards

This is the time of year that many things are done to achieve your garden goals for the following spring and summer Pruning , cutting back perennials and shrubs sets the garden for the coming growing season . Deciding on the sizes you want the elements in the garden to be is one way to look at pruning. It’s easier to access deciduous shrubs and trees when they are dormant,you can see the branching structure better. Look to where you cut them last year and how much growth they put on this year.Cut accordingly. Learning pruning is a lot about observation.

Transplanting and planting plants at this time is good as well,especially deciduous plants,shrubs,trees, even large roses can be moved. Really look at your garden as a whole, maybe even blur your vision to decide if you like the sizes things have become. You have the choice to prune shrubs whatever shape you want and they can live at. When you are learning pruning look at other peoples plants, shrubs and trees. Look at mature specimens. What size do you want to keep it? What size does it want to grow ? Even large plants can be kept small,but they will try to get to their normal size.Plant accordingly.

I’ve been doing a lot of research into apple and pear problems . Last year because it was so wet the apple scab really affected our trees, and others. This is a fungus which we are particularly susceptible to, living in a coastal environment. Fungus thrives in 50-80 degree weather, we typically rarely get higher or lower than these temps.

Preventative measures to take are to really clean up last years debris under the trees, for this carries the spores from the old leaves to the new leaves. So you rake, but look to see how much more there is to do to get it really clean, leaves not dropped or small dead apples. Then the best method to me seems to be a spray to start the tree off clean in the coming year. The more I research the more I think I’ll do a copper based spray at my house , mostly because I know my trees were infected last year and I think something serious needs to be done to clean them up. I’m going to spray an organically approved copper/ lime spray. With neem oil, another organic fungicide, but it’s also a spreader sticker( usually an oil which helps hold the spray on the tree even with some moisture). The spray needs to be timed to when the leaf shoot starts to come out. Then ten days ( five if it rains then) , and another ten days hopefully finishing with the petals off the new fruit. I want my trees to start off clean so I’m going to do one spray before that, early on in the next few weeks. Usually the trees should be pruned first before spraying, so it’s easier to spray, less to spray.

Because we are having such a warm, dry winter, we might have a very early bud break. Usually bud break is end of January for the earliest trees , early Feb. This will help keep the spores in check too, especially if it’s this dry ( I hope we get more rain soon though)

Spraying needs to be done on a dry day with no possibility of rain for 24 hours . Then sprayed on a sunny , windless, morning that’s when the plants stomatas are open and they will take in the most.

Local Food for the Holidays ! Whew, feeding 24 out of our garden for Thanksgiving weekend


So we made it to the deadline. The building was closed in and warm . We had a table , benches and a sink and even lights. Even though power was only run in with an extension cord.The oil lamps were lit.

Plus our ambitious goal to feed the masses from Tuesday through Saturday only from our garden or locally produced meat. Tuesday was bread preparation for Wednesdays early morning bake. Naturally fermented bread has many steps it goes through from the starter coming out of the frig. on Sunday, then added to and revitalized until Tuesday morning when it becomes the preferment, then dough, then loaves with many hours and folds in between. We ate Fish Chowder, rock fish traded for bread, our potatoes, parsley, garlic, and onions.Served with baby greens salad, purple onion and chopped parsley. Some of our sourdough bread from last week reheated.

Wednesday the oven was too hot. It was 800 degrees at 6am. I needed to get it down to 580 by 8am It keeps fooling us when it’s been fired for a few days, and it is already hot, it’s easy to overheat it. So we had time constraints, trying to deliver our orders so there were some dark sourdough loaves. Still everyone who came by or who arrived gorged themselves on fresh, warm bread. The blue cheese from Point Reyes with walnuts is always a favorite.

My idea was every family would take a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs from our chickens and jam for breakfasts. I think I got those to most everyone. Then Wednesday local cheese and warm bread with snacks for lunch. Dinner was lasagna from our homemade putanesca tomato sauce full of many garden vegetables and put up over the summer. The area we couldn’t keep up the local production was in the dairy. We bought in milk and cheese. Although a local dairy, commercially produced. Oh I would love it if you could again buy milk from small dairymen, but legislation trying to make us “safe” makes that near impossible. With the casserole we had salad with local beets and romanesco broccoli. Fresh bread and a tart made from redhaven peach and crabapple jam I made over the summer poured into a crust filled with frangipani, baked in the brick oven.
The Thanksgiving pies I made that day I was disappointed with because I baked them in a too hot oven, easy to do when the oven is wood fired. I made a butternut squash pie, from squash that I grew, and locally made mincemeat, from Lisa’a Luscious in Point Arena.

Thanksgiving arrived with the Turkeys my brother and his family picked up, I’d ordered them in August from Mendocino Organics, in Redwood Valley, pasture raised . They were the most beautiful turkeys I’d ever seen, so plump and firm, fresh. As Joel Salatin say’s “well exercised”, verses birds stuck in small cages, eating round-up sprayed feed laced with antibiotics . Roasting heritage breeds is different than the huge commercial turkeys, they have more muscle and less fat, so quickly roasting them at a high heat for fewer hours was recommended. We turned then three times and they baked for about two hours in the 450 brick oven. The had been brined the night before and were filled with oranges my neighbors brought up from their tree in LA and our onions. I made the croutons for the stuffing, then local celery traded for some backhoe time, onions and parsley. Bacon or sausage were the two types we made. The turkey was the best I’ve ever eaten. Support local pasture raised meat !

I had really planned the vegetable timing and the romanesqo broccoli and the lettuces, were perfect. The potatoes had looked great from above and I dreamed of letting the kids dig the potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner. I dug some up a week before to see the size of all the red potatoes I’d planted.They were covered with a scaly scab. Oh, bummer forty feet of bum potatoes, usable but ugly. But as I dug I found the fingerlings were fine . So I had to BUY some potatoes for the mashed potatoes so wonderfully made by my nephew Casey. The fingerlings were roasted with butternut squash, acorn squash, garlic and rosemary all grown here.


It was a wonderful meal. Followed by what I realized my family “does” when it has many hours together, SING . Then some impromptu acting, charades, and even some fabulous opera sung by my niece . When we were young my Dad, a self professed history buff, decided to try to remember the sea shanty’s he had heard as a child and also mixed with a large dose of Woody Guthrie. He taught himself these on the guitar and we all learned them as kids. We had an old fishing boat and would often show up at Catalina Island on the weekends. As we put down the anchor, my Dad would get out the guitar start singing, with all of us joining in, and the fancy yachts would pull up anchor and move away, leaving us with a perfect spot !

The next day Turkey sandwiches and homemade beer my brother had brewed and brought with him from Portland.

Then I made myself go on a walk, which led to a great mushroom walk all over our property, leading to a continued walk down under Hwy 1 in a tunnel and out to the ocean on the other side.

My brother in law dragged around David Aurora’s huge manual on mushrooms for the next day, looking like a preacher.


We made it to the lighthouse to see the most beautiful fall skies and ocean in turmoil. Another home grown salad and chili (our onions, home canned tomatoes, herbs and belted galloway beef from our local friend) and more bread ! for dinner.

I can’t remember when but everyone rode the horses around, led and instructed expertly by my sister the true equestrian. We had a great time. Everyone helped so much. It was fun to see what we all might do with one another when you have no TV, power, cell reception, internet access or phone. We had great fun and a wonderful visit all based around the hearth .

All the cousins cleaning up ! Thanks to my sister Heather for spending much of her Thanksgiving taking these wonderful photos.