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.
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.
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!
After coming back from Filigreen Farms I decided we needed to turn our whole upper garden into espallier fruit trees. We planned to turn it into gardens anyway but now hopefully it will be a longer lived planting and easier for us to maintain as we get older than annual vegetables.
I’ve been learning grafting from my father in law and he also took me to meet another farmer who at 90 years old was still on a 14 foot orchard ladder pruning his peach trees. Both of them were encouraging and said apples and pears are especially easy to graft.Grafting our own trees is a cheaper way to get a quantity of trees and varieties maybe not available in the retail industry.
Both had seen orchards planted closely together. My father-in-laws friend said pears on 9 foot centers worked well. Also that Winter Nellis was his favorite root stock for pears. My father in law grew prunes on myrobalan root stock. These are also easy to graft. On to the scion exchange next weekend in Boonville .
I’m trying not to go too fast and to freak out my ever helpful husband. So re-fencing first. Although I might buy some rootstock and get it growing for grafting next year. Planting it in one of my garden beds for now.
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.
On Sunday I attended a fruit tree pruning workshop at Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley, Ca. This was following a quarterly meeting of the Biodynamic association. Frey vineyards is an organic and biodynamic vineyard. Biodynamic farming is one of the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner an amazingly aware visionary. He was able to see energy and biodynamic gardening is all about respecting the “live-ness” of the soil and the growing environment. So much of our current gardening efforts are in dead soil. Even organic gardening might not be replenishing the natural organisms in the soil. This is why it’s so very important to compost your soil. Also to use animals with your farming efforts for their manures and other benefits.They also believe in innoculating your growing areas and compost with live culture.
Anyway this wonderful establishment hosted Hugh William from New York State an accomplished apple farmer. I read about this and the next two workshops on the Greenhorn Blog . This was really helpful since the South Coast of Mendocino seems to be somewhat removed from these farming happenings. Everyone should attend the next one Saturday January 15 2011 starting at The Apple Farm, Then Filigree Farms, 9:30am-4:30, lunch is optional and an extra, reasonable fee.
Hugh calls his method of pruning ” modified central leader pruning with renewal “. I’ve always been curious about how to central leader prune , being a open center pruner for 25 years. Hugh had a way to prune so fast and effectively, working with the natural growing habit of the trees. Once you see it, it seems so obviously a more intelligent way. Basically it leaves the central leader and initially three other structural branches filling the four quadrants around the tree. These do not get “headed back” but instead only a few oversized and very vertical shoots are “thinned”. The weight of fruit brings those branches, the structural branches and the thin fruiting branches down into a beautiful arched shape.Then in the ” renewal” part you have to see that the small branches coming off the central trunk, will eventually take over the other structural branches as they age. Hugh recommends replacing old fruiting spurs. That spurs produce well for about three years then a newer healthy branch will take over production and the older branch removed. This is the renewal concept. There are no higher ” tiers” in his system if a branch is shading a branch below it, it needs to be considered for removal.Maybe not this year, trying to only cut the essentials out not opening the tree up too quickly to light. Instead always keeping in mind light shade on all branches.
Thinning the fruit is very , very important. Twenty days after full bloom to thirty days is the optimum time period for this thinning. Thin down to ONE !!! Reducing the amount of potential fruit about 80-90%. This makes healthy large fruit and the tree is not working as hard to support a huge family of baby apples. The tree is then more likely to produce fruit yearly not every other year.