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.

Country Girl

My husband accused me of being a city girl the other day, which I found very disconcerting. When I told my kids this they commented; ” but you never even wear clean clothes to town, you always have dirty knees and your muddy boots on, how could you possibly be considered a city girl ? ” I wondered too what he’d meant. I’ve lived in the country for twenty six years now, longer than I ever lived in the city ( suburbia). Gardening and working hard; in tractors, backhoes, trucks and mostly on a shovel. I always built gardens where ever I’d lived in that time, also cleared land, built houses, ran my own companies. Was I really a city girl ?

My husband is very hard to pin down, never a straight answer from him or his family ( is this a country trait? ). So I had to follow after him trying to question him about what he meant. It took me a few days of questions to get down to it; I didn’t have faith that everything would be provided for. That bartering, working hard, taking care of others, being a good neighbor, would stand me in good stead for the things we couldn’t provide ourselves. That city people always had to worry about how to “afford ” things, country people figured out how to ” make it work, or make do with what you got”.

I think it might be true, I don’t let myself just farm because I’m too worried we won’t get by financially. I always have to run around gardening for others to satiate my anxiety (although I also love it too) . Maybe I still don’t understand what it means to live on very little. But it seems so hard as well , what about insurances? Car tires and repairs? Gas? Shoes ? As we pair our life down to the bare necessities to be able to farm year round, what do we really have to make to live ?

I think also, what about the infrastructure we still need to put in place here ? How can we afford to do that ? But the reality is that whenever we are getting another aspect of a project clarified, my husband runs out and ” finds” most of the items we would have bought, for free or for some exchange. We have been splitting redwood buckskins for fence posts, straightening bent T posts thrown away in the vineyard for our fences. Collecting left over fencing from where ever we find it. Maybe our fencing the next five acres won’t cost the fortune I thought ! Now if I wasn’t working so much outside, I might have the time to put that fencing up.

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 ?

The Old Tractor Accident

As a girl growing up with my two brothers and my dad, I learned to tow and launch a boat before I got my license. I rode a motorcycle, four wheeled, and learned to drive out of a skid on a wet curve before I was 16. My brother was determined to raise me as a strong capable girl. Little did I know this experience would fare me well later when heavy equipment and farming came into my life.

I was working at a Buddhist monastery as a gardener. It was a rare situation to be trained in the skills needed as the monastery was under construction – a job mostly reserved for male talents and strength. I was sent there as the only woman among 28 men. At the time, I was married to one of them, but that didn’t get you a job there. Wives and husbands didn’t necessarily live together. I was given a large project of planting a very long hedge. They commented, if I could just drive the tractor, how much easier it would be to plant the half mile of pond edge. I said,” Well, can’t I learn?” “But you’re a girl !” This was 1985 and “city girls” didn’t commonly do these things. However I learned quickly to barely drive the tractor. It was easier for them to let me do it. Later I helped mow the orchards, disc and rototill. I learned to work with the men. They eventually gave me a lot of respect for being such a hard worker, strong and not defined by gender boundaries.

It was easy to rely on what a man said about equipment rather than listening to my own best judgment. While working at the monastery’s farm, I helped auger holes for posts and plants we were putting in. We needed 432 large, deep holes for big 15-gallon size plants and posts to set in concrete. I was working with an ancient Ford tractor and there was little money or time for parts or repairs. The brakes barely worked and the auger bit was so dull that sometimes, the only way to get it to dig was to jump on it. At the time, the macho guys would take the safety devices off a lot of the equipment. From this I learned: Always ask, when learning about new tools, if there has been anything removed.

I didn’t realize that the safety shield had been removed from the auger. If too much force or a hard object stops the auger from turning, it’s shear bolt can break. Digging the holes, we occasionally broke this shear pin, the area where it is on the auger is usually covered by the safety shield. We had run out of pins. Being way out in the country, two hours from town, we used what was on hand. I asked one of the other workers and he thought some threaded rod would work, bolting both sides. I relied on his confidence and ingenuity. The ends of the threaded rod stuck out past the bolts with rough metal edges. I pointed and said, “Shouldn’t we cut that off ?” He thought, “No need,” and I listened to him.

On that foggy morning using the auger, I was working with a new volunteer. He was upset that he had not yet received his stipend check and thought he was being taken advantage of. He was wearing many layers of clothing as we were working on a windy steep corner and it was cold. I was focusing on trying to hold the tractor, with bad brakes, in place on this steep edge. If I pushed with both feet and all my weight off the seat, I could hold the tractor steady, engage the PTO( the power take off, which turns the auger) and drill. My helper was in the back by the auger, directing the location and helping it to dig by jumping up and down on it. Being angry, he wasn’t focused, and having to deal with the brakes, I wasn’t focused. His coat sleeve got caught in the threaded rod of the turning auger, and I didn’t see it right away. When I did, it seemed like such a long time before I could get the auger stopped. His arm broke as it was turned into the auger, and his shoulder ripped badly. He was twisted into the auger. I called for help loudly, but was in shock.It’s still difficult to recall, it’s like a horrible dream to envision this memory and what it took to untangle him.

There were so many safety issues I wasn’t aware of and the people who should have been weren’t communicating about them. As the equipment operator, I was the responsible one. The man is alright now. After two surgeries, his arm and shoulder are relatively OK. He stayed at the monastery for the rest of his volunteer commitment of time.

I learned many lessons from my experience there as a gardener, that I take to heart now that I am applying my skills and creative energy to developing my own farm. Financial constraints contributed to the lack of proper parts for necessary repairs, working brakes and even the bad mood of the volunteer. Allowing inexperienced people to drive equipment or machines is risky and should be done under the supervision of a skilled operator, after several hours of careful instruction, with particular regard to safety and prevention of accidents. I’ve reflected upon my personal responsibility in the situation involving the injury of a coworker. I realize using heavy equipment isn’t always the way to complete a job, especially when the equipment is in poor repair. Maybe we should have just hand-dug those holes. Maybe my reflexes were not fast enough. Perhaps someone with more experience should have been behind the wheel.

Now I’m married to a equipment operator who is a real perfectionist. He drives the heavy equipment on our farm. He grew up on his families prune farm using equipment and he has good instinctive reactions in questionable situations.

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.

Fruit Tree Transplanting

Well, don’t let me read anything or learn anything. After the tree pruning workshop I realized my trees were too close together. Soooo

Really though it was the trees we were going to move to open up the garden and connect the two areas together.

Don’t they look nice in a straight line ?

Biodynamic Fruit tree pruning

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.