It Started Ten Months Ago

After my return from the Positano Italy trip during October 2019, moving from Placerville became the priority, as planned. We need a more manageable home and yard. Luckily our realtor, Scott Derkson, projected our path quickly to find a 55+ community and lovely home in El Dorado Hills.  There followed a month or more of trips to and from home for realty matters, discard of household goods, packing and repacking and searching for suppliers to help with the move and storage of goods before the move.  It was March 25 before we set foot in what was now our property and more months would be taken up settling in, unpacking, organizing and downsizing to our 1712 square feet vs. 2300.  Thanks to many helping hands who got us there.  We added cabinets to the kitchen and found a place for almost every accessory and furniture item kept before turning our attention to the backyard, which was now our responsibility to construct.  We will leave comments about the front yard which the Home Owners Assoc. (HOA) maintains for another story.
Click on pix to enlarge, and view as gallery.

Months evaporated again while laboriously researching and selecting plants, finalizing the design, and waiting for the HOA to approve our yard design.  It was also some doing to convince the landscaper we hired to address the rock that appeared to be submerged like an iceberg in the middle of the yard.  They had to bring in the big gun, and hammer out a mountain of boulders which had to be removed.  I insisted they be replaced with 35 yards of good planting soil, which I further enhanced with gypsum, peat, alfalfa meal, and soil conditioner.  The crew (Edgar, Juan, Pedro and Gabriel)  was anxious to please and so happy in their work it was a pleasure to watch their efforts.  Continue reading

9 Garden Results That Taught Me a Lesson in Winter

                                                                                                                          Every winter I wistfully dream of my Spring Garden:

Every winter, my boredom with the dreary weather and its indoor regimen force me into the most evil tasks. While the wind howls and the last of fall gets blown away, cabinets get scrubbed, linens get rearranged, and loads of extra wash and dry create snuggle spots for the cats. The snow begins its steady drifts and the driveway is a sheet of ice. Going out is out of the question. My spirits begin to lift as the household slowly gets put into order and I remember the gardening catalogs I didn’t have time for during the rush of harvest. My excitement over the color photos begins to hit high notes as the winter wears on. I don’t mind being shut-in. I have something that occupies my heart and mind to the fullest.

Books, magazines and the Sunday Garden section are all over the place.

Previous logs, journals, notes, and calendars get pulled from drawers, closets and computers. Mind in a whirl, I can’t think straight. What to plant this spring? I remember the problems, but try and focus on that gorgeous melon and delicious eggplant Parmesan the family raved over. Where to start? I dive for John Jeavons’ “Plant More Vegetables”, and congratulate myself for having planted a cover crop before the rain and winds hit.

The nitrogen is getting built into the soil as we speak.

Like every year, I had to rein myself in from ordering up countless packages of seed and even more color catalogs. I decided to build a “What to Do and What Not to Do” list. First, I meditated deeply on what has happened in the past:

  1.  I planted vegetables I didn’t like to eat. They were recommended, and organic, or I was told (about the peppers) “they were not hot at all”. Baloney. I fed the compost.
  2. No idea cauliflower grew that big and took over that much space for one edible head.  I guess we could have eaten lots more leaves, but they were full of insect holes. Then there was that  night-flying moth whose larva turned into tiny green worms with voracious appetites. There really wasn’t much left of the leaves anyway.
  1. Surely tomatoes could not grow that much into each other with 6’ wire supports. They did. It was a jungle in there. I squirmed and fought my my through to get those last little tomatoes and didn’t know I could wear that scent so long.
  2. People do not want any more lemon cucumbers. They grow so prolifically and are so full of seeds, most varieties, I could not say “enough!” more emphatically.
  1. Same with zucchini. One plant would have been more than enough, but no. I had to plant several varieties and the neighborhood was drowning in crocknecks.
  2. Does your family really go for all those greens? All those nights with dinner?. Never have I seen more wrinkled noses over the mustard/spinach/chard saute´ I slaved over, buttered-up, mixed with quinoa, laced with garlic and lemon, and presented with such aplomb! No dice. No takers.
  3. I don’t like eggplant. But it’s not all about me. Husband adores it. Since the big ones always “mushed out” on me, I planted the Japanese variety. Nothing appeared until so late in the season, I was ready to feed the compost again when they spit out so many eggplants even my husband called a halt. All from one plant.    But no, I had planted three (just in case). In case of what, starvation?
  1. “It doesn’t grow here” I was told by more than one expert. No, I knew better. Then I planted peas and carrots at the wrong time, and lost most of the cucumber and squash to mildew to over- watering and not enough sun. Do you know how long it takes for a spaghetti squash to ripen? By then, the whole plant looks dead. They need a huge fence to crawl on, take over, and only give you one or two. It’s another thing I don’t like, anyway.
  1. Another big mistake was trying to plant seeds indoors. A magazine idea fed my brainstorm to fill a plastic shoe bag with organic dirt and wait for seedlings and transplants for spring. Surely that big garage window was plenty of light and it never got colder than 60°F. Plants? Not in this lifetime. Organic transplants are a lot less of a mess than that shoe bag, believe me.

Meanwhile, the cover crop looks great, come heck or high water.

 

 

THE APPLE HILL™ STORY

 

 

Consult the directories listed in The Gold Nuggets of El Dorado County in this blog for maps, open hours, days, and contact information for over 64 certified producers, 22 of them registered organic.

Agriculture in El Dorado County grew after the gold rush. There were about 16 ranchers, mostly pear orchards. In 1958, a pear blight struck, taking with it 52,000 tons of fruit which diminished to 8,435 tons by 1965. Clearly something had to be done. The Apple Hill™ Growers united in 1964. They were Gene Bolster, local grower; Dick Bethell, El Dorado County’s pomology specialist and farm advisor; Ed Delfino, El Dorado County’s agricultural commissioner; and Bob Tuck, a retired army officer. (Photo: Edie Delfino)

Bolster and Delfino  decided to find out what made the Oak Glen Farm in Southern California so successful and brought home a marketing program to present to local Camino ranchers. Together with the rich soil, they were determined to make the region productive once more. On their side was an ideal growing season and a long chilling season to keep the trees dormant longer, which contributes to the better flavor.

Photo: 30-year old cherry trees at Fausel Family Farm

At Larsen’s Ranch, you will find the Rhode Island Greening which is believed to be the oldest apple tree in El Dorado County. At Hilltop Ranch, the Bolsters have collected a number of antique varieties, making available some of the apples of your childhood.

As early as August 1964, an inaugural press picnic was held, free apples were distributed, homemade baked goods, jams, jellies and sauces were tasted and Apple Hill™ “rose like a phoenix from the ashes of disaster,” Bolster observed. “Apple Hill™ was the first ranch marketing effort in Northern California,” Delfino said, “and its success is shown by the fact that now there are ranch marketing groups all over. Apple Hill is a great example of government, farmers and media working together for everyone’s good.”  Today from 16 ranches, Apple Hill™ Growers number 48 or more.  An update in the 2016 Crop Report states:

“The gross crop value for the County of El Dorado was $61,859,905 million, representing a decrease of 3.2% from the 2015 values. Ap‐ ples and apple products remained the leading crop with a total value of $19.2 million. Livestock rose to the second leading crop with a value of $10.7 million. Winegrape values increased by 7.9% over the 2015 values to $8.7 million. Timber values were $5,322,915, which was the largest decline with a decrease of 60%.

“Monetary values in this report are F.O.B. (Freight On Board) and do not reflect net returns or profits realized by the growers. It is es ‐ mated that the impact of agriculture to the County of El Dorado’s economy totaled approximately $560 million in 2016, of which, Apple Hill™ and value‐added products contributed an estimated $255 million while the wine industry added another $287 million.”

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SECURED! A Short Story of Reinforced Dimensions

                             secure-boltcropped

The new compost bin was long in contemplation and even longer to begin. The small version of a composter–a catalog-order tumbler– had been in use for three seasons now and had to be rejected since, come each spring, it produced slightly more than a couple of buckets of compost tea. It really wasn’t made for the long haul, as they say, due to being too heavy to turn by hand once full, and even more difficult to accept the turn of a pitchfork. It did not get enough carbon to offset the nitrogen from kitchen waste. Garden gurus worth their kohlrabi would have just laughed at the effort, I’m sure.  I was finally compelled to just do it, and do it right.  First I found a spot. Some some, mostly shade.spotmostlyshade

I read everything and everybody I could put the computer mouse onto, in addition to the Heirloom Expo’s haul of books I took home. Feeling confident now with the fall season’s leaf drop and onslaught of cuttings and declined vegetable plants, I asked our helper Brooks for a work day and told my husband about the plan. Bruce is of the attitude “you gotta do what you gotta do” when it comes to gardening, along with steering himself nowhere near, mentally or physically.postholedigger30lb-electricjackhammer
posts-go-in-cementBut, it was a sure thing Bruce would get involved when he saw that Brooks didn’t measure to the inch when he cemented in the posts. Bruce is a very methodical person. “Put your foot where you want the post,” I remember Brooks saying. “Don’t you want some string and boards and a measuring tape?” I asked, remembering those used by our neighbor on the vegetable garden when he built it. “No, no,” Brooks shot me his I-know-what-I’m-doing-look. “We’re not building the Taj Mahal,” he said more than once.

The rest is a slow history of the two men visiting Home Depot, methodically measuring, explaining,-sawing, talking, stopping for lunch, talking, visiting Home Depot, measuring, and then discussing how to enclose the bin. A bear would visit our property on a yearly or biennial jaunt, and one year literally tore the cover off the tumbler despite its riveted construction. Other varmints seen on the property include wild turkey, fox, possum, moles, gophers, deer, mice, voles, toads, snakes, and oh yes, the darling and destructive squirrels.fencepulledtaut

After waiting for Bruce to research the fence idea, and then waiting for the snow fence to arrive at ACE, it was a sure thing that once those two went back at it that it would be a long, slow, methodical and tedious project.  Not because of the talking, measuring, re-measuring, talking, trips to Home Depot and lunch, but because this bin had to be a sturdy and steadfast construction to withstand the certain frequent and violent attacks by starving skunk, possum, mice and occasional bear. It must be reinforced. Heavily reinforced.

 

The fence was pulled taut. Many hundreds of heavy-gauge staples were pounded in. Two-by-fours were added along the top sides and in the middle all around. It was very well reinforced.reinforcedsides

The rain forecast was the next topic of lengthy conversation. Although
water would be needed to wet the material inside the bin it had to be a controlled output, so rain had to be kept to a minimal through the cover.  In addition to the quandary of how to build a top that one could get into, and how to build a front to access and turn said pile, loomed the question –once the hinged cover was built — how to weatherize it so it would hold up over time. Brooks was sent home while Bruce thoroughly researched the weatherization process through visits to paint shops, the internet and home improvement centers until finally………ok, paint, not resin or varnish, but what color?  Great ponderation ensued while, hinges on half the cover were installed making it easier to lift back onto itself.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile female homesteader is collecting compost of every size, type, color, age, and description that matches the most researched advice of compost gurus in the gardener kingdom.  Garbage cans on the property came into use and were filled with layers of vegetable peelings, brown leaves, green cuttings and dirt from the post pilings. Some required safer cover than others and were stored in the garage.

This activity was largely interrupted by the necessity of making fruit fly traps out of paper cups and topped with Saran wrap and then there was always lunch to attend to. There were additional distractions such as having to explain that yes, we do want worms in the compost bin, they belong there.  And don’t throw away that clean cardboard egg carton. My insistence on saving empty toilet paper rolls required a full dissertation. A gallon of red paint appeared on the scene.

The next distraction came due to the rain.  Although Brooks was long gone and fewer lunches had to be made, the project began to grind to a halt with the weather finished-with-topreport, in usual panic tone, indicating we should be building Noah’s Ark instead. The paint and hinges finished the cover just in time to place a full garbage can of leaves and cardboard underneath to stay dry until better weather and a blueprint for the front could be developed.  After much final research and discussion about the front of the unit, it was decided that a door made of plywood would be the sturdiest function.  Of course Brooks might need to reappear at the site in order to assist in the measuring, sawing, talking, trips to Home Depot, and lunch.

Well, the rain came in downpours and then some. We began to wonder about building that Ark. It lasted several days. We parked the car outside the garage and it got a thorough washing. Bruce worked on the door of the bin inside the garage and decided not to call Brooks just yet. He painted the huge 55” square frame of heavy plywood, fully braced of course, with more of the red paint. In between coats, I had to help turn the monstrosity over. I imagined that all that red paint put the door at a whole new level of sturdiness.backviewdooronAll of a sudden June bugs, large black beetles, began to appear in the garage. Most of them were belly-up on the cement, waving their legs. I can only assume they wanted, much more than I did, what was in that bucket full of cut up, over-ripe pumpkin that Small Box Farm donated to the compost bin, and that they had largely overeaten, otherwise they would be able to roll themselves upright, no? Removing them was another distraction, and lunch for Bruce was late that day.

The rains stopped, sun appeared, and the red door was moved outside to get another coat.It was then that I noticed gopher mounds near the post of the bin. OMG, I had forgotten about the critters coming up from underground! We needed wire!
Bruce told me to go online and find out what advice they had for gophers. There was conversation about the fact hardware cloth was actually wire, but what gauge? There were recollections of our building gopher baskets of “gopher wire”. I looked up the phone numbers for Tractor Supply, Front Yard Nursery and Home Depot. I was referred to Clifton & Warren Farm Supply.

When I got there, I could see that gopher wire was not recommended to put on the bottom of the compost bin, that it would not hold back an adult, full-fat critter. So Clifton & Warren had the hardware cloth and cut it to size for me. The biggest distraction there were the half-dozen youths, including brand-new hires, so energetic and anxious to help that a time-consuming round table discussion transpired with everyone chiming in over the size gauge, the taller or shorter roll, and how many feet exactly was 55”? Finally a price was devised and I left, glad to have some outdoor sunshine left in the day. It felt good on my shoulders. I didn’t even mind that we had skipped lunch.wire-in-the-binfront-bd-in-bin

Next day, I found Bruce busily trying out a number of fasteners for the Red Door. “I thought you were going to put a handle on the cover so I could lift it,” I reminded him in my sweetest whine. “Yes, I will get to it,” he whined back. Therein was discussed in-depth whether or not opening the cover first or opening the door was the priority in terms of using the bin for compost.  Bruce did remember to put in the lower board inside the door, however.  Time passed. Bruce decided on the biggest, most secure bolt he could find in that stash of bolts, screws and bits any compost builder worth his screwdriver would have on hand. Actually, he put in two bolts, top and bottom.

secure-boltcroppedHe instructed me to try them out. They were secure. Very secure. I gave him a hi-five and we went in for lunch.