Saturday, June 11, 2016

Fall and Spring on the Farm-Part 2

 Alder's standard 50 tomato plants went in a new spot-an unused corner of the property. He just tilled rows and left room to get a mower in between-smart man!
And yes, we like spaghetti sauce and at $4 a jar this saves us about $200 a year or more. Alder doesn't mind the sweat labor in August and September to sit with a canner pot when it's 110* outside, so I'm happy to have it!

Random spot in the garden/yard...Violas, horseradish, poppy, onions, asparagus, apricot tree, and a ton of brassicas in the further garden, along with wood and kindling drying.
And a hairy "lawn". Boy am I glad we don't live in a neighborhood with rules about grass height :)

Back left is one of the raised beds made out of corrugated tin, which I believe are about 20' long. There are three in total.

Alder picking apricots

The Brassica patch-chard, cauliflower, broccoli, red and white cabbage and several potatoes that came up from the compost we used.

"The Ferny Brae" as I call it. This was originally veg garden and is transitioning to orchard, with apple, apricot, persimmon and something else in there...the asparagus doesn't mind a little shade, and as long as one doesn't try to walk through it (it's ITCHY!) it makes a great screen from the road in the summer.

 This might look like just light and shadow on a shed but it's really important and embodies a lot of things here.
When we moved into this place, everything was painted barn red. Not sure why, and it would not have been my first choice. Maybe in North Carolina to keep out the tobacco sprites, or in Maine, but here a dark color absorbs heat.
I don't know what the previous owner used this shed for, but we use it to store canned food. Since the grocery store is a once-a-week event, this is a big "pantry". I think some people think we are "Preppers" but no, this is not about the shit hitting the fan, this is about not running to the store daily, buying in bulk and properly storing the food that we grow.
The first year we were here, the heat in the morning in this shed was awful. In the winter the sun hits the back (left) side, or not at all because of the oak trees-but since we are so far north here, the sun moves up the sky an incredible amount from Winter Solstice to Summer Solstice, and from about March to Sept. this shed gets just beat with the sun first thing in the morning. So we painted it a light color. Not great for keeping bird poop from showing but it helps with the sun. But it wasn't enough. So we planted some quick-growing trees, which also happen to be nitrogen-fixers, and only really later did we learn that they are LITERALLY the herbal **key to happiness (see below).
This particular tree got whacked once by yours truly, with the weed eater, but over 2 years it has grown from a twig the size of my finger to this beautiful shade tree. One morning in March I suddenly realized the shed was incredibly cool, and snapped this photo of the tree doing it's fabulous permaculture-y, multiple functional thing. Yay shade! <3

Here's another fun permaculture "use what you've got" tip. An old screen house from our camping days
has found it's use as a shade house for our new geese. This way we can move them around the garden and they love to eat bermuda grass and other grasses, while pretty much leaving alone the artichokes, blueberries, goji berries, asparagus, etc. This is a whole lot easier on us than mowing or scything between those rows.  The solar panels power the barn.

Here are the geese-Pilgrim geese to be exact. Smaller and apparently nicer than regular geese. With this breed, boys are white and girls are grey. 

 This is the magical flower of the **The Happiness Tree- Albizia julibrissin-the one shading our "food shed". Known as Mimosa or Silk Plant, the tincture of inner bark and these gorgeous pink flowers makes a medicine that some say brings "happiness" but for most people I know it brings calm. Not like a valium or tall beer calm, but just taking everything down a notch...It's hard to explain, but it's magical. If you want some, I believe Herb Pharm and Planetary Herbals both sell it. It's great for those stressful situations (can we say "FAMILY?") when you need some calm...
So now that we have several of these, planted for shade, nitrogen boosting in the soil and for coppice wood, we will be harvesting the HECK out of these and making literally quarts of tincture.

 Here's the late summer version of the new terraced raised beds-looking (from front to back) out over the flowering radishes, two rows of carrots, to the plants in the greywater spot and on out into the gully and sheep area.
 The "Nibble Garden" right outside of the front door. This could also be named the "Que Sera Sera" garden because nothing really gets planted here. Things just show back up. Arugula, tulsi, lambs quarters, purslane, onion and chives, cilantro, dill and marigolds. I did wedge in a couple of tomato plants (for nibbling), a few parsleys and some salad burnette, oh and some basil. Any empty spot gets filled with annuals. Fence is there for the dogs.

Pomegranate flowers. Last fall we harvested a good number of fruits for such a small plant and we juiced a lot of them. It was so yummy that we froze some of the juice for a mid-winter treat, and obtained two more pomegranate bushes. So we're set!

And last but not least, a few more random shots from around the farm...

Buzzard and our local Red-tailed Hawk (who nested right across the road and spends most of her days around our area of the gulch) fighting about who's dinner it is. Hawk won.
I literally saw this from my bedroom window, snuck out and filmed the whole thing. Buzzard brought his friends and they tried to intimidate the hawk-all of them even standing their ground a loud truck went by, but it was fresh meat, and the hawk finally flew off with the whole thing.

 Abandoned barn in winter....

Cool random "look down" shot-tiny red frost-chilled weeds. There is indeed beauty wherever you look!

Morning sun through Mimosa blossoms.

 Early Morning garden tea spot by the fish pond. Not bad for five years worth of work. The small deck used to be a redwood hot tub. We don't do those, nor the fuel to heat one, so we made it into something useful.

Fall and Spring on the Farm-Part 1

As we're enjoying the last breezy days of Spring before Summer Solstice and before the heat comes in, I thought I would catch up with some photos over the last six months from around the farm. We've been busy with so many things. Besides food production, animals, grass control, infrastructure, there's always things in my world like knitting and sewing and lately, writing, albeit not on this blog.
I am a little bit sorry these days that we don’t have more people to share this place with, because it’s becoming an oasis. But we have the internet!

I think the coolest thing that has happened in the last six months here is that we have had several Bald Eagle sightings. Earlier there was an adult and a juvenile, and then a pair, and since then, this Fall a few random sightings, one of which the eagle flew around 2 sides of the property-I saw it come in, and jumped up as it flew down the length of the road, literally right in front of the house, showing off it's white and dark coloring-absolutely no mistaking what it was!! 

Fall was extremely colorful here this year for some reason. Rain started on time which was very welcome after an extremely dry summer.

This is our peekaboo view of Mt. Lassen from our roof.

 Our sweet-grass harvest, some of which was gifted to a new friend from Wales.
Sadly the portion that I had planted out for lawn and nursed for several years was overtaken by Bermuda grass and died out, so now our only patch of it is in a pot.

It was a fairly short and warm winter. The "Greening Up" of the landscape after a crispy, dry, brown summer is always a welcome sight. The first rain brings out an incredible smell as the dry oat grass soaks in the water and even the soil gives of an incredible smell. It's as if the whole world lets go of the breath they've been holding through the terrible heat of summer. Rain brings life, literally.


In an effort to use some of the sloping narrow "back yard" above a pretty deep gully on our property we have been slowly filling in and terracing a good bit of new space that was previously unusable. Some turned into an area where we can put a table for dinner, or use as a Pitanque court, which necessitated buying a set of balls. Not our normal thing, but it really is fun to take a break from work and play a game. This area was terraced into three raised beds, which had wire construction mesh laid down against the really bad issue of gophers. If we want a root crop on this land, it's going to have to be grown in a big box with a rodent-proof bottom. This also used up more of the sloping hill, and the stepping stones are for using the clothesline that is directly above it. We were literally "stacking functions" here. The first bed is radish and lettuces and the back two are full of carrots, because CARROTS!! There are steps along the right side leading down the hill so that if you are standing at the far side of the furthest bed, it hits you at about the waist. Perfect for harvesting food. Not even any bending required.

And yes, we did have to choose to use some concrete, but part of that was a very conscious decision to use hard, fireproof surfaces around the house. In the short 5 years we've been here in Northern CA I have seen enough video footage of people's homes burning to be proactive toward stopping fire. Another thing that Alder caught that I had to say "DUH" to was that people do this sort of hardscaping and then forget, and put wooden furniture right up next to the house. And if that wasn't bad enough, they use foam cushions, which are toxic when burning, and catch quickly. They also wear out quickly, so we are learning to keep only a few cushions and move them when we need them. A wrought iron park bench and two metal chairs are the only patio furniture near the house.

 We obtained two sheep late last Summer for grass control. They are doing a fantastic job keeping the grass and weeds suppressed around the place. Thankfully there was no erosion problem in the fall and winter either.  

Early this Spring they gave birth to one lamb, so now we have three.

This Spring everything seemed to finally look like it had arrived at maturity. We harvested asparagus for the first time and all of the plants are filling in the spaces we've provided for them quite nicely now. The asparagus was plentiful and Alder assured me there would be more in coming years. It all sort of comes at one time, so we learned to make asparagus pickles (so cross store pickles off my list of things to buy!) and we froze some and ate a lot. YUM! I think the pickles are my favorite!

I've been busy with so many things-and I planted a whole bunch of new herb seeds, mostly because I'm obsessed with stinky things. I planted several kinds of artemisias, 4 kinds of tulsi, 4 kinds of monarda, and various other culinary and medicinal herbs. NOW I have to deal with them all!
Alder helped me plant them all in the cold frame, and I've slowly been finding spots for them all over the garden. 

We not only planted nettles, but also found that there is a regional annual variety growing wild at a nearby abandoned homestead we we picked a lot of those. For those of you who don't know about nettle and it's amazing nourishing powers, especially if you have adrenal burnout-check out Susun Weed's video on Nettle Infusion.

When we first reclaimed part of the driveway for gardens, I had visions of a giant monarda/nettle patch under these two plum and apple trees (right). This year Alder yielded it to me, away from veggie growing and into herbs. BUT there's a ton of Bermuda grass already growing. There are grapes and thornless blackberries on a fence and I've planted nettle in one corner, thrown in some mullein (Greek and reg.) echinacea, fennel, chamomile, and motherwort (only the Siberian grew and I planted three different kinds!) so we'll see who survives what, and how long anyone lasts against the Bermuda grass.
Then we will just have a really nice LAWN under our fruit trees.
In the background there, is our ONLY working answer to keeping the weeds from being 3' high in the driveway. It's a common way to start fires, and we need to keep the area open, but I absolutely refuse to use any sort of chemicals. Hot water and vinegar have not worked and we can't keep up with pulling. But those panels were part of our greenhouse in Georgia and when we moved we brought them with us. These panels, when layed out in the driveway literally cook what's underneath them, and cover enough area that it doesn't take forever.
I swear as much as the green things would swamp you in Georgia, the grass here is that bad. You wouldn't think it would be that bad what with it being dry as a bone 6 months out of the year, but the gravel draws moisture out of the air in the early mornings and the dew collects and waters the weeds.

End Part 1.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Getting a Handle on What We Have

We’ve lived on this land for a little over 4 years. When we arrived it was a vast gravel driveway (the last people had an RV) and not much else. Yes there were the Oaks, but other than that, there was only a couple of ornamental plums (for shade) and a beautiful old pear tree, which, with a little water has produced prolific amounts of well loved fruit!
There were also four very old lanky pines that occasionally throw down a cone or two with a few nuts, many oaks (Blue and Valley),  one manzanita (produces edible berries), and one poplar tree.
But other than that, it was just grass and stickers, a barn and a house.

This was the first year that everything seemed to produce and or grow to considerable maturity.  Yes, it has meant a lot of water usage, but with water it is an abundant landscape. Definitely DIFFERENT than Georgia, but abundant!

Since we moved in, we have planted a TON of things. Here’s a partial list, mostly of trees and shrubs:
3 apple (2 pink lady, 1 gala)

2 pistachio (male and female)

1 pomegranate

2 figs

5 casurinas (nitrogen fixers and coppice* wood)

15 Mimosas -Albizia Julibressans, which is an herbal calmative  and also a nitrogen fixer and coppice tree.

5 different species of acacias (multiples of each) (nitrogen fixers and coppice wood)
5 olives (all different varieties)
1 mandarin orange
(avocado tree died)
(grapefruit died)

1 Persian mulberry

1 Pakistani mulberry

2 almond (2 different varieties)

2 hybrid chestnuts

1 plum

1 gravillia (silk oak) coppice wood

2 apricots (2 dif. varieties)

1 jujube

2 persimmons-2 different varieties

1 nectarine

1 lemon

1 elderberry (S. Nigra)

5 ornamental flowering trees (for shade, bees and hummingbirds) including 2 golden rain trees, 2 chitalpas and 1 harlequin glory bower

1 western hawthorn

1 star magnolia

various shrubs/bushes including:

6 fejoas (edible fruit)

4 budleias

lilac, fosythia, roses, 
tagasaste (nitrogen fixing/forage for goats)

numerous thornless blackberries, 10 blueberries,
  numerous (10-12) grapes (wine and eating) and a gogi berry,

12 artichokes, 

100 asparagus plants,

not to mention annual and perennialized veggies,

culinary herbs including 7 rosemary bushes
4 different oreganos,

and over 40 medicinal herbs, not including the wild ones,

numerous California drylands natives, including about 10 different artemisia species.

Next up: Getting a handle on the herbal and medicinal plants, one by one, mapped and with Latin names. Probably not going to happen until after harvest is over! 

* For those of you that don’t know what coppice wood is, rather than cut down the huge old oaks that take hundreds of years to grow, and produce logs big enough to heat a nice home in Alaska, we can annually cut back fast-growing trees that will produce more sustainable (and smaller diameter) firewood for small fires.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dryland Garden

Finally everything is gaining some maturity and here the dryland garden is looking quite happy. I have every Artemisia I can find except the one that grows locally in the wild-she won't grow for me!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Scythe Must Dance

It's a beautiful thing when an ancient hand tool can keep up with its motorized counterpart, and even do things a mower can't.  At least not my wimpy electric push-mower.  The scythe easily deals with a four-foot tall stand of wild oats which I would have hated to try to mow!  Tall stuff is actually easier to cut than short stuff.....and moreover, it cuts easier still if it's wet or dewy---again the exact opposite of any powered mower! 
Like any hand tool, practice makes perfect, and a significant amount of time is spent sharpening the tool.  I'm still a novice compared to some of the videos one can find.  And it is exercise, but a rhythmic aerobic exercise that is more comparable to dancing than any other physical activity I can compare it to. 

Barley, Wheat & Favas

"John Barleycorn"-first crop of barley-more behind the grape trellis

 It's great to see sustainable grain crops growing on the farm. Wheat is happening and pictured here, barley.
Barley close-up
Learning a bit about English history and culture, barley is a big part of that, and there is a old song from at least the 1500's that, in a bit of a gruesome way, tells the story of the life cycle of barley-making it into a character "John Barleycorn".

My favorite version so far is by Damh the Bard.
And big family trivia bit here-it is the only song I know of that uses the word crabtree (as in the wood of a crab apple tree).

Barley and favas yum!

 John Barleycorn
There were three men came out ofthe West
Their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die.
They ploughed, they sowed,
they harrowed him in
Threw clods upon his head
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him stand for
a very long time
Till the rains from
heaven did fall
Then little Sir John's
sprung up his head
And so amazed them all
They let him stand till the Midsummer Day
Till he grew both pale and wan
Then little Sir John's grew a great, long beard
And so become a man.


They hired men with
scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee.
They bound him and tied him around the waist
Serving him most barb'rously.
They hired men with their sharp pitch-forks
To prick him to the heart
But the drover served him
worse than that
For he's bound him to a cart.

They rolled him around and
around the field
Till they came unto a barn
And these three men made a solemn vow
On poor John Barleycorn
They hired men with crabtree sticks
To strip him skin from bone
But the miller, he served him worse than that,
For he's ground him between two stones.

There's Little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
And brandy in the glass
But Little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl's
Proved the stronger man at last
For the huntsman he can't hunt the fox
Nor loudly blow his horn
And the tinker, he can't mend Kettle or pot
Without a little Barleycorn.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yearly Catch-up

 Time to play yearly catch-up. With more than enough projects to keep us busy, blogging doesn't happen much, but I thought I would post some highlights of the last 13 or so months...
We finally renovated both bathrooms-out of necessity at their 40 year old grossness...but I'll save the decor photos for another day. We did put in a bathtub, which is a great luxury and a needed thing for creaky joints in winter, all water going to graywater sites with useful plants in them.

All of our food plants and trees are getting visibly bigger now. The Burmuda grass continues to spread. We can thank or curse Ganesha-as apparently it's his favorite herb and a useful medicine as well...The pear tree got a hit of blight and needed extreme pruning but my efforts to have a tiny bit of lawn under it manifested as giant JUICY pears, so win-win!
Glass Gem Corn 2014 harvest
Cherokee Purple corn 2013 harvest (with a
bit of pollination from the neighbor's feed corn we think...)

We had a surprising bit of snow in early December last year, which actually snowed us in for a day or so. Here's Hobbit wondering where to pee in all that white stuff.

 Various visitors to the site include our resident hawk who we think was a baby a few years ago is now a very LARGE adult. He wheels overhead almost daily, sometimes catching the updrafts over our creek along with all the turkey of whom likes to stand on the top of a nearby phone pole every morning and stretch out his wings-it's weird...
The wild pigs did quite a nice job of digging a pretty
wide firebreak along the fence (left)-too bad they
didn't do the entire length! The chickens did the same with scratching on the right side.


This guy got one of our chickens about four o'clock one afternoon. Alder chased him, and got the chicken back, LOL. Needless to say we had chicken stew that night, and the next day, the coyote was back in broad daylight, looking for a dinner invite.

Alder's grain crop kicked down a good bit, enough for him to start baking his own wheat/acorn bread weekly. So he has farm grown, freshly milled grain. (Me, I can't eat wheat or corn.)

 The potato harvest from one of the three raised beds was huge-and the wire mesh at the bottom of the beds keeps the gophers, moles, voles and other ground critters out.
Here's the raised beds, holding carrots, sweet potatoes and okra, late summer 2014.  The two solar cookers see daily use. 

Late summer harvest
Spring buds on the nectarine

The fruit trees have really grown, and after three years started giving out some amazing fruit. We had "Canning quantities" of apricots (jam), nectarines (sauce) and plums (jam and wine) from new trees, as well as a few nibbles of almonds and one precious apple! 

We created a "nibble garden" right outside  the front door. It serves two functions-lazy greens collection when your in your slippers and also as a fire-break. One of our main goals has been to create either pavers, gravel, bare soil or greenery all the way around the house as a fire-break, since fire is such a huge concern here.

The annual gardens are becoming perennial ones-with the addition of things like blueberries and asparagus as well as plants that have perennialized like onions, kale, chard, leaf celery, horseradish, etc. The fruit trees are interspersed and will eventually provide a bit of shade in the heat of the summer.

And my favorite view-what I see from my living room...It never gets old, and it is constantly changing. Watching the seasons or the morning sun reflected in those mountains, watching the sunsets and the place of setting varying with the seasons and the moon settings too...I never tire of that view. (Mule fat in the foreground not withstanding-once we have sheep it will be coppice for animals).

Life is slow on the farm, but never dull...and we are blessed.