Thursday, March 22, 2018

It's Been A While

Every time I get mad at Facebook, I start blogging again. Every time something large comes through my life, I reassess what's important, and what needs to be left behind, and with every assessment, Facebook (and too much internet time in general) are at the top of the list.

So here I am. The big thing this time was the death of one of my Permaculture teachers, Patricia Allison.
I think you really don't realize how much impact someone has had on the world until they die. Now I understand more clearly how many people Patricia touched, how many people she mentored and taught, and called on their BS to help them grow...
She was real. Not one for ego and pretense, she did what she loved and she lived in the now...I hope I'm getting there.
But when I die, I don't want people to remember me by my Facebook posts.
I want my garden to remember me, and I want to leave a legacy of quilts for my nieces. I want all of my great-nieces and nephews to feel like I feel about Patricia-that I taught them that they can do it-they have it within themselves to achieve. Sometimes we just need an extra little bit of someone who believes in us.

So reassessing takes me off of Facebook, and back into the garden. Thankfully the rain of the last week has let up and I could see blue sky and green grass and sunshine today. That helps my sad heart...

I need to post a full farm update, soon, but in the mean time, here's some photos of the farm...

Blue Heron-I think looking for a place to nest

Alder's fava beans. The flowers smell like cinnamon perfume!!

Favas with the bluff across the creek in the background.
You can tell how tall it is by looking at the trees on the top.

The Bees are very happy!

John Barleycorn-Alder's barley crop.

Bumble bee on rosemary blossoms

Small orchard/herb garden. Plum left and apple center.
All of the fencing is to keep the geese from stomping on my plants.

The "Nibble Garden" right out side the front door where you can pick food without getting your slippers wet. This is what's overwintered.

Alder's "mostly rodent proof" cage for starting small plants, in the tiny lean-to cold-frame against the south side of our house.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bill Mollison 1928-2016

With greatest respect for how much one man and his ideas can inspire the whole world to change...

Mollison directly impacted hundreds of thousands people and the way they live and think, and indirectly many millions around the world. He wanted people to plant trees in his name when he was gone.

Monday, September 19, 2016

September Photos

Fejoa fruit in the works...

A visitor who eats mice....
Pink Lady Apples

Four different types of oak galls

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bye Bye Zucchini

Aphids have decimated our zucchini

I think we’re learning valuable lessons here. About slowing down. 

For most of our 12 years together we’ve been full ON with food production-and Alder was an organic grower in Georgia before I met him and also grew food for others in two intentional communities. So he’s sort of always been full on. 

But now it’s just the two of us, no longer in Georgia, no longer with room or energy for interns, and no longer young. And it’s showing in our gardens. We just don’t have the energy or enthusiasm for doing as much as we
used to-especially me.
While we’re slowing down, we’re also continuing to learn (this is our 5th Summer here on this land) about what CAN grow, vs. what grows WELL, and about the climate. Goodness knows we are not in Georgia any more. 

This is California, and while people may think of it as the fruit/veggie and nut basket of America, there is one thing needed to produce all of these prolific and juicy crops here, that’s water. And there’s generally not enough to go around most years.

Yes, we could and have used considerable amounts of water to grow tomatoes, squash and zucchini and other common “water loving” summer veggies.


This climate has a definite wet and dry season. From about the end of May til the end of October it’s as dry as a bone. More so now, in September because everything has been without water (in the natural landscape) for months. Everything is dusty, brittle and waiting. The animals and insects are all seeking water and beginning to think about shelter for the winter. Every tiny insect and animal is seeking water right now. And where do they find it? Our garden. 

The deer come through and munch some, when the dogs are sleeping. The rodents chew holes in the thin drip tape. And the insects suck on plants. Which brings me to how we came to the conclusion that we really don’t need to grow (and therefore eat) certian summer veggies anymore.

Thriving aphid population on kale leaves
Last year we did well with zucchini but this year, it’s decimated. There are almost solid aphids on every plant and no fruit can even make it to finger size. It’s the same with the kale. Yes, we could spray it with something and hope we run off all of the aphids, or get some lady bugs and hope that they eat all of the aphids-the birds are eating some. But Permaculture teaches us to look with new eyes. And what I see is a landscape and people that need to be dormant in summer. In many climates the dormant period is in Winter. But not here. Here you die of heat, not hypothermia.

What I see is insects who want to drink water. And plants who need lots of water. 
So what if we only grew plants that did well in say, Africa, or Arizona? Last year we did really well with Hopi Winter squash, and our Spring crops do well, because we have rain then. Sweet potatoes don’t really need that much water through the summer, and you can eat the greens in the mean time. Carrots pretty much just sit there, needing little water all summer. 

Yes, we need tomatoes. NEED-as in over 100 quart jars of pasta sauce and more than that in pints of salsa. That’s what we got this year. So next year, we can literally take a total break from tomatoes.

And I have my “nibble garden” which is a small patch right outside the door for herbs, and tulsi and the ever present arugula, and my much loved marigolds. The arugula, parsley and salad burnett pretty much keep me in green stuff through the Summer. (I also drink a lot of dried nettle infusion and eat potatoes daily and carrots frequently, so I’m not lacking in minerals and vitamins.)
The Nibble Garden

What we discussed this week is probably not growing things like zucchini, kale, squash and peppers anymore. They just use too much water for this climate.  We can grow okra, and eggplant (they both need much less water) and Malabar spinach (Basella) and Florida lettuce (Talinum triangulare), and Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), which has a decent bit of protein (2%) and minerals for a tiny succulent weed that we couldn’t get rid of if we tried! It’s everywhere, so why not eat it!

It’s a matter of shifting our thinking towards what grows WELL AND without much water, vs. more commercial or traditional veggies found back East or in Northern Europe. 
And less watering tasks will be easier on us both. We really are starting to slow down, and just don’t want to do as much, but still want to be sustainable. So it’s a matter of working smart rather than hard, like we did with getting sheep, geese and a hyperactive dog on the land to keep down weeds and grass rather than mowing like suburbanites! That worked well, and I may never have to mow grass or weed-eat again!

So we’ll see how it goes. Yes, I will miss zucchini fritters and squash casserole, so maybe there will have to be a plant or two-but not in the quantity we have been. 

This is part of listening to the landscape and observing what we see, rather than forcing our will upon the land. This is living in community WITH nature rather than having control OVER it. And hopefully this will be easier.

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.