Monthly Archives: March 2008

the seeds are planted

We got back from our long weekend at Sea Ranch yesterday and arrived to full on spring in our yard. Now that the fence is finished and the vacation has been taken it’s time to get into gardening mode. So the seeds were planted in the first hour we were home. It’s still frosty in these early mornings as is evident by the valley wide hum of the vineyard fans in the early morning hours.

After Scott planted all the seeds and put them up on a folding table to keep them safe from wondering toddlers and curious cats, I looked at them amazed that those small cups of dirt will provide so much food for us in just a few months. I suppose that’s why people become so fascinated with gardening – to turn a few seeds and dirt into gorgeous flowers and nurishing food seems like magic. Well, magic, hardwork and a little cooperation on Mother Nature’s part, that is.

What we planted:

  • Lemon Cucumbers
  • Japanese Cucumbers
  • Green Zebra Tomatoes
  • Brandywine Tomatoes
  • San Marzano Tomatoes
  • Chiogga Beets
  • Golden Beets
  • Tendercrisp Celery
  • Super Red Pimentos
  • Colossal Kim Hot Peppers
  • Russian Red Kale
  • French Thyme
  • Portofino Zucchini
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    Filed under growing challenge, seeds

    So I have to appologize, really I do

    Brothers Gardening
    our two sons getting the leek patch ready in january

    I had hoped that at this point in the growing season I’d be sharing countless photos of trays upon trays of sprouting tomato plants, beans, squashes, corn, carrots and everything else we usually get going at this time of year. Every year Scott takes this last week of March off to start his veggies and till the soil. And we’d hope to have shown these carrot seedlings that we are trying this year called “Purple Haze” which I can only imagine would inspire us to wear flowers in our hair and don a tie dye shirt. But alas, I have nothing to show you.

    Blame it on our kids maybe, or the fact that we need to go buy a new seedling tray, or our laziness, but really it isn’t any of those things. It’s the side fence that has been literally falling apart for over a year. We are finally having to replace the old thing. So these beautiful, warm sunny spring days that are perfect for planting have been given over to sawing, hammering, and post hole digging.

    Well, it will be a late garden this year, but we will have one. Very soon I’ll be showing you our Purple Haze sprouts for our growing challenge. But until then, at least we get a few more raised beds from disgarded fencing material. And Scott has found a moment while the concrete was drying to thin the radishes and plant the yukon gold potatoes. So not all is lost.

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    Will this coffee cup really compost?

    Will it really compost?
    One of our favorite places to stop for a coffee here in town is the Fig Pantry. Not only is the cutest little spot to stop, but their lattes and pastries are incredible. Recently we’ve found that they made the switch to these compostable cups. We were intrigued so after we’d finished our lattes we tossed the cups into the compost pile on top of the favas and grass clippings. I’ll report back and let you know if the truely do compost.

    I did a bit of research and the web address on the bottom of the cup led me to this page here. It seems as though they are building the inside layer with corn instead of with a petroleum product. Great! So now when we forget to bring our cups at least we don’t have to feel quite so guilty.

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    Filed under compost, what we've learned

    quick shots in the weekend garden


    The cherry tree is in full blossom…

    The peas are up
    ..and the peas are up!

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    Filed under fruit trees, sprouting, what's blooming

    compost

    Compost

    I mentioned the other day that I would talk about our compost pile. Or should I say ‘piles’. We use the pile approach as opposed to putting it in a bin. I think because it’s easier, we have the room for them and it makes them so much easier to turn. We put our kitchen scraps in it, our grass clippings, leaves and any other weeding and pruning we do. They say a good compost pile should have a ratio of 25 parts brown, carbon-rich materials (such as dry leaves, straw and wood chips) to 1 part green, nitrogen-rich materials (such as kitchen scraps and grass), but we are more relaxed than that. We’ve never been very scientific about our ratios and we seems to come out with a good mix.

    We usually have three piles going. One that is finished compost, like the picture above, one that is actively composting, and another one to throw new materials into. In the fall as the leaves drop, Scott will just mow over the leaves, to break them up before adding them to the pile, this helps them to start composting faster instead of matting up and turning sour. You know when your compost isn’t actually composting when it smells. A properly behaving pile shouldn’t smell at all because the complex arrangement of organisms of worms, bacteria and insects will keep it breaking down naturally.

    Now that spring is here and we are preparing the beds, we keep a custom made (by Scott) wood frame with wire mesh over the wheel barrow to sieve out any big pieces before we wheel it to it’s intended bed. Using our compost and supplimenting with some mushroom compost we’ve purchased (we have a big yard!) has greatly improved our soil. When we first moved here, our soil didn’t retain moisture at all, but now I think we’ve got it at an ideal stage. It holds moisture long enough for the plants to soak it up, but without being muddy and clay like. Perfect for growing.

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    Happy Spring


    Happy Spring! The sun is shining, the breezes are blowing, and the scented geraniums are just starting to bloom. Looking forward to longer days ahead!

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    animal, vegetable, miracle

    more food for thought

    Before I would have normally thought twice about buying that green bell pepper that my husband requested from the store yesterday, I mean, I know they are out of season and this poor little pepper was carted all the way up from Chile via precious fossil fuels just to add a little life to our potato hash. But after finishing Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” last night, I feel really guilty.

    We have always tried to eat with the seasons because we grow so much of our own fruit and veggies, but sometimes, like last night, you just have to have a bell pepper in the middle of March. Barbara and her industrious family of four commited to an entire year of eating locally and therefore in season. It was a very inspirational read, especially right at the beginning of gardening season. It’s one of those books that makes me want to immediately get out and start tomato, zucchini and basil seeds. Right now! Alas it’s a bit too early for us to do that. Maybe in the next couple of weeks.

    Her casual and friendly writing style made me want to go visit her and walk through her garden with her. Meet her chickens and see her new turkey chicks. Her visit to the Farmer’s Diner in Vermont makes us daydream of opening such a restaurant here in Sonoma.

    This quote by her husband Stephen is really eye opening:

    Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars. We’re consuming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen – about 17% of our nation’s energy use – for agriculture, a close second to our vehicular use. Tractors, combines, harvesters, irrigation, sprayers, tillers, balers, and other equipment all use petroleum. Even bigger gas guzzlers on the farm are not the machines, but so-called inputs. Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides use oil and natural gas as their starting materials, and in their manufacturing. More than a quarter of all farming energy goes into synthetic fertilizers.

    But getting the crop from seed to harvest takes only one fifth of the total oil used for our food. The lion’s share is consumed during the trip from the farm to your plate. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging, warehousing and refrigeration. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food.

    A quick way to improve food-related fuel economy would be to buy a quart of motor oil and drink it. More palatable options are available. If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.

    Steven L. Hopp

    I don’t know if we’d be able to commit to a eating locally exclusively, but it sure makes me think. Think about finding meals that will accomodate whats in season, taking a second look at there the fruit is grown that I’m putting into my winter shopping bags, and of course it inspires me to garden!

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    favas & vetch as cover crops


    Every fall we plant a new cover crop. Why plant something we can’t really eat? Because not only does it make our otherwise brown winter garden green, but it’s quite beneficial to the soil. Cover crops hold down soil from winters erroding rains, they build up nutrients in the soil, and come spring they provide plenty of material (called biomass if you want to talk like a pro) for composting.

    Each year Scott tries a different combination of cover crops to bring new nutrients to our soil. This year it was fava beans and purple vetch.

    What I find pretty amazing about using cover crops is that when you pull up the roots you can actually see the little balls of nitrogen that have formed on the roots. Here’s the roots of the fava beans, do you see those little balls attached to the roots?
    Fava Roots
    What is also amazing is the immediate action of that added nitrogen. Our fava bean patch and lettuce patch became interplanted at one end and the lettuce that was growing amidts the favas was about three times larger than the lettuce growing on it’s own. I wish I had taken a picture of it before our chickens found it and made themselves a salad lunch.

    One thing new we learned this year about growing fava beans as a cover crop is that you should till the crop under before the plant has created beans because the nutrients are then brought up from the soil into the making of the beans. Previously we had waited for the beans to form so that we could eat them ourselves. This year we’ll most likely till the majority of them and eat a few of them. They are too tasty to till them all!


    Our chest high favas also make for great exploring for little ones:
    Chasing Chickens through Fava Beans
    Here is the purple vetch
    Vetch
    and it’s roots
    Vetch Roots
    Vetch actually gives a bit more nitrogen to the soil, but it grows in a more matted form so it’s hard to do interplantings if you wanted to do those like we did (inadvertently with the lettuce).

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    Oh what a beautiful weekend


    What a gorgeous weekend. The sun was out, the light spring breezes were blowing and the tulips were up. We spent the weekend working away outside at every moment we could. And now we feel it. You know how you feel that first weekend you garden in spring? How the next day you feel sore muscles in places were you didn’t know you even had muscles? Scott’s ankle is sore, my elbow is tweeked and my back muscles are reminding me of all the digging that was done yesterday.


    It felt good though to have dirt under my nails again, the energy (after four solid years of being pregnant and nursing) to dig up that impossibly hard dirt in our front garden, and to get that patch of fence fixed.

    Scott turned our compost pile last at the end of the day yesterday and as I predicted this morning he said, “my left arm hurts, do you think I’m going to have a heart attack?” He says each and every time after he turns that huge pile. It’s a big job, a lot of pitch fork work, but it’s worth it for how incredible it’s made our soil over the years. I’ll write more about our compost soon.




    In the meantime, enjoy this beautiful weather, even if it’s snowy, rainy, or sunny because soon enough the first radishes will be ready, lettuce will be asking to be picked, and you won’t know what to do with yet another zucchini.

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    Filed under compost, our weekends, what's blooming

    Our Weeping Santa Rosa Plum Tree


    Since moving to this spot, we’ve become a little fruit tree crazy. When we first toured the property we were excited about seeing the golden delicious apple tree, pear tree, and orange tree that were here, but since then we’ve planted an additional 10 or 11 trees to our third of an acre.

    This Santa Rosa Weeping Plum is one of our newest additions and one of our favorites. It stands at the back of the yard out on it’s own, so it really is a showcase tree. I think this photo really captures a time when it’s at its most beautiful, right before the bud break. This was on February 28th. Now it’s in full bloom with branches touching the ground.

    Since we’ve planted it we’ve had a problem with peach leaf curl and we don’t know how to treat it organically. The only thing we’ve been able to do, which is the only non organic thing we do in our yard, is to spray it with copper spray. If anyone knows of a better way to treat it, please comment. We’d love to know.

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