Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter in/out of the garden



Harvest for December:

Absolutely the most beautiful apples to the eye and palate, our last Gala apples were harvested on the Solstice.  Sweetest apples of the year they were with translucent centers and a rich, golden hue throughout.  

On almost a daily basis, we continue to dehydrate Hachiya Persimmons harvested from Gordon's tree in Menlo Park earlier this month.   Have it down to about a box from the five we harvested in the last week of November.  They are an excellent dried fruit in every way and very difficult to find anywhere commercially.  They are my favorite dried fruit and easily a native Amercan equivalent to dates for taste, texture, and sweetness.  The word persimmon is from the Cree and Mohican "pessamin" meaning dried fruit.  The Greeks called it the "fruit of the gods" meaning bundled home loans to be sold en masse to pension funds, hedge funds, school bond funds, and small towns worldwide.  The Greeks may have been the anticedents of present day Banksters, Bernie Made-off-with-yer-money, and Goldman Sachs Fraudster/Fedsters.  But I could be wrong in that translation.  Time will tell.

Kiwis harvested two days after the last apples.  Maybe one hundred of them, all told.  We keep the vine small and easily pruned.  It is more for philosophy as I have had my entertainment with pruning kiwis two or three times per year and having to bury the parts in one or two, two by three by six foot graves each time.  That was too much work for the harvest, in my opinion.  Besides, what does one do with 3,000 kiwis?  It's hard to give them away but I suppose one could sell them to a local organic grocer.  (We never did, back in the day, but times are changing with the coming Depression are they not?)  Kiwis are like pineapple guavas in that there is not much one can do with them but eat them out of hand or in sorbet.  

Last handful of raspberries harvested for the season and year was this past week.  They always throw a small crop at the end of the year.

Next up are the two semi dwarf Satsuma Owari mandarin orange trees in January and February.  These trees are beautiful, produce insanely, and are just the right size for a city lot, especially if they have chickens under them.  There is nothing like a double sink full of mandarin oranges to make the heart feel that all is right with the world.  Especially if you have a Champion juicer next to the sink and a spouse willing and able to make marmalade.

Looking forward:  

Have composted an area for potatoes and planted them into it this month.  Same with an area for garlic.  

Composted an area for raspberries to be planted in January.  

Apples:  

Toppling two apple trees in late January, Granny Smith (with Pink Pearl appended to it in 2000) and the dwarf Golden Delicious.  The dwarf is at the end of its useful life span of twenty years.  Unless you like very short trees that do not grow well and produce abundantly for only a few years, never plant a dwarf.  The Granny was never thrifty during its 12 years but did produce Pink Pearls well for a few years.  Both of these trees pale in comparison to the Gala or Cox's Orange Pippin for vigorous growth, production, and excellent apple quality.  I will take scions from each toppling to put onto the Cox's Orange Pippin (three years old, 8 feet high, vigorous) to save the varieties on them for decades to come.  The C.O.Pippin will produce heavily next year and will make good fresh, sauce, cider, and wine apples.  Assuming it does not get rained out, of course.  March/April rains can be problematic.  Having bees in the immediate area helps immensely.  Have our "feelers" out for bees in many venues.  Will be acquiring pheromone attractants in the spring, if those feelers don't produce adequately.

Garage saling:

Not happening to our satisfaction.  Slack time of the year is in December and usually into January/February.  We find one, maybe two/three in all of Santa Cruz on a weekend.  It rains out and people are thinking of other things to do.  Last weekend we found one garage sale that was "antiques" which, to me, is overpriced shabby chic.  The same stuff I can find at home for free, lol.  This will change as the economy tanks with the coming Depression and people become desperate to produce money.  On Craigslist search "need money for Christmas" to see the trend shaping up.  I have found, anecdotal evidence only, that people are having success getting Comcast to reduce their monthly bill, if they threaten to cancel.  I haven't tried it yet but January fast approaches.

Rain season:

So far about 2.5 inches total and raining off/on this week.  We did get some ice in the bird bath when it got down to 33F on the max/min a few days ago.  I think a copper bird bath is prone to icing.  The chicken's water was fine but was under a partial roof and in plastic which may have made the difference.  A friend of ours in Ben Lomond had solid ice in the chicken water at about 1,000 feet of altitude.

Wine:

Racked the Cameo carboy once.  Now it abides in stillness in the new carboy until I get around to bottling it in February.  In addition, I now have a gallon jug of Cameo/Gala combo and one gallon Gala that have both tested out at 17% potential alcohol (after adding one cup of sugar to each) bubbling away.  Looking forward to imbibing that at some point when I am needing a soporific.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Can't we talk about something pleasant? Of course, Wine!

 

It is that time of year and the crop came in big.  Apple wine is being made from a variety of Washington State apple developed in 1985 and named Cameo.  A large tree grows in a neighbors yard which we offered to pick clean so they would not have to clean up after the tree dropped them all.  Windfall deal without the fall.  Not using fallen apples is a must so you greatly reduce any potential for contamination.  This is my favorite apple variety for wine making.

Simple process.  Squeeze lots of apples, put juice in big jars, keep out the bugs and bacteria with an air lock, add sugar (1#/gal) and champagne yeast, wait until it quits bubbling.  You need a champagne yeast to kick the alcohol content into the 12-14% range which kills most everything else in there with it.  This alcohol level will not happen with most wild yeasts but it is easy to buy the right kind at a beer making equipment store.  These can be housed in bricks or online. Consider them your pets.  The yeast, I mean.  There are millions of them in there with your wine all reproducing quicker than little rabbits. 

It can be a bit more complex than that but that is a good outline.  Lots of good wine making sites online.   No need to get too complex with the process but a few pieces of equipment are fun to play with around the wine and let you know what's happening in the process.  It is alive  just so you can play doctor.  Enjoy it.    

This particular type of wine is FAR better the second year after it has been made.  It is a gamble saving it that long without sulfites but sometimes you get lucky.

Cider is being made.  There is nothing hard about making hard cider.  Squeeze apples, put juice in jar, keep out the bugs and bacteria with a cocked lid or air lock, if you want to get fancy, drink it when it gets real bubbly and don't be afraid of the scum on top.  Just skim it off and take a drink.  Ah, just like back in the good old days when water could be poison and beer was not yet king of America.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Great Bush Depression

Here we are entering into the Great Bush Depression.  This time it is a bit more entertaining than the Great Hoover Depression.  Dow has dropped both a greater percentage and in terms of number of points lost over the last year than it dropped during the first year of the Great Hoover Depression.  Housing prices have dropped further, too, over an equivalent time period.  Disturbing start.  The gov't is doing the same things it did last time almost to the letter.  The dollar amount is larger but the problem is larger this time, too.  From what I have read, the problem amounts to a "bit" over $60 Trillion.  $700 Billion Bailout is a rounding error for that amount of trouble.  Can you say, "Doomed to failure"?  I knew you could.

Mortgage derivatives, initially, are the problem this time.  They are based upon home mortgages.  The last time we had a depression it was based upon home mortgages.  This time it is base upon mortgages that have been leveraged at up to 40 to 1 in some cases.  Yikes.   Some say house prices must drop to the equivalent of 2.5 to 3 times the average income, locally, to be back in line with historic home pricing indexed for inflation.  (That makes the "leveraged vehicle" worth less than ten cents on the dollar invested in many cases.  That is why some companies can now not give back the money of some holders of mutual funds that were based on the safest of vehicles other than Treasury bonds, corporate bonds issued by major US banks and insurance companies like Lehman Bros and AIG both of which have cost you and me over $175 Billion to finance so that their bond holders will not go into default.  Confusing?  The details are even more so but it boils down to trust of which there is currently very little among thieves and bankers.  That is what stops lending worldwide.  It is an amazing thing to behold.)    Some say that will be overshot to the downside as owning a home will be viewed as a ball and chain.  When we bought our first home in 1984 it had cash flow over principal, interest, taxes, and insurance.  That is where housing is headed judging by places like the Central Valley where 50%-70% drops in home value are commonplace.

If you are interested in info about how this financial mess began, how it will progress, and possibly how it will end I would recommend reading these, to begin with, and progress from there:

Excellent behind the scene Cal housing info.
In depth economic overview.
This has an interesting set of articles.  Don't read this to your children at night.  It is scary. 
 This compares Depressions then and now and gov't response to both.
 This shows a global shipping company specialising in the transport of drybulk cargoes.  If they are not moving product, the world is not buying and selling items and, therefore, not manufacturing as readily across the globe.  The chart says it all excpet for the 'why' of it.  See the 11/14/08 entry for that here:  London Banker
THE FOURTH QUADRANT: A MAP OF THE LIMITS OF STATISTICS
 The banking system has lost over 1 Trillion dollars (dollar amount is outdated as of 11/08, see below), more than was ever made in the history of banking.  It only took them two years.  (That's why they get the big bonuses.)

The Fourth Quadrant is an examination of why and how the banking/lending/brokerage industries made the Great Bush Depression possible and impossible to avoid.  Skip down to the first two charts in the The Fourth Quadrant.  It is about Turkeys.  That much is darkly hilarious.

 Paragraph 7 points out the Turkey aspect of banks.  Kohn is a Fed Vice Chairman.


Please do take some time to read some of the above info but...  

Fair Warning:  It's a nightmare seemingly come to life.  


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Raiding Bees



I had stepped outside to empty the grey water.  The hive sounded different.  It was surrounded by more bees than I had seen since I brought home the old hive box that still had honey comb in it.  That was when our bees raided the unprotected, empty hive.  They had looked like they were going to swarm when they filled the air over the patio but the bees were in an agitated looking flight pattern instead of the smooth flight pattern of the swarm.  They had spent two days emptying the old hive box.  It was then so alive with our bees that at first I thought another swarm had moved into it when I looked inside. ( The picture shows the old hive box on the left that was empty of bees but had honeycomb in it.  On the right is the smoker hive with too many entry ways at bottom and where the lid fits onto the body of the smoker just above the handle.  A pan of water with rocks in it always sits next to the hive.)

This time it was not our bees doing the raiding.  It was bees from the neighboring hive 40 feet away and definitely in the agitated flight pattern.  I walked closer to the smoker hive and saw dead bees littering the ground and hundreds of bees attempting to gain, and many gaining, entrance to the smoker hive at a time of day which was not normal for our hive to have bees around it.  Our bees come home between 5:30 and 6:30 every evening.  This was 7:30 and there were far too many bees to be just ours and they looked blacker than our bees.  I watched the flight pattern of the raiders and they were definitely heading over the fence to the neighbors yard after filling up on honey at the smoker hive.  

Not good.  

Raiding happens to a hive that is either weaker than the raiding hive or has too many entrances to the hive to protect efficiently.  The smoker hive had too many entrances.  The hive is strong but indefensible.  Raiding bees are often blacker in appearance than normal bees.  These certainly were.  They get their blackness from battling to get into defended hives which knocks off their hair as other bees bite them.  The stiff hair on an insect is there to keep other insects from biting them easily and the hair on bees give them a golden coloration.  Under the hair their exoskeleton is black.  I walked into the swarming raiders and placed entry closures until just a one inch width of one entrance was all that was available.  They were able to protect the hive at this entrance and the raid stopped after another attempt to gain entry the next morning failed.  

All seems back to normal today but there is not the usual number of bees in the air at any one time and they are not at the right times.   It seems they may have avoided a food storage catastrophe and a very lean winter, if not outright death at the jaws of the marauders.  Tough life being a bee.  If they stay a viable hive into the fall, I will place honey in their hive this winter to be certain they have enough food to make it through until next spring, if I do not see new cells capped off in the currently uncapped comb before this Fall.  If the queen was killed, they are in big trouble and the hive will probably be weakened into next year.  They will have to replace the queen, a five week job before she can begin laying eggs, then another three weeks to get the eggs to bees and that takes them into October with winter staring at them.  Every day fewer bees are replaced until, after about three weeks, no more are replaced until the new queen's eggs mature so their ability to collect food and defend the hive is constantly reduced over the next two months.  Increasing attrition is a nasty situation to overcome.

The clover we grow in the yard is still blooming nicely and the eucalyptus nearby will bloom this Fall so food availability is not a problem.  The problem is how much food storage they lost and whether they have enough time to replenish their stores to a level that will carry them through the winter.  

If anyone is interested, I have not yet been stung even with all this "I walked into the swarming raiders" stuff I have been posting.  Probably, it is just luck but knowing how to move around bugs and other animals so they are not alarmed by having a large mammal so close to them is important.  Also important with bees is that I do not wear cologne or use stong smelling soaps or, in the case of bees, wear any black clothing, leather, or fur (clean, perfumed Goths are in big trouble around bees).  Maybe this all contributes to why I have not yet been stung.  The sting has to happen eventually.  I will post the exact details and my moanings and cursings when it happens.  I am assuming I am not allergic so will not die from it because I do DISTINCTLY remember being stung when in the second grade after stepping on a bee.  That is the only time I have been stung.  Should be interesting when it happens next.  I talked to a beekeeper of many hives that said he had been stung 150 times by July.  Just for this year.  A friend had a bee get into his bonnet as he was collecting a swarm and sting him next to his eye which swelled shut for a day or two.  Not so much fun but it's a good story.  Creeps me out thinking about stinging insects in my clothing.

Over the next few days we realized the bees had fled.  The hive is empty.  I dismantled it.  We have our feelers out for another hive and will probably pick up a swarm early next year when overwintering hives split and move.

I kinda miss those bugs.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bee sting remedy

This is not a scientific study but certainly took some pain and persistance by the author to get to the conclusion.  It seems he did his homework and put some thought into the research.  Toothpaste...who would have guessed?


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Swarming Bees

video

This was the first view of the swarm out the back window. Estimated to be about 40,000 bees.

Toward the end of the swarming bees


Beginning to settle onto the tree.


video

At one point, after about half of them had settled on the tree in a cascade of bees, I had to walk out into them to close up an open access into the attic. Definitely did not want those bees inside the house. Walking into a swarm of bees is not highly recommended because it is usually difficult to be certain how long they have been swarming. A dry swarm, that is one that has been flying for more than a day and is getting hungry, can be a stinging swarm. Not something I want to get involved with on any given day. This one, however, had just taken off from next door and each bee was full of honey and no longer had a hive to protect so it was very docile. That's why I felt relatively good about my safety when walking outside into a back yard full of flying bees. Took me a while to get out the back door even knowing that, however. I had to go over in my head a few times why it was OK to open that door and walk into a cloud of thousands of bees in flight. The avoidance of the potential for receiving multiple stings can be a very visceral thing.






Here is the bee cascade in the apple tree. The queen is near the top.

I calculated there were about 40,000 bees flying above the patio before they had settled onto the tree. The swarm was a 15 foot cube of bees about 4 inches apart from each other. Amazing stuff.

Another kind of bee rarely seen in person


This bee variety is sometimes called a solitary, leaf cutter, blue orchard, or a self employed bee.  It is really hard to get one of these to sting and I have never known it to happen.  They are startlingly iridescent in coloration from an emerald to a stunning, electric blue.  They live in holes in dead wood and seal them off with bits of leaf and mud.  They are much smaller than honey bees.

The top photo is the "hive" constructed to attract them to the yard.  The bees are rarely seen but the cut leaf margins on our climbing rose appear around the time they begin laying eggs in the five inch deep holes I drilled into the aged wood.  That seems to be the preferred plant for making beds for their larvae.  

The next photo is a close up of a few completely filled holes that are sealed off with mud.  There is a bowl full of mud and water kept at the base of the posts holding up the nest logs until midsummer.  There are about five larvae per hole and they will exit next spring about the time the apple blossoms happen.  Last year we had five holes filled.  This year we have eleven.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Your kids don’t want to feel suckered any more than you do.

OK.  This is an aside.  Maybe.  But tangentially, it has everything to do with gardens, bees, composting, thoughtful living, etc and...

This is the most important item posted up to now.  

Breaking the cycle of consumerism in the next generation.  This is how it all changes into something better and more rational.  It is about stopping the desires of big business.  It is about having a life unhindered by unfathomable desires that get in the way of living your life.    A quick and dirty synopsis of this idea by another person is available here:  


I will grant that NOT having a tv in the house can be a good thing but, for me, is impractical and wrong for three main reasons.  The first reason being that you create forbidden fruit which can make it even more desirable.  Another is that avoidance of tv is not always possible in our society which creates a vulnerability in those not exposed and innoculated to it.  Finally, TV can be a very useful tool for children and adults.   

Give a child the ability to analyze advertising.  Without that ability they fall prey to every McDonald's, Lowe's, General Motors, BMW, Realtor, etc. advertisement that  encourages your child to make the decisions that DO NOT benefit your child.  What better place to learn that critical ability than at home?  What better flagrant to subtle advertising is available than that which is on tv?  

We, as a family, were not quite so articulate or in depth in our analysis of ads as the article cited above says to be.  At first, we just had fun saying, "Advertisement, advertisement.  Don't look, don't look."  Then, later on, as the daughter recognized which were the ads we talked more about what they were saying and discussed what they were selling and why and what they wanted us to do and why and how they wanted us to act and why and how that was so wrong and hopelessly stupid of us to do unless we were robots that had nothing to say about our own lives, etc.  The essence of it all was recognizing advertisers and how they were trying to modify our behavior to their benefit and not to ours.  It was a very fun and easy thing to do if we were together in front of the tv.  

A child alone does not have a chance against them.  

Leave your child alone in front of the tv and I can guarantee that's how you will grow mall rats.  I have some rat traps you could use but really it's too late by then.  You have to live with them and watch them grow.  Your inattention and subsequent loss is the gain of big business.  

When we were living with our daughter (she is in college now) we told her that she could watch  non-commercial tv. She could play with anything she wanted or she could read.  The kitchen was a favorite playground.  The woodwork still shows the water stains by the sink. (Have to let that sort of stuff go as it happens and appreciate it as signifying healthy growth.)  When we were in the room she could watch any tv we were watching.  Other than that it was public tv only.  No ads.  There was a garden to play in when tv got boring.  Later on, Bill Nye the Science Guy was a big favorite.  Carmen San Diego was good for the geography lessons but Bill Nye lead to some very good studies for her.  After that, the cooking channel started up and she was off to the races with that.  In this way, tv showed and taught her skills as well as piqued her curiousity instead of dulling it.  You never know where these early interests will take your children.  For a few years she wanted to grow a garden for the restaurant she would own when she grew up.  She got over that pretty quickly but there are far worse aspirations for a child.  Growing up to be a fashion model comes to mind immediately.  She turned out to be a pretty good cook, too.

One more thing.  

One night, when the daughter was just about the age of three, I was watching the news and she walked up to the screen and said, "When we don't like someone we shoot them."  That was the last time I watched the news in front of the daughter until she was in junior high and had to watch it for a class assignment.  You cannot imagine what that tv is doing to your child without the filter of you discussing it with them in the moment.  

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gopher control and When to water


Gophers will eat or eat through almost everything.  You have a gopher problem.  We all do once we begin growing food.

Passive gopher control can be done with a small underground cage to get bushes and trees started.  A box of any size can be built for annual plantings with a galvanized chicken wire mesh cage attached to the box below ground level.  That's a lot of work but worth it, if you don't want to spend time murdering the little rodents.  You can make the decision as to whether you are capable of murder after you watch a mature annual plant disappear down a hole or a perennial lose vigor and sit sullenly for two years while trying to replace lost roots.  I watched an entire, mature artichoke go down a hole over a two day period.  It was amazing.  I only have gopher wire under one box that I use for garlic because the crop takes so darn long to grow and gophers love it.  I dislike losing even one.

Active gopher control is relatively easy (and ultimately satisfying) once you get the right trap and some experience. Young cats are an excellent addition to any gopher ridden garden area.  They love the work and are very good at it but traps are a necessary addendum to their efforts.  To
 protect the cat from the trap just invert a bucket or plant pot over the gopher hole that has the trap in it.  Perennials will grow past gopher cages once they begin to mature, if you give them enough water, and will often grow past gophers efforts to kill them, too, unless you are plagued with a whole gopher civilization.  If this is your situation, make the effort to use cages until you get the problem solved. 
 
The best gopher problem solver I have found is the cinch trap.  They take some getting used to (surprisingly strong spring) but work well because you never touch the trigger.  The gopher never gets your scent.  This is not the case with any other trap I have used.  Esthetically, the traps are user friendly, if you don't want to get intimately involved with the "remains" when you are successful.  Uncock the trap and the little dear stays in its hole as compost for the plants upon which it wanted to feed.  Just close the gopher hole and water the "compost" in to help get the process started.

When to water can be tricky until you get some experience.  A soil moisture meter is a help in determining when to water.  A meter is inexpensive and probably a good idea, if you are new to gardening, in a hurry, or if part of your garden is in pots.  You can also determine soil moisture the old fashioned way and just dig a small hole into the root zone (this varies depending upon the age and type of plant) with a trowel or your fingers and squeeze the soil in your hand.  If it stays in a clump that shows your hand attributes it is wet enough.  This is most easily used with established plantings in mature, well conditioned soil or with annuals in boxes.  
Where to water.  Mature trees  are best watered from just within the edge of the furthest leaves from the trunk to beyond that 10 feet.  Immature trees need to be watered more closely to the trunk, but never at the trunk,within a diameter equal to the height of the tree or bush for the first two years.  

Root zones can be found by digging holes in your yard, if you are looking for an educational experience about the plants around you or happen to be digging in some compost.  Very few people have done this sort of investigation because you have to dig holes and get on your knees to investigate the small roots you see in the wall of the hole you have made.  Then you have to decide which plants own the roots.  Sometimes that is easy.  I have found pencil thick alder roots twenty four feet away from the trunk of a mature, 20 year old tree.  It is about 20 feet tall and the drip line (the area where the leaves quit growing out from the trunk of the tree) is about six feet from the trunk.  If you were watering it at the drip line, you would be missing at least 18 feet of the diameter of the root system beyond that.   That is an enormous amount of area that, if left unwatered, will definitely inhibit the growth and production of a fruit tree or bush.

If you water using a soaker hose or drip system and are not growing clover beneath and between your taller plantings, squeezing the soil or digging holes with a trowel will not be an adequate measure of when to water.  You will have to determine how much to water by digging holes to find soil moisture in the inverted "V"  or "dome" water distribution pattern below the soil surface and at various distances and depths from each hose.  That will be quite a project.  Or you can just make sure you have soaker hose further from the tree than you think you need it (once the tree is over two year old), water on a weekly schedule, and walk away from the shovel.  If you have a timer on your watering system then...but that involves very small waterings very frequently and is not for the casual gardener but is for the obsessed gardener.  This is not what I will address unless asked because it begins to get more complicated and expensive.

Keeping it simple, Composting, Worm Bins, and Soil Compaction


Composting, and worm bins are something every serious gardener must deal with and both can be messy, smelly, time consuming, complex, and unpleasant in a variety of ways. Here is how to make it all as easy to do as is possible and done in the shortest amount of time possible.  At most, all you need is two plastic five gallon buckets with lids and a shovel.  It can be done without lids but you won't like it.

Composting and worm bins are portrayed all over the web and in books as complex procedures using expensive containers or tumblers and methods that are far more difficult than need be.  All you are doing is making dirt.  How hard can that be?Plants, especially perennials, will grow in any kind of soil if you amend it with kitchen garbage and yard waste.  The easiest way is to plant the tree or bush then put 4 gallons of garbage (any compostable material, remember the gopher, kept in a covered bucket outside the kitchen door until you are ready to use it)  into a hole dug next to the plant root zone.  Cover the garbage with the soil you took out of the hole then put a rock or other marker on it so you can remember where your compost hole is.  Next time you accumulate 4 gallons of garbage, dig a hole next to the rock and repeat the process.  Just keep plugging the garbage into holes as it accumulates until the plant is surrounded with it.  Then start on the next circle around the plant, if you expect it to grow large enough to take advantage of it (roots usually grow as far out from the plant as do the leaves).  Long story short, just dig a hole, put in the garbage, cover it up, tamp it lightly so it is almost equal with the surrounding ground level.  This provides a composted area into which the roots can grow over a short period of time that is long enough for composting to complete before the roots get there.  You have an instant compost pile already incorporated into the ground and worked over by worms.  However, you have none of the smell, bugs, visual impingement, or mess created by dogs, raccoons, possums, rats, and skunks finding fun things to play with in a compost pile.  If you do have a digging critter problem at your new compost hole, put a paver or large flat stone over it for a week or two.  

Making an annual planting bed is just a matter of putting the plugs in lines instead of circles and doing it far enough in advance of the planting season for the material to begin to degrade so you can plant over the composted holes.  

By composting in this manner you provide ready compost when and where the roots need it and you will grow worms in your yard precisely where you want them to be.  This creates worm inhabited, looser, nutrient filled soil in the root zone.  Plants will grow vigorously when they reach this area.  It is easy to add yard waste to this procedure.   Above ground composting and worm bins are eliminated in one clean operation that saves you time and space while saving your neighbors and you lots of smell, mess, pest problems, and the aggravation of discussing these problems amongst yourselves.    

No plant material (or animal) should have a reason to leave your yard in the trash, green recycle, or down a sink disposer.  None.  It can be a matter of pride to change your small bit of the earth for the better and it only takes moments to do.  

If you want to do some creative composting, separate citrus, fruit, tea bags (paper only), and coffee grounds (with the filter paper) from your other garbage for use with plants that prefer an acidic soil condition.  Check the Western Garden Book or google your plant of choice to determine which plants these are.  Blueberries come to mind immediately.

Soil compaction is what keeps most plants from growing to their full potential. Every time you step on the roots you break some and make it far more difficult for the rest to grow through the hardened soil. Roots need the little spaces between the soil grains for ease of growth.  Step on the soil and those spaces are gone.  Make pathways and stay to them.  Stepping on the ground in the root zone is very much like taking a handful of each of the plants nearby and breaking it off.  It has the same effect on growth of the overall plant.  Where is the root zone?  It is your entire yard.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Weeding with Clover and Water

One way to reduce weeding over time is to pull the weeds before they go to seed.   But you are still pulling weeds and seeds still get into the yard via birds, shoes, wind, on fur, etc. 

The best way to do the weeding is to grow clover.

Clover releases nitrogen into the soil through a bacterial action on the roots of the clover.  It can be "plowed down"  in the winter if your soil needs improving.  Turning it under opens the door for the weeds to come back so you must re-seed the clover immediately after turning it under.  Clover is perfect for bees.  It blooms for a long time and imparts a flavor to honey.  Spreading it to the entire yard is easiest by pulling a bunch out of the ground, taking it to where it is wanted and putting it into soil already loosened and watered for it.  Make certain to keep it watered after that.  If it dries out, it cooks quickly in the sun.  

White clover outcompetes other weeds, fertilizes the soil, improves soil tilth when turned under, re-seeds itself, and can be a good indicator of when you need to water because its roots are so shallow.  Definitely a time saving plant.  Grows to about one foot high.  Red clover grows two to three feet high and can be a problem to other plants you want to cultivate because of the competition for sunlight from a plant that size.

Weeding the driveway or sidewalk happens when cooking dinner.   Take the used boiled water and pour it, while still very hot, on those cute little weeds (or the big ones) growing in the walkways.  Tomorrow they will be brown and dead.  Very inexpensive and satisfying.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Naturally formed honey comb

This is how wild bees build their honey combs.  The white dots are capped cells filled with honey.  The honey colored cells are waiting for the nectar to evaporate enough to become honey before capping.  The pure white area is the comb before honey is deposited into the cells.

The picture below is four layers of honey comb with enough space between for a bee to walk.

Oxymoron

Have you ever bought organic produce wrapped in plastic and/or styrofoam and wondered what you were doing?

Buying food at your local farmer's market allows you to know it was grown locally and not wrapped in plastic and shipped across the country by a corporation that cares little how fresh it is or how good for you it may be.  There is potential for plastic to leak toxins into the food they cover or the water they contain.  Organic food in plastic is an oxymoron.

Here is another one:  Ever think about "free range chickens" roaming free and happy ?  At the corporation farms that grow birds all they have is a door to the outside that the chickens never exit because they are afraid of being outside after having grown up indoors.  The "free range" afforded them is a very small fenced area that meets government standards for creation of the terminology "free range."  No such thing as a truly free range chicken for sale unless you find it at the farmers market or in your own yard.  

At the farmer's market,  ask the egg/chicken vendor how they handle their chickens.  You will enjoy the answers.  It is interesting what you can train a free ranging flock of field birds to do.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Difference

These homes sit side by side...

This is how our yard looked at first.  The home has the same footprint and lot dimensions as ours.

The yard shown above uses more water than the one below, has to use herbicides and petroleum based fertilizer to attain the color and health of the "crop", and takes more time and money to maintain.  They have to buy, use, and maintain a lawn mower as well as hand tools.  It produces not one edible item.

The photos below show a similar yard changed to a greener style of usage.

It looks far different from the street and...

...once you are inside, it is a beautiful, restful, and productive place to be.

This yard can easily produce 1/2 ton of fruits and vegetables over the growing season.  Harvesting one ton of edibles in a year is not unreasonable.   The growing area is less than 3,000 square feet.  Part of this is in non-harvested ornamentals, plants that attract beneficial insects, and plants that provide fertilizer to others sharing their root space.  The rest of the property is driveway, sidewalk, patio, pathways, sitting area, fireplace, work shed and house. 

Only hand tools are used.  

Books


Philosophy and insight:

The Secret Garden by David Bodanis
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Practical:

Sunset Western Garden Book 
The New Complete Guide to Beekeeping by Roger Morse
Mastering the Art of Beekeeping by Ormond Abie

Life cycles:

Destructive and Useful Insects by Metcalf, Flint, and Metcalf

Everything:

Google it.  Info from universities, colleges, university extension services, or groups not trying to sell you something is worth the most.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Goal


The goal is to show how to produce, with minimum effort, an environment in your yard that will be beneficial and useful while gaining an understanding of what is going on out there.  It is possible to harvest throughout the growing seasons without concern for your health while creating an  attractive yard for mammals, birds, and insects you want for biocontrol.  

Reliance upon pesticides and artificial nutrients is not necessary for success in the process of building an environment that takes very little effort to maintain once it is established.  

 


Monday, July 14, 2008

Purpose


While reviewing "green living" sites it seems there is a need for more detail in how to make the reality of it practical.  Specific details are needed about how to help your immediate environment and make a better place for everything to enjoy.  Except gophers.

Beekeeping will be included because bees are an indicator species for the health of the environment nearest us.  They thrive or die based upon how healthy the area you live in is for you.  

The reasons for eating your home grown food or food grown in a nearby farm whose owner you have met are obvious from this recent article about salmonella poisonings being impossible to trace to their origins:   

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25851415/
 
and from this article from the USEPA stating that in 1998 over 50% of food had pesticide residues:   

http://yosemite.epa.gov/ochp/ochpweb.nsf/content/food_contam.htm

and this article shows why you want to know and buy from a local grower:

http://www.consumersunion.org/food/organicsumm.htm

In the latter it states:  "Some foods sold as organic may also be mislabeled, either because of fraud or because of lapses in maintaining the identity of foods as they move from the farm to the consumer."  I would add, that when buying at a farmer's market all the middle men are removed.

Growing your own or buying local eliminates all of the above potential problems or makes them immediately accessible for analysis and quick correction, if there is a problem.