Something is Finished, Finally!

kitties near fence

If I’ve learned one thing from the process of creating this homestead, is that in order to get one project done, there are about a billion other projects that must be done first. All of them take forever, and it seems that all of them cost about a bazillion dollars. So far, there isn’t a single thing on the homestead that is actually finished. The kitchen still needs baseboards and a few light plate covers. The hen house needs the automatic waterer installed, and the run’s roof is only half done. My list could go on and on.

But the one thing that is finally finished is our West property line fence! It doesn’t reach all the way to the front of the property, but stops midway to the house. Eventually, a front fence with a gate will go from the house to the corner, but for now we have to leave that section open to get a tractor though for grading, and space to roll big water tanks though. It is fabulous to not worry about Stella squeezing through the ancient wire fence or having to see my neighbor or his collections of stuff. And, bonus, it seems to be making it harder for the flock of turkeys to invade my yard!

IMG_7351 IMG_7350 IMG_7345

and Now, the Numbers:

  • Total feet of fence: 300
  • Number of post holes, dug by hand in solid adobe clay: 39
  • Pounds of concrete: 2,650
  • Pounds of screws: 23
  • Number of redwood 1×8: 469
  • Number of trips to Home Depot: 19
  • Number of trips to the dump, to recycle old wire, fence posts & general crap: 3
  • Number of trees used as posts: 2
  • Number of plants carefully worked around: 5
  • Random things found: 1 domino, 1 marble, 1 metal handle to a pot, and an section of old terra cotta sewer pipe
  • Number of weekends spent working on this project: 14
  • Amount saved by doing it ourselves: about $7,500

IMG_7025 IMG_6779 IMG_7349And now, moving on to the next project: installing rain barrels and finishing that run roof!

How to Garden in a Drought

In case you’ve been living under a rock (which, if said rock was in California, it probably was very dry….), California is in a drought. Practically every other post in my facebook feed is an article shared with the latest statistics, praises for Governor Brown finally imposing restrictions, or rants about Governor Brown not doing enough. Daily conversations, regardless with friends, patients at work, neighbors, or strangers at the store always have some mention of it. And rightly so, California is pretty much up shit creek, except there is no creek.

One topic that often comes up is if its worth planting a garden. And if you are growing food that you will eat, then I say YES! Everyone has to eat, and regardless of where your food is coming from, it needs water. Chances are, food grown in your backyard had less of a water impact than that grown on a large farm. If you make good choices, it’s still possible to have a flourishing garden and be sensitive to the current water crisis. I’ve consulted about a gazillion articles and pulled together a comprehensive list of drought gardening tips. If I’ve forgotten something, make sure to let me know in the comments!

even after yesterday's rain, my soil is cracked and parched
even after yesterday’s rain, my soil is cracked and parched

How to Garden in the Drought:

Consider how much water your planned planting area will need, and calculate how much water you have. An average summer vegetable garden needs about an 1 inch of water per week, or 0.623 gallons per sq ft of surface area. For example, my raised beds give me 480 sq feet of planting space, which means I need about 300 gallons of water a week. If you’re on water rationing, can you spare that much? Can some of that water come from a reclaimed source or rain barrels? Check out this handout from the Sonoma County Master Gardeners for great info on how to read your water meter, calculate your current water use, and how to determine how large of garden you can plant based on how much water you have.

I checked with the city this morning, and Santa Rosa has no individual household rations planned, but thats not a reason to be mindless with water use. Even if there is nothing mandated, give yourself a limit and figure out how to grow within that. What would you be able to do if you had 100 gallons a day? What about 50? In Winter, when my outside watering level is low, my household of 2 people uses about 2,000 gallons a month (about 70 gal. a day), but last year, in the middle of summer watering, my usage jumped up to about 5,000 gallons (about 170 gal. a day). With diligent conservation inside, and smart watering outside, my goal for this summer is to be at about 110 gallons a day.

Water the correct amount. As mentioned above, it is recommended to water an inch a week, or 0.623 gallons per sq ft. In the middle of summer, when vegetable plants are full sized, its recommended to water every day. One of my 15×4 foot beds would require about 37 gallons a week, or about 5 gallons a day. Of course, this number can change depending on weather and soil type. Ideally, use drip. If you have to use a hose, like I do, make sure to have a shut-off on the sprayer, and water at the base of the plants. Can you get by with watering a little bit less, or make sure that inch a week is best used?

Water at the right time. The best time to water is early in the morning, the cool hours in the evening. Avoid watering in the middle of the day. Sonoma County has mandatory restrictions that prohibit irrigation outside of 8pm-6am, but that doesn’t apply to drip or otherwise supervised watering (like using a watering can or a hose with a sprayer).

Only grow varieties and amounts of what you know you’ll eat. One of the funs of gardening is being able to try out new things, but think about what you know you’ll eat and love, and grow just those. I’ve really wanted to grow gourds, a luffa in particular, but I don’t actually need a luffa, nor would I eat it. Instead, I’ll grow a watermelon that I know I’ll enjoy. I might have space for 6 jalapeno plants, but I will only need a few chilis for salsa over the summer, so I’ll only be planting one plant.

I have grown eggplant for years, but don't actually like it that much. So this year, we're skipping it.
I have grown eggplant for years, but don’t actually like it that much. So this year, we’re skipping it and dedicating water to things we will eat.

Grow plants best suited for the season. While it is possible to grow some crops year round, like broccoli, lettuce and spinach, its best to keep those types of veggies limited to fall and winter growing. Growing during the summer requires lots of extra water just to help them stay cool.

Spinach is a great fall and early spring crop, but water intensive if grown in summer.
Spinach is a great fall and early spring crop, but water intensive if grown in summer.

Plant drought-tolerant varieties.  Choose varieties that are known to be more drought-tolerant or drought-resistant. Sonoma County Master Gardeners have a great list here, and Bountiful Gardens from Willits also has a section dedicated to drought-tolerant seeds. Note that “heat-tolerant” is not the same thing as drought-tolerant.

Understand your plants’ water needs. Water is most critical during the first few weeks of seeding, immediately after transplanting, and during flowering and fruit production stages. According to the Sonoma County Master Gardeners, “beans need water most when they are blooming and setting fruit. Corn needs water most during tasseling, silking and ear development. Peas need water most during pod filling. Other vegetables, such as cucumbers and squash, and fruits, such as melons, need water most during flowering and fruiting.  Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant need water most during flowering and fruiting. After tomatoes set, they can do very well with reduced water.” For other crops, check out the information on critical watering stages here. During these critical times, give them the recommended amount of watering, but see if you can get by with a little less other times.

Mulch. Mulching reduces surface evaporation up to 50%.  Apply 3-4 inches of material over your soil. I like to use alfalfa because it adds nutrients to my soil as it breaks down, but growing alfalfa is super water intensive, so I’m reconsidering my mulch choice. Straw, leaves, shredded bark and newspaper are all good options as well. I’m going to experiment using sheets and burlap. Avoid plastics, which make the soil to hot in our climates. Keep a few inches away from the base of the plant. Run drip lines under the mulch, so your watering the soil and not your mulch. If you hand watering, pull back the mulch so you’re not just watering your straw.

A well mulched pepper plant
A well mulched pepper plant

Check if you need to water. Before watering, dig with a trowel or stick your finger in the soil. Irrigate if the top 2 inches of the soil feel dry. Some plants, like squash, will wilt if its hot, so don’t assume you need to water more.

Squash leaves will droop when hot, and its not necessarily a sign they need water. Don't be a fool like I was last year and water them in the middle of the day because you saw droopy leaves.
Squash leaves will droop when hot, and its not necessarily a sign they need water. Don’t be a fool like I was last year and water them in the middle of the day because you saw droopy leaves.

Group together water needs, plant closer together, and plant in blocks, rather than rows. Group plants that have similar water needs, like cucumbers and squash together. Plants should be spaced so that leaves will touch, and plant in a block pattern as opposed to rows so roots and the soil are shaded.

Planting in blocks, rather than rows, help keep the soil and roots shaded.
Planting in blocks, rather than rows, help keep the soil and roots shaded.

Remove weeds. Weeds compete for water and nutrients, so make sure to stay on top of weeding. If you only have so much energy and time, forgo keeping your paths clear and focus on your beds and among your edible crops.

Re-pot terra-cotta. If you have herbs or other plants in terra-cotta pots, considering repotting into a glazed terra-cotta or plastic pot. Unglazed terra-cotta is porous, so it dries out much faster. I have a collection of mint and other herbs in pots near my porch, and I’ve noticed that the ones in the plain terra-cotta need exponentially more water than the ones in plastic do.

I need to re-pot this mint into a glazed or plastic pot to keep in moisture.
I need to re-pot this mint into a glazed or plastic pot to keep in moisture.

Plant varieties that mature faster, are heavy producers, and are determinate. Choose varieties that are ready in less time, like Emerite Runner Beans, Lemon Cucumbers, Early Girl and Sungold tomatoes, which are ready in just 50-60 days. You’ll get more for your water with high-yield plants like beans, squash, peppers and tomatoes. If you have the option, plant determinate varieties. Determinate plants grow to a certain size and produce for a specific amount of time, as opposed to indeterminate varieties that will continue to grow and produce until frost. The determinate types, with their shorter growing season, will use less water.

Squash is always a good choice for high-yielding plants!
Squash is always a good choice for high-yielding plants!

Understand stresses of drought and prioritize your watering . Common symptoms on plants include wilting or drooping of leaves that do not return to normal by evening, curled or yellow leaves that may fold or drop, or foliage that becomes grayish and loses its green luster. If a plant shows signs and you want to save it, re-prioritize your water allotments to make sure its getting enough. Your first priority for watering should be trees and perennial bushes and shrubs (which are the most expensive and take the longest to replace). Your lawn is the very last thing you should be watering.

Maple tree suffering from drought stress. source: Oregon State University

Consider Out-of-the-Box solutions. Consider permaculture based solutions like watering with Ollas, an ancient method of watering using unglazed clay pots; or longer-term projects like hugelkultur beds or creating swales to divert what precious rain we do have into your garden’s soil. Explore what farms and gardens are doing in other dryland areas of the world, like parts of Mediterranean and Australia, or places with very little or no water, like parts of Africa.

buckets left out in the garden captured what little rain we had fall the past few days
buckets left out in the garden captured what little rain we had fall the past few days

If you have questions about the current water situation in your town, call your water department. Santa Rosa’s is at 543-4200, and everyone I’ve ever talked to is super friendly and helpful. They can help you understand your bill, give you water conservation tips, and explain the current regulations.

Even if you are not in California and have plentiful water, our drought could be a rallying point for you to put in your own garden, or encourage you to buy locally grown produce. California grows about 50 percent of the nation fruits, vegetables and nuts, and most of it comes from the areas that are most affected by the drought. And since fruits and vegetables are considered a “specialty crop”, they aren’t subsidized by the government and the cost will be passed on to consumers. Demand will still be high, but supply is less, so my guess is produce is about to get super expensive or harder to get. Some of the big commodity crops, like almonds, appear to be ignoring the fact that water is becoming more and more scarce, but other farms are abandoning leaving fields, or selling what water they have, like this 2014 article discusses. Relaying on your standard supermarket produce will either leave you with boring meals or broke.

I, like any person who’s slightly paying attention, could go on a long rant about how restrictions are on households but ignoring commodity crops, beef and dairies, how Nestle is bottling up all our water, the lack of groundwater regulations and fracking’s water use, but I won’t. While these concerns are real and justified, I’m focusing my energy on doing the very best that I CAN DO in my own garden, instead of pointing fingers and placing the blame on someone else. Unless you’re still watering your lawn….then yes, I do blame you.


“I think we are bound to, and by, nature. We may want to deny this connection and try to believe we control the external world, but every time there’s a snowstorm or a drought, we know our fate is tied to the world around us”. — Alice Hoffman

how to garden during a drought, tips for growing your own food in a drought, water-wise gardening

Shopping for Starts

There are two choices that most gardeners have to consider when growing a garden: to start the plants from seed, or to buy young plants from a store and transplant into the garden. Some gardeners solely seed and propagate their own plants, while some gardeners only buy transplants. I do a little of both. While I always start my tomatoes and squash from seed, I often buy herb, eggplant and pepper starts. In the fall, I’ll direct seed leafy greens and root veggies, but I depend on nursery starts almost exclusively for the brassicas like cabbage and broccoli.

tomato starts

If you garden with starts, the most important thing to consider is proper selection!

Pick vegetables that will flourish with your climate: a variety of tomato that will do well in the humid south for sure as hell won’t grow the same in the high desert. If you are not sure what will do well, it’s a safe bet if you shop at a locally-run shop or choose starts that were grown locally. Varieties of plants available at local nurseries will be chosen based on what is best for your region, compared to the same few varieties available at big box stores all over the country. If the nursery isn’t starting seeds in-house, check the plant tag for the grower and it’s origin. Many stores, especially smaller nurseries, will buy from a regional grower.

tomato varieties at Harmony Farm Supply

When picking out your plants, look for young, stocky plants, and avoid those that are large, leggy and have flowered or has set fruit. If a plant is too mature or has already bloomed in the pot, it is halfway through its life cycle and the yield may be limited or poor compared to if you choose a young plant that has yet to flower.

Avoid plants like this tomato at Orchard Supply Hardware, which has already  flowered
Avoid plants like this tomato at Orchard Supply Hardware, which has already flowered

Select a plant that has with lots of leaves and strong, healthy roots. Avoid plants where the roots are peeking out from the bottom, a sign of the plant being root bound. This goes for all plants, not just veggie starts. It can be hard to tell in 6-packs, but if you gently lift the plant out of 4″ or half-gallon pots, and can see that the roots are circling the container, choose a different plant. The top growth should also be in good proportion to the container. Some veggies are great to buy in 6-packs, like lettuce and kale, but larger plants like squash and tomatoes should be in 4″ pots. If you shop at a nursery that starts their own seeds, they usually keep an eye on their seedlings and will transplant up to a larger pot as necessary.

Avoid plants that have roots coming from the bottom
Avoid plants that have roots poking from the bottom of the pot
This start, which is a tomatillo I grew, shows ideal root growth for this pot size.
This start, which is a tomatillo I grew, shows ideal root growth for this pot size.

In Sonoma County, my favorite places to get locally grown starts are from Harmony Farm Supply, in Sebastopol, or Cottage Gardens, in Petaluma. The Whole Foods in Coddingtown surprisingly also offers a great selection of regionally grown herbs and veggies, as well as a great selection from Soda Rock Farm, from Healdsburg. Its possible to find great starts in a variety of places, but if you find something while out shopping, take a look around to get a feel for how the plants are treated. Are they covered up at night in case of frost, watered regularly, shoved in a dark corner, or have access to sun?

Whole Foods in Coddingtown has a good variety of heirloom tomatoes from Soda Rock Farms
Whole Foods in Coddingtown has a good variety of heirloom tomatoes from Soda Rock Farms

Starts from small farms are usually available at farmer’s markets, and this is a great way to get locally grown starts. No one can tell you more about how the plant will grow and give you gardening tips than the farmer themselves. I can’t speak for all of them, but I know that the Santa Rosa Certified Original Market and Sebastopol Market have several stands that offer starts. Plant sales are also a great opportunity, often inexpensive and proceeds of sales usually benefit a project or charity. Check out this list from the Sonoma Gazette for a calendar of some of the larger ones. I went to the Men’s Garden Club sale last year, and they had hundreds of types of tomatoes for only a $1 each!

The veggie starts at Friedman's looked a little sad, perhaps because they don't cover them up at night?
Friedman’s has a good selection of regionally grown herbs, but the summer veggies looked a little sad. Perhaps because they don’t cover them up at night?

Happy planting, and PSA for those in Sonoma County- it is still too cold for tomatoes! Buy starts while the selection is still good, but bring inside at night or make sure to cover if out in the garden! We want 55 degrees or warmer, and this morning was 36 degrees!


what to look for when buying veggie starts

What to Do in the Garden: April

Author and poet Margaret Atwood said “In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” And what a glorious time Spring is in the garden! The lengthening hours of daylight give us more time to be outside, and each day brings hope and possibilities. Meals from my kitchen are transitioning from the winter kales, carrots and leeks to the first of the spring artichokes, peas and baby lettuces. And eggs. So. Many. Eggs! Now is the perfect time to start a garden, or get to work on the tasks for an existing ones. Make sure to take time to notice the flowers, listen to the chatter of birds, and observe how many shades of green are out there.

The Northern California & Sonoma County April Checklist

  • Weed! I could spend entire weeks pulling and digging up weeds, and have little to show for it. But really, try and dedicate some time each day to this chore. If it seems to daunting to tackle them all at once, choose just a section and deal with the others later. At minimum, make sure to get them pulled before they go to seed. I’ve taken up the practice of going outside first thing, often still in my pajamas, and pulling the burmuda grass and bindweed around my fruit trees while my tea cools.
  • Transplant seedlings and start hardening off. If you started your own seeds inside, you’re likely at the point of needing to transplant into 4″ pots. I transplanted my tomatoes yesterday, and plan to transplant peppers early next week. Its also time to start hardening off starts, by gradually acclimating them to the outside.

transplanting seedlings

  • Shop for starts. If you didn’t start your own seeds, or you had some varieties not germinate, now is the time to start shopping for starts. Nurseries now have all the summer veggies in stock, as well as 6-packs of annual flowers. Check back in a few days for a post on my recommended places to shop, what to look for, and what to avoid.

tomato starts

  • Plant veggies!!! For the first few weeks of April, you can still sow seeds or transplant lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes, chard, kale and spinach. The summer veggies need to wait until the later part of the month. Remember we still have a change of frost until around April 10. Even if there is no frost, heat-loving veggies like tomatoes need day and night temps of 55 degrees and up, so planting out earlier likely won’t jumpstart your season. Keep an eye on the weather and take your chances, but we are still in the 40’s right now at night. Once we past the frost date, follow these planting guidelines:
    • Tomatoes, 0-1 week after
    • Basil- 1 week after
    • Corn- after
    • Cucumbers- 1-2 weeks after
    • Eggplants, melons, peppers & squash- 2 weeks after
  • Plant citrus. Once the danger of frost has passed, plant citrus trees.
  • Bulbs. Plant summer blooming bulbs like dahlias and gladiolus. Leave the faded foliage on spring blooming bulbs, instead of cutting away, so the nutrients are drawn back to the bulb.
  • Watch for pests and beneficials. If you’re having an aphid invasion, its tempting to spray them all away, but consider giving nature a chance to find balance. Ladybugs and other beneficials are arriving to the garden in masses, and for them to stick around, they need to have food. Before you deem a plant lost and pull it out for the chickens, check to see if there are beneficial larva or eggs present, and consider leaving the infested plant.

ladybug eggs

  • Prune off frost damage. If you had plants that suffered any frost damage, its now safe to prune off the dead or damaged parts.
  • Feed. If you didn’t get to it yet, feed roses and citrus. Feed azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons when they are done blooming.
  • Help out the bees and birds. The drought is also hard on birds and bees, so make sure to have water available. If bees have to spend all their effort finding water, they won’t be able to pollinate and the constant stress will shorten their life. In my garden, bees drink from my birdbath, as its rough sloping sides make it easy for the bees to gradually approach the water. You can also set out a tray filled with rocks or float branches or corks in a bucket.

water for the bees

  • Watch for mosquitos. While it is important to have water out for the birds and the bees, you don’t want to provide a breeding ground for mosquitos. Empty any standing water every few days (make sure to water plants with it!) and ensure rainbarrel openings are covered with a screen.
  • Thin fruit. When baby fruits are about as large as a dime, thin so the remaining fruit gets larger and weight on young branches is reduced. Cherries, figs, persimmons, citrus and pomegranates usually self thin, dropping what they need to around June, but stone fruits like plums and peaches, and pomes like apples and pears will need thinning. Keep the largest of fruits, and thin to every 2-5″, depending on final size of fruit. University of California has a great handout for more information. Some people think thinning isn’t necessary, and according to neighbors, my Blenheim was never thinned. I’m unsure of my philosophy on thinning yet, so I’ll be doing more research.

apricots

  • Water. We are now in irrigation season, and California is still in our epic drought. I’ll have a post soon about gardening in a drought, but here’s a quick summary on some water guidelines. Deep-water trees and established plants, and prioritize watering young trees, perennials, and edibles. Before watering, check the soil’s moisture content. Hot days may cause plants to wilt, giving the impression it needs water, but a well mulched bed may still be moist. Dig down a few inches with a trowel or stick a finger in the soil to see if still wet or if it needs water. Water at the base of plants, not overhead on the foliage, so the water goes where it is most needed.
  • Kill your lawn. We don’t have water we can waste, and your lawn should be the first thing to go. Especially if you don’t use your lawn. Nothing screams asshole like keeping a perfectly manicured and bright green front lawn you never step foot on in the middle of a drought. Add an extra notch of douche-bag is you’re overhead watering in the middle of the day! (which is also now illegal, btw.) Let it go into a wild meadow, sheet mulch, plant natives, or replace with a low-growing groundcover. If you’re still convinced you need your lawn because your kids/dog/etc. love it, consider if a trip to the park could satisfy that need. Save your water for your shade trees or for things you can eat. And I now climb off my soap box….

What are you looking forward to this month?


“To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves”. — Mahatma Gandhi

Northern California Gardening Checklist April

Two Years Ago We Bought a House

Two years ago, we bought our house. The process of turning it into what we want and need continues, a well as the slow progression of building our garden. First year projects included removing blackberries, building the hen house and run, building the fence on the East side of the property, and taking down shed #1 of 2. In case you missed it, you can see the progression what we accomplished the first year here.

While the first year was all about learning what we had to work with and starting to work outside, year two focused on the house: painting the exterior, updating the kitchen, pulling up the carpet, and rearranging the living room more times than I can count. Here’s the journey of accomplishments from our 2nd year adventure in creating our homestead.

When we bought the house, it was painted a color I could only describe as “1000 Island Dressing” and HATED it with every fiber of my being. I tested several shades of grey before settling on this shade, which is Mercer Charcoal from Sherwin Williams, the trim is Swiss Coffee. The front door is Queen of Hearts. I still have to finish the trim, and there are sections on the back and side that need to still be painted grey, but I don’t see the hideous color anymore when I pull in the driveway, so I’m significantly happier.

front of house, then

year two

The fence on the West side of our property is slowly reaching the finish point, we’ve got about a 1/3 of the way to go. Once that’s done, we’ve still got a back section of the existing East line to rebuild, and then the front sections. So many fucking post holes. Pretty sure that when we finally get done, I’m going to have a Scarlett O’Hera moment…”As god as my witness, I will never dig another post hole AGAIN!”.

fence line, then

fence line, now

The garden is coming along nicely, with all efforts focused on this east side of the property. To date, we’ve brought in 43 yards of compost. We’ve got all the permanent raised beds on that side built, and are finally harvesting good quality produce. The fruit trees are also doing well. Hopefully we can get the beds planned for the other side done this coming year, as well as some more trees and bushes, but first we have to get a tractor back to do some grading to solve our flooding issue.

garden, may

garden, now

building the fence, then

fruit trees, now

We removed shed #2, which was the well shed with the broken pipe saga. The well hole is under that plastic container, needing to be re-lined and a new pump. It doesn’t look like getting that fixed is in this years budget, but we are hoping to get all the concrete around it broken up soon.

shed, then

shed gone, now

When we bought the house, we were told their was maybe hardwood under the boring beige carpet. Quickly after moving in, I pulled a corner up in the guest room closet, but only found pressboard. But then, while rearranging the furniture in the living room, I noticed a small slit in a carpet and peeled the corner back, to see the seams of hardwood. Unplanned chaos then commenced as we procedded to rip out all the carpet, revealing mostly hardwood- there are a few sections of pressboard and plywood. Because there is a door or an opening on every wall, and the front door opens into the middle of the room, the room is hard to arrange. I think I’ve finally got the living room set up in the most efficient layout.

living room, then

living room, now

And the most expensive project of the year: the kitchen. We replaced the cheap Home Depot stove with a 6-burner Blue Star Range. The standard flipped-house pressboard cabinets got upgraded to custom cabinets, which we saved thousands of dollars on by painting and sealing myself. They are painted Cloud White, by Benjamin Moore, and hardware is from Restoration Hardware. The counters are a brushed granite.  Top cabinets were replace with open shelves, made from boards reclaimed from the shed demo.

kitchen with stove, then

kitchen with stove, now

The shallow stainless-steel sink got switched out for a Kohler Harborview sink, which was an unbelievable Craigslist find. Its giant, I could use it as a bathtub, and is my favorite thing in the kitchen. The tile floor was replaced with the unfinished oak, and then stained. I haven’t sealed it yet, as I’m wanting to to get some scratches and scuffs in it to match the rest of the old flooring. Eventually, probably next year, we will refinish all the flooring and stain and seal to match.

then, with sink

kitchen with sink, now

As we enter year 3 of home ownership, we are turning our focus back to the yard. Finishing the fence will be the first thing, and then we hope to have the mess of concrete from the sheds and the patio removed. I’ve got one quote to break and haul, but its WAY out of our budget, so I’m now looking into just having it broken up and I’ll dry-stack it somewhere into a wall. After that happens, we need a swale dug and the yard graded, hopefully solving the drainage issues. That will likely take all our house funds for the year, but hopefully we can squeeze in some rain barrels along the chicken run, and rain tanks from the house. Oh yea, we also need new gutters and a sump-pump installed under the house.

The joys of home-ownership! Make sure to follow along in our third year adventure!

Deep Watering in a Drought, janky style

You may remember that I planted 6 fruit trees during the first year at our homestead. You may have also heard that California is in a drought. While I don’t water the old, ancient fruit trees that came with my property, my baby trees still require water. And since our rainy season is officially over, I’m back to watering my trees.

necterine blossoms

When it comes to watering fruit trees, particularly in a drought, the best way is to deep water. Deep watering means watering a greater quantity of water, less frequently, as compared to surface watering, which would be less water more often. With the deep watering method, the water percolates into the soil slowly and goes deeper, which is important for fruit trees so they develop strong deep roots, as opposed to lots of surface roots.

How much water a tree needs depends on its size. When we first put the trees in as bare root, it was advised to water 1.5-3 gallons, 3 times a week. After that, the general rule of thumb was to water 5 more gallons per year of growth, each week. That would put my trees as needing about 10-14 gallons a week this year. If you don’t know how old your trees are, you can follow the general guideline of approximately 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter, per week.

With six trees, that’s 60 gallons of water a week. That’s a lot of water. I want to make sure none of that is being wasted, and the tree is getting the most benefit from my watering sessions. Best case scenario would be to use drip, but we don’t have that together yet, and I’m still hose watering. When I planted the trees, I formed the soil into a basin, so the hose water wouldn’t just run down the mound. But after a year of mulching, a digging dogs, foraging from escaped chickens, and general mischievous cats, my basins have pretty much disappeared. I tried just watering with the sprayer at the end of my hose, but the soil couldn’t absorb the amount of water the trees needed, and a lot of it would just run down into the weeds. I knew there had to be a better way!

cat, tree, chickens
cats and chickens are rarely helpful

ENTER my new janky bucket watering system!!!

deep watering with buckets

I created my own system of deep watering that didn’t cost anything, and lets the water drip slowly into the soil, putting it right where the tree needs it. I gathered up 3 5-gallon buckets, and drilled small holes in the bottom. Then, I place these buckets around the drip line of the tree. I fill the buckets about 2/3 full, and they slowly drip out over the course of an hour or two. Then, the next morning, I move the buckets to the next tree and start the process over. By the end of the week, I start back over on the first tree.

drilling holes in the bottom of buckets for deep watering

deep watering with 5-gallon buckets

It takes about 4 gallons for hot water to reach our shower, so we’ve been diligently making sure to capture that water, plus any water used from washing produce, low-soap rinse water, spent pasta water and water left from steaming. By giving this water a 2nd life and watering the trees, I’ve been able to avoid filling up any of the buckets with the hose. Hauling buckets around is cumbersome and I’m guaranteed to somehow get wet, and I’ve got buckets and basins everywhere, making my house and yard look somewhat like a recycling pile. But we really can’t afford to just let water go down the drain, and having NO WATER AT ALL seems much more inconvenient that this current system poses. Perhaps my next project will be to somehow paint all the buckets so they match and look cute scattered around the house….

hauling buckets

Please share this post and spread the word so we can all save water! If you have a helpful water-saving tip, please let me know! I’m compiling a post for next week about gardening in the drought.


Gardening in a Drought: How to deep water fruit trees with 5-gallon buckets

Adventures in Observation

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” –Rachel Carson

Before bed, if I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed, I often turn to the words of the great naturalists. Reading the thoughts and observations of people like Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson allow my mind to calm down and make me feel at ease. Recently, while reading Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, I processed that many observations and reflections happen early in the morning, just as the Earth is waking up.

yard at twilight
my yard at twilight

I consider myself a morning person. I am from a family of early risers. My dad got up every morning at 4:00 to go to work, and my mom helped see him off. I got up a bit later, at 5:30, eager to go to school. Right now, as I start work in the afternoons, I get up without an alarm and its usually when the sun rises. But if there is somewhere I need to be or something to do, regardless of the time, I have no problem getting out of bed (well, unless the three-legged orange purr monster wants to cuddle…) Yet despite my willingness to be up early, I’ve never gotten up early with the specific goal of just observing.

So this past week, I thought I would see the final week of Winter past and welcome Spring by getting up before the sun rose, and just sit outside, observing. And so I did. Each morning, armed with a cup of tea and a notebook, I went out shortly before 7 and sat outside under the persimmon tree.

tea at sunrise

On some days I saw the sky glow from the East, with wispy bits of pulled cotton clouds, always just one shade brighter than the lightening sky. On some days the sky was one big blanket of clouds, keeping the sky the color of the graphite words in my notebook. I listed to a lengthy solo by a lone mockingbird, carried on from its perch in the fig tree. . Do birds sing to express gratitude to the new day, or perhaps broadcast the latest gossip to anyone who would hear? Finches in the plum tree and quince bush carried on in chaos, flittering and chattering in no distinguishing order, only to be silenced for a moment when the blue jay swooped in, approaching in a large scalloped flight. Three houses down, I saw a white egret land in a sycamore, commanding my attention as it appears to step through the air, its wings backwards for balance, to set foot on a branch. I noticed that a lone purple sparaxis stayed open, despite its family of white blooms clasped shut until the sun awoke them, and I wonder if perhaps its dark color makes it less sensitive to light change?

early sunrise

sunrise behind housesunrise

I also thought about observing in general. The definition of observation “is the act of careful watching and listening; the activity of paying close attention to someone or something in order to get information”. I think that the more we observe something, the more we are connected to it, and the more likely we will appreciate it. If one knows that a bird nests in a tree, one is likely to think twice about cutting it down. If one experiences joy and recognizes the feeling of peace from walking on a beach, its unlikely one will leave their trash laying on the sand.

a lone purple sparaxis, open among a field of closed
a lone purple sparaxis, open among a field of closed

Our society is not great on slowing down and observing. We rush through our days with urgency. Even those lucky enough to spend time outside, myself included, are unlikely to still our mind and only look. My theory is that if we all stopped to observe our natural surroundings more often, with careful detail, we would have a healthy and more appreciative relationship with the Earth. We could all take a lesson from a cat, who happily sit under a bush or in the grass, and just watch.

What do you think? Do you find much time to just observe?