Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

Where’s Wattle?

What, you say?  Wattle?  You know those long worm-like rolls that CalTrans places along the bottom of freshly graded hillsides?  Well, that’s wattle and I need some desperately!

The downpours of the past few days have transformed my pasture into a pond.  The creek is overflowing with the most wonderful sound of rushing water and croaking frogs but the chickens can’t quite maneuver in the soggy mess.  The grapevines along the pasture fence may not need irrigation for an entire year if this continues as it has been.

Water has a way of allowing itself into places without waiting for an invitation.  Unfortunately, the creek is right behind the barn so need I say more?  The barn floor tells the story.  I’m hoping that I’ll be able to locate some of the elusive wattle tomorrow and see what I can do about providing the creek with some new direction.   Like most of us from time to time, the creek appears to have lost its way.

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It’s been a spectacular Autumn here… colors everywhere!  The leaves on the mulberry tree turned the most magnificent shade of lemon yellow, and the grapevines went from green to yellow to rust before releasing themselves from the canes.  In spite of the heavy rains in the past two weeks, the fruit trees have been reluctant to give up their foliage and continue to provide a glowing chartreuse to the landscape.  Color continues to brighten the view even as the season comes to an end.

While the color may be the upside of Autumn, the downside definitely is the maintenance.  Branches and leaves to be raked and burned, veggies to be tarped to protect them from frost, insulating the chicken coop to protect them from the cold nights, shoring up the banks of the creek to divert the overflow from the rains away from the barn, hauling alfalfa in the back of my car for the chickens (yes, I know I need a truck)… it’s quite the little job.  Five years from now, this season may get old but for now it’s still a pleasure.  And please, don’t remind me that I said the same thing about snow shoveling 15 years ago!

As we move closer to the dark days of Winter, I am reminded that I have been here almost a year.  How very different my life was last December… waiting for the moment when this chapter of my life would begin.  And, as the farm prepares itself for this cold season, the joy of Christmas has descended upon me.

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Autumnal Return

I’d like to say that it was a long hot summer that kept me away from writing but to do so would not exactly be the truth.  This first summer on the farm was a busy one with a long learning curve.  Projects everywhere… growing fruit and vegetables is one thing but finding time to do something with the harvest is another.  I lost the war with gopher control and realize that living with these rodents will be very much like living with the demonic deer in Twain Harte.

I did manage to resurrect my skills in the art of canning… pickled beets, strawberry preserves, pickled peppers, and tomato sauce.  During the long winter, all of these will be reminders of the glorious feeling of warm sun on my back and the joy of walking into the garden each morning to see what had ripened overnight.  What I’ve learned is that overplanting can be intimidating when one only has a limited amount of time to deal with a prolific crop.  How many eggplants can I eat in a week??  So my fall and winter garden is much more reasonable for a family of one.

As I became comfortable with caring for chickens, I increased their ability to roam and allowed them to truly be free range.  Unfortunately, they quickly learned how to scurry under the pasture gate and my vertical sunflower garden became horizontal overnight.   The demand for farm fresh eggs has increased so much that I brought four more hens into the fold a month ago.  That was an experience!  Each flock kept to itself, refused to blend, and claimed its own area of the henyard.  Literally lots of henpecking going on as they jockeyed for position within the fold but eventually they became one.  Now, when I walk into the pasture, ten hens start their half-run/half-fly/half-waddle toward me and I feel like a nursery school teacher entering a school yard!

Ironically, as the demands of my farm increased this summer so did my business.  I expressed my creative energy in the form of gardening, planning, and summer living; writing took a backseat.  However, now that the shorter days of Autumn are here and the outdoor work begins to decline, I long for the opportunity to write again…  to sit in the quiet bubble where the words just flow like water.

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At first I really didn’t think they would be much of an issue.  I mean, they have to live somewhere, don’t they?  A few mounds of dirt here and there… nothing much to worry about.  Until the day I realized that mowing the weeds in the orchard was just a few steps short of starting my own private Dust Bowl!  And to make matters worse, my sweet little Corgi has figured out that there are critters living below the surface so walking through the orchard was like walking through a minefield.  A gopher mound here, a doggie hole there… you get the picture?

And then there was the morning I woke up to find a trail of dirt mounds on my garden lawn… and it became all out war.  I started my gopher research and found that the most effective thing to use was a rather frightening little piece of hardware called a Macabee trap that looks like it was invented by none other than the Marquis de Sade himself!  Fortunately, a sweet young clerk was willing to teach me the tricks of setting the thing without losing half of my hand.  After heading back to the front lines, I set the trap, tied it to a string, tied the other end to a metal stake, and made a mental note to put Caddyshack on my Netflix list.

Next morning I peek out the back door to see if my trap had any action during the night.  Success!  Yes (the Macabee did the trick) and No (the rodent was alive).  When reasoning fails, I defer to my gut reaction:  stick a flower pot over its head and wait for it to die.  Next morning, it’s still breathing and flies are starting to gather.  And that’s when the metal stake became a lethal weapon.

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Where Does the Time Go?

What a month it’s been!  Self-created deadlines depleted my ability to create words with meaning.  My perfectionist tendencies kept me from writing for the sake of writing in order to fulfill my promise to chronicle this first year.  But the deadlines have come and gone and now time has become fluid again.

Three months have been spent getting my house in order… literally and figuratively.  Doors became windows, ceiling fans replaced outdated light fixtures, wallpaper was stripped and rooms became brighter, the office took on a new glow, and oh how the garden did grow!  Plants turned lush overnight… a waterfall of wisteria cascaded over the fig tree, fragrant lilacs replaced the vacant branches outside my kitchen window, grape vines, Virginia creeper, honeysuckle and jasmine sent out their exploring tendrils… this land became so much more than a farm.  And I became its grateful steward.

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Up With the Chickens

I feel like the neighbor’s rooster this morning… up before the sunrise.  It’s going to be a busy day on the farm today.

April 15th is a thing of the past and now I can focus on Springtime tasks.  Like using my brand new self-propelled power mower!  Of course I had to call my trusty farmhand, Ken, to give me a lesson in how to use the thing.

It amazes me that I can become so intimidated by equipment I’ve never used before.  Take the well for example:  I look at the filtration system and come completely unglued!  Panic sets in, I begin to sweat and start wondering about the remedies for E. coli.  Me… someone who installs computer systems, sets up wireless networks, installs drip systems… worrying about which lever to turn first.  And then the feeling of being foolish sets in once I see how simple things are to operate.  Push this button, open this valve, close this lever… uh huh, OK, sure.

Now I’m waiting for the politically-correct time of day when I can fire up the mower, plug in the weedeater, and go to town on the grasses that never seem to stop growing.  Can’ t wait for the day when the sheep arrive!

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Friday on the Farm

Well, it’s almost sunset on a Friday evening and I’m sitting on the front porch sipping a lovely glass of wine thinking about the contrast between 2010 and the history of this area.

My neighbor recently gave me a copy of an 1854 diary of a gold miner who lived very close to “my” land.  And here I am typing this entry on a laptop in luxury when once there was someone who followed his dream of making his fortune in an element as elusive as the spring butterflies.  History and Nature never fail to amaze me!

I’ve laid out the hen yard this week.  The posts are in place & all that remains is the chicken wire and the hens themselves.

The weather forecast is for Spring storms next week and my organic non-GMO seeds arrived in today’s mail.  The threat of frost has past so tomorrow will be planting day for carrots, radishes & beets.  I’ll get them in the ground so that they can take advantage of the liquid nitrogen from the sky.

I never thought I would be in love with an acre of land but I am at peace with this place.

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