When you first pull up to the Den, there’s a stretch of dirt along the driveway. It’s not that big, which makes the fact that it looked like this extra shameful.
There have been many things attempted in this patch. A hedge, a flowerbed, a collection of Native-ish Californian grasses and wildflowers, and ultimately three rose bushes that languished there, neither thriving nor perishing. The husband dug them out when I wasn’t looking and declared that he was going to concrete over the whole slab of dirt.
The problem wasn’t the location, it was our slovenly gardening behavior. It actually occurred to me, as I was struggling to keep the wheelbarrows full this weekend, that in a lot of ways this whole painful weekend was a kind of penance.
“Bless me, Mother, for I have sinned…it has been over ten years since I took any care whatsoever of this little piece of You that is ostensibly mine to nurture.”
“Take thou this shovel and do thy penance, my child…two hundred wheelbarrows full of soil reparations ought to make a good start…”
Now, it looks…well, about the same, actually, only now you can’t see the bottom of the concrete slab anymore (so. embarrassing.). But it will be a sort of pumpkin patch, if the seeds in those little mounds cooperate.
Oh. And this little lump here? That’s where my husband accidentally put a shovel through some PVC and had to dig it up and repair it. It had to happen, because there is some kind of karmic law on the books that says any time he picks up a shovel, PVC must be broken somewhere in the yard.
If you head toward the front door, there’s this little box under the front window.
Currently, it has spinach planted in there which should start sprouting in a week or two – before that, it had a dying miniature rose bush (again, it was our neglect not the soil or location), some broadleaf thingee and a whack of weeds. For a while we did the whole “replant with new flowers every season” thing in there, but it got expensive and time-consuming and then we sorta forgot and, well. Ahem. Yes. Let’s move on, shall we…heading around through the back there are, of course, the beds that started this whole nightmare of a project…
Bell peppers, grown from seeds taken from a supermarket pepper…
This is Manny. He kills aphids and pretty much anything else that tries to make a home on the bell peppers. Go, Manny, go!!
Peas and plenty of them…they’re all about this high now…which reminds me, fair warning, anybody who comes over to the Den around middle-endish of October? Expect to have a bucket of peas dumped in your lap to be shelled…to avoid this, bring your knitting and remember the key words: winter coming, need wool, warm sweater, baby needs a new pair of booties…
Green bush beans, planted just last week, already starting to pop up here and there…
My backyard iPod. This little dude can REALLY belt out the tunes!
Now. The back forty(feet). This is what it looked like before.
Aaaaaaand here it is with about four-five inches of new topsoil over/in/around it, and “beds” marked out with construction string (two beds are behind the trash totes – sorry, I’ve got a major case of laziness today).
Because of the nature of our growing season and food needs, we didn’t want to build anything permanent back there. Right now, we have seven smaller beds for colder weather stuff like potatoes, broccoli, winter sets of onions and garlic, that kind of stuff.
Next spring, we may well go to having only two or three things in this whole area for the ‘high velocity’ part of the season. If the idea is to actually feed the family, well. We chew through an astonishing volume of food in a year around here. It’s been absolutely shocking to me, as I’ve sat down to calculate out how many jars of spaghetti sauce, cans of corn, bunches of carrots and so forth we actually eat right now.
If I wanted to continue having spaghetti every Friday, for example, I would need roughly four HUNDRED pounds of tomatoes to make enough quarts of sauce for it. GAH!
I sincerely doubt I’ll be attempting to grow and preserve that much – but as things stand, we’ve got a crummy three quarts of ‘mother sauce’ in the cupboard. Unless I’m going to get out there and try to get down on the ‘bulk’ action with a local farm, we’ll be out of tomato sauce long before we’ll have a robust tomato harvest again.
Our five little plants did a bang-up job this year, but c’mon. Three of them were cherry tomato plants. They fruited up manfully and all, but an entire week’s worth might make less than a quart of sauce.
And I kind of doubt I’ll be heading out to try to angle in on the bulk action, frankly. Oh sure, the prices are awesome when you buy by the quarter-ton. That’s 500 pounds at a whack, which would run you about $750 at the farmer’s market (which is about half the usual supermarket price as it is!), for which you pay between $30 and $50 if you drive up to the farm itself, pop open your minivan and pay cash right there on the spot.
BUT. Now I’ve got 500 pounds of tomatoes in the back of the minivan, right? Which I’ve then got to unload into the garage. And then I’ve got to get them all washed, milled, and boiled down into mother sauce, and canned no less, before they rot and the fruit flies get fat enough to butcher, skin and roast – and make a year’s supply of candles from their tallow to boot.
I think I got three white hairs just thinking about that kind of Extra Crazy. Especially since the Usual Crazy doesn’t say, “Oh, I see you’re busy right now – I’ll come back another time.” Ooooooh no, it just boils right on up and over the top of the kettle while I’m not looking, and then in addition to having to deal with the Usual Crazy, I’ve got extra cleanup to do.
Hey kids, I’ve got a great idea! It’s called, We only eat what is currently in season! (Of course, who does the most kvetching about not having canned corn and frozen peas and jars of spaghetti sauce in the pantry? Me, the same person who stomps and rants and screams about how much “hard work” it is to grow, harvest, and lay down the very things she’s kvetching about not having…)
Anywho, with this string-method of “bedding” our yard, we just move strings around and we’re done. It also allows the Denizens to run through the yard (which they will do) without running right over the top of our food (one hopes) (probably in vain).
Now these two guys…oh dear.
These were supposed to be redwood trees. You know, majestic redwoods. Iconic tree of California. California redwoods, the soaring, swaying giants of the Central and North Coast…yeah. Well. These? Not-so-much with the dignity and soaring and majestic behavior.
It’s not really their fault – they really didn’t belong here. They like cooler temperatures overall (strike one – we warm up fast after our so-called winter and stick in the 90++ ranges clear up until Halloween some years), lots of continual moisture in the winter (strike two – we get a soak/dry/soak/dry kind of pattern throughout the winter) and to be cuddled up by fog in the summer (strike three – I don’t think we’ve ever seen fog in the summer time out here, in the forty years I’ve lived and/or boated out here).
The amount of water we’d have to pour into them to make them semi-happy trees was ridiculous, and since they don’t have a deep taproot it was also one of those never-ending propositions. And then they can get upwards of 350 feet tall if they’re happy, and they have a shallow root system – hello, giant redwood tree crashing into the neighbor’s house because OH YEAH, forgot to mention we have a fairly robust Delta breeze that whips through here pretty violently in the evenings, especially in the winter when the ground might actually be soaking wet…
So, out they came.
The husband is going to remove the stumps (whew, I’m off the hook for that little joyful task!), and then we’ll be putting in two apple trees (one granny smith, and one multiple-grafted one that produces three different kinds), a multiple-bearing peach/nectarine/plum tree (how cool is that, by the way, one tree, several varieties of fruit?!), and a self-fertilizing cherry that also has a couple different varieties on it.
Four trees, an entire orchard of produce. I’m still just charmed by that. I’d heard of these things, but I didn’t realize they were readily available to Joe A. Gardener. I’ve heard varying reports on the volumes of each fruit they produce, but I have to admit I’m not that picky about the quantity. If I get tons, I’ll make preserves and such. If we get just a few, we’ll just eat them and be glad for the treat…in a couple years, because fruit trees are about as slow a food as you’re going to get.
Which disappointed Eldest no end, because she ate a really delicious peach and wanted to plant the peach pit to grow a tree – we totally supported her in this and all, but had to reluctantly tell her it will take a minimum of three years and up to seven before she’d get any fruit from it. To an eleven year old, three years is forever and seven is whatever forever plus four equals.
Meanwhile, guess what we’d forgotten peeks over our back fence?
Almond trees. Our region is kind of famous for them, and somebody planted two of them right up against our fence and apparently forgot all about them – nobody has actually worked any part of that particular ranch for years. There’s actually an almond huller rusting underneath them, too!
So I’ll be out there collecting up the almonds that are on my side of the fence pretty soon. It won’t be many, but even a half-peck would be welcome.
But I won’t try to steal the huller. That would be wrong. Besides, I don’t think it actually works anymore, and I am not in the mood to start tearing apart somebody else’s busted-up huller trying to figure out how it might work if it had the right parts replaced. With my luck [and aptitude for such things], I’d lose a finger trying.
OK, so, moving past the back forty(feet), there’s the back weed patch – where the Killer Ninja Worms dwell. This is what it looked like before…
And here’s how it looks after this weekend.
Obviously, I still have work to do over here, too. Adding the topsoil here was almost accidental, to be honest – I don’t think the soil really needs any help, but we had just finished the strips next to it and my husband asked if I thought we should put some in there, too, and I said, “Yes. No. Well. I dunno. Maybe. Uh.”
And then he sighed heavily and dumped some in there because gah, when I start with the yes/no/maybe/uh/I dunno/whaddya think/lemme-go-hit-the-Internet-for-some-research-on-that routine, it can be days before we get to an actual Final Answer.
Coming through the side gate from the driveway, past the air conditioning unit and the garbage totes (ah, such views! such smells!), we have twin strips of dirt. For a short while we had some groundcover growing here, but my husband got tired of having to keep it in line (it liked to crawl over the walkway) so he turned off its water and killed it.
This is a somewhat tricky area. It gets a weird blend of full sun and no sun, depending on the time of year. It gets more full sun in the winter than the summer, but at the height of summer it is practically a full-shade area. Which can be good, considering that our summer temperatures can get downright brutal, and the way the sun beats down can shred canvas.
So, whatever goes in there has to be either shade-loving, or at the very least shade-indifferent…probably various herbs and definitely this is where my horseradish will go. Maybe some ginger, some mint…all the stuff I mix up in hot water and suck down when I’m feeling sick because why on earth would I use
Those big wet-looking patches are actually footprints – my husband went stomping through there trying to figure out if there was MORE broken PVC under all that dirt.
We got a lot done this weekend. I’m really proud of us, actually. That was hard physical work, and let’s face it – we’re not exactly the buffed-out twenty-somethings we once were. But we did it!
And the kids got in on the action, too. OK, mostly, they played in the dirt (wouldn’t you? I mean, if I were their ages and my dad had gotten two dump trucks full of dirt and there were these two mountains of the stuff on my driveway? HECK YEAH, I would’ve been solid dirt from my toenails to my hair follicles, too!), but they also helped to plant the front patch, and they’ve always been in on the weeding and harvesting (my poor, poor tomato plants…if there was even a hint of red on any tomato, it would be snatched off the vine).
Now, they’re both charmed and dismayed to see the peas and green beans coming up. And as she was grinning and dusting off her hands after helping to plant the spinach, Danger Mouse suddenly sobered and said, “Wait…does this mean we’ll hafta eat more spinach?!”
There’s still a lot to do. Pretty much every weekend this month is taken up by digging, trenching, planting, turning and otherwise futzing around with the garden. We aren’t taking a whole lot of time off for fun and games; even the Bean Festival next weekend (yes, beans, beans, the musical fruit…Tracy California is still a major player in the bean-growing industry) (OK, y’all can just stop laughing, right now, people…!), taking place less than five miles from the Den and something we haven’t missed more than I think one year in the eleven years we’ve lived out here (not coincidentally, it was the year they charged admission – something they quickly realized was a Very Bad Idea Indeed so it is once again free, woo hoo), is on the “well, maybe if we finish up early on Sunday we can head over for an hour or something” list.
Which is a bummer because you know what’s on the list of entertainment on the homegrown community stage? Hula combat.
YES. WAY. I did not even know such a thing existed. Hula dance, sure. And I knew the hula tells stories and of course whenever a culture tells stories there will be fighting involved, but hula combat?
Now that right there is what I would call can’t miss entertainment, folks.
But it’s right at 12:00 on Sunday, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be up to my elbows in dirt and cussing because someone put a shovel through yet another sprinkler pipe and now somebody has to go to the hardware store yet again! for more PVC…
…hee…but can you imagine the looks on their faces if I took the Denizens to the kid’s zone and the 4H club was all, “Hey kids, you want to plant some beans? C’mon, it’ll be COOL, and you can take the little cup home with you, too!” after I’d just made them plant, like, twenty FEET of the things?!...