Today was a day of highs and lows for me. As the great Tim McGraw so aptly put it, “Oh, the valleys and the peaks…”
The Low – My Poor View
Pictured above, you see our current southern view from our house and property. Now, perhaps you are a person who doesn’t find rusty old falling-down barns and milling cattle to be a desirable view. That is a very valid point. These are not things of great visual beauty. However, the view suits me just fine and it’s all part of the surrounding, bucolic view that our home provides.
It’s why we chose this place. Because this is our western view:
And this is our eastern view:
and our northern view:
All in all, it’s a lovely setting. And I’d better not get used to it.
That’s right, it’s all coming to a rapid and depressing end. Today, when I was out with the chickens, my eyes, ears, and nose were assaulted with this:
They banged and growled and revved their engines and blasted me with noxious clouds of exhaust the entire time I was out there. So much for my peaceful mid-day breaks with the chickens and garden. About a year after we moved in here, we started getting notices in the mail that the cattle farm to the south of us, and the vacant pasture to the northwest of us were both slated to become housing developments. Granted, this was depressing news, but we thought… heck… the economy is terrible and there are several brand-new housing developments on this same road a bit further south (closer to town) that are not selling. It would be stupid to build a bunch more cookie-cutter, crammed-together houses right here right now. And so for many months, nothing happened. And we thought that maybe the builders thought better of it. That they wouldn’t want to lose money. We thought wrong. For a week or two, dump trucks have shown up in the middle of the day to dump loads of dirt at the front of the cattle farm. I thought, OK, maybe they are doing some work on the farm.
I was in denial. Today’s nausea-inducing events including hours of bull-dozing and huge truckload after truckload of dirt hauled in. The trucks and equipment were so loud that I couldn’t hear myself think, and multiple times I took a deep breath to inhale fully the sweet, slight scent of flowers that the spring air is carrying and instead I got lungfuls of diesel exhaust. Barf.
I have to admit, I panicked. I stood there, looking at the poor cows that would soon be hauled away and the old farm buildings that would be demolished and the beautiful tree line that makes up the back part of my entire southern and western views (including the tree with the eagles’ nest… and I haven’t seen the eagles in a week or two. probably got scared away by the ruckus.) and I pictured the rows of houses… all the same, in varying shades of the same color, so close you could reach out the window of one and touch the other. I pictured the increased traffic on our cross-street that runs right past our backyard. I pictured the noise and the minivans and the people who complain about our roosters even though they were there first. I pictured the increased light pollution from the street lights that will inevitably line each street in the development, spaced only yards apart. And I thought – shit. This is what I was trying to stay away from. And here it is, encroaching on my little piece of the country life. Bullying me into suburbia. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
It made me want to get out. NOW. I’m a country girl and a city girl with no love for the stuff in between. I’m spoiled, I know. I grew up in the city limits of Oakland, CA. Very much a city, indeed. But, we had 2.5 acres that backed up to thousands of acres of protected parkland. We had uninterrupted views that wouldn’t quit. We had complete quiet. We had dark at night. We had horses and a barn when I was a teenager. We had chickens when I was a baby. We had deer in our backyard and a vegetable garden every year of my life. We had fruit trees – apples, apricots (ornamental – too cold), plums, pluots, cherries (ornamental- not cold enough), lemons, limes, pears… and thus… I am spoiled. We could walk up the driveway and be in a neighborhood to ride our bikes and play with other kids. We could walk down the street to the trail head and go on hikes or bike rides or horseback rides for as many miles as we could handle in complete wilderness. We could hop in the car and be at the grocery store or a restaurant in 5-10 minutes. We could be at the airport and fantastic shopping and restaurants in 15 minutes and we could be in downtown San Francisco in 20-25 minutes. Yes, it’s true, we had it all, in my humble opinion.
True, it wasn’t perfect. We had bad neighbors on one side that inherited their house and ran it down to hell and then gave us trouble about everything we did on our property and were mean to the neighborhood kids. The public school district was constantly broke and trying to figure out how to keep guns out of the schools. Our yard was on a hillside and we never could get the fence totally secure and the dogs we had over the years always managed to get out and run the neighborhood, wreaking mild havoc (eating trash, chasing cats, etc.). And we won’t even mention the problems with the oak moths. We just won’t go there.
But, all in all, it was pretty special. And so today… well, I can tolerate nothing less than the same. I want land, space, and few to no neighbors (our neighbors here are heaven-sent, but they seem to be the exception to the rule). I want to be able to have my mini-farm projects (gardens, animals, fruit trees, etc) without protest from others, and I want access to a real, live city. I love Portland. I love that in 17 minutes we’re at the airport, and in 20-25 we have access to countless, incredible restaurants and the world’s best farmers’ market and great shopping and medical care, which I need. Yep, this was the spot. That is… until the bulldozer moved in.
Now, onto other news…
The High – Seeds!
Over the weekend, I sat down and took an inventory of all my seeds. I keep them in a shoebox. Not counting the sweetpeas, only because I haven’t gone through them yet, I have 161 varieties of herb, vegetable, and flower seeds in my possession, currently. Some are from 2008, others are from 2009, and then there are the new ones I bought for 2010. And since most seeds have a minimum shelf life of 3-5 years, I don’t have to throw any of them away! YAAAAYY!!
Don’t judge. I can’t help myself. Plus, it’s probably genetic. My mom is at least as bad about it as I am. The websites and catalogs have so many enticing photographs and drawing and enchanting descriptions that I am generally convinced that I MUST have this variety or that variety. And I even exercise restraint. I promise you that I do not have nearly as many as I want. I feel like I pick and choose only the most amazing, delicious, and beautiful ones. And maybe I’ll try other ones next year. And, inevitably, the year goes by and as I tend my own garden and have successes and failures, other garden bloggers post about the most delicious tomato or green bean and then I note it on my list that I keep in my desk as a new one to try next year. And so it goes.
This past Saturday, I started my first flat of seeds, and let me tell you, I have a sweet setup this year. Last year, I started seeds the old fashioned way – in the windowsill. They started out well enough, but lacking light in both strength and number of hours, they soon got spindly and weak. Then, moving them outside, they didn’t harden off well and thus got a slow start in the garden, even though I started them early. Also, I believe I was plagued with a hidden pest called a symphalan, which I have only recently discovered. It loves organic gardens because it eats decaying matter like compost and manure and the healthier your soil, the more there are. They are tiny, the biggest the size of an eyelash, centipede-like things that also enjoy nibbling on the tiny roots of developing seedlings. They keep them trimmed down, resulting in bonzai-ed plants. Remember how I was so frustrated with my tiny seedlings that refused to grow or die last year? I’m guessing the symphalan was the cause. Apparently a lot of Pacific Northwest gardeners never learn about the symphs and just assume they have “brown thumbs” and eventually give up gardening.
The really bad news is there’s nothing organic you can do to control them. Even conventional chemicals rarely help… the only thing that does help was outlawed in the 70s because it was so toxic. So, the best thing you can do is put out large, strong seedlings. Once they are bigger, then can handle a bit of root-trimming without much adverse affect. So, that is my goal this year – big, strong transplants.
To aid me in this endeavor are my new toys. First, meet the soil blocker. I first learned about this tool from my mom’s gardener friend, Bill. He has been a professional landscape gardener for years and is currently partnered with my mom in her ridiculously huge home gardening adventures at my parents’ ranch in California.
(if you’re reading this, hi Bill! I think this is such a nice picture of you, I couldn’t resist.)
He told me about soil blocks, which are supposed to be one of the best ways to grow seedlings indoors because they can be transplanted without interrupting growth. I won’t go into the details here, but if you would like to learn more about them, please check out www.pottingblocks.com. It has a wealth of information on the topic, and yes, they are pricey, but you only buy one of each size and they last for decades. I bought the 2″ and the 4″.
Basically, you mix up a bucket of special soil mix for making blocks with water and then you jam the blocker down into the bucket a few times until it’s full of soil and then you eject the compressed blocks into a plastic seed-starting tray.
Then you pop your seeds into the little indentations in the tops and place your full tray on a heat-pad made for speeding germination and cover it with a plastic dome (most trays come with lids and cost about $1.99 at the garden store). Then , once your seedling’s roots reach the outside of the block, they are “air pruned” until you transplant them outside or into larger blocks. Things like tomatoes and peppers will be transplanted in their 2″ blocks into 4″ blocks that have square holes (made by the blocker) that receive the 2″ blocks exactly. And in that way, I will grow big, strong seedlings before putting them out in the garden. Take that, symphalans!
And then, my Pièce de résistance:
My grow-light system. Mine is the 4-foot system from Jump Start, which you can order online at several places or possibly get at your local nursery. My little babies are going to get all the light they need to be big and strong. No more spindly babies. YAY!
Ok, so. On Saturday, 2/27, I planted my first flat. It contains tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. I presently own 17 varieties of tomato seed, of which I planted 12 – one each. Please don’t ask me what I’m going to do with 12 tomato plants. I haven’t a clue. But, I need them. That much I know. My most exciting tomatoes, I think, are from Wild Boar Farms from the Bay Area (Suisun Valley). I randomly discovered them, I don’t remember how, and once I started reading around on the internet about them, I got really excited. Brad Gates, owner of Wild Boar Farms, is breeding future heirlooms. He says the definition is that they have to be around for 50 or more years, passed down through a family, and breed true, I think. Anyway, Alice Waters uses them at Chez Panisse and Michael Pollan grows them and likes them and that’s good enough for me. I would be sold even if they weren’t called “possibly the best tomatoes ever” by several different people online. Nevermind that they’re beautiful and crazy-looking. He lets the tomatoes cross on their own and then picks the best “mistakes” and keeps them and breeds them. I had a hard time not buying every variety he offers. I managed to get away with just eight varieties from him. I have to say, I really like this guy. His approach is awesome. I think these are going to be the best ever. I am SO excited.
Along with my Wild Boar Farms varieties (you can read about them here), I planted four others; the whole list is as follows:
- Wild Boar’s Black & Brown Boar
- WB’s Berkeley Tie-Dye
- WB’s Berkeley Tie-Dye Heart
- WB’s Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye (yes, I got three different Berkeley Tie-Dyes. I was born in Berkeley, alright? They call to me.)
- WB’s Haley’s Purple Comet
- WB’s Pork Chop
- WB’s Sweet Carneros Pink (Carneros – like where we got married!)
- WB’s Beauty King
- Aunt Ruby’s German green (old heirloom I read about many places online. very exciting)
- Rose (I thought I planted this one last year but instead ended up with two Costoluto Genoveses, so I didn’t get to try it)
- Pompeii Roma
- Sungold (the undisputed king of cherry tomatoes)
Also in the flat are my peppers:
- King of the North sweet pepper (supposed to be sweet and productive in more northern climates with less heat)
- Marconi Red (same)
- Wisconsin Lakes (same – I thought I’d try all three this year and determine a winner for the future)
- Sierra Fuego Jalapenos
- San Luis Ancho Chiles
- Joe Parker Big Numex chiles
- Red & Orange Suave mild habaneros (for cooking for Brian)
- Red Savina extra hot habaneros (for cooking for me!)
and my eggplants:
- Asian Bride
- Farmer’s Long
- Rosa Bianca
So, of course, since I planted them, I’ve been checking them 15 times a day like a maniac for sprouts. Tomatoes can sprout as soon as 3 days, though it’s usually 7-14, so my checking would seem mostly excessive. Yes, it would seem that way, until today…
ShaBAM!!! Take THAT! Contrary to popular opinion, I am not an overly obsessed psychopath! It did it, it did it!! Tomato sprout on day four. Ah, success. And I probably only seemed a little off my rocker when I was dancing around the room, waving at the sprout, saying, “hello, baby tomato plant. hello! welcome! So glad you could make it!” I figure if I seem friendly, they’ll want to grow for me. I have to say, it’s amazing to me every time. This morning, I checked and not sprouts. Then I checked again tonight around 6pm and there she was. All green and cute. Every time I plant seeds, I figure none of them will grow. I probably did it all wrong. And I’m tickled pink each and every time one decides to sprout anyway. I’m easily entertained, I suppose.
Flat #2 – Onions, Beets, and Herbs
On Sunday, 2/28, I planted my second flat. It contains Renee’s Garden’s Delicious Duo Salad Scallions, Long Red Florence Onions, Botanical Interests Gourmet Beet Blend, Parsley Gigante, Slow-Bolt Cilantro (I was excited to find this since the long days here seem to make my cilantro bolt super fast), and Renee’s Garden’s Scented Basil Trio.
And, today at 6pm…
KaPOW!! More sprouts!! Beets are supposed to sprout in 5-10 days and this seed is from 2008. They sprouted on day 3! I’m such a proud plant mama! You’ll notice several beet sprouts in the one block. It’s too much to write here, but if you go to www.pottingblocks.com, he talks about multiplants… some plants do well with several plants in one block, and beets are one of them. You can plant 4 or 5 seeds in one block and as they mature, the roots push away from each other and they form bunches of perfect beets. I know this works, too, because my mom and Bill have done it at the ranch with great success. Same goes for onions.
And just for kicks…
my basil is coming up too!! I WIN!!!! I think there really may be something to whole talking-to-my-seeds thing. Or maybe it’s the heat pad. I’m not sure.
Flat #3 – Greens
Lastly, I planted flat #3 yesterday, so no sprouts there yet. The heat pad my talking is awesome, not magic, after all. This one is full of greens, mostly.
- Bright Lights Chard
- Ruby and Emerald Duet contain lettuces
- Green Fortune baby bok choy
- Di Ciccio Broccoli
- Green Husk tomatillo (I found that I had a single seed left from 2008, so I planted it. We’ll see.)
- Giuseppi Romanesco Cauliflower
- Michihili (Napa) Cabbage
- Super Rapini Broccoli Raab
- Red Cabeza Cabbage
- Offenham cabbage
- Renee’s Stir fry mix, Pan-Pacific greens
- Lemon Balm (herb)
- Dill (herb)
And yes, I know I could direct-sow most of the brassicas and lettuces outside now or soon, but last year, those guys were all really affected by the tiny-plant syndrome, so I’m giving this a try… I want them to get a head start inside away from the bad buggies to see if we can’t nip the problem in the bud.
Thirteen – Another Gender Mystery
As with all chicks (unless you’re an expert), Thirteen’s gender is a mystery. But, at 4 weeks old, I’m hoping some signs will start to show. This is what JB looked like at 4.5 weeks. But he got really masculine really early, so I’m not sure if that means much. Thirteen certainly doesn’t look anything like that at 4 weeks and one day (today). So, I hope that means she’s a girl. But since she/he’s only half Marans, it’s really hard to tell.
Today, JB went up to the baby and started cooing and offering food. I was tremendously encouraged by this, because I thought that meant she/he’s a girl. But then, seconds later, the baby went charging boldly up to JB, chest out, a couple of times.
One thing to note, I find it interesting that the baby has a yellow beak and yellow legs with a darker wash. The dad is obviously a Marans, which has white legs and horn-colored beak (white with darker mottling), and the mom is an Easter Egger (I’m guessing Pol Pot from the egg color, but not sure), all of which have slate legs (dark grey) and horn beaks. I wonder where the yellow came from?