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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

 

Last year at this time, we were watching in shock and horror as our lovingly planted and tended first vegetable garden was eaten away, root by precious root, by a devilish little animal known as the gopher. And by devilish I don’t mean impish or naughty in that mischievous yet still somehow adorable way.

No, no, no.

Gophers are truly the devil (picture rodents with pitchforks) of any backyard garden in our neck of the woods.

Be warned: no raised beds, no hardware cloth, NO veggies! Set traps, get a gun, blast sonic waves. Do something or those subterranean bandits will steal the fruits of your labor and make you cry. Seriously.

But this year is different. Thank goodness. I am very happy to say that as I look up now from the kitchen table and glance out the screen door and across the horse pasture and into the far corner of our field I can still see the tomato plants green as the oak leaves on the hill.

Whew! Breath with me. One big sigh of relief.

Every night we visit the garden to make sure everything’s still standing and in good working order. Mainly, though, we go down there just to delight in the growth spurts of our Sun Golds and Cherokee purples and Odorikos (The Odoriko, a Japanese tomato, has actually grown to E-normous proportions. That is one mother of a tomato plant!)

There is something magical about watching tiny plants shoot up toward the sun, grow new leaves, flower, and produce fruit. So basic and yet so rewarding.

The deep color and smooth, glistening skin of our eggplants:

The sweet, licorice aroma arising from a crushed leaf of Thai basil:

The irony of a delicate cucumber tendril, stronger and more persistent than anything else in the garden:

 

Good stuff, right? And in just a few weeks, it’ll all be ripe, and we’ll be eating ratatouille and pesto and tzaziki and gazpacho and lemon basil sorbet and and and…

Are you getting excited yet?

I am.

Three cheers for gardens! (And one big cheer for hardware cloth!)

 

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post-gopher garden

Sniff. Sniff. Above is the sorry state of our garden, which I explained yesterday has been demolished by some gleeful gophers who wreaked havoc on the lush green of our tomato plants. There are a few tenacious golden cherry tomatoes that are still hanging on for dear life, but as you can see, everything else has shriveled up.

But really, the gophers are just one in a long line of critters that has been plaguing us for the past few weeks. I talked about the ants way back in May. They’re still around despite numerous attempts to flood the nest, repel them with a homemade organic peppermint essential oil and alcohol spray, and block their entry with trails of Borax. We’ve learned to live with them. Unless we’re willing to spray with chemicals (which we’re not), I think it’s best we just accept they’re here to stay. And since they’ve stuck to the kitchen and aren’t doing any damage or increasing in number, I can deal.

But recently we’ve moved into a new class of animals: rodents.

I returned home one night from my writing class in Sacramento, tired after a long drive in the dark, and as I stepped wearily onto the porch I heard rustling in the bushes in the yard behind me. Must be Marley, the neighbor’s cat, I thought, looking casually over my shoulder to discover a rotund skunk rapidly bounding in my direction. Yikes! I was now wide awake as I fumbled with the door and nearly dove into the house just as Pepé le Pew hung a left into the side yard. A near miss. And he’s still lurking with the missus somewhere out there.

But I’ve saved the best for last. Well, in this case, the worst (Mom, you might want to stop reading here). Two weeks ago, I walked out onto the porch mid-afternoon to do a load of laundry and heard rustling in the wisteria. I looked up from the towels, assuming I’d see a bird (don’t you love how I always assume the best when I hear rustling in the bushes?) and set eyes upon three static creatures perched on the ledge just under the porch’s ceiling. No birds in sight. Am I looking at a rat?, was the first question that popped into my mind, but I quickly shook off that unpleasant thought. No, couldn’t be. I lowered my sunglasses (prescription–I’m nearsighted) onto my face and squinted a little harder in the direction of the wisteria. Six beady eyes were staring back at me, and I realized that yes, indeed, I was staring at a bunch of rats. At which point I turned on my heel, towels still in hand, and closed the door firmly behind me. I then proceeded to close all the windows leading onto the porch, call my landlord, and assess the scene of the crime.

I wish I could tell you there were only three rats out on our idyllic wrap-around, farmhouse porch, but truth be told, there was a giant rats’ nest out there, full of hungry babies and scavenging adults. Mind you, these were country rats, not New York City metro ones, but that only made them slightly more tolerable. Ultimately, rats are rats, and I wasn’t too happy about their congregating in the shrubbery nor was I thrilled about the prospect of their becoming house guests. I wish I could say we were able to deal with them humanely, organically, but there was no time for that. They reproduce too quickly, and short of turning the house into a laboratory, there was nothing to be done but, well, send them packing.

There will always be gophers and skunks and rats out there, but I’d like to think we don’t have to share our porch or tomatoes with them. And if I look on the bright side, I can say that I have not come across a rattlesnake yet (though Bastien cannot claim the same).

Oh the joys of country living. Despite it all, we’re still loving it here.

But it does look like we need a cat.

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It’s finally tomato season here in Gold Country! Due to a cold, wet spring, things got off the ground (or into the ground as the case may be) about a month later than usual, which has thrown all of us tomato lovers for a loop!

Bastien and I were so excited to have our own beefsteaks and romas growing in the garden, so you can imagine our frustration when we discovered a few weeks ago that all of the tomato plants that we had so excitedly selected and that Bastien had so lovingly planted had been butchered by a couple of pesky, no-good gophers. Grrr! We had noticed that the plants were not looking too happy and had thought it was an issue with the drip irrigation system, but it turns out the stinkin’ gophers (I’m trying really hard not to swear here) had been merrily munching on the tender roots. As a result, we were able to harvest a single basketful of beautiful red and gold cherry tomatoes (see above), but the rest is history. No roots, no water, no tomatoes. And no peppers or eggplants either for that matter.

Sigh…

On the bright side, we relished in the sweetness of our mini-harvest. Man, those golden cherry tomatoes were good! And we’ve learned our lesson…it’s time to get a gun. Actually, no (though it was suggested to me when I solicited ideas for dealing with gophers), we’ll just have to get smart about our veggie garden set up. The trick is 12 inch raised beds with hardware cloth (a galvanized wire mesh) tacked to the bottom to keep the critters from nibbling at the roots. Unfortunately, though, the gophers aren’t the only garden predators we’re dealing with. There are plenty of deer out there, too. So when all is said and done, our garden will probably end up looking like San Quentin or Sing Sing. Unless we decide to build a moat…Alcatraz!

For now, though, we’ll be heading to the farmers’ markets for our tomatoes. If you’re in the area, stop by!

http://www.amadorfarmersmarket.com/

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our Drytown vegetable garden

Sing it with me, people, I know you want to!

“…Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
‘Til the rain comes tumbling down…”

(“The Garden Song,” as sung by John Denver on The Muppet Show; the original song was written and performed by Arlo Guthrie, I believe, but correct me if I’m wrong.)

One of our main criteria when we moved out here was finding a house with enough land for a small garden. And hopefully enough room for two or three chickens. Well, with almost an acre of land on our hands, we’ve ended up with nearly enough space for a small veggie farm! One night at dinner, after a long day of digging in the dirt, Bastien had a eureka moment: “Imagine how many families we could feed if we planted the entire field!” True! And a noble thought. But for now we are focusing on getting the garden “constructed,” planted, and watered, as the heat has finally arrived! Maybe later we’ll start in on the cottage industry farming…

Here’s a look at “our” progress in 10 easy-to-follow steps. (I say “our,” as I refer to our house, our garden, etc. However, it should be known that though I am in total support of the garden, it is Bastien who deserves full credit for all the planning, engineering, digging, and sweating that have gone into the garden thus far. All I’ve done is help select the veggie plants–“Oh yes! We must have cherry tomatoes and a tomatillo plant”–and cheered him on from the sidelines. I figure I’ll get more involved once we get to harvesting and cooking!)

Step #1: Mapping out the garden. Raised beds are just one way of structuring your garden. They make it easy to divide the veggies into discrete blocks depending on size, water needs, etc. They also make it easier on your back when bending down to tend to plants or pick ripe tomatoes and more user-friendly when you walk through to work or harvest. You might start out with a drawing on paper before you get to digging. Here’s an “after” shot of our 2 current beds. More are on the way.

putting the garden to bed

Step #2: Selecting your vegetables. This is our first garden, so we’re starting simple this year. So far, we have tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, tomatillos, onions, basil, thyme, cilantro, and strawberries. We have different varieties of all the veggies, and we plan to plant more. Perhaps some poblano chiles, cucumbers, beans, and more tomatoes (you can never have enough tomatoes in my book!). Any other suggestions? As we weren’t able to start from seed this year, we were limited as to what we could grow. And we were adamant about finding organic starter plants. Not as easy as we might have thought, but at the Davis Co-op, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, and Whole Foods, we were able to find plants from Sweetwater Nursery in Sebastopol, CA. Maybe we’ll order some heirloom seeds for next year from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Petaluma, CA.

Step #3: Digging down to create a sunken level surface for the raised beds on a warm day in April (one of the few we had).

Diggin' it!

Step #4: More digging! And construction of the wood plank raised beds.

measure twice, cut once

Step #5: Don’t forget the compost! Our soil was already dark and rich, probably from years of horses grazing on it, but we added composted horse manure from a local ranch to improve the soil quality and structure. Bastien unloaded an entire truck load!

compost!

Step #6 & #7: Planting the veggies and “caging” them to protect them from local leaf lovers–deer!

happy plants

Step #8: Water! To maximize sunlight to the garden, Bastien placed everything in the far corner of the field, away from the house. Dragging a hose out there to water every day would have been, well, a drag, so my clever boyfriend has installed a drip system that works on a timer. He dug the trench in order to bury the hose in 45 minutes flat!

trench for drip irrigation

And then hooked the hose up to a timer, which delivers a small, constant amount of water to the plants, every 2nd morning (the timer is set for a test run in the photo).

"Look, Ma, no hands!"

Step #9: Maintain. Our garden is in a former horse paddock that gets overgrown with weeds every month. In order to access the garden and to prevent critters (including rattlesnakes!) from taking up residence among the tall grasses, the weeds need to be cut back every now and again. Sounds like a job for…Mr. Weed Eater! Look how fearless and heroic he looks, folks! And look at that shiny, new, red weedeater (which matches our shiny, new, red lawnmower, I might add).

Watch out weeds!

Step #10: Wait. Patiently, if possible. And if you’re like me, talk to your plants every so often. Cooing recommended.

one tomato, two tomato...

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