Day of the Dead

The old corn stalks are waving in my garden. The beans are pretty much kaput. The chickens are barely laying any eggs. Must be the end of the season.
dayofdeadaltar2016
Frannie and I got out the sugar skull molds and made this altar together. As the nights grow so dang dark–and long! it is the perfect time to think about death and decay. My students at USF last week celebrated this time of year by making some amazing salsa–they roasted peppers and tomatoes on the comal, then blended in some garlic and onion, cilantro and salt and lime. I cooked the last of my corn and some black beans; we also had quesadillas with epazote and oaxacan cheese. A faculty-member in the English department–Tracy Seeley–died this year, and a few months before, a group spread some of her ashes in the garden. They spread them near the kale plants, and I remember being a bit jolted by seeing them. “There’s Tracy,” I said to my students. That’s all there is left, I thought, and felt a wave of sadness, even though I didn’t know her. I guess she was a total bad-ass, funny lady, who loved to garden in the USF garden before she got sick. We are going to plant a weeping Santa Rosa plum tree in her honor this January.
For the rest of class, we made a big compost pile out of the food scraps left over from our meal, from fallen leaves, from the green corn stalks, from the weeds, from the straw. That pile should heat up–to provide warmth and life for millions of bacteria who will break it all down. We named our compost pile Sebastian. My students are all so young, college kids, so death might feel so far away. I used to feel like that–immortal. But now, and every year, it edges closer to me. I think I would want at least some of my ashes spread in the USF garden, in my own garden, in my mom’s garden, in my sister’s garden, too. People will see the gray and the white bits and might wonder, like I did, is that a new kinda fertilizer? The answer is yes. And then that’s all there is. But for now, while we are here, let’s laugh. And garden.
Tell me what you are doing with all your tomatoes! I have a big bucket of them. What should I make during these dark nights?

On the Road Again…

It’s the Novella Traveling Road Show! I’m going to be doing three events in the next few months, I hope you’ll join me.
-Monday, September 26th, 7pm Walnut Creek Library. Walnut Creek picked Andy Weir’s The Martian as their One City, One Book. Because Matt Damon, I mean, Mark Watney, grows potatoes on Mars, they asked me to come give a talk. And it’s true, I definitely grow potatoes in Ghosttown! Free!! And I will wager there might be snacks.
Sunday, October 9, 4pm, 777 The Chapel, Valencia Street. SanFran’s Litquake is doing a spin-off event called Eat Drink and Be Literary. Event starts at 11, but I’ll take the stage with the fooderati to do a panel about connecting to our food more deeply.
-Saturday, October 22, 3-6pm Santa Cruz Sustain Supper for the Homeless Garden Project. Supper to raise money for the Homeless Garden Project, a bad-ass project in Santa Cruz that just makes me happy. I’ll be doing a little speech there.
-Saturday, November 5, 2pm Indianapolis Central Library. I’m going to be part of Indianapolis’s Spirit and Place Festival, I’m so honored to be included in their line-up. Tell your friends!

Grape Harvest

Sorry for the months-long delay in posting. I’ve been a gypsy traveler all summer long. Went to Oaxaca for a month (I’ll post about the incredible farms we saw there), then North Carolina (Bill’s family reunion), and finally, to Lopez Island, up in the San Juan Islands. In between trips, we would come home for 4 or 5 days, long enough to harvest the bounty that grew even though I wasn’t there. In June, before we left, we picked all the plums off the big old Santa Rose tree, and the summer apples before leaving for Mexico. Then, when we returned, the mulberry tree was in full-glory. We ate so many! Frannie’s hair turned purple (from climbing under the tree and having fruit rain down on her).

Now, just getting back, because I planted late, the tomatoes are just coming on, as are the zucchini–I planted a nice one called Zephyr, and the sweet corn is, oh, about 8 feet tall. It was also time to harvest the grapes. They are Thompson seedless, an insipid green grape when eaten at the grocery store, but when grown at home, they pack a punch of sweet juice married to a sour skin. Yum. Course they all ripened at once and I can only eat so many. So we made ’em into raisins:

grapes

I have this pretty wimpy circular dehydrator, takes about 2 days of the thing on high to dry out two racks of grapes. Man, they are good, though. Kinda chewy with a big zingy punch. Got 3 pint jars of them from a giant basket of plump grapes. I wager they’ll last us a couple weeks…

Next up for harvest: cox orange pippin apples, figs (the tree is laden), pomegranates, kobocha squash. Have a happy harvest season–and let me know what you’ve been pulling out of the garden.

Bulldozer of My Dreams

Actually, I think it’s this Bobcat.

bobcatinaction

It’s small but mighty. It was time to pull up the rest of that darn concrete in the center of the garden. Last year, a man named Steve came to me and asked if I had some work for him. I handed him a dig bar and he pried out literally tons of concrete over a few days of work. Steve was real tall. He also liked poetry, a crow flew by one day and he recited a Mary Oliver poem about crows, “From a single grain they have multipled. When you look into the eyes of one, you have seen them all…”

Second best concrete remover is my friend Hilary, who runs Hulk Hauling. He told me years ago: “When you are ready to liberate that good dark earth from the concrete covering it, just let me know. I thought I was ready. All I had to do was watch, but it was still hard. There’s just something about a big machine driving into a garden. Hilary was really careful and no living thing got squashed, it was just somehow…exhausting. bobcat2action

An old man named Doc left a container to load the broken bits of rubble into. I was happy to hear the rubble will get smashed and reused to make more concrete, instead of going to a landfill. It only took a few hours for the concrete to get scraped up then loaded into the container. By the end of the day, Hilary said it was about 10 tons of urbanite hauled away. I know someone will say that you can build stuff with urbanite. To you I say: come get it. There’s still some left!! I had it surrounding some of my veg beds but frankly, I just don’t like concrete rubble. Weeds grow into it. Rats hide in it. It makes the place look a little messy. Still, come get it if you want some–just email me.

Here’s the hole that was left.
postbobcat

I felt like I had given birth. There’s something about destruction, even of an annoying concrete foundation in the garden, that is mentally taxing. Next day I ordered a bunch of compost, dug out all the rubbley bits until I hit that sweet black earth underneath. Last year I tested the soil and it was all fine–rich even.
The pile of compost attracted my neighbor, Chao, who is a monk at the monastary across the street. When he came over and started helping, my daughter, who wasn’t that keen on loading up a wheelbarrow, suddenly wanted to help. Thank god for men of the cloth.
franandchao

Next up is to get some free woodchips! My friend Willow suggested putting in some apple trees along the pathway. Let me know what’s your favorite apple to grow! I’m thinking Hudson Golden Gems or Newton Pippins.

Fruit and Nut School

It’s basically springtime here in Californai! And if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been…don’t assume that I’m so busy out in the garden, weeding and prepping and planting I don’t have time to sit down and write a post. In fact, my garden is looking horrible. the chickens escaped and ate all my broccoli plants, the nettles have take over, the fava beans are only just starting to come up.
I blame it on Fruit and Nut School.
I was lucky enough this year to attend the UC Davis agricultural extension class called Principles in Fruit and Tree Nut Growth, Cropping, and Management.
The class is held up in Davis, CA at UCDavis, which was historically, the Ag school for the University of California, Berkeley–hence their name, the Aggies. It’s only an hour and a half drive from Oakland, but it’s a world of difference up there. Hot, flat, fertile. Perfect place for growing fruit trees. There are also bicycles everywhere. In general, though, the community is a bit more conservative than the flamboyant Bay Area. Dudes are wearing rodeo belts and driving big ol’ trucks. It’s farming, with lots of big ag. Some of the guys (there were about 8 women in the class of 50) were running 20,000 acres of fruit trees down in the southern part of the Central Valley. Me and my 36 fruit trees felt very small indeed.
Even though I’m small potatoes, I still wanted to learn as much as I could. Every day was a total mind meld, filled with fruit biology and tree physiology. For instance, stone fruit trees are actually making flowers at the bud level even when they are full of fruit. So that’s why in the summer you want to give them a burst of water to ensure good flower bud formation (when you don’t, you might get those weird double looking, Siamese twin fruit because stress sometimes causes double pistils). It’s all so intricate and beautiful.

I can’t go through everything I learned but I’m hoping I’ll be able to document some of the thinking I gained as I move forward with a big project in my garden this year: planting even more fruit trees on the lot! Totally inspired by the class and our field trips to places like Wolfskill and the UC Davis fruit orchards, I’m going to plant like a “real” orchardist, no more random trees in random places. First step: concrete removal.

Happy spring!

End of the Season

All is quiet on the farm. I just harvested the last of the tomatoes–man, they were ugly but oh so tasty. I turned them into some yummy ketchup by cooking them with molasses and vinegar and mustard seeds all the rainy day. Tomorrow I’m going to plant the last of the fall starts–broccoli, kale, cauliflower; and some fava bean seeds and call it a day. Bring on the rain! This time of year is a good time to look back and reflect on what worked/what needs further development. Here’s my list…and plans for next year:
Working
Drip irrigation. Finally, finally, I took the plunge and installed a drip irrigation system. Of course after I hooked it up, I wondered why I hadn’t done it before. It actually took a visitor on the farm tour–a young lady who was a school garden teacher–who said, “You know, things would be growing better if you had a drip system.” Girl, you were right. Thanks for the nudge. It cost me about $400 and I installed it myself. So far, especially through the hot streak in October, the drip system has earned its keep. Everything next to an emitter line thrived. The citrus trees each got their own line and even the blueberries, notorious water hogs were happy. I saw the chickens drinking from the emitter line, too, which was an unexpected bonus. I think I always resisted a drip system because of all that plastic. But from what I’ve heard/seen, the lines can last many many years without breaking down.
Chicken Pull-It Shut Door. Lord, I am a lazy urban farmer! Besides my new fangled drip system, I have a chicken door that closes at night and opens in the morning. I love it! The chickens love it.
Chickens. I’ll say it again: chickens are the best weeders! Remember that unsightly patch of bermuda grass that had taken over the garden by the MLK street side fence? I sheet mulched it but it kept coming back. Welp, I moved the chicken coop over yonder and lo and behold: no much bermuda grass. Those girls are ruthless grass eaters.

Not Working
Fig tree. My enormous white fig tree. We got some really uneven ripening and the tree has gotten freaking huge. Gotta hack it back. Chickens do like to sit under it–but what am I, doing everything for the chickens? (As it turns out: yes).
Passion Fruit. So many flowers, so little fruit. There’s this hairy white stuff growing on the vines. Could that be a factor? This was its first year and the few fruits we did get were yummy. Won’t get rid of the vine because it is so cool, spreading really far along the fence and um, the chickens like to eat the leaves…
Minor problems!
OK, now onto the next phase of GT Farm…
Goals 2016 (hoping for 50% of these to actually happen but it’s good to dream)
1. Giant rain catchment tank. Like 5000 gallons. Plumbed from my neighbors roof. Gotta catch all that rain.
2. Break up the rest of the concrete. And install into more organized raised beds. Easy for harvesting.
3. Circular hang space/gazebo. Thinking a circle of fruit trees, seating area, vines growing all over the place. Maybe a guest yurt can go there in the summer months?
4. More flowers. I’m becoming an old lady! I want a cutting garden.
5. Nut trees? I’m taking a class through UC Davis extension all about fruits and nuts so will keep you posted.

Hope you all have a great holiday–see you in January