Beautiful bugs

Whoa, took a trip out to Frog Hollow Farm yesterday. It’s in Brentwood–how have I never made it out there before? Sheesh.
I learned more about fruit trees in the two hours that I spent there than I have in 5 years of my own experiments on my urban orchard. Farmer Al is full of good information. One thing I learned was that I have been pruning my cherry trees all wrong. I guess now that I think about it, I’ve been pruning them like apricot or plum trees. But cherries are pretty lightweight, and you want them to make lots of branches, which will them make lots of fruit. So you can prune their tips–breaking the apical dominance and encouraging new branching below the tips. Gonna get on that–you should too!
While pruning, we discovered this little guy:

It’s a preying mantis egg sac–aka ootheca!

Strong Roots(tock)

This month–according to my favorite x-cto knife wielding calendar maker, Nikki McClure–will be ASTOUNDING. So far, she has been right. All this rain has made everything seem possible again. I’m looking at new projects with a new hopefulness and light. Garden beds are fertile-seeming. And most astounding, is my mulberry tree, after being burnt down in a fire, is sending up new life.

Let me explain. On November 17, 2017, I awoke to a strange popping noise. I figured it was gunfire, a sometimes occurrence in our neighborhood. But then it went on and on. Then I thought it was someone popping some of that bubble wrap. Then the front door went, Whoosh! And I got up quickly. Whole garden engulfed in flames. Yup. It was bone dry in November, lots of dead leaves everywhere, maybe lit up by an errant cigarette? Anyway, I lost a beautiful shed that held all my beekeeping equipment, a car parked in the driveway, and worst of all…my mulberry tree.

I bought the tree from Daniel at Spiral Gardens probably 10 years ago. It had grown into a beautiful tree, sending out verdant shoots early in the spring, followed by hairy white flowers, followed by the most delicious, juicy blackberry-like fruit. Punk rockers down the street would stand outside the gates, where the tree peeked its branches over and feast on the fruit. Kids would climb the tree and get covered in purple juice, head to toe. It washed out. One kid even “painted” our car with her mulberry handprints. Now it was a smoldering stump.

I gave it up for dead. I bought another tree from Daniel. Planted it on the corner of 28th and MLK with the help of some glorious volunteers. The idea being, even more people will get to enjoy the mulberries, once it grows over the fence in the next 5 years or so. The scorched earth area, I decided to plant some pear trees that I could espalier against the fence. But then the other day I went outside and a wink of green stopped me dead in my tracks. Underneath the blackened remains of the mulberry tree was a new shoot of life, with the unmistakable shape of a mulberry leaf.

Remember that book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein? The little boy takes everything from that apple tree–her apples, her branches, even her trunk. By the end of the book she’s only a stump, the boy is an old man, and now he can sit on her. But if that story kept going, I like to think, and this mulberry proves–the trunk isn’t dead. It can regrow into a tree. All we have to do is give it a little time. Astounding.

Announcing…A new blog

I’m going retro and restarting this blog! Maybe because spring is here, maybe because I gave up my smart phone, maybe because I’m getting middle-aged and am nostalgic for the blog days, maybe it’s because my child is in kindergarten now…whatever it is, I’m back, and I’m blogging.

Unlike Ghosttown Farm blog, this one is going to focus on fruit trees, urban orchards, and what fruit trees mean to my life, to Oakland, CA, to people all around the world. Urban orchards are a connection to the past, a place to gather, a place to commemorate the dead. Fruit trees span the generations. Fruit trees make us think about our own short lives. There will be interviews with folks starting urban orchards or tending existing orchards. Travel profiles of urban orchards I encounter, or rural fruit orchards that can inform even the small-time grower. Book reviews, tool reviews. Recipes. Orcharding tips. Oh yeah.

I’m just learning about fruit trees and what people are up to in terms of fruit trees in urban areas. Please do send me links and info about your favorite urban orchard projects, fruit tree books, and resources.pomagranates

Ding dong my blog is dead

Hello everyone! I’ve moved my site to
The new website has info about my books and events–there’s one in Fairfax this Sunday 4/30! Check it out…
Just can’t keep up with a blog anymore–sorry!

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.
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:


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.