Category Archives: fruit trees

New Year Resolutions for the Farm

I love writing to-do lists. Not following them, not x-ing them off, but simply writing a list of goals. The end of the year happens to coincide with my birthday, so it’s a good time to take a look at what I’ve done and what I hope to do the next year. I’m turning 37 this year, and it’s my 7th year of squat farming in Oakland. Here’s to another seven!

GARDEN

Increase productivity. This year, I’m creating French intensive beds. For awhile I was trying to do those hippie permaculture jungles, but I’m starting to see that for me, it isn’t as productive or easy to harvest as it could be. So I’ve made four raised berms and planted row crops. My idea is to harvest everything at once, add compost, and then plant a new crop. I’ll still do interplanting, but it’ll be more organized. I want to start using the fence more as a scaffolding for growing stuff like grapes and cucumbers, too. With more productivity, I’m going to look for a better distribution model, too.

Save more Water. This summer was drier than a pot smoker’s mouth at dawn. Billy and I really curbed our house water use, and we re-used tons of greywater, but I’m realizing that perhaps summer is not the best growing season for California. To that point, I’m going to grow another crop of dry-farmed tomatoes. But i’m also going to plant a dry-land cover crop in May in many of the beds, and let it run its course through June, July, and August. I can use it for animal fodder.

Pull out Ornamentals. I planted an echium and melianthus major about five years ago and they are huge now. Huge and not producing anything very edible or beautiful. So out they go! I’ll replace them with fruit trees, and a lil’ duck pond.

Deal with Bermuda Grass and that F-ing Perennial Buckwheat. Two horrible weeds. The fact that someone actually gave me the buckwheat just pisses me off. It refuses to die. It also refuses to taste good, and even my animals won’t eat it. This spring, I’ll be hosting a big weed pulling party. I might even hire some local workers, but that last stand of weeds has to go!

BARNYARD

Muscovy Ducks. I am in love with duck confit. Ducks are also great because they reproduce on their own, grow quickly, and are downright cute. And so, our plan is to get a breeding pair of Muscovies and let them do their magic in the garden. We hope they don’t destroy the various vegetable beds. They are going to live in this car–our gutted 240D–at night.

Breeding Hens. A dear friend gave me five of her bantam hens. They are raised by their mother and are more feral than tame, but I think they will be good setters. My idea is to bring a rooster in for my big girls, get them knocked up, and then stash their fertilized eggs under the bantams, who will hatch them out. My goal is to avoid ordering day-olds from the hatchery, if possible.

Rabbit Hides. I need to process the many ones in my fridge and actually figure out a way to use the pelts in a way that honors and celebrates the rabbit. We’re planning a big rabbit gala with Meatpaper and OPEN in early February, so stay tuned.

Guinea Hogs. I know, I said I’d never raise a pig again. But now someone told me about the marvelous, diminutive guinea hog. Never getting bigger than 250 pounds, these delicious piggies weigh 100 pounds or less, and would be perfect for my small farmelette. Dumpsters here I come again!

Requeen. It’s been a while, but I think I need to requeen my bee colony. I love the girls, but they are not as productive as they should be! I’m hoping to catch another swarm and get a second hive going.

HOME AND KITCHEN

Cob Oven. This is on my list every year, and every year it goes by without getting done. But really, it would be wonderful to make pizza and pies, breads and cakes, right?

Cheese Cave. So far, I have a cheese closet. But I’m confident it can be turned into a functional cheese cave. I just have to get some fans, themometers, and various coolers. I want to experiment with making some rind-y cheese, and one day will figure out how the hell Cypress Grove makes Humbolt Fog. This may involve some kind of apprenticeship. These are, from left to right, bandaged goat cheddar (larded with duck fat), fresh chevre, and the 95% humidity requiring Blue Goat.

Wild Food. Sometimes I feel like a dumb-ass farmer trying to grow stuff when nature provides, if you know where and when to look. I want to try to do more harvesting in the wild–acrons, bay nuts, ‘shrooms, nettles, and berries. Maybe some hunting.

Happy New Year to you all; thanks for reading! And please feel free to share your goals on your farm/garden/patio…

The scion exchange is coming, the scion exchange…

Bill likes to pronounce it “sky-on”. No, monkey, it is “sigh-on”.

Here’s the deal: every winter trees go dormant, they drop their leaves, their energy recesses into the trees roots and trunk. Because of this, it’s a good time to prune trees, to shape them, keep them short, keep them shapely. The twigs and sticks that you prune off your fruit tree can be called scions. Some genius figured out that you can take scion cuttings and graft them onto other trees. Usually you graft one kind of apple onto another kind of apple. For example, a granny smith scion cutting can be grafted onto an apple tree that usually makes galas. After a year or two, your apple tree makes galas *and* granny smiths! It’s a freaking miracle. You can graft pears, apples, apricots, persimmons, plums, peaches, mulberries, etc.

And this Saturday, Jan 17, will be the Golden Gate Rare Fruit Growers Scion Exchange. Last year was awesome, with lots of crazy rare varieties. I successfully grafted a fancy French pear scion onto my boring bartlett. If you have just one fruit tree, you don’t want to miss this event. Even if you don’t know how to graft, you can learn. Even if you don’t have a fruit tree, there are often vines and plants for sale as well. Remember: figs, kiwis and pomegranates can be simply rooted into the ground!

WHEN: 12 noon to 3:00 PM
Saturday, January 17, 2009

WHERE: UCSF Mission Center
1855 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA

Bring ziplock bags, masking tape, and some pens to label the scions (believe me, you won’t remember what varieties you get, there are that many!). If you see a crazy slobbering lady with orange glasses, do me a favor: give me a slap and say howdy farmer!

Virtual farm tour

Sorry for those of you who missed the last farm tour. It was nice to meet some new folks and see old friends. I’ve got a gun to my head to finish a writing project, so there won’t be a tour in August. Plan on a Friday in early September.

In the meantime, here’s the farm report.

The bees I caught last year are doing really well. There seems to be lot of activity, though I was worried about the queen’s laying pattern last time I did an inspection (which was awhile ago–I hate bothering them). The swarm caught this spring in Alameda has died out. The queen never started laying and it all went to hell. I partially blame myself because I had this really jankity brood box with very funky frames.

The garden is in that awkward mid-summer phase where the greens are done but the tomatoes aren’t quite ripe yet. Luckily there is something to eat because it’s summer apple season. One of our neighbors comes in and picks them, which pisses Bill off, but I’m resigned–and even a little supportive–of the lot pillagers. Times are tight in the ghetto and the more fresh food I grow, the healthier the people around here will be. In a nod to my hippiedom, I’m growing corn and sunflowers, crops I usually don’t pursue. However, I have a reason! I do like sweet corn. And, the goats will very gladly eat the corn stalks. So it’s a multi-use plant. Similarly, goats like sunflower leaves and seeds.

The chickens on the deck are getting big, and I’m almost ready to set them loose outside with the big girls. They’ll get their asses kicked, but after a day or so all will be well. They’ve been flying off the deck and into the street, which is no good, so I’m getting motivated. The big white fella is Edith’s soon to be boyfriend. By the way he’s been puffing up lately, I’m fairly sure he’s a male.

Finally, the deck rabbits are getting plump from eating the windblown apples. They’re approaching their 3 month old birthday, which means it’ll be time for rabbit rillettes soon.