Monday, June 29, 2009

Save Some Cherries for Me!

Frost nailed the blossoms on our sweet cherry tree this Spring, so no black cherries for us this year. We have a standard-size self-pollinating one. It's 25 years old, and I think it's called a Garden Bing Cherry. The aphids go really go for this tree though, at least until they die off in the summer heat. I've looked occasionally at other sweet cherry trees, but any Bings I've seen are either extra-dwarf or need a pollinator. I might have to try a Sweetheart Cherry - they're supposed to be a really late bloomer and self-fruitful as well. Anyone have any experience with them - especially in zone 5-6?

I also have a Montmorency pie cherry tree, and this year's crop is looking pretty good. They're just starting to color up - it'll be time to start picking in a few more days. So I needed to get the bird-scare tape out there. If you get the tape on the tree too early, the birds get used to it; too late and they'll clean-pick the tree just before the cherries get ripe (notice in the bottom photo: the earliest-ripening cherries, in the top of the tree getting the most sun, are already almost gone). Scare tape is a flexible shiny 1" wide tape; some red on one side and silver on the other, this particular roll is silver with holographic angles that flash different colors in the sun (beware: 8-year old neighbor girls find it fascinating - they'll be asking to steal the tape right off your tree).

I headed out to the tree with the tape and some scissors. The birds have started on the upper-most cherries - only bare pits left clinging to the branches. But I find it a bit odd that the ground underneath the tree is also littered with pits - birds don't usually drop the pits. Cutting long strips to flap and flash in the sun, I tie one end (with a loose overhand knot - I reuse the tape all summer, moving the pieces to other trees as their fruit ripens) to outside branches all around the tree. Then I duck under the branches, adding a few more strips hanging down the inside. I step back to see if there are any glaring tape-free sections. And am a bit startled to notice a ground squirrel, high up, clinging to a thin top branch, holding perfectly still. I've been out there at least 20 minutes - I can't believe he's been swaying over my head all this time.

He was still holding so still - not even blinking. I got a stick and reached up to tap him to make sure he was still alive. That was enough to scare him down out of there and off into the brush. I don't mind sharing my harvest - the birds will get the cherries above where the scare tape is, and there should be enough this year to put out the "free u-pick" sign for the neighbors too. But I've found that once ground squirrels (not cute fluffy-tailed tree squirrels - these are more like rats with scruffy tails) get a taste of something, they won't share with me. So I put the little plastic owl in the lowest crotch of the tree, hung a few mirrors on the bigger branches, and got out the box trap - time for greedy squirrels to go bye-bye (and since yesterday, I've "relocated" three to over by the creek away from any other houses - plenty of cover, natural food and water). Oh boy, cherry time! Dried (my favorite!), pie, flavored vinegar, and maybe even enough to try making some hard cherry cider?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Soaker Hoses Save Water

Risa, blogger at Stony Run Farm, posted her friend's Homage to Lizards poem in comments for the House Lizards post below - I like the imagery of her "lizard paparazzi". Chris left a tip on catching lizards - unfortunately, it involves shading them when they're lying in the sun, which wouldn't work for catching house lizards. Albert, the cat, must have heard my admonishments though, because the very next day he kept a lizard entranced in the bedroom until I could trap it. All the outside doors were closed, so this was one already in the house (hmmm - wonder how that happened). I used the empty bathroom wastebasket and got that one relocated outside too.

Melynda, over at Mom's Sunday Cafe, has noticed the soaker hoses in my yard and garden. She wants to conserve water in her garden, so asked for more information about using them. Since I manage to grow a pretty good garden in an area that averages 7" precipitation annually (and most of that comes as snow in winter), plus have a weak well (needs 35-40 minutes recharge time to fill 50 gallon tank), I probably have some tips and methods for others that need to make every drop count in their own gardens.

Spraying and sprinklers are extremely ineffective watering methods, especially with our hot, dry winds. Half the water ends up blowing away from the area you're trying to water, and a lot of the rest of it evaporates before getting to the roots of the plants. Soaker hoses keep the water where it's needed, at a rate the ground and the plants can absorb. By clustering plants with similar water needs, closely spacing vegetable plants to shade their own roots, and infrequent deep watering we manage to get by.

Using different lengths of soaker hoses gives me flexibility in how and where I put my plants. In my vegetable garden, I use free-form raised waffle beds. I saw no need for the expense of building structures for the beds - I just groom them into shape with a rake each Spring, after digging in the compost and before planting. The beds are in the same place year after year, and I walk only in the pathways, so the soil never gets compacted in the growing area. For ease of cultivating, the beds are a bit more than two rake-widths wide, with a single rake-width for the interior paths. I pull the edges up a bit above the planting area, dishing out the center, to help hold water when getting my seeds to germinate (the only time I use a hand-held nozzle). I then run a single 50' hose down the center of each bed (although this year, I'm experimenting with a double-hose set-up on my early bed to lessen heat stress and perhaps stretch the harvest out a bit longer).

The soil here is called DG - decomposed granite. What that really means is coarse sand with very little plant nutrient value. My garden beds get at least an inch of compost dug into them each Spring, providing nutrients plus helping to retain water. Light, frequent watering makes plants form shallow, spread-out root systems. I want my plants to make deep roots so they're better able to withstand the heat during July and August. So after the vegetable plants are up and growing, they only get watered every third or fourth day, for 8-10 hours at a time. The top inch of the soil may look dry, but checking a bit deeper shows plenty of moisture. I don't water straight from the house faucet - I can't take the chance of running the well dry and burning out the pump (it's 212' feet down - a bit hard to repair). Instead, I use a gravity-fed system run from a couple of tanks that are filled from the house faucet using a very low-flow restrictor (more on that in another post).

My system can easily handle 100' feet of soaker hose at a time. I don't like the restrictors included in new soaker hoses - I pull them out and use new rubber washers instead. Besides, using a gravity-fed system means my water pressure is quite low to begin with. If I were using water straight out of a city-house faucet, opening the faucet only 1/8 turn would provide sufficient pressure for a system like mine. The seeping moisture of soakers attracts birds and other wild creatures, so I water the vegetables, two beds at a time, all night long, and then switch over to hoses in the landscaping during the day (no use inviting trouble). Using a series of y-valves and a few 4-way manifolds, it's easy to change where the water goes.

By taking up my hoses in late fall and storing them out of the weather, they last for years. In the Spring, it's easier to get them placed where I want them if I first stretch them out in the sun to soften up a bit (a smaller 25' hose coils round and round in the square strawberry bed above). Just about all the gardens and landscaping (except the fruit trees) are on soakers. I'll write about watering the orchard in a later post.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No More House Lizards!

The cat brought in another live lizard a couple of days ago. I heard him mumbly-meowing in the living room, went to see what was the matter, and was just in time to see him spit out the lizard and away it went.

I saw it once yesterday, running across the living room; and then could hear some scuffling behind my desk last night while at my computer. Then, this morning when I sat down and reached over to turn on the computer, the lizard was looking at me from atop the computer tower. Ack! I startled and so did he - he ran over the top of the computer and back down behind it. I could peer over the top and see him back down there amid the cords and dust bunnies, but had no way to reach him. Later, this afternoon, I saw him a couple more times up on the guest bed but wasn't fast enough to trap him (too nervous to pick him up bare-handed - I flinch and he's gone again). But with persistence (buoyed by the fear that a lizard is going to run across my face in my sleep), I managed to turn the coffee can I keep on my sewing machine as a scrap catcher into a lizard catcher - trapping him atop the pillows, slipping a magazine underneath, and gently transporting him out the front door. No more live cat toys in the house! Do you hear me, Albert?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dad's Apron?

I was back in Colorado earlier this year, visiting my mom. She was going through the basement, garage, and closets, getting things together for a garage sale. She told me to look through what she was planning to sell, to see if there was anything I wanted. As a kid, I vaguely remembered seeing this silly old apron, hanging in the broom closet way back when. I now have it hanging in my pantry. I don't really remember anyone in particular wearing it, but just seeing it brings a smile to my face.

I always tell people I really did grow up in a 1950's sit-com family. Mom quit teaching school when I was born and stayed home until the baby, five kids later, started school. Dad worked, Mom did the shopping, laundry, and cooking, us girls did the dishes and cleaned house, the boys mowed the lawn. But Mom didn't wear aprons like my grandmothers did. If she was canning or cooking something splattery, she might wear one of those backwards shirt-type smocks, but not a tied around the waist-type apron.

Dad would cook on camping trips and outside on the charcoal grill, but didn't do much cooking inside the house. I don't remember if he ever really did wear this apron. The one thing I do remember though, is that sometimes on a weekend morning, wearing pajama pants and a t-shirt, he'd cook pancakes for us kids and let Mom sleep in. That was something different, something special, a treat - having Dad in the kitchen. Now that I'm older and think about it, after taking care of five kids all week, getting to sleep in must have really been a treat for my mom too.

Friday, June 19, 2009

High-Desert Choi

I work in the garden; I volunteer in my community; I get out and about in the area walking and hiking. I take photos and write blog entries in my head just about every day. But lately, when I'm back at my computer, I end up checking e-mail, playing games, and surfing the 'net instead of writing about my adventures and observations. Then, I feel guilty it's been so long since I posted. Do I try to play catch-up, or start fresh from today? The decision paralyzes me, and another day goes by without a post.

I really want to get back into the habit of writing here. I enjoy it; I enjoy the feedback; I like to feel I'm contributing some of the things I've learned. I have managed to get something written each time it's my day to post on the Co-op blog. Right now, I've got a bumper crop of lettuce and greens (netting that bed really did the job), so today I wrote about my latest kitchen treat: green smoothies.

This is the photo I used on that post. It's of the only bok choi I've found that won't bolt to seed when our days get long and our high-desert temperatures shift into summer-mode overnight. I started the big plants inside and set them out, but have more little ones seeded in place alongside the peas ready to move as I start harvesting the biggest ones. It's called Joi Choi, and really worth searching out (I often have to order the seeds online) if you like making summertime stir-frys out of the garden.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Scattered Thoughts, Scattered Showers

Eleven-thirty a.m. and the rain drove me inside. I was out trying to get my "fruiting" garden plants set in - my tomatoes, peppers, chiles, eggplants, and okra. Nights are still quite chilly, so I haven't seeded the corn, beans, or squash yet, but the fruiting plants will be protected until the Fourth of July so they should be ok (as long as I can get everything done later this afternoon - the rain doesn't last too long at a time so I jump out and in as necessary).

I've been keeping busy with various meetings and social gatherings lately. My Soroptimist Club had a Bunco Night, with wine and desserts. Most of us had never played before, but it didn't take long to catch on. It was really fun. Our fiscal year ends June 30th, so as Treasurer I've also been busy with Budget Meeting preparations and our annual dues billing.

Then, the Democratic Women's Club had a Games Night, with potluck supper. That too, was lots of fun - I ended up in a group playing a strange old board game about the Titanic sinking. You had to maneuver about the ship gathering up passengers, food and water, then get to a lifeboat, and then to the rescue ship, while the other players were trying to steal your supplies and the ship sinking kept cutting off routes about the ship. Interesting what games people invent.

Saturday, a group of home-based artists south of here held open houses. A friend is looking for more art for her home, so I went along with her to check them out. I was more interested in seeing others' gardens and studios. It made for an interesting afternoon, but neither of us saw anything that really reached out and grabbed us.

Lastly, Aries took a week's vacation time. Our home is supposed to be barn red with terra cotta trim, but the last paint we used faded so badly that it's been more of a fuchsia for the last few years. Aries has always hated it, so when he saw exterior paint on sale, he decided to repaint the house and outbuildings. Little did he realize that we'd also see rare, scattered afternoon thundershowers all week too. So he gets up early, paints a bit, and then hopes it has time to dry before it rains. So far, so good. He's off to Reno for beer making supplies now. The rain has stopped for a bit, so I'm headed back out to the garden.