Thursday, August 26, 2010

Building a Hobart-Marlette Link Trail

I love being in the outdoors, and camping (speaking of camping, for my most recent turn to post on the Simple Green Frugal Co-op, I wrote about using a dutch oven to bake fresh, hot campsite treats). Luckily, living here in Carson City, there's beautiful camping country practically right out my back door. Much of the land around the Lake Tahoe shoreline, especially the western, California side and the casino areas just across the Nevada state line north and south, is densely populated, developed property. But thanks to the eccentricities of a few reclusive, rich owners over the years, the land on the east side has remained pretty much undeveloped, and is now in the public domain as the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. The interior of the park is closed to motorized traffic, but there are numerous trails for hiking, mountain biking, equestrians, and cross-country skiing, and a few backcountry campgrounds.

When I was younger, I used to do some backpacking. It was hard work then, carrying everything. I know I'm not in good-enough shape to get much into the backcountry now (but I'm trying to get back in better condition, and with new advances in gear weight and technology, maybe someday . . . ). So when, as a member of Muscle Powered, I heard the park ranger was allowing 4WD vehicles to drive the 6-8 miles into Marlette Peak campground for a weekend of volunteer trail building, I jumped at the chance to go. I dug out my old pup tent and backpacking stove, threw my gear in a duffel bag, and met up with the others to carpool in early Saturday morning.

The campground is quite nice, especially for a backcountry site. There's a pit toilet, bear boxes, tables, fire rings, and water available (no trash pickup - pack everything out), and it's right on the Tahoe Rim Trail. We saw quite a few mountain bikers, a few day hikers, and a couple of overnight campers the two days we were there. By Saturday evening, the weather had turned cold and windy, but if it had been warmer I would have walked the mile and a half down to Marlette Lake after a dusty day's work, and jumped in for a swim.

We were working on a section not far below the campground. When finished, the trail will run from the Tahoe Rim Trail to Hobart Reservoir (where there's another campground). It's a reasonably gentle grade - hillside traverses interspersed with swooping turns in the shade of the pines. When finished, the trail will provide a much nicer alternative to the hot, steep climb on the road up Sunflower Hill (the photo at the top of this post is a view across a trailside meadow, with Reno in the distance). It will probably take three years to hand-build the planned five miles of trail. One more work weekend this season (volunteer for just a day, or camp overnight) is planned for September 18-19, weather-permitting. See Muscle Powered for more information.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Deer Defense

We've caught sight of our deer visitor a few times now. I first saw him when I went out to shut up the chicken coop, just before full-on dark. It's a lone 2-point buck, maybe a couple hundred pounds. He was in the garden, but hopped over the fence and headed towards the fruit trees when I came out the back door. I called to Aries, and we both watched as he went over our lot fence to the west, across the road, over our neighbors' fence, and then headed up the canyon. A couple of nights later, I caught him out there again, same time, same place. Aries has also seen him a couple more times just before sunrise.

We might as well just hang out a "good eats" sign - he's not going to be easily scared away. The scent of the dog didn't faze him, nor did the wire I laid down where the tracks showed he'd been hopping the fence. He just went around to another spot. The mirrors hanging in the corn patch, to keep the sparrows from perching on the top tassels and breaking them, might have kept him away from the unripe corn, but I don't think so - he munched the bean blossoms close by, and was probably just biding his time until the corn was ripe. When I put a wire cage over the chomped carrot and beet tops, he ate the onion tops. The choi and chard were pruned to just clumps of stems. He reached down inside the cages to eat the leaves off the pepper plants, and spit out the peppers. Only stumps were left of the lettuce I'd let bolt for next year's seed.

I researched deer deterrents. Irish Spring soap was listed, or predator urine products, or sprinkling blood meal around the plants. But it also said deer get used to scent-based deterrents, so you have to keep changing every few days. The only sure-fire preventative was a fence, a tall fence - mule deer can jump 10 feet.

So, we set to work increasing the height of our garden fence. We had a bunch of rebar out in the scrap pile. We slid pieces of that down inside the t-bar fencepost clips. Then added the old chicken wire, salvaged from the garden fence we replaced earlier this year. Then, to make the fence look even taller, I strung surveyors' tape around the tippy-tops of the rebar. Aries says, from the street, it looks like we put in a tennis court. But so far, so good. No tracks, no droppings, no more damage. If the first freeze holds off for another month or two, most of the plants might recover enough that we'll get a bit of a harvest after all.

With the garden out of reach, he's started eating the leaves on the grape vines and fruit trees. We had such a cold spring that there's no fruit this year, but that might be a blessing in disguise. The trees are big enough that I don't think he'll do much damage, and once the leaves fall, maybe he'll move on. I just hope he doesn't decide to bring the wife and kids.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Trouble in the Garden

They say a garden is always greenest in January - in your imagination, while paging through those beautiful garden catalogs. The reality though, in August, can often be quite different. And so it is here.

As always, I had such high hopes for this year's garden. The new fence was doing its job - no ground squirrels or bunnies had munched anything. Reconfiguring the chicken coop and pen worked too - no guineas flying from the top of the gate into the garden for snacks; no chickens flying in either, scratching up the dirt. Three of the newly aligned garden beds were in place; the rest to be done this fall.

Despite a long and cool start to summer this year, things were starting to look really good when I left for a week in Colorado. Aries stayed home, so I knew he'd keep up with the soaker hose schedule. But, upon my return, just walking up to the gate I could tell the garden didn't look even as lush as when I left.

I'd deadheaded the calendulas, but there were no new flowers to greet me. The bean trellis, almost completely covered with leaves, with flowers just about to open, was now just a few bare vines twisting upwards. The summer greens - chard, kale and choi - looked like they'd been severely clipped back. Aries doesn't eat salads. What was going on?

Bunnies, or birds, couldn't have done all this. Everything still looked green - I knew Aries hadn't skipped watering. What had happened to my garden? Wait! What was that dark pile over there, in the middle of a side path? Certainly too big and too many to be rabbit droppings.

There's another pile over there, and another. Oh look, are those tracks in the dust? Arrggh! These are deer tracks! Oh, no!

I did see deer up on the hillside above us, last winter. Even then, I remarked that it was rare for them to be down this low. In the summer heat, they stay up even higher. I've never had to deal with deer in the summer, in the garden! This is gonna get ugly.