Wednesday, December 23, 2009

White House Hoop House But..

Well, we all heard about Michelle Obama and her White House victory garden. I am very proud of her and that. Now they have put up hoop houses for the winter garden. We stumbled upon this because we want to build hoop houses for our summer garden to get better success with tomatoes and okra. We may very well go for winter ones as well. I have a bunch of scrap conduit and PVC pipe. I just need to sort it out and see how much of which I have and then come up with a durable cover material (not clear plastic). If you are curious about the White House hoop houses, here is a video about it.

I am glad the USDA is promoting this idea along with soil conservation, but I keep having these sinking feelings about the Obama administration. Besides the war and the drones and the airstrikes and the lack of leadership on healthcare reform and the coddling of the banks and financial services industry, the food related disappointment is the nomination of Islam A. Siddiqui, a former lobbyist for CropLife, as the Chief Agricultural Negotiator for international trade. This happened a couple of months ago and as near as I can tell it got stalled in the Senate.

Keep an eye on this and remember, the revolving door between industry and government is still very much alive in Obama's America. Don't give up, though. Get active.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Water Bill Progress

We just got our most recent water bill and our consumption is at an all time low. The water consumption is measured in hundred cubic feet (1 hcf = 748 gallons). We got ours down from 11 hcf last period to 5 hcf this period. It is about a two month period. The average household here is 18 hcf so we are doing better than average, but there are only two of us, so I am sure we can do better.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blueberries in December

Well, it is just one blueberry.  The other bush has dropped its leaves, but this one is still mostly green and has a blueberry on it.  It even started flowering, but I pulled the blossoms off. It's December for crying out loud!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Still Laying

The chickens have slowed down, as they always do this time of year, but they are still laying.  Usually, they slow down and stop altogether shortly before the solstice.  Then, like clockwork, they start up again a few days after the solstice.  I am wondering if they are getting some street light here in town.  I will keep an eye on the situation, as we still have a couple of weeks to go.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's not un-Yuzu-al

This Yuzu tree has survived a few winters and a move from our last place to here.  Now that it is in the ground, it is much happier than it was in a container. Finally we have a decent number of ripening fruits. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus and you don't eat it, but you can yuze it to make ponzu, which we have with nabe, a hot pot dinner which is great during winter.

I have my eye on our cocktail grapefruit which has a bunch of nice sized green fruits on it.

It is hanging out under plastic sheeting to keep it safe from frost.  The chickens are also under there, next to an orange tree, to keep out of the rain.  Sometime we will build a more permanent structure for rain and frost because I don't like using the plastic (I am re-using it though).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Avocado Drama

As I mentioned in a previous post, I planted a couple of Mexican Avocado trees in the corner of the garden.

The pieces of concrete are there to keep the chickens from digging up the roots and to maybe provide a touch of thermal mass for frost protection.  We did just have a 28 degree killing frost the other night that finally did in a few squash, potato and tomato plants that were still hanging around but the avocado trees did fine with no additional protection. I will be covering them after the rain passes just in case.

Anyhow, after I planted them, I was googling something about avocados and stumbles upon frightening warnings of toxicity. I read that avocado leaves, stems, skin and pits were toxic to dogs, birds and other pets. Yikes! Fortunately the dog cannot get into the chicken/fruit tree area but chickens are birds, right? I looked and looked specifically for information about chickens and found speculation on chicken keeping websites, but no hard evidence. Then I found this farm blog where they are using chickens to control grass and weeds between rows of avocados.  If you read the comments section of that post, you can see my question and the farmer's answer. She has never seen any evidence of toxicity and all kinds of other birds hang out in the trees. That made me feel better.  The other thing that has made me calm down about it was some nice folks at the California Rare Fruit Growers, which I just joined. Specifically, Julie Frink (avocado expert) wrote:

    "Mexican avocado leaves can be used as tea or flavoring when roasting meats. They can be eaten skin and all.  It is the Guatemalan varieties that have toxic leaves and seeds.  One of my friends tried to feed her chickens avocados but they wouldn't eat them.  Later she found out that birds should not eat avocados.  Our neighbors dogs eat avocados all the time.  Some cats love avocado and I've never heard of it hurting them.  I wouldn't think a chicken would be tempted to eat an avocado leaf and certainly not a seed.  As to pecking on a fruit.... We have birds in our fields some of whom make nests and raise families but I've never seen birds eat avocados and we have ripe ones on the ground all the time.  Our coyotes are beautiful with healthy coats from a diet of rabbits, squirrels, rats and avocados.  The squirrels, possums, raccoons, rats and mice like to visit us to fill their tummys with avocado.  I suspect you have nothing to worry about but you could check bird and chicken fanciers.  I'll ask my two friends who have chickens what experiences they've had."

I am guessing the chickens will be uninterested in the leaves, since they are kind of tough, although that doesn't stop them from eating fig leaves. I have decided to leave the avocado trees where they are. If it becomes a problem, I can always build a fence around them.

Red-Winged Blackbird Swarm

The other day at the Ellis Creek Water Recycling facility and park in Petaluma, CA we saw these swarming birds and someone said they were red-winged blackbirds

Watch the whole thing, even though it is long. It is better than fireworks.

I had never seen anything like that before. Red-winged blackbirds are very common across the US.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lessons Learned

The plum tree broke right at the graft where the canker was when I tried to pull it out.  The roots of both the cherry and the plum trees were very deep already after less than a year in the ground.  It took a lot of patience and energy to get them back out of the ground but it had to be done.  In a way, it was a good opportunity to check out the soil and how the amendments to the clay were doing. I mixed it up better this time.

We decided to plant a pair of Mexicola avocados in the north west corner of the yard where the plum was.  According to things I read, including the  California Rare Fruit Growers Association page about avocados, you can plant two or three in one hole to save space and increase pollination. They also hate poor drainage

The person at the nursery suggested these two Mexicola type avocados, Stuart and Grande. These are pretty much the only Avocados I would try here as they are supposedly hardy to 18-24 degrees. I read on wikipedia that the record low of 16 degrees here was only recorded twice in the past century.  It has been regularly frosting here but temperatures are still in the 30s at night and 60s by day. Both avocado trees are labeled as being self-fertile, but you are generally supposed to get an A flower ype and a B flower type.  A little searching on the internets and I have found Mexicola Stuart and Grande listed as both A type, as both B type and as self fertile, so we shall see. For more on this, so I don't have to explain, see here.

 Still unsure about what to replace the cherry tree with.

Next time: Avocados and Satsuma Mandarins in the ground.