Wow. What a surreal time it is.
Today is the first full day of spring, but I just learned that day and night are not actually equal on the equinox, that the sun we see each sunset has already dropped below the horizon. The more I learn, the less I know…
The rain has come and we are grateful, but the streets are often empty. The sky is cleaner than it has been in decades. Neighbors I have never seen in the 8 years I've lived here are out walking and chatting (from a distance). No stores. No errands. A friend texts and asks if I have any eggs available. I am happy I can tell her I do.
Suddenly, my hens and my garden have taken on greater meaning. Being older and immunocompromised, going to a store is too risky. My husband is willing, but we both know he might just as easily bring COVID-19 in with the groceries.
Luckily, I was very poor when I was young. I learned the importance of shopping wisely, buying storable things on sale, and always making sure you had beans, rice, lentils, flour, sugar, and canned vegetables on hand. We are, for the time being, self-sufficient in San Jose.
None of us know how long this will last. A month, two months, a year, forever. We simply do not know. My guess is that we will have this under control before summer. In case I am wrong, I am shifting my garden design to be more in line with a survival garden than just a fun thing to do.
But gardening is fun and that’s where a goodness equal to the food I harvest comes in. Gardening in these uncertain times provides me with a grounding, a centering, a wider perspective. Summer and autumn will come. The trees will produce sweet juicy nectarines, crisp apples, and delicious almonds. I will plant seeds, pull weeds, and repair a patch of netting. I will clean and sharpen my garden tools, toss my compost pile around, craft the shape of ornamental and edible trees and shrubs, and collect eggs.
I will, as I always do, can tomatoes and green beans, and make marmalade, fig jam, and nectarine preserves, regardless of whether or not it’s safe to go or be anywhere else. The plants don’t know or care about COVID-19. Either do the bees and other pollinators.
It is spring and the cycle of life is continuing as it always has out in the garden. The artichokes have started to come in. My almond tree is covered with baby almonds. The lettuces, chicories, kale, and chard are gearing up for heavy production. The compost pile is cooking itself into an excellent top dressing for my raised beds. A pair of Barbary doves are considering building a nest under my pergola. Everything is going to be alright.
Stay home. Be well.
If you have even the tiniest space that gets a few hours of sunlight, plant a seed. Watch it grow. Care for it. You’ll both be better off.
Daylight saving time messes me up. I don’t like it and I’m not even on a clock. Each time it changes, it feels as though the world is off kilter for a couple of weeks. The plants and chickens don’t seem to notice, so I should probably just follow their lead, and leading they are!
Despite the concerns of several visitors, bees and other pollinators seem to have no problem getting through the tree cage netting. Of course, that also means codling moths can get through, as well. But the birds can’t and the rats and squirrels haven’t yet tried. I guess we have to pick our battles, eh?
My apple and fig trees are just about at budbreak and there are even some tiny figs starting to form! Did you know that the only way a fig can form is if a little wasp gets trapped inside? The fruit of a fig is actually a cluster of flowers that form on the inside. How weird is that?
Anyway, the almond tree is in full leaf and our daily salads have been full of delicious variety with sugarloaf chicory, radicchio, Swiss chard, beet and kale leaves, and red leaf lettuce, along with baby purple broccoli shoots. We have even gotten our first taste of this year’s purple asparagus. [Can you tell we like purple food around here? Wait until it’s time to harvest the purple sweet potatoes!]
The compost pile is coming along nicely. Following the USDA’s guidelines for safely using manure in compost, I am checking the temperature every day and flipping the pile most days. If you look closely at the image below, you can see that the center line of the pile, which has had its top removed, is nearly white, while the rest is yellowish-brown. That white is made up of fungal filaments that are decomposing the bigger bits into smaller molecules that can be used by plants as food. The steam that comes out in the morning when I flip the pile is a pretty impressive sign that chemistry is actively taking place in my simple pile of chicken bedding and yard waste!
A couple of weeks ago, I posted concerns I had for my California poppies. I have been diligently removing stems that show signs of fungal disease and have been brutally thinning plants to provide better airflow and it seems to be helping.
My biggest pest this week seems to be sowbugs. I decided to give this little Gerbera daisy a manicure because it was looking chewed upon and congested. What I discovered was that it was thoroughly infested with sowbugs! Check out this little bugger, tucked comfortably into a new leaf, munching away to its hearts’ content.
Needless to say, I cut out most of the damaged leaves, pulled the mulch away from the whole thing and thinned out the center a fair bit. Let’s see if I can get more blossoms and less bugs.
I hope you are all able to spend some time in your garden this weekend. What’s keeping you busiest or bringing a smile to your face out there?
Spring is getting closer by the day and my fruit trees are in full bloom.
Raising chickens creates a lot of really good compost, but it only works if you have enough green material to mix in with all that dirty straw. This week, I collected all the straw from my chicken run and used it to create a new compost pile. Then, I took all the bedding from the coop, moved it to the chicken run (for my next batch of compost), and gave them fresh straw in the coop. They don’t seem to care, but it makes me happy!
Then I took lawn mowings, fava bean trimmings, and some other green materials to mix into the pile. I mixed it all together, watering each layer as I went, to give those helpful microbes everything they needed to get the job done. It must be working because the compost pile heated up to 154°F yesterday morning and there had even been patches of frost on the lawn! Yay microbes!
The netted panels I put on my raised bed have worked wonders at keeping birds away from seeds and seedlings.
There have been many battles over the birdhouses that I mounted on my tree cages, however. The original holes were the right size for indigenous bluebirds, finches, and wrens, but a Nuttall’s woodpecker kept making the openings larger, so English sparrows claimed all four boxes.
It’s feeding time!
Since my soil tests indicate I already have too much of everything besides iron, all my compost will be used to top dress the raised beds, once it has been properly aged, making the manure safe. This will add nutrients, shade the soil, and increase soil organic matter. The actual soil on my property got nothing but nitrogen and iron, since that’s all it needs. I gave my roses and fruit and nut trees their spring feedings of urea, an excellent source of nitrogen.
I’ve given up on removing lawn grasses with a spreading habit. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to be that picky. I’ll just have to keep it mowed as short as possible during the cooler months and remove only the most obnoxious specimens.
Hairy bittercress has begun to appear, so I am diligently removing them every time I see them. You know what they say, “One year of seeds, seven years of weeds.” Last year was my hairy bittercress weed year and I was not as diligent as I should have been. Bermuda buttercup is trying to invade, as well. I actually like the flowers, but I know how invasive these plants can become, so I hoe them down every time they come under the fence.
What weeds cause you the most grief in your garden? How do you deal with them?
Let us know in the Comments!
As much as I would love to say spring is here so I can put things on track for spring planting, I don’t dare.
It’s pretty hard to believe we still have two weeks of potential frost, seeing as how the weather folks are predicting a high of 80° today. My artichoke plant is going crazy!
I did break down a couple of weeks ago and planted some more cool season crops: beets, arugula, cabbage, chard, and spinach. And I couldn’t resist starting some basils, as well. I have them all on my pumpkin ladder, under a piece of row cover at night. The seedlings seem to be doing well, so far.
The almond tree is in full bloom and some of my bees seem to be enjoying the nectar and pollen, though not as many as I recall from last year. It may be early, because there are plenty of bees out and about, in and out of the hive all day. The nectarine and baby apricot trees started blooming this week, as well. It feels early, but when I look at my calendar entries from previous years, they are right on schedule.
If you’ve never used a garden calendar, you might want to give it a try. I enter budbreak, or first bloom, for all my fruit and nut trees. I also add recurring reminders for tasks like feeding, pruning, dormant and delayed-dormant sprays, and fruit thinning. It helps a lot.
I was a little worried about all the fruit and nut trees this year. This winter isn’t feeling nearly cold enough for most of them to get the chill hours they need to stimulate fruit production. [Being from Upstate New York, I can hear all of you in the Midwest and New England talking about blizzards and snow!] I decided to look up my local CIMIS station (California Irrigation Management Information System) and found that the numbers weren’t nearly as bad as I had thought. While there aren’t any stations here in San Jose, the Gilroy station numbers told me that we are actually well above normal for the number of chill hours accumulated this season. Yay science!
Speaking of blossoms, the California poppies gave me a super bloom last year that was truly exceptional. This year, the plants came in bigger and thicker than ever.
I got my first blossom as few days ago, but things are looking a little worse for the wear. I am seeing a lot of chlorosis on outer stems and some spots that look like fungal lesions. Since I was spraying fixed copper on the trees, roses, and the lawn anyway, to treat rust and scale insects mostly, I decided to give the poppies a squirt, too. Fingers crossed.
What’s going on in your garden?