The rainy season has come

Clearly I need to be keeping a closer eye on the 10-day forecast. We got around .11 inch of rain on Saturday. I found my first Berkeley Pink Tie Dye tomatoes on Sunday!

At least I got compost delivered last week. I was disappointed that it is not “finished,” since I need to use it right away. Fortunately I have a teeny bit left from this spring’s delivery and I also may be able to salvage a yard from the last delivery I got from Waste Management (I thought theirs was a very good compost). It’s almost buried by wood chips from the notorious time this past spring when the delivery truck got stuck between the driveway and the garden and sank into the soil. They put the wood chips where the compost went, and then the compost got dumped where the truck was stuck. I guess that my next delivery will have to go at the end of the driveway and I’ll just have to go a longer distance with the wheelbarrow. Sigh! I’ve been putting wood chips on the bald spots on my paths and today I finally started putting compost on the new greens bed. So far behind, as always.


Couldn’t move the “new” greenhouse

While I was inside with T, Z was sneakily putting the greenhouse up on two dollies and the wagon. Then he had me come try to help move it. He got inside the greenhouse and pushed, and I was supposed to just help direct it with the wagon handle. That was difficult, when he was pushing uphill and I really wanted to help pull. Any pulling or pushing results in a wall leaning in a scary direction. The wood is so worn out that the greenhouse is about to fall apart! So uh, we’re thinking of paying someone to basically  rebuild it. I am even thinking of asking my friend’s ex-husband (I feel conflicted about him because my  friend’s mentally ill son said that he had sexually abused him – but the son was/is out of touch with reality, so do I believe him? Could I have the ex-husband/ex-father-in-law only be here when T’s not home? I know that he does good work. Otherwise, I have already left a message for a guy who did a bit of work for us a couple of years ago. He’s not that thorough and he doesn’t clean up after himself very well tho.


I’ve planted 66 strawberries over 7 of these last 8 days.  They’re getting pretty old there in the fridge, and some of the ones I’ve planted have pink stems (last year this went away after 2 applications of liquid fish and kelp). The raccoons dug in the strawberry bed for the 1st time this season last night. The garlic is still visible. I get better at weed control each year! I finally started some greens and flower seeds this week. My book recommends planting favas and peas through March but no later. 😦 It seems really early for planting green beans…

Reportback of sorts about the produce testing project

Just what is the effect of ash from the #NorthBayFires landing on plants in our gardens? Is the food we’ve grown safe to eat?

Today I went to an event about the “Citizen Science” produce sampling project. Here’s a link to an original invitation for sites to get involved. It was really good but I can’t type up all my notes. Basically, very little is known about the effects of fires on garden/farm produce. A graduate student was “voluntold” by a produce project founder to look into air quality issues from the time of the fires so that any toxins in samples could be compared to the air quality during that time. The samples are from a nice smattering of places around Sonoma County (and, I’m sure, beyond). There is a basic list of things that are common chemicals in houses, furniture, clothes, etc, and there is a list of things they’ll test for. I seem to remember lead, PAH’s, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and cobalt. PS, more research is needed about the effects of flame retardants and the Phos-Chek that was applied.

There is at least one group doing bioremediation by putting (mushroom) inoculated straw wattles in/around streams. There will also be a project that will do soil sampling (I think they said it will be linked to the results of the produce test? or at sites that were sampled?). It sounds like sites that had more than one type of greens, ie lettuce and kale, will be prioritized. Someone from UC Davis has already collected ash from impacted sites to examine with mass spectrometry. “Science is amazing!” as the kids from the Pokemon cartoon TV show said.

I still need wood chips. Now I’m nervous about sources (were the trees from burned areas? was phos-chek dropped on them? etc) and about my compost in the future- are people bringing fire-damaged plant materials to the big composting sites? Should that stuff go to a toxic waste disposal site? It was mentioned that adding organic material to the soil is a key way to mitigate the effects of, or even basically break down some of the bad compounds into things that are not as bad. So I need to keep covering my soil 🙂

Funding for the produce project is yet to come. They figured out that each site’s produce testing will cost some $2000. There is a Giving Tuesday campaign to raise money for the produce testing project (although the project is not mentioned on the link I’m including?). The goal for this Tuesday is $2000 to be able to get one site’s samples tested, but I would like to think they will raise more. They will also be requesting grant money. Please help support the project if you can. Please comment here or contact the folks in the first link to find out more about the project.

Meanwhile, in my garden…

there are a few ripe strawberries!
there are still some strawberries!


Longest garden day yet this season!

cabbages and kales. the white area at the end of the bed is ready to receive some more plants!

This morning I was trying to extend the greens bed that I filled up last night (it was 25 or 30 feet long). I started hoeing and immediately got into this awful, thick grass that was along last summer’s drip tape line. Ask me how I know that the drip tape had been there. Well, it’s because I pulled it out of the dirt and grass this morning. Anyhow, I had to try both the shovel and my dull digging spade. It was hard work digging around those roots! I realized that I should try to put the grass roots (and dirt) where there’s a low spot on the path along the west side of the garden. Anyhow, the roots are happy to grow sideways — or even upwards! How ridiculous.

clump of grass roots that I dug up when I was trying to transplant seedlings

So I was trying to hoe the “easy” stuff off of the bed and I found that 1. it was too windy, the soil was too dry, and the soil was powdering out into the air (wind erosion), and 2. a few feet to the north, the soil is too wet. So I put compost over the area that I finished, and this evening I added some oyster shell lime and extended the drip tape to include the new area. I watered with a watering can and hope to get more of my dino kales in tomorrow.

light-colored dry soil in foreground, darker wet soil in back on the left. dried grass stubble around those areas
light-colored dry soil in foreground, darker wet soil in back on the left. dried grass stubble.

One problem with having big seedlings like I do now: the Red Russian and Dino kales that I planted last night were not happy getting blown around the way they were. I should have hardened them off. So I put the remaining incomplete tray of dino kales out where they can get some wind, and I tried to hill more soil at the base of the plants that are in the ground.

I am thinking that I should try to prepare the bed next to this one, on the off-chance that the southern end of it is usable like the 1st bed is. That will put me up against last year’s Chandler strawberries. I really need to clean up that bed. We have been debating mowing a strip down the middle of that bed to improve acccess. T he problem is that our mower blows the stuff out the side, and the string trimmer doesn’t work anymore. Fortunately it has an overkill “brush blade,” but can you imagine the smashed berries blowing everywhere?”

summer strawberries in May! Cracked earth nearby is called reactive soil. It is a great place for slugs and bugs to hide out!
summer strawberries in May! Note cracked earth (reactive soil). A great place for slugs and bugs to hide out!

Today I also hacked weeds out of the purchased compost, did some seed inventorying, and pulled weeds in part of the snap pea bed. Wow, what a productive day!

I need help! and more time.

I’ve been spending 1-2 hours in the garden each day, usually in the evening, which puts a lot of domestic pressure on my husband. It’s so weird that I call him my husband now, because I fully intended to always call him my partner. Things are a bit more conservative here in Sonoma County, as compared to where we got married – in Oakland. Anyhow, he doesn’t really have any time or energy for the garden these days. This is frustrating, since taking down last fall’s pea trellis has been a lengthy process for me (sickled and cut grass back from the trellis a week or two ago, and today I pulled the stakes out, but the trellis is twist-tied on at the base, and some of the trellis past the last stake is really stuck in the grass). I need this trellis for this spring’s peas!!!

Crappy photo taken at sunset of the part of the strawberry bed where I’ve been pulling dead leaves, runners, and fruit off and killing whatever slugs I can. Note red strawberry on plant on left. Some of them have cold damage, which I think is because I’ve pulled the weeds back a few inches from the strawberry plants and made room for cold air to enter and hang out in the bed.


Over the last 3-4 days I have spent (at least) 5.5 hours on pulling off dead/dying leaves and fruit and killing slugs and other bugs in the Seascape/Sweet Ann (2016) strawberry bed. I’m almost halfway down the bed. I really did not clean up the bed at the end of last year.

Also, I mowed 1.5 hours yesterday (around most strawberry beds, where new greens should be, around field edges, and a bit more of the mound that goes along the neighbors’ fence, which I spent about 2 hours on on Thurs or Fri). Mowing the mound last week was slow going because the plants were so tall and the bunch grasses were so thick and damp at their bases that the mower kept stalling. I want to plant perennials for foliage and filler up there. It’s over 200 feet (probably more like 280) and is over 6′ wide in some spots. The previous owner reportedly tried to plant bushes there, but they didn’t do well. The grass is always very happy there, and the curly dock, too.

Seedlings in greenhouse are doing well (no sign of lemon balm, only  1 onion germinated, not sure about the larkspur or the lavender or rosemary). The greens are ready to transplant. I guess I need to get some 4″ pots or something :/ 

Some rain is predicted for Monday and Tuesday. We have already received 60.05 inches of rain since October 1st. Our average annual rainfall is 36.28, so this is pretty catastrophic. Be glad you can’t smell my neighbors’ septic system, the vapors from which get blown into my garden. I have multiple chemical sensitivity, so the combination of their personal, laundry, and dish products (along with poop) really kicks my butt.

Meanwhile, there’s a gathering of an agricultural organization that I’ve paid to be a member of on Monday. It starts before my husband should be home from work (hopefully he can leave early), and my child, who I was hoping to bring with me, has a cough.

Went to an entrenpreneurship workshop

The Farmers Guild put on a workshop for beginning farmers about the business aspects of starting a farm. Speakers covered: inspirational farming story, why you should keep careful records, and what kind; business plans; sales; marketing; farm financing options (I mostly spent today reading articles about the fire in Oakland; I know quite a few people whose friends died); and crop planning. We also did a small group exercise in which we did a quick and dirty business plan for an example property. My group’s property had issues: seasonal ditch water on one end of the property, flooding on the other end, and a goodly amount of uneven ground.

There weren’t many opportunities for networking. It was worse in my case, since an old friend had convinced me to go, and we sat next to each other ;). I did talk to a woman who is a Master Gardener in another county. She recommended that I mulch strawberries with rough straw nearly up to the top of the plant, and water way deeper (so that the water goes a foot down). This year we only watered for 15 minutes a day (more on the hottest days or if there were small plants in the ground), but we did do it every day. Last year we watered for an hour every day. We need to set up more zones and water them that way. Another thing to consider in crop planning.

I may have been won over to the growing microgreens camp. I need some high-value crops to grow. But I still need that wash station. We don’t have the money for it, so I think I need to design it and just start, like, buying something every week. I also need add up the costs of different licenses and certifications and start making those happen. And figure out what I will grow in 2017.

No photo today, as I never made it to the garden while the sun was still out. I got home after 5:00. 😦

Report about the National Heirloom Expo

I wrote this in mid-September (ish).

I guess I’d better write these notes before I forget what I was going to say! Photos: 2016 National Heirloom Exposition

The Expo seemed smaller this year- in attendance, and in vendors. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds was that the ticket booth wasn’t open – instead, the Expo had its folks selling tickets from a table in front. I wonder if it was cheaper to rent the space without paying the folks in the ticket booth.

I went in and checked out the vendors. Lots of great stuff, as always, as well as some craft-type vendors that seem to always be “filler,” just taking up space. Chelsea Green was not there – they usually have a large area that must be 2-3 booths’ worth of space. Their books were available from other vendors such as Real Books. I ordered a book that I’d seen at their table last year 🙂 Oh, last year and the year before I think I saw Sandor Katz at this one booth where they sold homesteading supplies and some books and stuff- they weren’t there.

On the first day of the Expo, the Health Department came through and ticketed people who were giving out food without the proper permits. This caused an uproar that included Jere Gettle, the owner of Baker Creek Seeds, which runs this event via its Seed Bank in Petaluma, saying that the Expo might have to move to another city such as San Jose. The fact that he had other places in mind seems to imply that they’ve already been considering moving the event. Attendance seemed lower and I’d imagine that having fewer vendors was frustrating. The head of the Health Department resigned this week.

One thing that I’ve noticed about the vendors such as seed companies like Johnny’s Selected Seeds and our local Harmony Farm Supply is that nearly every company is focused on growing for summer, or summer growing by default. Here in the greater Bay Area we can grow food all year long. You’d think they’d have at least displays about winter growing, perhaps even selling season extension supplies or providing coupons to encourage folks to order them. Our local Natural Gardening Company had garlic bulbs and seed potatoes ($4 per pound? I could swear those are cheaper elsewhere), which was good to see.

Farmers. There are usually a half-dozen or so produce farmers in a spot near one of the exits. Is it possible that they were scared away by the health department? Soda Rock Farm was one of the few farms onsite (they primarily grow a lot of varieties of tomatoes). I did see the owners of Green Star Farm (who are never at the farmers’ markets I go to, even though my understanding is that owners have to be there once a month), but they were talking to each other when I went over to say hi.

I think there may have been one less building of exhibitors, which was weird. One of the best things that I found was the kids’ building. We showed up there to find the kids’ seed exchange. Matt Powers, the host of the Permaculture Tonight podcast, was mc’ing up on stage, and there happened to be watermelon sampling there in the same building! Yay! There was a table for coloring (pages from a coloring book that was available for sale, lol), and there were displays about seed saving and who knows what else! There were games being played outside (sack races and whatnot), but we didn’t make it outside in time to see them.

We never went to the animal area. I always enjoy seeing the animals, although I’m always nervous about picking up animal diseases on my shoes. My poultry husbandry instructor is a veterinarian, and he told us about how diseases are often spread at county fairs. The animals are housed in the fairgrounds’s barns.

I didn’t get to hear any speakers this year. There were some repeat speakers, which is nice for new folks, but kind of frustrating for someone who wonders who else is out there in the “real food” movement. I am always so annoyed at the “real food” thing that Baker Creek espouses. Yes, it’s nice to focus on heirloom varieties, but HOW they are grown is so important. Organic or Certified Naturally Grown certification answer so many questions that customers need to ask.

I love that there are vendors of healthy foods, although the $15 burger from the Fork Catering food truck was brutally expensive. I didn’t see a Petaluma Pie Company table. I’m hoping that this is because things are going so well for them at their restaurant in Petaluma, and not because they didn’t think the event would be financially worth-it.

The displays of squash were beautiful, as always. The old-timey music, especially Sideshow Slim, was annoying, as always. He does this weird self-deprecating thing between songs (I think he probably has pretty bad depression) where he also makes some kind of nasty comments about women, and I don’t like it. Old-fashioned sexism is still sexism. The worst part is that he always says the same lines between songs. He’s an amazing musician, though- he demonstrated 2 styles of yodeling!! The kids, including mine, loved dancing in front of the stage.

T had so much fun that weeks later, when we’d drive near the Fairgrounds, he would ask if the Expo is there, and when it will happen again. I hope that the National Heirloom Expo will be back in Santa Rosa next year!

Pumpkin patch at school farm

Today we went to the annual pumpkin patch/fall open house at the farm at the junior college that I attended. It’s always interesting to see what changes and what stays the same. One student (I assume, he was in a shirt with the farm’s name on it, like all the volunteers and student workers), when I asked him who the current garden manager is, said that it was the farm manager. When I pressed further, he said that there were 4 or 5 students running it. Now I think that he misunderstood me, because another guy came up to the table and sent his tablemate on her break. So that was the “supervisor” and maybe the student didn’t understand all the crop planning and stuff that that person does.

It was amazing to see what’s different between that garden and ours. The garden looks so clean- nary a weed in site, except maybe in the pumpkins. They have raised beds – they have a bed shaper, iirc, and a lot of other implements. Their strawberries, at least the Seascapes, don’t have runners. Their San Andreas plants look newer and do have runners. They look like it’s the beginning of their season, but I would guess that it’s the end (#winteriscoming). Z thought that they didn’t have many berries per bed foot compared to us, but then again, people had been picking berries for over 3 hours by the time we went to that area (I found only 2 ripe strawberries. there were a lot of overripe ones in the San Andreas section). They use landscape fabric to cover the strawberry beds- we didn’t use anything to cover the ground (and the skunks or raccoons dug the hell out of my plants and I had to replant a dozen every day for several weeks). Sure, we had weeds, but there aren’t many now. I find that they tend to provide places for the pests to hide (that said, I keep having to pull out dried grass at the edges of the bed, because the runners keep spreading so far. sadly, pulling the grass tends to also pull out the little plants whose roots have been taking refuge in the shade provided by the grass). Their greens were planted closer together (but in the case of kale, at least, they harvest more often. I wonder about their cabbage plants that seem to be only a foot apart. Maybe they are trying to grow smaller, personal-size cabbages, which makes sense to me.

The farm doesn’t have any chickens right now. I was part of the group that got the farm’s first-ever laying hens. The mobile coop that we built sat empty, with its doors open so people could see inside. I hope they park it out of the weather so it will last longer. I kind of wonder if they will sell it if it doesn’t get occupied within a certain number of years…

There used to be a hedgerow that was filled with native plants. It was a bit overgrown my first year, and the garden manager cut it way back my second year (iirc it may have been hosting chicken predators). It hasn’t really grown back. There was a huge, tall pile of what was obviously a Sonoma Compost product (we will miss you, Sonoma Compost!). One of that company’s owners is an adjunct instructor and board member for the Sustainable Ag program, so I almost wonder if it was donated. Oh, I had an interesting conversation with a woman from a local environmental nonprofit about folks who are trying to start up smaller local composting operations. She said that our compost likely does not go to Marin County, but rather even farther away to Solano County (this will increase our garbage fees). I need something to grind up my big pieces of food and crop “waste” so I don’t have to have my stuff shipped that far.

There were several familiar student faces (Albert, Ken, the guy with the mutton chops), including someone who lived at the intentional community I lived at when I first moved here. Two of my former instructors were there, and I passed by the farm manager at one point. He didn’t seem to see me. I have so many questions for him- what thickness drip tape do they use, where does he get those connectors that he uses between the oval hose and the drip tape, what is the tape that they use to cover up some holes, etc…

One of the strangest things to me was that, prominently featured in the parking lot, was the Tiny House Club’s workspace. Apparently that club works out of the farm- they are actually milling their own lumber from wood from the forest that is on the farm property. Sonoma County seems to be a hub for the tiny house movement – in fact, several people were building or living in tiny houses at the intentional community I lived at. Tiny houses are seen as an important way to house young farmers. I have some “issues” with the idea. Here are some of them: 1. they are expensive. even with the wood coming for free, and the school providing tools, what about a bed? will it have its own kitchen and bathroom, as they usually do? all of those things, plus the electrical, cost money. 2. I suppose that people are correct to say that young folks tend to not have a lot of stuff, but I’ve observed that my friends who live tiny (and this was true for me when I lived in a bus for 4 months at the i.c.) tend to need additional storage. 3. Zoning. There is an Event about zoning for Tiny Houses in Sonoma County coming up, but really, as a rural landowner of acreage, I have to say that we’d be concerned about having to provide hookups to our septic system, water, and electric system (and the tiny house’s drain on those systems), and insurance – what if something happened to that tiny house dweller, or the tiny house, while that person was living on our property? Also, what kind of rent would one charge? 3. It can be really isolating and make one feel claustrophobic to be stuck in a small unit during, for instance, an El Niño winter (as I was) – in that case (or when one needs to do laundry), one will likely need access to the primary dwelling or some other space. I do think that this is a better way to do the Tiny House thing- in community with friends

We went on a tour of the forest – it was just a tiny section that used to take me 15 minutes to walk, while my whole hike took an hour to 75 minutes. I walked really fast then, too. I miss that forest SO much. It’s not open to the public, and it’s 30 minutes from our place with no traffic. I even visualize it sometimes to help me sleep! Our tired kid seemed to enjoy it, too, although his dad had to do a lot of hiking while holding him! They provided water and a pumpkin bread snack at the end. It was neat to hear students and what appeared to be the main instructor who uses the farm as his class laboratory talk about some aspects of managing the forest.

Back at home this evening, Z picked a basket of strawberries, T picked pieces of greens, and I hoed the empty part of the east greens bed so I can try to get those poor seedlings into the ground. The tall collards look very unhappy and need to get transplanted!!!