Solutions through “Problems”

Moles have been wrecking havoc and creating mounds throughout our small lawn. They turn up the soil and create mounds that will inevitably get sucked into our electric mower as it dulls the blade and creates a bare chunk of grass. The moles like to dine on what’s living underneath the soil such as worms and our soil has a lot of worms! Being in the flood zone along the Russian River, each flood deposits rich soil on our property, long before a house was built on this land.

We decided early on to live with the moles instead of trying to trap them, exterminate them, or buy one of those beeping deterrents off Amazon (they don’t work, for moles or gophers!). Also, because we grow our lawn organically and let the clippings compost, this soil is prime which gave me the idea to grab my shovel. I noticed the soil in these mole mounds was nicely turned, rich, soft and dark. I started to take a shovel to these mounds and deposit these pilings into a large container.

I then built a small sieve out of some leftover 1/4″ hardware cloth and some reclaimed 2x4s. Sifting this soil and adding some vermiculite made for the perfect potting soil and seed starting mix.

Soil Sieve built from leftover materials.

You can not buy this quality of soil through a bag at a store. Meanwhile, once the mound is leveled, I reseed the area and wait for the grass to grow back. It seems the moles in our area are more active in the winter. In the summer, when the lawn is used most, we don’t see many if any mole mounds being created.

Adding vermiculite to make the soil lighter, have more air, and retain water.

So, a problem turned into a solution. We now have great potting soil without leaving the house. Often the approach is to get rid of rodents, insects, like the cabbage moth eggs underneath the kale but when we do this, we are not seeing the bigger picture. I can let a few kale leaves have holes to have my other plants have a few extra pollinators (those eggs turn into butterflies). I can let some bad insects live without spraying because I know the predatory insects will begin to show up without the use of pesticides. I can live with moles because we don’t need a perfect lawn and now they’ve become our little soil farmers.

Yummy looking soil.

Note: If you want sterilized seed starting mix, try checking out this article on SFgate with some tips. It involves using an oven, steam or a microwave.

Note 2: If you don’t have Moles in your yard turning up your soil, you can use compost you made or soil you know is not contaminated. Sift the soil, add vermiculite and boom!

Garden First, Fridge Second

A quick trip in the garden to retrieve some kale for omelettes.

Instead of reaching for the fridge to make my meals, I try to think about what I can incorporate from the garden. It’s worth taking those extra steps down to the garden to pick even the smallest of plants, a sprig of thyme, a few kale leaves, or green onions. No matter if most of my meal is store bought, it’s nice to get into the practice of going into the garden to pick our food. Not only do I get the benefits of fresh air and movement but I get to see how the plants are doing and what bird feeders need to be filled up. If the birds haven’t reminded me already! The addition of some greens or zucchini to a meal can stretch out store bought ingredients to make a cheap and healthy meal.

There’s no denying that a meal solely from the garden is something special but it’s also nice when the topping to a meal is from the garden such as some basil or parsley sliced thinly to give us some green to our meals. Sometimes we can feel lazy about going outside to grab some herbs for a meal but take the moment as a gift to explore the open air, the soil beneath your feet and our connection to this earth.

One egg breakfast omelette with home baked bread.

How to Eat from the Garden Regularly

Keep on seeding. Keep on planting. Think ahead. A lot of seed packets will have days to maturity. That’s not always accurate in less than ideal conditions (I.e. too much shade, cold, poor soil). So, we need to plan ahead. Maybe it’s starting seeds inside for faster germination then transplanting for a jump start.

my box of seeds.

I may have enough lettuce today but what happens when the lettuce turns bitter or goes to seed? I need to wait another three weeks before greens. That’s why it’s important to sow successively (sowing seeds every few weeks). Learn your soil, your conditions/seasons, your taste preferences to help guide you in staying stocked with seeds and having vegetables to eat when you want.

Sowing seeds inside can help during colder months.

One biggest piece of advice is to plant what you eat or learn to cook with the veggies you’re growing. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up with piles of veggies that take up space and aren’t utilized.

Happy gardening!

The Secret to Making Bread Everyday

Imperfect is OK.
  1. It’s ok for it to not be perfect.
  2. It’s ok to not be exact.
  3. It’s ok to start the dough whenever you have time.

    It’s great to think ahead, to measure things perfectly and to bake at the exact temperatures needed but the fact is that I’ve found bread forgiving. If you’re looking for consistent loafs that look the same every time, that requires attention to detail. If you’re like me and don’t mind things coming out different, you can play with it. I’m making bread to eat daily and I don’t want to stress myself over minute details. If you have at least 4-5 hours of time to let the dough rise, you can find a recipe that can work. An example of imperfection in my kitchen is that I’ve had dough that wasn’t rising after 8 hours. I added some more flour, some water, and some more yeast, boom! The dough started to move and it turned out OK.

    Two things that you’ll always want to have on hand. Flour and yeast. Yeast can be bought in bulk and stored in an air tight container in the fridge. That’s all you need!

    Here’s a quick picture of what’s happening in the kitchen this morning. We don’t buy much bread from the store these days. Each morning consists of taking the dog out, making breakfast, prepping lunch, coffee, and starting the fire in the wood stove. Once Mallory is out the door for work, I prep the dough that’s been rising overnight. Today there are two bread products being made. One is the no knead bread baked in the Dutch oven, the other is a no knead baguette recipe that I’ve turned Into a roll recipe. It Making bread consistently means always having something rising. In our house, bread is made every two to three days. Having fresh bread around makes for easy meals like egg on toast in the morning. The rolls are great for sandwiches or as substitute buns for burgers. It can be a lot of work but if you build it into your routine it can make it much easier. The bread is better than store bought, we use flour from either King Arthur or bobs red mill, it’s much cheaper and the flour is from a B corporation that supports sustainable practices. At roughly a dollar a loaf or 10 cents a roll, you can’t beat it.
Have to start the fire every morning in the winter to keep Betty warm.

pleasures of power washing

The problem with a new tool is it can soon become your favorite tool for every job. While that may not sound terrible, it can be a detriment. For example, when I decided an angle grinder was the best tool to get a stuck drum off my van (it didn’t work.) A pressure washer is one of these tools that has quickly become my recent tool to obsess over. I’m not the only one that recognizes the joys of uncovering a pristine surface under a muddied exterior. See r/powerwashingporn on Reddit or find Youtube videos with millions of views. Imagine being the doer and not the spectator. Imagine holding that magical wand and disappearing years of filth that would have taken many painstaking hours to clean by hand. Glorious! My new purchase this past week was a gas pressure washer. I have used electric but nothing compares to the force of a gas powered unit. With that force comes ear wrecking small engine noise but I think it’s worth it, my neighbors don’t.

All hail the screaming banana, a used Workforce 2500psi 163cc bought for the Facebook marketplace price of $180. I don’t like to own tools just to have them, this tool will get a lot of use and is a great addition for many DIY tasks around the home.

Workforce pressure washer did handy work with these bricks.
Cement cleaned up real nice.
This one was cool power washing discovery. A cobblestone path under 5 inches of soil.

when is the best time to purchase and plant fruit trees on the west coast?

Gardeners often mistake spring and summer for the best time to plant fruit trees. But, deciduous fruit trees are often better purchased and planted during the winter months when they lie dormant. Part of the reason this is true is because the fruit tree doesn’t go through as much shock when being planted. It is not actively growing therefore the growth is not being disturbed. Also, nurseries often have a better selection and broad range of varieties that you may have thought never existed. The trees range in age but most are between 2-3 years old. That fruit tree that you buy in a pot in spring and summer is sometimes the same tree you could have purchased for half the price in winter because wholesale nurseries will often plant them in pots to sell them for a higher price later on.

There are a few things I look at when selecting a tree. First is the graft, often they are not completely callused over but there shouldn’t be any space between the rootstock and the grafted variety. Second, make sure there are no gashes, stripped bark, or oozing sap. Oozing sap is usually a sign that a canker is developing which can result in the whole tree dying. I see cankers mostly in apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines. Nurseries check for cankers but sometimes a few will be missed.  If you’re looking to grow a smaller tree, try to select one with lower branches. Sometimes, this isn’t possible and the tree will have to be cutback without any branches being underneath the cut. Don’t worry, those dormant buds should break underneath the cut and you can select your main branches from the shoots that appear.

Many people have small backyards and want smaller trees so they can have a range of fruit. Often, I get asked at the nursery for miniature or dwarf trees. From my experience, the root system is sometimes dwarfed as well, the tree is a little more finicky (resulting in dropped fruit) and the quality isn’t always there. I would much rather keep a semi-dwarf smaller by pruning and making a low initial cut when planting. Farmers sometimes use the knee rule, which means cutting the tree down to knee level. This can be done with smaller diameter trees but with larger diameter trees, I would make the cut higher than knee high.

Another option to have more varieties in a smaller area is to select multi-graft fruit trees. These trees are grafted with sometimes up six different varieties. One fruit tree that is commonly referred to as ‘stone fruit salad’ contains a peach, nectarine, plum, and apricot all on one tree while others will contain 4 varieties of one type of fruit. You can also try planting multiple trees on three-foot centers. This would look like a triangle when planted, one tree on each corner of the triangle.

Make sure you’re selecting fruit varieties that will do well in your area. Ask a nursery person if you’re confused about what ones will perform best in your location. Keep an eye out for chill hours; chill hours are the amount of hours below 45 degrees needed for optimal production. There are maps and charts online (here is one by UC Davis) that will give you an idea for how many chill hours you get in your area. If you’re in a low-lying area, you may get more chill hours than your neighbor who is up on a ridge. The chill hours don’t necessarily need to be reached to produce fruit but you will get much better production if the chill hour requirement is met.

Last but not least, when planting a bareroot tree, it is better to error on planting the tree too high than too low.  The tree will naturally pull itself down by a process called centrifugal force. If the centrifugal force is not enough, you can always add soil to cover the visible roots. Where as, if you plant a tree too low, you will make the tree vulnerable too crown rot and it will need to be completely excavated, often resulting in damaging the root system.

persimmonAfter the tree is planted, side dress with a good amount of rich compost. Do this several times during the year as the compost breaks down. In addition to adding compost, you can put a nice layer of different size wood chips to help conserve moisture and provide a slow release of nutrients to the tree.

Remember, as long as you follow a few rules, shopping for fruit trees in the winter will save you money, you’ll have a bigger selection to choose from, and the trees will be happier in the long run. Happy New Year everyone!