By the time the holidays rolled around in December, we were very much over the seemingly never-ending DIY that had consumed us over the prior 6 months. Luckily, we got a good break after Christmas, and got away to Encinitas, just north of San Diego. The weather was sunny and warmer than here – in the low 60’s, which all of the locals were complaining about as “so cold.” Mike surfed and I practiced at the Ashtanga Yoga Center. We ate out and didn’t have to do any dishes. Best of all, we weren’t compelled to do work of any kind.
Now, we’re back. And the end is in sight.
Before the holidays, we nearly finished laying down the garage floor.
We decided to stop for the year after the second time I accidentally squashed Mike’s finger with the plywood in as many days. We were so close to being done! But, we were tired and didn’t want to risk any actual injuries for the sake of finishing.
As of today, we’ve got the entire floor laid down and sealed up.
Our original plan was to put bamboo flooring on top of the plywood. But now, we just can’t be bothered to do the work to take that step. Instead, we are getting help to paint the floor with special floor paint, and we’ll call it a day. Hopefully, that work will get done this week and Mike can start the process of moving his office and hobbies into the garage…and I can finally start making the move from San Jose up to the mountain.
It’s not all sunshine and tomatoes all the time up on the homestead…
Here’s a peek at most of the projects that Mike and I have undertaken over the past six months. We are becoming pretty handy and make a good team 99.5% of the time The other 0.5% accounts for me not accurately following directions – or maybe, Mike not giving clear enough directions. Probably some of both. Despite Mike’s constant concern about me not paying enough attention to what I’m doing, we have managed to avoid any grievous bodily injury in the process!
One side and the back of the house are paved with small gravel pebbles. Over time, the pebbles drift out of the pathways and get moved around, creating muddy spots. Over the past few months, we have made several trips to Granite Rock in Santa Cruz to fill our buckets to recharge the pathways. Did you know you can get a HALF TON of gravel for only $15? I am tickled by this. We have spent so much money on projects over the past six months that this feels like such a good value!
We also created a pathway in between the house and the garage. We’re finishing the garage to make a work space for Mike, so we want to try to avoid tracking muddy feet in there.
At Granite Rock, we bought this pallet of Arizona sandstone:
After! Thanks to our friend, Summer, for helping with this project.
An asphalt guy wanted to charge Mike thousands of dollars to fill the cracks in the driveway. We didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on this project, so we did it ourselves!
We want to protect our investment of finishing the garage by making sure it is adequately weather-proofed. So, Mike and our friend, Courtney, caulked every crevice on the outside of the structure.
Courtney also helped us paint our new shed. Her two affenpinschers, Yoda and Mimi, supervised.
Kindling & Wood Stacking
Making kindling is a yearly affair. But, Mike does it himself – so it seemed apropos to include it here.
Same for stacking the firewood. I do the manual labor of moving the wood. Mike does the “skilled” labor of stacking it so it doesn’t fall over.
Our friend, Summer, gets credit for this one – but, I thought it was worth sharing to illustrate the joys of mountain living. There was an old-growth redwood stump in the back that wood rats moved in to and created a nest. It had to go.
Wood rats also made a nest in the shed that houses the water softener and water pressure pump. We’ve had a big problem with wood rats this year. Not only is it kind of gross to have them around, they have also eaten some of my plants, including seedlings and succulents in the greenhouse! The greenhouse is very old and not sealed up very well, so they can wiggle their way in through open crevices – Mike caught one in the rat zapper, and we haven’t had a problem in there since! They also make a mess by pulling the small wild plums off of the trees, eating part of them, and then leaving the pits all over the place. Gross.
New Propane Tank & Gas Line Repair
Again, not a strictly D.I.Y. project, but we got a new, bigger propane tank installed so that we can have enough propane to power the gas in both the house and the garage.
The gas line to the house also needed some repairing. To dig down to it, Mike got enlisted to help the propane guy with digging this trench. FYI – this ground is very, very hard and has deep roots running through it, so I can’t imagine this was a pleasant task! The propane guy said that Mike could have a new career in working for him…
Last but not least, our big project of the year – the garage. We are creating more room inside the house by finishing the garage to become Mike’s office and multi-purpose space.
At the end of June, we moved everything out of the garage and in to a shipping container.
Builders extraordinaire Kyrod and Jynelle, with the help of Kyrod’s friend, Jordan (and some sheet rocking guys), have worked magic on the space.
photo by Mike
photo by Mike
Video taken on November 3:
As of today, the floor is a work in progress. Mike and Kyrod’s friend, Jordan, are “floating” the floor and insulating it – the cement gets really cold! Once the framing and insulation is in, Mike will put particle board down on top. His plan is to let the particle board settle (it might have some residual dampness) and then install bamboo tiles on top of it after a few months.
To be continued… hopefully after a restful winter during which we have time to enjoy our weekends. 🙂
November is my second-favorite month, next to the month of peak spring that spans the end of March and beginning of April. What I love about November is how everything begins to get quiet and the natural world seems to take a deep breath with a long exhale before settling in for winter.
This year, the quiet settling of November has a different meaning because of the hard physical work Mike and I have been doing on the property over the last six months. This past weekend, we finished up all of our major outdoor projects, which feels like a relief. We’re closing in finishing the garage remodel. Needless to say, we’re ready for a relaxing winter.
I successfully started romanesco, arugula, and Chinese cabbage in the greenhouse. Wood rats ate the chard & the perpetual spinach seedlings, so I direct seeded some and covered the bed with fencing to protect the seeds from getting scooped up by birds. We’ll see if they germinate.
In a year when our stone fruit, apple, and pear trees didn’t produce their usual bounty, the Fuyu persimmon tree gave us more fruit than ever before.
Mike has a grape vine in the front of the house. For the past few years, the grape harvest has been negligible, so I haven’t come to expect grapes. But, this year, we got enough grapes to do something with. But, what? Make grape jelly, of course!
When presented with options for jelly or jam, grape has never been my choice. There is always something unnatural about the way that grape products (other than wine!) taste to me. But, I can safely say that this jelly is so delicious. The flavor is intensely, honestly grapey. I now understand where the description “jammy” as applied to wine comes from. I wish I would have videoed Mike while he was tasting the jam, as his reaction was the most earnest and delighted “YUM” I’ve ever heard him utter.
I always say that the fact that any preserved foods I make are good is not because of me, but rather because of the quality of the raw materials. I’m learning that, in most cases, simple preparations without a lot of added flavors are best.
Here’s a note for my future self: expect tomatoes in August, not July.
In July, I was ready to throw in the towel on my tomato farming endeavors. The few fruits were green and not ripening very fast. The plants grew into a jungly mess and I had to prune off long straggly branches and haphazardly stake them to prevent them from collapsing. We had blossom end rot on several plants.
But, come August, things turned around. We got the blossom end rot under control by adding lime to the soil. Nature did her trick, and once the days became reliably warm, we magically started to have ripe tomatoes.
For having 9 plants, we have not been overwhelmed by tomatoes. We didn’t prune our plants when they were small. According to some wisdom, this makes the plants concentrate on growing foliage, not fruit. On the other hand, I know some people who have never pruned their tomato plants, and they are overloaded with fruit. Next year, I think I’ll try pruning the plants when they are young to see if it makes a difference in the yield of fruit.
And finally, an update on Mike’s giant Tahitian squash. You may remember that I pruned it back after the plant started to trail and strangle the tomato plants in the same bed. This made the plant very unhappy. But! Despite the savagery I unleashed on the squash to save the tomatoes, we still ended up with two giant squash. Mike is very happy with his twins.
Until two years ago, I thought that a prune was just a dried plum.
My mind was blown two summers ago when Mike started talking about his prune trees and his plum trees. Brace yourself for some history and plant nerdery – I’ll explain the difference! Unless otherwise cited, all information comes from here.
When we talk about prune trees and plum trees, we’re talking about related plants that came to California from different parts of the world. What we know as prune trees evolved from prunus domestica, which were brought to California by European settlers. In the 1850s, French horticulturalists Louis and Pierre Pellier brought what is now known as the “French prune” trees to California, first selling them from their nursery in San Jose. Prune production in the Santa Clara Valley in the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s contributed to it being coined the “Valley of Heart’s Delight.”
Prunes have a higher sugar content than what we know know as “plums,” which allows them to dry without fermenting around the pit. Since Californian prune production has declined in the last half-century, I believe that what are sold now as “pitted prunes” are mainly dried plums, as they don’t contain the pits.
What we know as plums are derivatives of prunus salicina, and were brought to California from Japan in the 1870s. Luther Burbank bred and introduced many of the most popular cultivars that we enjoy today, most notably the Santa Rosa Plum.
The plant genus prunus contains plums, peaches, cherries and…almonds! “Prune” comes from the Latin prunus. French-speaking friends (and Google Translate) told us that “prune” is French for “plum.” Going further down the rabbit hole, the word “plum” comes from the Old English plume. So, just like we have completely different names for the same things in modern language, the words “prune” and “plum” derived from Latin and Old English and are labels for the same genus of fruit.
I recently listened to the most recent episode of the Ashtanga Dispatch Podcast, in which senior teacher Richard Freeman talks about how the human tendency towards labeling things can create confusion. In the context of that conversation, he was talking about different names for the same yoga posture. The same applies here to plums and prunes – they are simply different names for essentially the same thing.
I love the old prune trees that were likely planted on Mike’s land during the heyday of prune production in Santa Clara County. Though we’re up out of the valley, they remind me that we live in a place that was once dominated by agriculture, not technology. This land is a respite from the daily chaos that greets me down in the 21st century world. These old trees are a reminder that, though much changes over time, nature does her best to endure.