Ready, Set, Summer!

A running theme of this blog seems to be: “Wow, I can’t believe it’s already XYZ time of year!”  But, that’s exactly how I am always feeling.  We’re now less than a week away from the summer solstice.  It was a quick transition from a cold, rainy May to a pretty brutal heat wave in the first few days of June.  Here’s a peek of what we’ve been up to over the past month or so as we have prepared for our summer garden.

I planted carrot seeds back in December.  This was when I was still in my idealistic “I’m going to grow food year-round!” phase…before the cold, wet winter set in and the last thing I wanted to do was go outside and thin the carrots.  Well, the result was a bunch of carrots that didn’t really grow because the seeds were too close to each other.  We wound up with a few short, stubby, perfectly edible ones.  I’ll probably continue to leave my carrot supply to the professionals…

 

We planted our “summer crops” – tomatoes & squash – on May 26.  This might seem late, but we had to wait until the cold weather was safely out of the forecast.  In an exercise of restraint, we planted 5 tomato plants: Japanese Black Trifele, Sungold, Sweet Millions, Black Krim & Hawaiian Pineapple.  As we did last year, we got our plants from Love Apple Farms.  JBT & Sungold were our best performers last year, so we’re hoping for repeat luck with those plants.

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I started squash & cucumber seeds from Row 7 Seed Company.  Mike and I first learned about them at a Spade & Plow farm dinner last summer, where we were served the most delicious squash, a hybrid between a butternut and Japanese pumpkin.  From Row 7’s website: “We are a seed company grounded in the notion that deliciousness might just change the world. A seed company built by chefs and breeders striving to make ingredients taste better before they ever hit a plate.”  SOLD.

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To create irrigated, fenced space dedicated to growing flowers, we put in three new raised beds.  Our friend, Summer, helped us build them and we’re now on our way towards hopefully having a flower garden.  I say “hopefully” because some insect ate all of my zinnia seedlings, and the garden’s success now lies largely in the germination of other types of seeds.  Always learning…

 

On a final note, we’ve had some new additions to our usual range of animal life around here.  A cottontail rabbit has been hanging around, and we’ve named it Bun Bun.  It seems pretty friendly, so something tells us it’s not too long for this world.  On occasion, we also find scorpions in the house or in the yard.  I found this one while I was moving around some piled-up sandstone pavers, and it stayed still long enough for me to get a good photo before it slinked back into a dark crevice.  From top of head to end of tail, it’s probably no more than an inch and a half long.

 

Here’s to a fruitful summer!

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Hot nights make for gorgeous sunsets.

 

In Bloom

It’s been a cold and wet spring here on the mountain, but our flowers have brightened the days.  I’ve been on a mission to increase the blooming plant life around here.  That’s not an easy task because deer eat things they’re not supposed to and little birds eat things they are supposed to (ex: California quail eat California poppy seed pods – go figure!).  Plus, we don’t have good irrigation infrastructure for the dry months.

Nonetheless, I keep at it and am learning to pay attention to what works well: bulbs that flower in the early spring before the deer get hungry; heavily fragrant salvias; proteas & other similar Australian plants.  And of course we’re surrounded on all sides by the most magical fruit trees.  This year, we’re adding three new small, fenced garden beds that we will irrigate and allow us to expand our selection of summer flowers.  This prospect makes us and the bees happy.

These are some photos of what’s been blooming around here over the last few months.  I’ve been especially delighted by all of the intricate blooms on our succulents in the greenhouse.

 

 

 

 

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The Brilliance of Spring

Somehow, we find ourselves at the end of March.  Spring always seems so fleeting.  We wait through the rainy winter, she teases us with a few blue sky days before raining again, and then it’s brilliant and bright and green for a few weeks before the grass starts to turn towards the golden hue of summer.

The magnolia tree burst into full bloom, as she always does during the sunny days that inevitably come during the first weeks of March.

Of course, the stone fruit trees came into full bloom during the rainy days sandwiched in between the bright sunny days.  This makes us worry about our stone fruit pollination: Did the rain prevent the bees from flying to pollinate the flowers?  Did the rain knock off the blossoms?  Will we get more rain that knocks off the tiny fruit before it can fully set?  Time will tell…

We had a quiet winter, which seems to have passed by all too quickly.  With each year on the mountain, I’m learning that precious downtime – weeks and months when there’s not a lot of work to do, or can’t be done due to rain – comes and goes in the blink of an eye.

During our winter “downtime,” I enjoyed tending our growing succulent collection.  I never really thought I’d be a succulent collector.  But, now that I have a place to put them, I find them somewhat irresistible.

I also learned that I am not a winter gardener.  I have this idea of myself becoming a small-scale hobby farmer, growing food year-round.  To this end, I planted a winter garden of brassicas, carrots & onions.  As the days grew dark, cold, and wet, I couldn’t be bothered to trudge out to the garden beds to tend them.  And, even though we have had a lot of rain this winter, it hasn’t always been consistent enough to water a vegetable garden without some supplemental irrigation.  So, my winter garden went largely ignored and has become overrun with weeds and my nemesis, oxalis.  Somehow, one head of Chinese cabbage managed to thrive.  For the foreseeable future, I think I’ll stick to summer gardening and leave my winter vegetable supply to people hardier than me.

I’ve been increasing our variety of bulbs, which has led to the joy of cheerful flowers blooming from the end of January onward.  If you’re into bulbs, check out Floret, a flower farm in Washington’s Skagit Valley.  In the fall, I ordered and planted some of their anemones and daffodils, and they are turning out to be just spectacular.  I’ll definitely order from them again this fall to fill in our empty spaces.

Speaking of flowers, our original plan for this spring was to build some more fenced & irrigated garden beds and fill them with flowers to bloom all throughout the summer.  Then, Mike had shoulder surgery, which has put him out of commission for building projects.  Nevertheless, I tried my hand at starting a bunch of flower seeds in the greenhouse.  I’ve had the most luck with a variety of cosmos, which are our – and the bees’ – favorite.

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I’m truly loving using these self-watering seed pots from Orta.  They really take the guess work out of watering seedlings.  And, they are good for lazy winter gardeners like me who don’t especially like going out in the cold and rain to water the seedlings!

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I sowed a bunch of other seeds a few weeks ago.  But, a tiny mouse decided to come and dig for a seed buffet a few days after I sowed them; we (sadly) zapped the mouse and vowed to get a better greenhouse that can actually be sealed up and mostly animal-proofed.  Since then, the zapper has caught two more tiny mice!  I really hate zapping the mice…but, I guess it’s part of rural living.

We unfortunately lost 2 hives of bees over the winter.  One was the Layens hive that Mike built last year.  We think that the space was too big and the cluster was too small for them to stay warm.  The other one is a mystery – Did they starve? Did they have a weak queen?  We’re left with 2 boxes of comb/wax and 3 hives of bees.  Crossing our fingers that the bees don’t swarm.

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Last but not least, we finished the garage!  Mike has moved into it and is working in there, and I’ve moved into the house with my cats, Penny & Jack.  We are all adjusting well and looking forward to this next stage of our adventure together.

 

The Cost of Food

This isn’t about the homestead per se, but is related because my values about food are directly related to my desire to be more self-sufficient.

It’s no secret that I am a fervent supporter of local, small-scale food producers.  I am tremendously lucky to be privileged enough to follow my values and prioritize buying food that has a smaller travel footprint, but may come with a higher out-of-pocket cost.

Recently, Mike and I were at a social gathering with people who we had just met.  As you do at such a thing, we were making small talk with a few people when the topic shifted to a local bakery that had recently opened in the area.  One of our fellow party-goers was shocked to discover that the bakery sells loaves of bread for $8 each.  She seemed almost offended by the idea that a loaf of bread could cost so much – what on earth could be so special about a loaf of bread that could make it be worth $8?

As a frequent patron and huge fan of this local bakery, I quite honestly found this woman’s commentary annoying.  Taking a step back, I realize that her viewpoint is formed by our society’s assumptions about what food should cost; our ideas about the value of food to a consumer, and not the costs associated with all of the steps that it takes to get our food from it’s starting point to our plates.  For example, a loaf of bread from a small-scale local bakery is worth $8 because of these costs:

  • Renting or buying bakery & retail space in the greater Bay Area, and paying the associated ancillary costs such as utilities;
  • Paying bakers & retail employees enough money to somewhat survive in the greater Bay Area;
  • Purchasing (and in some cases milling their own!) organic flour from California farmers;
  • Purchasing other high-quality ingredients (dairy, fruit, etc.) from other local purveyors;
  • Purchasing equipment and implements needed to prepare and bake the loaves;
  • Purchasing vehicles and gasoline to deliver the goods to third-party sellers;
  • The reduced carbon footprint of the loaf;
  • Other things that I’m not readily thinking of at the moment.

Taking all of these factors into account, doesn’t it feel good to support a local business and local people by paying $8 for a loaf of bread?  Again, I realize that I am lucky to be in a financial position to prioritize this kind of spending because it is important to me.

I also don’t claim to be a perfect locavore.  I am human and swayed by sales, random impulse buys at Trader Joe’s, bulk items at Costco, and other questionable purchases. But, I am glad to say that the majority of my day-to-day staples come from local producers.

If you’re feeling inspired, here are some of my favorite local purveyors in San Jose and Santa Cruz:

  • Spade & Plow: I get a weekly CSA box from S&P and could not be a happier customer.  Every box is full of beautiful, delicious veggies and fruits.  I love being able to directly support the Thorp family and all of the good folks who work for the farm.  They have also recently started partnering with the Midwife and the Baker to provide a bread add-on.
  • Everett Family Farm: This farm is just down the hill from us in Soquel, on the Santa Cruz side of the mountain.  They are also known for their cider!
  • Companion Bakeshop: It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think this is my very favorite bakery around here.  Their bread is generally just how I like it (not too “crusty”), their pastries are amazing, and I LOVE their quiche (you may know my affinity for savory pie!).  They have shops in Aptos and westside Santa Cruz, and also sell their pastries at Cat & Cloud (see below).
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Quiche at Companion, accompanied by Cat & Cloud coffee
  • Chromatic Coffee: OG San Jose coffee roaster.  I so appreciate their San Jose pride.
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Chromatic Cafe, downtown San Jose
  • Cat & Cloud Coffee: My favorite coffee on the Santa Cruz side of the hill.  Mike and I call them the “happy hipsters” because they have such good vibes.
  • Camino Brewing: Taproom just outside of downtown San Jose – with tacos most nights!

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  • Humble Sea and BruxoIf you find yourself in westside Santa Cruz, just go.  You will not regret it.
  • Discretion Brewing: Best bet for beers and delicious small bites on the Capitola side of Santa Cruz.

Does it seem like I only care about veggies, coffee & beer?  They are good gateways to the local food producers!

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Mike is so happy to support local food at a collaboration dinner with Spade & Plow, Bruxo and Camino Brewing!

I’m super inspired by Andrea Bemis of Tumbleweed Farm in Mt. Hood, Oregon.  Last summer, she did a “Local 30” and blogged about it.  Once we’re settled and done with our big projects, maybe Mike and I will endeavor a Local 30 this summer!

2019: Back at it!

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.

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San Elijo State Beach

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.

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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.

 

Fall: An Epilogue

Perhaps this post should be entitled “An Ode to the Japanese Maple.”

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We are graced by some magnificent old trees, including this wondrous Japanese Maple, which has dazzled me ever since I first got to know it two falls ago.

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With this past weekend’s storm, most of the fall leaves are gone from the trees, which is a sure sign that Mother Nature is ready to usher in winter.

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Pear orchard across the road.
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Nearly naked walnut tree.
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Big Leaf Maple leaves carpet the ground.