A Wood Stove and Other Things

Organic tree fertilizerWhile we are busy trying to sell our home in the valley so we can permanently move up to our mountain property, we have been able to sneak up to the future homestead a few times these past few weeks to get a few chores done.

One important task to accomplish was feeding our fruit and nut trees.  We stopped at an organic nursery on our way up to the future homestead and found a great organic fertilizer. It has kelp and worm compost and other wonderful things in it, providing not just the NPK that you find in chemical fertilizers, but lots of micronutrients such as boron and copper that are essential for tree health!  We also raked away the last of the leaves and pine needles to prevent any pests from over-wintering in them, and widened the watering berm a bit because the drip line has expanded with the ever-growing trees.  We did a drastic pruning this year, so the trees are actually shorter, but we need to make sure that the trees have a strong scaffolding shape for the future. Unfortunately we got a borer in the largest cherry tree last year, so we cut out as much of the damaged wood as possible and are keeping our fingers crossed that the tree will survive.cap and vent for an outhouse

Another necessary chore was to put a rain cap on the outhouse vent.  When using a venting an outhousecomposting toilet (which is essentially what an outhouse is), excessive moisture is the biggest enemy!  Instead of human waste composting with minimal smell, excessively wet waste will stink to high heavens and become a putrid sludge instead of compost.

If you are eating right now, I apologize.  😉

We found several caps at our local hardware box store and decided on the one in the picture above one.  It appears that it will do a great job allowing for air flow, yet keep rain out of the vent pipe. Just what we need! Though we haven’t had much rain here in California this winter (we are in our fourth year of drought), the weather report said that quite a bit of rain was expected in the next couple of days, and they were right!  We got the vent on just in time!

february blooming almond tree

Almond tree blossoms in February

Speaking of the weather and the orchard trees:  it has been just too warm up on our future homestead!  Our almond tree is blooming and the pomegranate is starting to leaf out!  This is way too early.  We shouldn’t see this until at least the end of February and more often well into March.  Unfortunately, this probably means we won’t get any almonds this year because a freeze or very heavy downpour of rain will either kill the blossoms or knock them off of the tree entirely.  Oh well.  The tree is only starting it’s third year in our orchard, so I didn’t expect much of a harvest anyway.  Last year it had two almonds that fell off the tree mid-summer.

pomegranate tree leafing out

The pomegranate trees are already getting leaves!

Last, but by no means least, is our new wood stove!  Isn’t she cute?  It’s a little tiny thing, but just perfect for cooking on!  We decided to fire her up right away to burn off that new cooking on a small wood stovepaint smell.  Boy did it stink!  Phew!  According to the instructions that came with the wood stove, we will have to do this a few more times before the burned paint smell is gone, but that’s not a problem.  So now, when our home in the valley is sold and we move up to our mountain property and start building our new homestead, we will have a great way to cook outside without having to use up a lot of expensive propane!

While bringing some wood over to the new wood stove to burn, I found this mushroom on one of the logs!  Isn’t it beautiful?wood stove 7 This wood has been piled up for a couple of years and there were several other types of fungi growing on the wood – slowly but surely decomposing the cellulose – adding nutrients to the organic layer of duff on the forest floor.  Mother Nature at her best!

Thanks for coming over for a visit!

 

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Trees and Plants in Pots

One of the advantages of living in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California is our balmy Mediterranean-like weather.  We can grow just about anything.  Seriously!

Just about every kind of nut or fruit tree, vegetable and herb does well here in the valley.  Especially citrus.  We have a huge naval orange tree that supplies us with hundreds of pounds of oranges every year.  In fact, one of our favorite desserts in the winter is an orange with half a bar of dark chocolate…  one bite of this, one bite of that 😀

In preparation for moving up to our future homestead in the mountains where citrus trees don’t survive unless they are kept above freezing temperatures, we decided to get some dwarf citrus and plant them in large pots so that they can be moved around.  They will stay inside a pit greenhouse (sometimes called walipini) during the winter and can be brought to the front porch of our soon to be built house during the spring, summer and autumn.

Container Grown Meyer Lemons

These lemons are sizing up nicely. They should be good and juicy by November or December

I bought the lemon tree first, when I saw it on sale at our local nursery, because I loved the Meyer lemon tree that my mother has.  The Meyer lemon comes from China and is a cross between a traditional lemon and a mandarin orange, which makes it just a bit sweeter.  It is delicious when used in lemon bars or lemon iced tea, but is out of this world when squeezed on fresh grilled salmon.  In researching the Meyer Lemon, I found that the dwarf variety does quite nicely in containers, as long as they are given an occasional boost of a good citrus fertilizer.

Growing Citrus Trees in Pots

The mandarin tree has about 19 walnut sized mandarins on it right now, and another dozen or so pea sized ones!

Soon after, my oldest son bought a Tango Mandarin for my grand children. The kids were going through boxes of those “cuties” that are sold at the grocery store, so my son thought it would be a good idea to get their own tree. These little citrus fruits are the kind that peel very easily and have little to no seeds – perfect for small hands and mouths.  When I saw the cute little tree he had, I decided to get one for myself.  This variety of mandarin can be a bit more pricey than a regular mandarin or tangerine, because the tree was developed to have sterile flowers which don’t cross-pollinate, preventing the seeds from forming. We bought two large cement pots, one for the lemon tree and the other for the mandarin, at a Mexican pottery store in Escalon called Lopez Imports, and they were quite reasonably priced!  Both citrus trees have done well in those pots.  In fact, the mandarin just finished blooming again (second bloom of the year), and now has little pea sized fruits on it as well as the walnut sized ones from the first bloom in the spring!

Tango Mandarin in a Pot

The tree is three years old now and is producing very well. It stands about 6 feet tall. We will be pruning the tallest branches after harvest, to keep the tree a reasonable size.

The mandarins will be ripe sometime in January, although the mature fruit can be left on the tree for several months, harvesting as desired.  However, it is important to harvest all of the mandarins before the first bloom in spring opens, or the next year’s harvest will be reduced.

Next is the ginger.  I planted a piece of ginger root two months ago when I had a small piece left after making some Ginger Ale.  If you have never made your own Ginger Ale before, click HERE for directions. It’s really fun and really good!

Growing ginger in a container

The ginger has been growing slowly yet steadily and now has it’s fifth shoot starting up.

It took about two weeks, but sure enough, a small sprig came up out of the ground.  I think I probably planted it too deep, but here we are about two months later and another sprig (the fifth) is just now coming up out of the ground!  The leaves got a bit burned a few weeks ago when we had an intense heat  and wind spell, but overall I think the plant looks pretty happy. It’s nice being able to have a plant on the patio, because ginger doesn’t like direct sunlight, and prefers moist, not wet soil.

Tomatoes grown in Containers

Here is my beautiful, lush volunteer heirloom tomato. Nice plant – but where are the tomatoes?

Here is my tomato plant.  I couldn’t plant a garden this year because our real estate agent said nice lawns sell houses. We are selling our valley house so we can start building our mountain homestead. 😀  So, I decided to put a couple of our volunteer tomatoes (from last year’s crop) into a large pot on our patio.

Well, here it is.

Do you see any tomatoes?  Neither do I.  Harrumph!

I don’t want to blame the tomato, however.  I think I am going to blame myself.  You see, the plant is always thirsty!  I used to think it was because the unglazed terracotta pot was letting the soil evaporate too easily.  Nope.  I figured out that it’s because there isn’t anything holding in the water – as in mulch!  If I am not able to water the tomato every single day, the poor thing withers, and it’s been withered down a lot lately.  I am going to try layering some paper on top of the soil and see if that will make a difference.  Better late than never!

Growing Pomegranate in a Pot

One of our two pomegranate trees.

We also have a couple of pomegranate trees in pots.  These are trees I got at a clearance sale because I couldn’t pass them up.  Unfortunately, the variety of pomegranate was not marked on the pots, but since the variety Wonderful is the most popular here in California, I am going to assume that is what they are.  They had several blooms this year but didn’t produce any fruit, so hopefully we will get one or two next year.  We are planning to get several more pomegranate trees that we will plant along the road frontage of our future mountain homestead, but these two make a great start in that direction. If you would like to know which variety of pomegranate my husband and I have decided to plant (along with the two Wonderful variety we already have), and how we made our decision, you can go HERE.  Hopefully we will be able to get them into the ground this next spring, but we have some clearing to do before that will happen.

Almond trees grown from seed

These are three of the volunteer almond trees we saved before we tore out our vegetable garden and rolled out lawn in it’s place.

Finally, I have three volunteer almond trees.  They all look fine – one is really tall, one is quite short and the other is the middle child.  Looking at the pots they are in, the growth rate of each tree really makes no rhyme or reason – the tallest tree being in the smallest pot!  Nonetheless, they are all surviving just fine.  They are babies of the almond tree we have in our backyard, that produces some of the most juicy, sweet almonds you will ever eat.  Hopefully these babies will produce almonds just as good – in about five years!

Here is where I need some advice

The dilemma:  I know the almond trees and pomegranate trees will be fine up on our mountain homestead, but what to do with the Meyer Lemon, the Tango Tangerine and the Ginger?  We will be living in our trailer while we build our home, and as anyone who has ever been in a travel trailer knows, there just isn’t any extra space.  None.  So, where do we put our three tropical weather loving potted plants?  We do have a small 5′ x 6′ plastic greenhouse.  I think I will put the two trees inside the greenhouse in the middle of our fruit orchard, so they will be able to get sunlight during the day.

But what happens when it freezes?

I did see one method to keep an unheated greenhouse reasonably warm.  It involves horse manure.  You see, apparently horse manure gets really hot and stays hot for a couple of weeks as it decomposes.  From what I have read, a nice sized pile of horse manure, insulated by some grass or straw, inside a box, will keep a small greenhouse frost free for two weeks.  Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad, but will it make the lemons and mandarins smell or taste a little… well… poopy?

Another method I read about was using water as an insulator.  Apparently you would line the north and east sides (at least) with jugs of water (milk jugs work), two or three rows high with boards between stabilizing them so they don’t tumble over.  The milk jugs absorb the warmth from the sun during the day and then radiate the warmth back into the greenhouse during the night.  That method sounds like it is do-able also.  But what happens when you have a few days in a row without any sunlight?

I suppose if the temperature drops below 28 degrees, which is the lowest temperature most citrus can tolerate, we could always put our little propane heater in the greenhouse – on the lowest setting of course.  But again, do we need to worry about fumes hurting the trees or even the fruit?

What do you think?  We only need a temporary solution because we plan to start building the pit greenhouse next year – hopefully before the next winter settles in.

Any suggestions?

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Spring at the Future Homestead

” Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s Party!’ ”  ~ Robin Williams

Spring has sprung at the future homestead.  I thought I would share a few pictures with you I took on our recent trip up there. We can’t wait until this is our permanent home!

The fruit and nut trees are blooming and the bees are buzzing.

Cherry blossoms

The cherries are blooming! This is a Utah Giant. It had just a few blossoms last year, but no fruit. We hope to get some fruit this year.

We are lucky enough to have some natural pollinators up on the future homestead including mason orchard bees and bumble bees, among others.  We hope to get a few honey bee hives soon – one for the orchard and one for the vegetable garden.

All-In-One Almond Tree

We planted this almond tree last year, so this will be it’s second summer. This is an All-In-One almond. Can you see the little baby almond??!!

We have purchased all of our fruit and nut trees from a wonderful nursery in Nevada City, Ca, called Peaceful Valley.  If you are anywhere near Nevada City, it’s certainly worth a visit.  Of course, they have quite a selection on line and you can visit them here:  Peaceful Valley Grow Organic

The Ambassador Walnut tree seems to be quite happy!  Look at all those catkins!  She is such a young tree, but her enthusiasm tells me we might get a walnut or two this year!

The Ambassador Walnut tree seems to be quite happy! Look at all those catkins! She is such a young tree, but her enthusiasm tells me we might get a walnut or two this year!

We also planted a few artichokes last year and I mulched them heavily over the winter.  Imagine my surprise when I saw them poking out of the mulch, a day after the most recent snow had melted!

mulched artichoke plants

Globe artichokes peaking up through the mulch. I didn’t expect to see them so early in the spring!

Of course, along with the bursting forth of new growth on the plants comes the plant eaters!

Banana slug in Sierra Nevada Mountains

This is the third banana slug we have found on our future homestead. We saw it’s silvery trail and found the slug just chillin’. My middle finger is 3-1/4 inches long, so you can see Mr. Slugo is about 4 inches long – and fat! I’m sure he could devastate our vegetable garden overnight!

And then the bug eaters –

Western Skink

This is a skink. They have a very long body and tail and look like a slithering snake when they are moving quickly across the ground. Skinks are great bug catchers. Hmmmm. I wonder if they eat banana slugs?

The evenings are still pretty cool, so a warm campfire is always fun.

Campfire

We have a lot of sticks, twigs and punk wood that we burn in the campfire. This year I want to cook with a dutch oven in the firepit more often. Yum! Marshmallows anyone?

We also set up the “living room”…..

future homestead

This is where we sit for a well deserved rest after working on our future homestead. We haven’t put up the screens yet but those will be necessary soon. Come join me for a cup of coffee – or later this afternoon for a glass of tea!

So, we are ready for another year of preparations to make this our permanent home.  This year we plan to finish our back road, clear an area for a metal shipping container box that we plan to use for storage, clear a patch for our raised bed vegetable garden, and finalize the plans for our new home.  Do you need some exercise?  Come join us!!!!

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