Meanwhile, Back at the Farm

Mar 15, 2013 by

Green AcresIf it seems as if I haven’t been in Sonoma much, you are right. I love Two Terrier Vineyards, but the winter months, when it takes eight hours of the woodstove cranking to get the barn up to 65 degrees, is not the best time for long stays. And as you know, we’ve been discovering San Jose and getting in touch with Disney Princesses recently. Oh yes, we have been busy. But suddenly the signs of Spring are upon us. Here in Sonoma that means things like The World’s Most Gigantic Rattler, who lives near the cave below the tent cabin, has been seen to push his snout to the opening of his lair. On a less scary note: the turtles are coming out of hibernation and sunning themselves on the turtle rock down at Lake Charles. In fact, the crayfish and the tree frogs are observing the Rites of Spring down by the pond as well. But the nicest sign of spring is when the early wildflowers — like Indian Warriors and Milkmaids — start blooming. One of my favorite early California wildflowers is Henderson’s Shooting Star.

Henderson's Shooting Star

My flower book refers to this one as “a perky little charmer”. Definitely. And it looks as if we’re going to have a whole field of them.

Unfortunately, when I see these signs, I realize I’m already weeks late on my spring planting. You’ve heard me moan before about how hard it is, as a novice gardener, to find out what to start planting when. I’m convinced all gardening books are written by Brits and by Vermonters. Whatever they say to start planting in spring are things that will only survive Sonoma heat as winter crops. At a certain point I gave up on gardening books and just started going by the email alerts from the excellent Sonoma Mission Gardens. My go-to gardening coaches only stock things that do well in Sonoma and they only have them when they are likely to grow. The problem is that two week or so gap between when I get an email saying I should rush in and get seeds or starts for a certain crop and when I actually get myself up here and organized and ready to dig. I think I’m a couple weeks late at this point, but at least I’m earlier than I was last year. So, progress! And after feeding birds, squirrels and rabbits with my seeds and starts, I’ve got a new plan. Everything starts in the greenhouse which is relatively critter-free.

greenhouse

Wait, don’t credit me for all these planter pots. John the Baptist has been using the greenhouse as his nursery for native oaks and Buckeyes.

I think he’s left me about a quarter of a shelf for my plantings. Which is fine, because that ended up being about all I could handle today. Before I could even start planting, I had to tackle the most horrible life-threatening job I think I’ve faced here. A cute little family of mice took up residency in my outdoor tool shed. Yes, I was warned to evict them, but I have a fondness for little Sonoma mice. I was even cool when one got completely blotto in a vat of Grenache. (I figured the alcohol would kill all the germs.) So I fished him out, he got over his hangover and scurried away.

mouse in wine

Could you resist this little face?

So that mouse family in the gardening shed? Apparently pickings were slim this winter. So they broke into my fertilizer and had themselves a feast. Yes, the fertilizer is organic and biodynamic and non-chemical. But that doesn’t mean you should eat your weight in it every day. The extended mouse family died what might have been a horrible death. After having massive diarrhea and maybe even throwing up. The mouse holocaust was so dreadful, I couldn’t even bear to photograph it. And you know I’m someone who has no hesitation in posting up all manner of poo and dead things that Oscar drags around.

Take my word for it. You don't even want to know what was lurking behind this door.

Take my word for it. You don’t even want to know what was lurking behind this door.

I took all precautions, such as face masks and hand sanitizer. Then called one of John’s crew down to use the shop vac on the whole mess. Clearly, I am not a fearless gardener when it comes to a possible hotbed of Hantavirus.

Where I am going to be bold is in planting. I think I’ve been honest about my Seed Addiction. I buy and buy and buy, but I stash them around the barn like an alcoholic hiding bottles of gin. Then I either plant too few of them or dump them all in the ground and get Tomato Cambodia. This year, I’m planning to manage my addiction by starting two different varieties of everything. That satisfies my seed buying habit. But also maintains the strict Darwinian gardening program I’ve been following. Yes, there is no mollycoddling of plants around here. It grows or it gets yanked and I try something else. Well, unless it ALL grows which has been the pattern in past years. This becomes a major problem given my pathological fear of thinning. I’m still so new at all this, if something grows, I’m so grateful I can’t bear to pull out even a few seedlings. The new plan to start everything I can in the greenhouse should help. Otherwise, I tend to favor the Johnny Appleseed method of planting — that’s the Disney version of Johnny Appleseed who just throws great handfuls of seeds around. You can imagine where that leads.

seeds

So here’s the basic early planting. Two each of varieties of corn, tomatoes and squash.

Yes, I know I have four kinds of corn shown, but I’m only planting the Super Sweet and the Cocopah Nation Native Corn. I’m assuming once I get starts I need to plant them away from each other or I’ll get some sort of weird hybrid. Okay, tell me I should standardize on one corn, but I have no faith that my Native American corn will grow. The variety I planted last year didn’t. Clearly, I’m a sucker for anything that boasts words like “heritage”, “heirloom” or has some connection with Native Americans. And they certainly saw me coming at last year’s Seed Fair. The problem with many of these heritage varieties are that they come in nice biodegradable packages with nothing but a handwritten name on them. This is not good for a newbie like me. Which is why my default are the Renee’s seeds that come with extensive instructions, then even more instructions when you open the packet and fold it out.

Oh, and pay no attention to that Okra. I found out I was supposed to soak the seeds for 24 hours before planting. So that will have to wait until next week.

Then there is the sauce tomato and the beefsteak tomato. Those are easy peasy. Getting enough tomatoes to feed Sonoma has never been my problem.

As for the squash, I’ve got one from Renee’s Garden which I’m pretty sure will come up. Then one that the Native Americans at the Seed Fair sold me. It’s called Choctaw Sweet Potato (even though I’m assured that it’s a squash.) Seems it’s so rare that even the InterWebs can’t serve me up any information on how to grow it and what to do with it once it’s grown. The seeds came in one of those nice biodegradeable practically unmarked packages, so no help there.

Well, it occurs to me that this post is going to be helpful to no one, least of all myself. But any gardening peeps out there who have had experience with any of these seeds, give me a holler and tell me what I’m doing wrong. Besides everything.

Oh, and any advice on transplanting a scary artichoke that was just a cute little start and suddenly took over one of my beds? That would be appreciated, too.

Oh, and any advice on transplanting a scary artichoke that was just a cute little start and suddenly took over one of my beds? That would be appreciated, too.

 

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4 Comments

  1. SusanA

    Corn needs nitrogen. That’s why the native Americans always planted it in hills with beans. Or put a fish in the hill with it. Seriously, I’ve done this, and it works wonders. Or plant alfalfa or clover with it or in the beds after it. Legumes and the like “fix” nitro in the soil after plants that leach it out. The fish trick works really well too. Okra–last year I planted two rows of okra and EVERY BIT of it came up. There are only three of us, and although we love okra, that was way too much. Okra is part of the hibiscus family, much like cotton. Don’t let the pods get too big, or they will be woody and tough and not any good to eat. Depending on how you like to eat them (whole or cut), cut them when they are about the size of your littlest finger. I have tiny, weeny hands, so I can let them get about the size of my index finger (still, less than three inches long. I cut them and spread the pieces on parchment on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer until the seeds are solid. Then bag them up and save them for soups and stews and gumbos. If my family is good, I also bread them and fry them, which is the ne plus ultra way to eat okra. Okra flowers are beautiful (again, being a hibiscus) and are a great attractor for bees and butterflies. Once it gets good and warm, okra takes off and starts producing quickly. Be careful how much you plant and make sure you have plenty of people around who like it. It’s also wonderful pickled with dill and garlic. Use little ones. This makes crunchy, yummy pickles, similar to green beans, but with a snap. Enjoy!

  2. Wow! That gives me pause. If an accomplished gardener such as yourself has given up on corn. My problem is that I had one mythic fabulous corn harvest and I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since. I’m finding out that corn is not only hard to grow, it sure takes it all out of the soil once it’s done. I have to mulch and fertilize and then grow a crop of beans. Even then whatever follows seems “hungry”.

  3. I determined that growing corn was not worthwhile for me. I look forward to following you progress.

  4. KathyB

    I suspect that the mystery gourd will take off and sprawl all over your garden plot. Gourds are hardy and tough. They come in so many shapes and sizes too. We used to have a columnist at the Courier Journal who mailed out gourd seeds to anyone who wanted them. Joe Creason, the Johnny Appleseed of gourds in Kentucky.

    We are visiting in Western Kentucky this weekend. The only thing growing in the garden eight years ago when they moved in was okra. Had to be reined in.

    Yep, gardening season is nearly upon us here. My mad gardener moves his seedling trays out into the sun and wind to toughen them up and then takes them back inside for the night. He is a bonafide seed addict too.

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