A Meditation on Maples: Breathing Room

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Years ago, on the land now owned by Milewide Nursery, cowboys were running cattle. Their lingering remains can still be seen here and there in man-made spring trenches and old, fallen-down fences. What we call the ‘Cowboy Shade’ was once a fenced-in area they used to corral and brand the cattle under the oak canopy above. This space is now used as shade for Milewide’s potted maple trees, it spreads over an acre plus, enough to hold several thousand maples. Out there you will find Japanese maples of several different phenotypes, as well as paperbark maples, and other species like dogwoods, white oaks, witch hazel, and hydrangeas. Considering its size, watering the Cowboy Shade is a task we are fortunate enough to have on an automatic system. However, the boss certainly threw all caution to the redwood wind when he invested in his maples – currently, we have about 5000 Japanese maples, in diverse age ranges. Each year several hundred are selected to graduate into larger pots so that they can to grow to their potential. The older Japanese maples, in particular, have proved their worth in size, and created a spacial predicament in the Cowboy Shade.

Through adolescence the maple trees are lined up next to each other and as a result of the crowded environment, many morph from their natural growth formations. It is very important for us to separate the trees as they get crowded and this becomes a problem when producing such large quantities in a limited amount of space. Realizing this our nursery manager, Ash, devised a plan that would utilize less space and honor the maple’s affinity for breathing room: The Maple Garden. About two years ago the largest maples were ready to enter adulthood and stretch out their delicate limbs in the new space. Inadvertently, it turned into a major potting project that required twelve pairs of hands and an entire week to accomplish the vision. Today it sits atop a quaint hill in peaceful solitude just across the road from the Cowboy Shade. Knowing Ash, I think it must have stemmed from some sort of deep reflection amongst the maples. It’s literally become a meditation garden of maple trees, and also my favorite place on the Milewide grounds.

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Whenever the opportunity ever arises, I give an eager hand to water the Maple Garden. It is a precious little world of deep reds, fair oranges, vibrant greens and canary yellows. The power of walking through the circular configuration with a hose is completely different than the experience of turning on an automatic watering system. The plot is dead silent, except for a single stream of water and your own footsteps. Taking a moment to saturate each pot commands daydreams, distances, and prospects. It is an instant that spreads into a minute; the effort of troubling with the hose eases, and becomes a workless progression of hours. It becomes an image of the watcher’s hopes, as if in some tranquil trance plans travel and flow through the water. Trees and all things that move have a unanimous hush, even when the wind falls through the valley. It’s a practice that devours two hours if you want to give each and every maple attention.

The consolation I get from this particular maple patch is the sense of order in a chaotic clutter of tilting trees trunks and intersecting branches. It is a collection that imposes a timeline, signifies existence, and is a vital piece of what makes Milewide unique. There is a conventional notion that art is merely found inside museums and galleries. A wise friend once suggested that art cannot be aligned with any specific form yet it must be aligned with a range of sensations. Each time I enter the Maple Garden, whether it be to water, sit, read, write or just walk through to the barn, a different emotion develops. I’d like to suggest that art has been manifested in our Maple Garden, and extend to you a similar challenge: to unearth a piece of art in nature. It is the only dirt-cheap pleasure I know hat’s always free of disappointment, so enjoy yourself and remember to breathe.

- Brielle, ranch hand at Milewide Nursery

Sustenance Practices

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Whenever I venture off the mountain into the “real world”, I find myself awash in data but starved for interpretation. It’s confusing. There’s no recycling bin, yet the green pamphlet on the hotel nightstand hints I should avoid unnecessary water use by reusing my towels. Meanwhile I have just got in from a dip in one of three indoor pools. Dinner in a San Francisco restaurant features fresh, farm to table cooking, and I find myself paying an incredulous amount of money for a side of vegetables. Now, it isn’t that I mind picking up my towels or paying for vegetables, but I find that what is expected of me sustainably in the city, as opposed to the country, is vastly different. The word sustainable is used in a commonplace way; however, I don’t think many are able to comprehend the personpower it takes to facilitate ‘going green’ in every aspect of our lives. We refer to Milewide in different ways: the mountain, the country, the nursery, the ranch, up the hill, heaven in the spring, hell in the winter, and above all, a homestead. Milewide was built at its core with a sustainable system of solar panels and water tanks that I would like to review, as well the practices that we follow – which are much too habitual to be nostalgic about.

Overtime, as most things so naturally do, Milewide has inched its way into solar power. Ten years ago the first installation, consisting of a small series of panels, was meant to supply a simple greenhouse with air circulation fans and a little electricity. Today, our solar power is used for light, power, and to run our electronics in just about every structure on the ranch. I’m no solar authority, but I will give you my brief understanding of how it works. The solar panels absorb the sunrays, which is sourced into energy, stored in batteries, and then dispersed to our needs throughout the day. Sometimes, when a gloomy Humboldt fog sets in we take extra care to not drain our solar batteries by keeping energy usage to bare minimum. There is a learning curve to using the system, but getting it down soon becomes second nature. Once the solar is in place, things seem simpler. It’s not a ten-point plan to save the world from fossil fuels, but we do our best. Maybe you aren’t so certain about trading your washing machine for a five-gallon bucket, and who would be? We certainly have a standard washer and dryer, but more often than not, we put our laundry out on a line in the sun. Our hands are our dishwashers. When leaving a room, we turn off efficient CFLs. Firing up the indoor wood burning stove on chilly winter nights is ritual. And, in worst-case scenarios, we do have a back up diesel generator.

The second approach to getting sustainable necessities is the water tank. Ever wonder about the trail behind the water flowing out your faucet? If you’re in southern California, rest assured it is being pumped from a place very far, far away. Northern California luckily has a different water situation. Our main source of water is from a spring that goes into a large tank – we call it the Fifty – which then streams down the mountainside, to spout out of our hoses and faucets. The water crisis this year weighed heavy on the ranch, and priorities changed when the spring was drying up. This year a rainwater tank was brought in as a backup for the spring tank. Perhaps it came too late to make an impact this year, but it is better late than never. Hopefully, with the hoped for end of the drought and this winter’s estimated 40 inches or more of rain, we will be OK. I believe Steve is planning on installing the plumbing for the new rain tank himself, and I am interested in the filtration system when he merges the two tanks together. Milewide and all its plant life from the maples to our white oaks, and all the garden contingents alike, drink an incredible amount of water every year so it is necessary to use every resource we can.

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Most of us who work on the ranch are conscious about the “trendy little green things” like reusing glass bottles, recycling our waste, and up-cycling old furniture. The single most important lesson I have learned working here are the wonders that steep in a compost bucket, and the importance it has on our crop cycles. The story of how this works is simple: Let’s say we harvest all of our artichokes, and maybe cherry-pick some peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, figs and basil for dinner, too. After the meal, some measly left over’s go into the compost, which I’ve been meaning to take out for days. The next morning, it’s time to clean up the artichoke beds. Soil is a funny thing because the chemical nutrients necessary to grow decent crops are removed with every planting. So, it is necessary to restore them. We do this by putting our compost back into the soil in a mulch ranch mix, as well as using a technique called ‘cover cropping.’ Fava beans are planted in the old bed as a cover crop; they grow quickly and will be cut down right as they flower, and then we compost the remains. The favas, adorable as the dickens, actually put some sweetness (Nitrogen nodules on their roots) back into the soil, so that the next crop will be able to have a substantially improved growing environment. So you see it’s difficult for the circle of sustainability to ever stop at Milewide since livelihood is so closely dependent on it.

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If you aren’t living on a homestead, having your own rainwater collector probably isn’t in the cards for you. I’m sure solar panels are still feared by many on a Home Owners Association. Which is probably why the information about eco-friendly cleaning supplies, packaging, and locally sourced foods is so rampant. It suggests that the small act of kindness toward our planet by many, may in fact even beat out the large efforts of one (not that it’s a competition!). I believe the numbers indicate that as a world, we are making strides to reducing pollution, however we are still far away from sustaining ourselves as a human population. So, perhaps your 25% eco-friendly water bottle is 100% recyclable, you purchase overpriced WholeFoods “If You Care” saran wrap, you turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth, eat local foods, or go all out and invest in a hybrid. All of these things make up an incredible amount of energy and effort in reducing our dependence on nonrenewable resources. We’ll keep fighting the good fight, with more sustainable stories from our stint at the farmer’s market to a courageous attempt at refurbishing an old rocking chair, and we hope to hear yours too.

- Brielle , Ranch hand at Milewide Nursery

The Banana Massacre

Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana, and before you know it there are Fungus Gnats attacking your bananas. While futzing about in the greenhouse, immersed in the beginning of a winter cleaning, we discovered a Fungus Gnat infestation on our beloved banana plants. They hadn’t been looking their best. Almost all of the banana leaves were brown and wilted, on some only stumps remained. Although our cool falls will do this to these bananas, it was now time for an intervention.

A rotting stump is the major cause of an infestation, as well as the moistness of the soil. We are officially transitioning into a winter water schedule. Many of our high-priority watering duties will be minimized, and we can rely on mother Nature to take a little more care of us through the winter holidays. This means that our banana plants, in particular, do not need to be watered as frequently, especially since a moist environment creates the perfect home for Fungus Gnats.

The gnat itself is relatively harmless, except for the eggs it lays, but it is an irritating nuisance above all other nuisances. The gnat maggot or larva (remember that egg) feeds on roots in the moist soil as well as on rotting plant material. While the hovering gnats are a serious aesthetic issue, these larva are devastating. And the damage can sneak up on you. We follow a simple IPM-Integrated Pest Management schedule to end a Fungus Gnat infestation.
1) Immediately inspect each plant, cleaning up the soil environment
– Remove all weeds
– Remove decayed stumps, roots, or plant matter rotting in the soil
– In certain situations this meant taking a saw from the workshop, and sawing the plant in half to separate the rotted stump from the other tree in the pot.

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2) Trim off any dead or unhealthy leaf
– Yes, the plant will look ugly. Get over it, and so will the plant. Think of it as a bad hair cut, it will grow back!
3) Water with Gnatrol (bacillus thuringiensis – a bacteria that attacks the eggs and larva of the fungus gnats)
4) Set out yellow sticky traps to capture existing Fungus Gnats
– Wear gloves, otherwise your fingers will stick for a week

Avoiding overwatering is important because the pests thrive in the moist environment. However, there is a delicate balance to strike between starving out the Fungus Gnat, and starving out the plant. A good trick, which we use quite frequently, is watering from the bottom up by using water pans beneath the pot. This way the moisture on top dries forces the gnats down into gnatrol-moistened soil below.

Repotting might also improve plant vitality, especially if you utilize virgin soil. A bark-soil will retain less water than a potting soil with peat moss. If you are going to this much trouble to rid yourself of Fungus Gnats, you might also consider using decoy or trap pots filled with sprouting grain. Females will lay their eggs in these pots, rather than your precious plant.
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Banana Plants ready to repot after being cleaned

Our banana collection has been dwindling, and we are struggling to keep them looking pretty. The irony is that our bananas don’t even produce fruit; we keep them for their – now nonexistent – leafy looks. With a close eye on our crop, we hope they make it through the winter. We’re looking forward to posting pictures when they perk up this spring.

Here’s to Healthy Banana Trees
-Brielle, Ranch hand at Milewide Nursery

Olive Harvest

In the orchard, shaded by the westerning sun, ranch hands toil, sweat on their foreheads and time out of their minds. Wind rushes through an oak savanna, once inhabited by cowboys, who may have nurtured similar aches in their backs. At first blush, one might not believe such a poetic depiction is reality on harvest day in our olive orchard but here at Milewide the fall air brings everything you’ve been daydreaming about all year.
After too many cups of coffee, we slip on our gloves and harvest bags, with a similar excitement only experienced before the age of 7 on Christmas morning. We kneel down underneath a big olive tree, setting out a cloth that will catch the olives combed off their branches. You know what they say, when life gives you olives, make olive oil, and that is exactly what is about to happen.
Step 1 – The Paste
With sacks piled up in our pressing room, we quickly sift through our pickings, removing any foreign material that may diminish the quality our oil. We use a primitive process to produce small, artisanal batches. The first of our semi-industrial equipment- mind you, the sound it makes is by all means industrial – is a food processor, attached to a stand with a bucket fastened on top. The olives are poured in through the bucket, fall through the food processor, and the paste is dispensed.
Step 2 – Malaxing
When we have about 16 quarts of paste, which is about all we can process in a day’s work of two pressings, it’s time to stir and warm it up. This is similar to melting chocolate in a bain-marie, or water bath, for those of you who flunked French. We place the bucket of olive paste into another bucket filled halfway with hot water. Then, fit a mixer into the olive paste, and let it get to malaxing, or mixing. This separates oil from the ground olive flesh, and creates larger droplets of oil for extraction.
Step 3 – The Olive Tower
Thirty minutes later, the DIY supersize bain-marie has done its work, and our olive paste is ready to be prepped for the press. This sequence reminds me of making a trifle cake. The olive tower is made in a large metal tray with a hole on one end fitted with a cork. Our olive trifle is layered with: first a solid, plastic plate, then a sequence of slotted plastic plates and tough, thin fabric is layered one after another. In that order, you begin the tower, then using a square frame, we fill and smooth over a layer of olive mash, so that when you remove the frame, you have a perfect square of olive mash to cover with another fabric mat, then a slotted plate, another mat, olive mash, and so on, continuing this sequence for 10-15 layers.

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Step 4 – Just Press It
Now patience becomes a virtue, after transferring the metal tray to the actual press. We very slowly crank the lever, once, twice, maybe three times to start the pressing. Olive water and oil will begin to seep out along the edges of the fabric mats and into the metal tray. As it begins to fill, we uncork the hole and let the contents out into the final bucket. From there, we decant, jar, and wait to for separation to occur so we can extract the oil from the water and other particulate matter.

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Step 5 – If You Consider This a Step…
It’s time to sit down to a harvest dinner, and reminisce.
“What a day this year has been,” amongst the passing of bread, cheese, figs, articokes, leeks, and wine, “I thought they would never blush.”
Late November’s harvest is a ritual embedded in the culture of homesteading and of the ranch. While we wait for the oil to settle, there is nothing but time to reflect on the year passed, and plan for the future harvest coming too soon. This year, we are entertaining the idea of infusing our oil with rosemary. Stay tuned for how it holds up against Beth’s homemade bread.
Brielle, Ranch hand at Milewide Nursery

PS: We have decided that next year will need a standard commercial press or we will need to use a public press to extract all the oil we can get. And, we will have even more trees producing… we will get back to you.
–    Steve

Strawberry Boxes Forever

“When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.”

-Minnie Aumonier

In an earlier age of the world, when there were fewer inhabitants on the earth than there are now, believe it or not, people did not go to the grocery store and hand over $4.99 for a package of strawberries. They grew their own! Wild strawberries were grown in Italy as early as 200 B.C, and so in typical Italian style, along with Milewide’s olive orchard and Romanesco artichokes, it is only sensible we grow our own strawberries.
My first year on the ranch was a bitter disappointment; although we had a thriving strawberry patch in June, we were under constant attack by little “Bambies” passing through the gates of our gardens, and nibbling at our ripe berries. Unfortunately, the harvest season was short, the deer were insatiable, and so we barely harvested a bowl for ourselves. Every year on the ranch is a new experiment to do it better than the last. I’m happy to report that this year, by the ”genius” that is our boss, Steve, we have experienced a strawberry breakthrough.
Our strawberries are organic ever-bearing strawberries, and they produce a harvest from early summer to mid-autumn. It’s best to plant your starts as soon as you can in early spring, in staggered rows of two or three. We keep our beds thriving with Agribon row cloth, it will increase your bed’s temperature about 2-10 degrees, protecting it from the chill of winter. If you keep this cloth on in the spring, it will make your strawberries grow significantly bigger, and better.
Are you starting a new bed, or replanting an existing bed? Doesn’t matter! You must fertilize. If you are working with an existing bed, pull up your strawberries from the year before, put them in a bucket of water, and fertilize before replanting. As for fertilizer, we use manure or our own ranch mix:

3 parts Cottonseed Meal
1 part Seaweed
1 part Bat Guano
1 part Oyster shell flour
Now, we have the berries, but what about our Bambi problem? Leaving the guns in storage, Steve’s method of growing strawberries closer to the house in boxed garden beds is both convenient and clever. The deer are less likely to come close to the house -special thank-you to Rottweiler’s Oona and Zara. Also, we are simply more likely to pass by the beds for a quick snack between jobs and keep a keen eye for harvest-ready fruit, getting to the berries before deer even get a chance. You may also want to try stabilizing wire cages over the beds, to block any animals trying to poke their noses down into the patch.
With plenty of sunlight and decent soil, ever-bearers are eager to grow. The boxed beds, tiered into the hillside create a well-drained environment, perfect for ever-bearers to avoid root rot. This neat set-up makes tending to weeds between the rows simple. Introduce one last 21st century comfort, the automatic watering system, and you have your billet to beautiful berries for months on end.

Brielle, Ranch-hand at Milewide Nursery

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Grabbing a mid-morning snack on the trek from the Olive Orchard to the Maple Garden

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The Aloe Elixir

One nice evening while working at a restaurant on a Florida beach, a youthful Caribbean man walked up to me and we started talking. Somehow his age came up in our conversation. He looked at least twenty years younger than he said, his skin looked amazing. I asked, “How do you look so great?” He looked at me, “You really want to know?” I nodded and smiled. He looked around slyly, leaned in and said, “An old secret from my island; blend up the inside of one aloe leaf, half a pineapple and the juice of three lemons. Have a shot of it every morning.” He leaned back smiling. I leaned in and whispered, “Thank you.” Just then his table was ready..

Cut off a leaf of your Aloe Plant (don’t have one? Get one from us! Over at Milewide Nursery.
Now scoop the goo from inside the Aloe Leaf and put it into your blender..

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Cut up half a Pineapple
Put the pieces inside your blender

Cut up 3 lemons, juice em’, put it into the blender

Now blend!!!

Enjoy one shot of this little concoction every morning! Tastes best when served in beautiful little cups..

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Enjoy your Elixir of Life!!

- ashley

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A veraison blush is on our olives…

Here we are with the warm afternoons of October chasing away the morning cool and, sometimes, the morning fog. And our olive trees are beginning their slow slide thru veraison. This is that time in the developing fruits’ life cycles where the fruit starts to turn color, gradually ripening from green to a dark red or black. The olive oil producer can harvest at any time during this process to achieve different results. Early, “green”, harvest will produce a lighter and less pungent oil, but at the cost of the amount of oil that can be pressed. Later, “dark”, harvests will produce a darker and “oily” oil – this has all the unique tastes you would expect from a fine oil.
I just noticed the start of version on our trees today and I can’t help but be excited. Last year, we had a small harvest and a broken grinder at olive processing time. I don’t expect any disappointment this year; if the equipment breaks down again, then we will take our olives to a press to the south of us.
olive_flowersThe typical olive tree or olive branch flowers every two years; heavy fruit one cycle probably means less fruit the next (like an apple tree). The flowers form and pollinate in the spring; shortly after the tiny olives themselves begin to form, the fruit must survive abscission, a process that will destroy a very high percentage of the young fruit. Now it is water and care until the fruit has fully formed. Give them enough water, but do not overwater.
I advise against harvesting the hard, green early fruit. Rub your fingernail against the fruit’s flesh to see if you leave a slight depression; if you can’t do that, the fruit is way too young. You will also need to harvest much more green fruit in order to get a quantity of oil. Around here, in Northern California, our overall olive harvest has a nice mix of dark and semi-dark olives for the press starting in November. By December, and later, the olives are all shading into their dark, fully ripened state. These late olives have the richest, most flavorful oil, but you are running an increasing risk of damaged olives from frost and mold. These dark, ripe little things also offer the most quantity of pressed oil. The harvest is a bit of an art, but much like any garden harvest “art”; things are ready when they are ready – harvest then. We experiment each year, trying different harvest times and conditions.
Well, it is October and its time for us to get our friends together, plan a big meal and harvest. If it isn’t fun, you must be doing it wrong. At least, that’s the plan… First, get your tools; the Olive Source online offers branch combs that we have found very helpful; they also have harvest bags that we use, but cardboard boxes would work as well. We place a large piece of shade cloth down under the tree, slitting the fabric so it can go around the trunk, in order catch the fruit that the combs drop. We then put these in boxes in the shade. We do not wash them and we try to process immediately to no more than 24 hours later.
We have found ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place on pressing. We are in a very isolated area and the presses that would do pay work for us are far away. We have thought of using these public and semi-public presses since the anticipated olive harvest is almost ready for a commercial press – but we don’t think we have enough to meet their minimum weight requirements. The Olive Source offers a hobby pressing kit that is awkward but effective for small amounts. We purchased one and it was pretty much what we expected – a mite primitive. But it really is the best we could find on the web in its price range. We expect to move up to a small Italian press in a year or two. The public press is like $500 to get it done, the hobby press is something like $2000 and a low end commercial press is $15-20,000. For a small grower, moving up to a larger press is a commitment.
2013_veraison2There are actually hundreds of olive cultivars; olives have taken the world by storm and there is an olive tree for quite a variety of conditions. European olives are often grown on the poorest soils, leaving the bottom soil for other food crops. The Italian Tuscan and the Spanish olives are some of the toughest and some of the most tasty. They are often referred to as “rustic” and are known for their piquant taste. They can be very strong. We choose Leccino, Taggiasca, Frantoio and Arbequina as well as the pollinators Pendolino and Maurino in our orchard. Leccino and Frantoio have a mild straw colored oil and Taggiasca and Arbequina are intended to offer some bite. It has turned out that the Leccino, Frantoio and Taggiasca have done well, but the Arbequina and the Maurino have not. The Leccino is especially fruitful. We are thinking of introducing Coratina into the empty spots in the orchard soon.
We haven’t mentioned those yet. In the orchard’s third year, many of the trees were overcome by verticellum wilt and were either seriously set back or outright killed by this pathogen. Heavy composting seems to help, but many recommend cutting, burning and leaving the hole fallow for five years – whew! We have left the holes that were overcome vacant for several years now and plan to replant with the Coratina.
We are in a zone 9 climate area where our lows get down into the 20’s, and sometimes lower. We started to see leaf damage as we dipped into the teens. The fruit will also become pocked with damaged frost marks – if its bad, these olives will not make a great oil. Although it has not happened, I take comfort that the tree can die back to the ground and as long as the roots survive, the crown will produce fresh sprouts. You will need to wait but those developed crowns will come on strong.
And, at the end, we will have a sweet little bottle of semi-clear oil ready for us to try. First it will be a finger dipped into the oil; then a little oil dribbled on bread; I won’t forget our next salad, or our next sauté, when that piquant flavor of our rustic Tuscans will be the wow of the table. Artisanal…

California Drought – Summer 2014

Milewide Nursery, located in northwestern California, is surrounded by a typical hot Mediterranean climate. Even when we don’t have drought years, our summers are dry and hot; and our winters are mild and very wet, at least when we aren’t in drought. This last winter was very dry for us and, now, in August, we can see the difference everywhere in the forest and around the nursery.
The US Drought Monitor presently considers us in Exceptional Drought Conditions, with as much as 58% of our area effected. Our area is visited every few years by El Nino, a storm system that comes across the Pacific and can drop a lot of water on us. Well, early this spring there was a lot a hopeful talk that this upcoming El Nino being a drencher. The signs are there – something is coming in the fall, but it may not be the forceful kind of weather we need to break the drought. Remember, we don’t expect rain in the summer, but we do need it to store up our soils.
It is much harder to keep nursery plants wet. Lose some staff, miss a watering, get caught by an unexpected high 90 day and things die. In the forest, at least natural patterns are operating – the forest creates a canopy, vegetation diversifies, each finding its niche, green manure accumulates a little each year along with the compost mulch the forest is creating each year from the fallen duff and leaf. Our nursery benefits from mimicking some of these patterns.
We have tired to mitigate this year’s water shortage in a number of ways. Of course, we have mulched our trees and our beds whenever possible; we made several compost piles over the winter and we collected forest compost. With these in hand, we dressed each olive tree and all the other trees and beds on the farm – we put on a couple of inches of compost and a couple of inches of loose leaf. The important thing is that mulch is good and thick – at least 4 to 6 inches. I actually wasn’t that happy to be taking that leaf mulch away from my forest.
Drip is the word… install drips everywhere that you can. Section areas off so that you can use timers. Don’t use sprinklers… at least if you want to save water. And the droppers needn’t be the drop by drop type, you can make good use of a variety of emitters – visit http://www.dripworks.com was a good idea of the options you can use. Make sure that you keep your maintenance up, checking that the emitters are actually working – sometimes you don’t know before your plant is too wilted.
Half-bury your pots when you can. We have been placing gravel in our nursery areas so that we can nestle the pots down into the gravel – works real good with the roots coming out into the moist gravel. The easiest way to kill a plant is to put it into a pot; if you dig the pot into the ground a quarter to a third its height, the plant will have access to a larger volume of soil during emergency.
Place sensitive plants in the shade. Pretty simple, but it will save you.
Mist occasionally, adding humidity to the air. This can spell you between regular waterings but it won’t use up too much of your water.
And although it is very disheartening to watch your plants struggle or die, and the fires that plague our area are scary and destructive, the smog in the air still gives us beautiful red sunsets.

steve

ps.. talk about a scary picture… check out this snowpack picture for California

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Landscaping…

I tell you; I love that Wikipedia. Preparing for this blog post, I took a peek at the entry for “landscaping” and the entry seemed to confuse more than help. Its not Wikipedia’s fault, turns out that landscaping is not simply defined. Consider the options; you can explore aquascaping, arboriculture, ecoscaping, horticulture, landscape architecture, landscape contracting, landscape design, landscape ecology, landscape engineering, landscape planning, naturescaping and sustainable landscaping. Quite a mouth full, eh? When I think of landscaping, I think of my gardens, my courtyard and the spaces around my home – I am going for beauty and for ease of use. Somehow, I think that I shouldn’t need a college degree to landscape. But,certainly, your landscaping efforts need planning.
Conscious landscaping can take place on any level – you can have a potted “landscape” within your home, or a pleasant shady “landscape” in your sunny courtyard, or a carefully crafted landscape “layout” surrounding your home.
One way to get a handle on this is to explore the various landscaping design elements – they turn out to be fairly standardized, but its not the list of design elements, its how you use those elements and which you use.
And in another big mouthful, here they are:

accent, association, asymmetry, balance, color, composition, density/mass, harmony, proportion, repetition, rhythm, richness, scale, sequence, simplicity, structure, symmetry, tension, texture, unity and variety.

Whew! We can’t explore all these here, but you might check out “landscape design elements” on-line for more information. If you would like to see many of these elements in action, pay a visit to houzz.com where you will find 77,000 landscape design photos – very inspirational – fun to look at as well.
I am landscaping my new home. We have been here a couple of years now and, so, we have discovered many of the natural use patterns around us. Often your landscape will tell you how to design it if you can listen. Don’t force your will on your land and garden; this can be expensive and unsatisfactory. We built our house on a slight slope between a large live oak and the hillside and this allowed us to place a few vegetable terrace beds on the hillside and a “tree room” under the live oak. We have a small lawn space in front of our courtyard that changes into our hottub deck. And our roof is a flat wooden deck. We set these spaces up as separate “areas” that we would design around and within. Our rough landscaping was planned on as we designed our home. Even if you are not building a home, you want to integrate “landscaping” both inside and outside your home. “Pattern Language” talks about the crucial “edge” between these two spaces. We lined the edge around our house with pavers and moss – we can walk barefoot all around the house. “Pattern Language” is well worth looking over as it will change your take on designing things for yourself.
Because we tried planning, our landscaping decisions were easier. Large pots are fitting in nicely around our courtyard and on the deck. Outside our courtyard and across our small lawn area is a beautiful view of our local hills, so no large trees in that viewscape – unless they can help frame the view. We have three outdoor staircases and each provides planting opportunities along their edges – we have already planted several large flowered peony down the side of one staircase. An orchard surrounds the house, so fruit trees were a slam dunk. I think you get the idea.

References:
Books:
– Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander (Oxford University Press)
– These architects, after studying cultures across the world, developed a number     of “patterns” that humans use regularly to build their homes and cities. A very     accessible design approach.
– Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscaping – Naturally by Robert Kourik     (Chelsea Green)
– Explains design elements simply and offers sustainable (and edible) guidelines     for your garden.
– A Tuscan Paradise by Marina Schinz (Stewart, Tabori and Chang)
Websites:
– Houzz
– Better Homes and Garden – http://www.bhg.com/app/plan-a-garden/
http://www.gardendesign.com/
http://www.homesteadgardens.com/ – an example of a contracting service
– ediblelandscaping.com/
http://www.rosalindcreasy.com/ – edible landscaping