Thursday, May 16, 2013

Before and after, part one

It's hard to believe how much despair I was in about the garden a couple of years ago, when drought took so much of it. I've been working harder and smarter, though, and it is coming back lusher and and more drought-tolerant than ever. I'm going to do two or three posts showing you the changes, starting with this side yard, which has always been forgotten and neglected, even before the rain stopped falling.

Before (some of these were taken during house remodeling last summer, so they look especially bad):


It's hard to describe how magical it feels back there now, especially early this morning, when some rain left us with a rare bit of haze.

I'll post more of the amazing changes soon. I have a couple of more things I need to tidy up first, though.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Can anything define hope like a spring vegetable garden?

Just a week ago, the farm looked like this:

To be honest, I found it almost too discouraging to even start working on it. It has been two years since I had a vegetable garden. In the meantime time the farm became a storage place for construction materials and garden paraphernalia. I missed my homegrown tomatoes, though, and so this past weekend I squared my shoulders and got to work. Habitat for Humanity got the siding, the old redwood decking has been stored, waiting to be re-purposed as a new compost bin, and the garden paraphernalia got put away in its proper place.

Then I tilled in five bags of composted chicken manure:

Planted peppers and tomatoes and installed a new drip irrigation system (to replace the old one that had been chewed up by squirrels):

Sprayed the irrigation lines with pepper spray and covered them with chicken wire to keep the squirrels at bay, and then covered all with leaf mulch to keep weeds down and moisture in:
Stuck the whirly-gig in to act as a scarecrow:
 Installed the chickens:

Set up the anti-squirrel automatic water cannon:

And put the guard rabbit in place to oversee the whole thing.

Hope springs eternal, like, uh...Spring.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Who can dig up a twenty-year old Spanish broom by the roots?

This girl.

I long have had a love/hate relationship with this Spanish broom (seen to the right of the fountain), planted when we first moved into our house.

To be frank, I think Spanish broom is pretty when it blooms in the spring, but the rest of the time it looks weedy. I thought so about this one, too, until I trained it into a tree standard and suddenly started to like it. Then I put a fountain between the broom and the vitex on the left and fell in love with the way the two small trees created a frame. The Spanish broom went from being a source of vexation for 11 months out of the year to helping create the sense of an airy, soothing oasis in the desert.

The problem was that the broom was dying. It started during a hard winter three years ago and has been slowly dying back, trunk by trunk, until this year there was only one viable trunk left, and it looked awkward and out of balance by itself. So I had two options: Cut it back to its roots (which were sending up shoots) and start the process of training a standard all over again, or remove it and plant something in its place. I chose the latter.

I wanted a small tree that would create the same airy framing effect, as well as provide some blooms, so last weekend I went down to the nursery and chose a Natchez crape myrtle:
 (By the way, notice that my Troy-bilt garden cart is exactly the same height as my little trailer. I just pull out the panel on the back, slide the 30-gallon container onto the cart, replace the panel, pull the load to th garden, take the panel out again and tilt the cart to slide the container off. Easy as pie.)

Then I cut down the broom:

And set to the task of digging up the roots:

I was anticipating that it would take two or three days of digging off and on, but it turned out to be relatively easy. With a shovel and an axe to cut the thick roots, it only took about fifteen minutes.

The crape myrtle is sitting inside the wood shop, out of the harm of the freezing temps that are predicted for tonight. I'll plant it sometime this weekend, and since digging out the roots has already left a fair-sized hole, it should be easy to do.

I'll miss the broom, but I think after a couple of years of settling in, the crape myrtle will fit in nicely.