Monday, May 29, 2017

A Stroll Around the Garden

While Robb was busily ripping apart our front steps this weekend, I had a whack at my garden.  And I must say, it needed a good whack.  

The tiny strip of earth between our house and the neighbors' driveway is the site of my fig grove.  It's also the home to about ten million weeds, which I valiantly battled this weekend.  

I find it amazingly difficult to photograph this part of the garden.  The figs always look so stunted, when they're actually significantly taller than I am.  I grew all these plants from tiny babies, and I'm hoping that we'll get fruit from at least four of the five plants this summer.

My dirt-colored kitty Smog is almost invisible on his garden catwalk.

The beans I planted a few weeks ago are doing well.  It's a good thing that I have plenty of extra baby bean plants, because this bed is a magnet for all our animals.  The chickens keep escaping from their part of the garden, and tearing things up.  And the cats seem determined to nap on top of anything I plant. 

I had also planted collard greens in this bed, but I think the snails and slugs destroyed them.  They simply de-materialized.  Strange, really, because collards are such tough plants.  

For the second spring in a row, our lovely plum tree barely flowered at all, and thus has almost no fruit developing.  I don't know if this is a result of our multi-year drought, or due to a lack of chill hours.  I'm hoping that this lack of flowers and fruit isn't a permanent change.  I worry that the climate is changing, or that the tree is unwell.  But I'm such a novice fruit grower that I really cannot diagnose the problem.

The abundance of pluots more than makes up for the sparseness of our plums.

I watch a lot of British gardening shows, and they always advocate thinning the developing fruits.  I just can't bring myself to do this, because it seems so wasteful.  And also, if I'm being totally honest, I think that certain British garden show hosts tortures his fruit trees.  I don't see the point in growing a tree in unnatural forms, unless there's a really compelling reason to do so. I tend to let the trees grow the way they seem to want to.  I know this will sound like heresy, but cordons and espaliers seem like the fruit-growers' version of foot-binding.

I'm sure that I'll come to regret my lack of rigor, when my fruit trees take over every inch of my garden.

It seems that one of the pomegranates is starting to mature.  Last year it set three blossoms, which all fell off the plant without setting fruit.  I'm not sure how this plant's slender branches will support the weight of a pomegranate.

Pomegranate flowers are otherworldly.  Their casings look like they're made of wax.  I need to pay attention, to see if the bees are visiting the flowers or not.

Our red currants are beautiful, but haven't fully ripened.  I didn't photograph our cherry.  It's a baby, and if we get a dozen fruits this year, I'll be thrilled.

Since the Alicia hive swarmed on Saturday, I thought I'd better have a look at the Lori bees.  The hive was jam-packed with honey, so I harvested four frames.  I interspersed empty frames between the honeycomb I'd left behind, hoping that this would deter the bees from building terribly irregular comb.  It's not that I'm obsessed with neatness, it's just that irregular comb gets damaged during hive inspections.  And I don't want to harm my bees.

Since Robb and I live in a tiny house with limited storage, we do not own a centrifugal honey extractor.  We harvest our honey by cutting the honeycomb out of the wooden frames, cutting the comb apart, and letting it strain through a multi-tiered sieve.  I rather like the simplicity of it all.

Once most of the honey has strained out of the comb, we'll rinse the comb with water, and use the honey-water to make mead.  And once the wax is cleaned, I'll melt it so that it takes up less space. Beeswax has all sorts of uses, so we store it until we need it.

Last year we hardly harvested any honey at all.  I imagine that the bees struggled to collected sufficient nectar during our drought.  I'm glad that the bees seem to be having an easier time this year.

I hope you enjoyed ambling around my little garden.  If you're interested in reading what other gardeners are up to, stroll over to the weekly garden party, hosted by Our Happy Acres.

Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Great architecture has only two natural enemies: water and stupid men." -- Richard Nickel

Our 1925 cottage may not be "great architecture" but it certainly has an adorable front porch.  Here it is a few years ago, at Halloween.  (Details on painting the hellmouth can be found here.)

We've known this porch needed love, for some time now.

The whole thing is catty-whompus:  crooked in every direction imaginable.  

The problem wasn't just that the structure was a bit off-kilter.  It turns out that the porch suffered from both of the enemies of architecture:  water, and stupid choices.  The problems were a multiplication of both those factors.  

Luckily, Robb is both fearless and skilled in house-building.  The whole project makes me a bit queazy, but he's undaunted.

I'm sure our neighbors are suitably horrified.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


This afternoon, while Robb and I were working in our back garden, one of our hives of honeybees swarmed.  Being in the middle of a swarm is an intense experience.

The bees, annoyingly, flew into the middle of our next door neighbor's impenetrable bottle brush tree, and stayed there for several hours.

One of the crazy things about a swarm is how quickly it happens. Having rested in the neighbors' tree for most of the afternoon, the bees decided to relocate around 4:30, and within twenty minutes they had flown into a different neighbors' low-hanging bougainvillea.  While they were flying, I climbed up on the roof of yet another neighbors' garage, and sat inside of the swarm.

It was magical, although I suspect some folks might describe this experience as "horrifying."

I called Jamaica who lives a few blocks away, and who is always up for a Bee Adventure.  She and I shook the bees into a specialized cardboard beehive, while the neighbors looked on.

I try not to damage the plants the bees land on.  I did not chop off any large branches.  I was using those loppers because they have nice long handles.

Once the bees settle down for the night, they'll go to Jamaica's house.  I've got plenty of bees, even counting the ones I lost due to this swarm.  And she wanted another colony.  So it's a win-win situation.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Of Orchids And Other Treasures

Every Mothers Day weekend, a local orchid grower has an open house.  Attending this event is like being let in on a wonderful secret.  Fiori D'Amore Orchids is located in a neighborhood just up the hill from where I live.  From the street, you'd never suspect that the house with the beautiful garden is home to a massive growing operation.

The family who run this business have such a passion for their plants, which are simply mind-blowing.  Take a look at those clusters of white-and yellow flowers in the top photo.  Each flower cluster is the size of my thigh.

The size of this operation is hard to convey.  There rows and rows and rows and rows of thriving plants.

The full sized plants often come with full-sized prices, but for more modest buyers like myself, there are a dazzling array of well-labeled divisions.

Somehow I got chatting with the owners.  The discussion meandered from the multi-year drought we have just emerged from, to beekeeping, and somehow we ended up talking about the surprising variety of tropical fruit trees that can be grown in Oakland, California.  The next thing I knew, the proprietors were inviting me into the private areas of their garden, and showing me their personal treasures:  papayas, coffee and chocolate plants, cherimoya and dragon fruit.

I certainly wasn't planning on it, but I came home with two baby cherimoyas (lovingly grown from seed) and a cutting of a dragon fruit.  And we won't discuss the number of orchids that I bought.  (We certainly won't discuss the fact that I went to another orchid sale the next day, and came home covered in tiny biting insects.  Nope, we won't discuss any of that...)

If you're curious what other gardeners are discussing head over to Our Happy Acres, where the Monday Harvest blog party is hosted.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Civic Engagement

Since the imposition of the Muslim Ban, I've been compelled with write to our elected representatives in Washington.  It started small, and just kept going.  So far, I've written over a thousand postcards.  What follows are my photos of this endeavor.  


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