Tuesday, April 19, 2011

arty chokes

A couple different varieties of artichoke (seeds from Italy) planted last summer have morphed into six-foot high and wide plants producing copious fruit, tasty and beautiful.

Our artichoke window is narrow (3-4 weeks) but a typical plant will produce a couple dozen artichokes before deciding that this is, in fact, not Castroville, and begin rapidly to fade.

Posted by Picasa

the race is on

The Alaskans up the hill in Amador County (don't they still have snow on the ground up there?) have gotten their tomato starts in the ground before us (http://winecountry.posterous.com/). But we're only a few days behind, and the superior soils and climate of the Cosumnes bottomlands will no doubt yield a heavy, early crop of delectable fruit.

Today WWOOFer Andy and I planted 24 tomato plants, all heirlooms grown from seed in the greenhouse. The names, a slice of Americana, make a kind of gardener's poetry: Moneymaker, Three Sisters, Red Pear, Golden Nugget, Striped Cavern, Amana Orange, Cherokee Purple, Red and Pink Brandywine, Garden Peach, Gardener's Delight, Caro Rich, Eva Purple Ball, Bolden Julilee Gold Medal, Radiator Charley's Mortgage Lifter, Goldman's Italian American.

(If anyone out there wants a plant or two, let me know. I have way more starts than I can use!)
Posted by Picasa


WWOOFer Andy, from Michigan, completes the destruction of the winter cover crop, using a flail grinder that violently deconstructs an enormous amount of biomass into rototillable small particles in no time at all. Nearly head-high bell beans, hairy vetch, and oats become just an inch or two of pulp on the ground. Later that day we till the plant material into the soil, and in a few days we'll start shaping beds for melons, beans, cucumbers, green peppers and eggplant.
Posted by Picasa

road work

Mama killdeer picks the berm in the middle of our driveway as a nest site. Fortunately, it's on the lesser-used section of our drive, and an orange traffic cone serves to divert traffic around the nest. Fortunately, as well, killdeer young are precocial (opposite of altricial - this is a test) and will be gone as soon as they hatch.

The killdeer, in the plover family, is found throughout the western hemisphere. A beautiful, loud bird, mother killdeer are known for feigning injury, as below, to distract potential predators (even those with cameras) from the area of the nest.

Posted by Picasa

cover (crop) girl

WWOOFer Clare (from near Auburn, Alabama) helps take down a portion of our winter cover crop, to make room for tomatoes. Feeling green, and curious, we use a scythe, the tool that fed much of the world until the 19th century and the advent of horse-drawn (and later, steam and internal combustion engine-driven) reapers and threshers. It makes quick work of our 30 x 60 foot plot. The challenge, we discover, is to cut low enough so as not to leave a lot of stubble, but high enough to avoid scraping the ground and dulling the blade.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 8, 2011

they're ba-a-a-a-ack!

I've been seeing my first-of-season Western Kingbirds this week. A close look would probably have found some last week, but I failed to take the time. This week they're in my face, active along the driveway to the east of our house, their liquid yellow breasts shining in the sun. That road is, aptly, designated by a sign as "Kingbird Driveway*;" the sign was a birthday gift a few years back.

Western Kingbirds are among the Tyrant Flycatchers, a large grouping of birds of North and South America feeding primarily on insects. The Western Kingbird winters from southern Texas to Costa Rica and is abundant throughout the Western US. Their annual appearance here (like that of our two species of swallow) coincides generally with the first warm weather and first big flush of flying insects. This is their breeding ground; they make simple cup nests on horizontal branches.

Kingbirds are "altricial" (as opposed to "precocial"), meaning that the young develop skills slowly and rely until nearly full-grown on their parents for food. Ms K and I once were treated to the sight of a line-up of four young (but large) kingbirds on a cottonwood snag, all loudly clamoring to be fed. They could fly, but just barely, and not yet with the level of competence needed to snag insects on the wing. Juvenile capabilities, over-sized appetites, busy parents.

*"Kingbird Driveway" honors one of our predominant summer birds but was also intended as an in-joke for birders, playing on the title of Kingbird Highway, a marvelously funny and inspiring book by ornithologist and conservationist Kenn Kauffman, published in 1997. Kingbird Highway, subtitled "The Story of a Natural Obsession that Got A Little Out of Hand," is a memoir of Kauffman's 19th year, and I highly recommend it. (Our driveway has one real literary claim to fame - a cameo role in Michael Forsberg's superb On Ancient Wing, one of the very few photos not of sandhill cranes in that book.)