Clodo the Attaque Cat!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's a cat's life in the Backyard of Bird.

I mean -- what cat doesn't like birds? Clodomiro is like any other cat. He eats, sleeps and dreams about BIRDS. Does he catch them? Are you kidding? Clodomiro the Chicken Cat? The only way he's going to catch a bird is if one flies directly in his mouth and starts building a nest there.

Here's the Attaque Cat on the job one recent morning -- doing what I'd hoped he'd do -- and that is scare the birds away from the very last peach tree that is still in production. Backyard fruit tree production is starting to slow down a bit now. Fresh fruit season is nearly over I'm sad to say -- although I do get to look forward to quite the substantial pomegranate harvest later this fall.

More on that in a later post.

Not many people understand the name "Clodomiro." It's not even English. Heck -- it's not even Spanish, but is a close derivative there of. Clodomiro is pronounced "Clough-Dough-Meer-Oh." He's named after the title of a song penned by famed Nicaraguan folk artist Carlos Mejia Godoy. The song, CLODOMIRO EL √ĎAJO, loosely translated, is about a village idiot who doesn't quite get a message right, causing all sorts of trouble.

Venus and I traveled to the heart of the Sandinista Revolution, Esteli Nicaragua, shortly after we were married for the marriage of her brother. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. It was the first time I'd been anywhere outside of the United States (Tijuana doesn't count), and it was there that I would discover Tonya and Victoria Beer served in champagne thick bottles, freshly fried potato chips, the legendary Carlos Mejia Godoy and the tune Clodomiro El √Ďajo.

When we adopted this kitten that tripped over his own paws some months later, we knew the perfect name for him. And so it was: Clodomiro.

I playfully named him "Clodo the Attaque Cat," but in all honesty, the only thing he's really adept at attacking is the nearest can of cat food -- or a comfortable spot on the couch. However -- he does do a good job in chasing annoying birds out of the peach tree to your right. And that's exactly what he's supposed to do.

My friends -- I give you the August fruit tree producer in our North Natomas backyard. This is the O'Henry Peach tree. It is the second year for this tree -- and by far the most productive. Unlike June Pride peaches -- which ripen in late June/early July -- the O'Henry doesn't start churning out ripe peaches until mid to late August. But -- once the ball starts rolling -- you begin to understand just why the O'Henry is such a treasured part of backyard orchard culture.

These peaches would make Clodomiro proud.

Now, before you haul off to your nearest nursery and buy the first O'Henry you can get your hands on -- let me deliver this warning. This peach tree is anything BUT a "plant and forget" tree. It requires a lot of special work and care. While it's true that the peaches will appear by the hundreds with just a simple regimen of fertlization and water, it will produce far too many peaches.

In other words, this tree needs to be culled. Not just once. Not just twice but regularly. The 30-to-40 peaches that we've harvested so far this year are probably less than 20% of the fruit that formed on the tree last spring. If I had allowed EVERY peach to stay on the tree -- you would see nothing more than a stump and broken branches. The O'Henry is a classic peach overachiever. It produces far more fruit than the body of the tree can handle.

If you can't bring yourself to remove and throw out anywhere from 60-80% of this tree's production -- it might be wise to invest in another tree.

But -- if you stick with it and cull regularly -- you are rewarded with daily harvests like you see to your left. These are rather smallish peaches for O'Henry production. As the tree begins to gain strength and size, the O'Henry will begin to produce peaches in the softball size range. But that's not the only draw of the O'Henry peach.

People plant and tend the O'Henry for one reason and one reason only: the incredible taste. This is also a "freestone" variety -- which means the pit pops out easily after you cut it open. You need to also exercise a bit of caution while cutting this variety open, however, as they are packed with sweet juices that can literally detonate in your hand once pierced with a knive.

Let me put it this way: If you love a peach juice shower -- you'll love the O'Henry.

The O'Henry peach is also famous for the red streak that you see down the center of the peach to your right. This is a sign that this piece of fruit is at its peak ripeness. If you catch that red streak running from pit to the cover -- you've picked that peach at its absolute zenith. You can't do any better.

Like any tree-ripened peach -- a bite of a tree-ripened O'Henry is a bite of heaven on earth. It is bubble-gum sweet with a firm texture -- and is perfect for eating fresh or peach pies or even peach cobbler. Even thought it is just the second year of production for this one tree -- it has kept us in fresh peaches for three weeks of breakfast fruit and at least two pies for after-dinner dessert.

This is just the start. The O'Henry peach will not reach optimum production until year five or six.

I hope my neighbors like fresh peaches. Or -- perhaps Clodo the Attaque Cat....

The Blog Days of Summer

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm still trying to get last night's Giants meldown to the Colorado Rockies out of my head.

But that famous call from Duane Kuiper -- "this isn't good folks" -- keeps circling around my brain.

As bad as Giants pitcher Merkin Valdez must have felt last night after giving up that awful Grand Slam to Ryan Spillborghs in the bottom of the 14th inning -- Giants fans feel even worse. It's like a sucker punch to the gut. This one will be hard to recover from.

Damn Giants.

This is indeed the famous "Dog Days of Summer" for Major League Baseball teams. It's when the Contenders separate themselves from the Pretenders. It's when the strong teams make a push. It's when the teams that have teased you all season long sort of fall by the wayside.

It's also a time when the summer garden gives that last big push of produce heading into fall. There's no doubt about it. The days are changing. It's getting dark a little earlier each night. Some of those August mornings have been -- dare I say it? A bit "chilly?"

Change is on the way -- whether you like it or not.

This is also the "Dog Days of Summer" for the backyard garden. Or -- in this particular case -- just dogs.

Case in point -- the bowl full of vine-ripened tomatoes to your immediate left. These look a little like Yellow Pear tomatoes -- except they're not yellow. They're red. They are also about three to four times the size of your standard Yellow Pear, which is a much-loved, cherry heirloom from decades past.

What is this then? To be short, sweet and honest -- I really have no idea. It's some kind of tomato from the garden. What kind? Well -- it's supposed to be a Black Krim. That's what the label at the base of the plant says: Black Krim. But -- after one look at these tomatoes -- this is anything but a Black Krim.

This is -- what we call in the tomato world -- a "cross." It's also a "mistake." It's not what it's supposed to be. Is it a tomato? No doubt. But it's no tomato like I've ever seen before. It's quite unique actually. I'll probably never see anything like this again. I did not plant a "Red Pear" variety tomato. I did not intend to plant one.

But I have one just the same.

How did I get this cross? Good question. This is one of many starter plants grown from seed that I provided to Fred Hoffman -- aka -- Farmer Fred Hoffman of KFBK-KSTE fame. Is it his fault? No, I don't think so. Fred started a number of plants for me this year -- including four or five Black Krim plants. I gave all -- but one -- away to other gardeners. They all have normal, productive, Black Krim plants.

So what gives then?

It's highly possible that the seed for this "Red Pear" variety got into the packet of Black Krim seeds at the source. In this case, I ordered my Black Krim seeds from Totally Tomatoes. Now -- before I blame them let me state this: I ordered a number of tomato seed varieties from Totally Tomatoes last fall. In almost every single case -- they have developed into healthy, strong, productive tomato plants.

So -- yes -- I will order from them again.

So -- where did it come from then?

I'm not sure. I'll probably never know. My guess is -- and this is just a guess mind you -- that the seed that resulted in this mistake came from the source -- Totally Tomatoes. If all of the Black Krim plants provided by Fred had turned into this strange Red Cherry variety -- then I might be casting a glance of doubt in his direction. But -- this is the only Black Krim tomato plant that is not producing Black Krim tomatoes.

Therefore -- I blame the source.

Finally -- and most importantly -- how do they taste? Well -- that's the dirty rotten secret. Honestly? It's not very good. In fact -- it's probably the worst vine-ripened tomato I've ever tasted. It's not terrible mind you. But it's nothing like the lip-smacking taste you get from a time-treasured heirloom plant -- or even a standard hybrid sadly enough.

Dog Days of Summer? Meet the Dog from the 2009 Bird Tomato Garden: The Mysterious -- and not really all that tasty -- Red Pear.

Melons R Us

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's melon season in the Sacramento Valley -- did you know that?

You can tell by the roadside stands that are popping up here and there right off freeway exits. I've got one at Elkhorn and Highway 99. Chances are -- wherever you are in the San Joaquin Valley -- you've got your own.

And one of the biggest items on display? None other than red, ripe, tasty watermelons.

Watermelon season has arrived in abundance. Not only at the roadside stands -- but also in our North Natomas Back 40.

To be honest -- I've been growing melons for years. Well -- let's be honest now shall we? I've been "attempting" to grow watermelons for years. Oh sure -- the vines will grow like nobody's business. But the fruit that comes off those vines has been less than -- well -- exciting.

Let's just say that I've cornered the market on growing "personal serving size" melons. In other words -- every attempt at growing watermelons or cantaloupe has resulted in softball sized fruit.

I knew I was doing something wrong -- but what?

Help arrived in the form of some friendly watering advice from none other than Fred Hoffman -- aka -- Farmer Fred Hoffman of KFBK/KSTE gardening fame. Thanks to his timely advice -- I am no longer watering melon plants five or six days out of the week for five minutes at a time. Instead -- the water schedule is down for just TWO DAYS per week -- with each session lasting 20-25 minutes for each watering day (depending on the heat factor for any given week).

To be honest? It's worked wonders. The vines pictured above are the result of that watering pattern and some experimental fertilization. And -- this year -- rather than just plant one variety of watermelon or cataloupe -- I decided -- why not six? And that's what I have in the garden this year. A hodge-podge of melon plants producing all shapes and sizes of melons.

One of those plants -- the Moon and Stars pictured to your right -- is producing some rather monster like results. I'm told a Moon and Stars should be producing a "personal serving size" melon. The picture of the melon to your right? It was taken a week ago. It's still growing. It's twice that size now. It will be anything but a "personal sized melon," unless that person is the Incredible Hulk.

The instructions tell Venus and I that the Moon and Stars melon -- which is an heirloom melon I might add -- has bright yellow spots over a green rind (thus the name Moon and Stars). Furthermore -- I've learned through research that the melons will be ripe for the picking when the actual MOON part of the melon (a much larger bright yellow spot) appears.

As of this time -- no bright yellow moons have appeared on the Moon and Stars melons that are growing in the backyard. I just recently learned that there are several different varieties of the Moon and Stars melon -- and some don't develop moons. Great. So how does one tell when they are ripe?

Good question. Still trying to figure that one out. Get back to you when I do.

As I mentioned previously -- Venus and I planted a number of varieties this year. On the watermelon end of the spectrum -- we chose three different types. One of which I've already mentioned (Moon and Stars) -- and the other two were Tom Watson (an heirloom variety) and Sweet Diane (which I grew in last year's garden). In the area of cantaloupe -- we planted "cantaloupe" (surprise!) and Muskmellon. What's a muskmellon? Well -- it looks and tastes just like...........a cantaloupe.

Fortunately -- you can tell when both varieties are ripe as they turn from a light or dark green to a pleasing orange or yellow. They also tend to "disconnect" themselves from the vine they are on -- or perhaps that's just garden critters at work. Venus and I harvested our very first muskmellons and cantaloupes this past weekend. No -- they are not the size that I wanted -- but there are many more in the garden that are.

The taste so far? In a word? Outstanding. But what vine harvested fruit isn't? Vine-harvested fruit is much like a tree-ripened peach. The sugar content is at its optimum level -- ready for consumption -- and a bite of heaven on earth.

Venus and I will be sampling a LOT of melons over the next couple of weeks in the garden -- including some of the largest watermelons I have ever grown. That's right! I'm proud to announce (brag) that I am actually growing WATERMELON sized watermelons in ye olde backyard. I'm not sure of the exact variety yet -- but I suspect that these are from the Tom Watson plants. They look nothing like the Sweet Diane melons that I grew last year and are growing again in the backyard this year (the rind is much lighter).

The most surprising discovery so far of this year's melon garden? Melons don't need to be started months ahead of schedule like tomato or pepper plants. A lot of our plants came from directly placing seed in the ground when the weather warmed up last May. Sure -- we did have a couple of starter plants that we added to the seed mix -- but you can never tell what plant is what now. They've all grown together!

Our biggest challenge so far this year? Keeping the cats OUT of the melon bed! There's nothing more upsetting than discovering that some cat has dug up half of your newly emerged starter plants -- plants that came from the seed YOU planted a week or two earlier.

But -- we got our revenge. More on that -- in a later post.....

An Ode to the Beefsteak Tomato

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It isn't pink. It's not yellow. It certainly isn't orange.

It doesn't rival the taste of a Brandywine. It doesn't provide the tastebud heaven that is the Black Cherry.

It's not warped like an heirloom. It doesn't come in different shapes and sizes like the Cosmonaut Volkov, Marianna's Peace or Druzba. You won't find it growing at a crazy 90 degree angle like a Zapotec Pleated

It just is. It's round. It's red. It doesn't crack. It's a tomato's tomato. It is your standard, non-fancy, hard-working, Beefsteak tomato. What type of Beefsteak you ask?

Nothing. Just Beefsteak.

Venus and I have the Beefsteak growing in the far right-hand corner of an 8X8 foot raised bed that is on the opposite side of the yard containing our six main 4X8 planter beds. We thought long and hard about what should go in this location, before the answer hit us like a bolt from the blue: "Why not another planter bed?" Boom! Done!

I'll be honest, there's nothing fancy about this tomato. It has a wonderful flavor to it -- but what vine-ripened tomato isn't wonderful tasting? It grows perfectly smooth round, red tomatoes. So -- how is this any different from a hybrid like Better Boy?

It's somewhat different in that this is an open-pollinated Beefsteak tomato. Unlike hybrids, which will fruit one main crop and then just sort of sit there and look pretty for another month or two, the Beefsteak keeps on truckin.' And, unlike a hybrid, this Beefsteak can be seeded and saved for next year's crop.

As you can tell -- this plant is simply loaded with bear. New fruit -- meanwhile -- continues to form at the bottom -- middle and top of this continiously growing plant. It's a simple tomato really. No cracks. No funny lines. No whoppers. No small fries.

It's just your standard tomato.

What's special about the Beefsteak then? Why write such prose? To some tomato afficiandos -- the world starts and ends with the Beefsteak tomato. My father-in-law is one such person. Oh sure -- he enjoys the colors that the tomato garden produces. But he dreams about tomato sandwiches and burgers topped with round, red, vine-ripened slices of the standard Beefsteak tomato. It's what he had as a boy. It's what he grew on "the ranch" in San Jose for years.

This is for you Gale Stromberg.

What else is amazing about this tomato? The cost. Quite simply, it cost us next to nothing to grow -- other than our time -- water and efforts. The seeds for this wonderful variety were discovered two years ago in a Dollar Store not all that far away from our North Natomas home.

It was there that Venus and I stumbled upon a garden rack of seeds -- ten packets for one dollar. We bought all we could -- including the packet of seeds contained the Beefsteak Tomato. That one dime will equal into about fifty-to-sixty pounds of production by the time this growing season is over.

Call it one of our "better" investments.

Forced Child Labor!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh Mr. WalMart Recruiter???? I'm ready for my high-paying Executive Position now!!! What's that? Can I force people to work long hours for little pay?


Yes, the grand ol' tomato harvest continues at the Bird Heirloom Tomato Farm in North Natomas. But, to be brutally honest, what more can I say about heirloom tomatoes on this blog without boring you to tears? What will the title of the blog posting be? LARGE HEIRLOOM TOMATO HARVEST # 442! Suffice to say, the picture to your immediate left will prove that our harvests continue -- and in large numbers. Suffice to say -- the wife that is Venus and I are getting "pickled" on Heirloom Tomato Martinis. And -- suffice to say -- we have enough canned salsa and tomato sauce to last until 2050.

There -- I've bored you to tears already. You're probably itching to switch over to Hank Shaw's blog because you know that he shot Bambi and Bambi's entire family over the weekend -- and want to see what venison jerkey looks like. I can't blame you -- although I will admit that I'm not wild about venison jerkey. However -- wild game turkey is quite another matter.

We had a rather interesting weekend here to say the least. The State Legislature is officially out of session. What does that mean? It means that the Senator that I work for is not in the office. He's in the district instead. What does that mean? It means personal staff at the State Capitol can take a few well-deserved days off. I took advantage of the opportunity -- and I'm coming off a non-relaxing four-day weekend.

Four day weekends mean PROJECTS in big, bold, beautiful letters at our North Natomas home. I've been itching to get some ground cover in and around the main planter beds -- but never seemed to have the time or the right opportunity. Both arrived this past weekend.

I've got to remind myself to STOP using Redmond's Building Supply in North Highlands. They are the people who I normally turn too when ordering large amounts of landscaping bark or soil. But they also inevitably screw up the order. Case in point? I ordered seven yards of bark. Six yards of bark arrived -- AND -- at a higher price than what I had been quoted over the phone. Arguing with these people is akin to masturbating with a cheese grater. They don't seem to understand the difference between six yards of bark and seven yards -- therefore Venus and I will give our landscaping business to someone who understands that two-plus-two equals four.

But -- enough said. The bark arrived -- and so did some rather unexpected help in the form of a three day visit from one of Venus' closest childhood friends and a later classmate at UC Berkeley. Audrey is married to Pete Morris -- and both Audrey and Pete have quite the family in two young boys.

That includes a 9-year old boy named Tony who found that gigantic load of bark in the front yard to be quite interesting.

As it turns out -- Tony loves wheelbarrows.

Can you see where this is going? Oh Mr. WalMart Recruiter -- are you listening???

If you're about to ask that I have absolutely no shame at all in putting a 9-year old boy to work in MY backyard on HIS summer vacation no less -- the answer is an unqualifiable YES! There! I'll admit it! I have no shame! I also have a backyard gardening area filled with six yards of pristine -- raked out -- bark. I'm telling you -- it just brings a tear to my eye.

Little Tony took to that gigantic load of landscaping bark like a fish takes to water. As it turns out -- the kid really did love wheelbarrows. He loved every minute of shoveling bark. He loved every minute of moving said bark to the FURTHEST part of the Back 40 backyard. And he loved dumping that bark in the exact spot I told him.

"So," I told Venus. "This is why people have kids."

Now -- to be honest -- there were several times during the day when I told the kid that he was "overdoing it" and to slow down or just take a break. In response, Tony would give me this hurtful look -- shrug and walk away. He would then complain to his mother -- Audrey -- "Bill is making me take a break -- can I ride my bike now?"

Oh -- to have the energy of a nine-year old boy again. By the time the day ended -- Bill Bird was nursing numerous aches and sores. Pete Morris -- Tony's father -- was also treating various aches and pains with Tecate Therapy (so was I as a matter of fact). And Tony? Well, after he had finished dumping the last load of bark and spreading the last load of bark -- he was doing wind sprints on his bike.

That's the problem with youth. It's wasted on the young.

But -- the education wasn't over. It was just beginning. Tony's mother informed me that her son had also spied the Mantis Rototiller in the GarageMahal. "I've seen those on TV," Tony told his mom. "Do you think Bill will let me use it?"

Would I let him use it on MY garden? This kid was from heaven.

And so -- the very next day -- not only did I drag the Mantis from the garage -- I let Tony "walk it" over to the garden bed in question while it was running. This was big stuff for a 9-year old kid. I've been told that he gets to brag to his classmates that HE got to use a Mantis Rototiller during his summer vacation and I have to post the photos to prove it.

I am only too happy to oblige. There is the kid tearing up the potato bed with the Mantis Rototiller. And that rather svelte gentleman watching over Tony in the background? That's not Mel Gibson -- but rather MOI.

The backyard garden full of bark will allow Venus and I to actually access the garden area this winter when rains turn our hardened Natomas clay soil into a mucky quicksand. The freshly tilled and amended bed will allow Venus to plant and harvest yet another whopper of a potato crop just in time for Thanksgiving.

Tony meanwhile -- gets to brag to his classmates about hauling bark and using the legendary Mantis Rototiller. Plus -- he's got the photos -- and a cool $5 bill in payment to show for all that hard work.

Bill -- meanwhile -- is still in Tecate Therapy.

Slough WHO?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

It's early Sunday morning. I should be listening to Farmer Fred on his ye olde radio programme. Instead, both the wife and I are now planning a busy day of canning efforts BECAUSE we listened to Farmer Fred!

Gee, thanks Fred. I think.

I wanted to introduce you to a staple food item that has become a regular around the Bird household in the past two weeks. There's that wonderful item to your left -- and yes -- that sweet, lucious, golden corn was part of last night's dinner. Yet another heapin' helpin' of that summertime favorite called "corn-on-the-cob."

Who needs Slough House corn when you've got North Natomas?

This is our second year for corn-growing efforts in the quarter-acre backyard we call the "Back 40." But -- like many endeavours this year -- we have corn coming out of our EARS. Last year's corn patch was quickly overwhelmed by the sunflowers that Venus had planted as "companions."

Bad move. Sunflowers take over everything and destroy all.

This year? We kept the corn out of the raised beds -- away from the sunflowers -- and put it in the "test bed." And, I suppose you could call the "test bed" the "raving success bed" now because it's starting to produce right along with the raised beds. The corn -- tomatoes -- squash -- pumpkins -- baby corn and other produce is doing just fine. They seem to like this amended North Natomas junket soil. So be it. The test bed lives -- thanks to the Mantis Rototiller and a whole lot of steer manure compost.

This is probably the sixth or seventh meal where the wife that is Venus and I have enjoyed corn on the cob. There will probably be at least another five to six meals to enjoy -- and then the second crop of sweet white corn will be due in. And -- if that's not enough -- a mixed crop of yellow and white sweet corn will follow about a month later.

I love corn almost as much as I love heirloom tomatoes. Almost.

Not every ear is perfect mind you. That's the "thing" with home-grown corn. You're not going to get store-bought perfection. Even with most supermarkets -- you're going to encounter a bad ear or two. It just happens. And we've had our share of flops mind you.

Last night's corn for example? The first ear? Heaven on earth! Crunchy! Sweet! Every bite a joy! Bursting with nature's goodness. But the second ear? Not as crunchy. Not as sweet. You might even say it was a "tad gummy." I probably left that ear on the stalk for a little too long. Had I harvested it three days earlier, it probably would have been pretty darn good!

Corn on the cob anyone?