The Last Temptation (of a North Natomas Gardener)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The sun is shining. The birds are singing. The rain is gone. Time to get out in ye olde Back 40 and git done what needs to be gittin' done!

Not so fast pardner.

No -- I didn't post up a photo of Neil Armstrong's last visit to the moon. That's my big footprint. It might as well be the moon though -- cause this is what happens when you step into the North Natomas mudscape that is my backyard after what seems centuries of non-stop rainfall.

But I want to start digging in the backyard!

The answer is "NO" from the Sacramento Bee's Debbie Arrington. The advice in her latest gardening column from Saturday? Ignore the urge to "dig in the dirt." You'll just compact the soil and make things worse.

But, but, but....I've got fruit trees to trim! I'm got bare root Southern Highbush Blueberries to plant! That Arctic Jay White Nectarine tree is ready to be planted! There's irrigation work to be done!

The answer is "NO" from Farmer Fred Hoffman. His advice is the same as Ms. Arrington's. You'll do nothing more than create a muddy mess -- compact the soil -- and that will cause even more problems later this spring when the drenched ground finally does dry out enough to walk on without falling through.

Now -- I thought I had this problem all but licked last summer when I raked out some five plus yards of bark around the raised planter beds in the backyard. Surely I could walk back there -- right?


Imagine my surprise this morning when all that nicely placed bark started sinking the moment I put my weight on it. There's nothing like the feeling of cold, slimy, clay mud oozing up between your toenails. The clay sludge that is my backyard is laughing at me. Five yards of bark is no match for the sticky mud that swallows all.

Even the best laid plans of a frustrated North Natomas gardener.

Orchard Insanity!

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's confirmed. I am certifiable. I'm more than ready now for a nice padded room with no sharp objects. Heck -- you might as well throw in a strait jacket for good measure.

The proof of this insanity? It's in the pudding. Clearly identifiable. When Reggie Bush was busy fumbling away a punt during the close of the first half of the Saints-Vikings NFC Championship Game -- what was I doing? Watching the game? No. Try digging holes in the front yard.

You see -- this just isn't the norm for most sane men. Not at all. Most normal men would be screaming at the top of their lungs or throwing the nearest cat/sharpened object at the TV screen after watching Reggie cough up a punt. This is what Bill Bird would have done -- the normal Bill Bird that is.

But Bill Bird is no longer normal. He's so eager to dig in the dirt now that a steady rain doesn't matter. The NFC Championship Game doesn't matter. Cleaning out the litterbox can come later. I've got nectarines on the brain instead of football.

Quick! Somebody call Bellvue!

I blame Ken Menzer. He's the responsible one Your Honor. The Folsom City Arborist filled my head with all sorts of funky ideas and plans during a recent Orchard Management class. Thanks to Ken's "you can do this" brainwashing techniques -- where I once saw "landscaping" -- I now see endless orchard opportunities.

Bare Root Season is now nearly over -- and quite frankly -- it's been a bust for a lot of people. Why? You can buy all the bare root trees or bushes that your heart desires -- but when it rains so hard that the backyard turns into a lake -- there's little you can do. Sure -- you can try to plant a tree. But you'll need a rowboat to reach the spot you've picked out in the backyard.

But -- as of yesterday -- I had just about had enough. You see this tangled mass of jungle to your left? This ladies and gentlemen -- is part of "$15,000 in free landscaping." Basically -- it's what you get when you buy into a cookie cutter subdivision like I have. Landscapers throw in a bush here and a plant there -- a few blades of grass and some lawn sprinklers -- and announce that you've just received: "$15,000 in free landscaping."

Actually, it's more akin to paying $15,000 for a well used, 1963 Dodge Dart with pushbutton transmission. There's nothing special there. It's just a rusted out car with an old slant six engine that leaks oil. Badly.

As of yesterday -- that "free landscaping" went where it belongs. Those confounded bushes were blocking the path of my nectarine orchard. They weren't just blocking the path -- but the actual orchard itself.

An orchard? In that small a space? Yes sir! The new term for this planting style is called "Backyard Orchard Culture." But -- basically -- it's throwing anywhere from three to four trees into a space the size of a coat closet and watching it grow.

Does it work? Ken Menzer says it does. Farmer Fred Hoffman -- a big advocate of Backyard Orchard Culture -- has been pleading with me to adopt this practice for years. I didn't listen then -- but I see the big picture now. Where some people see bushes? I see fruit trees that are trimmed into a well managed hedge.

The technical explanation for Backyard Orchard Culture -- as explained by Dave Wilson Nursery -- is... "the prolonged harvest of tree-ripe fruit from a small space. This means planting close together several or many fruit varieties which ripen at different times, and keeping the trees small by summer pruning."

So why have three bushes when I can have three nectarine trees? Make those FREE nectarine trees while you're at it. Ideally? You want to purchase your bare root trees at a nursery. They have a better selection of trees to start with. Plus -- overall -- the stock is also a tad better.

But when someone like Bill Bird is armed with a $100 gift card for FREE CRUD at Home Depot? The Big Box store wins. Nurseries lose (although I'm still looking for a white Nectarine to finish out the planting).

That photo to your left? Those are the tops of the two bare root Nectarine trees that I purchased just yesterday. They happen to be the "Flavor Top" and "Fantasia" varieties of nectarines -- which happen to be two of the most popular varieties grown in California today. That's why I found them at the Man's Toy Store (Home Depot).

Can you just imagine what those tree tops will look like this spring? Can't you just imagine now nice and leafy the growth pattern will look? Can't you just imagine what kind of fruit will come from the tops of these trees?

Don't imagine. Because -- the last step in the Backyard Orchard Culture planting process is perhaps the most criminal and perhaps the hardest thing to do. These two trees have just been sentenced by the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. The verdict is in: OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!

That's right -- these two trees have (or had) a date with my Corona Loppers. That nice collection of branches you see in the photos? They are long gone -- into the Green Waste can they went.

This is how both trees look today -- in the here and now. This was the hardest part of my planting efforts on NFL Championship Sunday. Tearing out those old bushes? Piece of cake. Amending the wide hole with the right amount of soil, compost and fertilzer? A pleasure. Planting said trees with loving care? A snap.

Cutting off the tree at knee length? It's enough to bring tears to the eyes of your fruit tree sap. But there's a method to this madness. Soon -- spring will come. These trees -- if I haven't shocked them too much during the planting process -- will produce new shoots and new branches. And I can control where the tree grows and how high it grows through the Backyard Orchard Culture process.

All you need is a good pair of loppers and the determination to trim trees three to four times per year rather than just once.

The payoff? Different varieties of nectarines during the summer months -- without needing a ladder to reach them.

For more information about the Backyard Orchard Culture process -- visit the Dave Wilson Nursery information page here. Farmer Fred Hoffman also has similar instructions -- plus a few other handy tips -- here.

As for me? I'm hunting for a white nectarine to finish out my coat-closet orchard. Just don't tell her what's coming.

Lake Effect Lake

Monday, January 18, 2010

I don't know who's more frustrated. Me, the wife, or the cats. We're all stuck inside at the moment -- all of us ready to climb the nearest wall (the cats are best equipped for this). We've got projects that need to get done! We've got a free day to garden to our heart's content!

Yet -- what are we faced with? Lake Bird. Actually? Several Lake Birds that are growing at a rather eye-popping and exponential rate. We've got a doozy of a rainstorm falling at the moment -- and as the photo to your right will attest -- this is no time to be outside.

That's the frustrating part of it all. I have the time! There are projects that need to be done! Beds that can be cleaned out! Beds that can be prepared for Spring! Seeds to plant. Lettuce here. Lettuce there. Radishes everywhere.

But, "Drip, Drip, Drip" goes the weatherman.

Listen -- I know -- that in the long run -- this soaking rain is good for every single gardener in California -- from the extreme North to the extreme South. And I also know -- deep down -- that we need more than just a day of constant rain. If the weather reports are correct -- and I hope that they are -- we'll see a solid week of non-stop rain and non-stop snow.

I know, I know: we need this in the worst way.

But at the same time? How is my new Improved Meyer Lemon going to grow if I can't get outside to actually plant the thing? It's been sitting there -- in the rain and wind -- for a solid week. But the spot that I have picked out for it? Well -- at last check -- it was under an inch of rain. Mebbe two. I'm not really sure. The rain is falling so fast now that it's kind of overwhelming the drainage system in our yard.

Still? I'd much rather be outside to be honest with all of you. I'd much rather be dealing with a warm spring day. I'd rather be trenching -- which should prove to you just how insane I've become over the years.

So -- I suppose I could go through and reorganize the shoebox that serves as our "unofficial" seed library. But -- I've already done that. Clean and organize the gardening tools? Done. Order more seeds? I have ten packets of carrot seeds. Do I really need another? Set up the indoor greenhouse? A little early for that. We won't be starting tomato and pepper seeds until the weekend after the Super Bowl.

So -- instead -- I'll sit with the cats at the sliding glass door and adopt the same forlorn look they have and wish for a better day. Mother Nature has claimed this day as her very own -- and may keep claiming days through the better part of next week.

For now -- I can only look at the raised beds across the yard that contain our onion and garlic plantings. For now? I can only look at the barren fruit trees that really need a haircut trim -- but I dare not try anything. For now? I can only look at the leaves that I never got around to raking up from around the rosebushes.

The cats meanwhile -- are sharpening those claws. Let the wall-climbing exercise commence.

A Gardener's Lament.

A Spark of Summer...

Friday, January 15, 2010

My deepest apologies for the extended break. No -- I didn't fall off a cliff (fat chance people). It's just been -- you know -- one of those "weeks."

Of course -- the death of my Uncle caught me a little off-guard. Although we all knew that this would happen someday (the man was nearly 92 after all!) -- we weren't really prepared for his passing. Nobody is truly prepared for this type of event. There is no "good time" to leave this Earth.

But then -- when a 41-year old co-worker of mine suddenly passed away some four days later -- well that made things just a little bit tougher. 41-year old men aren't supposed to die of heart attacks. It's just not supposed to happen to people like Will -- who was in better shape than most.

It's just been the type of week that in the big scheme of things -- that if you're five minutes late to work? That's really not a problem. Other problems are a little more serious. There are other things to worry about rather than the clock on the wall.

So -- this posting is a little late. I was going to brag to the world about this wonderful dish to your immediate right -- and then my Uncle died. That was the end of that plan. But the taste of this meal lingers on. And if you're guessing that it just might involve some fresh ingredients from our North Natomas suburban farm -- winner, winner -- chicken dinner!!!

This my fine friends -- is my Spark of Summer. The zest of our North Natomas heirloom tomato and fresh-herb harvest. Yes -- the 2009 tomato growing season is but a distant memory for many now -- but not for us.

We're enjoying the "fruits" of our labor this winter.

The sauce creation above is actually part of a deep-dish pizza recipe that Venus and I have modified somewhat to fit about any sauce need that we have. We found this recipe some years ago in the food section of the Sacoftomatoes Bee -- and the person who contributed this recipe promised it would create a deep dish pizza "just like Zelda's."

Now -- if you've never tried Zelda's before -- where on God's Green Earth have you been? People drive for hours to reach Zelda's front door -- and a taste of that Chicago-style deep-dish pizza-pie. It's the stuff of legend. And -- although Zelda is no longer with us -- the family has managed to keep the place humming. Short and sweet? Zelda's still turns out one mean pizza-pie.

We've made this recipe a couple of times -- and I must admit -- it's a pretty darn good imitation. But -- don't be fooled. NOTHING is like Zelda's. NOTHING.

The sauce is clearly the secret to this pizza recipe -- which is why we modified it to fit other uses. In this case? This wonderful tomato sauce made with canned heirloom tomatoes and canned heirloom tomato sauce right from out backyard went into a pasta recipe that also featured a U-shaped rope of Turkey Kielbasa cut into bite sized chunks.

Now folks -- the finished creation to your left? That's called a dish of heaven. And that's the nice thing about canned heirloom tomatoes. If you think that you lose that special taste of an heirloom when you can it for future uses -- think again. That's the wonderful thing about canning tomatoes from the backyard. They taste like you picked them five minutes ago.

Not to knock our big tomato processors in town -- no -- not at all. I don't turn up my nose at a can of Hunt's Tomato Sauce. Nor do I push away a can of S&W Brand canned tomatoes. They have their uses. BUT -- the stuff in those cans simply cannot compare with a one-quart jar of canned heirloom tomatoes from the backyard -- and a pint of heirloom tomato sauce.

You can tell the moment you pry off the lid of any one-quart or one-pint jar. That marvelous smell of summer ripened tomatoes fills the kitchen air. The vines that produced those wonderful heirlooms are long dead and gone -- but the zest remains.

And that's the real advantage to canning your summer produce. Does it take time? Of course! Will you waste an afternoon? More than one to be sure. Is it worth the time, work, effort and mess? Without a doubt, yes, yes, yes and yes!

But the real "proof in the pudding" so to speak doesn't come until much later. Imagine that you've just arrived home from work on a cold January day. It's not just cold -- it's bitter cold. It's not just bitter cold -- a heavy rain is falling. It's dank. It's dreary. It's depressing.

And then -- all it takes to cure a case of the "Winter Blahs" is a can of fresh heirloom tomatoes from the backyard. That smell is back. That taste returns. Suddenly -- it's not so dank and dreary anymore. It's a garden fresh dinner right in the middle of winter.

Just in case you're interested -- I've put the sauce recipe below. You can mix it with Turkey Kielbasa like we did -- but it works just as well with cut up chicken, tofu (blech!) or no meat at all.

You see -- with this creation -- it's all about "the sauce."

The sauce is good.

Just Like Zelda's Pizza Sauce (or sauce for any pasta meal)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic (we usually crush it -- plus add more)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil (you can also used dried basil flakes)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (you can also use dried oregano flakes)
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, coarsely crushed
1 tablespoon dry red wine
1 teaspoon sugar

Directions: In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add herbs, seeds, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring for 30-seconds. Add tomatoes, wine and sugar and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occassionally, until thickened, 20-30 minutes.

Bills Note: Since Venus and I both like spicy foods? We usually double up on the spice ingredients. And -- if you're forced to open a full bottle of red wine to get the sauce just right -- don't despair! It just gives you something to sip on while the sauce is cooking!

He Grew Heirlooms -- Before They Were "Heirlooms."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I'm a little sad tonight. I hope you'll bear with me. I'm just a little melancholy. I could not let this moment pass without telling you about a very important influence in not just my life -- but the creation of the blog that is Sacramento Vegetable Gardening.

The blog -- of course -- serves as an inspiration to my wife that is all things Venus. But the deep love and connection to all things dirt came much earlier. In fact -- it may have come from the man pictured to your right.

His name is Francis Doran. The woman to his left is his daughter -- Karen Doran. Although the name on this blog that I use is "Bill Bird," my true name (formal name) is William Doran Bird. The man to the right? He is my Uncle Francis. His daughter is my Cousin Karen.

Uncle Francis passed away yesterday. He was almost 92 years old. He lived a long and fruitful life, and yes, he's part of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation."

I knew this was coming. We all knew really. Family wondered at times how on God's Green Earth wondered how this man walked and talked. His arteries were so blocked up with crud they could have served as sidewalks on a city street. San Francisco's finest Cardiologists ran in terror when they saw his Angiogram images. Surgery was out of the question for a man his age.

But Francis surprised them. He surprised all of us. Somehow -- he perservered. Somehow -- he outlived almost everyone in my mother's family. My mother -- the youngest of the bunch -- passed away nearly 20 years ago. Her older brother kept right on going.

But -- yesterday -- January 6th, 2010 -- his time was suddenly up. He was discovered in his favorite chair in his Belmont office home. No hint of pain. No hint of stress. When he closed his eyes that night -- his time here came to an end.

And what a wonderful and interesting time it was. Uncle Francis was an interesting man. He was the hit of any party. Francis was "Green" long before the term meant anything other than a color in a set of Crayola crayons. Francis -- a hero in the fight against Imperial Japan -- was a man of peace. In fact -- he's the only man I know of who staged an official protest against "the war."

Not the Vietnam War. No -- World War II. I told you he was interesting.

Francis and his better half -- my Aunt Barbara -- officially celebrated 40 years of marital war -- err -- bliss three years ago where I snapped these pictures. What did Venus and I present as a "present" for a 40th wedding anniversary? The best gift my Uncle Francis could ever hope to receive (it's pictured below).

Most of all? Francis was a gardener. The old man did his level best to grow tomatoes in the most inhospitable place -- a canyon community called Belmont in the San Francisco Bay Area. Grow them he did -- despite bone-chilling temperatures during the summer -- howling winds at night and the worst weather conditions that Mother Nature could serve up.

But Francis perservered. So did his tomatoes. If they didn't get enough sun in the backyard -- he would build a planter box on a porch to remedy that problem. Too cold at night? Francis would build boxes next to the house so his tomato plants could get optimum heat. Heirloom tomatoes? Francis was growing heirloom tomatoes when heirlooms were labled as the "new offering" from Burpee or one of a million gardening catalogs littered about the Belmont home.

Just how serious was Uncle Francis when it came to growing vegetables? How about this? After several unsuccessful attempts to grow one of his favorite garden veggies -- cucumbers of all things -- Francis set up his own, personal greenhouse in the backyard. And in that greenhouse -- Uncle Francis grew cucumbers -- cucumbers for every month of the year.

Year in and year out -- you could always count on the fact that you wouldn't be required to run off to the store to buy a cucumber. Francis would just walk downstairs -- walk outside and walk into the greenhouse. A few minutes later -- my smiling Uncle Francis would emerge with cucumber in hand -- and yet another salad disaster was averted.

So -- I knew that our gift to my Uncle Francis and Aunt Barbara during their 40th Wedding Anniversary would be well received. It was a cucumber. It wasn't just any cucumber -- but one of the largest Armenian cucumbers to come out of the garden during the 2006 growing season. Francis would later call our Sacramento home and question just what we had presented him with. He about keeled over right there and then when I informed him it was one of his favorite vegetables.

He always envied the garden heat that we enjoy in the San Joaquin Valley. But envy wasn't enough to drive him out of his always cool Bay Area location. He would get his revenge during the summer when he would call and ask how much our air conditioning bill was that month.

I'm happy now that the Cal-grad wife that is Venus got to meet my Uncle. Francis -- a 1943 graduate of Oregon University -- looked forward to her calls whenever the Bears met the Ducks in a Pac 10 football showdown. There were a few calls between the two during the past years -- each "apologizing in advance" for the football beatdown that was about to come.

For some strange reason -- I was thinking of my Uncle last Thanksgiving. We always went to his Belmont home to celebrate the holiday when I was a child. I hadn't thought about it for years and cannot understand why the memories were coming back so strongly last November.

Perhaps now I know. I put those thoughts into a form of an essay that I submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul. I never did hear back from them. Perhaps they weren't ready for a story like this one. Perhaps they haven't decided. Perhaps the only person who will ever see it is me.

Goodbye Uncle Francis. Thank you for being the perfect Uncle any nephew could ever ask for. I will miss you.

A Class You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

Friday, January 1, 2010

Two blog postings in one day? Egads. There must be something wrong with me. Those who know me well would say "I wholeheartedly agree." But -- I digress. We'll discuss mental matters on another day.

There used to be a time when "bare root" season started in February. Not anymore kids. Visit any big box store like Home Depot or Lowes -- and you'll be greeted with bin after bin of bare root fruit trees, grapevines, roses, you name it.

I should know since I ran out and bought the wife a Weigela just the other day. Sorry -- but I just couldn't resist.

I'll keep this short and sweet. There's an upcoming class for us Home Orchardist types called "Planning, planting and managing your Home Orchard" that will take place in Folsom. The first will be this upcoming Wednesday -- January 6th -- from 6:00 to 8:30 PM at the Folsom Community Room Activity Center in Folsom. A repeat of that class will take place on Saturday, January 9th -- from 9:00 to 11:30 AM at the same location.

Your course instructor is a Mr. Ken Menzer, who serves as the Arborist for the City of Folsom. But Ken's true love -- so it seems -- is all things fruit and citrus trees. He's only got 76 of them. And that doesn't include the grapes, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, etc.

Yeah -- Ken is into fruit. But I'm guessing that Ken knows his fruit trees and how to trim them -- which is kind of an important subject to a young orchardist like myself. And I use the word "young," in jest.

But -- should you have an interest in growing one or fifty varieties of fruit in your own backyard -- I highly suggest that you make your way out to Folsom next week. The wife that is Venus and I will be attending the Saturday course as a matter of fact -- because I know I need to prune this June Pride peach tree located to your immediate left. I just don't know what to prune -- and with my luck? I'll probably wind up cutting the wrong branch(es).

Ken's class comes just in time for the start of bare root season -- which is already underway and continues through February.

What is bare root season? Well -- it's that special time of year that comes only once a year -- and it's really the best time to plant fruit trees, rosebushes or most other plants in the backyard. First and foremost -- it's an easy hit on the wallet -- the easiest you'll find all season. Secondly, bare root trees and bushes are in their "dormant season," which means they're easier to ship and even easier to carry from the trunk of your Ford Exploder to the backyard.

Finally? If your backyard is anything like mine -- it's a swamp. This means holes are easier to dig. Digging trenches for irrigation is much easier. And some plants -- especially some fruit trees -- adapt to their new homes much more quickly if planted during bare root season. If you're lucky? You might even get fruit production in the very first year!

According to the class flyer: The course will "cover orchard layout, species & cultivars, solar orientation, chilling requirements, pollination, pruning, planting, flowering & fall color, fertilization, thinning, minimizing and/or maximizing fruit production, irrigation & IPM (integrated pest management). It will also cover: troubleshooting, soil testing and drainage..."

Be advised that there is a cost for this event. It will set you back some $15 -- but you will also earn fruit tree coupons to help recoup that small fee.

Early signup is a MUST. Don't just show up on the night or day of -- because there might not be room. You can contact Ken Menzer directly at or (916) 220-3016.

While we're on the subject of fruit trees -- check out this guy in Davis. 575 varieties of fruit grafted onto just 40 trees? I can see now that I'm just getting started.

See you on Saturday in Folsom!

A Good Whackin!!!

My left knee hurts. My lower back is sore. I've got a pain in my right bicep. My neck is stiff. My feet are killing me.

Ah -- the JOYS of GARDENING!!!

A very Happy New Year to all -- and I hope you enjoyed the Eve of 2010 as much as Venus and I did. I'm sad to report that four to five bottles of bubbly "gave up the ghost" last night. It's really quite amazing that I feel this good -- but I do.

I should drink champagne more often! Perhaps it should be a New Year's Resolution? Hey -- that's one resolution that I can KEEP!

The author of the Sacramento Vegetable Gardening Blog (yours truly) spent a good chunk of the last day of 2009 preparing for the Year that is 2010. The time had come. The numerous rose bushes populating the Back 40 of our North Natomas compound had gone into a deep slumber with the freezing nights that graced our area last month.

The photo to your right? Ladies and Gents -- that's a whack job -- and the remains of last year's rose bushes. What do roses have to do with vegetable gardening? Why are you getting so technical on me? They're pretty. I like giving the wife roses. Is that enough?

Let's just say the rosebushes "got a haircut."

Despite the workout -- I do look forward to this job. It brings us one step forward to the season that is SPRING! And spring is probably my most favorite of all seasons -- followed closely by summer. I look at it this way: you're not cutting back last year's growth. No, no -- not at all. You're preparing for spring.

Is cutting back rose bushes hard? Not really -- but it can be if you're looking for that "perfect cut." There are many schools of thought when it comes to the job of pruning a rosebush. Some well-respected Rosarians (doncha just love those fancy names?) subscribe to the theory of cutting a rosebush back to the nub. Others -- meanwhile -- reccommend that you prune the bushes back to four or five of the strongest "canes."

I'm not an expert at this -- not by any stretch of the imagination -- but I do have some "before" and "after" photos to show you. That rosebush to your left? That is the Queen Elizabeth Grandiflora -- one of my absolute favorites. Grandiflora roses are a cross between the highly popular Hybrid Tea (long-stemmed single roses) and Floribunda roses. That's about all I know on that subject -- other than they look pretty and are good for cutting!

By the way -- if you want the "expert" take on pruning rosebushes -- I highly reccommend you click on this rosebush pruning tutorial offered up by Farmer Fred Hoffman. At one time -- I followed that guide to the absolute letter. But -- after $15,000 worth of back surgery -- well -- there are some things that Bill Bird just will no longer do.

Hence the long-handled loppers in the photo at the top of the page. That's really not the ideal tool for this job -- but it does spare ye olde back from a lot of stress. And -- after a full year of back agony pre-surgery -- well -- I'm not too interested in repeating the experience. Losing the spare tire from around my belly might help too -- and would make another great New Year's Resolution. But -- I've done this before -- and I've broken it with Exlax-like regularity.

As promised -- here is the "after" photo to your right. And despite that whack job -- there's still one more "unfinished" job to take care of. See those leaves around the whack job? Yeah -- I've got to get those out too. Call it another job for another day. Because -- at this very moment -- the first day of 2010 in North Natomas -- it's raining like nobody's business.

Nothing like a good rainstorm to foil a day of gardening adventures. I think I'll watch the Rose Bowl instead.

And now -- for the little hidden secret about rose care. Do roses really need to be pruned back year after year? The answer is no. They come back just fine on their own. It's tough to kill a rosebush. I know -- because I've tried. I've even managed to hit some rosebushes with a shot or three of Roundup. Did they die? A rosebush? Of course not! They weren't all that happy with the mistreatment of course (a mistake on my part -- believe me). But your standard rosebush can take the best product that Monsanto can throw at them -- and come out smelling like a -- you know -- a rose.

So -- while you really DON'T need to prune -- it is true that roses look much better if you DO PRUNE. Cutting back a standard rosebush to the strongest of canes pretty much guarantees a healthy rosebush in the spring. Of course -- fertilizer and water also play key roles in that health. You just can't prune and forget.

The reward for pruning? If there is such a thing -- it would have to be vases full of cut roses and other flowers throughout the spring and summer months. Sure -- I can present my wonderful wife with a vase arrangement for only $60 from a nearby florist. But -- after she scolds me for wasting money that can be better spent on cheap gin (it comes in a plastic bottle) -- you begin to realize that there is a better way of impressing the love in your life.

A free arrangement of flowers and roses that you grew on your own? Now that's one way to impress the little lady. And a case of cheap gin doesn't hurt either.