Gifts From Greg

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I'd like to introduce you today to an interesting member of the gardening-hunting blogging community. His name is Greg Damitz. He's the brains behind the blog that is Roseville Vegetable Gardening -- and as you might be able to guess from the photo -- he's rather fond of duckies.

I first discovered Greg's blog about a year and a half ago -- right about the time he discovered my blog and we started to trade notes back and forth about heirloom tomatoes -- onions -- garlic and other produce straight from the backyard garden.

Greg's blog intrigued me for a number of reasons. First -- he lives in Old Roseville -- in a neighborhood that some people would love to move into. The neighborhoods near the Roseville Fairgrounds and railyard are so unlike the newer cookie cutter subdivisions that are located just blocks away.

Greg lives in a neighborhood that was built sixty to seventy years ago. No house looks alike. The streets are wide. The houses are small. The yards are expansive. They were built for a generation that grew up without computers and other indoor gadgets. They were built for families who spent the bulk of their time outdoors -- in the sunshine.

These are homes that feature alleys behind every home. Mature fruit and citrus trees abound in nearly every front and backyard. It's a picture of stark beauty that is hard to describe -- but it's similar to the neighborhoods that I called home as a child in Modesto. Although -- I'll admit -- those Modesto homes offered slightly larger lots.

Why? Who wanted to live in Modesto in the 1950's? Who wants to live in Modesto now? Developers had to do something to lure people to town. Homes with extra large lots were the selling point. Sacramento and Roseville meanwhile -- although small towns at the time -- offered direct access to San Francisco to the west or Reno to the east. In Modesto -- at that time -- it took quite a bit of driving down old, dusty, county roads before you hit any main highway that would take you anywhere worth going.

But I digress. My chance visit with Greg took place during a quest where I was trying to "take care of two birds with one stone." A co-worker from Grass Valley had picked up a package of "All Red" seed potatoes from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply and had traveled to nearby Lincoln for a high school baseball game featuring her record-setting son who is making college scouts drool (this kid is going to make life miserable for the Dodgers while starting for your San Francisco Giants people -- trust me on this).

Greg's home was just a short drive away from the game in question -- AND it just happened to lead me in the same direction of home. You see -- Greg had some things I wanted.

One of those items is located in this photo to your right -- and it's a project that I'd been attempting to tackle for quite some time -- but had yet to "get around to it." To most folks? This is nothing more than a couple of pieces of wood with some large holes drilled into it. But for experienced beekeepers? This is a home for Mason and Carpenter bees -- which are some of the best pollinators on the planet. Those tubes taped to the side of that home? Those are Mason Bee tubes -- purchased just yesterday at Sacramento Beekeeping Supply.

Soon -- those Mason Bees will emerge from those tubes -- and hopefully crawl right into one of those pre-drilled holes. And -- since I know that we already have Carpenter Bees in the neighborhood -- I'm hopefull they'll find the new home just as appealing.

Mason and Carpenter bees -- yes they are those large black bees -- aren't the honey producers that your standard Italian honeybees are. Nope. But they are superior pollinators. And they are attracted to food crops like heirloom tomatoes that the standard honeybee ignores. If you've never witnessed a Mason or Carpenter bee drilling into a small tomato flower -- it's a show everyone should catch in their lifetimes. Better yet? When a Mason or Carpenter bee is finished with that tomato flower? A tomato invariably develops.

And these bees can hit THOUSANDS of tomato flowers in the space of a week or two. I should know. Venus and I hosted a Carpenter Bee last year that we could hear coming from 50-yards off. There was no mistaking his entry into the backyard. Our "Battleship Missouri" would normally locate us in the yard -- buzz by our heads to announce his presence -- and head straight for the raised beds that held our heirloom tomato, melon and squash crops.

Is it any wonder why we had a monster year last summer for tomato production?

I also used to visit Greg's blog often to take in photos of the mature fruit and citrus trees that abound in this neighborhood. These are MONSTER trees people. They're big enough to feed an entire block -- let alone just one home. A nearby pomegranate -- for example -- would keep you pickled in pomegranate cider for an entire year.

To put it into perspective? I'll be in my mid-to-late fifties before I even begin to approach that kind of production in my own backyard. And -- although I do have that "distinguished gray" look -- I'm not even close to sniffing fifty yet people!

Greg surprised me when I arrived. Not only did he present me with my very own Mason and Carpenter Bee hive -- he also handed me a large box of some of the juciest -- most delectable -- Meyer Lemons I'd seen in quite some time. How do I know they were juicy? Because I juiced some of them just last night. It only took ten of them to create a half-gallon of lip-smacking lemonade.

Meyer Lemons are the BOMB! In Greg's neighborhood? The trees are so large and so productive that you can pick year round -- and still not quite get every last one.

Now -- I don't know about you -- but to me? That's a slice of Heaven.

We put those lemons to *good* use last night with not just lemonade -- but we mixed that home-grown creation with fresh strawberries and freshly harvested honey from the Hello Kitty Hive. Throw in some ice and a little more than a splash of tequila -- and you have one FINE margarita on the rocks.

This is the first time Venus and I have broken into the hive to harvest the honey that our bees left behind. And they left a METRIC TON of it. Just one frame resulted in the production of 10 lbs. of pure -- golden honey. And there are still nine wax-capped frames to go.

As for Greg? His gifts will result in a return gardening gift of heirloom tomato starter plants later this spring -- and I imagine he just might enjoy a jar of honey to boot. Lord knows -- I have enough of it. And with the way that fellow blogger Garry Erck is capturing wild hive swarms in El Dorado County? Looks like I'll have some new *BUZZ* activity in that hive sooner than Venus and I expected.


Greg Damitz said...

It was great finally meeting you in person and getting a chance to talk. Looking forward to doing it again. I'll have you some more lemons. Hopefully your bees set up house. They should as that's the location they are emerging near.


Laura P said...

Funny and well-loaded post. Mr. Bill. So you harvested some honey - yay! Did you get one of those buckets with the strainer and the tap? If yes, may I borrow it this fall (fingers crossed)?
Fascinated about the Mason and arpenter bees. I must look into enticing some of them to live with me. Had them at the Natomas house, see them infrequesntly here. Love their chubby black selves.

Bill Bird said...

We did not get one of those fancy things Laura....We did it the old fashioned way....Knives...a bowl...a bowl surrounded by hot water (heat makes the honey a little more liquid...and lots of different strainers...

Carri said...

I'm gonna have to try to make one of those mason/carpenter bee homes. I've got tons of them in my garden because they love the citrus tree's- wonder if I can entice any of them to move in!