The Wrong Way to Build a Grape Arbor

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Trilogy!

In Nine Different Parts!

MISTAKE #1: Deciding that I needed tablegrapes in the backyard in the first place. Who planted that crazy idea in my head? Oh yeah -- umm -- I suppose that would be me. The wife was just fine without them. In fact, as I had her searching for a shutoff valve during installation efforts on Sunday -- her first retort was "where the *##$ did you put the ##$$**% shutoff valve?"

I just knew it was gonna be a good day. There goes Cuss Free Week -- or at least another dollar or two in the Cuss Free jar. I may need a Cuss Free Five Gallon Jug to hold all the donations if this keeps up.

My friends and enemies -- I'm here today with some friendly words of advice. If -- perchance -- you get the urge to build a grape arbor and plant some tablegrapes: JUST SAY NO.

Actually -- to be brutally honest -- this is my first attempt at building such a thing. The project is half completed and so far I can report this much: Building a grape arbor is HARD WORK DUDE. It's fun -- yes. But this is no one day project.

You can see our "work in progress" in the photo to your immediate left. Yes -- that's the Bird Family Arbor. Correction: That's the Bird Family Arbor Half Completed. If you count the posts you'll see four. We have eight vines to plant -- which means another arbor project next weekend.

To put it short and sweet kids -- here's the deal. Asking someone for advice on "how to build a grape arbor" is akin to asking 50 people what they would like to have for dinner. There is no one simple answer. There is no one simple method. There are literally thousands of designs to choose from. Some may work for your yard. Some may not.

The best piece of advice actually came from Farmer Fred Hoffman -- who suggested that we pay a visit to the Tractor Supply store in Woodland. I would come to find out that Tractor Supply is actually a chain store. We don't have one in Sacramento -- yet. But think of it as a "Home Depot on Steroids." Tractor Supply serves the needs of ranchers and farmers -- not your normal backyard enthusiast.

Then again -- how many people are growing tablegrapes in the backyard?

Time was short. The tablegrape vines had already arrived in bare root form and were sitting in a planter bed -- patiently awaiting a permanent home. They couldn't stay there forever. Time was of the essence. I needed some quick help.

I didn't find it at Woodland Tractor Supply. What I found near the center of the store was a collection of T-Posts in different shapes, sizes and colors -- a collection of wood posts in different shapes and sizes and a collection of wire featuring a number of different gauges.

That's when I pulled aside the nearest floor help:

Me: Excuse me, but I need some help in building an arbor for tablegrapes?

Store Help: Well, here's what you need right here.

Me: Yes, but what do I need?

Store Help: Well, what do you want?

Me: I want to build an arbor.

Store Help: Well, here's what you need right here.

Let's just say that I was not very impressed with the first person I pulled aside for help -- and he was probably just as irritated that someone with no knowledge whatsoever came into the store without knowing exactly what he wanted.

At that point -- however -- fate or providence smiled upon us. "Dean" arrived to start his Saturday shift at Woodland Tractor Supply. "Dean" fought in World War II and was still spry enough at his youthful age to show us clueless ones exactly what we needed. He led us out into the yard section area and promptly showed off a 16-foot section of metal cattle fencing -- which you can see lying across the raised gardening beds in the photo to your right.

"If it's strong enough to stop a cow," he reasoned, "it's strong enough to hold up your tablegrape vines. I should know. I have one at home."

Thank God for Dean.

By the time we had loaded two sections of cattle fencing into the back of a rented truck (this was one fun experience kids -- but please don't do this at home) the wife that is Venus had made the decision that she didn't want T-Posts anywhere near the backyard.

What to use then? Pressure treated posts? Although my retired rocket scientist father-in-law had warned us that we would need to cement in some 4X4 posts to hold up the arbor -- I had already made the decision to ignore that good advice. Bill Bird and cement do not mix.

Besides -- the retired rocket scientist father-in-law only helped invent the fuel systems used on the modern-day smart missile. What could he possibly know about building a grape arbor?

Why not use those ordinary, pressure treated posts that are used for tree stakes? Four of those for each 16 foot section of arbor should work well enough, right?

WRONG!

I'd like to say that I came to the conclusion that my father-in-law was dead on right after inspecting those tree stake posts at Home Depot. But -- no. Did I make that decision after purchasing eight of them? Again, no. After I got them home? That's still a "no."

How about after I drove the first tree stake post three feet into the ground with a sledgehammer -- splintering it into about 80 different pieces during the pounding process?

Uh yeah -- that would be it. I would need those 4x4 pressure treated posts after all. And yes -- I would need four bags of Quickcrete as well. The father-in-law was right. I needed all of that.

But first I had to dig out three feet of splintered post that was stuck fast in wet, slimy, cold clay. I told you this project was "trial and error."

It's safe to say that the owner of the Home Depot chain just smiles when I walk inside one of his places. It's like money in the bank. Although he probably didn't like it when I returned seven tree stake posts (they would allow me to return the post that I splattered into 80 pieces) -- he just loved it when I left with four, 4X4 pressure treated posts, four bags of Quickcrete, a box of u-shaped nails, hooks and screws and a fancy-dancy post-hole digger!

Finally -- we were ready. We had the posts. We had the Quickcrete. We loaded it all into the backyard. And wouldn't you know it? That's just about when it started to rain. You think I'm kidding? Oh -- I WISH!

But the rain wouldn't stop us on that day. The holes were dug -- and the posts were cemented in during a project that didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would. The next weekend? We added the actual fencing. We're using metal hangers for now -- screwed into the posts with 1 & 1/4 inch gold screws. But that won't last forever.

As the weather improves and the clay soil transforms from muddy mess into hard concrete -- we'll add some real reinforcement by pounding in some U-shaped nails.

And -- yes -- that is the father-in-law's good advice.

Already planted and staked are one of two Thompson tablegrape vines, the Venus Vine (the star of the show), the Crimson and the Ruby Red. The other four will have to wait another week (or two).

Arbor Fun Continues!

For You, Katie

Saturday, February 27, 2010

There's a place called Far-away meadow
We never shall mow in again,
Or such is the talk at the farmhouse:
The meadow is finished with men.

Then now is the chance for the flowers
That can't stand mowers and plowers.

It must be now, through, in season
Before the not mowing brings trees on,
Before trees, seeing the opening,
March into a shadowy claim.

The trees are all I'm afraid of,
That flowers can't bloom in the shade of;
It's no more men I'm afraid of;
The meadow is done with the tame.

The place for the moment is ours
For you, oh tumutuous flowers,
To go to waste and go wild in,
All shaps and colors of flowers,
I needn't call you by name.

The Last Mowing
By Robert Frost

Pull through Katie. Pull through.

3-2-1 GERMINATION!!! Germination in North Natomas!!!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Well -- isn't this just a fine "how do ya do?"

In fact -- it's just downright embarassin! A crime against MANkind. It shouldn't be allowed! Personal Foul! Flagged for excessive celebration!

It's the wife that is Venus who is celebrating tonight. And chortling just a bit too much I might add.

What is causing so much mirth in the Bird household? Our seed starting efforts -- of course. It's always a race between us. Who will do better? Bill Bird the Big Mouth Blogger Extraordinaire? Venus "Magic Green Thumb" Stromberg?

If you're guessing Bill Bird -- "No Soup for You!" The wife isn't only beating the pants off me when it comes to heirloom tomato, pepper and eggplant seed germination efforts -- as the photo to the right shows -- she's sort of SKUNKED me.

Yep -- just five short days after planting our 2010 heirloom tomato, pepper and eggplant garden -- every single seedling tray that she planted has busted out in NBC style "Peacock" color. I've never seen anyone get so darn lucky. I mean -- usually -- there's one failure somewhere -- right?

Oh -- not with the wife there isn't. She's just got that magic touch. As for me? The Blogger? Hey -- I've got some decent germination going here! But there are those -- ahem -- *few* seedling trays that haven't quite broken ground yet.

Actually -- to be brutally honest -- we're off to the most amazing start this year. And it's a late start at that. Normally? We plant the weekend after the Super Bowl -- which is usually early February. But the Super Bowl came a tad later than normal -- and we didn't get around to setting our first seeds until the following weekend -- February 15th.

That was a Monday. Here it is -- a Saturday. It's six days later. And everything the wife has planted (tomato and eggplant wise) has come up roses. The pepper seeds the wife planted haven't come up yet -- but that's just peppers. They're sort of like wallflowers at first. They take a while to get going -- and maybe a jolt of Jack Daniels.

So what's the deal? Are we doing anything different this year from last year? As a matter of fact, that answer would be YES.

With previous seed starting efforts -- the wife and I have always relied upon those handy, dandy, reliable, Jiffy Brand seed starting trays. You know the ones that come with those compressed pellets of peat moss? You put some warm water on them and they suddenly look like an egg pod straight out of Alien? Yeah, those are the ones.

But last year -- to be honest -- we didn't have the best germination efforts with the two trays that we purchased. Sure enough -- every variety did eventually come up -- but I threw away far too many pods that were planted with seed that produced nothing. I normally haven't had this kind of germination trouble with the Jiffy trays. Usually -- they're reliable. But last year?

Well -- let's just say I wasn't happy and I was ready for a change.

Now -- we're not quite ready to start brewing our own seed starting mix just yet. I do have that recipe thanks to Farmer Fred Hoffman -- and he's got pretty good detail with his seed starting efforts here. But I knew I wasn't going to use the Jiffy peat moss pods again -- and I had already purchased three seedling trays from Capitol Nursery earlier this year.

What I needed was a good seed starting medium. And I found it at Lockhart Seed in Stockton. This stuff is called "Black Gold" and it is -- as advertised -- some of the softest and nicest seed starting mixes I've ever come across. It truly is "Black Gold." I have the seed starts to prove it.

Well -- if you want to get technical -- Venus has the starts to prove it.

So -- last Monday afternoon I dragged out the seed trays. Venus dragged out the tomato, pepper and eggplant seed. We both filled up trays full of Black Gold -- watered and compressed it down a bit with some lukewarm water -- and set about planting in the garage. One hour later? The deed was done.

Now -- just when you think you know everything there is to know about seed starting efforts -- a fickle thing called fate comes in and just slaps you silly. I had our PVC seed starting contraption all set up and ready to go. The grow lights were installed. And I knew -- from experience -- that those lights needed to be right at soil level.

Not a problem -- right? Hey, I KNOW THIS STUFF man! I have BEEN there! I have DONE that!

Imagine my chagrin then when I tried to lower the lights near those trays and those nice white plastic markers got in the way.

DOH!

If you're asking why those white markers are bent at crazy angles -- now you know why. They had been sitting straight up -- looking all pretty and nice. If you have also noticed the foil wrapped tightly around each seedling tray and might be wondering if this is one of our "tricks of the trade?"

Uh -- no -- it's because the idiot who blogs also purchased drain trays that have holes in them. I've got to catch that water runoff somehow -- right? So -- it was time for some Mickey Mouse ingenuity! Know what this means? It was my bright idea -- so it's bound to fail. Miserably.

The varieties planted are listed below in alphabetical order -- and we did plant two of each so -- yes -- there will be some "horse trading" taking part later this spring.

TOMATOES:
Abe Lincoln Original
Arkansas Traveler
Azoychka
Beefsteak
Black
Black Cherry
Black from Tula
Black Krim
Black Sea Man
Bloody Butcher
Brandymaster Pink
Brandywine
Campbells 1327
Cosmonaut Volkov
Druzba
Evil Seed (Black Tomato)
German Orange Strawberry
Green Zebra
Gulf State Market
Jelly Bean(Cherry)
Jubilee
Kelloggs Breakfast
Lemon Boy
Lemon Drop
Mortgage Lifter
Old Brooks
Pineapple
Red Alert
Rutgers Select
Tigerella

PEPPERS:
Alma Paprika
Anaheim
Cayenne Blend
Golden Cal Wonder
Green Cal Wonder
Habanero
Merlot
Mucho Nacho
Nu Mex Surprise
Piros
Purple Beauty
Purple Jalapeno
Red Beauty
Thai

EGGPLANT:
Black Beauty
Early Long Purple

A Very Berry Experiment -- AKA: They Stay

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Word to the Wise.

Before heading out to your favorite nursery/big box store this weekend to fulfill your gardening duties or fantasies -- I post the following update in response to the previous posting of "A Very Berry Bird Backyard."

It is in this section where I detail the efforts that Venus and I made to increase our berry plantings around the yard. Following the advice of Folsom City Arborist Ken Menzer -- we completed a project by planting bare root blueberry bushes beneath our cherry and peach stone fruit trees.

We took this action after attending a Home Orchard class taught by Mr. Menzer last month. It was there where he offered the following advice of planting blueberries beneath stone fruit trees. To paraphrase: "Blueberry bushes and stone fruit trees have a symbiotic relationship. Blueberry bushes are shallow-rooted -- and help open fissures or pockets that benefit the fruit tree root systems located below. At the same time, the leaves of the stone fruit trees provide cover from the afternoon sun for blueberry bushes planted below."

The Folsom City Arborist offered the same advice with the planting of herbs like Spearmint underneath apple tree plantings. The symbiotic relationship -- he indicated -- was similar.

I want to advise my vast readership (all 2.5 of you) that Venus and I are not "experts" in the gardening field. We are not Arborists. We are not Certified Master Gardeners. We're not even close. We are just your normal, everyday, couple. We love to garden. We blog about gardening. But that is as far as it goes.

I offer this word of warning because it seems that we've set off a small firestorm of controversey regarding this planting of blueberry bushes beneath stone fruit trees. Please be advised that there ARE -- indeed -- Certified Master Gardeners who do NOT agree with what we have done here.

One of these Master Gardeners who I mention often on this blog -- and is probably the most popular and well-known gardener in all of Northern California is Farmer Fred Hoffman -- who hosts the Sunday gardening shows on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK and Talk 650 KSTE.

I refer to Fred often because he is perhaps one of my biggest gardening mentors. I've learned a lot from listening to his show -- and also learned a great deal when I was working with Fred at both stations. Although I didn't work directly with him -- I could hear him from my perch at the "News Update Desk."

It's safe to say that Mr. Hoffman was not at all pleased with the blueberry planting efforts highlighted in "A Very Berry Bird Backyard" -- but he's not the only one. Others in his corner include Redwood Barn Nursery Owner Don Shor, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Horticulture and Angela Pratt, who holds a similar degree in Horticulture and is also the creator and the brains behind Sacramento Gardening.

Let me tell you this much: These people know what they are talking about when it comes to any sort of landscaping effort around the front or backyard. They know far more than I'll ever know in five lifetimes of gardening. They know what works. They also know what doesn't work.

Planting blueberry bushes underneath fruit trees? According to all three? It's NOT GOING TO WORK.

Get that? Let me repeat: IT'S NOT GOING TO WORK.

Why? Well -- the first warning came from Fred Hoffman AFTER we had completed our planting efforts. In his words: "What is the pH of the soil where you planted the blueberries? If it is above 6, you may have poor production. This is why blueberry planting around here is recommended for containers, where you can control the pH."

Not only that -- he provided this link to the Dave Wilson Nursery website -- where the number one piece of advice was:

"To make growing Blueberries easier, Do NOT Plant them in the ground!!"

Oh boy. Oh joy. I could just imagine the look on my wife's face after she worked so hard to put these blueberry bushes underneath the fruit trees in question. And now we had to pull them out? But why would Ken Menzer indicate this was an acceptable pairing?

Fred's advice on the matter continued with the following link from the University of California Cooperative Extension. This helpful information also contained the highlighted words of advice:

"A major requirement, however, is that blueberries require an acidic soil with a pH of about 5.0 to 5.5. Blueberries are in the same family as azaleas and rhododendrons, and need similar growing conditions."

Fruit trees like peaches -- I was to later learn -- do best in a soil pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. Blueberry bushes require an even more acidic soil with a pH of 5.0 to 5.5. Yes -- while both pH readings are considered to be in the "acidic range," the requirements of both do not mix well together.

In other words -- if the following information and advice are true -- stone fruit trees and blueberry bushes make for poor cousins and should not share the same living quarters.

Yet -- at the same time -- both Venus and I keep reading the notes and advice we learned from Ken Menzer. He didn't just have "words of advice," he illustrated the pairing together in a series of slides from his home orchard.

And there it was: visual proof. Blueberry bushes planted directly beneath stone fruit trees. Not just any blueberry bush mind you -- but HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE bushes that were loaded with berries.

Pictures do not lie.

Now -- I offer this posting to you as a warning. It's not that I do not believe or reject the advice of well respected gardeners like Fred Hoffman, Don Shor or Angela Pratt. All three of them are on the same page when it comes to time-tested advice of where blueberry bushes should be planted -- and where they should not be planted.

I will also add that whenever I've ignored the good advice offered by one or all three -- I wind up regretting it a great deal. Not all of the time mind you -- but most of the time.

But as far as we're concerned? We're stubborn. We're going to leave the Southern Highbush Blueberry bushes right where they are planted. If gardening can be singled down to one word it would be EXPERIMENT.

As far as our little experiment is concerned: Time will tell. The blueberry bushes that we planted last weekend will either produce -- or not produce. We're taking a chance at this -- but it's a chance we're willing to take.

As for you? Well -- it's up to you. Consider yourself *informed.*

A Very Berry Bird Backyard

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's a backyard built for the Birds -- and those thieving robins will thank us with even more thievery in the coming years.

Why?

We've planted more "Bird food" as evidenced by the photo to your immediate right. That my friends -- is a bare root blueberry bush purchased not all that long ago from the endless garden aisles at Home Depot.

This Southern Highbush variety Blueberry known as "Misty" has two other friends planted nearby called "Sharp Blue." And they are the latest entrants into the Backyard of Bird.

Venus and I didn't let the past weekend go to waste. While snow has buried vast areas of the country -- Mother Nature blessed us with two days of abundant sunshine and moderately warm weather.

While it wasn't quite enough to completely dry out the mudpit that is our current backyard status -- it firmed up enough to get some much needed work done. The clock is ticking on bare root season folks. The new fruit and berry additions to the Back 40 go in now -- or you face the prospect of paying top dollar later this spring and summer or -- worse yet -- waiting for Bare Root Season 2011.

The first project? Find a home for the two Black Satin Thornless Blackberries and one Thornless Boysenberry that I ordered through Bay Laurel Nursery earlier this winter. I had the spot picked out -- but I needed to do more than just "dig and plant."

Nope -- it's got to look "the part." I'm snobby that way. Plus -- it's got to be irrigated. I can't be dragging a hose or watering can all over the yard this spring and summer. What does this mean? It means a small profit for the Man's Toy Store that is Home Depot -- lots of screws -- quite a bit of clay mud (a great leveling tool), straps to hold everything together, a big pile of drip tubing and some well amended compost for the bed itself.

I don't want just any old blackberry. I want Monster Berries. Since I've yet to fail with any gardening item planted in a raised bed -- I'm hopeful we'll have a mass of berries to harvest in another year or three. The hard work won't pay off with a harvest this summer, but next year and the year after? Time will tell.

I got hooked on the Black Satin Blackberries after spotting a blackberry bush in the backyard belonging to South Natomas Gardener Extraodinaire Nels Christenson. Did I say "spot?" Attack would be a more appropriate word here. After all -- it did take a crowbar and quite a bit of pressure for Nels to pry me off the thing.

My one memory of that event? Man -- those were some mighty good berries. The bruises from the crowbar have long since faded.

The berry culture has come quite a long way since I grew boysenberries as a kid growing up in Modesto. Back then? Blueberries didn't grow on the West Coast. That was an "East Coast thing," according my mom. Boysenberries did grow well here -- but I soon discovered they had thorns. Not just any thorns either -- but thorns that produced ear piercing screams of pain from a young boy who really didn't know any better.

It didn't take long before I avoided that bush like the plague. Hey, I liked boysenberries -- but nobody told me about those THORNS FROM HELL. I think I eventually took the thing out with a flamethrower. My first experience with the berry business was a bitter and painful disappointment. But -- I digress.

Fast foward from the Sluggish Seventies to the New Century -- and breeders have taken over with advanced versions of your favorite berries -- minus the thorns. Not only that -- but that "Blueberries only do well on the East Coast" argument -- has also gone by the wayside.

Suffice to say -- these are not your "mom's blueberries." The Southern Highbush varieties are a relatively new entry into the blueberry market. Derived from the Northern Highbush varieties that did not produce anywhere outside of the State of Maine (OK -- that's just a little joke) -- the Southern Highbush has been hybridized to where it will perform -- and perform well in Central California climates. Further hybridization has led to more than a handful of different types like "Sharp Blue" and "Misty." But there are many others.

Why are we planting Blueberries? Because we can. Where are we planting them? Underneath the stone fruit trees. What? Who said you can do that? Blame Ken Menzer. The Folsom City Arborist not only told us we could do it during a recent Orchard Management class -- he actually commented it was "beneficial" to both stonefruit and berry bush.

Well -- we have lots of room underneath our two peach trees and two cherry trees...And Ken Menzer not only said we could do it -- he all but reccommended it...

Nuff said. Berry madness has officially taken over...

Venus and I worked as a madcap team during the bare root planting effort this past weekend. I would mix together yards of compost and steer manure fertilizer -- drop them at the base of the fruit trees in question -- and Venus would shape those piles into half moons and plant bare root blueberry bushes and strawberry plant starters.

The last step? Irrigation. The new beds are irrigated. They are planted. The weekend planting effort resulted in the planting of four blueberry bushes -- two strawberry plant starters -- two thornless blackberry bushes -- one thornless boysenberry (thank God) -- a Flavor Finale Pluot tree and yet another Improved Meyer Lemon for our "citrus patch."

Are we done yet? Hardly kids. Scratch another item off the long list of "things to do." But there's still more adventure to come. Bare Root season is just getting started...

L'amour, Gardening Style

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love, American Style is playing out in many American homes across the country today. There's nothing like "Valentine's Day" to bring out the lover in all of us -- although for some it's a little easier than others.

I will explain.

For some reason -- I had a strange fascination as a kid with a short-lived ABC series called "Love, American Style." It was -- well -- different. It was hip. It was campy. It was also kind of dumb, which is why it only lasted four seasons before hitting the trash heap.

Some years later, legendary producer Aaron Spelling came up with this brilliant idea to put "Love, American Style" on a cruise ship and BINGO! The Love Boat was born. Spelling made millions. The original creators of "Love, American Style" meanwhile, got heartburn.

Which just goes to show that LOVE is never easy.

It can be the same way with celebrating the holiday that is Valentine's Day at the Bird Compound in North Natomas. The wife can't be bought off with a dozen roses. Nope -- not gonna happen. A heart-shaped box of See's Candy? That will just sit in a kitchen cupboard for years as a small reminder to the husband that "he blew it big time."

The wife considers the purchase of roses that are produced outside the country to be a waste of money that can be better spent on cheap gin that comes in a plastic bottle. Chocolate -- meanwhile -- is just something that goes straight to the hips. Even though the wife is razor thin and slender -- she will suggest otherwise.

Arguing is pointless. You -- as the husband -- are just digging a deeper hole for her to bury you in.

Who said Love was easy?

But -- I have discovered through the years -- years of failure I might add -- that there are ways to please the wife that is Venus on Valentine's Day. A single daffodil plucked from the front yard in a single rose vase is "thoughtful" and does earn a limited amount of points.

Taking the wife to a seed store that features a GIANT HEART LOCK to buy vegetable and flower seeds on Valentine's Weekend? Ding, ding, ding. Winner, Winner -- Chicken Dinner! And so -- this past Friday -- the wife and I made our way to the romantic Port of Stockton to gaze at the ageless wonder that is Lockhart Seed in downtown Stockton.

I profiled this operation last year after reading Debbie Arrington's fine expose in the Sacramento Bee. Not much has changed since our last visit. I doubt much will change during our lifetimes. Lockhart Seed is a monument to the small commercial farmer and backyard gardener movement.

Let's just say they have everything under the sun and more and leave it at that.

Row after endless row of every gardening seed under the sun? Check

Enough seeds to plant an acre or two of your favorite bell pepper? Carrot? Pumpkin? Squash? Corn? Potatoes? Radishes? Bok Choy? TOMATOES?

Check, check, check -- and more check. You can't fool these people with gardening questions. They knew all the answers before you planted your first radish seed as a young boy or girl.

Lockhart Seed -- with it's dusty old wood floors and 1930's storefront appearance -- sort of traps you in nostalgia the moment you step inside those big double doors. From the trophy heads of long-gone animals high up on the walls -- to the old tin gardening signs -- any gardener worth his or her salt gives thought to moving in and never leaving.

Why leave Paradise? And who thought Paradise was in downtown Stockton of all places?

It can also mean trouble with a capital "T."

Case in point?

When Venus and I arrived, we found the store clerks busy collecting and bundling some short of strange vine -- that they would cut after bundling then put into a small bag for sale. When Venus inquired what they were packaging -- the reply was "asparagas roots."

Uh-oh. Guess what comes next.

"Honey -- I want to plant asparagas," the wife that is Venus excitedly told me.

"But, we're not ready for that yet," I patiently explained -- knowing the whole time that this argument was similar to digging yet another deep, deep hole.

"I don't care," she said in an urgent voice. "I want asparagas!"

Most people are taken in by impulse purchases of gum or the National Enquirer at the checkout counter. Those don't phase the wife a bit. They stay in racks where they are. But the train comes off the tracks when it comes to asparagas roots.

How did this end? Well -- I can tell you that we lightened the wallet by about $60.00 worth -- but that purchase did not include asparagas roots. However -- I have been given my marching orders. And asparagas roots WILL be on the menu for Valentine's Day 2011.

Otherwise -- she's going to fill in that hole I dug with quick-dry cement.

Lockhart Seeds is located at 3 North Wilson Way in downtown Stockton -- about a 45 minute drive south from Sacramento. Here's the kicker: If you try to visit during the weekend, you're going to find the front doors closed and locked. This place isn't open on the weekends. If you're serious about seeds -- you find time to visit during the week.

They are old enough and popular enough to set the mark and stick by it. This is one of the few companies that didn't need a website. Word of mouth provided all the traffic they needed and more.

However -- it does appear that Lockhard Seeds is about the join the digital age. A domain name has been purchased -- but there's precious little there except for the words "coming soon."

Yard DESTRUCTION!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Actually -- the name of this posting should be "Yard Construction" as this is about a yard construction project.

But -- I find I'm much better at DESTRUCTION rather than actual CONSTRUCTION -- hence the name. I just have it in me I suppose. The wisest of intentions just goes terribly wrong whenever I'm set loose in the Back 40 with a shovel.

You can see the latest destruction project to your right. This is BARE ROOT season folks. Bill & Venus Bird are just not content with the eight fruit trees and four citrus trees in the front and backyard. Nope! There's gotta be more, more, more, more!!!

Sound greedy? Good. Cause -- we are. And -- perhaps mildly insane.

But the thing with Bare Root season is this: Your window of opportunity is short and sweet. Unending weeks of rain and snow have taken up a lot of it. We've got about another week or so left before fruit trees bust out in Bloom City -- and that means bare root season has passed you buy.

I'll keep this short and sweet -- because -- to be honest -- I shouldn't be sitting here typing. I should be in the backyard -- DIGGING. This irrigation project is now complete. What comes next is driving posts into the ground. After that? Stringing up some wire between the posts. And after that?

The table grapes arrive.

I'm a sucker for table grapes. I hate wine -- but I LOVE grape soda. A fine Chardonnay for you Mr. Bird? No thanks -- but I'll take a grape snowcone if you got one. The kid in me who used to by grape snowcones for ten cents each from "Smitty" never did quite grow up. I've always wanted tablegrapes. Now I will finally get them in my own backyard.

Oh -- and not just any tablegrapes either. These seedless varieties are actually offshoots of the old seeded varieties that ruled the Sacramento Valley. Names like Ribier, Tokay and Norwegian are nothing but old street names in my hometown of Modesto now. But -- at one time -- it represented a field of grapevines.

That includes the "Venus" tablegrape that was released to the public for the first time in 1977 and has slowly been making its way west. Is it the best tasting tablegrape on the planet? No -- but it carries the wife's lovely name. Therefore -- it's a keeper in the backyard of Bird.

Now -- the thing is -- I've never planted or grown any type of grape before. Like most things -- you just can't "plant and ferget." If you want grapes -- you need to care for them. You've got to grow them correctly. In other words -- you've got to love them -- or they will not love you back.

The number one piece of advice I heard from backyard arborists? Make sure the water source and stakes are installed first BEFORE digging one hole for a grapevine. Thus -- YARD DESTRUCTION man went into business one fine day in between rainstorms.

I had already come to the conclusion that I could not tap into the drip tubing that I have installed against the fenceline. This is a line that I had to split last summer because I had tapped into so much for other watering purposes -- I was losing pressure on the line.

Therefore -- the closest source of water that I hadn't yet overutilized was located inside the main planter area -- where I normally plant the bulk of my spring and summer gardens (including those wonderful heirloom tomatoes). But this also presented a vexing problem. I had already covered this area with five yards of bark. I never thought that I would need to tap into those lines.

Note to self: The word "never" is a term that should be eliminated from gardening lingo.

The bottom line? I needed to tap into that line. Know what this means? It means raking away whatever bark that hasn't sunk into the soil -- so you can access a clay soil that has the consistency of a jello-like concrete during the rainy season. The good? It's easy to cut through with a trenching shovel. The bad? Each shovel full weighs a metric ton. Worse yet -- the clay sticks to the shovel like glue.

There is a *special* time of year in the backyard where the soil is at perfect condition for digging. It's damp enough where the soil comes up easily and breaks apart into a fine dirt. But it's dry enough where it falls from the shovel with ease -- and is light and airy.

This *special* time of year lasts for approximately 30-seconds every year. And wouldn't you know it? I've missed that window of opportunity every single year. When I start digging? It's either as hard as lava cap or wet like sticky molasses. I'm not going to fool you. This isn't easy work.

But it's the payoff that keeps you going. Soon -- the vines -- which have already arrived from Bay Laurel Nursery and are sitting in shed belonging to Carri Stokes -- will be planted. I don't expect anything out of these vines in the first year. I don't expect a whole bunch in Year Two either.

But by Year 3? Baby, it's grape soda time.

In case you're interested, the varieties I'm planting are the aforementioned Venus (pictured above), Thompson (2), Red Flame, Suffolk Red, Crimson, Fantasy and Black Monukka.

No Hangover Here!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Well -- OK -- maybe that's just a tiny fib.

Or -- it could also be construed as a big, fat lie following Super Bowl Sunday.

I find it quite amazing actually -- that a surprising number of people developed "flu like" symptoms at some point after the Super Bowl last night and they didn't quite make it to work today.

That would include a -- ahem -- special wife named Venus.

The name of my flu? It's the "Gilbey's" strain. No -- not quite as serious as the H1N1 variety (also known as the Swine Flu) -- but it can still kick you pretty hard after you've been "exposed" to this particular virus over a long course of time.

Perhaps I wasn't exposed for long enough last night -- or perhaps I've been stricken with a repellant known as "Spring Fever." No -- I know it's not spring quite yet. I know that "Lake Bird" isn't going to dry up in the backyard anytime soon (much to my chagrin).

However -- there are signs -- like this one to the right -- that "spring" is in the air. These daffodils represent "Venus Magic." They are the first daffodils to spring up anywhere that I've seen in North Natomas. And they're springing up in abundance now -- all over the front yard.

So -- while I had this strange desire to remain in bed this morning -- the desire to go outside and photograph these daffodils was even stronger. Spring Fever wins out. The calendar doesn't say it's springtime just yet -- but there's just no ignoring what's coming up like roses in the front yard.

Spring.

As much as I'd like too -- I can't really tell you what varieties of daffodils these are. I should know -- but alas -- I don't. We probably purchased these bulbs in bags of ten several years ago from the Man's Toy Store (Home Depot) or perhaps even Capital Nursery.

That's one of the few *nice* things I can say about the clay muck sludge that doubles as "soil" in North Natomas. Bulbs love it. Any bulb. It doesn't matter if it's a daffodil, tulip or even freesia. The bulbs come up in the spring -- die back in the summer -- split during the fall and winter --and come right back up again in early spring.

In another month or two? The tulips will be doing the same thing. How can I tell? They're already popping out of the ground. And -- if this steady rain keeps up? The more the better.

Although the bright yellow show around the front yard is enough to get your average gardener excited -- that's not the only show starting to emerge. The first bloom of the 2010 Fresh Fruit Season also emerged on Super Bowl Sunday.

Does this rather blurry photo taken by a bad photographer with a two-cent digital camera indicate the first Santa Rosa Plum of the 2010 Fresh Fruit Season? Can't tell quite yet -- but it's another indication that the long, cold, bitter days and nights of winter are nearly at an end.

The signs of early Spring are upon us.

"What the Hell is That" Wednesday

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My friends -- in honor of the many bloggers in cyberspace who bring you the weekly feature of "Wordless Wednesday" -- I bring you the random feature of "What the Hell is That," Wednesday.

I promise it will not be a regular feature because -- hey -- I have enough trouble getting to work on time. I don't "do" schedules. In fact, I don't do them well at all.

So -- for now -- I present to you a photo of something VERY strange from the Bird Back 40 in North Natomas. Can you guess what it might be? Would you like a hint? Too bad!




The badly taken photo above is a:


1. A backyard irrigation project gone terribly wrong.
2. A backyard irrigation project that looked pretty darn good after six margaritas.
3. Tinker Toys for Adult Children.
4. Waterslide Park for Voles.
5. Why do I continue to ignore Farmer Fred Hoffman's good advice?
6. A badly taken photo with a cheap Fuji Fun Pix for Kindergarteners Camera.
7. I still haven't cleaned up from the 2009 Heirloom Tomato Season.

If you have the answer and want to win valuable prizes -- I'm sorry to inform you that I have nothing of value -- other than a well-used and abused Fuji Fun Pix for Kindergarteners Camera.

However -- if you still want to take a shot at answering what this monstroscity is -- feel free to leave comments. What do you have to lose?

Other than your self-respect, of course.