The Show

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wonderful Pomegranate in Full Bloom
It's Memorial Day Monday at the Bird Ranch and the Show is on full display. It happens at this point every year it seems. Some years the show is a little better than others. This happens to be one of "them years." The Show is on.

I am, of course, referring to the show that our pomegranate tree is putting on. Largely hidden from the rest of the world, our four year old Wonderful Pomegranate is erupting with one of the most incredible and brilliant flower displays I've ever seen.

A Colorful Flower Show
Why did I stick this thing in a side yard? Why am I that dumb? While I knew that I wanted a pomegranate tree in the fruit salad Bird Back 40 collection, based upon my enjoyment of them as a child, I had forgotten the rather brilliant display this tree had given me as a child all those years ago in mid-1970's Modesto.

The tree that inspired me all those years ago is still alive and kicking, believe it or not. Located in front of a Norwegian Avenue home near what used to be an old-style A&W drive-in restaurant, it is well manicured and is as productive as ever. Hello old friend. It's good to see you again.

A Native California Pollinator
Given another chance? I would have stuck the Santa Rosa plum tree in the side yard and put the showy pomegranate out front.

This is going to be the heaviest year yet for pomegranate production thanks to some uber-pollination efforts that are currently taking place. A close examination of this tree yields the discovery of multiple pollinators. I spotted several of the Halictus species, aka sweat bees, just going to town on the coral red flowers and bright yellow stamens. The tree is very close to a mason bee home that I received as a gift several years ago, and they were out in abundance as well.

Hummingbird in Flight: Center Right
Honeybees also could not resist the lure and aroma of these tempting flowers, many of which have been transformed into small pomegranates. And just when I thought the show couldn't get any more diverse, in dropped a neighborhood hummingbird for a sweet drink of pomegranate flower nectar. He quickly zoomed away before I could get a proper closeup, but he's clearly visible in the one photo I managed to snap.

Short and sweet? I love the Show. This tree literally hums with life and production during the spring. Lenny, the Giant Maine Coon Kitten, enjoys the shade it provides below. It also serves as a base from where he can conduct a surprise charge and attack against the unsuspecting dog, aka, Ultimate Digging Machine.

Heavy Crop Now Forming
The pomegranates that are now forming will grow and add size and girth through the summer months. When they turn a glossy dark red in the fall, usually late October, it's time to harvest. I've learned, through experience, that harvest season is fairly quick. You can't allow pomegranates to hang on a tree like citrus. If they are not harvested quickly, they will split and spoil easily.

This means lots of gifts for family, friends and neighbors. It also means lots of pomegranate juice, which is a wonderful addition to freshly-squeezed lemonade. Pomegranates are also great for fresh eating, though they can be messy. Even after 40 years, nobody has quite discovered how to take the mess out of pomegranates. It's enough to make any mother of an eight year old pomegranate crazed boy cringe in terror.

It's pomegranate season. The show is on.

The Life of a Potato Farmer

Thursday, May 24, 2012

All Blue Potato Flower
It's been said -- by those who are much smarter than me -- that once you grow potatoes, you will always grow potatoes.

This also includes the caveat of: Whether you want them or not.

I'm here to tell you that the old saying is indeed truth. Potato plants are literally popping up in different raised beds around the Bird Back 40, even though I'd swear that I didn't plant seed potatoes there.

Ultimate Digging Machine & Cohort at Rest
Of course I didn't. They are springing up from what remains from last year's crop. OR -- they got moved by some critter from one bed to another. This I can believe, especially upon watching the Ultimate Digging Machine derive great pleasure from flipping plums and other produce she finds on the ground straight into the air.

It's not a plum or a potato. It's a dog play toy. Sometimes those leftover potatoes wind up in the strangest places, which begs the question of, "how did THAT get THERE?"

Lush, Green Potato Plants in Raised Bed
I'll admit -- the wife that is Venus really went to town on potato planting efforts this year. Seed potatoes were procured from a variety of places -- including the standby Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. But we also found a nice selection of reds and fingerlings at our nearby Big Box Lowes in West Sacramento.

Venus planted all varieties in early March, while the weather was somewhat cold and rainy, but the less-than-stellar weather conditions didn't hurt growth conditions much. The reds and fingerlings were the first to break the soil line, but have also been the last to flower.

Fingerling Potato Flower
The "All Blue" and "Colorado Rose" varieties purchased at Peaceful Valley got off to a somewhat later start, but the All Blue is putting on quite the show at the moment with a bevy of blue flower clusters in the garden.

I have discovered -- not completely by accident mind you -- that raised beds are perfect for growing a large, healthy and lush potato crop. The loose soil conditions that exist in these beds are perfect for root crops like potatoes, carrots, even radishes. When you begin to notice that the soil line begins to crack in numerous places and also appears to rise by an inch or more -- it's good news.

That's a LOT of French Fries!
Something very good is taking place underneath that soil line. One begins to dare to dream of home-grown french fries -- which are like none other.

While the honeybees that grace our backyard mostly ignore the potato flowers of white, blue and purple -- the same can't be said of the native pollinators. I've come to discover that carpenter bees -- those giant black and yellow bees that one can hear coming from 100-yards away -- have particular liking for these flowers. And they always make sure to pollinate the nearby flowers hanging from tomato plants after they've drilled into the potatoes.

This isn't a bad thing, people.

Potato Flowers: Signs of Spring
If all goes according to plan? In the next week or two, the plants themselves will begin to die back slowly. The flowers will wither and drop. Spuds will literally be forced above the soil line by potato monsters that lurk and continue to grow below.

Red, White and Blue potato salad for the 4th of July? Sounds good to me! A serving or two of french fries is almost certainly on the menu. Roasted red potatoes with garlic? Bring it on!

But -- I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. For now -- let's enjoy that annual potato flower show.

And So It Begins...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bird 2012 Heirloom Tomato Crop (Partial)
Ready or not kids -- the 2012 summer gardening season is now swinging into full gear. Got those tomatoes planted yet? Check! What about those cucumber vines? Check! Watermelon and pumpkin seed planted? Check! Green onions? Carrots? Squash? Beets? All in? Good!

Now you can take a trip to the Bird Back 40 and give Bill and the wife that is Venus a hand! I'd like to tell you that the garden planting is all done but truthfully, with a garden this large and this diverse, there is always another seed to plant and another chore to accomplish. Short and sweet? It never seems to end.

I get the most joy out of watching the wife plant the heirloom tomato seedlings that we nurtured through the winter months. I'm still a poor study at that "hardening off" process, with leaves me with starter plants that look like they went through a northern squall before they reached the Backyard of Bird.

First Stage PVC Cage Construction
Rather than those green, leafy, picture-perfect starter plants that you see by the thousands at your local big box stores and area nurseries -- my plants are more like poor cousins. They are the "poster children" so to speak of a grower who turned on full bore sunlight before the plants were ready for the "Full Monty."

No matter I suppose. They look pretty darn good after the wife gets done with planting them. Add in some tender care, a fertilizer supplement or three, lots of prayer and just good fortune and the little darlings look pretty darn good. I was forced to install the first 16 PVC cages before the month of June -- which is a pretty good start by our book.

The First Stupice of 2012
Not only are they growing large, green and lush, nothing brings a smile to an heirloom tomato growers eye more than the site of actual TOMATOES forming on those great looking plants. Tomatoes we have Ladies and Gentlemen. You can always count on the Czech import "Stupice" (Stoo-Peach-Kah) to produce an early bushel. I discovered this after growing this variety for the first time last year. It's back for a second run in 2012.

Venus and I have set about 28 plants into the ground so far and we are slowly clearing out spring garden space for more. Because in the world of heirloom tomatoes, the mathematical equation of "X number of heirloom tomatoes" yields the answer of "Never Enough."

Tomatoes Love Radishes
I wish I could tell you the exact names of every variety I've planted, but that would force me to run outside with a flashlight to read little sticks where the wife has scribbled something closely related to chicken scratch. I would be forced to return with the report that we're growing the varieties of "Blargh" and "Snizzle," which wouldn't be exactly correct.

It's safe to say that we're growing a lot this year -- which includes a lot of new varieties like the Indigo Rose. This isn't exactly heirloom territory. The Indigo Rose is a rather new entry into the world of tomato culture. Recently developed at Oregon State University, Indigo Rose is the first, true "designer tomato" in garden culture if you will. It turns dark purple when ripe and is supposed to contain high levels of antioxidants.

Indigo Rose Tomato
I guess that's supposed to be good for you, right? I'm all for healthy eating. Especially because I don't do nearly enough of it. I do know one thing, however. It probably won't improve the wife's writing. Which means I'm looking forward to my first bite of "Blargh."

All fun and pranks aside, May marks the start of my favorite gardening season. Gardeners dream of a bushel of tomatoes and peppers every summer -- and that elusive goal of making your own fruit salad with everything harvested fresh from the backyard.

A thick slice of freshly harvested beefsteak tomato on my backyard barbequed hamburger? Sounds like healthy eating to me...

A Gift for Mother's Day

Sunday, May 13, 2012

From L-R: Gene, Mildred, Mom, Francis. The Doran Clan
Mother's Day is somewhat difficult for both Venus and I. We both lost our mothers at far too young an age. Venus' mother passed from cancer in 2004, not long after we were married and barely a year after the birth of her first grandchild, Marquitos.

My mother, pictured above, 3rd from the left, passed at the age of 63 from a sudden heart attack in 1991. I was 27 years old and very much alone. It would be years before I would meet the love of my life in the wife that is Venus and the true healing would begin.

Bright Flowers for Mother's Day
I sometimes wonder what in the world marketing companies are thinking of when they blast loud statements that proclaim REMEMBER MOM ON MOTHER'S DAY!!!! Thank you, sir. I remember just fine. Thank you for reminding me. Not that I didn't want to be reminded.

I do sometimes allow myself to wonder what mom would think of the gardening paradise that Venus and I are slowly building in the Bird Back 40. Would she like it? A bit overboard perhaps? Mom was a fan of both gardening and citrus trees in the yard. She lamented often about a grapefruit tree that refused to grow an inch, nor would it set fruit.

Hanging Fuchsia
She was particularly pleased however, when my father-in-law and I dug up a rather unproductive lemon tree that had been sitting in a shady portion of the yard for years, not doing much of anything. Once we moved to a sunnier location, however, this do-nothing lemon bush suddenly sprang to life and started to deliver a bushel of large, sweet and sour lemons. Score points for the youngest son and father-in-law. She was pleased.

Spring was, by far, mom's favorite season. You could count on her visiting the plants section at our nearby Longs or Thrifty Drug Store and bringing home a plant or two. A six-pack of tomato starter plants almost always found its way into her shopping cart.

Fuchsia Flowers
And -- of course -- mother absolutely HAD to have her hanging fuchsia. Spring would not be complete without one or two fuchsias hanging from the back patio. I looked forward to the day when she would bring them home. It brightened up our rather drab Modesto backyard. It signaled the official start of summer. The long winter was officially over.

When I spotted this beauty hanging in the garden section of an ACE Hardware store in Tracy on the day before Mother's Day, well, it was an impulse purchase that simply could not be ignored. Mother would have appreciated the gift of a fuchsia on Mother's Day.

While mother may have loved her fuchsia -- they didn't love her back. Fuchsias do well in a coastal environment and also enjoy a bit of shady protection from the hot afternoon sun. But in late June and July, when the Delta Breeze shut itself off from the Modesto area and our famous furnace-like summers set in, the fuchsia was history.

Mom did her level best to keep it alive, but it would invariably shrivel up and die by mid-July. It was then that I would hear the familiar lament about the cooler conditions in her home state of Oregon and her dislike for the brutal summer conditions that graced our San Joaquin Valley.

I didn't understand mother's fascination with fuchsias then, but I do now. They were a reminder of her childhood in Eugene. It was there where fuchsias and blackberry vines grew wild and profusely. When her Modesto fuchsias kicked the bucket, it was a reminder that her childhood had done much the same.

So -- for you mother -- on this Mother's Day -- a fuchsia hangs for you in the Bird Back 40. I'm not sure how long it will live -- or if it will kick the bucket as so many of the Modesto fuchsias did. But this is how I remember you on Mother's Day.