Have a Berry Nice Day!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ripening Arapaho Blackberries-Bird Back 40
It's berry season in the Bird Back 40. It's about time. It's also early this year thanks to some unseasonably HOT weather in the Sacramento river bottom. Our spring this year should be awarded the film title of Gone in Sixty Seconds. The hot spring jump-started many fresh fruits and vegetables that either did very well (asparagus) or flopped completely (artichokes).

One crop to react positively to an early spring rush of hot weather? The blackberries pictured above. They are large. They are luscious. They represent one of the best "impulse" purchases that Bill Bird has ever made. This is the Arapaho Thornless Blackberry vine. Unlike many other thornless vines that need support in the form of a trellis or fence, the Arapaho resembles a small tree with a thick central cane system that keeps the plant upright.

Arapaho Blackberry Ready for Consumption
I literally tripped over this starter plant in my mad quest for additional seed potatoes last spring at Lowe's Big Box Home Improvement store in West Sacramento. I had recently made a decision to move existing vines from one spot in the yard to another, which would create space for one brand new vine. I had never known vines to be self-supporting, and since I literally tripped over them while searching for seed potatoes, I considered it a sign from God.

Thus the Arapaho was purchased and planted in the Bird Back 40. My faith has been rewarded with berries the size of walnuts and a creamy sweet delightful taste that would be a winner in any pie made from scratch. My only regret is that the Arapaho, now in its second year of production, isn't producing quite enough for pies just yet. But as I gaze at that Jack-in-the-Beanstalk tree-trunk sized growth bent on growing over the fence line, I have a pretty good idea that pie construction will be on the agenda for 2014.

Next Year's Fruiting Cane: The Arapaho
But the Arapaho isn't the only thornless blackberry springing to life in the Bird Back 40. In fact, I know of one or two Sacramento area fresh berry growers that would even make the case that the Arapaho isn't the best vine in the Bird Back 40. Nope! That honor would be bestowed to the vine growing to the immediate right of the Arapaho: the Black Satin.

Unlike the Arapaho, the Black Satin was not an impulse purchase. I was approached by two other gardeners several years ago who were putting together a major purchase at a well known California nursery and asked if I wanted in. Want in? Duh. I didn't "want in." I dived in with three feet. Four or five years ago the Black Satin Blackberry vine was the current rage of the gardening day. It was the "must have" berry for the backyard.

And, so, well, I had to have it.

Black Satin Blackberries-Bird Back 40
As it turns out? I had some problems with it. The first plant actually up and died on me. In fact, it never got beyond "bare root" stage. When June rolled around and that brown cane started turning even browner, I knew that something had gone wrong. And I would have to wait another full year, till the next bare root season, to get a replacement. And then, to add insult to injury, I dug the plant up last year and moved it to another location. Talk about a crime! I could be tried and convicted! The charge your honor? Black Satin Blackberry Abuse!

As for the friend who also ordered the Black Satin? She's a little better gardener than I am. Her plant lived. Plus she didn't abuse it like I did. Today that Black Satin plant resembles a large Christmas Tree, and, yes, it's loaded with hundreds of FAT berries. She recently posted a picture of her plant on her Facebook page and I reacted by promptly drooling on my computer keyboard. What's that? You'd like her name and address eh? Yeah, I'm sure you do...

Loaded Black Satin Bush-Sacramento
I guess the point I'm trying to make here -- and doing a bad job at it -- is that spring and summer blackberries are the absolute bomb. The days of plants with thorns the size and sharpness of switchblades are long gone. Horticulture has rewarded us with all sorts of berry options, minus the thorns. Got a small and ignored spot in the yard? Plant berries.

You'll be glad you did. Because there's nothing quite like a slice of warm Black Satin and Arapaho Blackberry pie on a cold winter's day. That's what growing your own is all about.

Don't Bother Me! I'm Gardening!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Test Bed: Bird Back 40
I dread the month of May. I really do. I shouldn't. This is my "can't miss" gardening month. I should love it to death. But, instead I dread what the change in seasons brings. Now I know how full-time farmers must feel. I must fight for my time in the great outdoors that is the Bird Back 40.

May is the month when the offers for my gardening time come rolling in. The big brother emails: "Let's spend the entire Saturday hiking up a trail and go fishing!" The sister-in-law says: "Don't forget -- It's First Communion Services this Saturday." This doesn't include the offers to attend various all day parties, weddings, birthdays and other "must attend" events.

This also doesn't include the renters who haven't paid rent for two months and then suddenly decide to move. And, of course, they leave the place in a fine mess.

Bird Tomato Garden in May-Off to a Good Start!
Don't these people garden? Don't they understand that May is the month when gardens are installed? Miss a month and you don't get it back. You can't plant green onion or carrot seeds in mid-June, people. It's too hot. Germination rates are low. Trust me on this, I've tried.

Things get so busy during the month of May that I don't even get the time to blog about it. Check the list people! It's been two weeks! That's an eternity for bloggers. Yeah, there's lots to write about! But when am I going to find the time? 

Cucumbers planted? CHECK!
When you garden as extensively as the wife that is Venus and I do, it takes more than a "day or two" to install a full summer garden. Most people don't understand this. To them, it's plant and forget. And then they wonder why the tomato plants aren't producing in August. If you desire a productive and healthy summer vegetable garden, you've got to put in the time. And that can mean hours of prep before the first tomato plant is even planted.

The latest project came just this weekend with the preparation and planting of the Bird Test Bed located in a side yard. Thanks to our recent spate of hot weather with little in the way of rainfall, the hardened clay yielded to the Mantis Rototiller as easy as hardened concrete. Guess what happens when a spinning Mantis hits concrete? If you're guessing it jumps -- good guess. But, if you're serious about this business, you've got to bear down and provide a little more muscle. Otherwise, no corn crop for those outdoor summer dinners!

Six kinds of Basil? Really? Pesto Party!
A summer dinner without corn on the cob is a crime.

The test bed located above right, by the way, may look bare now. But, trust me with this people, it's been loaded with seed. I put in the corn. Venus put in the pumpkins, squash and some spare tomato plant leftovers and a few flowers to beautify the spot as well. This is AFTER I'd spent the better part of a Sunday morning churning up the dirt, adding compost and other items that summer vegetables crave, and churning it up once more again. Then it's time to make rows -- and finally -- install drip irrigation.

Then and only then -- is it time to plant.

Flowering Potato Plants in May-Bird Back 40
Think there's any time for all-day fishing trips with a chore like this? Taking a five hour break for First Communion Services? Cleaning out a rental? Attending this event or that event? I sometimes wonder how full-time farmers drown out the noise and concentrate on the job that has to be done. Then again -- full-time growers get to dig in the dirt all week. They're lucky. I'm lucky if I get a day.

Despite the non-gardening demands on my weekend time -- things are going fairly well. While I'd like to say the job is done -- that would be a bit of a lie. There's that spring garden bed to tear out, especially since spring came and went in the space of 30-seconds this year. You know summer is serious when it doesn't give lettuce plants a chance to bolt. When those tender-crisp leaves turn brown, whither and die in the course of 48 hours? Summer's here and it's here to stay.

Eggplant-Bush Beans and Carrots! Oh My!
Not to worry, right? Because I can finish off the gardening project next weekend, right? Nope! I won't be gardening. Why not? Don't ask!

But, so far, Memorial Day Weekend is wide open!