Fish + HH = AMF X Kitchen Sink = FAIL!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

And they're Off!
Follow closely now children -- because the title of this article is the mathematical equation we followed earlier this spring when planting the heirloom tomato crop now growing, and growing quickly I might add, in the Bird Back 40. Fresh off last year's season where each tomato plant got a fish head, two aspirins plus bone meal in each planting hole, we redoubled our efforts in 2014.

My friends, I'm here today to tell you this. Despite those lovely looking plants pictured above right, you can "love" your tomato starter plants just a little bit too much. You can go overboard on even the most organic of treatment -- and I know this from experience. Because it's taken time, patience and a bit of replanting to get our starter plants to look THIS good at this point in May.

Adding Fish Parts to Holes for Tomato Plants
Plus -- several people who ignored frost concerns and warnings and planted in March are WAY ahead of us. In the words of the immortal Tom Petty, "you got lucky, babe." Because planting in March can sometimes result in misery in April, especially if the weather turns cold again. This year, it didn't. Oh sure, it cooled down a bit here and there and actually rained a bit. But it wasn't enough to knock off March planting efforts. And for those people who rolled the dice and planted in March, they'll be harvesting a bundle of fresh tomatoes in June and laughing at the rest of us who waited until the first weekend of May.

Edit: We normally plant on or around the birthday of Farmer Fred Hoffman of "Get Growing with Farmer Fred" fame. That's usually the last weekend of April. But it was raining that weekend so we pulled a bundle of weeds instead. Anyone who gardens will tell you there's always a weed or one thousand to pull. It just comes with the territory.

But -- I digress.

Let the Planting Commence!
Fresh off a fantastically productive and surprising tomato year in 2013, we once again called on the Goddess of Love Apple Farms fame to help us with our tomato planting efforts in 2014. This time Sara and the wife that is Venus armed themselves with two buckets of smelly fish parts instead of just one, aspirin for the planting holes, organic bone meal and a few other "additives."

Here is what this year's brew contained:

1 can of water soluble Mycorrhizae and Bacteria
1 bottle (300 count) aspirin
Two boxes of Granulated Humic Acids
Two 5-gallon buckets of fish heads, tails, guts, and various parts
4 bags of Bone Meal

A Garden Party?
Holes for 24 heirloom tomato plants were dug to a depth of two feet each. Into the hole went a big helping of "fish stuff," one-half cup of Humic Acids, one-half cup of bone meal and two aspirin. Tomato plants were removed from starter cups and soaked in a Mycorrhizae bath before planting. We then proceeded to fill the holes with composted soil. The official count that first weekend in May looked like this:

24 heirloom tomato plants
16 Pepper plants
4 eggplants
2 Blueberry plants LOADED with blueberries (Sharp Blue and Misty)

Notice the Dog...
Can you guess the first thing that happened after we went through all that work to plant everything into the raised beds? If you guess that the garden dog named "DIGGER" immediately tried to dig up 24 tomato plants in a quest to munch on some smelly fish parts, you wouldn't be half wrong. If you also guessed that many of the tomato plants suddenly seized up and died, you'd also be right on the money.

Both actually happened. What the dog didn't dig up and kill in the process, died on its own. Why? Because we gave our starter plants a bit too much love. There is such a thing such as too much love. And if you follow the witch's brew I've outlined above, you too can KILL your share of tomato plants.

Janet's Jacinthe Jewel
Thank goodness the wife that is Venus and I decided to plant two cups of each tomato variety. Those replacement plants came in handy. Instead of giving them away to family and friends as we've done in the past, we were doing quite a bit of "replacement planting," while muttering the words: "NEVER AGAIN!"

However, we seem to be past the worst of it. And, I'll be honest, not every plant seized up and died on us, nor did DIGGER dig it up. For those that survived the harrowing plant-out process, I'll be honest, they look GOOD. Not just good, good, mind you. But, REAL GOOD! This includes a number of varieties from Wild Boar Farms, including a new offering this year called Janet's Jacinthe Jewel.

Pepper and Basil Starter Plants
Described as a large bright orange (jacinthe) striped beefsteak, this is a potato-leafed variety that is off to an eye-popping start and seems destined to deliver a boatload of tomatoes, many in the one pound range. And this is a bad thing? I think not!

The onset of hot weather in May has also given our tomato plantings a boost. Our once "leggy" starters now feature thick stems and are flowering heavy. We also decided to devote more room to our tomato plantings, because there can never be a thing such as "too many tomatoes." If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you know this to be true.

Baby, I've Got a Headache...
Although I was not able to take part in the final plant out due to this bum wheel that keeps me confined to a walking boot (complete with a developing, continent-sized, blister), Venus sprinkled liberal amounts of leftover tomato plants to the in-ground test bed and other spots here and there in the Bird Back 40 that offered a bit of planting space. The final count is 39 plants -- about ten to 12 more than we normally plant during the summer season.

I'm pleased to report that everything the green-thumbed wife planted is now popping out of the ground at an accelerated rate -- this includes various garden seeds that she planted here and there. That list includes five varieties of carrots, six varieties of basil, four varieties of slicing cucumbers, three varieties of pickling cucumbers green onions, bush beans, squash, pumpkins and probably five to ten other things that I've forgotten.

There comes a point in the season that when it's time to pay a trip to the Farmer's Market? We head straight for the Bird Back 40...

The Show

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Wonderful Pomegranate Tree-Bird Back 40
Hello old friend. It's nice to see you again. It's been far too long since you last visited and I'm overjoyed to see that you're feeling well again. I was so worried last year when you came down with some strange sickness and just didn't seem to be your same old self. I'm glad to see that you've fought off the bad bug, whatever it was, and you're putting on a right fine show this spring. It's nice to see.

An experienced gardening eye will tell you that the picture above right is that of a pomegranate tree. Not just any pomegranate tree mind you, but the old standby that produces only the best, sweetest and tartest of ripe, red fruit. It's called, simply enough, Wonderful. And it's a good name. Because it fits like a glove. The Wonderful Pomegranate provides the most delectable and wonderful pomegranates on the planet. And it's putting on quite the colorful show in the Bird Back 40 side yard this gardening season.

Pomegranate Buds Preparing to Bloom
I must admit, I'm breathing a big sigh of relief while watching the tree do its thing this year. Because it wasn't doing this last year. Well -- let me explain. Half of the tree put on a nice show. The other half looked pretty darn terrible. And, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why. But, count me concerned. And I had a reason to be.

It was about two years ago when a frustrated young lady contacted me via email out of the blue to ask, "where have all the pomegranates gone?" She went onto explain that all of the trees in her neighborhood that fed her pomegranate desires were barren, looked somewhat diseased and did I know of any trees around the City of Davis where she might help herself to her favorite fruit? This request caught me by surprise. Two years ago the Wonderful Pomegranate tree in the Bird Back 40 was covered with one of the largest crops it has ever produced.

A Color Show Like No Other
I remember telling this young lady that I didn't know of any diseases that were hitting backyard orchard pomegranate trees, and gave her a couple of locations to check out. I never did hear back from her, but clearly remembered her concerns last year when half of my once-healthy tree suddenly wilted during the spring bloom season, dropped quite a few leaves and didn't flower. That's right, not ONE single flower.

Color me very concerned. What was wrong with my Wonderful Pom? Had it been hit with some sort of funky disease or virus? A quick check of some online resources that I depend upon (UC Davis Fruit and Nut Information) yielded some answers -- but not the kind of problem I was experiencing. Further complicating matters were a few recent newspaper and industry reports detailing some strange disease that had struck without warning in commercial pomegranate fields. Nobody was quite sure what it was.

Emerging Pomegranates
Last year's harvest was one of the smallest I had ever encountered. Not only were the numbers curtailed, the size of the fruit was also affected. While the seeds inside the fruit that did mature were fine, the overall condition of the tree bothered me a great deal. Had I over-fertilized? Over-watered? Got a little too frisky with winter pruning efforts?

This year I adopted a "hands off" approach. While most fruit trees and vines get a small monthly allocation of fertilizer, the Wonderful Pom got nothing. The tree still received twice-weekly irrigation supplies from drip sprinklers at the base of the tree -- but not much else. I wanted to see the results of this "hands off" approach.

Honeybee At Work
Whatever was bothering the Wonderful Pom last year has, thankfully, moved on. Either that, or the tree fought it off. It is once again growing with a healthy vigor and this year's show of blooms is simply unrivaled. Although not all blooms turn into pomegranates, many of them are. And the tree continues to produce bloom buds at a surprising rate. I thought it would have eased up by now. Nope. It's showtime in the side yard and the Wonderful Pom is the star.

This is happy news, of course, to the legions of honeybees that have a home in the Bird Back 40 and elsewhere. It's not all that unusual to hear this tree buzz with excited honeybee activity. Although it's impossible to count them all, I wouldn't be surprised if that count amounted to the hundreds. Pomegranate pollen must be a prized commodity, given the honeybee activity that I've noticed day in and day out.

Wonderful Pomegranate Bloom
A heavy load of pomegranates means Bill and the wife that is Venus will be firing up a commercial brand juicer that can be found in many upscale (and some dive) bars -- especially those bars that specialize in serving drinks concocted from fresh fruits and vegetables. Pomegranates aren't easy to squeeze, but the reward is a fresh juice that is unlike any other. And from that simple juice, there are so many possibilities.

Pomegranate jelly anyone? Pomegranate punch? It's simply Wonderful. Here's looking at a healthy harvest come this fall and a healthy tree to boot.

Snap! Crackle! Pop!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Snap, Crackle and Pop Here to See You
I know what you're thinking. I really do. You saw the title of this latest blog posting and your heart sank. "Bill Bird has gone commercial," you thought. "He's traded in his heirloom tomatoes for some kid's cereal!"

The shame, the shame of it all.

But that's the furthest thing from the truth. You see, this blog posting could be named many things. It could be called "Gardening Hurts." It could also be called "Gardening Season is Over," because both titles would represent the truth. Gardening does sometimes hurt. And gardening season, although it's just now getting underway for some folks, has come to a rather abrupt end in the Bird Back 40.

Nice toes! NOT!
At least -- that's the story for crazy blog writer Bill Bird. As for the wife that is Venus? She may carry on with her seed planting ways. Her faithful husband will watch her efforts from the patio with a beer in one hand and a sad smile. For the first time in years, I cannot join her. I can only sit and watch.

You've probably guessed by now that I'm not schlepping for some kid's cereal. That "Snap, Crackle, Pop" sound I heard last weekend was all too real. Unfortunately, I didn't hear it while pouring milk onto a kid's cereal (although I wish now that I had). I heard that sound while stepping off the sidewalk in the Bird Back 40 while moving a heavy wheelbarrow load of compost to the in-ground test gardening bed. Unfortunately again, the sound came from my right foot.

That wasn't right. Did I step on something perchance? No? Is that blood? Where did that blood come from?  From me? Those are the thoughts that first crossed my mind when I suddenly dropped that wheelbarrow load of gardening product and looked down. The bottom of my ankle began to ache. Which really isn't all that strange because at my age, after a weekend full of gardening, my feet not only REEK to high heaven they are also quite sore.

Life in a BOOT that Never Comes Off
But this was a different kind of sore. And the soreness grew into a pain that had me limping back to the garage and settling into the nearest chair. Something wasn't right. It wasn't until I tried to get back up some 30 minutes later (to attempt to resume gardening no less) did my ankle let me know that things were "not OK."

The hours following my little "garden accident" are still somewhat of a blur. I blame that on the numerous emergency room doctors and nurses that I visited that evening. For each one came armed with a horse-shaped pill, a glass of water and the instructions of: "Here, take this."

Percocet Fog
Since those pills made me feel somewhat better -- I had no problem with repeating the line of: "What? Another Percocet? For me? Sure!"

I would learn later that Percocet makes you somewhat happy and somewhat groggy. I don't really remember a lot of detail from those emergency room visits and followups with the Podiatrist, except that a partially torn Achilles Tendon and an aggravated bone spur in the heel are going to keep me out of action and in a lot of pain for quite some time.

I swore off the Percocet a few days back. I'll live with the pain instead. How people get addicted to prescription pain killers I'll never know. They just make me feel groggy and play all sorts of negative havoc with my digestive system. Plus, to be honest, I don't remember the pain ever really going away. I suppose it made the pain manageable, but given a choice, I'll opt for a clear mind and a painful foot any day of the week.

Off Limits! Verbotten! Do Not Pass Go!
And so -- that's it kids. The 2014 gardening season is finished for me. My number one love of life, other than the wife that is Venus, is off limits. There will be no digging in the dirt. There will be no weeding. There will be no fertilizing, no planting of seeds, no drip irrigation repair. Zip, nada, nothing.

There will only be this damn boot on my leg, a damn sore right heel bone and a cranky gardener who can only watch while others do.

I'll be honest with you. There's not much fun in that.

The Drought is Over!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Wife That is Venus-Bird Back 40
You heard right -- the drought is over! It's done! Finished! Kaput! Good riddance! Don't let the door hit you in the keester on the way out! Your company was never wanted to begin with! So, get a clue, MaGoo and SCRAM. And If I don't see you next year -- it won't be too soon!

As you might be able to tell, I don't like droughts. As a matter of fact, I kind of detest them.

Friends and frenemies -- I'm not talking about the kind of drought that means a lack of water. We're still in that. Big time. That hasn't ended. It's here. It's going to stick around for the next couple of months. While we can hope and pray for big bucket of rain from the sky next winter season -- that's still a long ways off. There are hot summer days still to come.

Apricots in May? Yes Please!
Nope -- the drought I'm referring too -- the drought that has now officially ended -- is the drought on fresh fruit production in the Bird Back 40. It's over. It's gone. It started with a smattering of strawberries from the Albion plants situated beneath the Backyard Orchard Culture (BOC) Apple Orchard, but that wasn't nearly enough to satisfy and satiate our fresh fruit desires. But this latest little treat comes as a big surprise. I wasn't expecting this tree-ripened fruit, this early in the fruit growing season.

The proof of our fresh fruit extravaganza is pictured above right in that dazzling photo of sheer beauty. That is the wife that is Venus -- and she is smiling for good reason. No -- she did not win the lottery. No -- the Pope did not grant special dispensation so she could file for divorce. She's smiling because her favorite tree-ripened fruit ripened a lot earlier than we ever expected.

Royal Rosa Apricot
That's the five-in-one Apricot Fruit Cocktail tree to the right of the vision that is Venus. A Dave Wilson Nursery multi-budded special, we stuck this tree in the ground during the 2013 bare root season. We allowed it to produce a little bit of fruit last year -- just a taste mind you. We're allowing it to produce a lot more this year.

Are all the apricots on that tree ripe for the picking? Of course not! That's the beauty behind a five-in-one Fruit Cocktail tree. The five different varieties all ripen at different times of the spring and summer. In fact -- not all of the varieties on that Fruit Cocktail tree are actually apricots. Nope! One branch contains the Aprium.

Royal Rosa Apricots with Tomcots in the Background
Exsqueeze me? A what? "Maw! He's using them strange words again!" What in the world is an Aprium? Is it an apricot? Is it a plum? The answer to both questions is, "yes." Mind blowing isn't it? According to our fine friends at DWN, "The Aprium is a is a complex interspecific hybrid, predominantly of apricot and plum. Additionally, the sugar content of interspecifics is much higher than in standard plums or apricots, yielding fruit of incomparable sweetness."

Ain't that just terrible news?

But, I digress, because the fruit from this tree that is bringing us the most joy at the moment happens to be the branch that holds the Royal Rosa Apricot. Although it's not supposed to fully ripen until the third week of May -- the third week of May came a tad bit early this year -- here in the first week. Not all of them are ripe, of course. Some might even make that third week date. But just enough are soft for the picking and at optimum sweetness.

Young Annie Lennox
Is the Royal Rosa Apricot good? Is the Pope Catholic? Do tomato plants grow in Sacramento? Did Annie Lennox dump The Tourists? OK -- so it's a little obscure music knowledge on Bill Bird's part. But, the point is the answer to all three questions is a definite "yes." The Royal Rosa, Katy, Blenheim, Tomcot and Flavor Delight Aprium have all found a deserved home in the Bird Back 40.

It's been far too long since Bill or Venus sampled fresh fruit from the Bird Back 40. The drought is over. The onset of fresh fruit season is as right as rain.

If only we could get a little more of it.