YeeHaw for the MayHaw!!!

Monday, February 24, 2014

100 Percent Pure Mayhaw Jelly
There's something mighty good going on at the Bird House these days. And -- it's one of the few times I must admit -- where this mighty good stuff did not spring from the grounds of the Bird Back 40. Nope -- didn't come from here. Our fruit trees might be flowering a tad from this early spring. But what we've got didn't come from the Bird Back 40 because -- to be quite honest -- it just doesn't grow here.
I'm talking about the Mayhaw tree. While most fruits and vegetables sold across the good ol' United States of America hail from California -- the same cannot be said about the Mayhaw. It's native to a small stretch of the south -- the swampy parts of the south that is. The Mayhaw tree grows wild in the swamp lands of Louisiana and southern Mississippi -- with parts of northern Florida thrown in for good measure.
Maxine Mayhaw (courtesy Travis Callahan)
The thing is this: If you live in a swampy area of the south? Chances are there's a Mayhaw tree growing nearby.
That jar of jelly pictured above is 100 percent pure, southern grown and made in a country kitchen, Mayhaw Jelly. It comes from the kitchen of Travis and Diana Callahan, straight from a little town called Abbeville, Louisiana. And let me tell you -- from experience I might add -- Mayhaw jelly is one of those "little treasures" that not many people get to enjoy.
Why is that? Well -- for one thing -- the Mayhaw tree isn't widely grown. Secondly, it hasn't been all that long since someone discovered the Mayhaw fruit is not only good for things such as jelly, syrup and wine, it's downright fantasmogoric. I invented that word. It's translation is "mighty good."
Maxine Mayhaw Jelly (courtesy Travis Callahan)
How did I come into this jar of very special Mayhaw jelly? As it turns out? My connection to the Duke Avocado paid a little bit of a dividend. Travis Callahan is a fan of the blog that is Sacramento Vegetable Gardening. He's also a backyard fruit growing enthusiast. And if there's one thing Travis is looking for? It's an avocado tree that can survive the freezing conditions that sometimes grip southern Louisiana. They don't get them often -- but they do get them.
Travis would literally stumble over the blog that is Sacramento Vegetable Gardening one night while searching for an avocado variety that could not only survive freezing conditions, but thrive in them. Since the Duke Avocado, which was borne in ice-cold Butte County, can not only survive but thrive in these conditions, well, count Travis as a might bit interested.
Mayhaw Fruit (courtesy Travis Callahan)
And so -- thanks to the wonders of email and introductions -- Travis and I struck up a conversation. It was during this conversation where I would learn about his website and his absolute love and dedication to the Mayhaw tree. One day I offered Travis a trade: One jar of the moderately famous Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa for a jar of pure Mayhaw Jelly.
He accepted. And I WON. Boy did I win. I mean -- BIG TIME. I should have shipped Travis and his wife a case of salsa for this jelly -- because this jelly is like none other.
Maxine Mayhaw Tree (courtesy Travis Callahan)
The Mayhaw is an early producing tree that produces a fruit very similar to the Manzanita bush here on the west coast. Translated, the Manzanita means "little apple." The Mayhaw produces a fruit similar in appearance. Harvested straight from the tree? I'm told, and I've read, the Mayhaw isn't all that impressive. Perhaps this is the reason it was ignored for so long. Early settlers, I've learned, noticed that Native Americans avoided the Mayhaw. Perhaps this is the reason is took so long to be discovered.
But -- mix Mayhaw fruit with a little bit of sugar -- and something special happens with the chemical reaction. Mayhaw jelly tastes a little bit like strawberry jam. It may look like a tiny apple, but tastes nothing like it. It is indeed unique. Perhaps this is one reason why growers are planting acre after acre of Mayhaw trees.
Ripe Mayhaws (courtesy Travis Callahan)
Jars of pure Mayhaw jelly have been known to command a premium price. Travis tells me that often, the Mayhaw juice is cut with apple juice, which is cheaper, to produce larger batches of jelly. Mixing Mayhaw juice with common apple juice, I'm told, is a crime. Yet it does happen. This is because the demand for Mayhaw jelly, once a deep southern secret, continues to grow.
The best jars of Mayhaw jelly come from a home kitchen. And that's what we have here. I wish I could share this experience with you, but I can't. There just isn't enough Mayhaw jelly to go around. But trust me when I tell you that the Mayhaw tree deserves a spot in in California agriculture. And thanks to the wonders of modern horticulture, it may not be long before that happens.
Mayhaw Jelly and a Hello Kitty Toaster!
Hey, if we can get blueberries to survive and thrive in the Golden State, why not the Mayhaw? Then, and only then, might you get the chance to sample the treasure known as Maxine Mayhaw jelly.
And that's darn good.

Code Word: Red Candy Apple

Friday, February 21, 2014

The "Package"
Psst! Hey buddy? Know that "thing" we were talking about? The "package" has arrived my friend. Expect a visit from Mr. X at any time now. Know what I'm talking about?
Of course you have no idea of what I'm talking about! I have no idea of what I'm talking about! And if you can understand what I don't -- well -- perhaps I need to add a second cyst to my skull so it can make friends with the first.
I am a bit hesitant from doing my best Steve Martin impression by screaming to the whole world: "The New Onions are Here! The New Onions are Here!" Because, as Martin so artfully acted in The Jerk, "things are going to start happening to me now." And they did. But not quite in the way he expected.
You see, if you recall last year's madcap onion escapade, there's a good reason to be worried. Yes -- the 2014 crop of new onion starter plants has arrived from Dixondale Farms in (flat as a) Pancake, Texas. Unlike last year, the onion plants arrived on time and in excellent condition.
Perhaps SMERSH has turned its attention to other endeavors.
Onion plants, you say? Not onion bulbs? That would be correct. I'm done with planting onion bulbs in October and hoping for a good harvest come next June. Sometimes that harvest can be good. Sometimes it can be bad. But that's not the case with onion starter plants grown by our fine onion-loving friends at Dixondale Farms. They've been at this trade for a decade or nine. They know what they're doing.
Onion Plant Starters-Dixondale Farms
Suffice to say -- a box of onion starter plants from Dixondale Farms has never let me or the wife that is Venus down. We plant a lot of onions in the Bird Back 40. That's because we go through our share of onions. You can find those onions in every jar of lip-smacking Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa. You can find them onions in every jar of tomato sauce we can. And you can find them in nearly every summer and fall meal we make and consume.
The arrival of our box of onion starters also provides a good excuse to dedicate a weekend afternoon to digging up those Bird Back 40 planter boxes and adding all sorts of amendments that are good for the soil and good for the onions to boot. I can't begin to tell you the satisfaction of digging into a raised gardening bed only to find a nest of big, fat, red earthworms wriggling around inside.
Soil Amendment Time!
It means that box of fish bait that I added last summer to improve the soil sailed right through the winter months. It means that I was judicious in my use of fertilizer, and didn't over-fertilize to the point where I chased the earthworms into the next yard. Night Crawler worms aren't just good eatin' for catfish -- they spice up the local raised gardening bed as well.
But I digress.
The onion starter plants we put into the soil this year are exactly the same that we put into the ground last year. Why do the same crop over and over again? Because the fine folks at Dixondale Farms only offer three varieties of onions for Intermediate Day locations. And Sacramento happens to be SMACK DAB in the middle of an intermediate day location.
Super Star Onions (Delicious)
But, suffice to say, those time-tested varieties of Candy, Red Candy Apple and Super Star have never let us down. Each bunch of all three varieties delivers a whopper of yellow, red and white onions. Some of those onions wind up on the doorsteps of our onion-loving neighbors, this is true, but the vast majority is put to good use in the Bird Family kitchen.
We get so many of these onions that I'm actually SHAMED when I'm forced to head out to the local grocery store to actually BUY onions. Unfortunately, our harvest doesn't last for the entire 12 months of the year. There comes a point, late in winter my friends, when (I'm ashamed to admit) we must buy our onions like everyone else at the local supermarket.
Venus Plants Onions!
Oh, the shame of it all.
Are store bought onions as good as home-grown onions? Does Superman enjoy Kryptonite? OF COURSE NOT! That's why we plant onions. Because, well, home grown onions are just darned good and darned good for you.
And so -- with great trepidation -- I deliver the news that the 2014 onion plant starters have not only arrived -- they've all been planted.
Garden Patrol Cat with Chew Toy Dog
This means if some nefarious character attempts to dig them up? They first must do battle with Lenny, the Maine Coon Garden Patrol Cat. Lenny, at last report, weighed in at svelte 25 lbs. It's safe to say that Lenny enjoys his meals. And every meal that Maine Coon giant can get his greedy little paws on.
You have been warned.

Magical Piles!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Thorny Rose Bush Pile-THORNS!
It's right about this time -- during President's Day I guess -- when "piles" begin forming in the Bird Back 40. It starts with one pile. And pretty soon, there's two. Oh -- and where did that itty bitty third pile come from and how did it get so darn big so fast? And, before you know it, there's piles all over the Bird Back 40.
I call them "magical piles" because they appear to form overnight -- usually after a Saturday or Sunday. I suppose I could be the culprit behind these "piles." However, I usually like to place the blame on someone else. Why else would we keep a dog around? It's Bandi's fault! Of course!
Where Did That Big Pile Come From? DOG!!!
Mystery solved my friends.
These piles are forming now because Bill Bird spent a wee bit too much of his time during those Autumn Sundays to watch an NFL game or three. The 49ers are suddenly the rage of the NFL again. I blame these piles on the exciting and unorthodox play of a one Colin Kaepernick!
Cut back the rose bushes? Nah! Perish the thought! CK7 is on! Clean out the artichoke beds? Are you kidding? Did you see that play Eric Reid made?
Two More Piles? They're Multiplying!
The President's Day holiday is a gardener's holiday for those of us who practice this foolish craft on a part-time basis. There are beds to clean out (more piles!), onions and spring seeds to plant and the thought of heirloom tomatoes crosses the gardening-struck mind. That's right kids. Later today Bill and Venus Bird will start planting the 2014 Heirloom Tomato crop.
But, before we get too excited by this prospect, let us remember that warm afternoon weather brings on the opportunity to get busy in the backyard. Did we plant those pear trees last weekend? CHECK! Mission accomplished! Did you install drip irrigation sprinklers to water that new pear orchard? Uh, well....
Hey! We'd Like a Drink Please!
Not a problem, right? All we have to do is access the toolbox set aside for all things drip irrigation! If you're going to garden extensively like we do, wise use of water is an absolute necessity. This is the reason why we dedicate that big, orange plastic toolbox to all things drip irrigation. Of course, we haven't checked that box since Colin Kaep began chucking that pigskin last fall. And wouldn't you know it? It appears you ran out of every key piece of drip irrigation equipment you needed to accomplish the task at hand.
Since I can literally count on my local Home Depot to be out of stock of everything I need at any particular moment (it's uncanny how these things happen, people), it means a side trip to Emigh's ACE Hardware store. This is a little far from our North Natomas location. But if there's one thing I can count on, it's this. Emigh's doesn't run out of stuff. Ever. Bank on it. That little sprinkler head you needed is going to cost you a quarter more -- but at least it's in stock.
Yeah, it's Another Pile!
With drip irrigation parts acquired, it's time to accomplish that task at hand! What was that task? Oh yeah, irrigate the pear orchard. But wouldn't you know it? That pesky thing called "the sun" suddenly went dark. And while I just might be crazy enough to install irrigation in the dark, one simple thought crosses my mind.
What happens if I trip and fall into that thorny rose bush pile?
Yep -- I'll wait till tomorrow.

Mr. Harrow Finds a Home

Saturday, February 15, 2014

BOC Pear Orchard-Bird Back 40
Mr. Harrow is home at last. And I find this to be just DEEE-lightful. Who is Mr. Harrow, you ask? Well -- let me explain. Mr. Harrow isn't really a "who." Mr. Harrow is more of a "what" than anything else. So, what is Mr. Harrow, you ask? Well -- I'm glad you stopped by to ask!
Mr. Harrow is pictured above right. That, children, represents the latest planting endeavor in the Bird Back 40. For you are casting your eyes on the Bird Back 40 Pear Orchard -- planted via Backyard Orchard Culture (BOC) techniques. Didn't think you could cram three fruit trees into a small spot? Think again, because you can, and quite successfully I might add.
BOC Apple Orchard-Bird Back 40
This is our third BOC planting effort. The nectarine trees we stuck in the ground some four years ago delivered a whopper of a harvest last year. And the BOC apple planting effort? Well, you may have heard my praise about the Honeycrisp Apple variety somewhat. It's only the best darn apple on the planet, bar none.
But our latest effort is something very special. Because this effort involves a one Mr. Harrow -- aka -- Mr. Harrow Delight. Mr. Harrow isn't a person, but rather a fruit tree. Not just any fruit tree mind you. The Harrow Delight Pear Tree is simply the best darn pear I've ever tasted. Yes -- it beats the Bartlett Pear in taste and consistency. This includes a home-grown, tree-ripened Bartlett, which for years has been the best in the business.
Harrow Delight Pear-DWN Fruit Tasting-2010
However, you know what they say about mousetraps, right? Someone is always trying to build a better one. And in the world of pears, someone hit the jackpot with the Harrow Delight pear tree. I'm not sure why this variety isn't propagated commercially, because it's been around for long enough. There might be some drawbacks from commercial production that I'm unaware of. But I can tell you that Harrow Delight is simply the best backyard pear tree ever.
Isn't that enough?
I've been hooked on the Harrow Delight since I first attended a fruit tasting event held at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center some years back. If you want to know what grows, and grows well in the Sacramento area, I would suggest a visit to the horticulture center soon. The best time to visit? That would be the annual Harvest Season celebration, because that's usually when the fine folks from Dave Wilson Nursery show up with all sorts of good things to sample.
DWN Fruit Tasting-Fair Oaks-2010
It was there where I got my first extraordinary taste of the Harrow Delight pear. You must keep in mind that I had a plateful of pluots, bowls of blackberries and platters of peaches to munch on to my heart's delight. A Dave Wilson Nursery fruit tasting extravaganza is a fruit lover's ultimate dream. Yet, the one piece of tree-ripened fruit that beat everything to the punch on that particular day was the Harrow Delight pear.
Surely -- I must have received that special piece of pear that was better than the rest, right? That pear couldn't be THAT good, could it? But, as I returned to fill up that fruit pail again and again, each bite of that Harrow Delight got better and better. It was then when the wife that is Venus and I realized that THIS was the pear tree for our backyard.
Lonely Bartlett Pear Tree
But like most weekend warrior projects, the BOC pear planting effort would have to wait. There were some years when the Harrow Delight simply wasn't in stock, or I would wait too long only to find out that most of the trees had been snapped up by fruit lovers who were quicker on the trigger than I was. I would acquire the first part of the BOC pear project, the  Bartlett pear, last year. It would sit in a pot and wait for the addition of the Harrow Delight and one other variety this year.
That other variety -- by the way -- is the Blake's Pride. Why this particular variety? There are a couple of reasons. First -- one builds a BOC pear orchard to experience a pear harvest that lasts six to eight weeks rather than just three. The Harrow Delight, Blake's Pride and Bartlett all ripen at different periods during the summer. Secondly? These varieties all pollinate one another. More pollinators mean more fruit on the branch come harvest -- which is never a bad thing.
Return of the V for Venus Planter Bed
And so -- the Bird Pear Orchard is now installed and complete. One variety will ripen up two weeks before the Bartlett. Still another will ripen up two weeks AFTER the Bartlett. That's a solid month of pears, people. Try as you might, this is not a bad thing.
But the best part about the Harrow Delight pear tree was yet to be discovered. As I gazed at the tag attached to the tree to drink in the details of what will be Bill and Venus Bird's favorite pear tree -- two words jumped out at us. What were those two very special words? HEAVY BEARER.
That means lots of pears, baby. Isn't that just a crime?

Sorry Kid -- Better Luck Next Time!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Return of the V for Venus Planter Bed
Welcome friends -- to another outdoor adventure in the Bird Back 40! I'm jazzed! It's raining outside! The Back 40 is one big pile of mud! Why am I so happy? Mud means water! And it's finally beginning to fall in sheets here in Northern California. The parched ground has finally soaked in enough moisture where small puddles are starting to form. And small puddles mean big lakes if we can get enough rain.
Of course, this puts the official kibosh on outdoor projects for the weekend -- which is fine by me. Because, let's face it people: Bill Bird needs the rest. For this post could also be entitled: "How to Build a Pear Orchard in 49 Easy Steps." I don't just plant fruit trees during bare root season. Oh no, people. Bill Bird puts on a production!
Bare Root Pear Trees
Of course, I've also learned through trial and MULTIPLE errors that these things have to be done right, otherwise that project that was supposedly "finished," suddenly ropes you back in. This particular project two weekends ago? Install a pear orchard for three bare root pear trees. Not just any pear trees people -- but the most delicious of selections from our fine friends at Dave Wilson Nursery. These people don't produce fruit trees. They produce heaven on a branch.
But before those pear selections could find a permanent home in the Bird Back 40 -- several steps had to be undertaken. Pear trees require good soil for one. This is something sadly lacking in the Bird Back 40. The dirt consists of clay that turns into a muddy mess in the winter and concrete in the summer. It's great for growing Roundup-resistant weeds that contain root systems made of iron, but little else. If I want a plant or tree to grow and thrive in the Bird Back 40, I've got to give it good soil.
The Great PVC Project
Ah -- but that's just part of the rub. Fruit trees demand more than just great soils. They also appreciate a drink of water every now and then. And the spot I had selected from them was a good country mile from the nearest, buried, PVC line. Know what that means people? It means digging in the dirt to find that buried PVC line, hacking into it, and then trenching a country mile with my handy dandy trenching shovel.
Oh -- my aching back!
Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea of where the nearest buried PVC line was. Another raised bed used for growing summer produce like heirloom tomatoes and melons wasn't all that far off. While I knew where the line came up inside the bed, I'd forgotten which course I took six years ago to extend that line into this particular bed.
Trenching a new PVC Irrigation Line
My hope was that I'd extended that line outside the bed, and then made a sharp right turn into the bed itself. It still meant that I would have to dig, but I knew I wouldn't be forced to dig very far -- maybe six inches. But if that line ran under the raised gardening bed itself? I would be forced to dig through a foot or more of composted soil, before I could reach the clay below.
That's one big hole to dig, people. And one mighty sore back to boot. Plus -- if accessing and hacking into a PVC line that is buried six inches deep is difficult, imagine the pain of trying to access and work with a line that's buried under two feet of composted soil and clay.
Digging Out a Raised Gardening Bed
As I began to dig and poke around outside that raised bed on that particular Saturday, my buoyant hopes ever so slowly started to deflate. Two or three test holes told me there was no buried PVC line outside the bed. Would I begin to realize my worst fears that the buried line was inside the planter bed? Do I make mistakes, people?
And so, after coming up snake eyes on that third test hole, I knew what had to be done. I at least knew where the PVC line was located inside that 8X8 raised bed. I would be forced to remove half of the soil from that bed so I could access that PVC line coming straight out of the ground, and then dig into the clay below.
PVC Lines at CRAZY Angles
Because the Bird Back 40 resembles a pie-shaped lot -- there are no straight lines to follow. The fencing separating my yard from others runs at crazy 90 degree angles. This makes the installation of PVC irrigation lines quite difficult. While 3/4 inch, Schedule 40 PVC lines are flexible, they also don't bend at 90 degree angles. This meant when I was installing the main lines all those years ago, many of them were extended at crazy angles instead of a straight line.
It was the only way to get the PVC line where it needed to go -- so crazy angles it was all those years ago. I would come to discover that the PVC line I'd extended into this particular raised bed was at a rather crazy angle alright. It ran directly underneath the bed and connected to a main irrigation line I had installed next to the fence. Thank God I wasn't required to trench all the way to that fence, as I would have been required to tunnel underneath a concrete walkway that I'd installed two years earlier.
Hello Down There!
There's a rather special kind of back pain that develops when you're reaching into and dealing with a PVC line that is buried two feet beneath the soil line. It sort of screams at you. It's even tougher to cut into and glue a PVC T into place. But if I wanted pears? It had to be done. And I wasn't about to return my prized pear trees.
It wasn't long before my hands were stained purple from PVC primer and sticking together from spilled PVC glue -- but that PVC T was finally glued into place. With the hard part finally accomplished? The rest was child's play. A little glue on this 90 degree connector -- a little more glue on this PVC line -- and lots more glue on my hands. I find it rather amazing that I didn't glue myself into that trench line -- but skin tears easily. And, hopefully it will grow back. Someday.
This Won't Hurt -- Promise!
Where does this special PVC line lead? That -- people -- comes in Part II of the compelling story of how to plant a pear orchard in 49 easy steps! But first -- the joys of back surgery!
I'm kidding peeps. The back is fine. Sorta.

It's February 2 -- Where are Your Buds?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Eva's Pride Peach Tree In Bloom-Bird Back 40
My dearest friends and neighbors -- on this day -- the day of the WEED BOWL (aka "Stoner Bowl") -- I give you BUDS. Not just any buds mind you -- but real, actual, true BUDS. No -- this isn't some Bill Bird lunatic posting about Bud Light. Though that isn't a half bad idea, mind you. This is about BUDS.

But -- eh -- it may not be the type of buds that some people in the states of Washington and Colorado have become accustomed to purchasing lately.

Eva's Pride Peach in February Bloom
The buds I offer are a tad better in my fair opinion. Those buds -- pictured above -- are blooms from the Eva's Pride Peach tree -- part of a Dave Wilson Nursery Multi-budded classic. Why are these buds so special? What makes them so much better than the buds in Colorado or Washington?

They are unique in that they really shouldn't be here yet. It's a might too early for peach bud season in California -- and early for any other type of bud for that matter. But if there's one thing I've learned in my short experience of growing multiple fruit trees in the Bird Back 40, it's this: You can't tell a fruit tree what to do or when to bud. Because it's going to do it whether you like it or not.

Eva's Pride Peach-Courtesy Dave Wilson Nursery
I'd like to tell you that's Eva's Pride is an "early" peach. And that might be the truth. But, I've never tasted an Eva's Pride peach to be honest, and if these February buds actually result in true fruit formation, I'll probably be pulling most of them off. I prefer this tree focus on GROWTH this year rather than PRODUCTION. Why? Simple! Bill Bird is a GLUTTON for fresh, tree-ripened peaches. Bigger trees equal more peaches! That's just fine for a glutton like me.

The fine print tells me that Eva's Pride ripens a good three weeks before July Elberta, one of the finest tasting peaches on the planet. Since the July Elberta normally ripens toward the end of July and a bit into August, my thought is the Eva's Pride probably ripens in late June or early July. This is the normal ripening time for another variety that is growing in the Bird Back 40 -- and growing well mind you -- the June Pride.

Katy Apricot Early Bloom
This means -- one day -- Bill Bird and the wife that is Venus will celebrate a glut of peaches. Bring it on!

But as the wife that is Venus flitted about with the hummingbirds in the Bird Back 40 yesterday, she discovered that the Eva's Pride isn't the only fruit variety to be going through an early bloom stage. Nope, a close look at another Dave Wilson Multi-Studded (also known as "fruit cocktail) variety, revealed that the Katy Apricot is also unfurling blooms a tad early.

Again -- this is strange. Most fruit trees are in a deep slumber during this time of year, which is know as "bare root season." This is the best time to transplant fruit trees into your backyard, for a couple of reasons. First, area nurseries are STOCKED to the gills with every variety of fruit tree under the sun. Secondly, transplanting a fruit tree that is still technically celebrating a winter's nap is the best way to reduce or avoid transplant shock.

Bartlett Pear (Not in Bloom)
So -- to get blooms from one tree in February is rare indeed. Blooms from a second tree? This is somewhat worrisome. The calendar on the office wall tells me that winter ain't quite done yet. We haven't had nearly enough rain or snow yet to quench California's thirst -- nor are we out of frost danger just quite yet. A cold snap or heavy rain then could knock those blooms into next year. Know what that means? No peaches for you!

And that's a sad development to be sure.

So, this may be one reason why the wife that is Venus rose a tad early this morning to attend Catholic services. This is a special day for Catholics. For, on this day, they celebrate the feast of St. Blaise (pronounced: BLAZE).

Peach and apricot buds on a day when Catholics celebrate St. Blaise? On the day of the long awaited Weed Bowl? You can't make this stuff up, people.