Tuesday, March 29, 2016

sharp-shinned hawk update

i got an email from the woman who was caring for the injured hawk zane and i found yesterday morning.  she says he is flying again and looking well and they are planning on releasing him back into the wild this afternoon.  

best wishes to this beautiful creature.

Monday, March 28, 2016

sharp-shinned hawk

this morning zane found a sharp-shinned hawk (a small species of hawk about the size of a large pigeon) at the end of our driveway near the gate.  i had let the ducks out for some morning foraging and then zane and i did our morning rounds while i sipped my coffee. zane was sniffing around down by the gate and i saw a bird on the ground about 10 feet from him sort of flap and try to fly away but it couldn't seem to get airborne and it was clear that something was wrong.  i called zane to me and had him wait as i went over to have a closer look.  the hawk was able to stand but looked sort of stunned and disoriented.  it sidled away from me a little as i came near and tried to fly again without success.  i went up to the house and got a cardboard box and a towel so i could catch the hawk and keep it safe until i could find some help for it.  i came back and used the towel to catch the hawk so that i wouldn't cause it any more injury getting it into the box (and so that i wouldn't be injured by its sharp beak and talons).  

i was able to get the hawk into the box without any trouble and i put it in the room above the garage so that it would have a warm, quiet place to rest while i tried to find a raptor rescue in the area.  i got on the internet and made a couple phone calls but didn't have any luck.  staal did some poking around on facebook and got the name and number of a woman in coarsegold who is a raptor specialist.  i called her and she said she was retired but she gave me the number of another woman involved in wild bird rescue who i called and who put me in touch with a woman in oakhurst who agreed to take the bird in.  so after a long day chasing our tails and a drive to oakhurst we were able to get some help for the hawk.  hoping it makes a full recovery.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

new toy

staal in his recently acquired 1932 ford pickup...

below is a picture nick took of us yesterday evening.  the color in his photo is more accurate than in the photo above.  but don't get too attached to the red...staal's already threatening to paint it black.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


when staal and i were married i was lucky to inherit a lovely woman as a sister-in-law.  myrna, staal's older brother mike's wife, made me feel welcomed and accepted as part of the staal family.  on the few occasions that staal and i went to visit mike and myrna at their home myrna was always inviting and generously hospitable despite being ill.  i didn't get to spend much time with her but i still feel like i knew her.  what struck me immediately, and has stuck with me since, is her strength.  she was one of those fiercely loving people, tough and genuine and capable.  i'm happy and grateful our lives crossed paths, however briefly.
thank you, myrna and goodbye.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

eyes on the sky

the ducks keep an eye on the sky for turkey vultures, ravens, and hawks (and planes)...

Sunday, March 13, 2016

fig orchard

i've been meaning to write about the fig orchard for weeks (months?) but for some reason i've had trouble finding/gathering the photos i want and i've been a bit short on time for writing.  also, to do this right means going back into november of last year so it may turn out to be a fairly lengthy post.
here goes...

i've always loved those old homesteads with ancient fig orchards planted in front that you sometimes come across while driving the back roads of the valley.  there's one out on a lonely stretch of road on the way to my mother's house that i've always found a bit romantic.  many of the old trees have recently been cut down and removed but there are still a few standing, kept company by a somewhat tired-looking white horse.  whenever i pass by i imagine what it would be like to sit in the shade of those trees on a hot summer day, eating figs.  now that staal and i have our own little homestead i thought i'd plant a fig orchard to go with it.

in november of last year we broke ground.  since water is often a bit scarce in these parts i wanted to make sure that the new orchard would make efficient use of the rainfall and water that we do have.  the orchard site is on a gentle slope so digging swales along the contour seemed like a good way to go.  the contour swales function something like terraces, catching and collecting rainwater that might otherwise run down slope and be lost.  each swale consists of a wide shallow trough with a berm on the downslope side built from the soil dug to make the trough.  probably hard to visualize from my description (did the best i could).   this is where photos come in handy...

in the above photo, my lovely assistant, zane, is parked on the berm which is on the downslope side of the swale.

before doing any of the digging staal helped me lay out the contours using a water level (below).

we used the level because the troughs of the swales are meant to have a flat, level bottom. they're not directing water anywhere, they're collecting water so that it can slowly saturate the berm portion of the swale.  staal moved across the slope with the level and we marked out the contours with flags.

later we played connect the dots by running a rope along the ground following the flags to get the contour line where the swale would be dug.

i cut a line with the shovel, removed the rope and started digging.

the ducks were drawn by the activity and busily patrolled the disturbed soil, picking up loads of bugs and worms turned up by the shovel.  they got to be so "helpful" at some point that they actually slowed me down quite a bit by trying to root around in every shovelful of soil.  although they had no fear of the blade i was afraid for their little webbed feet and curious bills being so dangerously close.

digging is my specialty and with the good stretch of warm, sunny weather we had in november i got the bulk of the shoveling done over the course of about a week with a few touch-ups here and there into december once we got some rain and i could see how the water settled.

i put in an order for some fig trees and left the swales to do their thing over december and january.   they've worked out to be quite a good fit for this place.  i've been spreading some of the spent duck straw bedding along the high sides upslope of the troughs.  as the straw and manure rot the rain washes the nutrients into the trough which then slowly leach into the berms enriching the planting area.  the swales are also an ideal place to put some of the water i bucket out of the ducks' pools when they need cleaning and for the overflow from the rainwater collection system.  and of course the ducks love splashing and foraging in them when it's rainy out.

hose carrying the overflow from the rainwater collection tanks to the swales

the trees arrived in mid-december and i kept them in the greenhouse until the end of january when the ground was dry enough to dig and the weather had started to warm a bit.

by about the end of the first week in february we had a fig orchard.  there are 7 varieties (mission, kadota, brown turkey, desert king, violette de bordeaux, tiger panache, and peter's honey) and 18 trees total.  the trees are planted in wire baskets to keep the gophers off the roots and they've also got wire cages around them above ground to keep the ducks and wild turkeys from defoliating them.  deer tend to leave fig trees alone (maybe because of the latex in the sap) so i haven't done anything to deter them specifically.

while i was working on the drip irrigation system for the orchard garden i also ran some lines out to the fig orchard and put in a 2 gallon per hour emitter at each tree to provide water as needed to help them get established and get them through our long hot summers.

the trees were still fully dormant when i planted them but we've had enough warm weather recently to convince them to break dormancy and start opening leaf buds.

the storm we had about a week ago (march 7th) started out fairly warm but then turned quite cold.  we got a little wet snow mixed in with the rain that was falling and there was snow on the mountain behind our place.

i checked the forecast and there was a good chance nighttime temperatures would drop just below freezing. i was a little concerned the new buds and leaves might be damaged by the cold so i cut up the last of my row cover into strips to make frost blankets and wrapped up the trees.

light breeze, zane made sure the frost blankets didn't blow away

after a couple of cold nights the weather warmed again so staal and i unwrapped the trees.

the trees came through just fine.

i'm excited to see them all leafed out and growing this summer and in a few more years maybe they'll be big enough to make a little shade and a few figs.

***if you made it all the way to the end of this post, get yourself a cookie or something, you've earned it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

evolution of a garden bed

it's been rainy and a little cold for a few days but we got a bit of sunshine and warmth today.  i felt like napping in the sun but i decided to "make hay" instead and got to work putting together a new bed in the kitchen garden.

the bed is 2'x12' and i'm going to trim it with the same redwood rails i used on the other beds in the kitchen garden.  no definite plans for what's getting planted there but i've got plenty of plants hanging out in pots that i'm sure would be happy to have a little more room to stretch out their roots.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

more rain

we had some heavy rains overnight...

and more rain to come in the next few days.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

new bench

the forecast is showing a lot of wet days ahead of us so i decided to take advantage of today's warm, sunny weather and get the new bench for greenhouse built. 

it's nice to have the tools and materials to build what i need.  i'll be doing a little rearranging in the greenhouse over the next week or so while it's raining out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


 we feed the ducks...

 ...and the ducks feed us...

they're giving us about a dozen a day now.  they're a generous lot.