There’s more to my humble gardening efforts than pushing my various heirloom tomato plants to pump out plump fruit, or sawing off fresh thistles from towering artichoke plants. My real pride and joy is in my front yard; irregular rows of juicy stone fruits now getting wvwr tubbier in the warm late spring sunshine.
I love most stone fruits, but any fruit tree that counters my dream gets an unceremonious fast trip to the wood pile or compost heap.
My first love is freestone peaches like the two Avalon trees along on the right hand side of my front yard. I’ve worried my Avalon trees along for the last nine years. The two twigs I planted when I first moved into this place are now about 20 feet tall by 20 feet wide. I’ve not been let down by the copious peaches my two Avalons produce most years.2012 promises to be banner year for the trees. This morning, I happily noted top and mid-level branches are beginning to bough down under the weight of ripening fruits. I do my best to make sure my trees are verdant producers.
During the ripening phase, I hand water my trees daily and give them a final feeding to boost sugar and fruit production. Hand detailing fruit trees like peaches and apricots forces me to examine the overall health of trees and which of their branches produce the most fruit on a yearly basis.
Hated Peach Leaf Curl
For the last two years I’ve battled peach leaf cooties (aka “peach leaf curl”). In the 2011 dormant season, I applied Bordeaux Oil three times to prevent peach cooties this year. So imagine my horror early this week when I discovered the reappearance of peach leaf curl on my most verdant peach tree. With about 150 pounds of fruit hanging on my tree right now, Peach cooties be damned, I won’t go peachless this year.
In the quest for the perfect peach, I feel compelled to eliminate peach cooties from my stand of trees. With five weeks left before the 4th of July, I’m already thinking about the fresh peach cobbler I’ll make for my family’s post fireworks show desert. After the last peach goes into my harvest baskets, I’ll begin doctoring and eventually pruning my trees. All in advance of next year’s crop.
Gardening not only produces healthy fruits and vegetables, it’s a rewarding rehab acivity that forces me to work on my left hand’s stroke impaired fine motor coordination—Jim ForbesMay 27,2012
When it comes to my gardening, I can be ruthless and cold-blooded. If a vegetable doesn’t thrive after bfor a month, I have a simple policy; it’s unceremoniously plucked from the ground.
This weekend I noticed the enemy vole army had attacked my broccoli, so I pulled their withering cadavers and put the greens under my peach tree, where my local cottontails gather in the morning sheltering from hungry birds of prey.
Clearing space in my garden is a very good thing. I get to try new plants and every year I learn a lot more about what my garden can and cannot produce. Rather than lose more young seedlings to tunneling voles, I proned out this evening above my garden waiting for the voles to surface; with my loaded and cocked Beeman pellet rifle.
When it comes garden predator control I have two choices, Type One poisons such as strychnine or sharpshooting sharp. A well placed high velocity pellet doesn’t have produce downstream effects in the produce I grow and eat, and the damn voles don’t suffer when you shoot them in their little buck toothed heads.
I’ll come back to my wanton slaughter of voles in a moment but what I wanted to write about is something I’m growing for the first time this year, a hybrid cucumber called the “Perfect Pickle.”
I've already been wanred; I may need to string the Perfect Pickle hybrid on trrellises because they have the reputation for bing verdant producer. SoI'm of to Hiome Depit later this moning to buy some PVC to make yet more frames for some lanky vegetables.
I’ve graved trout and salmon but I’ve never pickled produce. This summer, I want to make kosher dills and pickled Mexican onions. Pickling is a, a process I understand. I have my supplies stored in the garage and expect to begin pickling sometime in late July or early August after my three new cucumber plants bear.
My garden is a source of extreme enjoyment. I enjoy making dinner for my family with ingredients I grew just 50 feet from my house and I love working in the dirt and seeing my plants grow.
Apparently the local meadow mice (aka “the enemy voles”) like my vegetables too. Unfortunately for them, I’m better armed and still a very good shot. So what do you do with a vole or gopher carcass?
I’m thinking about turning them into cases for eye glasses. Can’t you just imagine the listing on eBay?, “Gardener’s Revenge glasses cases—includes snout/latch so you never lose your glasses.“
I hate the damn voles about as much as I dislike the visiting diamondbacks who show up here in the summer—Jim Forbes May 6,2012.
Like most Southern California gardeners, I fight mineral deficient, alkaloid soils. Over the last nine years I’ve done a lot to my 90 by 40-foot garden patch to make it more productive.
The list of things I’ve done isn’t short. It begins with cubic yards of compost I’ve tilled into the soil and from there jumps to big bags of worm casings. I can grow enough tomatoes, spuds and sweet onions to meet household needs, but at the end of the gardening season, I’m often disappointed by the size of the root balls of my heirloom stock. For as much effort as I put into my garden, I think my plants could be better.
In the middle of last year I was at my favorite local nursery here in Escondido sniveling to one of their gardeners. As I put a couple of Brussels sprouts seedlings and some fast growing cherry tomatoes into a box, he reached below the counter and threw in two packets of a new organic feed supplement and told me to “stick one of these packets in the bottom of each hole and put the plant on top of the (teabag-sized)” packet”.
I’m not beyond experimenting in my garden and I was reasonably confident that I couldn’t go very wrong.
I set four Brussels sprout stalks—two using the packets and two in further down the row in identical soil.
Wow, I’m impressed. The control plants in my little experiment topped out at 34 inches. The two subjects of my experiment grew to approximately 48 inches and were loaded with ripening little miniature cabbages.
The damn voles chopped down one of my freakishly tall sprout stalks, but the surviving stalk is just huge.
Thr name of the supplement is Extreme Organic& Natural Feed Packs. It’s developer is Reforestation Technologies Inc.,(www.Reforest.com) in Salinas, CA. Extreme Organic Natural Feed Packs are slow release and have a 6-4-4 rating.
This is a “feed (in the starting hole) and forget product.” The packet containing the organic feed is biodegradable and the roots absorb the feed that dissolves into the planting medium.
Sequoia-like Brussels sprouts are nice, but what really drove me to buy a 100 pack zip lock bag of Reforest.com’s Extreme Gardening Organic feed packs was its effect on my tomato vines. After I picked the last of of San Marzanos in late November, I carefully excavated the plant.
It’s taproot was 13 inches long and its lateral roots were appx 18 inches. And the two Italian heirlooms I grew using one packet each out produced my control plants by three pints of fruit each.
I recommend RTI’s Extreme Gardening Organic & Natural Feeder Packs. The only thing I’d like to see in this garden feed is a vole repellent. But that’s why I have a Beeman .177 air rifle and a scoped single-shot .22 as a backup rodent control solutions.—Jim “Farmer” Forbes on April 22,2012.
When the sun came up on New Year’s Day weekend, my roses were between five and six feet tall. By sunset, I had reduced them to three-foot twigs firmly anchored in the soil of my little mountain here in San Diego County.
While I mostly focus on my organic vegetable I have to confess, I also have a very large rose garden and a lot of cymbidium orchids. I like and only grow hybrid tea roses—mostly because they are easily turned into long stemmed displays that I put on my kitchen counter or in my mother’s room. I spend much more time in my vegetable garden than I do amongst my roses, but there comes a time every year when you need to reach for your pruning shears, collapsible saw, Elmer’s glue and sturdy gloves and cut the roses back… way back.
In addition to my forged metal pruning tools, I approach my annual rose pruning with knowledge born of reading several books on how to keep my roses healthy and looking good… As well as a life-long interest in California’s missions, virtually all of which have excellent looking rose gardens. The best books I’ve seen on Roses all have been published by Sunset and the most outstanding roses I’ve seen are at the missions in Santa Barbara and San Gabriel, CA. I suppose it also helps that I went to an agricultural and technical college—Cal Poly, Pomona—which has a long history as a float operator in Pasadena’s Annual Tournament of Roses and which maintains extensive rose beds on its campus.
Cutting back rose bushes with as many as ten tight flowers always makes me a little sad. But I get over that feeling by the time the trash receptacle I tug along as I decimate the roses begins to fill. I try not to transition into a Zen-like state as I lope thick branches from my roses, and before long I’ve pruned my first column in the garden, leaving behind short healthy branches that with a little luck, will never produce growth that crosses over itself—and which remains open to many hours of sunlight in the forthcoming growing season. When it comes to pruning, my policy is one of simple wanton ruthlessness.
I’ve been disappointed with a patented pink rose I planted three years ago. So erly tomorrow morning, I’ll pull ten bucks out o my secret savings stash and cruise through a nursery looking for a pink hybrid tea to replace that non-thriving sucker.
Any branch that threatens noncompliance with my idea of what a good looking rose is instantly decapitated and its thorn-ridden branch is unceremoniously tossed into the waste tub. When I prune low enough, or feel my yearly slaughter has gotten out of hand, I yank out the Elmer’s Glue and I seal the cut.
Hey a bottle of Elmer’s is a lot less expensive than some high falutin’ tube of mystery vegetable caulk/sealing agent sold in a high end gardening catalog.
Having slashed my way through the rose garden like a crazed beaver, my five containers of pruned wood are now down on the street where it will be picked up at daybreak, Friday morning. The fruit trees below my house on the sloping lawn get a reprieve. Anyway, I pruned my two peaches way back last year , after a 200 pound Avalon crop in 2010 resulted in three broken branches.
My beloved golden apricots het hacked tomorrow morning. With a little bit of luck—and a lot of netting-- I’ll hold the birds at bay long enough to get 50 pounds of fruit from my seven trees.
A final note on my roses: I live at the interface of wild lands and mid-sized city. In the nine years I’ve lived here, I’ve watched three wild fires roar through here. If another fire comes close to my house, my chainsaw gets fired up and every rose near my house dies! Roses are extremely flammable. If you’ve ever seen a rose garden explode next to a home you understand why they are extreme fire hazards.
Besides, I can replace every rose in my garden very inexpensively. Replace my home affordably? Not so easy.
Last night, after whacking the roses, I was amuse to see two squirrels looking up at the sky through pruned sticks with a “WTF?” expression on their chubby little faces. Sorry guys, the cover you thought you had from the local hawks and other predators will come back in a few weeks. There’s always the ice plant hedge-- providing the hungry cacomistle (aka a “miners cat” or “ringtail”) isn’t hiding there.—Jim Forbes on 12/30/2011 from behind the avocado curtain in Northern San Diego County.
It’s almost Christmas, my garden is taupey brown, and damp but it’s still producing surprises.
For example, the potato vines that have been quietly soaring up for the last two weeks. And my Brussels sprouts which are reaching sequoia like stature just a few feet from the green potato vines. But hidden in the dirt are three artichokes, struggling to survive a San Diego winter.
It makes me smile.
I suspect my vegetable survivors will not outlive a hard freeze, but I deeply admire Mother Nature’s innate need to propagate. I see this locomotive-like force every year in my garden and down below my house in my avocado tree-infested front yard.
Transitions are for those who never really read Hemingway, which brings me to the other element of this post, my screwing around with varieties of Persea Americana, better known as the avocado.
I openly admit to being an avocado snob. The vaunted—and over produced Haas – is not something I like. But, if you were to shove slivers under my fingernails or make me listen to disco music endlessly, I will admit to having a couple of Haas trees.
I love heritage avocados—the common Fuertes has enough flavor to make me sit back, smack my lips and reach for a sip of piquant Bubble Up. It takes a lot to kill a Fuertes avocado. they chug back from adversity and just keep pumping out great gobs of gooey green fruit. And, they’re drop dead simple to propagate from a seed or a simple cutting. Right now I have 20 Fuertes propagants leafing up in a nice warm table next to my house.
The suckers are Panzer tough. I have no doubt they’ll make it through the winter and be ready to move into three-foot deep holes this spring.
But there are two other lesser known avocados that I think are apex cultivars; the virtually unknown Pinkerton and the Reed, (originally developed in Guatemala and now grown here in Escondido and in the adjoining Pala Valley).
The Pinkerton was developed by a master avocado orchardist named Jim Pinkerton at his ranch in Saticoy, CA. Pinkertons have a rich buttery taste and sometimes weigh as much five pounds. Pinks are monster ‘ cados and if you’ve ever had one, you’ll forever scoff at Haas. I have three Pinkerton trees—only two of which are old enough (approximately four years) to produce fruit. My first home grown second-generation Pinkerton produced first fruit two weeks ago.
I was so proud I fired up a Cuban Cohiba and took pictures of the fruit. Then I made a sandwich for my 93 year old mother and ate the remaining fruit.
first fruit from my second generation yummy Pinkerton avocado. In full production, Pinkertons can hit five pounds.
Good gardeners really do eat their young!
The Reed avocado is a cannonball shaped fruit that sometimes reaches four pounds. This big round green orb of tasty wonderfulness is unlike any avocado you’ve ever tasted. Reeds mature in mid-summer and we here behind the avocado curtain in San Diego and Riverside Counties tend not to share this fruit. They’re all ours!
I’ve been a part of a couple of unscientific taste tests at local farmers markets. Put cubed Reed fruit next to cubed Haas samples and let your basic four year old dude decide which they prefer. They always carefully aim their toothpicks and spear another piece of Reed. They’re that yummy.
My goal over the next year is to plant 10 more Reeds plus up to ten other cultivars—I have my eye on a neighbor’s Haas-Lamb avocados.
The great news: if you grow multiple types of avocado trees you’ll never run out of guacamole.
Avocados; they help lower you cholesterol and they keep Southern Californian orchardists busy puttering among the trees, fending off the damn freedom loving parrots who occasionally pillage groves.—Jim Forbes Rancho Bizarro Sud on 12/11/2011.
Rolling into December, my garden has died. The tomatoes have been turned into preserved sauce or dried and packed in vacuum sealed bags. There’s about 40 pounds of spuds in dry storage out in my garage. But some vegetables just won’t die. My Brussels sprouts are still out there soaring towards the sky. My asparagus has died back but will crank on again next spring, and my artichokes have survived another year and are ready to be divided in preparation for my 2012 garden.
I’ve become a serious gardener and the end of one season is when I think about what I’ll plant next year. I had a few surprises in 2011. My potatoes did better than expected, I sent 14 voles to their doom and along the way, I remembered how much I like the taste of home grown celery, sweet carrots and most of all a vegetable my 93-year old mother refers to as “social food”—the humble artichoke.
The one crop I was surprised by this year were Italian heirloom tomatoes—specifically San Marzanos. I grew 24 San Marzano vines this year—and remembered how much I really enjoy the taste of fresh kitchen-processed tomato squeezed out of this small pear-shaped tomto. Flat out, I’ve never eaten a tomato that’s as tasty as a San Marzano.
I’m not going to plant anything but heirloom tomatoes next year. There are a couple of strains that thrive on my hilltop garden and I plan on putting in one row of Boxcar and one mixed row of French Beefsteak and Lebanese heirlooms ( both of which produce giant fruits weighing up to two pounds.) If I have room, I will violate my heirloom-only rule with a pair of cherry tomatoes for my salads.
I have two immense garden plots at my house but only the upper plot seems to be suited for Utah Tall celery. When I first began growing celery two years ago, I thought they would be ready in three to four months, but I was wrong. Celery takes up to six months and requires close attention. But although it’s a simple crunchy version of water, home grown celery is sweet and has little in common with the commercial version soldat your local supermarket.
My lower garden is where I grow strawberries—which I will begin setting right before Christmas.
I’ve grown strawberries forever. My favorite is a hybrid Sequoia strain that produces two to three ounce fruit that is incredibly juicy and flavorful. Right now my strawberry vines are in flats and as soon as I till and condition my lower garden, they’ll go into the ground, under straw—which protects them from frost damage.
Now that the gardening season has past, I check the Ph. levels in my gardens, tune up my tiller and dig 22 inch deep holes in my garden in preparation for my first pass with my tiller. But before I begin tilling I throw about two cubic yards of homemade compost on the surface and hit the gardens with a light top coat of calcium or bone meal. Tilling is something I really enjoy. I start by dropping my tiller into one of the holes an letting it chew its way through the garden. I load my portable music player with about two gigabytes of music and rejoice in flying dirt.
I use only organic supplements and in nine years of gardening, I’v e learned how to get the most out of my soil and garden without dumping gallons of harsh chemicals into the ground or on young leaves. And, I try to use natural pesticides. Such as lady bugs, Pray Manti, flowers and home grown tobacco (which I’ve found to be an incredible barrier against white flies).
The remaining plants out in my garden may have died back for the winter, but I’m ready to start again. When I do my soil will be rich with trace minerals, as well as organic nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium—everything a young vegetable plant needs to flourish.
The only other problem I have in my garden is a constant war against the common Meadow Mouse (aka voles), burrowing demons that taunt me every year. My solution for voles is straight forward; aimed rifle fire. I have a wonderful scoped Beeman pellet rifle and a lot of patience.
SO many voles, and so few months until I begin planting my 2012 garden. I do have two tins of new pellets and my rifle is sited in and ready.—Jim Forbes on 11/26/2011.
My garden is besieged by burrowing rodents and I’m ready to armor up, and break out my trusty single-shot .22. Under cover of nightfall voles wiped out four maturing broccoli plants and three two foot tall caged flowering Roma tomatoes.
I’m willing to let bygones be bygones when it comes to broccoli, but this is the beginning of the 2011 Tomato war. That’s why this morning I’m off to the local gun shop in San Marcos to buy 100 rounds of .22 hollow point CB short ammunition.
Voles are incredibly destructive. They’re sneaky diurnal bastards too. The California Vole gets very big-- up to nine inches long and is also known as a “meadow mouse.” They feed above and below ground. Vole damage is easy to detect. If you’re prize vegetables are taken down at ground level, the perpetrator is most likely a vole, not the most frequently blamed gopher.
Voles are shallow burrowers. If your out inspecting the remains of a gnawed down garden and your heel sinks into the ground, think voles, not gophers. Furthermore, voles build their runs right under the surface, where they can inspect the root balls of your vegetables as they go zipping about their dastardly business.
I have a mental image of a drooling vole scampering along its run, pausing to inspect the base of my broccoli plant in the bright light of his little vole’s camping LED light.
In my ever-escalating war on voles, I’ve tired Type I poisons, dry ice and urinating on the entrances to their burrows. But the most effective method I’ve found for eliminating the bastards is through old fashioned marksmanship. And the adage “two in the head and you know they’re dead!” is absolutely true when it comes to the fearsome meadow mouse.
Now all I have to do is find the queen-alien sized vole nested deep somewhere here at Rancho Bizarro. And, when I find that Mother, I’ll unlimber my .45/70 and turn her into a stuffed trophy. For true! -- Jim Forbes on 04/03/2011.
My ”“it’s time to begin working in the garden” alarm clock are rows of fruit trees down below my house. When they begin to bud, I haul out my tiller, garden tools and soil testing kits and start thinking about what I”ll plant in the coming six months. This year the alarm went off two weeks ago.but I decided to wait until the snooze sounded- when my row of mixed Mongolian and Moorpark apricots erupted in flowers one week after my avalon peaches. i enjoy my time gardening. But sometimes I think there’s a conspiracy tp give me false hope. Like this year when my normally temperamental Mantis two stroke tiller screamed to life on the first pull. and then settled into a fast idle as I set it in the dirt. Dirt flying, my little mantis churned through my first 4-foot square plot. then it fouled on a three-month-old rock that was growing 18 inches under the soil. I cleared the rock from the tines and surprising me no end, my Mantis roared back to life. but just as I finished the next four foot square, a furry vole popped up from the edge of the plot. Too bad. Voles don’ slow the mantis down very much and clean up with a high pressure nozzle is easy. And their little furry remains provide good sources of organic nitrogen and calcium, both of which are important for the 20-plus tomato vies I’m planting over the next two weeks. I am absolutely convinced there’s a vole the size of the creature in the movie “Alien” bunkered down under my driveway producing hundreds of voles that every year infest my garden and orchard. In years past I've tried to eliminate marauding voles using dry ice, blood thinning baits, and by getting my chihuahua to pee on their mounds.ultimately, the most effective method is my scoped Beeman pellet rifle. a competition steel pellet zipping along at 800 feet per second will catch your basic tough little vole by surprise and end his days destroying your tasty vegetables. Like most southern California gardeners I’m plagued by soil that’s slightly alkaloid. This year I treated my garden with 70 pounds of an organic compound similar to Dolomite and have my soil chemistry back towards neutral Ph 7 readings the on area of my garden that I’ve moved more towards the acid side of the PH scale are: a 10-foot by 40 foot strip that’s dedicated to growing my yearly Sequoia and Ozark strawberries; and, six mounds in the garden where I grow my two yearly crops of Yukon Gold and Russet potatoes. By the first of June I’ll have my initial crops of strawberries. tomatoes spuds and zucchini. And as those crops come in, I refresh my soil and replant my gardens. For the last three years I’ve also grown Havana and Virginia broad leaf tobacco. It makes a fine insect barrier, stopping white fly and aphids. I've been surprised at how easy it is to grow tobacco and I've reached the point where I now use my own seed stock. I spend about two hours a day in my two gardens and have come to appreciate the activity as part of my stroke rehabilitation, because it forces me to use my impaired left hand and work on my balance. But most of all, I like the produce from my garden. I’m surprised at how much I enjoy gardening.The local burrowing rodents, however, probably don’t appreciate that I'm a pretty capable marksman, but then if they stayed out of my garden and orchard. they'd only have to worry about the local weasels, coyotes and raptors.-Jim Forbes on 02/15/2011.