The Apricots Have Landed

Homegrown organic apricots and organic blueberries for breakfast this morning.  Our apricot tree doesn’t always produce due to the vagaries of weather here at 3100 feet on the cusp of the Mojave Desert, but when it does, it’s heaven!

The apricot tree was small and struggling, with a lot of bark damage when we moved in almost 16 years ago, but now it’s a lovely shade tree and this year I figured out how to stay ahead of the squirrels and we have a nice harvest.

I went out just about every day for the past couple of weeks and pulled off the fruit that would come loose in my hand pretty easily and finished ripening in boxes in the house. On Sunday I saw that the squirrels had had a bit of a party in the yard, so I got out the step ladder and picked everything I could reach. I dropped the fruit that was bird-damaged onto the lawn and let the squirrels and rabbits take them. They did!

Hope you have a good gardening season!


Springing Forward


I may have gotten a little excited about the spring weather. Some years we go almost directly from winter to summer. This year has been lovely.

We made a special trip to Sego Nursery in North Hollywood yesterday for 5 tomato plants (3 Juliet grape, 1 Cherokee Purple, 1 yellow Kellogg’s Breakfast), a Gypsy pepper, 2 Thai basil, Italian oregano, English thyme, a succulent,  and the pink geraniums. Picked up 3 purple potato vines, star jasmine, and another odd little succulent on our way home from music this afternoon.

With all the light in the evenings I should be able to plant after work this week.

Before After Before

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I’ve been worried about this slope off and on since we moved here almost 15 years ago. Right before we bought it, it was completely stripped of all plant life.

I battled a lot of weeds, and we tried planting different types of plants here over the years. Between the steep angle–which was very hard to keep my footing on–and the wide temperature variance (as low as 10 degrees in winter and as high as 120 in summer), I’ve had a hard time keeping things alive here. The survivors look pretty random and have grown at vastly differing rates.

Hydra put in the bottom wall during two long hot weeks back in 2002.  It has held up very well!

The combination of a killing summer during which we could only irrigate twice a week rather than twice a day, and the predictions of big El Nino rains this fall spurred us to have this terracing put in last week.

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We planted some beautiful pampas grasses along the top of the slope a few years back, and they looked great, but had a very bad effect.  All the other plants around them died off because they blocked the water. When we had them taken out, they left the top of the slope beneath our neighbor’s gray block wall susceptible to erosion.

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What I aim for is a landscape that looks intentional but not manicured.  (One of the six pampas grasses is still there, kind of holding that end of the the slope together.  I plan to rework the natural rocks we have at this end, which is toward the street.  There will probably be more rocks and a few plants in this area.

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Looking toward the street.  You can see how our Aleppo pine has suffered through the drought. We are wavering between having it topped or entirely removed.  Sigh.

I was all excited, taking these After pictures.  Then I sat down to play with them and I thought, “Oh.  These are Before pictures again.”

I am going to learn a lot about California native drought tolerant plants in the coming weeks and months.  This may just be planted with mostly wildflower seeds this fall to buy some time!

Hoping this stands up to El Nino!  Wish us luck!

Do Not Argue with Me About Chicken Wire


My gardening this year is both early and late.

My friend Barb gave me six onion starts in March I think.  Really early for Acton, where our frost date is April 15.  They do not have a frost date in Camarillo, where Barb lives.

I put them in the ground and the rabbits ate all the ones that weren’t behind the fence, and then some of them didn’t survive in spite of the protection.

Here’s the one yummy onion that I grew.  My first onion!

And how tough am I, huh?  Flaunting said vegetable almost in the face of the wild onion-eating bunny!  (See her, she’s so jealous right now.)

I braised the onion with some cabbage and carrots from my farm bundle.  So flipping tasty.

And guess what?  Leftovers.

People who don’t like leftovers are beyond me.  Some things are actually better on the second day.  Plus they are right there waiting for you when you want them.  What’s better than that?  Not much, I tell you.


I also planted sugar snap peas from seeds very early this year.  I prepped the garden space really well and the Earthboxes, too.

Then The Harmonistas got some gigs, and we were practicing or performing, and I organized Songmakers camp outs in April and May, and it was either too hot or too cold, or that one day it rained…

So here’s the late part. I just put my three Persian cucumber and two Paul Robeson tomatoes in today, June 4th.  Looked for Juliette grape tomatoes several times to no avail, which also put me behind.  Those  can take the heat in my back yard.

It feels weird not to have a better garden at this point, but whatever we get from this will be good.

Oh, I also found a garden center in Santa Clarita on Sunday that I will never go back to, where the staff made me feel like if I asked for something they didn’t have I was stupid for wanting it. They probably thought I didn’t know that it is very late to plant and that seeing as it was 100 degrees out it was not advisable to breathe deeply let alone tuck plants into the soil.

All irking enough, but then the guy told me that the fencing in this photograph is not chicken wire.  He said chicken wire is not hexagonal, it’s square.  I said, nicely, “I think you’re thinking of rabbit wire.”  “No, you’re mistaken,” he insisted, and described them backwards with quite a bit of ego in his voice.   (Go ahead, do a Google Images search if you must, I’ll wait.)


But I was this. close.

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Chablis stands guard.

View of  the back yard my brother, Bauer, and sister-in-law, Tejas, have created, from inside the chicken coop.  Bauer built this covered chicken haven and incorporated the living trees into the structure; they grow through the wire roof and provide shade.  On the left is the greenhouse he built. Center is a view of the deck he built onto the original house.  On the right, the gorgeous peaked two-car plus garage he designed and built, which also has a deck along this side.

Looking the other direction in the chicken haven.  There’s a coop and storage on the left.  And apparently competition is hot for roosting space on the four perches attached to the tree trunks!

The chickens make this sweet singing purring sound when Tejas comes in with the organic feed.  This one  is, perhaps, the Nicole Kidman of chickens.

Tejas pauses with the morning’s egg harvest.  Soon to be breakfast on the deck!

I love this.  It hangs on the wall behind the table where we had breakfast on the deck.  These are old keys to Tejas’ former home in the hills of the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.  She found them under the house and carried them with her.  I may steal this idea in some way, shape or form.

Bauer watering the Pride of Barbosa and other plants.  Feel the love.

On one of the greenhouse shelves.  Fine examples of wabi-sabi all around this homestead.  I became aware of this term while poring through the back copies of Mother Earth News I found in the guest room.  Wikipedia describes it thus: Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

Raised bed gardening supported by the many rain barrels around the property.  Asparagus, Swiss chard, tomatoes, etc.  Grape arbor in the background, which Hydra took lots of video of since we might use this idea on the back of our house.  Beyond that, fruit trees.

Another view of the stunning garage, draped with rigging and Japanese glass buoys.

Maple tree incorporated into the decking between the house and garage.  Live and let live!

Hydra on the front porch after breakfast.

The entry as seen from next to Hydra on the front porch.  Great place to pass the time.

We stayed until around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when we took off for San Antonio to check into the hotel.  Wonderfully refreshing break after the long two-day drive.

We’ll be back here for two days at the end of our week in downtown San Antonio.  Already looking forward to it.

I’m a Pepper!

Yes, I have 6,000 things to do today, but when I found two ripe orange bell peppers in my garden I had to share!  I have tried to grow bell peppers several times without success.  This time I put them in my Earthbox planter and they worked!

There’s a third pepper on this bush and two little ones starting on the red bell bush.  The shishedos have been going great guns for quite a while and taste a lot like a green bell pepper.


Chardonnay Gardening

I suppose if I were truly living off of the land, I would roast this root and weave these leaves into something useful.  As it is, I think of them as invasive evil weeds and throw them away.

I have repurposed a Chardonnay bottle as a water carafe for the past few months. I sometimes take it outside with me on a day like today when the temperature rose from 85 to 95 degrees during the hour I weeded and worked in the garden.  I suppose the neighbors think I’m having way more fun than I actually am when they see me chugging directly from the bottle.

When I was in Indiana I saw that my sister-in-law GardenMaster is training her cucumbers to vine up onto supports.  Hers are sturdier and nicer than mine, but I hope to find some deals on them at the end of the season.  Meanwhile I’m using old tomato cages and a trellis that used to support a scented geranium that recently came to an end.  I have room for more growth in my little patch this way!

First stage of the cucumber harvest.  I swear I picked this many two days ago.  Hence my attempt to eat cucumbers at least twice a day.  A cucumber and almond butter sandwich is actually pretty good.

There are two Sugar Baby watermelons on this vine.  When I’ve gotten one this size in the past it has been chomped by some critter. This time it’s behind chicken wire and I’m going to also cover it with netting.

I’m so glad I heard this story on NPR’s Morning Edition about heirloom tomatoes’ flavor being due in part to the same genes that make them a little green around the top even when they’re ripe. Apparently, selecting for even color has also meant breeding out flavor.  If I hadn’t heard it, I might not have known that these yummy Paul Robeson tomatoes were ready to pick.  They’re a little acidy, but delicious!

A nice haul of the Paul Robesons and Juliet grape tomatoes, along with tender Japanese shishedo peppers.   I probably should get a little basket for these harvests.  As it is I just use the front of my shirt.

Beautiful fennel blossom.  Apparently this stuff grows wild in Los Angeles County, but I bought my start from Sego Nursery.  She said I’d know when the bulbs are ready to harvest as they’ll start to emerge from the soil.

Yummy Thompson grapes still warm from the sun.  Plenty more where those came from, on the bush behind the bunch.  Dodger loves that we leave these on a bowl on the kitchen counter. He gets to forage for food without getting his tooties dirty.

Oh, and kudos to my peeps in the Midwest.  The temperature rose from 85 to 95 during the hour I was outside (between 9:30-10:30 am) and the humidity was high for here, but probably dry for Indiana at 23%.   I was dripping by the time I cam inside with my bounty.

Mini Harvest Time

I was so surprised to find the three full sized Persian cucumbers in the garden!  I’d just looked recently and didn’t see them under all the leaves. 

The garden loved our little bout of humid weather and subsequent cool down and everything grew grew grew.

I have tried bell peppers for three years now, and this is the first time they’ve shown any promise.  Last year I didn’t get one this size till the end of the year.  Nothing full sized.  The Earthboxes make all the difference in our typical heat.

The Paul Robeson tomatoes are looking promising!  So richly green.  My mouth’s watering and they’re not even ripe yet!

Square One and a Half


I had to go back to October 2011 to find a photo of the pampas grass it its full glory.  When we planted it, it felt like we’d finally found a solution to growing things on this approximately 18 x 70 foot slope.  It’s gorgeous, but it blocked the irrigation from watering the bottom of the incline, was beginning to reproduce, and would make wonderful wildfire fuel.


Okay, so this is a Before Shot taken this morning looking up at the slope between our house and our neighbor’s garage, before we had some nice gardeners clean up for us.  They took out the 4 remaining pampas grass stumps–Hydra had them cut back severely and had removed two entirely–and did a general cleanup.  We were going to just have them remove the stumps, but they didn’t want a whole lot more to do the whole slope.


This is the after photo.  It doesn’t do justice to the amount of work they did because some of the overgrowth was hidden behind other stuff.  Also, there were a lot of dead leaves under the pyracantha tree at the top there.  They filled their truck bed and our 90-gallon trash barrel with clippings from the whole slope.

Again, last October.  Pretty, but also overwhelming.  The long leaves will slice your skin and the beautiful fronds will make you sneeze. Hydra did soooo much work on this between then and calling in the pros to work on the last of the root systems.  Whew!


I feel sad that we had to take out the pampas grass and that we went so nearly back to square one, but we do have some shrubs and herbs to rebuild with.   We’re thinking we’ll put in a fig tree, and some small trees that will allow ground cover to grow.   This slope was entirely bare when we moved in and that bottom wall wasn’t there–Hyrda built in around 2007, I think.

Here we go again!

I Would Like to Apologize to These Plants

I waited and waited to plant this year.  It was too cold for a long time.  Then there was a sunny Saturday and it went up to 95 degrees. Then it got cold again, down into the 40s at night.  Finally this week I had some time and it was only expected to get into the 50s at night, so I jumped at the chance.

Well, I planted the sugar snap peas at the far right of this shot a few days earlier because they’re supposed to like the cool.  Then yesterday I planted two Persian cucumbers, a Sugar Baby watermelon, a crook-neck yellow squash (back row)  and a straight-neck yellow squash (front row.)

AND the temps rose into the mid-nineties again today.  The cukes look pretty unhappy, but the squash is looking all right.

You will note the absence of zucchini.  Three years of massive zucchini crops and I just don’t have an appetite for them any more.  I thought it couldn’t happen to me.

This garden plot has been well prepped– compost dug in a foot or more deep, new chicken wire fence, and Sluggo (not toxic to critters other than snails or slugs!)  to ward off the obnoxious snails.  I put the squash plant out in a planter over night to harden it off and the snails ate right through the stalks of 2 of the 3 plants in the four inch pot!  The last one, they ate half way through the stalk, but it seems to have responded well to my planting the chomped part beneath the soil.

Well, these guys on the front porch, in my new Earthbox, which rests inside the cool planter box Hydra made for me are doing all right.  The back of the planter sits on the foundation of the house so it takes up less room on the front walk!   Planted here: back row : basil, dill, parsley; front row: cilantro, Thai basil, and a red bell pepper.

This red bell pepper is the ONLY survivor from all those lovely seeds I sprouted or tried to sprout this spring.  I guess I just don’t get sprouting.  The larger plants, like the muskmelon and acorn squash broke when I tried to transplant them.  The other little ones just shriveled up.

New spearmint plant seems happy on the front porch, where it gets afternoon sun.

There’s lemon thyme in the chicken planter by the front door.  I’m not sure how I’ll use it–any suggestions?–but I find all types of thyme attractive, and they like our hot dry climate so much that some are like shrubs now.

The rest of the Earthbox garden!  Left to right : 1) two Juliet grape tomatoes, 2) yellow bell pepper, Shishedo pepper (Japanese), orange bell pepper, 3) Juliet grape tomato and Paul Robeson tomato.  Juliets have produced wonderfully for us in the past.  Maybe will three I will actually be able to share some.  I am so stingy with my home grown tomatoes…unless you come to dinner and then they are all yours!  I’ve heard good things about the Paul Robeson but didn’t think I’d have the chance to grow one myself.  Thanks to Sego Nursery, I will!  (Also found the coveted Shishedo pepper there… will I be able to grill them like they do at Yamato??)

And I apologize to the two tiny bell peppers I put in yesterday, that were burnt to a crisp yesterday.  I replaced them with the yellow and the orange today.  I haven’t had any luck with peppers in the general garden, so I’m hoping these will do well in the box.  I could put 2-3 more small plants in there.  More bell peppers?  I”m not used to having extra space.

Hydra worked and worked on prepping this space, which was where the evil ground squirrels had dug so much dirt out from under the deck that it was bowing out the fence behind it.  Thanks, Hydra.  I will always share my tomatoes with you first!


The whiskey barrel is a culinary mash-up.  At the back is an extra sugar snap pea from a six-pack of them.  Then the surprise resurrected rhubarb in the middle, the big thing is French thyme from last year, and there are also small Thai basils in here, from a six-pack.  I love this stuff.

The first rhubarb leaves were eaten down to the veins by the snails until they met Sluggo.  I pinched those off once these new leaves got started.  The plant bolted, but I cut that off.  Does anyone know about rhubarb out there?  Will the remaining stalks be flavorful at all?

I dug some of the French thyme up and transplanted it to the rock/flower garden on the street side of the house.  I love it when I can transplant things from one place to another and it works!!

Last but not least, to the herbs I kicked out of the garden plot, which was a smaller herb-centric garden for many years, I owe a great debt of gratitude for your perseverance!   One of those clumps of chives has actually been moved several times.  More thyme, flowering in the foreground, then sage behind it, then yet another Thai basil (may as well see how it does in the different microclimates around the yard), and a fennel bulb.  I’ve been wanting to try fennel for a long time, too, and finally got around to it.  Partly because I finally started cooking with it this year.

Did I mention that the nice woman at Sego told me to plant the fennel and the dill far from each other, or I’d end up with them tasting like each other?  They do more than look alike, they’re actually related.   I have high hopes for this since  Cyclrey told me that she’s seen it growing wild in SoCal!

So, um, thanks for helping me inventory my garden.  Now when I need to figure out just what is succeeding and what is not having such a good life in the coming weeks, I’ll be able to come back here and be sure what I’m looking at.