Saturday, January 29, 2011

More Pruning

Since I had the pruning shears out I thought it might be a good time to tackle the hedge in the front yard. It's evergreen but it seems that winter is still its slowest time. In the spring it puts out a lot of growth then blooms in the summer and develops seeds in the fall.

Although I haven't identified this plant yet I love it for holding up the hill. It is growing vigorously and the trunks seem rock solid. Right after these plants the hill drops off at almost 90 degrees. I guess it's more of a cliff than a hill.

I didn't want to tax the plants but they have grown so much in the past couple years that they are tall and leggy. They are shading everything beneath them and don't screen my yard from the street as well as they used to. I'm hoping that with some aggressive pruning they will growing in fuller and a little lower.

My photos are horrible so it's hard to tell what's what. That's part of the problem for me. The hedge is consuming the magnolia sapling and hiding all of the the other plants growing here.

After the pruning you can see that there's actually a palm tree growing on the cliff as well. I think this is a volunteer from the large tree on the empty lot next door. I haven't seen much of it until now.

You can also see some of the aeoniums that I planted a couple years ago. Since they've been in the dirt that have probably quadrupled in size. They are surging over the little curb and trying to occupy as much space as possible. I'll probably have to do something about them next year, but for now I like how lush they look. In the Summer one of them turns much redder and the whole bed gets a lot more texture. There are also some aloes in there but I may have to move them. They don't seem as competitive as some of the other plants.

It looks a little sparse right now but hopefully it will leaf out soon. I think I might have to coax it along over the Summer with more pruning. Last year it grew long spindly branches with only a few leaves. I would like to encourage it to become more dense and not grow so tall.

I also decided to cut the bloom stalk off of one of the foxtail agaves. I was waiting for it to grow some bulbils, little plantlets that I could propogate, but it never happened. I got sick of looking at the ratty brown thing.

The stump already has some little sprouts coming out, so hopefully it will soon be covered in new little plants. And now I don't have to duck under it to move around the yard.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tree Pruning

I went to a tree pruning workshop given by Lora Hall at the Highland Park Community Garden, Millagro Allegro. It was perfect timing because the little fruit trees that I planted above the house needed some attention. These are the trees that I planted as bare-roots a couple years ago. You aren't supposed to let them fruit until the third year so they can grow strong roots. You can see them last spring here. I'm hoping that with a little pruning they will be in good shape to have their first good season. I'll keep my fingers crossed.



Lora told us to thin out the interior and to remove any branches that were crossed or growing in the same plane. She also told us that heading off a branch would encourage it to branch and grow stronger so that it could support more fruit. We're also supposed to keep an eye on how tall the tree gets. No towering orchards for the back yard. I'm going to try to keep these small enough so that I can reach the fruit by hand.



This one is the nectarine (?) that had all the flowers last year.

It was hard to cut off so much, but I'll have faith that it's for the good of the tree. I keep having to relearn my lesson to be patient. I'll wait to see how many blooms they get. I'm only supposed to leave a couple per branch so the fruit will get bigger.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Potato Towers/Chicken Spa

Despite what it looks like, this isn't a pile of dead chickens.

Chickens love to take dustbaths and they love to do it communally. Out of the whole dusty yard they choose to do it in the tires I use for growing potatoes. The idea is that you start with one tire and as the plant grows you stack another tire on top and fill it with dirt. This encourages the plant to grow a longer stem or something and produce more potatoes. I've put off planting the seed potatoes because the chickens have been spending so much time in their little tire spa.

I figure that since they all like to bathe together, roman style, they can make do with one tire.

I've had a plate of sprouted potatoes sitting on the dining room table for weeks now so I threw them into the two back tires.

Then I filled them up to the rim with dirt and compost and stacked the next tire one top.

I think this will keep the chickens out.

This I'm not so sure, but I didn't have anymore hardware cloth, so the tomato cage will have to do.

They seem happy with the arrangement:

Vegetabable Bed 1

So I cleared out the last of the Summer vegetable bed. All that was left was a scraggly tomato that was late to ripen and an unexpected bonus.

a giant mushroom.

It looked a little like a portobello but I was scared to eat it.

It would have made a pretty decent meal

Vegetable Bed 2

After getting rid of all the giant fungus I was ready to put in the winter bed. As usual I was running late and chose to put in started plants rather than growing from seeds. One day I'll get my act together and plan all of this better.

I put in some cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and chard. They always look so small when they go in.

This shot was taken about mid morning and already the bed was in shade. In the winter the sun is so low in the sky that it gets blocked by this beast:

The bougainvillea is pretty but it's so aggressive and thorny. It also has aspirations to take over the whole yard. I haven't cut it all the way back yet because it offers nice screening from my next door neighbor, but it needs a lot more maintenance before I feel like I'm the boss of it and not the other way around.

I decided that now was as good a time as any to try to tame it. I feel like I cut a bunch off but there is still a long way to go.



I feel like there's almost no difference. I think I need a taller ladder.

By the time I was done the bed was completely in shade. I'm hoping my trimming will give it a couple more hours of sunlight a day.

I managed to get it all in the green bin. Normally I would try to chop it up and compost it but it's just too thorny and woody and I wanted to be rid of it. I'll let the city run it through one of their big shredders.

Good riddance.

Vegetable Bed 3

The Winter bed has filled in nicely and is being admired by this pullet. There is bird netting that goes flat across the sides to keep her kind out but now that the plants are bigger the pullet can reach through and nip off the new growth that is pushing against the net.

That doesn't bother me that much but sometimes she jumps on the net like a trampoline and breaks the stems of the lettuce.

It also seems like it's time to make more room. The broccoli is pushing for more space and the butter lettuce is bolting right through the net.

Here you can see the garlic where the chickens have taken a little off the top.

I decided to expand the netted area with pvc tubing.

I used 1" diameter tubes as sleeves and attached them to the sides of the bed.

The rails are made from two 5' pieces of 1/2" joined by a corner piece.

They slide into the sleeves easily but the tension keeps them tight and upright. I was impressed with how rigid they were.

I wasn't expecting it to looks so much like a covered wagon. I kinda love it.

I had more netting that was thrown over the top and secure with screws at the bottom.

Hopefully everything has enough room for a while.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I finally started cutting some steps into the hill. During the dry season it's pretty easy to hike up the hill but once it gets wet the mud gets really slippery and it's kind of like a treacherous game of chutes and ladders, but with all chutes.

At the suggestion of a friend I used 4x6s with rebar pounded through them into the ground. I still have grand visions of rickety wood staircases winding up the hill like the Mine Ride at Cedar Point, but that would take me forever and I wanted something that would be up quickly. As usual I thought I could get it done in about a 1/3 of the time it actually took.

I was lulled by the first few steps that I put in. It seemed like it was taking me about a half hour a step and the janky calculations I did led me to believe that I would need about 16 steps. That sounded like a weekend's worth of easy work.

I ran into trouble as I moved up the hill. I thought I had figured out what the slope of the steps needed to be but the tread of my first few steps was apparently too long. The steps were at a shallower slope than the hill so I was digging further and further into the hill with each step. And moving a lot of earth to do it. I decided to make the treads gradually shorter so the steps would be more in line with the level of the hill. I still had to do a lot of digging though as you can see from the dirt piled up on each side of the stair way.

My next challenge was this:

A giant piece of sandstone right where my next step was supposed to go. I tried to sledge hammer it out but it just broke off little chips and it was tiring me out. That big hammer is heavy. Luckily I found this beaut in the crawl space under my house:

The rusty pick was totally in keeping with my visions of the Mine Ride, and it dig a great job of breaking up the rock.

I was feeling pretty awesome about my accomplishments up to this point until I uncovered this:

That's the concrete foundation to an old rotted out fence post, and my new friend the pick was totally useless against it. The only thing I could do was bash it with the sledge hammer until it cracked into small enough pieces that I could pry them out.

Inside the concrete where the post would have been I found this old Pepsi bottle. I can't remember the last time I saw Pepsi in a bottle and the logo looked pretty old. I managed to not smash it so maybe I'll keep it for something. Maybe it can be a twee little retro bud vase for all the flowers people give me. :)

Maybe I should have called it quits for the day after that one. My 1/2 hour per step average was totally shot and I was hot, tired and aggravated. I pressed on and almost instantly regretted it. As I was pounding the rebar into the next step I made a bad blow with the hammer and bent the post. There was more sand stone under the step that I was trying to drive the post into. It took a lot of force and obviously better aim than I could muster so late in the day. I belatedly decided to take the rest of the day off.

It ended up taking 20 steps and two weekends to get the thing done. Part of the second weekend was spent redoing the last few steps that were all crooked and ugly from me being too tired to care at the time.

It's been a couple of months since then and the hill is doing it's best to reclaim the stairs. Between the oxalis and grass shooting up after the rains and the gophers sending torrents of loose dirt out of their burrows you almost can't see the stairs anymore.

I went back in and dug out some of the gopher land slides but the stairs still look like they've been there a long time already.

The good news is that they work. Even when it rains I can get up this part of the hill without worrying about sliding back down. Now I only have two more sections of hill to cover and I'll be able to get from my house to the chicken coop like a person instead of a goat.