Chilly, wet weekend

We had some much-needed rain this past Friday, and with it came a cold front. The heat in the house kicked on, and it's truly starting to feel like autumn. Leaves are just starting to change.

On my daily early morning stroll with Joe, it's still dark, the air is crisp and clear, and the neighborhood Great Horned Owl is back. This morning he was in the huge redwood tree on the far corner, but his calls followed me all around the block. Hoo hoo.... hoo..... hoooo.... Apparently this is just a territorial hoot, but I find it a bit melancholy. "I need..... a.... friend...." No? Too fanciful? Probably it's more like, "I'll take... you... down...." as these guys are pretty badass, eating prey even larger than they are. I'm hoping they're eating the moles and gophers digging in my garden. Too bad they can't eat deer.

Speaking of the garden, weekends are for getting stuff done, right? I bought some extra dirt to fill up the beds, which were looking low, and Tom added it and raked it. Then I planted my winter crops. Bulbs of garlic and shallots (a first for me) were fun to shove into the warm, good-smelling dirt. Tom enjoyed it, too.

They will grow all winter, and be ready to harvest in June.

I planted seeds of broccoli, kohlrabi, beets, braising greens, kale, chard, spinach, romaine (this one may not grow in the cold, we'll see), shelling peas, and snap peas. I planted organic varieties of each of these. I am committed, now, to growing only from organic seeds and starts. I will NOT be tempted again by the beautiful big mums displayed in the front of Trader Joe's. They are likely grown with neonicotinoids.  I will only buy plants of which I know the origin. My winter seeds came from Renee's Garden and High Mowing. I think in the summer I will likely buy some seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange. I've been reading their blog, and getting their catalog, and I like what they are doing. I don't necessarily need all heirloom varieties, though, so I imagine I'll get tomatoes and peppers again from the local Master Gardeners (they save their own seeds).

I painted 6 or 7 bricks for plant identification. You wouldn't believe how many neighbors and passers-by have commented on these - saying how glad they are to know what's growing. I think they look pretty, too.

We're still trying out different trellis ideas for vining crops. The bamboo trellis' are easy, and cheap, but they are a bit rickety, and our bean trellis totally collapsed this past summer. I noticed a type of trellis on the Seed Savers website that I wanted to try it with the peas this winter. I showed the picture to Tom, we talked measurements, he went off to the hardware store, and by the end of the day I had my two trellis' (trelli?).

It's quite nice to have a husband who is not only able to do these projects, but willing; and even more than that, enthusiastic. He doesn't sigh and mope, he just gets to it with a hearty spirit. I sure appreciate that about him.

Anyway, they are 3 feet across and 5 feet tall. The frame is made of redwood and that's chicken wire stapled to the frame. At the top are two hinges, so it can lie flat for storage in the garage. I am so pleased with this trellis, I might have Tom made them for everything - cucumbers, beans, they would even work for tomatoes. They are sturdy and definitely won't collapse!

Here are Tom's instructions for building this trellis:

Each trellis took four 2x2x8' pieces of redwood, two strap hinges, some long deck screws, and some chicken wire. I started by sawing each redwood piece into a 3' and a 5' section, then assembling a frame:

Repeat the process to make a second frame, then lay them end-to-end to attach the strap hinges. Pay attention to how the strap hinges work so that the trellis will fold correctly:

Roll out the chicken wire and use a heavy-duty stapler to staple it to each side of the frame:

That's it! Here's how the trellises look in our raised beds:

Aren't they fabulous?

Kate and I worked on separating the flower seeds I had saved last spring. We opened up the bags of poppies, tidy tips, clarkia, and milkweed seeds that were stored in the garage; some of the seed pods had opened and released their seeds down to the bottom of the bag, but some needed to be manually opened and released. This took quite a long time, but it netted thousands of tiny seeds for my flower garden.

This is probably 2 cups worth of seeds, and a little chaff. I added all of these to a wheelbarrow of compost, along with all the milkweed seeds I've collected from the hills. Stir it up, throw it on the garden in any empty spots, and Bob's your uncle. (I used this English idiom on the kids recently, and Kate's been using it all over the place, completely out of context. It's hilarious. Maybe next, I'll teach her, 'Et Voila!'  Though she would probably go around saying "Et VIOla!" Oh, dear.)

I also, happily, found some tansy-leaved phacelia seeds (native to the West) buried in the garage, so added those to the mix. This flower/herb is very important for both native and European bees!

Speaking of bees, we opened the hive, since it was a warm, sunny afternoon. The bees have four full bars of capped honey and uncapped nectar:

You can see the shiny nectar at the bottom. The bees fan the nectar to reduce the water content, then cap it. They can't cap it too early, or it will ferment. Isn't that amazing, that they know how to do this? I've read that a hive needs 30 pounds of honey for winter. I'm guessing mine'll have about 10. So sometime in December, when the weather is warm, we'll open up the hive and see how they are doing. Clearly they are still collecting nectar right now, and they have one comb started with new wax, which can hold whatever they collect in the next few weeks. In December I will determine if the bees need feeding with simple syrup, or if they have enough food.

Since we've had some rain, and are hoping for much, much more this winter, I made sure my downspout was connected to my rain barrel. One good rain fills this barrel up. I really need more, on every downspout. So much rain comes off the roof, I really need to be collecting it. It sure seems like serious drought is going to be a permanent part of California's future.

Oh well, a cistern is on the five-year plan. No more rain in the forecast this week, anyway - apparently we'll get some 80 degree days. And that's November in Northern CA for you!