Monday, May 21, 2012

Year Three Begins for the Redneck Garden

I finally got around to planting & realized this is the 3rd summer of Redneck Gardening. Same buckets, same small yard, but a few lessons learned along the way. 

I started with heavy soil, much like the native clay soil of the region. It seemed like a good concept; if I had a bigger yard & was planting in the ground, this would be the soil type, so why not in containers? It turns out that one of the cool things about container gardening is that you CAN use better soil. DOH! Most folks aren't going to remove a foot of soil over their whole garden, install drainage & then put in a foot of high-dollar soil, so they make due with what they have, amend as best they can and garden away. Folks with money might build raised beds & bring in an amended soil from the neighborhood garden center, but even that is a crap shoot. Rock yard garden centers typically use whatever dirt they can get for free or cheap & the cheapest amendment they can get their hands on. This means the dirt likely came from a construction site & you can guess what may or may not be in it. Organic matter may be a commercially produced greenwaste compost or something like stable shavings, mushroom compost (which is typically sterilized, meaning it has zero beneficial biology), uncomposted manure or tree waste, and the list of possibilities goes on & on. As nice as those folks are, don't let them convince you that this is really the "Premium Planter Mix" the sign over the bin claims.

In containers, it's a whole different game! For one, if you are buying soil, you need a LOT LESS, so spring for the good stuff. No, that does not include anything with the Miracle Grow label on it. Read the label, folks. Make sure you know what you are getting. Factoid: labeling is very strict in places like California & the manufacturer HAS to be sure to include everything that goes in the bag. Unfortunately, since many of the big brands are manufactured & marketed in many different areas, the ingredient list not only includes what IS in the bag, but anything that might ever be in the bag. Again, you never know for sure what is really in the bag, or in what proportions. My best advice if you go the bagged soil route; by a regional product, something made close to where you are, preferably organic. Mixes with coconut fiber (coir) will hold more water than those with peat & will rehydrate better. Try to buy a mix with sand in it if you can. Manufacturers don't like sand, because it adds weight & reduces the volume they can ship in a given truck. Consequently most retail bagged mixes contain no sand or soil at all. I'm also not a fan of perlite (expanded obsidian) or vermiculite (expanded pyrite). These are ultra lightweight fillers often used to reduce weight and improve drainage. They are not porous, so don't help with air & water movement in the soil, they are also environmentally challenging to produce. I prefer a mix with pumice or lava if you can find it.

I am more fortunate than most in this department. Dirt is my life. Well, livelihood actually. I don't have any formal education in soil science, but I do have 20 years of on the job training. Seems odd that it took me so long to start gardening. You would think it would've been a natural thing for me, but it just didn't click for me until more recently. Better late than never, I guess. I've enjoyed tinkering with the soil in my containers. They have great drainage, but don't dry out (I hand water twice each week), they are about 2/3 mineral (sand, soil, lava) & 1/3 organic matter (compost & worm castings). I don't add conventional fertilizers. Instead I add a little new compost and calcium sulfate (or gypsum) each year & everything seems to be doing great. I have also added a product called AXIS, which is calcined diatomaceous earth. AXIS has the perfect pore size for absorbing & releasing water when the plant needs it. The other benefit is that as moisture levels draw down & AXIS releases the water, it actually pulls air into the soil. This stuff is awesome! This combination seems to produce healthy plants with amazing root development.

Enough rambling about dirt, time for some pics!

The Front Porch
Poblano, Jalapeno & Habanero Peppers to Keep Things Lively.
Grafted Tomatoes are new to me this year. And apparently I don't cook with fennel often enough.
And now for the ornamentals:
The kniphofia on the left had four bloom spikes a couple weeks ago, now my other one is getting into the act.
Wifey loved these little happy faces.

Love the color these dianthus bring & they love this hot little planter by our entry.
Last one, another favorite from Annie's Annuals. This even survived being tented with the house!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Survival of the Fittest

Everyone knows that I never claimed to be a good gardener, just a gardener. Like many folks, my energy, available time & enthusiasm for gardening ebbs & flows. My yard, small as it is, suffers periods of neglect & inattention. This little Kniphofia from Annie's Annuals is a perfect example.

This seemingly indestructible plant never gets fed, goes without water for weeks, has never been split, gets chewed on by snails (Really!) and this is how it rewards me for all the neglect. Four bloom spikes! I know some plants flower or fruit better if you stress them out a bit & I guess that is the case here.

I'm sure none of you treat your plants like this, but for the other sporadic gardeners out there, just know that there are a few plants out there that will tolerate a good amount of neglect. I will get better. Sometime...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

So Many Possibilities...

It's pretty hard to beat the mild weather we've been having in the Bay Area lately. Mid 60 degree temps & lots of sun makes for pleasant days to work in the garden. If anything, it's too nice. trees are all blooming, plants are shooting up (especially the weeds) & the temptation is to start slamming those veggies in the ground, but we all know it's too early for that. Isn't it?

Last Sunday I managed some yard cleanup & cleaned out most of the containers that had remnants or weeds growing in them. I graduated from general cleanup to clearing dead/dying foliage from a few of the neglected plants. Then I saw the Cannas...

As you can see in the top-left, they haven't been dug up in awhile. The tubers were so overgrown that they were actually about 6" above the level of the surrounding concrete. I couldn't turn away, I just had to dig them up & split them. These are two 10" circular openings in the concrete & I dug up enough tubers to fill a 5-gallon bucket!

Back to the subject of possibilities; I have all these empty containers (buckets) & a planter strip that was decimated by the exterminators who tented the house last fall. I am resisting the temptation to start planting early, but it seems they are calling to me even as I write this.

I decided to put my energy to good use & knock out a couple projects that were nagging at me. If you've read my blog before, you've seen the bare trellis on my back fence. It just kind of stands there & blends into the background.

Well, none of the plants in this pic are still with us (except the roses), but the trellis is still hanging around. with nothing colorful to cover it, it definitely needed sprucing up. Now to figure out what all to hang on it.

And then I looked up & saw the trees... I haven't properly pruned my apricot tree or the IDKWTFII tree in several years. A couple hours & several scratches later, this is what I had...

The tools & spoils of my battle with the trees. Even with no leaves on the branches, the effect was big. Hopefully I did more good than harm. Would actually have liked to do more, but the IDKWTFII is stuck in the corner of the yard & actually hangs over my neighbors yards more than my own.

As I write this, the endless possibilities for all those empty spaces are rattling through my brain. Apparently I still have a few marbles for them to rattle around with. Besides my empty containers & planter strip, I also have a sort-of hell strip between my driveway & the neighbors. It's really part of their lot, but I take care of it out of self defense. It would be a great spot for a few artichokes I think. What do you think?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

San Francisco & Treasure Island 1-28-12

We've been home-bodies a lot lately and the cabin fever was getting to be a bit much. The upside of a lost wager & the unfortunate demise of the Forty-Niners in the recent NFC Championship game was that it gave us the excuse we needed to make a trip into The City to arrange payment of my debt. I was really looking forward to those Connecticut Bluepoint Oysters, but instead, my friend Scott Hokunson, of Blue Heron Landscapes will be feasting on fresh San Francisco Dungeness Crab for his Superbowl party. It was such a gorgeous January day, I thought I'd share a few pics with you all.

Yes, it really was this nice out. Even in January.
Coit Tower, one of San Francisco's Iconic Landmarks.
Amanda & Joni walking on the pier by the Ferry Building.
Not your typical street musician. This guy is playing an Erhu, a one-string Chinese violin.
Inside the Ferry Building Market. There is also a large outdoor Farmer's Market going on & the place was packed!
Interesting twist on a Living Wall. This was inside "The Plant", the organic cafe where we had lunch.
Next stop was the Treasure Island Flea. This is a great new market with a fun mix of vendors, food & beverages.

Vendors outside as well as inside the historic "Building One", built in the late 1930s for the 1939-1940 World's Fair.
Just a small piece of the huge panoramic mural inside Building One.
The Treasure Island Flea was a very pleasant surprise. I'd heard about it just recently & figured this would be a good time to check it out. This just happened to be their first time setting up inside Building One, the last of the original structures built for the 1939-1940 World's Fair. Lots of vendors selling vintage clothing & jewelry, art, collectibles of all sorts, antiques, etc... They also had a great bunch of food trucks providing lots of food & beverage options. Treasure Island has also become a bit of a haven for the Urban Winery movement, with at least three wineries and another tasting room that I saw. If you are anywhere near San Francisco on a weekend, I highly recommend you make some time for a visit to Treasure Island.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Frazier Lake Airpark, Jan. 7, 2012

My good friend Monty Groves, who I originally met through our local Sportster motorcycle group, has been after me for the past couple years to come to the monthly Open House @ Frazier Lake Airpark, just North of Hollister. Well, I finally made it! we've been having incredibly nice weather lately, so this was a great chance to get some two-wheeled therapy & airplane therapy all in one shot.

This is me, blocking your view of Monty's beautiful 1955 Cessna 180.

Frazier Lake is an interesting place. It's a public use, private airport, with one grass runway & one water runway. The hangars are stuffed with all sorts of vintage flyers, kit planes & a few "spam cans". I really blew it by not taking more pics of the aircraft in their hangars, as there are many great classic birds to see. I guess I'll just have to go back next month ;-)

Instead, I focused on visitor aircraft, a few locals that had been pushed out to the grass & the flying that was going on.

Not many training wheels to be found around here, mostly classic stick & rudder tail-draggers in the crowd. Closest is a great example of the Stinson 108.

Here's a good example of the mix of classic & kit-built airplanes that frequent or live at Frazier Lake.

This fully polished C-170A was gorgeous. Sure looks like a lot of work went into that shine.

In the kit-built group, this Sportsman was outstanding! The wing is polished, top & bottom and all the rivets are flush. This is one very slick little airplane & a lot of care & craftsmanship went into making it this nice.

The pilot of this Stinson demonstrates a perfect crosswind landing. There was a very stiff breeze blowing directly across the runway all day, making for some challenging landings, but the folks around here are pretty used to it.

One of the more unusual visitors was this very clean Bell Model 47. I had to look around for Klinger & Hawkeye.

Time for a few more of the action shots...

And a couple slightly less polluted picks of Monty's 180.

And for my horticulture friends; we did discuss potential maintenance practices for the grass runway. I know, I'm not usually a big fan of big expansive lawns, but this is different. This isn't somebody's wanna-be golf course front yard, this is a haven for grass-roots flying. Vintage aircraft, flying off of grass runways can really take you back in time. This is the kind of flying my folks were doing in the 40s & 50s.

For my flying friends; if you haven't made this trip yet you should. And for my fellow aviation junkie friends; Frazier Lake holds an Open House the 1st Saturday of every month. Come hang out & drool on airplanes with me sometime.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Where did 2011 Go?

Reading all the "Year in Review" posts has been quite inspirational. I looked back at all two posts I wrote in 2011and figure it is just one more symptom of the ailments that I dealt with all year. Yes, I did start the year with a nasty round of sciatica and Damn, did that hurt, but that was just the beginning. I managed to shut myself off from a lot of people this year under the guise of being "busy". No need to go down that whole road, that part of the year is why I'm excited to move on into 2012. So, since I didn't post much in 2011 this is more of a condensed version of all the posts I should've done and a chance for me to reflect on the year & what changes I need to make for 2012.

There were plenty of interesting times in 2011. Mostly good, some not so much.

We started the year by taking in a very cool Bowl Game @ AT&T Park to watch Nevada whoop on Boston College. Was a great time with family & friends & thanks to my friends who work @ the park, we were able to go down on the field after the game, congratulate the players & just hang in the dugout for awhile. That was a really cool time!

I managed a ride up Mt. Hamilton on Feb. 5th to take in the views & a great sunset.

And peeked into the Redneck Garden just enough to see how bad the neglect was showing.

We braved some snow...
So we could see my awesome son & granddaughters & their awesome mom who took the pic!

I had a work trip to Orlando, but the best pics were actually from the flight there.

The highlight of March was the SFGS & spending time with cool folks like Jenny here.

In April I finally got around to cleaning up the Redneck Garden a bit & found out that a faily small pepper plant can actually have quite a bit of root mass.

April also brought the 1st ever food truck fest in San Jose, so my brother & I & a few thousand others just had to check out San Jose Eats.

May brought signs of life & renewal to the Redneck Garden.

May 28th found me & some friends in Hollister for their 2nd annual air show.

And then the unthinkable happened. We lost Lorrie, my youngest sister at the age of 56, just days before her daughter's high school graduation. Being the youngest of the clan, Lorrie was often my adopted mother. This was extremely tough for my whole family. We're going to miss her immensely.

We did manage to have a pretty good shin-dig for niece Kat's graduation. 

In June you saw the Redneck Garden again.

And Ivette Soler @ Annie's Annuals.

July 2nd made for a toasty ride to Hollister to the Corbin factory for their motorcycle show to see my buddy Fred's custom retro board-tracker, the PsyClone parked next to the actual Burt Munroe Indian.
 I had a great ride to the Nevada County Airfest.

July closed with the Travis Air Expo.

By August, the Redneck garden was cruising along making corn, tomatoes, peppers & more...

August 21st I took a ride to Santa Rosa for the Wings Over Wine Country Airshow. One of the high points was an F-15 recently donated to the Pacific Coast Air Museum by the USAF. This particular F-15 was the 1st aircraft over NYC on 9/11. They are building a special exhibit just for this historic airplane. Lots of familiar faces & aircraft on the ramp at this show.

Got to spend a weekend with friends & family at Lake Tahoe helping to celebrate brother Pat & Birdy's wedding. Gotta love Tahoe.

Followed by Watsonville on Labor Day weekend...

Mid-September means the annual pilgrimage to Reno for the National Championship Air Races. Lots of amazing & historic aircraft & people attend this event every year & 2011 was no exception. We were honored to see some extremely rare & historic aircraft & the weather for race week was excellent.

And again, the unthinkable & unimaginable happened. Most of you saw the news unfold on your TV screen while many of us watched it happen. Jimmy Leward, veteran race & movie pilot lost control of his aircraft, the historic, highly modified P-51 racer, Galloping Ghost, impacting into the box seats, killing 10 spectators & himself and injuring scores more. The verdict is still out & we may never know what really happened, but the weight of this tragedy will be felt by everyone affected and the whole air racing family for many years to come.

The air show season continued on, with the next stop in Salinas.
And yes, that's wifey with the Viper West Demo Team!

Then came the Gathering of Mustangs at the Nut tree airport in Vacaville.

And an abbreviated Fleet Week show thanks to a fog bank that just couldn't stay away long enough for the Blue Angels to get their show in.

We finished out the year by hosting Thanksgiving dinner for 32 friends & family. What a blast we had! Wifey & I got to get away to Monterey for a work related Christmas party & then got to spend a nice morning kicking around the wharf.
Wishing you all the best for 2012.