Category Archives: Pruning

April Harvest 2015

I have to admit, I am having so much fun watching the total harvest pounds and dollars add up for 2015. As always, a disclaimer: we aren’t actually selling this produce–just calculating how much we would have had to spend if we had purchased it.

The raspberries and strawberries have come on earlier and stronger this year, as have the mulberries. The loquats on the other hand are abysmal; the tree appears to be dying. Kelly, being the passionate pruner that she is, is hatching plans to renovate the tree in hopes of bringing it back to some semblance of health (or at least sickly determination).

On the chicken front, Luma, now over 3 years old, is laying better than ever. One of the fun things about keeping good harvest records, is being able to remind oneself of last year’s numbers. Luma laid 17 eggs last April compared to 21 eggs this month.

Maybe it’s the treat mix Kelly lovingly concocts and sprinkles in the run each morning and evening, or maybe it’s genetic luck, but Luma is not abiding by the common wisdom that chickens stop laying after 2-3 years. You go, girl!

We continued harvesting honey in April on a frame-by frame basis. Sadly, due to California’s terrible drought, plants that would normally bloom in summer here, are blooming now. As a result, the bees had some unusual April food sources. Several of the hives were bursting with honey when I went in to inspect, and there will be May honey harvests too.

  • Asparagus ‘Farmer’s Favorite’: 0.59 lbs. (@$7.99/lb.=$4.71)
  • Beet ‘?’: 0.30 lbs. (@$3.98/lb=$1.19)
  • Beet greens: 0.64 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$3.19)
  • Cabbage ‘Parel’: 3.30 lbs. (@$1.49/lb.=$4.92)
  • Chard ‘Fordhook’: 1.50 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$7.47)
  • Cilantro: 0.14 lbs. (@3.58/lb.=$0.50)
  • Dinosaur kale ‘Niro di Toscano’: 0.69 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$3.44)
  • Eggs (Barred Rock 21; Welsummer 26; Ameraucana 20): 67 (@$0.37/egg=$25.07)
  • Fennel ‘Perfection’: 0.08 lbs. (@$2.49/lb.=$0.20)
  • Honey: 4.5 lbs. (@$10.00/lb.=$45.00)
  • Kale ‘Wild Kale Blend’: 0.40 (@$4.98/lb.=$1.99)
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’: 2.72 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$13.55)
  • Lettuce ‘Heirloom Blend’: 0.12 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$0.72)
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: 0.56 lbs. (@$0.60/lb.?=$0.34)
  • Loquat: 0.24 lbs. (@$4.99/lb.?=$1.20)
  • Miner’s Lettuce: 0.29 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.?=$1.74)
  • Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’: 0.04 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$0.24)
  • Onion ‘California Red’: 0.17 lbs. (@$2.98/lb.=$0.51)
  • Onion ‘Red Amposta’: 0.19 lbs. (@$2.98/lb.=$0.57)
  • Mint: 0.002 lbs. (@1.99/bunch=$1.99)
  • Mulberry ‘Pakistan Fruiting’: 1.37 lbs. (@$4.99/lb.?=$6.84)
  • Navel orange: 7.12 lbs. (@$2.49/lb.=$17.73)
  • Oregano: 0.01 lbs. (@$1.99/bunch=$1.99)
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: 0.14 lbs. (@$3.58/lb.=$0.50)
  • Raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’ ‘Autumn Britten’ ‘Tulameen’: 0.36 lbs. (@$10.64/lb.=$3.83)
  • Rosemary: 0.03 lbs. (@$1.99/bunch=$1.99)
  • Snap pea ‘Sugar Snap’: 0.15 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$0.90)
  • Spinach ‘?’: 0.09 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$0.54)
  • Spring onion ‘Purplette’: 0.31 lbs. (@$2.98/lb.=$0.92)
  • Strawberry ‘Seascape’ and ‘Albion’: 3.25 lbs. (@$4.99/lb.=$16.22)
  • Thyme: 0.002 lbs. (@$1.99/bunch=$1.99)

Produce total: 24.8 lbs. ($101.92)

Egg count: 67 ($25.07)

Honey: 4.5 lbs. ($45)

2015 produce total: 394.67 lbs. ($667.78)

2015 egg count: 158 ($55.10)

2015 honey harvest: 135.25 lbs. ($1352.50)

The pomegranate is covered in blossoms. Hope we get more this year!

The pomegranate is covered in blossoms. Hope we get more fruit this year!

We're letting this year-old patch of 'Purplette' onions go to seed. They're our favorite, and they're open pollinated, so we can stop buying new seed packets and save our own instead.

We’re letting this year-old patch of ‘Purplette’ onions go to seed. They’re our favorite, and they’re open pollinated, so we can stop buying new seed packets and save our own instead.


I’m hard pressed to think of something more lovely than onion blossoms at close range.


The strawberry plants must be at least 3 years old, but they're beating the odds and have a higher yield this year than in the past.

The strawberry plants must be at least 3 years old, but they’re beating the odds and have a higher yield this year than in the past.

Overall Gardener Takes to Twitter

Overall Gardener on Twitter??! Ack. I love to garden, and I love to write, but technology and social media are not really my strong suits. So it was with trepidation a year ago that I signed up for a Twitter account for the Overall Gardener blog. I believe I posted one tweet right away, before letting the account sit idly for over a year. What’s Twitter good for, anyway? I’m still not quite sure.

Clearly, I’m not doing a great job of selling you on my brilliant gardening tweets, but if you are brave of heart and not easily bored, stop by. I even figured out how to include a nifty button on the right-hand side of the blog which you can click in order to “follow” my tweets. And better yet, drop me a line and point me in the right direction. Until then, I will be roughing it alone with the handle, @OverallGardener. Yikes, I never thought it would come to this.

Garden Grandmothers

A springtime fig leaf.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality recently and the often forgotten histories of places. My grandmother, born and raised on a California fruit ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains, will turn 101 this June. I was fortunate enough to live with her for two years when she was in her mid-nineties and got to hear many of her stories about life in the country. We live just across the street from her now, and she sometimes comes to sit in the garden and watch things grow.

An 82-year-old woman told me yesterday that she has a theory about heaven. She told me she believes that we have to find heaven in this lifetime, that all of our earthly blessings are enough, and that our lives are the heaven we deserve. She said that the finality of death only enhances the profound awesomeness of life. Amen, and yikes!

Last year Kelly set up her orchard ladder and pruned an old fig tree at the back of our garden. The tree is slowly dying, rotting from a bad pruning cut close to its center. Still, it produced loads of delicious green figs last year, and it leafs out with the same delicate new foliage each spring. In her pruning of dead and dying wood, Kelly removed a large branch, and we noticed the fine concentric rings of yearly growth. Out of curiosity, I counted the rings, using a magnifying glass to distinguish the tiny lines.

Turns out our fig tree is over 120 years old. I counted about 113 rings before, at a quarter inch from the outside edge of the branch, they truly became too tiny to distinguish. Who knows how much older the tree is. Even with a conservative estimate of 120 years, that puts the planting date at 1892, nearly 30 years before our house was built in 1919.

The grandmother fig tree.

How did the tree get here? What else was growing on the land that is now our garden? I find these questions tantalizing, even as I recognize that there is no way to know for sure. So much information is lost in just a hundred years. I can’t know the lives of the people who came before us here. I can’t know what knowledge they took to the grave. What was common sense for one generation can be almost completely unknown a few generations down the line, made obsolete by technological “advances” and changes in lifestyle. My grandmother was the fastest prune plum picker in her family. I have never picked a prune plum, let alone for a living, and don’t know that I would recognize one if I saw it.

With all the recent talk about the release of the 1940 census records, I got online last week and did a little poking around. I know a fair amount about my own recent family history. What I was more interested in was the history of our house and garden. In the scheme of things, census records don’t yield much. I can’t know whether the former inhabitants of this house grew vegetables or kept chickens, and I can’t hear their life stories.

Still, seeing the handwritten names of the first owners of our house sent chills through me, and subsequently discovering the 1931 newspaper obituary for Lillian, the house’s first matriarch, brought me into a collision between a strange sense of intimacy and dissociation.

I think of this house, this garden, this life, as mine, and my place in them as stable and certain. But gardens, whether wild or tended, have always grown here, and animals and people before us have made homes. The poet Mary Oliver asks, “[W]hat is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?” I will keep seeking my earthly heaven among growing things.

Tis the Season for Dormant Fruit Tree Sprays

Spraying gear.

Actually, tis almost past the season, and I sprayed the trees a week and a half ago, but four baby chicks have distracted my attention away from writing about fruit trees. Fruit tree care is one of Kelly’s many areas of expertise (I attempted unsuccessfully to sweet-talk her into writing this post and picked her brain extensively). This was the first year that I donned a surgical mask and my rattiest pair of corduroys and braved the copper and horticultural oil.

There are a number of reasons to spray some fruit trees with copper and oil. While the copper acts as a general fungicide, helping to prevent everything from peach leaf curl, to brown rot, to rust, to fire blight, oil serves as a spreader-sticker that also kills overwintering insects like wooly apple aphids.

Spraying before the trees bloom is important because copper is toxic to bees and other pollinators, and horticultural oil will smother them. For some diseases, however, you will have to spray while the tree is in bloom. Fire blight and brown rot are both examples. In this case, it is best to time your spray to hours of the day when foraging insects are most likely to have returned home.

As someone who had never sprayed anything other than fish emulsion before, I can assure you that I found the prospect somewhat daunting and that I only agreed to it because Kelly was out of town and I was afraid the flowers would open before she returned. As a newly minted “veteran sprayer,” I can say that it wasn’t all that bad, and I’ll even go out on a limb and say that anyone can do it. In that spirit, allow me to explain the process.

Trees to spray

Not every fruit tree should be sprayed with copper and horticultural oil, and trees that may benefit from spraying in one climate, don’t need to be sprayed in others. Persimmons, pomegranates, mulberries, and citrus are examples of trees that, at least in our San Francisco Bay Area climate, don’t need to be sprayed with copper and horticultural oil.

That being said, peaches, nectarines, plums, grapes, pears, and apples can all benefit from a dormant spray to help fight off fungal infections carried by the rain and overwintering insects.

Keep in mind that, although copper is used by organic growers, it is a heavy metal and will ultimately end up in your soil. Toxic build-ups are possible over time.

Spraying the trees

Spray on a dry day when the copper won’t be washed off by rain or diluted by fog for at least a few hours (a few days is preferable).

Mix up the liquid copper and horticultural oil in the sprayer, making sure to follow the directions carefully for both. In my case, Kelly’s horticultural oil and 27.15% copper solution called for 3 tablespoons of oil and four tablespoons of copper per gallon of water.

I used a Gilmour hose-end sprayer, available at many nurseries and hardware stores. The sprayer attaches to the end of a garden hose and mixes the water with the copper and oil solution.

Kelly’s sprayer has eight settings. The higher the number on the dial the more tablespoons of copper and oil are added per gallon of water. I used 8 tablespoons per gallon on the peach and nectarine trees and four tablespoons per gallon on the pear trees.

Exercise caution

While dormant spraying is easy enough to do yourself, it’s worth exercising caution. Contact your local extension office and try to find knowledgeable nursery-folk to make certain that you are using the proper proportions and only spraying trees that really need it.  Every time I visit the local hardware store, I am shocked and horrified at the number of chemicals available to anyone who feels like paying the price.