Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vernal Pool Project and Planting Bare Root Fruit Trees

Weekends are never long enough, especially with our winter hours. I wish I had embarked on my vernal pool project prior to our phenomenal rains last month, but alas it was not to be. Too many things going on, including the planting of all the bare root fruit trees we ordered from Grass Valley's Peaceful Valley Farm. Also on the agenda but not yet accomplished: hen house for four and drawing out the plans for our front gate (will be rustic). For the four years we've been here, we've never had a gate and have always been happy to let all the resident hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers, migrant workers, etc., traipse through the property. However, there have been a series of robberies (notwithstanding those of the home invasion variety a few years ago) in La Cresta recently that are slightly perturbing. Therefore, for us folk in the rural areas, a good-sized pooch or, even better, a pack of pooches, is always in order. Geez, we've even had some teenagers with .22's coming onto our property trying to shoot our quail. What's up with that? Sadly, I guess Robert Frost was right - good fences make good neighbors. Anyhoo, Hana is always at my side when I'm home alone, along with my remote control for our alarm system which has a panic button. And as a last resort, there's always the shotgun.

So I scouted out a location today for the vernal pool that seems just perfect. It's on a flat, low section of the property, with soil that's loose enough to dig up by hand. I'd rather burn up calories than $ for some dude to excavate with a bobcat. I found few resources online that tell you how to make your very own vernal pool. The most comprehensive is "A Guide to Creating Vernal Ponds" by Thomas R. Biebighauser . The EPA also has a page called the "Vernal Pool Construction Workshop"

My plan of action is to dig out a roundish pit, about 8' x 10' (or 10' x 10'), at a depth of 1 1/2', then line it with synthetic liner (i.e., pond liner) to prevent the naturally collected rainwater from draining, then cover the liner with some of the excavated soil (primarily decomposed granite). To jump-start the vernal pool ecosystem, I will seed the perimeter with Red Maids (Calandrinia ciliata), Douglas' Meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii), and Goldfields (Lasthenia californica). All I can hope for is that I'll get this thing constructed asap and that we'll also actually have some more rain this season.

A nice flat site, down the slope from the garage.

A couple weeks earlier, we received our shipment of 10 bare roots from Peaceful Valley, consisting of: 

Honey Crisp Apple
Comice Pear
Indian Free Peach
July Elberta Peach
Snow Queen Nectarine
Earli Autumn Apricot
Late Santa Rosa Plum
Flavor Supreme Pluot
Flavor King Pluot
White Arctic Blaze Nectarine

We discovered, to our dismay, that there was a gopher infestation around the area we wanted to plant these guys. So, we ended up buying gopher guards from Armstrong Nursery to protect the roots of these nascent fruit trees. It was an all-day endeavor digging out the massive holes for these things, a much better workout than a one-hour stint on the treadmill.

1/8/11 Ugh. Gopher holes. 

1/8/11 Gil, driving the bags of compost down to the planting site.

1/8/11 Boy, does he look jazzed about the task at hand.

1/8/11 Lugging the bags of compost up the hill.


1/8/11 Hana is hyperactively ecstatic about something...what can I say, except she's pretty goofy for an Akita.

1/8/11 Gopher basket.


1/8/11 You gotta dig a large enough hole to fit the gopher basket in, leaving about a couple inches of it above-ground so the gophers don't hop right over them when they are rooting around on the surface. Sheesh!

Last but not least, a few awesome sunset views from the back patio. It's why we love living where we live...


Monday, January 17, 2011

A Requiem for Encelias and a Manzanita Bloomfest...

Our last frost in late December (12/30-12/31) dealt a fatal blow to ALL of my Encelias and to even a couple of the monkeyflowers. I thought the Encelias would be resilient, but the ground was frozen rock solid around the root zones of these hapless fellows. They didn't stand a chance.

RIP, Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa).

Encelia actonii, deader than a doorknob...

The manzanitas, however, are on a blooming bender. Since my last post, a few more in the garden have put forth their adorable urn-shaped blossoms:

1/16/11 Rainbow Manzanita (Arctostaphylos rainbowensis).

1/16/11 Ian Bush Manzanita (Arctostaphylos densiflora x A. pungens).

1/16/11 The fruits that form from the manzanita flowers literally look like "little apples" (hence the name "manzanita"). Santa Cruz Manzanita (Arctostaphylos andersonii).

1/16/11 Lester Rowntree Manzanita (Arctostaphylos obispoensis x A. pajaroensis).

1/16/11 Whiteleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida).

1/16/11 Dr. Hurd Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita).

1/16/11 Sunset Manzanita (Arctostaphylos hookeri x pajaroensis).

1/16/11 Howard McMinn Manzanita (Arctostaphylos densiflora).

1/16/11 We have two Mission Manzanitas (Xylococcus bicolor) native to our site. One is a an 8-ft. tree, but this one is more shrublike and is growing at the base of an Engelmann Oak. The oak is on our neighbor's property, but the Mission Manzanita is on our side of the fenceline. Fence not withstanding, they're like two peas in a pod.

1/16/11 Yankee Point Ceanothus (Ceanothus griseus). A great slope cover. This one is growing under the Monterey Cypress.

1/16/11 Ray Hartman Ceanothus (Ceanothus arboreus x C. griseus). 

1/16/11 California Brodiaea (Brodiaea californica), sprouting under one of the sycamores.

1/16/11 Bought a bulb of Desert mariposa lily (Calochortus kennedyi) at the RSABG fall plant sale. Not cheap at $10 bucks a pop. Since our winter weather in La Cresta can be dicey (i.e., really rainy or not at all), I decided to plant it in a terra cotta pot with sand, perlite, and cactus soil mix. Well lo and behold, it sprung a single leaf! And now, puhlease be a trooper and eke out one of those awesome orange blooms!

And now for the birds:

1/16/11 A Rock Dove (Columbia livia), our familiar "city pigeon," landing on one of the boulders lining the property. Why do I include this picture here? Because it's the first time I've seen one of these guys on the grounds. At first I thought it was a Band-Tailed Pigeon due to its hefty size, and was all jazzed & stuff. But, NOT! Koodoes to him for flying so way off course on his way to the Temecula Civic Center.

1/16/11 Scrub Jay, under the bird feeder.

1/16/11 Acorn Woodpecker, on our neighbor's Engelmann Oak.

1/15/11 Lark Sparrows.

1/15/11 Lark Sparrows and an errant Mourning Dove.

1/16/11 This can't be so. But what the hay is a butterfly doing fluttering around in January? Although I have to admit that the 75F temperature reading today was decidedly balmy for winter. My wild guess is that this is the California Dogface (Colias eurydice), which is our official state butterfly. It landed on a Gaura bloom for a fleeting few seconds. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Rain, Frost & Blooming Manzanitas

Needless to say, we've had a strange weather pattern this season. La Nina acted more like a coldish El Nino, and we got pummeled by record precipitation for the month of December. At month's end, after the endless rain, we were accosted by very frosty temps.

12/30/10 6:45am. 30F, 26F with wind chill.

12/30/10 Frost on all that grassy stuff that's been sprouting up from our wet weather.

12/30/10 Frost-covered mulch along the driveway.

12/30/10 Calle Centro at Avenida La Cresta.

12/31/10 A 1/2" layer of ice formed in my utility wagon, which had been filled with water from our recent rains.

12/31/10 Remnants of the ice layer from the wagon. 

12/31/10 Hana, absconding with some of that ice.

On the bright side, the manzanitas are starting to bloom! 

11/30/10 'John Dourley' Manzanita (Arctostaphylos hybrid).

11/30/10 Santa Cruz Manzanita (Arctostaphylos andersonii). This was the earliest blooming of the bunch.

12/24/10 'Danville'/Big Sur Manzanita (Arctostaphylos edmundsii).

12/26/10 'Paradise' Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pajaroensis).

12/24/10 Pointleaf/Mexican Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens). This lovely specimen is 4+ years old. No flowers yet, but should be forthcoming.

1/7/11 'Austin Griffiths' Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita x densiflora).

1/7/11 'Ian Bush' Manzanita (Arctostaphylos densiflora x pungens).

12/26/10 'Ramona' Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca).

1/7/11 'La Panza' Grey Manzanita (Arctostaphylos hybrid).

And there's more:

12/26/10 Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia).

12/26/10 Shrooms. I'm no expert in this realm, so are they edible? (Darwin award!)

12/26/10 Tons of clarkias have reseeded in the wildflower bed from last year's crop.

12/26/10 'Allen Chickering' Sage (Salvia clevelandii x S. leucophylla).

12/24/10 'Torrey Pines' Red Monkeyflower (Mimulus puniceus).

12/24/10 Canyon Sunflower (Venegasia carpesioides).

12/24/10 Coyote, just beyond the fenceline.

12/17/10 California Quail under the bird feeder.

12/17/10 Lesser Goldfinch.

12/24/10 Lark Sparrows.

12/5/10 Osprey! perched on a floodlight in the neighbor's corral.

12/24/10 Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) along the driveway. Much more bootiful than Pampas Grass!

12/24/10 Arizona Sycamore (Platanus racemosa var. wrightii), with it's own rendition of Xmas ornaments.