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...



  1. Wow, very nice sunset shots! I was going to show them to my wife, but she might see the part of the post with your husband doing all that work. Far too risky...

  2. Wow--two really compelling things going on at once: homemade vernal pools and...comice pears. Those pears have to be my all-time favorites and I'm curious to see how well your tree does. And the vernal pools is a terrific undertaking. From my visit last spring to the Miramar Mounds vernal pool site it's pretty clear that it's possible to restore pools that have had trucks and tanks (really!) driven over them for decades. So hopefully your tended pool will stand as good a chance at success.

  3. wow first of all for those awesome skies - they are just amazing.

    I think you both must be exhausted after this weekend project. That was quite a task digging out those big holes. I didn't realise that your property was so big but I am so looking forward to watching your vernal pool come to life and I hope you don't get any nasty visitors around your plot - gophers are bad enough.

  4. Gopher guards? Have you used them before? Do they work? Our little orange tree was ravaged by a gopher and is just bouncing back. I'm wondering if digging it up and putting one of those in would be worth the effort.

  5. Thanks, Keith! Btw, for every hole my husband dug, I actually dug three (in between taking pictures for this post). Sorry to burst your bubble, Gil...heh heh.

    James, are the Miramar Mounds vernal pools accessible to the general public? Sounds like they might be on the Marine base. Would love to check them out! The Comice Pear is our second pear tree (our first is a Shinseiki Asian Pear). The fruits taste fantastic and I hope this one does well in our area.

    Rosie, it was indeed pretty exhausting excavating those holes for all those trees. However, our record rains in December had totally saturated the ground, making it ever so much easier to dig!

    Turling, we've never used gopher guards before, but the instructions that came with our bare root fruit trees strongly recommended using them if you have a gopher problem (which we definitely do). I think it's worth it to dig up your orange tree, since it's still little, and installing the gopher cage. We've tried sonic repellents, poison pellets, and even explosive devices - all to no avail. Trapping is always an option, but for the new trees this method seems pretty promising. The cages come in different sizes depending on the type of plant you're installing. Just make sure to leave about a couple inches above ground so any gopher wandering the surface won't just hop over.

  6. Gophers, yuck! Look at all those trees! What a nice nursery you'll have!

  7. Nice fotos sunsets shots, greeting from Belgium
    Louisette +2 golden, memory katanga chilhood land.

  8. Gophers I can handle. My labrador ate three of my bareroot apple trees last year within a day or two of planting. I need a big, big basket. Big.

  9. meemsync, you're a cat afficionado! My sister is, too. Her current kitty is named Coco, but only because she thought he was a girl when she adopted him (he was from an abandoned litter found near her apartment). So, Coco was a girl for a couple years until that fateful day when the vet broke the news to my sis that 'your cat has boy parts'...

    retriever, thanks for visiting from Belgium! Your golden retrievers are absolutely adorable, and most certainly a lot more behaved than my Akita!

    altadenahiker, unbelievable! But maybe not, 'cause ya just never know what a dog will get into. I'll bet you were super mad at your lab when it happened, but then those cute, poochie eyes probably made you incapable of inflicting any meaningful punishment. Happens to me all the time.

  10. Wow, you two are ambitious! I'm looking forward to seeing how your vernal pool progresses.

  11. Hi Katie - and yes, we are probably over-ambitious since we can only do this gardening, farming, landscaping stuff after work and mostly on the weekends. I look forward to reading more of your blog on your excursions and encounters with the flora and fauna along the Central Coast.