Plantings, and removing

So you know things slowed down for me over the last few months, but they didn’t stop.  So here’s what I’ve been up to:
Camphor TreeFirst – I’m in talks with my next door neighbor’s land owner to cut back his trees.  This is the property just to the North of me, so the trees are not actually shading my property, but due to out-of-control growth over the last decade or more, they have become a hazard to my property.  Remember the camphor tree and stump I removed from my fishery?  Well, the rest of the tree is on the other side of the fence, leaning dangerously over my home as you can see in this photo.

Camphor trees spread by seed or by spreading root systems.  They drop leaves continuously all year, and the leaves have such a high camphor content that they prevent other plants from sprouting around their base.  The leaves are also dangerous to fish and water systems due to high carbon content.

This tree has been shedding it’s leaves into my yard all year around, and it drops large and dangerous branches during the Spring windstorms.  It is leaning so far over my home that I double-checked my insurance.  

There is also a second very sturdy Pine tree of some variety i don’t recognize – its limbs are starting to interfere with the electrical lines and must be removed.  As a side note, it drops its seeds into my yard continuously, and they do germinate!

Luckily the property manager for my next door neighbor agrees with me – we should be able to get the trees cut back at the owner’s expense.  Failing that, the law says that I can manage any trees or shrubs that hang over my property line.  If necessary I’ll call a tree service, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.  I’ve agreed to give them until the fall pruning season to control the trees – with the understanding that the possibility of a heavy windstorm will change everything.

Next – a more pleasant subject – new plantings!
Blackberry on the left, grape vines on the right.I’ve planted two grape vines on the South side of the new fence that I built.  They are doing very well!  I also planted a blackberry bush on that same sunny side of the fence.  The idea is that the grapes will grow above the blackberrys.  Also on the far South side of my property, inside the dog run, I planted a hardy blueberry bush in an area that gets mostly shade.  Blueberries are not usually a good idea in this hardiness zone, but I spoke with the local nursury who recommended a hardier version that should survive our summers.

I’ll probably get some grapes this year, but I doubt I’ll get any blackberries or blueberries until next year.

The hardest part of planting these berries and grapes was digging the hole.  This is Fresno hardpan.  It goes down about 4-6 feet before turning soft and sandy.  If you dig a regular pot-sized hole and fill it with water, it will take half a day for the water to soak into the surrounding hardpan.  Regular pot-sized holes are death to any plant susceptible to root rot.  

The way around this is to dig deep.  I dug 2 foot holes for the grape vines, and then added a 12 inch planter box on top of the holes.  I dug 3 foot holes for the berry bushes.  It took almost 2 hours to dig those 4 holes with a post hole digger.  The post hole digger does work – but for every scoop of dirt I needed to plung the digger into the hardpan 4 or 5 times to chip it away.  Sharpening the post hole digger with a good file also helps it bite better.

Next you fill the holes with potting soil and some peat moss (careful, it raises the acidity of the soil!).  The deep holes act like a sub-irrigation planter, wicking water up to the plants.  The peat in the bottom sucks up extra water, and the deep hole gives more surface area for the water to soak into the surrounding hardpan.


I’ve also tried making my own two bucket sub-irrigated planter.  It went together pretty well, with one small hiccup.  Instead of using a small plastic cup to dip into the bottom well, I used a 4″ diameter PVC pipe that I cut to size and filled with holes in the sides.  I figured if I stacked the buckets together, and just dropped this pipe into place, it would be tall enough so that the top bucket would prevent it from moving side to side, and the bottom bucket would prevent it from falling out of the top bucket.  Then I’d just fill the containers with soil as described.   Everything went together just fine, and it worked great.

Until I tried to move it.

I picked up the planter by the top bucket, the bottom bucket fell off, the inserted pipe fell out, along with a good chunk of moist dirt.  As soon as that happened, I thought, “Oooh, so THAT’S why they use a cup that is held in place by the top bucket!

I managed to put it all back together again without needing to rebuild it (it was tricky, and took some time), so I saved it.  And I remembered to pick it up from the bottom bucket before moving it again.  But the next planter I build will use a cup held in place by the top bucket.

I also started planting seeds.  Yes, it’s a little late for this hardiness zone, but in my defense my new bride would have complained if we spent our honeymoon planting seeds!

Makeshift potting benchFirst up were the seed potatos.  I planted 4 heavy potato bags (bought at the local hardware / ag store).  Next I sat down at my makeshift potting bench and started planting seed starters.  Those trays went into my outdoor “greenhouse” shown here.  I haven’t finished planting my starter seeds, and I’ll have a list of them in a later post.

There are some seeds (beans and corn) that need to be planted directly in my raised bed garden.  However there is some work needed on those beds first.

The first, and most pressing, is that the beds have tiny pine trees started in them.  The aforementioned pine tree has spent the last 6 months dropping seeds into the beds.  I dropped steer manure into the beds about 6 months ago too, to allow it to cool before planting started.  Used fresh, or “not aged” (i.e. “the cheap stuff”) steer manure is still decomposing and can increase the heat of the garden bed to the point where it kills new seedlings.  Either buy the more expensive aged steer manure, or put it into the garden in the fall, before spring planting.

So since the pine trees are sprouting, I’m sure the beds are ready for planting – except for the fact that they have tiny pine trees in them!  First up, remove the pine trees – or as I call it, “weeding”.  (Anything growing in my garden without my permission, is a weed!) 


Second, and also pressing, is the lack of water in my backyard.  

There is just one faucet in my backyard, up next to my house.  I could drag a garden hose out to the raised beds and water them whenever they need water – after all, I’ve been doing that for the lawn.  But the truth is that I would rather that the watering process take care of itself.  Drip irrigation for pots, timed irrigation for the raised beds, a faucet for my planned future rabbit hutch, and a timed watering system for the rest of the backyard.  Eventually I hope to have the whole thing connected through a second valve to a rainwater reclamation tank.

So I picked up 120 feet of Schedule 40 PVC pipe and installed underground pipes to 3 more faucets around the back yard.  One for the rabbit hutch, one for the raised bed / potted plants, and one for that corner of the yard behind the garage that is hard to water with a hose from the primary faucet.

I make it sound so easy, don’t I?  In actuality, I spent the entire day last Wednesday digging 100 feet of pipe trench!  As you can see from my photos here, I used a guage to make sure that all the pipe was deeper than 9 inches (the frost line here is about 4-6 inches – I was being safe).  Remember, a lot of this trench was through hardpan dirt – so it was slow going with a pick / maddock.  Still, the recent rains made it a merely difficult task, not a Herculean one!

I laid the pipe, dry fit it, chemically welded it together, and started filling in the trench by nightfall.  That was two days ago, and I haven’t replaced the sod yet.  I spent yesterday as one big mass of pain from underused muscles!  Today is much better.  I might start replacing sod tonight or Saturday – remembering that I’ll be harvesting fish on Saturday!

I did pick up a 300 gph pump and tubing – the pump is inexpensive, and is not the 3,000 to 6,000 gph pump that I will need for the whole system.  But it should be sufficient for one tank partly full of fish.  I intend to come home with some keepers – even though I’m completely unprepared to keep them just yet!

I’m still a little sore, so I’ll do light work tonight, and build up to heavier stuff over the weekend.