What Passes For Excitement In The Year 2014

“It’s not the calendar I’m worried about, it’s the odometer.” 

– Marvin 

Ghost Trees 

Trish and I drove up to Concow yesterday with a good friend of ours. We’d looked at a piece of property there years back, when we were still looking for land. It is beautiful country, but steep and treacherous. The plot we were looking at rested alongside a deep and narrow gully; everything would have to be terraced. We would have had the calves of runway models by now. That was before the fires, anyway, and now the landscape is a harrowing combination of burned out, gray and dead ghost trees, and swaths of defiant green living trees. The kicker is the massive accumulation of undergrowth and deadfall. The next fire will burn hot and fast.

Our friend tells us the Maidu, when they occupied the land, routinely burned out the undergrowth to facilitate agriculture and hunting. Every spring and fall they would set the woods on fire. Bureaucratic forestry management and air control quality advocates would never allow such practices in the enlightened year 2014, so I guess everyone there just keeps their fingers crossed and their suitcases packed.

Down here in the Valley I’ve been sowing quinoa and beet seed, along with the tiny garlic bulbs that you can pull off the mature plant after it flowers. I’m told these will produce full-sized garlic bulbs, eventually, and that it will take a couple of years for them to reach full size.

Thoughts on Quinoa 

I wonder about the viability of quinoa up there in Concow. The plant originates from the Andes mountains, in Peru. It can tolerate cold weather, drought, and poor soil conditions. I grew a small crop of it last year here in Los Molinos, planting in January and harvesting in May or June, before the temperatures got too high.

Compost 

The method of growing I am experimenting with lately is called “no till” gardening. Instead of turning the ground over each spring, the idea is to top dress your plots with amendments—manure and compost— and keep building the ground up. This way the soil remains light and nutrient rich. Mulching around the plantings makes weed control more manageable. I’m only in season one, but already I can see I am going to need a lot of compost. As a result, I’ve put together a series of simple compost bins. These are nothing more than wire fencing, rolled into a tube and fastened with bailing wire. You toss your organic material into the bin, and after it’s degraded somewhat, you can pull the bin off and reshuffle the pile. The more broken down material is down at the bottom, so after you put the fresher material back into the bin, you can easily access the usable compost.

 

This is what passes for excitement in my life these days, and I’m not being facetious. I am truly excited by compost, fences, heirloom seeds and soil management— though I still get the itch once in a while to strap on a dress, make up my face, don a wig, and play through a set of Sex Pistols songs.

Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.