Johanna Sol

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since Feb 06, 2014
Zone 9b, northern California, 2500 ft elevation
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Recent posts by Johanna Sol

Every life situation has its opportunity cost. And it seems to me that perspective, rather than money, is what counts - when you look back on your life, are you going to worry about how much you spent? How do you want to spend your 15 to 16 hours of waking time now?

We could have stayed full-time RVers but chose to buy a four acre property with a much-neglected house and outbuildings instead. RV living was fun for a while, but you usually have to move after a while, I missed having a garden, and the lack of RV parking options near family made it difficult to see them regularly.

Here are some reasons we are thankful that heating with wood is our main option at the moment and was something we enjoyed in the past:

Having just gone through a storm that dumped a foot of snow overnight and took out our electricity for 7 days due to trees and power lines coming down everywhere, we have been very thankful that we heat with wood and can use it for stovetop cooking.

Once in a blue moon, we use our portable electric heaters. On sunny days, we augment with heat from our south facing windows. We haven't yet had time to make hot air solar boxes - the ones in our previous home operated off computer fans to heat two rooms. I much prefer wood heat to the noisy forced natural gas system we had in four previous homes - generally the homes were poorly insulated and gas too expensive to keep us warm. Our current home is no better insulated but we can get the main area nice and toasty.

In our younger years, we had a basement furnace in one of the homes we rented when we were really cash strapped. Someone gave us a free woodstove and my hubby moved the furnace out of the way and was able hook up the woodstove to the ducting. We heated solely by using driftwood from along the banks of the local river - a fun activity for the whole family - and it was far superior to heating with natural gas - priceless, in fact.

Getting back to the recent storm, about 35 of the trees on our property snapped or were uprooted, including almost all our eucalyptus (not really suitable for our climate but looks like they were planted about 80 years ago), half of a giant oak, and large branches off larches, blue spruce, smaller oaks, and manzanita. Paying someone to clear up this mess would cost us thousands, if we could even get anyone to do so, since so many homeowners and public roads were affected. Instead, we are slowly processing the wood into firewood and compost, as time and energy permits - at 68 and 63 years of age we do have more time than some...

We've also had some practice - our first year here, 2019, we had a 110 ft ponderosa snag that was right next to the house. Just getting professionals to fell it and cut the first 20 feet into 4-foot sections cost us $1,200. The two of us had quite some fun lassoing and hauling off those sections to line our driveway! I then took care of the little branches, hubby took care of the rest - we've been using it for firewood since 2020 and have a few sections of log to go yet.

Early in 2021, we had a professional crew trim out the dead wood in the large ponderosa pine and cedar trees close to the house and outbuildings  - this turned out to be fortunate as we had no damage to home or vehicles from the recent storm, unlike some of our neighbors. Rather than having the tree crew chip the wood up, we took care of all the branches ourselves - some is in a mulch pit, I used loppers to make sticks for kindling, and hubby chainsawed the rest to make firewood, some of which we have been using to heat the house.  That saved us about $800. We burn any type of wood that we have, making sure to clean the stovepipe at least twice a year. We would like to put in a rocket mass heater at some point as we get older, but need to burn all the excess firewood we have first!
1 week ago
I used to buy soup marrow bones for people for our German Shepherd to chew on. Once all the marrow was removed, he'd chew on the bones a bit but we always were left with the hollowed out bone. After getting a pile of these, I decided to make stuffing for the bones out of cooked meats, including organ meats.

To make: Wash the bones with hot water. Put some parchment paper on a baking sheet. Stuff the bones with whatever you've cooked and either feed right away or put them in the freezer (you can cover it with a paper bag if you are concerned about contamination). You can add veggies such as finely grated raw carrots or celery or herbs such as parsley and cilantro.

1 month ago
Thanks Jordan, appreciate you sharing this info!
1 month ago
I've basically been experimenting with a variety of things to determine what does grow well here and under climate changing conditions. Have been saving as much seed as possible to get landrace varieties.

Climate wise, it was a tough year. The rains quit in March and we went from cool, cloudy days to hot dry ones in a short span of time. We are just now experiencing our first real rainstorm since then. Starting in June, we had temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 weeks straight.  Normally it would be closer to 95.

Fruit and nut trees: Planted organic trees in January and February 2020 and was gratified to get fruit on several this year. Best producer was a nectaplum (cross between nectarine and plum) with about 70 pink fruit that were the size of nectarines and tasted like them too. Also had an apricot that did well with a similar number of good-sized apricots. The nectarine had a good crop, but the fruit were plum sized and cracked. All of the above were sweet and delicious. The other apricot lost it's leaves and fruit to some disease but sprouted a new tree from the base. The low chill hour multi-graft apple (4 varieties) put out about a dozen apples from 2 varieties - good size. The long chill-hour one only produced 4 small apples from one variety out of four. The multi-graft cherry had about three bunches of cherries from 2 varieties (out of four). I moved the almond over spring of 2021 and it seemed to do better than the previous year but still not great. It flowered and I hand pollinated but no fruit materialized. The chestnut and three hazelnut bushes planted all died during the summer. Not sure what went wrong - critters digging tunnels to get at the water, excessive summer heat and no shade? I would really like to get some of these nut trees going - we do have a junior walnut tree on the property and get some nuts from the neighbor's overhang. The two avocados planted this spring also died this summer. Sounds like they could use a shady location and more regular watering than I provided.  Not sure I will plant those again after I found out you can make fake guacamole from squash.

Berries:  Started out with 9 raspberry plants, 3 blueberry, 4 blackberry and 2 boysenberry. Lost 7 of the raspberries, all 3 of the blueberries and the blackberry bushes hung in there but the fruit fried. Reckon they also need summer shade so will try that next year.

I started nearly all the veggies from seed this year - some from saved seeds and others from our local organic nursery. From what I learned this year, I need to start earlier with cool weather crops to get them up to a good size before transplanting, and intend to make soil blocks and use some living soil in the planting mix to lessen transplant shock. Lettuces, collards and kale did well. I had several broccoli plants get huge and give a few heads here and there - mostly a waste of space - will only plant one or two next time. Parsley from the prior year flourished after the winter and became really big. Beets, radishes and carrots did not do well. Potatoes also so-so (these were sprouted from organic potatoes from the grocery store - will try seed potatoes next time). Peas were okay but not as prolific as hoped.

Summer veggies: I was struggling with mole and/or vole tunnels throughout the beds and decided to rework several by adding hardware cloth (1/4" mesh) to the bottoms and around the top to deter the critters (including the young cats we acquired) so was late with transplanting. I also built the soil up in layers with garden soil, mulch, and green manure from the previous year, along with biochar (washed residue from burn piles) and rock phosphate. I definitely saw a difference in the health and size of the plants compared to the previous year when I only added compost and a little nitrogen to the top of the garden soil - learned a lot about living soil this past year). Except for the squash, most of the plants went dormant during the excessive heat so didn't harvest much of anything except for acorn squash and a few cherry tomatoes until September. Since then it's been a daily harvest of roma-type tomatoes (seed came from store tomatoes), tricolor cherry tomatoes, tomatillos, tricolor pole beans, and butternut squash. Have gotten modest amounts of lima beans - will try a shorter season type next time since they seem to take forever. Also harvested a few pepperoncini, green peppers, eggplant and okra pods. Not sure any of those would be worth growing again. Still waiting on spaghetti squash that I planted later than the rest to ripen. Had two crookneck squash plants and one zucchini and only got a few from each - never seem to do well with zucchini... powdery mildew took over a while back - probably need to plant them further apart, for starters. I did trellis the beans, tomatoes, and butternut squash with fairly good results.

Fall/winter veggies:  Started new lettuce, kale, collard, carrot and radish seeds in September. Lettuce is doing well; radish so-so, carrots are barely growing and had to restart kale and collard. Added cilantro seeds in October and those have come up well - bought a large packet so I didn't stint. Decided that I will try and order bulk seed packets of carrots to see if that improves the odds. Also planted shallot and garlic cloves. Think I have too much garlic and not enough shallots but maybe I can acquire some more of the latter.
Here's a classic that is sung as a round in song circles:

3 months ago
Brian, don't know if you have access to 1/4" galvanized hardware cloth or 1/2" chicken wire but making a cage out of that underneath and around the bales could work - may need to extend up above the top of the bales a bit for best results. Can also put wood or metal around the sides and hardware cloth on the bottom and then a layer of wire mesh around the top which is how I reworked a few of my beds this year. (Having the wire mesh extend 18" above the soil level has kept out our young cats who love playing in soft dirt and are careless with baby plants.)

If you put your straw bales in series you could do a longer run of wire mesh, which come in 25', 50' and 100' lengths and 2', 3' and 4' widths, and maybe group some of your potted plants that way too.

4 months ago
I'm also in northern California where we've basically had no rain since March and wildfires are an ongoing threat. I have semi-raised beds for the veggies - the bottom half is dug into the ground - I didn't want to fully raise them because it gets so hot in the dry season, but didn't want pits because it can rain a huge amount during the winter.  I covered the bottoms with 1/4" hardware cloth to deter voles. (Also have mesh attached to the outside of the beds sticking up 18" high to deter our young cats that were supposed to catch the voles but prefer to play in garden dirt instead!) I was able to put in a cover crop of a legume mix last fall and chopped that in, along with any green plants I was pulling up from other places, including a ton of mustard that has sown itself all around our property.

I was afraid of using wood or other types of flammable mulch because of the fire danger, but decided that if a fire came that close, I'd have other worries... The grass here gets pretty tall by spring, then dries out to a hay/straw mix, so am using that over the soil (anywhere between 2 and 4 inches deep) and I have drip tape underneath. I used chopped greens and biochar (at least that's what I'm calling well rinsed charcoal from old burn piles) in alternating layers with garden soil to get the microbiology going in the soil, along with a little rock phosphate. The plants look so much better than last year, despite our having around 100-degree temps for the last 2 1/2 months - I found peppers, eggplant and okra don't like it that hot and neither do squash and beans so rigged shade cloth over those, but might need to add a misting system if it happens again next year. Pretty much all the plants went into dormancy during that time but at least they stayed alive and are now taking off with the temps more in the 80s. I believe smoke from fires has also caused delays.

I planted ten fruit and nut trees in spring 2020 and 6 additional ones this year. Dug a vertical mulch trench around several of them about a foot wide and two feet deep a few feet away from each trunk, filled with pine needles and dry grass, to hopefully hold precipitation in the soil longer into the dry season. Mulch on top of the soil around the trees has been mostly twigs from ponderosa pine as I read somewhere that trees do better with fungal networks and that a twig mulch stimulates development of those. Had an amazing haul of fruit from a nectaplum, nectarine and apricot already this year (about 70 fruit on each tree) and a few apples - although with the heat all the fruit trees went dormant with green fruit just hanging there and ripening about two months late. Been watering them by hand about once a week - hoping to get drip in before the season ends... (By the way, not everything has lived - lost an olive, three chestnut trees, one hazelnut, an avocado and an apricot due to a variety of problems - growing in a new-to-me location along with climate change is definitely a learning curve.)

4 months ago
My mom used one of those when we lived near Johannesburg in the late 60s. Prior to that, we were in Uganda for a couple of years and for a skit at the local ex-pat club, one woman took long, large balloons and put them through the wringer, without popping them! Very impressive to the 5-year old me!
1 year ago
Planted fava (broad) beans in latter part of September, as we love eating them. The plants became big and beautiful before frost and were green all winter in our mild climate. They started flowering in March but didn't get any pods until May. Also planted some in the spring and they came up and podded out at about the same time... Will plant again in the fall but in a more out-of-the-way place rather than in beds I want to use for other veggies.
1 year ago