Friday, June 14, 2013


Carl, I totally get it.

We have a fucking gopher problem.

I know that's some stanky language for the opening sentence of my first post in three months, but if you've ever had a gopher problem, then you know that they'll make you drop f-bombs like it was Hiroshima on the 4th of July. Gophers move like invisible underground ninjas through your garden, satisfying their munchies with the tender roots of your helpless everything, taking what they please and taunting you with their little trapdoors dug into the soft earth every five feet. It's said that the one and only solution is swift gopher death by metal trap; the death is marginally humane, if proactively killing something can actually be considered humane. I hate the idea of offing critters (no matter how annoying), but this is how it works, so I may have to embrace it. I've read it's also a good idea to take the extra ruthless step of leaving your victim's dismembered corpse to rot in the alcove he dug himself. The little varmint will fertilize the soil as it decomposes (and I would hope his rotting body provides at least some degree of repellant for any of his hypothetical kinfolk).

I still need to get the traps, but for the time being I have covered the areas in charcoal ash from the grill, as well as spent coffee grounds. I am not sure if this will do anything at all, and the logic I used to arrive at charcoal and coffee is questionable at best, but, to paraphrase Uncle Rico, I may as well do somethin' while I'm doin' nothin'.

Gophers aside, the rest of the last few months' transition has been fantastically smooth. I proposed to Julia, we moved to Windsor in the Russian River Valley (NorCal wine country), and we both started working at an incredible (no, seriously: incredible) place called SHED. And with that, we're caught up.
When this raised bed's a-rockin'...

The new digs afforded us a pretty awesome (albeit initally barren) space for a garden. We almost couldn't wait to get started; and the fact that SHED had an extra six or seven baby tomato plants they needed to offload gave us a reason get the first bed going right away.

Knowing that plants tend to thrive best in a polyculture (thanks, Michael Pollan), we stopped by Healdsburg nursery on the way home from work one day and picked up a few zucchini and basil plants to intersperse among the tomatoes. We also made sure to get bean plants, as young bean plants' roots enrich the soil with nitrogen, and nitrogen is exactly what all little baby plants need to grow big and strong. We got everything in the bed with some space to grow, and stepped back to admire our handiwork:

From humble beginnings... come wondrous BLTs.

I have to admit, it didn't look like much. But I know from plenty of experience not to judge the quality of a plant by what it looks like right after you've put it into the earth. Just like us immediately after our move, the little guys were somewhat disoriented, a little dehydrated, marginally nervous about their new surroundings, and generally in need of some TLC. Within a week or so, they had made themselves comfortable and were beginning to look quite handsome.

Note to self: fake hawks made of fabric are less effective at gopher control than actual hawks.

And within a month, they were hulking out, a harmonious tangle of leaves and roots and aromas.

Straight diet of Muscle Milk and Four Locos for these guys.

Seeing the plants thrive in our new environment was rewarding, especially coming from SF's fickle climate and sandy soil, not to mention our excessively shaded (albeit lovely) backyard. The fact that we were able to get even a few herbs and succulents to grow there was an accomplishment; growing more than that would have taken a miracle.

One of the perks of living in wine country is the produce-friendly abundance of hot, sunny, days and cool nights. The mountains on either side of the valley trap in the heat during the day, often seeming to wilt plants to a point that you wonder if they're actually going to bounce back. But as soon as the sun drops enough to leave them in the shade, they spring back to life within less than an hour; it's actually pretty cool to observe as the shade creeps across the garden and row by row of plants go from sickly to spry, like a graveyard of withered bodies coming back to life. It turns out that this happens for a specific reason: when plants get a whole lot of sun, the leaves often grow faster than the roots can keep up, so they can't get enough water and nourishment to stand up straight and support themselves. Once the sun sets and the leaves stop growing, the roots catch up and supply everything with the proper nutrition and hydration, and the little guys slowly regain their strength and composure.

With the first bed doing so well, we couldn't resists scaling up the garden almost immediately. After all, the space it would occupy was currently nothing more than a large, rocky, dusty bed of unattractive bare ground, just begging to be transformed.

The plan(ts).
We headed to Healdsburg Nursery and picked up a truckload of new starters, then mapped out how we wanted to do it and set them in place to adjust to the new location for a few days before we planted them. I have learned the hard way that if you try to transplant before the little guys have time to adjust, you diminish their likelihood of thriving. We ended up with about 25 different herbs and vegetables, including (but not limited to) eggplant, artichoke, watermelon, pumpkin, lettuces, cucumbers, and half a dozen herbs. I also picked up some border stones and rubber mulch to class things up a bit.

"Why rubber mulch?" you ask; so we can walk barefoot on it, of course.

The following day, we got up early and busted out the entire project by mid afternoon. We were damn pleased with ourselves, and with good reason.

It's baby food! (Get it?)
Over the last few weeks things have continued to flourish and we've made adjustments here and there to help the plants along, like providing a screen over the more delicate lettuces to protect them from the blazing hot afternoon sun, and tying up the tomato vines as they have gotten massive.

Today, it's raining, and everyone in the garden is absolutely loving it. We should start to get tomatoes, cucumbers, and other goodies in the next few weeks, so the next post will likely be more about eating this stuff than growing it!

Happy gardens make happy vegetables make happy chefs!

Or I might just be writing about slow-roasted garden critters...

"Gopher, Everett?"