January 31, 2019

This morning I had my first sighting of our Canadian visitors.  Someone should warn them that the polar vortex has brought record freezing temperatures to the northern part of this country this week, and presumably to Canada as well.

The potted camellia that immigrated from Rancho Murieta showed its first bloom today.  Apparently rolling the camellia out into the sun encouraged it to bloom.  The blooms on the camellia along the house wall are just about spent; the blooms on the camellia in the triangle garden are not ready to pop,  I rather like the concept of timed release camellias, depending I suspect on amount of sunshine and warmth each one receives.  I trimmed the dead wood off the camellia beside the house, added soil and fed it with Miracle-Gro.

I cleared the bed on the far side of the flagstones going down the slope, making it as far as the crape myrtle.  I added soil amendment and watered two of the crape myrtles consistent with the care I gave last winter. Whatever else happens, I will not be hunting through the overgrown brush and grass to find the third crape myrtle this year.  Here’s hoping that exposure to sun and air is a beneficial shock to its system.

To finish the day, I applied two gallons of Roundup on the newly cleared bed along the house and slope away from the flagstones.  Roundup is supposed to be impervious to rain in a short period of time, and the next winter storm is due tomorrow.


January 30, 2019

Another warm sunny day, the next winter rain storm is not due until Friday.  I watered indoor and outdoor this morning, with generous offerings to the recently pruned oleanders, rockroses and fortnight lilies.

I cleared the remainder of the back yard alongside the house.  Thick clusters of bermuda grass roots are endless.  I dug out a short trench along the house wall and along the line of the lawn to picture the parameters of a raised bed.  Tomorrow I will apply Roundup to whatever is left in that bed.

I pulled off the boards at the base of the fence on the front side of the equipment yard.  Gerry had an endless fascination for screws and nails. They all come off without great difficulty. Many creatures crawled out when the boards were removed, and I hope the previously covered section of the lower fence will have a chance to air and dry before I replace the panel.  I will replace the three odd assorted boards with a single panel 113 inches long.  Unfortunately, none of the lumber at the ranch is quite that long.  The land of course slopes away at the far end of the fence.  I may need to set the replacement panel at a slight downward slant to compensate.  The flagstones to be laid in front of the fence will cover any exposed bottom edge.

Tonight I was in Sutter Creek for the Las Posadas appreciation and evaluation dinner.  I stepped out of the car and into a night full of stars, cold and clear.  I am reminded of former Friday nights after a long work week when I would step into the night and shed all my worries.

January 29, 2019

I came up from Oakland through the Delta today.  What most impressed me most was the flocks of birds on either side of the highway.  Low lying fields were flooded and instantly turned into bird sanctuaries.  In one flooded field I saw a flock of large white birds, perhaps egrets.  I did not know that egrets flocked together unless they are migrating.

After a week of desk work in Oakland,  I was ready for physical work, specifically digging out the beds in the back yard.  I started with the bed running the length of the house next to what will be the herb garden in a trough. At the edge of the lawn was a thick mat of bermuda grass that I went after with a will.  I have had good results from digging out as much as I can and applying Roundup to whatever remains.  Bermuda grass runners went everywhere, and I was digging out thick root clusters that pulled twelve to eighteen inches of runners with them.  I know I am only slightly discouraging the bermuda grass.  The area that I cleared will eventually be a raised bed, and hopefully poisoning and burying will be enough.

Mike came up to check on progress.  He has run the tractor and is keeping the grass trimmed on both sides of the driveway.  He also mowed around his house and now has a genuine olive grove – twenty-four trees that Gerry planted.  Tomorrow he hopes to run the tractor over the parade ground just below the barn.  The newly cleared bed has a water pipe and outflow;  we found a timer that Mike will install with piping for a drip system.  I hauled off and dumped a wheelbarrow of grass to end a warm sunny day.

January 23, 2019

I cleaned all the ashes out of the fireplace and applied them to the cleared slope on the west side of the house.  Consistent applications of Roundup seem to have kept down the grass and certainly the thistle on that defensive perimeter.  I will see what happens as the rainy season progresses.

I prune the two rockroses on the front slope, as I have in January the past two years.   Why the two rockroses were planted together at the far end of the front slope remains a mystery, but they have different growth patterns.  The upper rockrose had a thick tangle of dead wood in the center.  Removing the dead wood left a very spare plant.  The lower rockrose was healthier – I cleared the dead wood off the base and trimmed back the new growth off the top.  Spots gratefully received two large wheelbarrows of rockrose, one of this favorites. The question for me is whether the pruning will help with water conservation this summer.  The rockroses suffered with the barberry and lantana on that far edge not having sufficient water pressure in the irrigation line.

I watered all the plants inside and out because I will be in Oakland for a week.  The plumbago received extra water.

Back in Oakland by late afternoon, I was greeted by a beautiful blue iris.  The traditional irises appear to bloom in January and September, if I am lucky.  The daphne was in full fragrant bloom, and the tangerine tree continues to bear generously.  I pull two to three tangerines off the tree each day to keep me healthy through the winter.

January 22, 2019

Near freezing temperatures this morning.  MJ and Judy are making the return trip to San Diego in two stages, stopping the night in Bakersfield.  We had time for hot breakfast and coffee before they left mid-morning.

Judy noticed the valley oak that was growing into the the pergola.  I pruned it back and applied pruning seal.  The branches of this same oak poke me every time I water the border garden between the porch slab and the retaining wall.  They will now poke less.

I addressed the dwarf oleander again, removing the suckers at the base and trimming back to three leaf clusters. I read that the flowers grows from those clusters, and that reading made sense when I examined the growth pattern on the oleander.  I overlaid and scratched in new topsoil around the base, enriched with 10-10-10 fertilizer, and watered generously.  The oleander is partly sheltered by the eaves on the roof, and I suspect it may not benefit entirely from the rain we have had.

I removed the suckers and outliers and trimmed the height of white oleander by the front porch.  The same pattern of trimming back to three leaf clusters.  I hope to encourage it to grow up and not out.  I also brought in new topsoil with 10-10-10  fertilizer.

Next task was to trim back the fortnight lilies.  Gardening websites recommend a range of pruning heights, from ground level to eighteen inches.  in the end, the thickness of root cluster determined the pruning height of the two larger lilies.  I could trim all the outliers and cut down the core to about twelve inches.  The limits on the two larger plants determined the pruning height of the two smaller ones.  I will see how the lilies respond this year, and perhaps next I will dig up and thin out the rhizomes in that dense base.

I added new top soil and soil amendment to  the rose bed.  The bed seems to erode down during the year.  I amended the soil during the dormant period last winter and the roses seemed to responded well.

I watered all the front plants thoroughly.  No rain is forecast for two weeks, and the plants are rejuvenating after their winter pruning.

January 21, 2019

I watched the sunrise this morning from my bedroom window.  The low cloud cover and bare trees make for a dramatic few minutes.  The rising sun and underlit clouds also reflect off the fire prevention pond, also just beyond my window.  I have seen a snowy egret already this winter, giving me hope that birds will come back to nest in the pond this spring.

The early mornings are cold – a good reason to watch the sunrise from my room.  I also saw a single bright light in the sky, not moving and not twinkling like a star.  It has to be the planet Venus (the Morning Star) that appears in the eastern sky and travels west.  I saw it just before it disappeared in the rising sun. Judy saw and second smaller light in the same part of the sky.  According to online postings from astronomical observatories, the second light may be the planet Jupiter.

So I start this year much the same as last year – removing Christmas decorations at the church, asking Mike to help me recharge and get the truck started and keeping the driveway clear.  The winter rhythm at the ranch.  If sunny weather continues into next week, I will work on clearing the back yard.  Today we spent packing the car for San Diego.

January 19, 2019

Today was the first clear and sunny day in two weeks, and the temperatures remain mild during the day.  Nighttime temperatures close to freezing are expected next week, but that is next week.

I started the day by digging out the fence beside the driveway in preparation for replacing the bottom panel. Three mismatched boards will be replaced by a single piece that I will prime and paint.  I also dug out a strip to lay flagstones alongside the fence.  If my ultimate dream comes to be, the flagstones will provide a back path to pick blackberries off the bushes planted between the driveway and the fire lane.

After that chore, I joined MJ in pruning the rockroses, salvia and lantana.  As in past years we pruned the lantana along the house down to the core root ball.  Nothing seems to prevent it from spreading three feet in all directions, other than the house wall.  We tried to separate the core root ball in two to thin it out.  The ball is so intertwined that the options appear to be all or nothing.  We left it for now and may replace it later.

We also pulled back the rockrose from tumbling  over the rock wall along the driveway, although I suspect it will get back to tumbling this summer.  I rather like the effect. We worked until Judy called us in for breakfast.  I feel like such a farmer coming in from the fields for a hot bowl of oatmeal and coffee.

Mike was up with his trailer after breakfast.  I pitched in clearing brush from the fire prevention pond.  The pond is still low, and we cut and hauled away the dead wood from the bank nearest the driveway.  Hauling included a forty-five degree slope up to the driveway.  Two workers can split the difference on the slope. The bank is now mostly cleared, and we removed dead branches that might have blown onto the driveway.

While we worked below, Judy took the hedge clippers to the two large coleonemas. She left the clippings on the grounds as an impromptu mulch.  Coleonemas are winter-blooming plants, and we saved a few blooms for the breakfast table. We also saved the last of the rose blooms from the pink citrus rose, and then undertook the winter pruning of all three roses.  Judy and I removed the cross pieces and cut back the stems to buds.  The roses responded well to this pruning last year.  I will feed them when the growing season begins.

The Saint Francis rockrose appears to have lost a branch in the wind, but has otherwise weathered the storms well.  It is already near his shoulder height, hopefully encouraging the birds to roost and drop on the bush and not on his head.  He has never seemed to mind.